by Dash Owens
Excerpt from the June edition of the White Valley State Chronicle. Article entitled, “Spring Awakens Old Hapley Traditions” by Megan Sabineux.
Hapley is a small city of around 25,000 people. Originally, the common industry was timber due to the extensive forests shaped by the curves of the Big Heart River, which flows into the White Valley basin hundreds of miles away. Hapley is West or East, depending on how you look at the map; it’s residents never make any commitments beyond specifying that Hapley is decidedly in the middle of America. No longer a logging town, Hapley benefited from midcentury federal investments; forests flattened to make way for pretty houses and yards, clear sidewalks, and well-fashioned school buildings. Civil engineers dammed a small tributary and dug a lake in the middle of town, which was soon surrounded by more, larger houses and parks. Hapley’s reasonable driving distance to the nearby metropolitan area makes Hapley a frequent mention in publications ranking the area’s “most desirable neighborhoods.”
Like all smaller towns, Hapley has its oddities. It is best known for the annual festival in May, which in recent years attracts visitors from all over the region.
Meg Sabineux arrived in Hapley early Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend. Tasked with writing a feature piece on the peculiar traditions of Hapley by her college magazine editor, Meg borrowed her brother’s car to drive from the state university an hour away. She pulled into the parking lot next to the library overlooking the lake. Checking her bag for pen and paper, she cursed when she realized she left the audio recorder on her dorm room desk. Her phone — a forgotten iphone number — only had enough juice for ten or fifteen minutes of recording. She also left her charger on that same desk.
Meg saw a short woman at the library entrance wearing baggy jeans and a t-shirt tagged, “Hapley HS Soccer.” The woman’s blonde grey hair stretched down her back past her belt loops. Her face was hard to make out due to the transition lenses shading her eyes. As Meg approached, she made out hundreds of pale and dark freckles fanning across the woman’s cheeks.
“You Meg?” she called out, to which Meg nodded. They stood in front of each other for a moment until the woman exclaimed, “Ah, I’m a hugger. Come here!” She grabbed Meg in a tight embrace and then pulled away. Even though her eyes were concealed, Meg felt them scanning. “Well, aren’t you a pretty one.”
The short woman was Donna Locke of the Hapley Historical Society. In her most recent email to Meg, she wrote:
Yes! Please come to our beautiful corner of the universe. Let’s meet at the Hapley Public Library by the lake. I will tell you all about Hapley’s weird, goofy residents. You’ll probably never want to leave!
Meg found Donna’s email address on the faultlessly organized Hapley city website. It was the first email she sent. Donna replied a few minutes later.
Donna led Meg through the library atrium to a set of meeting rooms tucked besides the periodical section. Ceiling high lake view windows flooded the space with light. Meg thought about the windows at the university library where the shades were always partially drawn while students contorted their bodies to fit into small wooden desks crammed against the walls.
One meeting room stood out from the rest. Through the elegant glass window panes of the wooden doors were large photographs and shelves holding wide, heavy books. Above the doors hung a plaque: “The Hapley Historical Society Reading Room.”
Donna led Meg into the well-appointed room, falling back into one of four leather backed chairs around a square maple-tinted table. Donna extended her arms outwards with wiggling fingers:
“Here we are! The answers to all of your questions are in this room.”
Meg unpacked her notebook and pen. She set her phone on the table.
“I may need to record some parts of this conversation to make sure I quote you correctly. Is that alright?”
The amount of light was reduced in the Hapley Historical Society Reading Room, and Meg finally made out two small, amused grey eyes.
“Yes, reporter, ma’am” — Donna raised her hand to salute — “You do what you gotta do.” Donna sprung from her chair to stand beside a black and white photograph of a clearing littered with fallen trees. Several men stood among the trunks and branches with empty expressions. “You know about the Hapley Lumber Company?”
Meg had read about it on the city website under “Our Story.” Unsure what to say, Meg blurted the first question to come to mind:
“How did they get from lumber to tie-dyed aprons?” Meg asked, but she already knew it was rushed.
“Oh, it’s all connected,” Donna continued, shifting back and forth on her feet. “This photograph right here is not of the Hapley Lumber Company. It’s Smith and Sons. They were competitors.”
Meg jotted Smith and Sons in her notebook.
“Why is it in here?”
