August 3, 2016
Congratulations to Dianna MacLeod, our “Whidbey Writes” featured writer for August. We’re pleased to be able to share her short story, “Gloves,” with you.
The purpose of “Whidbey Writes” is to encourage writers with a Whidbey connection to submit short fiction and poetry for publication in Whidbey Life Magazine, thereby giving our readers an opportunity to enjoy these creative writings. Throughout 2015 and 2016, Whidbey Writes has published monthly selections of short fiction and poetry online. The most popular of these entries were also published in the Fall/Winter 2015 and Spring/Summer 2016 print editions of Whidbey Life Magazine.
We publish the original work of selected winners at the beginning of each month as part of Whidbey Writes. Thanks to volunteer editors Heather Anderson, Mureall Hebert and Chris Spencer, who review submissions throughout the year and pass on the work they enjoy most to Whidbey Life Magazine for publication online and in print.
To see previously selected writings, visit the Whidbey Writes page here.
By Dianna MacLeod
1919 October 12; morning
The train that carried me clear across my native land—this country of plains and rivers, silver sagebrush and purple peaks—has deposited me here, at the ends of the earth. I imagined there would be a cliff. A sharp drop off. Rocks below on which, if I took a running leap and threw myself over, I would be dashed. But the ends of the earth are nothing like that…at least that I can discern. Because the ends of the earth are shrouded in fog.
This place, MukilTEo—not Mucky-Leeto or Mah-Kilt-I-Oh—is a place of fog. And wood. Nothing like the stolid brick-encased drawing rooms of Boston, where I was, until so recently, forced to pour and pass cups of tea from a seemingly bottomless pot as mother, father, and their fusty friends exchanged views about me and my destiny—when will I marry? Who will I marry? Is hope of my marrying as dim as a lantern whose wick is burnt down to a stub? I poured, I passed, I pretended not to hear, all the while aware of my hands inside lace-trimmed white gloves meant to hide them. And my dangling sleeves, extra long—special request to my dressmaker—hiding the nicks, scrapes, and notches on my skin, the result of clumsy use of my tools in the half darkness while sculpting small pieces of stone worked quietly, beneath the cellar stairs, before dawn, while the house sleeps, an old shawl thrown over my nightdress.
I’ve learned that Mukilteo means “good camping ground” in the language spoken by the Tu-LALL-ip—not “TOO-la-lip”—native people. And for me, it is but a temporary camp on my way to Whidbey Island. The name of the place seems straightforward, but there may be some mystery in its pronunciation I’ve not yet discovered. WHY-Dee-Bay. Or Wa-HID-Be-Why.
As I wait for the steamboat, I observe this wooden world in which I find myself. Everything here is made of lumber, from sidewalks to storefronts to the lighthouse sounding its horn into the fog. From the little I can see inland, beyond the borders of the town, trees blanket the land in every direction, jostling for space in which to spread their branches. I can see nothing of my island destination, or, indeed, nothing at all in the seaward direction. When the steamboat arrives, it will require of me considerable faith to board it and allow it to carry me away into that dense fog toward the strangers I long and fear to meet. I find myself clenching my hands inside their traveling gloves. My other pair of gloves—white, trimmed with lace—are packed inside my trunk, should occasion demand I once again hide my hands from polite society.
1919 October 12; afternoon
“You look half starved.”
Those were the first words of Margaret Camfferman when I arrived on the doorstep of the Brackenwood Artists’ Colony.
She is correct about one thing: starved, I surely am, but not for food. Starved for the time, place, and privacy to tell my stories in stone. To sculpt. A most unsuitable pastime for a young lady of a certain social standing. For, perhaps, any female of any standing.
Over luncheon of an orange-fleshed fish caught in these waters, Peter Camfferman tells me I am not the only artist in residence, and mine is not the only studio here at Brackenwood; several others are occupied, at the moment by members of the Women Painters of Washington. Will their hands be stained with indigo and smell of turpentine? Are the chipped nails and nicked flesh concealed beneath my dangling sleeves about to become a badge of belonging? Oh, that it may be so!
