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Too Close For Comfort

Junie sat across the table from her aunt. The two glared at one another, Mumsy Abigail’s lower jaw jutting out in defiance.

Also at the table was Mumsy’s solicitor, Mr. Palmer, who sat between the two women with a look of sheer desperation on his face.

“Ladies, please,” he said, holding his hands in a gesture of pleading. “Surely we can come to some compromise on the matter. Let us review the issues at hand.  First, there is the question of-“

“Do be quiet, Mr. Palmer,” Junie snapped. “We know what the issue is. She doesn’t want to stay here because she despises me.” Junie’s eyes didn’t stray from Mumsy’s as she spoke. For weeks she had tried to please her aunt, only to meet with abject failure.

A cruel sneer crept across the old woman’s lips. “Of course I don’t despise you, Juniper. It is merely that your home looks like a gypsy caravan detonated within its walls. The colors give me vertigo. And the stairs are too difficult to climb. Would you have me sleep in your sitting room, such as it is, for the rest of my life?”

Junie’s hands balled into fists and she breathed deeply. She spoke as calmly as she could muster.

“As you say, Aunt, you are aging and cannot move with ease. Wouldn’t you prefer to stay where I can see to your needs more readily? Besides, I can’t think of many places in New Babbage without stairs. And if…..if…..”

She paused, hesitant to continue.

“Yes?” Mumsy prodded. “If what, my dear?”

Junie closed her eyes and swallowed hard.

“If you’d like me to change the rugs, I can do so. Unfortunately, the wallpaper cannot be undone so quickly.”

The corner of the old woman’s mouth curled upward, as if she had won a momentous battle.

“You are so kind, my dear,” she said. 

Junie bristled at the sarcasm in her voice. Mumsy continued.

“But how do you propose I ascend your many stairs? Will you install a lift? I do believe there is plenty of steam power in this city.”

Mr. Palmer looked tentatively at Junie, swearing to himself that the only steam he knew of was rising from her flushed brow.  He rushed to intervene.

“Well, now, Mumsy Abigail, perhaps a compromise can be achieved. If Juniper-“

“‘Ms. Ginsburg,’ if you please, sir.”

“Ahem, yes, so sorry. If Ms. Ginsburg can provide a more…ehmtranquil environment for you, perhaps she could also erect room dividers, and-“

“Shut UP, Mr. Palmer!”  Junie and Mumsy spoke at once.

The room was silent for a few minutes. Mr. Palmer sat with his hands in his lap, his eyes cast downward. Junie stood and circled the room a few times, bringing her temper under control, her mind working on the problem.  Quite suddenly she stopped. She looked at her aunt and Mr. Palmer with brightened eyes.

“I daresay I have a solution.”

She headed for the door.

“Mr. Palmer, you will kindly come with me.”

* * *

Octavius Palmer stood with Junie outside the fence of a small cemetery behind the Brunel Hotel. They surveyed the yard carefully, taking note of all of the plots.

“No, I don’t think she will agree to it,” he said.

Junie sighed. “It’s too bad, really. I rather like this place. And I was just commenting the other day about the city honoring it’s dead.” Realizing her hypocrisy, she cringed. “But what must be done must be done.”

Mr. Palmer stared solemnly at the graveyard before him.  “But…isn’t this….unethical?”

Junie rolled her eyes. “For heaven’s sake, Mr. Palmer, I’m not going to bury her. I just want to build a house for her. The land is for sale. Chester will fund it. There aren’t that many graves to move. I’ll petition City Hall for permission to transfer these remains to the large cemetery as soon as possible. This is the best solution that won’t result in a corpse.”

Junie paused and thought for a moment. “Well, so to speak.”

Mr. Palmer squinted his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose, his wrist bumping his bowler further back on his head. He opened his reddened eyes and straightened his hat.

“She won’t like it, I tell you. Not at all. You’ll still be putting her in a place of the dead.”

“Mr. Palmer,” Junie said with a wry smile. “You seem to be laboring under the assumption that Mumsy will like ANY solution we set before her.”

He gave a short grunt of acknowledgement and walked further along the perimeter of the graveyard, hands clasped behind his back.

“Well,” he said, “I suppose it is good that it is next to the city wall, so she won’t have to endure neighbors on all sides.”

Junie thought about the urchins that scampered along the wall at all hours but decided to say nothing.

“And the hotel is nearby,” Mr. Palmer observed. “She wouldn’t have far to walk if she wanted to take her meals at that restaurant, Goodbye Muirsheen something-or-other.” He waved his hand absently as if the name wasn’t important.

Raising her eyebrows, Junie smiled and nodded at Mr. Palmer. Inwardly, she winced as she thought of Victor and how pleased he’d be to have Mumsy in his establishment every night.

Mr. Palmer continued walking and started out toward the Academy square.

“I do think, regardless of its current status, that the cemetery is the best location for her,” he said.

She grinned at his choice of words as he continued his thought.

“The area isn’t overcrowded, it seems to be the cleanest district in the city, and look at this big open plaza!”

Junie imagined the scene: builders hard at work on their latest creations in the public area when Mumsy arrives to offer unsolicited advice. She groaned.

“Maybe we really should put her in The Gut,” Junie grumbled.

“What’s that?” Mr. Palmer turned his head toward her.

“Oh, nothing,” she said. “Nothing that would work.”

“Well, it’s settled then,” Mr. Palmer announced with finality in his voice. “I will endeavor to convince Mumsy Abigail that this is the best solution. I’ll find a way to gloss over the fact that her new home is to be on the former site of a cemetery. I wouldn’t want her to be superstitious.”

Oh, Great Builder in a bustle! Junie thought to herself. As if there weren’t enough reasons to keep Mumsy under lock and key at Ruthorford House, Palmer had to bring up superstitions. Junie had grown up repeatedly hearing the story of Mumsy seeing the ghost of her dead husband sitting in a chair by their fireplace. Her aunt was one of the most superstitious people she’d ever met.

Junie cleared her throat.

“Yes, yes, quite so,” she said, her voice hoarse. “We really shouldn’t let her know.”

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