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"Isaiah Monkford" by Victoria Leigh Bennett

In setting down this story of my son, Isaiah Monkford, I, Dane Alexander

Bettingsley, am guilty of a bit of a misnomer. Because it isn’t after all, the story of his life, for which he is responsible and will have to account before God, his Maker, and will, I trust, be able to make his final account in good order, as I have found him a good and willing Servant of the Lord, if a little wayward at times in his methods. No, it is only the account of how I came to be his father, and his mother, which may perhaps interest my friend Mr. Pettis the lawyer to read in the family records, if no other soul ever sees it. For it is now time for me to make my final response for my choices, days of life, and habits, and as I am at the same time and at an advanced age writing my will and preparing my instructions for Isaiah and Mr. Pettis, following the recent and much-mourned departure of Isaiah’s mother, Alice Wright Bettingsley after a long, eventful, and happy life together with me, as I hope I may account it and hope she will in the afterlife be so valuing it and waiting to greet me on the Other Side, I thought it good to reveal the story of Isaiah Monkford’s origins as far as I know them.

My life has been long, as I am now 85, and at the beginning of my young adulthood, I was not so trustworthy a Steward of the Lord as I hope and pray I will be estimated when I cross the Final Divide someday soon. I was far more wayward in a kind of ordinary depravity, namely, drinking and carousing with those I mistakenly judged to be bosom intimates, when in fact they were only typical young wasters and immature beings like myself. They were drawn to me mostly by force of the “deeper pockets” allowed me by my indulgent and wealthy parents, the Rockingham Bettingsleys of the state of ----------------. This was only borne in upon me in my young days of stupor and foolishness, after finally my father and mother earnestly beseeched me to change my way of life, and on the same week I happened to accidentally overhear from a private place a group of my friends, as I had thought them, making fun of me and referring with satisfaction to my wealth and mistaken generosity.

A man of pride and overweening conceit at the time—though in this case such feelings were the beginnings of my developing a better course of action and leading a more superior life—I was understandably revolted and taken aback by this, and resolved to revise my list of friends and cut them off “at the source.”

But as I soon found, in our small town I had acquired a bad reputation, and the gentler and more sober youths of my acquaintance were leery of me and resolute in their tactful avoidance of me, even those who also more moderately frequented the bars and taverns as one of their pastimes. There was no choice other than to make a complete revision of my ways, and to find another place for my recently acquired and more temperate habits and indulgences.

For this, I sought out a mild and well-tended little tavern in the main part of town, run by a well-known deacon of one of the local churches, named George Barnes. George was an honest and trusted older friend for me to take my troubles to in the time-honored and stereotypical relationship of barkeep to patron, and until his death fifteen years ago or so, was a treasured confidant and friend. It was through him that I met my wife, his first-cousin, a fine girl and a modest one named casually “Molly,” though as I said, Alice Wright was her real name.

Though my parents in their perhaps over-fortunate way of life at first had questions about my courtship and eventual marriage to a member of the mere middle class who was moreover working for George as a barmaid at the Quail and Pheasant, the bar he had named in affection for his own birdwatching pursuits, they soon fell in love with Alice and her humorous temper and loving ways; moreover, as she had a very good influence on me, I was soon reading for the law with my father’s law firm, and after I went through the premier university in the state for four years, starting as a slightly older student, and took my law degree, Alice and I were married in a quiet ceremony. She had meantime gone to the university in accounting and economics, and became a sharp-minded and equal partner in my business affairs and conduct. We joined my parents’ church, a really rather milquetoast non-denominational congregation, as a way of joining in a proper local community for socialization and pleasurable activities. In a small country town in a rather rural state, as it was at the time, there weren’t many options. I continued to frequent the Quail and Pheasant, though my drinking was now quite restrained, and so as not to deprive George of a portion of his income, Alice and I often took a working lunch there during the week, as George’s wife Melody ran an excellent kitchen behind the scenes.

I perceive that I have wandered, in the way of many an older person, in the supposed course of talking about my son, Isaiah Monkford, into talking about myself and my life. But as one thing leads to another and all lives the world over are intertwined at some points, perhaps I may be forgiven for starting a history of my son’s beginnings with some of those of his predecessor, myself. As I now come to the part of the tale that more deeply and accurately concerns Isaiah, I will now move to it without further ado.

