Fiction Friday – Out of Her Element, Chapter Nine

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Missed the previous installments? Start with chapter one HERE.

Out of Her Element cover artChapter Nine

After Tabby left to meet her friends, Mira wandered into the kitchen and found Charlotte and Anita studying her deerskin bags. They looked up, and Charlotte waved her hand at the bags.

“Do you know what all this is? I only ask because they arrived the same day you did.”

“It’s food I dried over the summer and early fall,” Mira said as she joined them by the island. “There’s also some herbs for healing and some for cooking and teas.”

Charlotte gave a little laugh. “Now I understand why Miss Della had me go buy a bunch of storage containers and spice jars.”

“Do you want some help putting this stuff in the containers?” She hadn’t meant to create more work for the cook, especially since she could put it away just as easily. Maybe more so, considering she’d had to read the labels for Lucas.

“Yes, you’d better help.” The glance Charlotte cast toward the bags told Mira she’d guessed right about the woman’s inability to read Arabic. “Then you can label it so I know what it is.”

Write out labels the average American could read? Embarrassment burned Mira’s face. “I’ll tell you what everything is, but you’d better label it. People tend to have trouble reading my labels.”

Anita grinned. “My brother has the same problem. His handwriting is so bad that sometimes even he can’t read it.”

They gathered the plastic containers and spice jars, labels and a felt-tip pen. Mira and Anita transferred the food from the deerskin bags to the storage containers, and Charlotte neatly labeled each one. When they reached the herbs, Anita studied the Arabic labels on the pouches.

“This is really pretty.” She traced her fingers over the curving lines as she turned to Mira. “Did you do it?”

“Yeah.” Her heart lifted. Not everyone appreciated the work she’d put into the calligraphy. “I had to label the herbs somehow, and I like the look of Arabic.”

“You can read and write Arabic?”

“Yes. I know Hebrew, too.”

“That’s really neat.”

Charlotte looked up from the label she had just stuck to the last of the plastic containers. “I have an idea. Why don’t you label everything in Arabic? Anita’s right, it is pretty.”

“Okay.” Maybe she’d managed to find friends from her own social class in this unfamiliar world.

Anita placed the herbs in the jars, and Mira told them the name of each herb and what it was for while she wrote out a label in Arabic. Charlotte made the English label and stuck them both to the jars.

Once they put everything away in the large, well-stocked pantry, Anita glanced toward the deerskin bags on the counter. Her expression turned thoughtful, and she headed toward the hall.

“I’ll be right back.”

Charlotte walked over to the island and picked up one of the deerskin bags. She turned it over as she studied it.

“These are beautiful.” She ran her hand across the soft leather. “Did you make them?”

“Some of them. Marnie made the others.” Mira joined her and folded a bag as memories of the woman who’d become a mother to her flooded her mind. Would she ever stop missing Harley and Marnie?

“Well, they’re gorgeous,” Charlotte said.

Mira looked at the bags more closely than she had in months. Since getting kicked out of the cabin, those bags had become a necessary part of life. Now, in this huge kitchen with fancy appliances, she tried to see them the way Charlotte did. Each bag was more or less rectangular with a flap that folded over the top to close it. A single piece of leather formed the shoulder strap, and the top-stitching along the seams continued along the edges of the strap. From there, Mira noticed the small differences in her bags and the ones Marnie had made. They’d both followed the same basic pattern, but Marnie’s stitchwork was more even. Marnie had added a few painted flowers here and there for decoration. Mira had gone for a more Islamic flair with geometric patterns and calligraphy.

Seeing them now and paying attention to the details reminded her of why she’d chosen her style of decoration. It had nothing to do with religion. She missed her parents and her life in Palestine. It hadn’t been easy, but it had been full of love. Harley and Marnie had offered the same unconditional love, but many of Selma’s residents had never accepted her as one of their own. Unlike the village in the West Bank, where she’d been accepted and treated like every other child her age.

Would she find acceptance in this new world of high society and wealth? Or would she be met with disdain because she was a poor immigrant with an Arab last name? Sighing, she admitted to herself that she had no way of knowing until she saw people’s reactions. Until then, she would have to do her best to fit into a world that was as unfamiliar as West Virginia had been when she first arrived in the United States. Either she would learn the local customs and language well enough to fit in, or she would do her best and still be an outcast. Regardless of which way it went, she was stuck there until she could find a way to support herself and move out on her own. With her lack of education, it could be a long wait.

She picked up another bag and folded it while Charlotte tucked the pouches from the herbs in a small bag. When they finished folding the bags, they placed them on a shelf in the pantry. Mira hated leaving them in the kitchen, but she had no good way to store them in her bedroom. Besides, they were intended for food storage, so keeping them in the pantry made more sense.

Anita returned carrying a cloth-covered book. “Miss Mira, is this yours?”

“Yes, it’s my journal.” She accepted it and smoothed a hand across the cover. “Where did you find it?”

“It was lying on the window seat in the library when I dusted in there this morning.”

