In earlier chapters: Our protagonist, owner of Lady Slipper Farm, Mandy, has been threatened with a knife by movie star Chichi Tatem to stay away from Chichi’s movie star future ex-husband, Nick Diehl . . . Another farm regular, Thorn, was scooped up by the feds during President Obama’s vacation on the island, and incarcerated at the hospital.
Mandy could never pick wild mushrooms without thinking of that old New England adage: ‘There are old mushroom pickers, and there are bold mushroom pickers, but there are no old bold mushroom pickers.”
Of course, Mandy knew what she was doing. Nineteen gazillion Yankee ancestors, and you were aware of which fungi were safe and delicious, and which could pull your lower intestines through your throat and send steam out your ears before you hit the ground.
Now she knelt, and transferred a stupendous, baseball mitt-sized hen of the woods, grey and ruffled like a petticoat, into a woven cloth basket. Last year she and Nandika had seeded this part of the Lady Slipper Woods with this variety of ‘shroom, along with King of Bolete and shaggy mane. If they could hold on to the property through another few seasons, this crop would help to make their fortunes, humble though they be.
Albert hoovered his big pink nose over the ground of various thistles and ivies. Mandy wondered if his pig genes sought out truffles. Now that would put Lady Slipper in the black.
Another pink item besides Albert’s schnoz poked up from a bed of late-season grass and dandelion: A rare single stalk of a lady slipper orchid. The farm acreage always offered up a few, hence the name. And, of course, she and Sam and Nandika had had some fun with it: On a tall dark stalk, the petals wore a classy, feathery black hat like the cap the fashion industry called the fascinator. The twin pink bulbs below resembled nothing so much as female private parts. It was certainly a flower Georgia O’Keefe would have loved to paint, though as far as Mandy was aware, lady slippers had never shown up on the artist’s discretely X-rated canvasses.
In any event, the wild orchid’s rarity was taken by New Englanders to be a sign of good luck.
Behind her a man’s voice said, “I’ll bet you’re picking those mushroos for Fiona Neal’s wedding. I only R.S.V.P.ed in the affirmative because I heard you’d be catering.”
Mandy froze. She rose, hugging her bag to her chest as if it doubled as a Kevlar vest.
“You’ll have to leave,” she said to Nick Diehl. “Hurriedly. As if it’s a case of life or death. Which it is.”
Nick, in his usual worn jeans and in a faded tee-shirt, this one an old Ag Fair design, held his daily offering of a gourmet picnic basket and a gingham cloth. For a brief instant, Mandy’s heart went out to him. There was something so poignant about a man with gifts in his hands.
He looked suddenly ashen. “What do you mean?”
She told him about the day before, is wife’s threats to her, backed up with the ugliest and baddest dagger Mandy could ever imagine being pulled from a Dior handbag.
Nick, shocked, took a step forward.
“Uh uh!” called Mandy, stepping back.
“Yes, she is.”
“She’s never actually cut anyone.”
“So this has happened before?”
A flood of memories registered in Nick’s face, and he spent some moments recovering from them. In the next moment, he looked rueful. Mandy felt inclined to ask him, from the depth of her own hurt and disappointment, how he could have stayed with the deranged woman for as long as he had. But she was too kind to bring this up. Instead she took another protective step backwards.
Good old Albert, always handy for a laugh, trotted with great porcine dignity to stand in front of his mistress, ready to protect her with the full strength of his thirty-three pounds of living bacon.
Mandy thanked her lucky stars that she and Nick had only picnicked together, never indulging in any more foreplay than touching hands as he passed her a jar of tarragon mustard, or shortbread from the Scottish Bakehouse.
She had never even had the chance to explain to him how a long-ago heartbreak had caused her to shut down. Sure, this was a cliché after-effect, but hers had been freighted with a wallop of magical realism.
After the carelessly casual Becca Van Norden had stolen, for one skenky stupid night, Mandy’s sweetheart – her high school boyfriend, no less, who had made the grade through two years at separate colleges, and their seventh summer together on Martha’s Vineyard – Mandy had cast him off, then suffered the classic slough of despond through her junior year at Mt. Holyoke.
One midnight, in her attic bedroom in the house near campus she shared with four other friends, she heaved up a groan as she flitched this way and that in her narrow bed.
And then everything got unexpectedly gorgeous.