It was the wish of myself and my wife, as it most usually is with newly married couples once they have experienced the first fine savor of being together in intimate circumstances, to add to our family, namely, to bear offspring. But after many attempts to bring this about and much consultation with specialists of the time, not only in our own small town with our trusted family physician of superior merit and worth, but also with experts and attendants from the university’s hospital and even a time or two beyond, it was determined that due to some quirk of strange fate (as I suppose it must often seem to those on the receiving end of its dictates), I was unable to father a child. At the time, choices for reproductive science weren’t as profound and numerous as they are today, and after mastering the heartache and pain of the verdict as well as we could, Alice thought that we definitely should look into adoption.

In the generosity of her heart and her nature, as I trust and believe it to be, since I suspect she too would have liked for the two of us to be able to have a child made of our own beings, she even presented this to me as a sort of slight advantage, in that she would not have to go through the physical trials and tribulations of bearing a child, but would be able to experience only the joy. While we didn’t definitely choose against adopting an older child, who might possibly have issues of abandonment or other problems from having been a ward of the system for some years, we were admittedly selfish in our preference for a baby or younger child, whom we might influence more readily to adopt our way of life and who might be fitted into the form of our family more easily.

But although my new friends and acquaintances had accepted me as an upstanding citizen and worthwhile person, we came to find that the adoption system of the time, statewide and even beyond, could not look past my early records of a number of arrests by the town constable for drunk and disorderly behavior during evenings and early morning carousals out with my former cohorts. No doubt this matter would have been different had my parents done as most privileged people as a regular thing do and bought me out of my punishments, but in their general wisdom and their own good conduct and discipline, they had left me to take my “licks” of short spans of jail time in the local hoosegow; fines; and other penalties. So, we were having too much difficulty gaining traction with adoption agencies, always dreading the moments after their receipt and review of our records as individuals.

My friend George was naturally sympathetic with us, and one day when I was having a lone lunch at the Quail and Pheasant, his former barmaid “Molly,” called that in fun by him at first, as barmaids must all be named “Molly,” that is to say, my wife Alice, had not come with me. She had cried off due to having to finish up a series of accounts we were having trouble with; it’s a strange truth of at least modern human nature, but even in the most peaceable and gentle community, people will still find reason to sue their acquaintances and neighbors, so we were kept busy. George, in the accustomed place behind the bar, was also kept busy, not only by the lunch crowd, some of whom were sitting there and ordered there, and others whom his two new barmaids served at their tables. But when he got a moment, he looked around, observed that the crowd had thinned and that most of the remaining bar-sitters were at one end, and then beckoned me to the other end, where he quickly became confidential.

He inquired after our health, but then went rapidly on to the matter which he was interested in communicating.

“Have you had any better luck with the adoption agencies lately?” he asked.

“We have temporarily put that matter on hold, George, as it has become very time-consuming at a date when we are busy with work. We want to go on, but don’t want to leave it in the hands of others. It is, after all, a personal matter.”

“Well, I hope that as a sort of remote connection of the wife you won’t mind me commenting, then, but I have a private word to drop in your ear, a sort of thing you might not know about, confided to me a few years ago, and not known to many at all. So, I’m hoping that as a personal friend whom I’m trusting with this tip, you’ll never spread it about to any others afflicted with your situation or to anyone else at all but Molly, but only send them my way should they need help, without saying at all why you’re sending them to me. It’s strictly on the qt, you see.”

Mystified, but buoyed up by the very suggestion that George might have a solution to our problem, I agreed.

“Seek out the Monkfords, of Briary Glen, down by the old sawmill road path, Dane. That’s the best I can tell you. I don’t know that they’ll help you, but if anybody may, they will. They are strictly not legit, though they are kind and well-intended and a bit quirky. Some have called them ‘Gypsies,’ because they’ve seen a large crowd of children there when they trespass that way, but Mr. Monkford and his older boys keep most people away at a distance, so it doesn’t happen often. As to the right or wrong of it and name-calling of Romany peoples, I don’t know the truth of it, and don’t think it important. They are clean and upright citizens from what I’ve seen of them, no troubles with the law from what I’ve ever heard of them, none of that gossipy stuff people usually say about people who keep themselves to themselves. But Mr. Monkford and I go a ways back, to when we were young men working on the railroad together, and though I haven’t seen him lately, and he’s getting on for middle age like me now, I trust he’s still up to conducting his real business these days, other than the farming and firewood supply he does on the side with his boys.