“Smith and Sons merged with Hapley’s, which is the beginning of our story.” Donna took two giddy steps to the next framed photograph. This one showed a dozen or so women in wedding dresses standing in a bumpy landscape of what appeared to be tiny hills. “This is known as The Great Compromise in Hapley. See, Hapley’s Lumber was very successful due to Mr. Hapley himself and his business acumen. He was clever and knew it was too expensive to house and feed families, so he only employed single men. That’s good business for Mr. Hapley, but the men were miserable. Some say,” Donna now lowered her voice and hunched her shoulders, eyes twinkling, “he brought in company for the men.” She stood straight again and went on. “But that wasn’t enough. Smith and Sons some miles away charted another path. Men had women. They brought their wives, sisters, children into the camp. Eventually, Hapley’s men convinced him to let them marry. Mr. Hapley gave them small compensation to build houses and cover the costs of a wedding. The women in this photograph are the result of that generosity.”
Meg’s eyes ticked back and forth from her paper and the photograph. She wrote in bullet points:
- Compromise “Great”
- Hapley → whores for men
- H pay for weddings
“How was that a great compromise?” Meg asked.
“Ah,” Donna pointed to the first photograph. “All of these women were the daughters and sisters of the Smith men.”
“That was the genius of Mr. Hapley. He knew marriages would tie the interests of the companies together. They couldn’t stay competitors forever. It may seem like an old fashioned idea, but it was a different time.” Meg continued to write when Donna added, “Mr. Hapley also married a Smith woman. I’m not sure which one it is in here.”
“I see,” said Meg, standing to look at the women in their wedding dresses. Upon closer inspection, she saw most were holding hands. “Hapley sounds pretty conniving.”
“Oh no,” Donna gasped. “I would say he was calculating. He always could see where chess pieces would fall before anyone else. Like I said, he was a genius.”
“Sounds like it.” Meg’s eyes followed the unusual slopes around the women. “Where are they in this picture? Is it in town?”
Donna clicked her tongue and nodded towards the lake. “It’s all under water now.”
For a moment, Meg imagined all the brides in one of those fish tanks with knick knacks like treasure chests and lumpy rocks.
“Okay, now we’re finally getting to what you’re here for…the aprons.”
Donna led Meg across the room to the largest photograph. It was at least three feet long and in color, taken with a wide lens from an aerial viewpoint. Hundreds of women crowded together wearing aprons of various bright colors. The individuals were too small to see clearly.
“This photo was taken…oh, 4 or 5 years ago? When the festival really started getting huge with tourists and people coming to see…The mayor’s office hired a photographer and he got this one with a drone. Surprising enough, you’re the first journalist to come from out of town to write about us.”
“College journalist,” Meg softly corrected.
“You know what they say, right?” Donna nudged Meg with her elbow. “All publicity is good publicity.”
“Maybe,” Meg rejoined. She retrieved her notebook and pen from the table. Then she thought better of allowing her sparse notes to be in Donna’s field of vision. And damn. She forgot to record. Meg started walking around the room, pretending to gaze at the photographs again. “So how did it become an annual tradition for the women of Hapley to celebrate their…aprons?”
“It’s a funny story, at least to the women of town.” Donna added, sheepishly: “Hapley men don’t find the story so funny because it makes them look bad.”
Meg returned to her chair, pen in hand. Color rushed into Donna’s face. It was clear she enjoyed telling the story.
“See, the compromise didn’t solve all of Hapley’s problems. Marriage only creates alliances when there are children. Not a single child was born in the three years following the compromise. During this time, a peculiar practice started among the wives. Hateful of their sterile husbands, they’d beat the men with their aprons.” Donna’s wrists flicked in a whiplash motion. “Now in Hapley, there’s a saying: You got caught with the apron. It means you couldn’t get the job done, if you catch my meaning.”
Meg added to her notebook: Impotence, 3 yrs.
“When did it become a holiday?”
“Oh, I believe it happened off and on for decades, though no one could agree on what day or even a name to call it. Something like thirty years ago city council made it a city holiday on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. That way people could celebrate and have the next day off.”
Meg appeared to be quietly writing in her notebook while she sketched cubes and rectangular prisms in the margins. After a few beats, she realized Donna had finished.
“Well, I think I got what I needed,” said Meg, returning her items to her bag. “Thank you for meeting me on a Saturday.”
