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Ella Minnow Pea


Ella Minnow Pea
  

Nollopton Toes, October 17

Nate, I'm not sure this letter will reach you, though I pray the contrary. Time is running out. We cannot go below 47. As much as we try — that is, those who are still trying. I'm aware that some are still laboring at the university. Mother writes to Cousin Ella that she continues her own moiling over the alphabet up in the Village. But the mass exit has nonetheless begun. Townspeople. Villagers.

As three more tiles have given plunge. All in one evening. Two "e's," then a "b."

We have one "e" remaining. The "b" may be a blessing. Other possibilities might have been more troublesome. (Yet as I peruse what I have written up to now, I note six "b"s in the last two sentences!) Who, then, can ever be sure about such a thing? At this point, losing any letter can only be problematic.

We have come to a travailious time, Nate. Mother's Rory is gone. Mother, Aunt Gwenette, Uncle Amos — each has one violation to spare, then banishment. I am growing so weary with that term. "Banishment." You hear it all over. In urgent whispers; in hopeless cries. Companion to the listless, vacant stares — stares belonging to those who live in resignation to the grimmest possible outcome, all but put to seal. "Banishment." We say the term. We write the term. Believing somehow that in 36 hours, it surely will not be gone. That somehow the cavalry will come to our rescue!

But we are our own cavalry. The only cavalry there is. Whose horses seem in permanent hobble status!

"Banishment": the next banishment victim! To become one more invisiblinguista. The 4000th, 5000th such victim? Is anyone counting? Perhaps Nollop? Expunging each entry in his Heavenly Lexicon — one at a time — until the tome's pages stop resembling pages at all. Until they become pure expurgatory— tangibull. Raven— striate leaves. Ebony reticulate sheets. Tenebrous night in thin tissue.

Contemnation by tissue! It is almost unbearable.

Am I being morose? I'm sorry. I cannot help it. I want you here. I cannot say how much.

Write me. Will I receive your letter? I can only hope.

I miss you so.

Love,
Tassie

Nollopton
Topsy Turvy, Octavia 19

My Nate,

Mannheim has come through! He has at least met the goal I wrote you concerning in my last letter: he has come up with a sentence 44 letters in length containing all the necessary 26 appearances. With the recent spate in migrations to the States, there is now a shortage: not nearly enough six— to seven— year— youngs to write the sentences. Conveniently, though, Mannheim is papa to an intelligent six— year— young lass — Paula — who met with success in her initial attempt at transcription. I cannot, alas, mail it to you, as I then put yours— truly at peril. (Only were I a youngster, six or seven, might I attempt to courier via the post such a precarious missive.) Perhaps it will somehow reach you through other means.

In other news: (Yes, there is much other news to tell!) Someone is relaying threats to the Council. Each counciliteur has gotten a copy: "Cease the insanity or you will perish." As a result, the — I must now call them what I am only too happy to call them: police goons — the police goons have gone house— to— house in their investigation, yet have yet to turn up anyone except the usual suspects — that is, virtually everyone on the isle not in Nollopian Cult thrallage. That isn't all: the Council has put crepuscular— to— auroric house arrest upon all Nollop civilians not in league with the cult.

Almost all the villagers, Mother tells me, are leaving — either moving to Town or to the States. She says that it's nearly a ghost town up there now. As there are no more customers, the store is no longer open. This is all right, though, she says; victuals were starting to run scarce. Soon she will have to come to town as well, to move into my Aunt Gwenette's house. (At least I will get to see her again. I truly miss her.) Uncle Amos, I am sorry to say, is no longer with us. There was a harsh exchange, Aunt Gwenette unhappy with his return to the alcoholic spirits! Now he lives with Uncle Isaac across town. Soon he will resolve one way or another — to leave or not to leave the isle.

Yes, that is now the topic on every lip. This salient, impertinent, Hamlettian choice.

To leave or not to leave.

To waive claim to our homes. To renounce our mother soil. To give up everything to those who warrant only our lowest contempt — to those who aspire to reign in outright tyranny, who misperceive Nollopian thoughts in service to rapacious intentions. Can they not see that we see what is happening here? Are we to them only silent, witless nonessentials — prostrate irrelevancies to step over in their march to own, to expropriate, to steal everything in sight — even our very tongues!

Nate, I have to tell you something important. I wasn't going to; however, it seems crucial to me now that you have a true, complete account as to what is going on here.

I wrote the letters. The ones with the threats. Were anyone to learn this, it will mean my ruin, perhaps even my execution.

(Smuggler— courier: my very existence is in your palms!)

I love you, Nate. I miss you greatly.

Tassie

PS. The Mephistophelians live here. Not in the Orient. You will get my meaning later.

Nollop Village
Riggy— roo, Octopus 20

Mrs. Mittie,

Help us.

Please. Something appalling has put my son Timmy in harm's way. The school says that he is eight. The school says he was eight last month. Since last month he has not given any care to what he says. He thought — we all thought — that he was exempt. That his exemption continues until Novemgroogy 13, when he turns eight. When he truly, legally turns eight. It seems that someone at the Village Archives got it wrong. Unless we can prove otherwise Timmy will have to leave Nollop. We haven't the necessary papers to prove our claim. We lost our last home, you see, lost everything in it to Hurricane Elspeth. Perhaps you might go to the school — might locate something to prove that Timmy won't turn eight until Novempoopy 13; thus Council proclamata cannot in any legal sense apply to him. Otherwise he will have to go!

We implore you.

Sincerely,
Georgeanne Towgate

Nollop Village
Satto— gatto, Octarchy 21

Mrs. Towgate,

I went to the school. With my erstwhile colleague Miss Greehy's assistance I spent the morning searching all the papers pertaining to your son. I must relay that nothing that might help your case came to our attention.

I am truly sorry.

Sincerely,
Mittie Purcy

PS. The tempera picture on your letter's verso is really lovely. I am partial to seascapes; it will gain a choice spot on my wall.

Nollopton Sunshine, Octangle 22

Sweet, sweet Mittie,

I have ghastly news. They have Tassie. She awaits trial as suspect in those recent anonymous threats to the Council. Come as soon as you can. In the event there is a guilty ruling, expulsion will not constitute a legally punitive option. Such a ruling will only result in something much, much worse. Something I venture not even to say.

Gwenette

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Excerpted from Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dunn. Excerpted by permission of Anchor Books, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.