“His wife, Annabeth, is a good person in the extreme, a beauty in her day, and a good mother to all the children who pass their way. The way it’s done is that I or one other of the few people he trusts drop him a word that you’re interested in having a child, and he makes it happen. As simple as that. Not much paperwork, no queries, though your wife and you will need to keep up the fiction among people that you found some out-of-state agency which made it happen for you. And then take your chances that someone else will ask you for help getting in touch with it. I mean, you don’t want anyone to use you as a recommendation at some agency you lie about, only to start questions going.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” I spoke up eagerly and a little too loudly, so George lowered one hand in midair for me to keep it down. In a quieter tone, I said, “Most people who aren’t in our family aren’t aware of how long we’ve been trying to adopt, and no one we know is having trouble conceiving. It’s at times seemed like a mockery of fate, that they’ve all had children so easily.” Then another thought came to me. “But what about the child’s health? And how old will it be? Will it be a boy or a girl?”

George smiled. He was clearly gratified at having been able to help. “The child has been well cared for by Annabeth and Elizias Monkford, fed good, healthy farm food whatever its age. If it’s an older child, it’s been given lots of good exercise and good home teaching, as Annabeth was a teacher before she married, and it knows some things about proper discipline and respect and has some book learning, including the Good Book. Look, why don’t you go home and confide in Molly—Alice, I mean, of course—and the two of you decide about what age you’re looking for, what sex, and come back and see me. Meantime, I’ll speak to Elizias and let him know I may have someone else interested. The last point is, though he doesn’t sell children, as that would be slaving, he does charge a small finder’s fee of $100 per child for infants and children under three, and $200 for older ones. But the ones above five or six, he keeps and raises as his own, and has never had a single problem with any of his kids.”

I laughed, in some relief still, but with some bemusement. “It’s funny that he charges more for those older ones; that’s the reverse attitude of adoption agencies, where they seem to regard the older ones as harder to place.”

“Ah, well, for Elizias and Annabeth, they’ve spent more time and money and upbringing attention on the older ones. You’ll see, they don’t regard it as a commercial transaction, really. They take my vouching for you as adequate proof of your trustworthiness and kindness, they don’t serve strangers. If you knew how many people here, in this state alone, they have helped! But I don’t mean to make you start looking askance at your neighbors for evidence of illicit adoption, which is what this would be called at the very least if the authorities found it out, so I urge you again to keep it to yourself. Let me know soon. Now, I’ll bet Alice would like to hear from you, so you finish up and toddle on home with the news, my friend. And if it can suit as a plan, it’s been a pleasure to help.”

With this subtle hint, I was careful only to leave George his usual tip with my meal, which, while generous, did not reflect all that I owed him then, or that we’ve come to owe him since. And that was the way the whole thing was set up. I went home and did as he suggested, and though she found it hard to believe that our luck could have changed and was quite suspicious at first of the Monkfords, finally Alice had to admit that George would never steer us wrong, and that whomever he vouched for was certainly likely to be worthy. We agreed that we preferred to have a male child, as at the time in society matters of inheritance and legality were unfairly but rather strictly geared to favoring the male line. We also wanted in our heart of hearts an infant, and, as we weren’t in any way experienced with children and infants, one who was fairly tranquil, though we knew that babies as a lot were unpredictably querulous at times. We were more than willing to embark upon this new chapter of our lives, however, and to that end, Alice went out of town and bought the best-recommended books on infant- and child-rearing that she could find, in preparation. In between the consultations for our practice, we read them to each other in the most important parts, often getting amused at the huge challenge we had set ourselves and feeling elated at the same time.

On the appointed day when I was to pick up our infant, whom we had decided to name Isaiah, after the prophet who predicted the coming of Christ and whose name means “God is Salvation,” I was filled with a certain amount of trepidation, not unlike that I had felt in my early life when I was hellbent upon some form of mischief, with accomplices in mayhem, that would lead to disorder and chaos, for I think and hope that I was not bad by inclination, but only by casual habit, and I often hesitated when about to follow a bad course. My trepidation at this time was because I feared that someone would see me with the bassinette bearing it into the woody area where the Monkfords lived and that I would get them into trouble or even myself likewise. But they had left instructions with George as to where I should go, and so I was unattended by any intruders as I walked across the sward to a wooded area away from the high road up above, where I could still see occasional sluggish country vehicles passing, hay wains and chugging tractors and the like.