“I wondered where I left it.” How had she forgotten to take it back to her room last night when she’d finished writing in it? Then again, she’d had a lot on her mind and Tabby had insisted on giving her a tour of the house. “How did you know it was mine?”

Anita’s face flushed, and she clasped her hands together so tightly her knuckles turned white. “When I didn’t see a title on the cover, I looked inside to see what it was.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Mira smiled, hoping to relieve the maid’s nervousness. She had no concerns about anyone spying on her innermost thoughts. Not in this house. “I’m not sure anyone around here could read it.”

Anita laughed, a relieved sound that matched her expression. Charlotte’s gaze shifted back and forth between them, confusion spreading across her face. Mira handed her the journal, unable to resist seeing her reaction.

“Here. Take a look.”

She opened the book to the middle and thumbed through a few pages. Then she handed it back with a chuckle. “You weren’t kidding when you said you know Arabic and Hebrew.”

“No, I wasn’t.” Mira tapped the cover of her journal. “I write in both so I don’t forget the languages.”

“That’s a good idea,” Charlotte said, appearing impressed. “How do you keep from forgetting how to speak them?”

“When I talk to animals, it’s usually in Hebrew or Arabic.” She’d learned a while back that animals preferred her native languages to English. They didn’t seem to mind anyone else speaking to them in English, so she figured it had something to do with her accent. Or maybe it was just wishful thinking giving her an excuse to use the languages she missed hearing everywhere she went.

“Is that how you talk to Maggie?” Charlotte asked. “Lucas told me you sweet-talked the horse into behaving.”

“I did talk to her in Hebrew, but mostly I listened to what she told me with her behavior and gave her the reassurance she needed.”

How many people had Lucas told about the training session? For that matter, why was everyone so stunned? It wasn’t as if she was doing anything unusual. She’d done the same thing with cats and dogs before immigrating, and she’d done the same thing with every animal she came across in West Virginia. True, Harley had taught her a lot about working with horses, but she hadn’t seen anything unusual about his methods. Then again, maybe she had and hadn’t realized it. How many times had she seen someone take a harsh hand to a horse at the fairgrounds? Or swat a misbehaving dog with a rolled up newspaper?

“Well, whatever you did,” Charlotte said, “Lucas said it worked wonders.”

“And good thing, too,” Anita added. “I think Mr. Montaigne was about ready to sell her off.”

“Sell her?” Mira stared at them. “Why would he do that?”

“She’s crazy. Or she was, anyway.” Anita shook her head. “Lucas took me out to the stable and showed her to me one time. That horse kicked the stall wall hard enough I was afraid she’d put a hole in it or break her leg. And all because Lucas tried to coax her into coming closer to the stall door.”

Charlotte nodded. “He tried everything he knew to get that horse to settle down. So did his assistant. Some days it worked. Other days, it was as if they’d never worked with her at all. They did eventually get her to the point where she no longer kicks the stall whenever someone goes near it, but sometimes it still takes both of them to get her out of the stall so they can clean it.”

“Well, it did, anyway.” Anita sent Mira a smile. “From what Lucas says, moving her from one place to another is no longer a problem.”

Mira held up her hands, hoping they would understand what really happened with the horse. “I’m not a miracle worker. She still has a long way to go and could easily slip back into her old habits at any moment.”

“But you made amazing progress with her.”

“Only because I listened to her and used the same tactics Harley taught me when we rescued a couple of horses in worse shape than Maggie.”

“Mira, honey,” Charlotte said, putting her hand on her hip, “No matter how much you try to deny it, you can’t convince me you don’t have a special touch when it comes to animals. I’ve heard how you charmed old Dan into becoming your best friend.”

“Okay, so maybe I do get along well with animals.” She smiled at the memory of Harley saying something similar when he saw her interact with his animals. Her parents had believed she would grow up to work with animals because of how well she got along with them and how much she loved to be around them. “I listen to what they tell me and use my instincts to give them what they need.”

“That’s a good talent to have.”

“Were you some kind of animal trainer before you came here?” Anita asked, her face full of curiosity.

“No, I was just a girl trying to get by in life. The only training I ever did was on my own pets or the animals Harley owned. He taught me a lot about working with horses.”

“I’d say you learned your lessons well.” Charlotte studied her. “Have you considered talking to Mr. Montaigne and Lucas about helping out with the horses while you’re here?”

“Not really. I think they’re going to let me continue working with Maggie, but Lucas has Ben to help him with the regular chores.” The thought of Ben warmed her heart. With any luck she could get to know him better without getting him in trouble by distracting him from his job.

“They’d be crazy to refuse your help with that horse. You’ve made more progress with her in one morning than anyone else has in the entire time she’s been in that stable.”

Mira hoped Charlotte was right. Working with Maggie would give her a great excuse to spend a lot of time in the familiar atmosphere of the stable…and with Ben.


Out of Her Element, Copyright © 2018 by Elizabeth West

Click here to continue on to Chapter Ten…

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