THE ANGRY WOMAN AND THE BISHOP
Illustration by Lawrence Tate
Out on the lawn Abby and the children found that the group of parents and the bishop had been altered by three new arrivals, all middle-aged women. These three had gathered around the bishop, cutting him off from the parents. Two of the women were speaking to him in a confidential sort of way, coming so close that the bishop stepped back to keep his distance.
The children flooded into the group of parents, excitedly talking of their discoveries and plans to gather food and return. The parents followed them to the crowded food tables and bought sandwiches, peaches, and lemon cukes.
But as they returned toward the birdwatcher’s path Abby saw that the conversation between two of the women and the bishop had become very tense, even angry. As he retreated to avoid the discussion one of them raised her voice, and made hand gestures right up in the bishop’s face. She was well dressed and attractive, but her aggressive manner had an ugly side.
An older woman, dressed in a style more appropriate for a hike in the woods, was standing alone, showing obvious signs of embarrassment. She hid her face behind her wide-brimmed hat.
The parents stopped to look, and the children began sharing out the food. Suddenly the angry woman shouted, “This cannot go on any longer! We are determined...” The woman turned around and saw Abby and her crowd of chattering children and parents. She gave Abby a furious glare.
‘Now that was definitely hostile,’ Abby thought. ‘That was hate and anger! I’m not just paranoid.’ She was certain that the three women were the trustees missing from their recent community council meeting. Chester Peterson had called them ‘The Three Furies of Middletown'.
Meanwhile the children finished their food in a just a few minutes, and began to get bored. Abby took their paper plates to the trash barrel, and led them down the Birdwatcher’s Path for another adventure. Tiny and Lucy suggested that they show the group the Secret Place, and even the path back up into the privet fort. They were so enthusiastic that Abby said, “We’ve got to sneak along like spies, making no noise.” At the corner near the wrought-iron door Abby pointed to the thick sections of the old tree arranged as seats, and the children scrambled to find a place.
After a few minutes of silence Franklyn pointed and whispered, “Sparrows.” These plain, small birds were chattering on a cluster of young maple trees overgrown with vines. Ned pointed to the ground ahead of them and whispered, “Robin!” A red-breasted robin had appeared at the edge of the brush to hunt for worms in the soft open soil. It hopped, and pulled out a small worm, and retreated back into the brush. Some of the children gasped. “Crows,” whispered Jane, pointing above them. They all heard the familiar rough voices. And suddenly they heard a new voice among the trees: “coo, coo-ah, coo, coo.”
“Dove!” whispered Franklyn with excitement. As they tried to spy the dove a new voice entered the game: “It’s a mourning dove!”
They looked behind them and there were the bishop and the woman in the wide-brimmed hat. “I hope you don’t mind,” said the woman, “if we play too.” The children stared at them in awe, as if they were visitors from another planet.
To Abby’s delight the voice of the owl, “Whoo, whoo,” broke the silence from somewhere ahead of them. The woman looked up, startled, and crept forward in great excitement, moving her head back and forth, stooping or standing on tiptoes, trying to get a better angle as she approached the thicket of brush and trees. She turned to the children and beckoned them forward. They all kneeled down, and she pointed up through the brush to an old broken oak tree, its upper half struck by lightening or decayed long ago, now with few branches left and covered in Virginia creeper. There on a horizontal branch, deep in the shadow of the vines, two yellow eyes shone forth. A shockingly large, dark and light gray striped body could barely be seen. The owl was about a yard tall, with a long tail. The children could hardly believe their eyes. None had ever seen anything like it. “A Great Gray Owl,” whispered the woman. “Count yourselves blessed, my children. The first I’ve ever seen.”
Abby caught sight of the bird and silently backed out of the group to let the children move into her spot. She stumbled right into the legs of the bishop, and mouthed the words, “I’m sorry!”
He gave her a very warm and kindly smile. His eyes were brimming over with tears.