The Camffermans consider themselves abstract painters—and I confess I don’t yet know what that means. I do know it is modern, and, if modern means that women are allowed—even encouraged!—to paint and sculpt and attempt all manner of artistic endeavor, then modern is fine by me.
Did the Camffermans find it strange I kept my traveling gloves on during luncheon? I wanted to remove them, but much to my dismay found that my habit of hiding my hands prevailed…just as if I were pouring tea under father’s watchful eye. Physical distance is not emotional distance, it seems.
1919 October 12; late afternoon.
This island is populated by rampant ferns and dark wedges of conifers…at least, the little I could see of it in the dissipating fog as Peter Camfferman led me along a trail to my very own studio. Formerly a horse stable, he told me. I expected the studio to be made from wood, but to my great surprise it is not. It may be the only stone building west of the Cascade mountain range.
The roof is not a roof in the conventional sense, but I suppose I am not a woman in the conventional sense. Strips of scalloped tin are fitted round immense plates of thick glass resting on beams. The studio was built to withstand the metallic temper of horses. Wood darkened by animal piss and sweat…bleached and whitewashed for me.
The wood-paneled, arched double doors of the studio open onto a lane and permit delivery of large pieces of stone. (I am to go to a quarry and choose one tomorrow!) Through those same accommodating doors, I’m meant to send my finished pieces out into the world. I can’t quite imagine, as all my sculptures before this were conceived and executed so as to be small enough to smuggle upstairs in the pocket of a dress.
On one wall, a smock and apron hang from pegs. No more sculpting in a nightgown! A pair of thick leather gloves rest on a pedestal. Clearly, these are intended to protect my hands against the possible injuries inflicted by working large pieces of stone. These gloves are padded and triple stitched, yet supple. Gloves made for a singular purpose. Gloves that know their reason for being. Will they fit me, I wonder.
Shelves attached to the wall hold rows of brown and blue glass bottles filled with potions that pock and pit rock…baptismal water and breast milk for stone. In the weak sunlight now filtering through the transparent roof, the bottles shine like watery jewels.
Against the chalk-white purity of this room, tools are scattered about like dark weapons. Saws rest horizontal on tables; mallets and chisels and hammers stand upright in tin cans. Each implement is prepared to split the air with directed force and bring itself up against rock that dares me to make it more beautiful than it already is.
1919 October 13; midnight
Too excited to sleep, I have just returned from a walk to the high bluff behind the studio. The fog had disappeared entirely, blown away by a brisk wind. The stars whirled and spun for their own pleasure, carving out their place in the sky. Even in the darkness, I saw I am indeed on an island, a world of its own, and I looked out on another island, most likely with a name I’ll be unable to immediately pronounce. But I will learn this new language.
Why venture out so late into this unknown territory…where I could, indeed, step off the edge and perish on the rocks below? Why leave what safety and security I have managed to find? Because something of mine firmly demanded it. Strictly commanded it.
A pair of white, lace-trimmed gloves.
Standing on the bluff, looking into the expansive darkness, I held up one glove, and then the other, filling them like balloons with the salt air rushing past. I flung wide my arms and let go. Turning and curvetting in the air, blown this and that way over the water, the gloves waved in frantic flutter. “How will you hide yourself?” “What will become of you?” “Who will you marry?”
I raised both of my naked and imperfect hands. Not to implore. Not to retrieve. Not to recite the old familiar prayers. I raised both hands—the nicked and roughened hands of an artist—in glad farewell to a pair of lace-trimmed white gloves disappearing into the night.
Dianna MacLeod earned her journalism degree at the University of Michigan. She discovered Whidbey Island in 1989 during a residency at Hedgebrook and moved to the island in 2011. A former grant and speech writer, Dianna now concentrates on fiction and plays.
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