Ella Minnow Pea a novel in letters


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The *uic* brown fox *umps over the la*y **g


Satto-gatto, September 30

So much to tell, so little time to tell it. Those who were present at last night's meeting have chosen to embrace the challenge with absolute relish. The prospect of actually being able to control the outcome of this ghastly assault on our collective spirit, let alone our very humanity, by turning this offensive upon its cephalus, has sent some among our subterra movement to heights of unencompass­able ecstasy. The best news of all: the Council is in full agreement with the challenge (It was official as of this morning.), so secure they seem to be in this asinine "unassailable" position of theirs. We approach the ramparts ourselves commensurably secure. High noon awaits.

At first Nate thought that he might get news to a computer pro­grammer with whom he is familiar—a former college roommate in Orangeburg, South Carolina, who he is certain can crunch the let­ters, to, in effect, assemble the necessary sentence within a matter of hours. But if the Council were to learn that the sentence was put together by means of artificial intelligence, it might wholly thwart our primary purpose, this being to show that some other human— not Nollop—most certainly not an electronic computing appara­tus—was able to come up with the obligatory sentence containing all twenty-six letters of the alphabet using only thirty-two letters in its execution. So he chose to expel that thought without pause. What it will come to will be this: one of us will create it: a sentence to surpass that of Holy Nollop. One of us shall, I am certain, achieve the goal of burying the myth of Nollop forever. For the next forty-six sun-to-suns, this will be our raison.

Mine, yours, even your gentleman companion Rory who per­haps is still unaware of the other legislation to come out of this morning's session: "All property left in state of nonoccupation through emigrantal vacatement will be given over to confiscatory oversight by the Council, then borne to official annexation into Nollopian tax-exempt ecclesiastical boroughs, thus falling within clear parameters of Council owner-management." Even as things exist now, Councilman Harton Mangrove is in the process of mov­ing with his family onto the estate of Georgie Boonswang, whose fish cannery after closure was left in similar circumstance of nonoccupation (but not without "proper" ownership, courtesy of egregious title-alteration!). Other Council members seem to be contemplating similar confiscatory moves.

I must close now to return to my labors with the "group": Nate, Ella, Aunt Gwenette, Uncle Amos, each of us in pursuit of the mag­ical, temporarily elusive sentence that shall result in our emancipa­tion—to be sure, our very salvation! Albeit a more corporal form of salvation. Our souls, though, are another matter altogether. To apportion worshipful allegiance to both our Heavenly Omnigreat­ness, as well as to Nollop-the-mortal-marvel has become so very tiresome.

One Supreme Being is enough for me. I much prefer the former to the latter.


Your Tassie

[Upon the Minnow Pea porch]


Monty, October 2
My Tassie,

I am watching you through the pane. You sit at the table scrib­bling—scribbling, then erasing, biting, chewing the unfortunate pencil's extremity as you contemplate. I share your chore. I might be your portico twin, in perch upon this fresco-chaise, performing same, were it not for glimpsing you through the glass. Such a beguil­ing sight—your long auburn tresses falling as cataract in shimmer­ing filamentous pool upon the tabletop, gathering in swirl upon your notepaper—obscuring? framing? your toil. I must return to my own mental labors. But you have given me pleasant momentary respite.

My beautiful Tassie, I so love you.


Monty, October 2
Mittie, my gentlenurse,

I appreciate so much the thermos of pullet soup you sent over. You will be happy to hear that I am feeling much better this morn­ing. When I am stronger I am most eager to see you in some other capacity than nurse. (Not that you haven't been an excellent care-giver.)

I trust that you are still well, that you haven't caught this nasty flu circulating through the Village. These are not opportune times for any of us to be ill. There is much that we must accomplish.

I myself, in spite of the flu, have spent the better part of two nights coming up with a sentence containing all twenty-six letters of the alphabet of a length of less than fifty letters—forty-nine to be exact. I was hoping to surprise you with one of far more impressive brevity, but shall be happy with my initial effort. Still, though, it will not fit the ultimate bill; therefore, in concert with so many other villagers whose lamps burn late into the night, I will push on, whittling my count away.