“No trouble at all. I’m a nerd for town history — surprise, surprise.” Donna then cocked her head. “You’re leaving already?”
Meg froze, searching her mind for a reasonable excuse.
“Stay, hon, a bit more. I’ll show you around.”
“I’m coming back tomorrow to take pictures of the festival. I can — ”
“C’mon! Hapley will be full of people tomorrow. You won’t really see it. Come for a short walk by the lake.”
Meg conceded. Donna took her from the reading room to a lakeside pavilion outside the library. A broad, smooth path with room for two or three people across in both directions led away from the library and followed the curve of the lake. Neat bushes lined the boardwalk, which reminded Meg of the still dead grass in the University quad. The dark water of the lake rippled gently from a few sailboats gliding around buoys in its center.
“In the winter, the city plows the path. You’ll see people out here in sub-zero temperatures walking, running. Ice fishing shacks are all over the lake.”
Donna, shades darkened again in the bright sunlight, braided her Rapunzel hair as they walked. In the distance, they saw a septuagenarian couple launching kayaks. Meg had to admit the whole scene was charming.
“You must have loved growing up here,” murmured Meg.
“I wish! No, we moved here — my husband and me — something like fifteen years ago? My kids love it though. The schools here are great, and the high school sports teams. I mean, you have to see these facilities. My daughter’s soccer coach was on the U.S. Olympic team. It’s unbelievable to me that this is a free public school.”
Meg and Donna walked on into a park. Donna paused for a moment and faced the lake. She opened her arms and tipped back her head.
“I just love this time of year. We’re so lucky to have this view. How many people get a view like this lake?”
Meg looked awhile with Donna until she turned to take in the park. Like everything else in Hapley, it was manicured and clean. Meg realized they were standing in the location of the third photograph. The path continued past a small wharf and a cream building that seemed to be a restaurant. Meg almost missed it — the path rounded by them as if they were just another tree or natural feature — but she spotted two distinct slopes rising from the ground. Meg walked on from Donna towards a tiny plaque resting at a 45 degree angle in the space between the pavement and the mounds. She crouched down to make out the shiny lettering on a copper setting.
Much remains unknown about the builders and the purpose of these mounds. Some contain artifacts and others were used for burials. There are only 4 documented mounds in Hapley, while there are an additional fifty throughout the White Valley region.
“Whatchya reading there?” Donna asked while looking over Meg’s shoulder. “I have never seen that before…In. My. Life.”
“I guess these mounds were created by whatever tribe was here before.” Meg stood back up when she was suddenly struck by how unnatural the mounds seemed in contrast to the lake and flat grade of the park.
“Jeez Louise…I’ve picniced on these before. Hope there’s no ancient curse,” Donna smirked and removed her glasses to give Meg an exaggerated wink. “C’mon, I have one more weird Hapley thing to show you.”
They walked on another ten minutes. The landside of the path became increasingly crowded with trees as they gained distance from the town center. Meg’s stomach began to growl while Donna talked on about the impressive design characteristics of the houses, mansions really, surrounding the lake. One supposedly had a moat, and another a water-adjacent greenhouse. One of the wealthier residents invited the public twice a year to visit their sculpture garden.
“All these guys made money in the big city, but they would rather live here. Even when you have a lot of money, you don’t want to waste it somewhere that isn’t family friendly.” Far ahead, Meg saw the path turned into a small inlet and stopped. It ran into a twelve foot green wall, thick with vines and leaves. From further away, the wall had seemed like a grove of tall trees. “Now here’s where Hapley gets a little goofier.”
At first it reminded Meg of The Secret Garden book cover; that is, until she saw the rings of barbed wire across the top. The wall extended on the shoreline and seemed to envelop the property. Meg followed Donna away from the lake and along the wall.
“Inside here is what we call the Hapley maze. No one in town has seen it, though a few village idiots have made attempts here and there.”
“There’s a maze in there? Like a corn maze?”
“The conventional wisdom is that it’s a garden maze, though no one has seen the damn thing. A local plumber once got a looksie out one of the house windows and couldn’t see an entrance.”
“There’s a house?”
“Oh yeah, up a bit from here. This property is at least a few acres.”
Meg wondered why anyone needed to protect a maze like a prison.
“Who lives here?” Meg asked.
“I was waiting for you to ask me,” chuckled Donna, slapping Meg on the back. “The sole resident of this estate is the alot-of-greats-granddaughter of Mr. Hapley himself, the founder of Hapley Lumber Company and the city of Hapley.”
