THE FOUNDER’S DAY celebration was not as elaborate as it had been in past years. In order to conserve electricity, the fairy lights weren’t strung through the trees. No new costumes were sewn, and instead, the old ones were patched and seamed. The wooden bleachers were hammered into place even though they were rickety and should have been replaced. Still, there would be great fun at last. Carnival rides were set up on the green, and food stands sold homemade cookies and cakes. Ice cream could be had in paper cups or piled into cones made of waffle batter. Although there was no circus this year, no musicians, not even the chorus from Lenox, a troupe of actors had been hired to come from New York and present a series of skits.

The actors were staying at the Lamplighter Motel. Within two hours of their arrival, they had grown bored with Blackwell. The town council was paying a small fee and expenses. When split among four people, it was barely worth the effort, but the two couples had decided to think of the job as a vacation. They would do their best to take advantage of what little Blackwell had to offer. They swam in the Eel River, which they found shockingly muddy and cold. They hiked up Hightop Mountain, where the women, Charlotte and Abbey, panicked when surveying the wilderness, vowing they’d spied a bear. They ate peach pie at the coffee shop and peered through the dusty windows of the history museum, which had been closed since the war had begun. The foursome wound up at the Jack Straw, where the men played darts with the locals and the women asked for whisky sours, not that there were any maraschino cherries to be had in all of Blackwell. Hannah was at the bar when the request came in. She grinned at Bob Kelly, then took two cherry tomatoes from the basket she’d brought him, placing one in each glass.

“They’re city people,” she said, looking over her shoulder at the two actresses. “They’ll never know the difference.”

After the drinks were delivered, one of the actresses came up to the bar. Her name was Charlotte Scott and she was tall and elegant, with long dark hair. She wore a black dress and high heels. She didn’t look like anyone in Blackwell.

“Was that supposed to be a joke?” she said.

Hannah turned, ready with a smart remark—something about it being a cherry tomato, and wasn’t that what she’d wanted? But when she faced Charlotte she said nothing at all. Her face flushed and she felt a fool.

“Cat got your tongue?” Charlotte had her hands on her hips. Her eyes were piercing.

“I have no idea what you mean,” Hannah said.

“I mean come sit with us, we’re bored to death.”

Hannah might have stayed at the bar, finished her beer, and left, but Charlotte took her by the hand. “Someone has to entertain the entertainers.”

The actresses had a second round of whisky sours, and Hannah ordered another beer. She was talked into recounting the history of Blackwell, since the museum had been closed to visitors. She told all of the stories she could remember. How the founders had been stopped by a snowstorm on their journey west, how Johnny Appleseed himself had planted the oldest tree in town, how Emily Dickinson had visited before shutting herself away from the world. Hannah was more entertaining than she’d ever imagined she might be, perhaps because of the beers. She ended the history lesson by enacting the meeting between the Apparition and her older sister on the banks of the Eel River from the second act of the Founder’s Day play.


“ ‘I’m leaving this earth, but I’ll never leave you,’ ” Hannah quoted and was met by applause. She felt somewhat flushed by the turn her solitary evening had taken and the praise for her sudden starring role. The men came over and introduced themselves, James Scott and Stanley Franklin. James was Charlotte’s husband and Stanley and Abbey were engaged.

“Real name, Fishman,” Charlotte whispered gleefully about her spouse. “Men.” She sighed. “All is vanity.”

At the end of the evening, Charlotte decided they should trek over to see Hannah’s house, since it had been the founder’s home, and they had come all this way for Founder’s Day. It made sense for them to steep themselves in local lore, adding bits and pieces of Blackwell’s history to their skits. The group walked along in the green-tinged summer dark, drunk and cheerful, out for a lark. It was good to forget the war and all the losses in life for a little while and just let loose. In the space of an evening, Hannah and Charlotte and Abbey had become great friends.

“I’ll bet you’re dying to get out of this town,” Charlotte said. She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Considering.”

“Not at all,” Hannah answered, confused. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

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