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Fischer, Joan (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 51, Number 3 (Summer 2005)

Nesaule, Agate
Randa's umbrella,   pp. 42-47


Page 46

memoir 
i I 1    JL   J JL .L 
right shade to complement my raincoat 
and peacock scarf, and the purple 
matches my Italian leather boots. Why, I 
might have bought such an umbrella 
myself! Its price is laughable as repara- 
tions for the hundreds of dollars in col- 
lect phone calls Papa made when he 
could sneak away from her, for the lost 
deposits to U-Haul when he changed his 
mind about leaving her, or for how mis- 
erable she made all of us, but at least it's 
something. 
A gentle rain is falling, soaking the 
earth and turning brown fields to deli- 
cate green, as I pull into a faculty park- 
ing lot at UW-Whitewater. I grasp 
Randa's umbrella and my briefcase, tuck 
a few books awkwardly under my arm, 
and use my foot to slam the car door. I 
touch the lever to unfurl the umbrella. 
A sudden gust of wind comes from 
nowhere. It slaps me in the face with the 
narrow tie for securing the tines, it 
yanks on my arm, scatters my books on 
the wet pavement, and lifts the umbrella 
above me. I almost lose my balance as 
Randa's umbrella strains toward the 
dark clouds, threatening to take me with 
it. I hold on, though I have no idea why. 
The strong tines and sturdy material 
bend and twist, and then with a whoosh, 
the umbrella turns inside out. Its black 
prongs rake the sky before it collapses 
again into its batlike heap. 
"I can't believe it did that, there's 
hardly any wind," Ruth, a dear friend 
and colleague, says as she steps out of 
her car. I'm glad she's seen it or I would 
think I was dreaming. 
"Let me help you," she offers as she 
picks up the umbrella, which now looks 
obedient, even a little ashamed. 
We pull at the stiff material and work 
the tines back and forth to fit them back 
into their black metal casings. It's slow 
going because for every two we secure, 
one snaps out of place. I just hope no 
students are watching and laughing at 
us, two gray-haired women's studies 
professors, trying to subdue a recalci- 
46  SUMMER  2005  WISCONSIN  ACADEMY  REVIEW 
trant umbrella in the middle of a rainy 
parking lot. 
Not that feminism was any help for 
dealing with Randa. The first year she 
was married to Papa, I tried to give her 
the Feminist Absolution, i.e., that she 
behaved so badly because she was a 
Woman Damaged by the Patriarchy. 
Psychological analysis didn't do much 
either. Childhood sexual abuse was a 
plausible explanation for the way Randa 
sexualized everything: she told every- 
one in Papa's congregation who would 
stand still to listen that the reason he 
maintained contact with his daughters 
was that we were blackmailing him for 
his past sexual misconduct with us; she 
bragged that she was "better in bed" 
than our mother; she slandered her 
sister in Australia and her own first hus- 
band by saying they had lots of dirty sex 
and even a baby together; and she 
couldn't leave off kissing and caressing 
her adult son as he tried to nap on the 
sofa. She may have been traumatized by 
something in the long-ago past, but that 
did not account for her vicious energy. 
"There. Good as new," Ruth says, 
straightening and closing the umbrella. 
She hands it to me and hurries ahead 
into the building that houses our offices. 
A second gust of wind slices through the 
quiet patter of rain, whips me around, 
and lifts the umbrella, inside out, once 
more. I hold on, feeling foolish, as its 
black tines hover above me, scarring the 
sky like a giant pitchfork, like a broom 
for an exceptionally fat witch. 
"Maybe Randa's spirit has taken up 
residence inside the umbrella," I say to 
my friend John. "Maybe it's hanging 
around, waiting to get at me, like the 
spiteful ghost of Beloved in Toni 
Morrison or like Madelyn's angry spirit 
in Fay Weldon. My students believe 
things like that happen all the time," I 
say, remembering stories they've told 
me. The aunt's boyfriend, who used to 
call her Imelda Marcos whenever she 
brought back another pair of shoes from 
the mall, returned after he got killed in a 
motorcycle accident. He strewed her 
shoe boxes, alphabetized by color and 
season, all over the bedroom floor. The 
drowned fiancee of a young man came 
as a gentle breeze to caress his cheek 
and ruffle his hair as he floated roses 
into the river in her memory. A grand- 
mother's husband alighted on her shoul- 
der as a butterfly on their wedding 
anniversary, just as he had promised. 
I want John to drive away the inexpli- 
cable, to be his usual rational self. 
"Because it isn't true," he said when I 
asked him once why he didn't believe in 
resurrection or reincarnation. 
"Get rid of that umbrella," John says, 
in a reaction totally out of character, 
before I'm even finished with my list of 
near accidents on the drive from 
Indianapolis. "Get it out of your house 
and out of your car this minute. You'll 
have an accident. She'll make you fall 
down the stairs. She'll burn down your 
house." 
Together we push the still inverted 
umbrella into my big black garbage can, 
squash down the lid, and lock the han- 
dles. We shut the garage door and latch 
it. And on a sunny Friday morning in 
May, a muscular young man heaves the 
umbrella onto a pile of soggy trash, 
turns on the compressor, and flattens it. 
The umbrella is on its way to the City 
Dump. A wave of irrational guilt, as if I'd 
sneaked leaky batteries or cans of weed- 
killer into the garbage instead of taking 
them to the specialized center for chem- 
ical waste, washes over me briefly. But 
that really is silly. They wouldn't accept 
Randa's umbrella at a site for toxic mate- 
rials no matter what I said, and surely 
Randa's hostility is only personal 
instead of being directed at the entire 
population of Madison. Although I still 
don't fully understand why Papa stayed 
married to her, I believe I'm finally done 
with her for good. 
"There's a family named Nesaule 
living close to the railroad station in 
Valmiera," a woman tells me after I give 
a paper at an academic conference on 


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