Meg thought about taking out her phone to snap some pictures, but she didn’t want to drain the battery. All she could say in return were variations of, “That’s crazy.” Donna went on.
“Esther Hapley is an odd bird. She must be 70 now. No children. She’s the last of the Hapleys.”
“Is she a friend of yours?”
Donna grinned sideways at Meg while twisting her fingers. She took a moment to “hmmmf” and “ummmm” before responding.
“Not quite. Esther comes to the Historical Society meetings sometimes. Let’s say she has a strong perspective.” Donna stayed silent for another few moments, bobbing her head back and forth. She finally threw up her hands. “I’m just gonna say it. She’s a bra-burning feminist who doesn’t care for women in aprons.” Before Meg could ask why, Donna answered: “It’s the new thing now. People take something fun and go, ‘no no, we can’t let girls like pink and boys blue. You’re oppressing them.’ A lot of hogwash. If you ask me, we’re the real feminists. Seriously” — Donna took her time to emphasize every word — “we’re celebrating women beating men. Where are the men getting mad about that? Huh? For Christ’s sakes, I’m a fairly liberal person but people like Esther need to calm down. Don’t take it too far, you know? Anyway…”
Donna continued talking as they reached the next corner of the wall and the house came into view. It was a three-storied brown brick Georgian-styled fortress. They approached from the back of the house and saw several tall windows lining the uppermost floor. Meg imagined a plumber with his hands clenched around a plunger peeking out from the other side of the glass.
They took a turn to the front. There were more and more trees, and a long driveway stretched past the foliage towards what Meg assumed was a main road. Donna paused before reaching the door.
“I should tell you…I don’t know if Esther will want to be interviewed. She’s weird about people.”
Meg’s stomach continued to groan, and she dreaded another twenty minute walk back to her car.
“You know what, I should go,” Meg said, pointing a thumb back the way they came. “I don’t want to inconvenience anyone.”
“No, no. You came all this way.” Moving forward, Donna gestured dismissively at Meg behind her. “I’ll talk to Esther. Someone should interview the last Hapley before they’re dead and gone.”
Donna hurried towards the door before Meg could leave. She knocked while Meg studied the front lawn. It was recently mown, but it wasn’t like the rest of Hapley. There weren’t any pretty flowers or decoratively positioned rocks. The house itself exerted gravity by its sheer size and architecture, but the white paint around the windows was chipped and in another corner a dislocated gutter hung limply off the side of the roof.
The door swung open. Donna called Meg over. They entered into a barren front hall where a wide staircase covered in faded royal blue carpet led to a high second-floor. Meg saw a long hallway and several closed doors behind a white parapet above them. Her eyes continued upwards until she saw the ceiling was dancing with flickering lights. It was too bright to see at first, but in time her eyes settled on what appeared to be long strings of clear shiny icicles.
“Crystals,” an unfamiliar voice interrupted. Meg shifted her attention back to the ground. To the side stood an older woman nearly 6 feet tall — nearly due to the fact her back was bent into an elongated C-shape. She was dressed plainly in loose black pants and a matching turtleneck. The woman’s almond brown eyes went up and down Meg over a stern line of thin lips. This time, Meg knew she was being scanned carefully in return. “My great-grandfather was a gaudy son of a bitch.”
“They’re beautiful,” Meg said in an unthinking way.
“Goddamn waste of money, but at this point it would cost me more to pay some sucker to get them down for me.” The woman’s intense expression lightened. “Too old to worry about it now.”
“Esther,” Donna cut in, “this is Meg. I meant to call, but it was last minute. She’s in town writing about the festival tomorrow and about Hapley, and I thought she could talk to you a bit before she leaves today.”
Esther stared at Donna for a moment with an amused expression. She pointed at herself while her mouth opened into a sardonic smile. “You thought of me, Donna. Really? What an incomparable delight.”
The three women stood in heavy silence. Meg knew this was a mistake.
“I’m so sorry, Ms. Hapley. I should not have just shown up. I’m really sorry.”
“Oh no no no. I’ll be more than happy to talk to you,” Esther continued to look contemptuously at Donna while moderating her tone. “I was about to sit down for a snack. You should stay. Donna, it was good to see you. Your thoughtfulness and foresight is appreciated, as always.”