Suddenly, though, as I kept bearing down on the path I’d been instructed to follow, I heard a loud, cacophonous noise, attempting to approach a sort of melody but sounding more like simple caterwauling of instruments, perhaps a calliope. When in apprehension I looked back to the road on my left up the bank, I saw a crawling, huge series of arm and leg extensions atop machine parts of all different sizes and shapes and colorful in the extreme, in all shades of the rainbow. The procession resembled nothing so much to my startled mind as something out of the science fiction of the writer H. G. Wells, of whose work I had long been a devotee.

When I recollected myself, and my good sense and reassured conscience reasserted themselves, I saw that it was simply the machinery of the summer travelling carnival come to town, on its way to a farther field down the road where it would set up shop for a few weeks for the edification of its local country audience. I bore on, now doubly intent on my mission to escape detection and come away with the new member of our family, the one who would be our heir and scion.

As I reached the heavy tree line, I saw a man approaching through a break in the trees. This seemed unusual, and I wasn’t sure who he was, but it was the appointed time for the meeting with Elizias Monkford, so I first plumped up the covers in the bassinette as a facsimile of a baby already there but turned it away from the one who approached me, so it couldn’t be seen to be empty. There was no reason to worry, however. He stopped; waiting for me to come closer, as I warily made my way towards him, he raised a cautious hand and waved.

“Dane Bettingsley?” he asked when I got to him. He was dark-featured and intense-looking, but had a kind face and manner. Though he looked a bit worn, he seemed strong and in the prime of life still. When I nodded and flipped open my wallet in my spare hand to my driver’s license and solicitor’s card for identification, his mouth quirked a bit, but he held out a weathered hand when I had put it up and said, “Monkford. I’ve got to go ahead of you and get the small things packed up, and such papers as we have, you know, an approximate birthday and health records—”

“You’ve kept up with that? How? I mean, without being—caught.”

His mouth smirked again, but not in an unfriendly way. “We have our own network of friends, and a doctor who comes to treat us. Not to worry, the baby’s healthy, five months or so old, born in January, things like that in the records we have. It’s not much. We don’t want to hand you the papers and the infant out here, that’s why we instructed you to bring a bassinette, where they could be hidden. George Barnes will of course have given you the usual precautions.” He paused and looked at me with one of the keenest and most intent examinations I’ve ever been subjected to. When I meet my Maker, I think to find such a glance as that, questioning my conscience and intentions.

“Yes,” I answered. “We, my wife Alice and I, commit to keeping faith with you and won’t ever reveal anything about you to anyone else.” I paused. “Look, I hate to bring this up, it seems petty, but do I give you the $100 now, or—I’m a little nervous from all the recent excitement and traffic up the road, and I want to be back home as soon as possible. I’m so worried about being detected!”

His voice was soothing, but firm. “Nothing to worry about, all you look like is a man out for a walk with his baby in a bassinette, and that’ll all be true enough very soon. Just keep calm. I’m going to go back to the house on Briary Glen and tell Annabeth you’re on your way. You bear on down against the tree line—see that path there, that I crossed?”

I nodded.

“You keep walking in the same direction you’re going now, on that path, and one of my boys will meet you and bring you down through the trees to our place. We’ll be waiting for you, and you and I and Annabeth can settle things then.” It was curious, but as he started to turn away and go back the way he had come, instead of shaking my hand again, he made some sort of salute like a dismissed soldier in a very casual way. Then, he was gone, and disappeared back through the trees as I kept bearing on where he had described and instructed.

The woods were filled with a riotous chorus of birds, and butterflies flitted from the field which I was leaving across my path as I approached the trees. All this and being closer to being in private relieved my mind and lifted my spirits. I looked at my watch. It was about midafternoon, but the June sun was quite hot on my back, and I resolved to be sure and cover up the baby’s tender skin well with the bassinette blankets. I’d earlier had fears that maybe the baby would fret and be discontented, but that was the least of my worries now; as long as I could get him safely home, he was welcome to set up as big a fuss as his little healthy lungs could manage!

Nearly as suddenly as Elizias had appeared, a far smaller figure appeared from the trees ahead as I walked along. He was only about seven or so by appearance, and was wearing a checked shirt, suspenders, and a pair of short pants. His feet were bare, and his cheeks as ruddy as those of any country boy I’d ever seen. His hair was dark, his eyes snapping black even at this distance. He was featured so like his father and protector that I concluded this boy was one of Elizias’s own sons, sent to lead me on.

