When Anna came up the mountain it was Justine who showed her to her rooms. The classroom and the bedchamber were cold from a Winter of little use, and Justine profusely apologized and made herself a martyr a thousand times over for not having cleaned the room up, not stirring the cobwebs up with a broom, not lemon oiling the desks. Justine thought the girl was downright lovely, but allowed the monster whose name is Jealousy (who lives inside all women) to fully gobble her up in its vast and ugly stomach. From that dreary and miserable place, she saw Anna as young, as healthy, as attractive, as bright, as coltish, as new. So she twisted these perfectly wonderful attributes and made them into something vicious. There was nothing used up about Anna, and Justine felt like her twisted opposite, like a festering evil twin. She figured Blake would like to meet Anna and would feel a pull and a thrum in his veins upon their introduction. If he weren’t as moral and good as Campbell’s Tomato Soup he might make a bold, attractive, and swift move towards Anna. He might engulf her small blonde frame, full of bird bones, in his strong arms.
She also figured Adam would feel a requisite stirring in his chest upon meeting the young teacher, and amble embarrassingly toward Anna with his hand outstretched in old-fashioned greeting, like an awkward, schoolboy bird of paradise showing off its feathers. Anna was a breath of of fresh air and aroma of new corn. Justine’s heart was heavy, she didn’t want to lose her weak grasp on her conquests, so she turned cold and hateful. Justine, who used to love change and new people in her life, was now afraid of not only her own shadow but of a tiny seventeen year old teacher, barely out of high school.
Justine set her lower lip firmly under her upper lip and chewed off some of her red lipstick. She showed Anna the new globe and she showed Anna the fresh new mattress and she showed her the view from the window of the schoolroom. She wanted to make the girl feel at home (she wasn’t evil, just sad), and she wanted to make Anna like her and like the mine, in spite of the acid that swirled inside her. Allowing herself a tight smile, she forced herself to extend an invitation for a percolator full of coffee, sure the girl would not accept and claim that she only took tea or something even more wholesome like milk. Justine was afraid of liking Anna and she was afraid everyone else would like Anna more than they liked her.
But imagine the feeling and the hesitant warmth; imagine Justine as she hears Anna accept the coffee invitation, saying “oh, be glad to and thank you…I love coffee. I haven’t had any since breakfast and my mother doesn’t make it strong enough.” Imagine how it felt when Anna placed her long thin hand in Justine’s soft plump one . Anna wasn’t reserved in terms of physical touch. She liked to run her fingers over the fabrics of dresses and skirts in department stores, she liked feeling tree trunks and mud. How calm Justine felt when Anna tightened her grip just a little, continuing in a steady, melodious and slightly, softly deep voice that reminded Justine of cello music, “I’m so glad to finally be here, it’s so far away but not lonesome feeling at all.”
Confusion and envy and self loathing made way for calm. Suddenly Justine was happy that Anna was here in the Valley, too. She sensed a kindred spirit. She sensed someone who might believe in ghosts and angels. Someone who might look out at the Valley and see it for what it was, not a container and conduit for gold and wealth, but for wonder and beauty. She sensed something wonderfully new and fresh and promising in Anna. A friend. Not a dark horse. Not a rival. She led Anna back down through the labyrinth of staircases from the classroom, back outside into the sharp green Spring chill, and quietly turned to Anna (they were still holding hands) and said,
“It smells like worms out here. Things are starting to grow again.”