Donna, startled, lingered long enough to confirm that Meg knew her way back to the library and then exited Esther Hapley’s home.
Esther invited Meg to the kitchen, which may as well have been the setting for a 1970 period drama. Orange and pear wallpaper contrasted with thick wood cabinets. The kitchen was large with two workbenches, and Meg envisioned a time when a staff bustled through the space in preparation for fine dinners. The counters were all covered with old appliances from another era: bun warmers and hot doggers and bean cookers. Esther moved past them like they weren’t even there. She picked off two bananas from a bunch hanging on a hook next to a waffle iron. She silently moved out of the kitchen back to the front hall. Meg followed her up the stairs, past the parapet, and up again another narrower set of stairs around a corner. They entered a shorter hallway lined with the same tall windows Meg saw earlier. Esther then settled into one of two green plaid wingback chairs facing a lakeview window. Meg stood back uneasily until Esther patted the second chair and said, “I saved you from that godforsaken woman. You can say thank you by sitting down with me.”
Meg took a banana from Esther and sat tall in the chair. She set the banana in her lap and forgot to peel it when she looked out the window. Through the glass she could see how the outer green walls of the maze were shaped like a rectangle, while the interior was filled with linear partitions, like a series of perpendicular lines rotating in a pattern around a circular center. Even from where they sat, the barb wire glinted from the sunlight, much like the lake behind it.
“It’s based on the Cretan maze,” Esther began, taking long pauses to chew on her banana. “I’ve always loved a good maze. My plan was to create a labyrinth but I think it would need to be bigger for that.”
Meg surveyed the scene before her, unsure of what she was looking at or the purpose of the one who built it. Esther slouched further down her chair and crossed one leg over the other. She angled her head to the side to stare at Meg with excited brown eyes. Meg could tell she was glad to have company. Esther asked:
“Do you know the story of the Cretan maze? Minos’ labyrinth?”
“It sounds familiar…but no. Not off the top of my head.” Meg’s cheeks began to redden.
“Athens had to sacrifice seven boys and seven girls every year to the Minotaur, who was half man, half bull. Theseus was an Athenian prince, and he volunteered to sacrifice himself so he could defeat the Minotaur and save Athens. Ariadne, daughter of Minos, fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of string. She snuck him into the maze without anyone knowing. Theseus slew the beast and he followed the string so he could escape.”
Esther took another bite of her banana.
“Let me guess,” Meg joined, “Theseus runs off with Ariadne and they become king and queen of Athens?”
Esther swallowed and held a small smile for a moment, like she had a delicious secret.
“No. In fact, Theseus left Ariadne all alone on an island because the gods decided she belonged to Dionysus. He marries her younger sister instead. Phedre. Another tragedy.” Esther pulled a napkin out of her pocket and wrapped it around the banana peel. “When I was a child, my mother would read to me from a collection of Greek mythology. I couldn’t sleep some nights because I was afraid of the minotaur and Theseus. I’m less scared as an adult now. Mazes are helpful places to keep monsters. I don’t think Theseus could get out of this one.”
Meg looked again on the maze before her. It was meticulously designed and mysterious. But why build a maze no one could enter?
“So,” Esther’s tone became more forceful, “Donna Locke walked you all the way over here to talk to me about something you’re writing. You’re a little young to be a journalist?”
“You’re telling me,” gawked Esther, “that a college student drove all the way here on a Saturday to talk to Donna Locke about Hapley history? Well isn’t that… You know what, I just have to know. I really do.” Esther leaned over the arm of her chair and craned her neck towards Meg. In a lowered voice she asked, “What did Donna say about bringing you here? To see me?”
Meg twitched uncomfortably in her chair.
“She just said you were the last of the Hapley’s and someone should talk to you.”
“Before I die? Someone should talk to me before I die?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
Esther fell back and slapped the arms of her chair as she said every syllable: “What a ridiculous woman!” Esther turned her head again to rest her eyes on Meg. She sighed deeply and continued, “Alright. I’ll stop the batty old lady routine. Tell me what you need.”
“I…” Meg forgot what she needed.
“You’re here writing about…” Esther elongated the last word, her eyes widening.
“The festival,” Meg finished, recovering herself. “The apron festival. It’s a cool local story, and my editor thought we could get some nice pictures because of all the colors and people dressed up.”