He waited until I reached him, then asked, “What’s your name?”

“Dane. What’s yours?”

“Never mind. Look at the violets up here, just this way. This is the way we go, to Briary Glen. Watch your step now, Dane.”

I was enchanted by the combination of his secrecy about his name, his interest in the flowers, which were not after all violets, but were purple, and his concern about my balance. “You know, it’s late in the season for violets. They’re much earlier. They are purple flowers, though, and of about the same shade as violets, I’ll give you that.”

“That’s okay, you don’t have to give me any, I like them blooming where they are. I see them every time this season when I come up here.” Before I could explain my idiomatic expression, he continued, asking, “What are they, if they aren’t violets?”

“You know, I don’t know. I bet, though, if you took some home to your mom the teacher, she could tell you. Maybe you could pick just one.”

He looked as if considering this, and then reached down and plucked one, tucking it into his shirt pocket. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. That means, ‘You’re welcome.’”

“Oh, okay. C’mon, we’d better go now, or we’ll be late.”

I wondered if there was some time frame during which I was supposed to arrive and be seen, but I’d only been told the time for the original meeting with Elizias.

“Okay, this is the hard part. Do you want me to carry the little basket?” he asked. We had approached a perpendicular path that led down the bank through the woods, and it was steep. Luckily, I was wearing shoes that could grip such a path fairly well.

“This is called a ‘bassinette.’ It’s a basket just for a baby. And no, I thank you for the thought, but it’s a bit cumbersome. I’d better carry it. You go ahead and just lead the way, but go slowly. I’ll follow your lead.”

It took some doing, and I wondered how we were going to get back up the bank well and safely with a baby of five months’ weight inside, but that was something I thought I could deal with later, and so I edged my way down the bank behind my mystery benefactor and guide, one foot higher than the other, until we reached the bottom of the rise. The woods were cool and breezy, and it was a relief to be in a world of green ceiling so thick that it was nearly impossible to see sky for the leaves and overhanging branches.

The boy continued to lead me along a well-worn path until we saw a sprightly and quite large country cottage ahead, with numerous room additions built on, obviously though not inharmoniously since the original construction.

When we had been greeted and ushered inside by Elizias himself, who handed me papers of various kinds and explained them, next watching me secrete them in the depths of the bassinette along with a few teddies and stray bits of baby clothes below the platform for the baby, I took a minute to look around. We were in the informal foyer of the main section. To one side, which he led me into next, was a room filled to every corner and nook with cozy little tables and chairs, all prettily painted and well kept up. And at each table was at least one child and usually several, engaged in eating a late afternoon snack. They were mostly very young, and of all complexions and ethnicities, so that I knew Elizias was spending well more than he took in for their upkeep, as most of them were not the children of his body. From another room nearby and to the back, I could hear the sounds of several infants, some fretting or crying in a normal sort of baby way, others making chortling or cooing sounds, and I could hear more than one adult female voice making appropriate sounds of response.

Elizias and I concluded the business part of the deal, with my handing him the $100 in cash plus another $200 that I hoped he would accept. I had spoken to George about this further donation, and he had said that he wasn’t sure Elizias would accept, but as most people who came to him didn’t have my means, maybe he would find it welcome when knowing that it posed no hardship to me. I explained this to the children’s benefactor, and he reddened, and thanked me heartily, still not shaking my hand, but taking it between the two of his and giving it a good hard pat on the back. “You’re doing good here,” I said. And he thanked me again for the thought.

Then, from the babies’ room, I heard “Elizias, would you come now?”

Giving me a final salute as he had before, he went to the babies’ room and soon amid directions about certain babies from a mature female voice, and some laughter from a younger woman’s voice, I heard—improbably to my mind at the time, though I would soon be assuming such a role myself—a male voice singing a lullaby that seemed to quiet most of the crying, if not all.

A buxom woman with the same rosy cheeks as the little boy of my first acquaintance and the same brunette coloring as her husband and child came in bearing a baby swaddled up in warm blankets, one which was waving a fist in the air in a languid manner and making a few stray baby sounds. Momentarily distracted, I thought to myself that it was no wonder people thought they were Romany people, as it was a typical supposition that all Roms were saturnine, dark-haired and -eyed folk, despite much evidence to the contrary, particularly in Scandinavian and Northern lands and climes.

