Thither as I look I see each result and glory retracing itself and
nestling close, always obligated …
Walt Whitman — “Savantism” from Leaves of Grass
Robert the American rested alertly on the grass beside the path. He watched his charge, Ellie, as she danced and skipped on the narrow stretch of asphalt, chanting “Point out, point out, point out … I point out you point out … I point them out to you, Bobby. Bobby, Bobby, l-look at allel of them! Say hel-lo, Bobby …”
Robert hated the nickname “Bobby,” and he winced as Ellie repeated it. He was trim, with longish brown hair. He was dressed in jeans and a comfortable long-sleeved t-shirt. He reclined with one leg drawn up into the crook of his arm, the other leg stretched in front of him. He was prepared to leap to his feet if the young woman he had been hired to look after suddenly dashed off or interfered with others out for a Sunday stroll in the Southampton Common.
Ellie Pointer was thirty years old. She was tall and skinny with limp auburn hair hanging to her shoulders. She was dressed in a purple sweat-outfit that her mother had picked out for her. She wore glasses. She had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome twenty years earlier. Her aging parents had attentively cared for her alone until recently. Until Ellie had shown new and more aggressive, unpredictable behaviors, including going on “walkabouts” in the old part of the city in the wee hours of the morning. At Ellie’s age, her antics, as the local authorities called the episodes, were no longer “cute” or “eccentric” but possibly dangerous to herself and others. Ellie’s parents — in their late fifties, sad, worn out with worry — had been reduced to the tearful, painful decision of committing her to an institution.
That was three months ago, about the time the young man from Kentucky named Robert Mullens found himself stranded in Southampton, on his way to visit the Channel Islands as part of a grand scheme to work his way through Europe. He was recovering from the painful and heartbreaking end of a four-year marriage. He was alone. And he had run out of money.
A local employment agency matched him with Ellie’s parents. Robert had expected this to be a temporary job, and wasn’t exactly sure why the Pointers thought him an appropriate care giver for their daughter. He did have years of experience as direct care staff at an autism services center in Louisville. But Ellie was his age, highly intelligent, with typical Asperger’s symptoms. He had to be her guard, her support, and avoid the appearance of being her date or some kind of chaperone. He lived in the Pointer home. They paid him well. They relied on him to be a “perfect gentleman” at all times, while expecting him to use whatever force necessary to keep Ellie out of trouble.
Ellie lowered herself next to him, falling over slightly as her bottom hit the ground. She stared at him. “See them, see them, see them?”
Robert shook his head but smiled. “Yeah, sure.”
“Allel kinds of peop-el, so many thousands thousands thousands of yea-rs ago.” She sighed deeply, looking at her hands as they dug up clumps of mown grass and weeds. “I heah evewything. Allel the voices, the gwassgwassss, the bugs, the bugggs, the bugggs.”
Robert had become used to the way Ellie expressed herself. A kind of “cluttered speech” almost stuttering, with some word salad and symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia. At times she sounded like a recording on high speed that could abruptly change to a slow, broken cadence stumbling over syllables. He rarely listened to what she was saying, anyway. He spent his time dreaming of how he was going to get to France, how he was going to get on with his life. He did have feelings of dread and anxiety at the thought of continuing his adventure. The Pointer situation was comfortable and secure at the moment. But he knew he had to move on.
“It is okay, Bobby,” Ellie said. “You willel l-l-leave one day. Not time yet, no-time-now-no-time-yet-they … told … me. He did ….” And she pointed to empty space where the asphalt path disappeared around the corner into a growth of scrub and trees. “He is a d-d-r-ruid pwiest.”
Robert smiled thinly and nodded. Yes, he was used to Ellie by now. Including how she answered him when he hadn’t said a thing; he explained it by reasoning she had unusual abilities to read his body language, his unconscious expressions. And how she seemed to have all kinds of invisible friends, from several historical periods; he explained that as a typical manifestation of Asperger’s in girls, creating an ingenious, continuous and thorough fantasy world.