Meg wished Esther would ease her eyes and find another object to fix on.
“I don’t know how cool or local it is. Did you know” — Esther’s eyes flashed with purpose — “that almost no one in this town knew what an apron festival was until it was a holiday?” Esther stood and glared out the window towards the center of the maze. “It’s made up garbage.”
“I don’t understand. What about the lumber company?”
“That story,” Esther tapped on the window sill with her thumbs, “is also garbage.” She swung away from the window and faced Meg. “I grew up with the stories about the Hapley Lumber Company and the Smith women who became Hapley women. Hell, I’m descended from one. Most people in this town don’t have those roots. They think this was always what Hapley was. They hear about sad broken men who wanted to get married and they think it’s a nice, comfortable story. They don’t ask themselves why Mr. Hapley, a man known to everyone to be a cheap and unsparing businessman, needed to pay for all of his men to be married. Why would he care about the domestic happiness of poorly paid, dirty workers?”
Meg realized Esther was waiting for a response.
“I don’t know. I guess it is a weird story.”
“Yes, lies tend to be weird stories. True stories are dull because they are usually the same story told over and over.”
“And what is the true story?”
Esther’s palms gripped the window’s ledge. Even with the convex arc in her upper back, she towered above Meg, who was shifting her legs below, above, across one another.
“Have you ever heard of Romulus?” asked Esther. Meg, surprised by the question, shook her head. “You don’t know who Romulus is.” Esther spat the statement like an indictment.
“I…I…” Meg’s empty stomach churned and groaned. “I don’t know a lot about history.” And then she added, as if to clarify: “I’m a journalism major.”
“Then what are you supposed to write about if you don’t know history? There is no news without history.” Esther, mouth agape and eyes blazing, circled her head several times before releasing a prolonged, exasperated sigh. Meg wanted to leave.
“The thing is, I’m probably changing my major anyway. I thought I would like writing about stuff that was happening and seeing my name in a newspaper or a magazine.”
Esther’s mouth closed and her eyes softened.
“But you don’t like it?”
“I like that part of things, I guess. I don’t like interviewing. I’m not good at it.”
With a light smile, Esther returned to her chair while pointing to the banana in Meg’s lap.
“Shut up and eat that thing. Let me talk a bit and let’s see if we can get you what you need. Only on one condition though.” Meg locked eyes with Esther while peeling her banana. “If you are going to change your major, change it to history.” When Meg stared blankly back, Esther waved a dismissive hand. “Ah hell, what do I care? Do what you want. I’ll tell you about Romulus and then I’ll talk about Hapley. ”
Meg took slow, measured bites of her banana. Out the window, the sun was beginning to slink towards the west.
“Romulus was the founder of Rome. You know what Rome is?” Meg, mouth full, nodded. “When he died, everyone thought he was a god ascended into heaven because every story about ancient people assumes they are impossibly gullible. The story I like to believe is that the whole ascension tale was a cover-up for what really happened, that Roman Senators killed Romulus. They chopped up his body and hid pieces of him all over Rome.” As Esther continued to talk, Meg wondered if it was appropriate to eat. “I like that story because it’s the most just way for a tyrant like that to die. Romulus was a brute who killed his own twin brother, which isn’t even the worst of it. I know what you’re thinking. Why am I talking about Romulus and Rome? A half-crazed old woman with a maze in her backyard is telling you stories that might just be made-up bull shit. But listen closely to this: When Romulus founded Rome, he did so with mostly men. They were criminals, bandits really, attacking and looting small villages. And Romulus was their king. He was king of the whole bankrupt lot.”
Esther reached out and wrapped her long fingers around Meg’s free wrist. Meg felt her skin prickle.
“I have a question for you now, my dear. And I want you to think about this story logically. How is it possible that a society made up only of men managed to continue? Where did all the descendants come from? Whom?”
Meg struggled to think. She held a banana peel in one hand while her other hand stayed rigid inside Esther’s unsettling grasp. Her mind was suddenly captured by an image she saw once in an art book — a sculpture of a woman transforming into a tree while a white marbled man’s lusty hand rested on her navel.
“I think I understand,” Meg said simply.
“I thought you would. There was a tribe not too far away from Rome. Romulus and his thugs went and kidnapped all the women – mothers, daughters, sisters, wives. They took them all. It almost ended in war.”
“Why didn’t it?”