She approached me at first uncertainly, but as I placed the bassinette on a spare table and made it ready in top to receive its intended inhabitant, smiling at her as reassuringly as I could, she came towards me with more self-command. “Annabeth?” I said. “Hello, I’m Dane Bettingsley. Is that the young man I am to pick up today?”

“Yes,” she said, very tremulous all of a sudden. “And he’s a dear. Just to have something to call him, we’ve been calling him ‘Charlie,’ but of course, you’ll already have a name picked out. He’s the most pleasant and happy little baby, already laughs and coos and tries to sing with us when we sing to him. We’re going to miss him—” she seemed near to tears. “—but we’re all very happy that you’re taking him to a good home.” She hesitated, not really wanting to give him up, but then handing him across to me. I did my best to take him in the approved baby-holding manner taught me by my wife, and George’s wife on a slack shift at the tavern. He looked up at me in a noncommittal manner. I awkwardly made some inarticulate sounds that were not like anything I’d ever made before, but evidently, ‘Charlie’ was of a temperate, even an optimistic, frame of mind, and he cautiously hazarded a slight smile. I thought that at the age of five months, surely such a smile was no longer just gas, as George’s wife had instructed might be the case.

Annabeth and I looked at each other, I at her for approval of my tactics and apparent success, she at me as reassurance. She patted my outside hand and squeezed it, not able to venture upon words for the threat of tears. Looking at her, I made a decision then and there about the naming of the infant. I couldn’t very well name him Isaiah Charlie or Charlie Isaiah, but there was something I could do, and I vowed I would.

“Annabeth,” I said, taking another look down at the tiny, scrunched-up face of the baby, who seemed now to be waiting for something momentous, such as I hoped it would be, “This baby is named Isaiah Monkford Bettingsley. And if you or any of yours at any time are in any difficulty or trouble whether legal or financial or something else, you come to me, and in the course of things, after me to him. We’ll look after you. My wife’s name is Alice, though she used to be known as ‘Molly’ when she tended bar for George Barnes at the Quail and Pheasant. You can also approach her. She’s my accountant, and if you feel the need of a woman’s support at any time, she’s your woman. If anybody queries the middle name ‘Monkford,’ we’ll claim some long-lost distant connections in England or somewhere. You can count on us.”

Of course, I had intended to be supportive of her womanly and adoptive parental difficulties at separating from Isaiah, but for the moment, she was overcome with tears and sighs and solemn “thank-you’s” and “you’ve been so kind,” and the like. We said goodbye at the door without my having seen Elizias again, though she regained enough composure to tell me to walk in the opposite direction to that in which I had originally walked, ignoring the path up the incline entirely. I would come, she said, to the end of the tree line for a space in a clearing, and that would lead directly up a much gentler hillside to the parking lot where the car was.

And the upshot of all this was, that we, Alice and I, had our son. We have raised him without any problem or inquiry from anyone, and he has been a model of rectitude and superior intellect, barring a few slight missteps in adolescence, such as most parents experience from their young. We also only heard from the Monkfords one more time, when Annabeth’s mother was ailing and needed care. When we found out how serious her health problems were, we helped to place her in one of the best nursing care facilities in the nation, to Isaiah’s great approval and appreciation, and he periodically took trips to visit her before her death at the age of 105.

I perceive, to the possible frustration and boredom of Mr. Pettis, my worthy lawyer, that I have overstepped the bounds of personal legal record and in many places embarked upon the guessing and guessable realm of creative endeavor, as I have tried to portray my son’s beginnings with our family. Such medical papers as we have regarding his infant health have been placed with Mr. Pettis, and are kept with this account in our family legal documents.

My son, Isaiah Monkford Bettingsley, though not the son of my body, will never be declared to be otherwise by my will, whereon he will figure as my only heir, and co-trustee of my accounts with Mr. Pettis and Ms. Zebulah Anderson, my financial advisor, and as inheritor likewise of any accounts, or remainders, or items left by his mother, Alice Wright Bettingsley, to me. In perpetuity. As we are at death, so God shall find us in Eternity, Blesséd be the Name of the Lord.

Dane Alexander Bettingsley

Addendum: Re: The above account of my father, Dane Alexander Bettingsley.