Later she told herself it could only have been her spirit – some astral projection – but it seemed at the time as if her whole body had shot straight through the roof of her house. She hovered over the quaint town of Amherst with all electric lighting gone, all of it replaced by a rainbow of auras projected by the thousands of inhabitants, their pale glow emanating from windows, moving along sidewalks, and streaming past in cars that were now themselves invisible.
It was a world of the pale connective light from all human hearts.
And so she hitched a ride on some entity that felt like a comet’s tail with bottomless sentient presence to it. It was a journey to the end of the Milky Way and back. Itseemed like the work of a minute – eternity’s minute – and it had also unfolded in the space of an entire nighttime. It wasn’t a dream, she knew that beyond a doubt, and the mystical journey had placed her back here on the ground, an entirely different version of herself.
Although she could never put it in these words, she was now a holy woman of a very young age. She could plant killer seeds and heal the sick, and love everyone with an equanimity that sometimes took her breath away, and she knew she was meant to stay celibate the rest of her life or these gifts would vanish in one big whoosh.
Now as she gazed sadly at this man, this insanely famous actor, who did indeed seem to be in love with her, she also realized that the threat from his witch of a wife, backed up with a knife, had served as a kind of deus ex machina to keep them apart.
She had been sorely tempted by his sweet and old-fashioned courtship. And his cuteness, for godsakes! And that super-sexy glint in his eyes that had made him a matinee idol in the first place.
Calmly, she said, “You must go away, Nick. I’m not for you, and you’re not for me.”
He took a step forward, “But can’t we -- ?”
“You realize Chichi doesn’t want me? She just doesn’t want anybody else to have me.”
“The way she’s going, no one ever will.”
And she found herself laughing. Jeez, another thing to tell Thorn!
“I was thrown in with a devious bunch,” said Thorn, shaking his head, remanded into Sam and Mandy’s custody the minute the last of President Obama’s helicopters shook the buildings and ground of the island, then flitted southwest and away.
Thorn explained, “These actual nut-jobs they’d rounded up were truly jonesing to kill the prez. Apparently, according to my transcripts, I’d only ranted, during my raid on the corn field, that I strongly supported the Apocalypse, Gaia’s biological mutation of viruses and bacteria, as well as every manifestation of bad weather, to wipe out the most destructive force on the planet—namely, mankind, in all its insignificant repetitions of greed and stupidity.”
“I don’t see how they could hold that against you,” said Mandy, handing him a bottle of apple juice.
The three of them strode toward their farm’s old brown truck, eager to get away from the hospital that had held on to their buddy for a full eight days.
Sam said, “You made threats against all of humanity. Nothing personal as far as the president was concerned.”
“All the same,” said Thorn, dusting the sleeves of his blue and white shirt, and patting down his back pockets, checking for the nineteenth time that he had his wallet. “Next summer, if there’s any hint of a head-of-state vacationing here, I’m off to Rio.”
“Good choice,” said Sam. “All the known crackpots along the eastern seaboard will be there, lying on the beach sipping pina coladads.”
Mandy said, “And watching the girl from Ipanema stroll by.”
“She’s pretty old by now,” observed Sam, shoving into the driver’s seat.
From the passenger door, Mandy squeezed into the middle, Thorn following close behind. Thorn said, “There are always young girls from Ipanema.”
Mandy sighed, “For the time being, let’s go home and gear up for Fiona’s wedding. Or non-wedding. I’m getting a bad vibe about the whole thing.”
“But you got the money up front?” asked Thorn as they eased out of the parking lot with its wide-angle view of the harbor.
“Always,” said Mandy.
Thorn said, “Well, thanks for picking me up.”
Sam said, “We need you to stuff mushrooms with a pastry bag. ‘Nobody does it better’,” he sang in lousy imitation of Carly Simon.
“Hold on a damn minute,” said Thorn. “The mushroom canapés come out after vows are exchanged. What if it ain’t gonna happen”
Mandy pointed out, “We’ll still need them ready to bake, just in case. Win, draw, or lose, somebody’s going to be celebrating.”
next week: In a whirl-wind finale of Lady Slipper Farm & The Summer People, all of the last madcap action will be spiraling out of control at Fiona’s [non?] wedding on the beach, a chapter-a-day running for the week until bingo! The End. Thanks so much for joining us on the ride!