In A Season of Calm Weather
by Ruth Berman
used by permission of the author
Alice and Wendy and Dorothy walked arm in arm over the beach beside a sea they could not agree in naming. Rainbows sparkled in the tops of the waves as they over-balanced and plunged to earth. Wendy and Dorothy disagreed as to which was more unlikely, land or sea.
“But of course it’s Neverland,” said Wendy. “The sea never had a name that Peter told me.”
“Oh the land’s here, sure enough,” said Dorothy. “It’s just the ocean between here and civilized countries that could never be navigated. That’s why it is the Nonestic Ocean.”
Alice waited politely a moment, but the other girls had come to an impasse in their dispute, and Alice said, “No, that’s just why it isn’t. Neither of them is. One wouldn’t name it wasn’t if it were, you know.”
Both Wendy and Dorothy were inclined to argue this judgment as incorrect and incomprehensible, but far ahead they saw a ring of wet little creatures running round and round, and they stopped talking to look. In the middle of the creatures were a walrus and a man with a work bench. The man was planing what was evidently a very knotty piece of wood, and the walrus, lolling with its tail in the air, was evidently giving unwanted advice. Neither of them paid any attention to the creatures racing round the oval of which they were the foci.
Wendy and Dorothy, re-considering, asked Alice what the sea was.
“Tears,” she said.
But this answer they would not allow, and they broke apart to enjoy the pleasure of racing the wave-edge, trying how close they could come without getting drenched.
When all had lost, they found a warm, dry rock to climb, where they could sit in the light. Wendy, a little nervously, walked all the way round it first and checked that its top was over the high-tide line before scrambling up after them.
“Now we’re taller than he is,” said Dorothy, pointing at the carpenter.
“That isn’t very much, perhaps,” said Alice thoughtfully.
Dorothy laughed. “It’ll do,” she suggested.
“Not always,” said Wendy.
“Why not?” Dorothy said.
“Oh, well. One does want to grow up in the end, you know.” Wendy lowered her voice on these words, as if expecting disagreement.
“I don’t know,” said Alice. “I’ve tried growing, and I didn’t care for it.” She frowned. “If one could take one’s time at it, I think one might like it.”
Dorothy leaned back on her hands and looked out over the water. Something that might have been a dolphin or a mermaid had jumped. The tail flashed purple in the light as it disappeared beneath the wave. “It’s nice here,” she said.
Wendy started to nod agreement, but then gasped as she looked further out to sea. A sail was rising up over the horizon. She could not yet see the ship, but she cried, “Pirates!”
“The Crescent Moon!” said Dorothy.
“The Bellman?” said Alice. She stood tiptoe, trying to see, and fell. Wendy tried to catch her, and dropped off the rock, too.
“–don’t you agree?”
Wendy took a sip of tea to cover her confusion. Really, she would never be used to having the dear old Bloomsbury neighborhood in the mode. But even with a neighbor less formidable than Mrs. Woolf, it was not right to doze off while giving a little party. If that was what she had done. She looked nervously at the elderly woman beside her. Mrs. … Mrs. Hargreaves, that was it. She cleared her throat, trying to think what to say.
Mrs. Hargreaves hesitated, apparently as much at a loss as herself, picked up the teapot and passed it to Mrs. Woolf. “Won’t you have some more tea?” she said, and in moving cups about the conversation make a new start.
Wendy would have been grateful, but as the tea-party entered the domains of civility, she lost the threads of the dream or daydream or whatever it had been. She sighed, and Mrs. Hargreaves sighed, and they talked about modern art.
Dorothy, left alone, tried jumping down, but she was still on the beach beside the sea. The ship was too far out to signal. The walrus and its companions did not look well able to give her directions. On one other side up the beach, all she saw were a little boy and girl building sand castles and, beyond them, a man in a white suit, eating a peach. The juice was dripping off his chin. When he saw that she saw him, he turned red, dropped the peach, and strolled in the opposite direction, trying unsuccessfully to look nonchalant.
Dorothy walked inland to look for a way across the desert back to Oz, where they do not grow old.
reprinted by permission of the author.
This story was read at a “Readings from Rivendell” meeting of the local (Twin Cities) Mythopoeic Society Rivendell Group some years before it was published in Amazing in 1986. I’ve always thought it wonderfully characteristic of Ruth, and also of the Rivendell Group. It’s an adult story, dependent on those classic children’s fantasies, and the history behind them, yet also making a critical observation about a difference between American and English approaches to these kinds of stories, or at least about the differences between Baum and Barrie or Carroll. -David Lenander