“Good question,” Esther, with an impressed smile, took back her hand and settled it on the armrest. “The women had children they needed to protect. And they all became citizens of Rome. Supposedly the greatest empire to ever exist on this planet.”
They sat in silence for some time. The sky was beginning to darken and the shape of the maze became less clear from the window.
“Are you saying,” Meg bursted, “what I think you’re saying? About Hapley?” Esther grimly nodded. She rose to turn on a lamp a few feet away from the chairs. Meg went on: “But what about the aprons. No children were born in Hapley at first. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not the same story.”
Esther lingered by the window. Even though it was becoming increasingly difficult to see the maze, Meg knew Esther was staring down into its circular center.
“Think logically about that story, too. Does it make sense to you that there would be no children in Hapley for years? How is that possible? Why would women need to beat back men?”
Meg supposed none of the story housed in the Hapley Historical Society Reading Room made sense. She wasn’t sure if the one Esther told her made sense either.
“But why wouldn’t everyone know about it? Why isn’t it written down somewhere?”
Esther smiled at that and said, sharply: “Do all truths need to be written down or known by everyone?”
Meg was filled with immediate dread by that idea. While she thought about her walk along the lake that made Donna love her life in Hapley so dearly, Meg was abruptly struck by another question.
“What happened to the other people who used to live here?” Meg looked earnestly at Esther, who raised her eyebrows in confusion. “The people who built the mounds. Did Hapley do something to them, too?”
Esther leaned against the window and squinted her eyes. Meg realized Esther had no idea what she was talking about.
The sky was completely dark, and Meg needed to start the walk back to her car. Meg and Esther journeyed down the two staircases and deposited their banana peels in a brown-blotched white trash can in the kitchen. Esther walked with Meg to the front door and thanked her for her time. Before she left, Esther exclaimed:
“You never asked me about the maze.”
Meg turned back to the tall, formidable woman.
“No, I didn’t. I don’t really get it.”
“For a writer, you seem awfully bad with metaphors.” Meg opened her mouth to respond but Esther raised a firm hand to stop her. “I have spent all that remains of the Hapley fortune on telling the truth. No one listens to the truth unless it’s been made bigger, louder, more uncomfortable than the lies.”
Esther held out her hand. Meg took it for an awkward moment and left. In the darkness as she ambled towards her car, Meg realized she hadn’t written in her notebook or recorded anything on her phone. She drove straight home and fell asleep, hungry.
Additional excerpts from “Spring Awakens Old Hapley Traditions” by Megan Sabineux.
The aprons are elaborately decorated with ruffles, bows, and sometimes bells. One woman dons several apron layers of different lengths so that her backside is stacked with knots. On their heads are larger than life mob caps, which will inevitably fall off when the street frenzy begins. The men, young and old, are dressed head to toe in all white. Some are wearing this year’s featured t-shirt sold at small stands along the sidewalks; the front shows the silhouette of an apron while the back reads, “Got caught.”
Buckets of colorful dyed water line the curbs. The men in their chaste outfits gather in the middle of the street. Some rub their hands together and gesture at the women off to the side, egging them on. The women hold another apron in their hands (not their costumes) in preparation for the start. A few minutes before the official start time, the mayor of the town speaks over a megaphone to warn the women to be “respectful” of their victims. Masses of women in aprons boo the mayor, who makes a handwashing motion in response. “You’re on your own, buddies,” he says to the men. The women prepare by dipping their weapons into the buckets – red, blue, purple, yellow, green, orange. Finally, a horn blows and everyone begins to scream. The men race in circles as the women chase after, smacking the men with the color. You can hear amidst the noise: “Get him!” “You’re dead!” “No no no no no no no no!” “Take THAT!”
The following write-up appeared in The Hapley Cadence, Obituary Section
Esther Hapley Voss was born and raised in Hapley, the town founded by her ancestor, Thomas Hapley. In school, she developed a love for Latin translation and classic works. Esther did not attend school beyond high school, though she was known by all to be a voracious reader. She spent most of her twenties and thirties traveling the world until she returned home to care for her ailing mother, Dinah Hapley. Esther was Dinah’s primary caretaker, and those who knew both report they were best friends until the end of Dinah’s life. While Esther technically had the names of both her father and mother, she insisted throughout her life that she was “first and foremost, a Hapley.”
