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Nude In Tub

The southern edge of Quilli, early morning.

Elsie Feuilleloop was said to be the most fearful woman in Quilli, possibly the most fearful woman on all of the earth. No one questioned if there was a reason for this. Fears are private, all agreed, something like sexual feelings or the ways in which some people wonder if they are truly going to die.

Besides, Elsie Feuilleloop would talk to no one. Her house was kept shut and locked, the storm windows on, and the curtains pulled summer and winter. People wondered about the air in her house.

The manager of Don's Grocery delivered food to her house at seven o'clock every Sunday evening but he had never seen her. They billed her, he said, and the money was always in the store mail by noon on Tuesday; cash, Canadian, calculated to the exact exchange rate.

Thus, it was assumed Elsie Feuilleloop wasn't dead.

Elsie Feuilleloop assumed she wasn't dead, too, but it was something to think about. She had a big leg and for a long time she waited for the swelling to go down before she'd go out in public. That attitude lasted - she was not much concerned about dates or times - for ten years.

She'd had a big compost box in her backyard and she'd been forking the weeds and leaves and grass clippings from one side to the other when she'd fallen down to one leg. Something had either stuck or bitten her because the leg had swollen up, from calf to thigh, in about a week. The swelling was pretty consistently the size of a basketball.

She had no relatives and no one else, in her opinion, worth talking to so her oddity could not be dispersed by conversation the way it often is in small towns. It didn't hurt either so there was no reason to go to the doctor. People in Quilli tend not to seek treatment if there isn't any pain.

In the eleventh year of this strangeness, so it was said (this was the 1930's), there was an eruption on her big leg. It had taken time but finally, she was sure, the poison was being drawn out.

Not exactly.

The pustule was, indeed, that, gray and green and blue and puffy, but it didn't burst and yetch all over with the kind of stuff no one dared touch. Instead - she kept diaries so this is not all conjecture - it sprouted. It was a point at first, a sprout, a seedling. Then it bloomed.

Elsie's fascination with this was complete. Childless, even in her youth, she wrote: Fertility! Amazing! It is as though I were blossoming from the still empty grave.

She was not a prolific diarist, nor was she a recorder of feelings and moods, and all of her entries were written on Don's Grocery wrapping paper neatly trimmed to an 8-by-11 inch size.

An inch, if anything, the color of sweet lime. I have taken to opening one curtain for the morning sun.

Some have said it must have been like mothering a cancer.

Two inches! Clearly, the most delicate of needles. Like some gentle varicosity, I begin to see its roots just beneath my skin.

Joy gives no quarter to horror. Elsie writes of "this child" living to be two hundred years old, of its standing up to all manner of storms, floods, and great snows. Rhapsodically, she imagines fine treaties being signed beneath its branches.... Not so much the spinster as the hermit, she writes of lovers shaded by its boughs and frankly, too: sweet sex and all the joyous juice of youth.

"My God!" however, one wag opined, "a simple pluck and the whole damn leg would have returned to normal."

Normal, of course, had not been part of Elsie Feuilleloop for a long time.

Six inches! But I fear it drains me in strenuous measure. Wouldst seem I am not earth enough.

Beyond that, there was only the will: butcher paper, durable ink. There was to be no service and no casket and the proceeds from her estate were to go to the town. For the rest, no one knows. Was she buried upside down? Was that leg removed from her body? Small towns lose all of that in time.

There is a stone, however, at the cemetery, the old one right near the center of town. It reads Elsie Feuilleloop, A Fearful Woman,though it's not easy to read, the face of the stone being only inches from a gorgeous and easily sixty-foot-tall pine tree.

from, "Glory"