Though my first adoptive mother, Annabeth Honoria Monkford, died a natural death at the early age of 63, my first adoptive father, Elizias Monkford, is alive, and lives at Briary Glen Cottage still, though I have provided him with a male nurse-companion, as he often exerts himself unnecessarily with woodchopping and other farm tasks even now, in his old age. I go to see him sometimes, and to hear about his adventures in various railroad jobs and during his time as an enlisted man in the Air Force when he was really a young man, who signed up as soon as got his GED early at the age of sixteen, falsely claiming to be eighteen in order to “pass.” The old cottage is still in fairly good repair, partly in response to his own efforts and partly in respect to my own, as I have had it remodeled on the inside, in an attempt to eliminate some of the “loneliness” he says he feels without Annabeth and all the youngsters there. Also visiting him from time to time is his and Annabeth’s niece, Ebriony James, who was with them as a young attendant of the children at the time I was adopted, or around then. She too is now getting on in years, but still brings him some baked goods or cooked items which are not that good for him, as his nurse attests, but as he is an old man and not in really bad health, we let it go.

The above account, though perhaps unduly pious and apprehensive of the judgment of the God my father Dane so strongly came to believe in, or at least to attempt to appease in his later years, is as far as I know accurate in all particulars, as I have chatted with the people concerned who were in his and my mother’s confidence. I have never met knowingly any of the other children who must still be alive around here somewhere who also were provided for by the Monkfords, but every now and then over the years, when I have met someone my age or older who doesn’t at all resemble the rest of their family, I do wonder. As far as I have discovered, none of the rest of them bear the middle name Monkford, or indeed, any last name at all but their adoptive families’.

Here ends this account of the beginnings of my life, some of which must always remain open to conjecture and mysterious, except that Elizias Monkford was able at the first to write among my papers for Dane and Alice that my birth parents were from “far away,” and thus I need not fear the almost infinitesimal chance of marrying a near relative. As I at the age of fifty am not yet married, but have recently moved in with my long-time friend and companion, Bertrand Millander, also from “far away,” in this case Provence, I don’t think there’s reason to worry. Both my adoptive father Dane, to whom the main question about Bertrand was whether he was a good Christian or not, and my original adoptive father, Elizias, have for men of their age and cultures been after a while accepting and tolerant of my relationship with Bertrand. Dane left Bertrand a small legacy in his will, and Elizias welcomes him to visit with me sometimes. And now, despite the example of my father Dane’s wordiness, here actually ends the record, for now.

Note to Readers: Dear Friends, This story of mine is a mystery to me, as I might as well confess, but I did not write it in any conscious imitation of anyone else; a number of my friends have said it reminds them of the tone and style of Dickens or Hawthorne, and others have teased me about passing some man's writing off as my own, as they don't think a woman could have written it. To resolve the matter once and for all, please let me explain: I dreamed this whole story one night in the fall of 2022, from start to finish. I've had dream fragments before which have inspired poems, stories, what have you, but this one was the story with complete characterization, images, events, and most of the conversations complete when I awoke. Like Coleridge, I too attribute my dream to the overabundance in my system of an intoxicant, though mine was caffeine, not opium. I had been staying up many nights to the dawn more than was good for me, with the result that even when I drank one or two cups of coffee, I could still fall asleep within the hour and sleep uninterrupted for at least five hours at a time. When I awoke one night from such a sleep, this story was the result; all that remained was to rush to write it down. As to the question of whether or not a woman can write a story in a man's voice or a man in a woman's, though it probably depends on the individual, I'd say I prefer to entertain no piggish or priggish prejudices: it happened the way I have said. I hope you will be intrigued by the characterization narratives of my two speakers. VLB

Victoria Leigh Bennett, (she/her). Greater Boston, MA area, born WV. Ph.D., English/Theater. Website: In-Print: "Poems from the Northeast," 2021. OOP but on website: "Scenes de la Vie Americaine (en Paris)," [in English], 2022. Between Fall 2021-Spring 2023, Victoria will have published at least 34 times in: @Feversof, @press_roi, @HooghlyReview, @LovesDiscretion, @barzakhmag, @TheUnconCourier, @AmphoraMagazine, @thealienbuddha, @madrigalpress, @winningwriters, @cultofclio. She has also been accepted with 4 poems for the November 2023 issue of @Dreich25197318. Victoria writes Fiction/Flash/CNF/Poetry/Essays. She is the organizer behind the poets' collective @PoetsonThursday on Twitter along with Dave Garbutt and Alex Guenther. Twitter: @vicklbennett & @PoetsonThursday. Mastodon: & Victoria is ocularly and emotionally disabled, which accounts for her running into walls and them shouting at them for getting in her way.


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