Esther was well-known in recent years for the construction of a maze on her lakefront property. The maze mysteriously had no entrance nor was anyone ever invited inside. This structure caused an intractable disagreement between Ms. Hapley and the city of Hapley, which desired to extend the lakeside boardwalk further around the lake. Ms. Hapley famously sued the city for $1 after allegations of municipal harassment. The people of Hapley were known throughout the years to speculate about the maze, and some misguided souls even attempted to enter. One fellow infamously cut through a section of the garden wall only to step upon a 6 inch knife, concealed beneath a thick of branches and vines, jutting from the ground. Needless to say, most have avoided endeavoring to enter the Hapley maze since.
Esther Hapley died in her home last Thursday after complications related to pneumonia. She is survived by her uncle, Jason Voss, and her cousin, Harriet Voss. According to Ms. Hapley’s wishes, there will be no public funeral. Her final wish was to invite the public to the reading of her last will and testament next Friday at the Hapley estate.
The excerpt from the following article originally appeared on the front page of The Hapley Cadence with the title, “What lies beneath? Excavation of Mysterious Hapley Maze Brings More Questions to City.”
“I thought we were taking an easy job for a week or two and putting to bed the Hapley Maze hullabaloo,” says Martin Van de Wynd of Van de Wynd and Sons Construction. “Then we found all those bones.”
As previously reported by The Hapley Cadence, the second day of demolishing the Hapley Maze resulted in a most unexpected discovery: human remains.
“We stopped work immediately and called the police,” explains Van de Wynd. “But I thought right away that these bones look awfully small, too small. I would’ve thought they were animal bones because of the size, but then we saw a skull and we couldn’t believe it. They were old and brown like in the movies, and my son Tommy said…Something real bad happened here a long time ago.”
More shocking than the discovery of human remains was the realization that most of the bones belonged to seven children, most likely infants under the age of two. A partial skeleton of an adult woman was also found, though age and cause of death have yet to be determined.
The police quickly involved a team of forensic archeologists, who are in the process of carbon dating the bones. Based on an initial survey of degradation, most are speculating the bones to be at least a hundred years old.
Everyone in Hapley is talking about the sensational news around dinner tables and in coffee shop lines. While Hapley residents want to know who the remains belong to and how they ended up on an estate that belonged to the Hapley family since the founding of the town, most people want to know the answer to one question above all: Did Esther Hapley, before her recent death, know about the skeletons beneath her maze? What did she know, and when did she know it? At the public reading of her will, Hapley promised the city the remaining wealth of her estate on the condition that the maze be cleared first. Sources close to the mayor’s office shared that it has also been uncovered that the aforementioned wealth totals thirty-one dollars in a checking account at a local credit union.
This letter to the editor was originally published in the Hapley High School student newspaper, “The RunDown” in response to the op-ed, “Why the Hapley Apron Festival is Outdated and Sexist” by Hapley High School junior Julia Dizemi. Both the op-ed and letter to the editor were reprinted in The Hapley Cadence for public comment.
To the editor,
As a young mother, I wanted my daughter to grow up in a place where she could be whatever she wanted to be when she grew up. Nothing was more important to me. I chose to live in Hapley because I saw a beautiful city where people cared about one another. We all help each other because neighbors take the time to get to know who they live next to. Parents show up to school meetings and events.
When I read the opinion article by Julia Dizemi in the school newspaper, I thought it couldn’t be someone from Hapley. How could someone from Hapley actually think women are treated badly here? Seriously? My daughter is the captain of the soccer team and she was inducted into the National Honor Society. She will go to college and become very successful in life because she went to the incredible schools in Hapley.
A few years after moving to Hapley, I became involved with the Hapley Historical Society. There, I learned all about our Hapley heritage. We would not exist if it weren’t for the Hapley Lumber Company or the intelligence of Thomas Hapley himself. Sure, it may seem strange at first that we commemorate arranged marriages, but that was a different time with different values and standards of behavior. Women didn’t have power or jobs. In many ways, Mr. Hapley probably saved their lives by giving them the security and safety of a home and husband. It’s also irrelevant because arranged marriages don’t even happen anymore. We celebrate women taking control of their homes. It’s a story of empowerment!
The kids of Hapley High School need to learn their history first before expecting the rest of us to cancel an important tradition like the Hapley Apron Festival.
Member of the Hapley Historical Society