Miss Alice’s Pink Umbrella by Stephen Halpert

Miss Alice’s Pink Umbrella by Stephen Halpert

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Miss Alice’s Pink Umbrella by Stephen Halpert

Although she had never met Miss Alice, assistant librarian Hilde Flowers had heard enough scuttlebutt about her to be prepared for any eventuality. Prepared for exactly what, however Hilde wasn’t sure.

Now finding herself moderating the monthly Senior Book Discussion, she began to understand.

The meeting had somehow devolved into a literary battleground. It appeared to Hilde that Miss Alice, while seemingly mild and inconsequential, might be responsible.

The focus for this month’s discussion centered on realism in fiction. Peyton Place, a controversial novel of small town life in New Hampshire was the initial title being discussed.

"I’d never live there," said Bessie Flag, a part time florist of generous proportions. "That doctor! And the Mackenzie woman and her daughter!"

Carl Smung, a retired fireman, balding and a bit paunchy nodded in agreement. He usually agreed with anything Bessie Flag said. She was after all a widow and a good cook. Carl liked to eat.

Then Hilde made her fatal blunder. Because she hadn’t as yet spoken, she turned to Miss Alice in time to see her surreptitiously purloin most of the carrot sticks from the refreshment tray, dropping them into her small bag. This she ignored. "And how about you Alice? Did Peyton Place leave any lasting impressions?"

Alice sat straighter in her chair and clutched the handle of her grandmother’s pink umbrella. "I could hardly read it. It was so frightening. To me fiction has always been terrifying and confusing. The minute one starts to take a novel seriously then all is lost! And soon it could be too late."

Lydia Plank peered at Alice. "Too late for what?"

"For everything." And for emphasis, she banged the metal point of her umbrella on the floor three times. That startled Miss Bubbles, the senior librarian enough to look up from her desk.

Miss Alice nodded. "Suppose you were raised to believe that the fiction you read as a child was real? Soon that innocent child couldn’t distinguish what is real from the irrational or even the peculiar."

"Could you explain that?" Carl Smung asked. He noticed Alice was slipping small slithers of celery from the platter into her bag. Poor dear must be hungry, he thought.

Alice sighed. "If as children everything we are led to believe is true then over time it becomes true."

Carl pursed his lips. "Well, almost everything," he said. "And now they’re saying we can live forever, but I’m not so sure about that."

"I believed that ever since I was a child." Bessie said firmly. "My parents believed it, and it made perfect sense to me until they died."

"We seem to be drifting," Hilde said gently. "Let’s move on," She decided not to pay attention to Miss Alice’s swiping of practically all the raw vegetables from the refreshment platter. Poor dear she thought. Must live on a terribly limited income. She was however curious why Alice hadn’t taken any of the brownies or baked goods.

Hilde smiled. "Has anyone had a chance to look at Catch 22?"

Alice shook her head. "How can anyone make any sense out of life if they’re continually being confused by fiction? It just isn’t fair, especially to an impressionable mind." She banged her umbrella on the floor. Miss Bubbles recoiled and frowned.

Lydia Plank raised her eyebrows and blinked at Alice. "If I were you," she started to say…

"You think I need to see a psychiatrist, don’t you?" Alice interrupted. "Well in case you’re interested, once I did see one…several times. In conclusion, he agreed with everything I said and told me I didn’t need to see him any longer."

Lydia sighed. "In which case why don’t you just curl up with the phone book’s Yellow Pages?"

Alice frowned at Lydia. "I’d rather read the Yellow Pages. At least that offers substantial information, especially if one needs a plumber."

Carl Smung looked at Alice. "You really avoid fiction? I’ve never known anyone who didn’t read at least a few novels."

Bessie beamed. "I love romance novels. They’re so realistic while at the same time, warming."

Hilde had hopes of steering the discussion away from the Yellow Pages. "Of course," she said," there’s considerable fiction with strong overtones of reality."

But Miss Alice persisted. "Believe me; the mind of a child is impressionable, encased in a sensitive world. Fiction during those formative years can cause lifelong dilemmas that must be confronted one way or the other. Before he told me I was fine just the way I was, my psychiatrist said I’ve adapted well to life."

Hilde sighed and stole a look at her watch. This particular hour was crawling. She began to feel frustrated. She wanted to snatch Miss Alice’s pink umbrella and bend it in two.

Finally, the hour concluded and the monthly senior book discussion group came to an end without any actual carnage or slanderous accusations. Miss Bubbles surveyed the scene but stayed at her desk.

As they were leaving Bessie took Carl aside. "I’ve baked an apple pie for desert tonight."

"Is that an invitation?"

She looked at him coyly. "What do you think?"

He patted his tummy, took her arm and together they left.

Lydia Plank eyed Alice. ‘Sometimes I just don’t understand you."

"Oh, that’s all right," Miss Alice said. "Sometimes I don’t understand myself either, so that makes two of us." Lydia Plank smiled at Hilde, gathered her armload of books and left.

Miss Alice thanked Hilde, assuring her that she’d be back next month. Then holding her pink umbrella and clutching her small purse bursting with veggies, she left the library. Once outside she was joined by a tall white rabbit wearing a dark Edwardian tail coat, a red vest, and white gloves.

"Treats for you," Alice whispered handing him her bag. "Carrot sticks, celery and slithers of radish and green pepper."

He nodded, handed her back her bag, and took her arm. "We must hurry," he said. "I’m late; I’m late for a very important date."

On her way to the reference desk, Hilde happened to look out the window. To her surprise she saw Miss Alice, one hand on the handle of her pink umbrella, the other handing the small bag with the veggies to a large white rabbit in a dark Edwardian tail coat, red vest and white gloves.

Hilde rushed over to Miss Bubbles’ desk and reported what she had seen.

"Oh, you must be careful," Miss Bubbles assured her. "Or else your imagination will run away with you: an occupational hazard for librarians."

Just as Miss Alice had wished, it was a perfectly lovely spring day. Holding her ruffled pink umbrella her grandmother had bequeathed her, arm in arm with her friend the white rabbit, Miss Alice strolled down the street.

About the author…

A graduate of Emerson College, Stephen Halpert has been a published author since the 1970s. Most recently, his weekly column “American Scene,” which ran in The Grafton News from 1989 to 2022, featured humorous vignettes of his life with his wife, Tasha, and serial fiction. Since 2020, Halpert has authored a trilogy, The Loves of Gilberto, which he describes as, “a love story with a hint of murder.” In 2018, Halpert published his first collection of fictional tales, Abracadabra Moonshine and Other Stories, available on Amazon. His next writing venture is titled “Mona Lisa’s Eyebrows and other stories.” Contact Stephen to learn more.

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