Dark, growing, roiling clouds were blowing in from the southwest. Around them the branches with their new leaf-buds danced up and down, the grass rippled, their hair flew. Robert stood and brushed himself off. “Let’s go, Ellie, it’s going to rain.”
“Oh no, nononono,” she protested, rooted to her seat on the ground. She looked up at the sky, her glasses glistening. “No wain.”
“Come on, Ellie, we need to head on home.” Robert didn’t feel like another argument with her. They were on their way back anyway, after spending the day visiting her favorite historical locations in city center. The Pointers lived north of the Common, on the other side of Burgess Road.
She stretched one arm above her head, as far as she could reach. “No r-r-rain.”
“Ellie, please, it’s time to go.”
“No r-rain, see?” She lowered her arm and began digging at the turf again.
Robert craned his neck and examined the horizon above the trees around them. What the hell! he thought. He turned in a circle, trying to find a trace of the advancing charcoal-colored cumulus nimbus anvils , the feel and smell of even a small breeze. The air was refreshing, calm. There wasn’t a single wisp of cloud, not a trace of white or a puff of cotton in the deep blue over his head.
“See, no r-rain,” Ellie said in a montone, patting the ground beside her, inviting him to sit down again.
Coincidence, Robert Mullens said to himself reflexively. Maybe she has some kind of ability to feel the change in the weather before anyone else. He glared down at Ellie and said sternly, “We have to go back home now. Move it!”
Her face was a blank behind the glare of her glasses lenses. “Okay, Bobby,” she finally said, and drew herself to a standing position, wobbling slightly. “But I tode you … to-l-l-d you befow, I did that. You make me mad when you do not be-leeve me.”
“Yeah, sure, come on.” He took her left arm by the elbow and guided her up the path, towards the exit at the corner of Hill Lane and Burgess Road.
She yanked her arm away from him, continued walking next to him. Robert was afraid she was going to have one of her outbursts.
“All right, Ellie. So in the Dolphin Hotel, you introduced me to the man who danced with Jane Austen in 1808.”
“Yeaahhh…” Her tone was flat and she was expressionless as she walked in a shuffling kind of way.
They had almost reached the exit. Robert stopped and turned her to face him to engage her attention. “You will be good when we get home, right?”
“No,” she said.
Robert flung out one hand, but quickly got himself under control. “Okay, and you talked to someone named Scrope who had his head chopped off.”
“Off off off by Hen-r-ry the Five on his way to Agincour-rt. You know, Agin-cou….”
Afraid she would start singing the Agincourt song the same way she did when they visited the Westgate, very loudly, stamping her feet and swinging her arms (“Deo gratias Angliiiaaa, redde pro-oh victoria….”), Robert said shortly, “Okay, Ellie, I understand. And we talked with soldiers who died …”
“Yeahah, of sickness before they left for Fwan … F-r-rance. And Anne Bo-Bo-Bolelyn ….”
“Uh-huh, she was there too, today.”
“Yes Sir-r-r.” She saluted him crisply. “You explain evewything.”
Robert felt sweat prickling on his upper lip, tickling his forehead, even though the temperature was crisp and the air was like crystal on this suddenly too perfect late Sunday afternoon in April. He folded his arms and hung his chin, then looked directly at Ellie, who was gazing back with a complete lack of expression. He focused on her glasses to keep from averting his face, which is what he wanted to do. Turn his face and run away and go back home. He didn’t even want to visit Europe any more.
Ellie said flatly, “It is okay, Bobby. You have to stay with me for a while, but you can l-leave one day.”
Damn it, Ellie, damn it …. stop that ….
She grasped his right wrist clumsily, and said in a mechanical way, “I want to go home now. Come along. You will be okay, Bobby. Do not wor-r-ry.” And she began to walk briskly, almost pulling him behind her
Robert caught up and quickly disengaged her hand and cupped her left elbow to keep her from moving too fast and tripping on the walk home. They were at the intersection now, and she needed to be guided across the street. He wanted to leave her and run. But he quickly batted down any such notions; he had signed a contract. He had a responsibility to her and her parents. There is nothing to worry about, he said to himself. It will be okay, Bobby.