A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Thirty-Eight


Gemmy sent Carla a long, chatty email, updating her on the goings-on at Interior, Peschecat’s continued cuteness, Compost’s activities at several community gardens, and her now-rather-serious relationship with Paris. She concluded, “It’s a lovely day and I’m going to take Deena’s bike for a spin; give everyone my love.”

Gemmy considered heading out to the Aroboretum to visit her favorite bonsai tree, but somehow her bike seemed to steer itself towards Capitol Hill. There were lots of other bikers out and about, along with joggers, walkers, and even a group of tourists on Segways. Gemmy rode past the museums on the Mall; she was almost ashamed to admit that she hadn’t been inside any of them yet. She kept thinking she’d wait until Carla came down for a visit. She pedaled past the Capitol and the Supreme Court and was just thinking of heading home for lunch when she heard it again: the unmistakable sound of a panpipe playing The Lark Ascending.

Gemmy followed the sound and found the same young man, in the same birdfeather t-shirt, sitting on the edge of the Neptune Fountain outside the Capitol. Gemmy stopped her bike and listened to the notes go up, up, up, and up. When the busker finished, she pulled some coins from her pocket and dropped them into his upturned hat.

“That was lovely,” Gemmy said. “I’ve always loved the poem by Meredith and the tune by Vaughan Williams.”

“I’m glad that you like it, lovely lady. I’ve seen you before, haven’t I? Over by the library. I’m Peter and you are?”

“Gemmy. Short for Germaine. You’re the only one I know who plays it on a panpipe. I’m used to hearing it on strings.”

Peter poured his earnings out of his hat into his hand and said, “I’m going to Eastern Market for lunch. Want to come?”

“I’ve heard about Eastern Market, but I haven’t been there. Is it nearby?”

“Not too far at all,” Peter replied. “You bike, and I’ll pipe you on. They have crabcakes there, and, if we’re lucky, cold watermelon.”

Eastern Market was a magical bazaar, with stands selling everything from baked goods, to fruits and vegetables, to shiny fresh oysters, to local fabric sculptures. There were people collecting signatures to stop a planned WalMart store and a preacher standing on an honest-to-goodness soap box, yelling about sin and damnation. Nearby, a small group of women stood beside a flower vendor and debated whether to buy peonies or lilacs for their art class to paint.

Gemmy and Peter wandered around, sampling local cheeses and organic juices, before finally buying two crabcake sandwiches and a huge piece of watermelon. They sat on a small bench, ate, and chatted. Peter had grown up on Capitol Hill and he told Gemmy the tale of how Eastern Market had once burned almost to the ground and of how it had been rebuilt.

Now you, you fishmongers, and fruit hawkers, you schoolchildren raising money for a trip, and you locals shoving past the tourists to buy your groceries, you may well have seen Gemmy and Peter, laughing, chatting, exchanging cell phone numbers. You may have overheard Peter telling Gemmy about his partner, now rather ill as the doctors experimented with yet another HIV cocktail to try and make him feel better. Or you might have heard Gemmy telling Peter about growing sunflowers to pull toxins out of soil and about Peschecat. Or maybe you heard Peter playing Chopin’s Winter Wind Edtude or watched him pull a feather from behind Gemmy’s ear. But you wouldn’t have paid much attention; the city was full of happy people, out enjoying the warm Saturday afternoon. You might have just walked right by.

Several hours later, Gemmy looked at the angle of the sun and said, reluctantly, “I have to get back. Got to bike back over the bridge and get cleaned up for dinner. Thank you so much for showing me Eastern Market! Let’s stay in touch; I’d like to meet Sam when he’s feeling better.”

Peter smiled and began to play Windy, waving to Gemmy as she biked away.

Gemmy walked to the parking lot of Paris’ store just as the last customer was pulling away, car full of potting soil and tomato seedlings. She let herself into the store, expecting to find Paris back in his small office just off the aisle with birdseed and squirrel-proof feeders.

“Hi, Gemmy,” said Susan, walking out of the office towards the door. “We’re just closing up. What can we do for you?”

Gemmy covered her surprise a little bit better than she covered her sudden anger. “I’m here to see Paris; we’re going to go get burgers.”

“Oh, are you going to come with us?” Susan asked.

Just then, Paris came inside, carrying a tray of petunias back in from the side parking lot. “Gem! Hi! I asked Susan if she wanted to come eat with us. I figured you two could catch up.”

“What’s Susan doing here?” Gemmy heard herself asking and not managing to sound too nonchalant about it, either.

“Oh, I’m helping Paris out, didn’t you know?” Susan said. “I’ll just slip into the office and change out of this old apron.”

“No,” Gemmy said, looking at Paris. “I didn’t know.”

“Gem, look, she showed up this morning, upset about her breakup, needing to talk, and she said she was bored and wanted to help out. Why are you upset?”

“We’ll talk later,” Gemmy said. “After I tag along on your dinner date with Susan. No, actually, you know what? Two things aren’t going to happen. One, I’m not going out with you and Susan and, two, you’re not going to play the clueless male who doesn’t get what’s going on. Call me if and when you figure out what you want,” Gemmy said as she slammed the door, desperate to get home, or at least out of sight, before she started to cry.

“Where’d she storm off to?” Susan asked, coming out of the office and linking her arm through Paris’.

“Susan, look . . . ” Paris said, scratching the back of his neck and unhooking their arms.

/To Be Continued

Picture found here.

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