Accompanying this letter is a note brought to you by Eugenia, a little neighbor girl whom you may have seen playing on the lawn next to mine. She is all of seven, but the perfect age to write my sen­tences for me for purpose of conveying them to you, so that you may monitor my progress. I expect you will employ a youngster yourself in similar fashion so that I may learn of your progress, as well. (What a convenient loophole the not-always-farseeing Coun­cil has given us by the exemption from these laws of little ones such as sweet, cooperative Eugenia. The only problem exists in getting across to her through a series of elaborate gestures or comic point­ings my intent. For there really is no other legal avenue but pantomime to communicate my full meaning to her. Then through her, to you. Bright youngsters are a precious asset in Nollopville in these troublesome times.)


A quick move by the enemy
will jeopardize six fine gun boats.


Toes, October 3

Your sentence is so much better (also shorter) than mine! I am almost reluctant to show my efforts to you. But a promise is a promise. I am in collusion with a boy by the name of Wesley, son of the Noonans who own Noonan's Florist. Wesley is very popular; I must share his services with four of my neighbors!

I am expecting a letter from Tassie. She will report how things are going in town. Rumor has it that someone—a professor with the university, I believe—has himself come in below 48. If this is true, it is very encouraging, is it not?

Your Mittie

Back in my quaint garden,
jaunty zinnias vie with Haunting phlox.


Wetty, October 4

Two letters fell last night. "F." Then another "O." The Council plans to excise "F" as of twelve o'timepiece on the Thurby/Fribs cusp. I assume they will also instruct us now to shave consumption of the letter "O" by fifty percent.

There is at present fantastic support for what we in town have come to call, "Enterprise Thirty-two." Still, the Council laughs at us. They taunt the little ones who write our sentences, who trans­port them between our houses. They gather in reverent, worship­ful circles beneath the cenotaph to sing praises to Nollop. It is a stomach-churning sight even forgetting the abuses the Council is currently inflicting upon the remaining inhabitants of this isle. This recent confiscation of property is a clear violation of the National Constitution, yet Councilwoman Houston says we are now in an "extraconstitutional crisis" which calls for "extraconstitutional measures." The Council is preparing for that moment in which lan­guage, as it once was, ceases to exist. As far as I can tell, such prepa­ration involves chiefly the feathering of the counciliteurs' own nests.

We pray to our own Omnipresence that the final moment never arrives. We're getting closer. Professor Mannheim has given us a sentence with 47 letters. It is a simple sentence which the chosen six-year-young courier put to scription in no time at all.

Nate isn't sleeping. I am after him to complete his first article for Nollopiana, but he seems bent on assisting with Enterprise Thirty-two. It is an obsession. The fear is gone, though. This noble move­ment has given us all a special courage.

I miss you. Be well. I hope to see you soon, when all of this is over.



John Prady, give me a
black walnut box of quite small size.


Thurby, October 5

You were not at home when they came. Three L.E.B. officers in possession of papers. Papers with my name on them. Your Cousin Ella was there, though. Your aunt, your uncle as well. They will tell you more this evening.

I write this from the Office of Corrections at Town Center. I must remain here until the chief magistrate is able to see me. I have a strong sense as to what this is about.

Apparently, someone has become aware of my publication. Infor­mation about my whereabouts has brought them straight to me.

If I am to be stolen from this Isle, stolen from you, it will be my own fault, through not using an alias when I came over. Will you ever forgive me, Tassie?

Will I ever see you again?

If you are giving any thought to coming with me, I will not allow it. You must stay to fight, because I cannot. This is not an act of gallantry, of heroism on my part. I am only being practical. I want you to be practical too. To contribute where I now cannot.

Be sure of it, my Tassie—that when the battle is won, we will be together again. Enterprise Thirty-two will be a success. It will be our happy fate, you'll see.

Your cousin, your aunt, your uncle—they all agree with me. Even your mother up in the Village, I am sure, if it were put to her.

I will try to contact you before they put me on the boat. If I miss that opportunity, please write. Continue to write. You cannot let them stop you.

Soon we may all have to learn Hawaiian.
With love,



Thurby, October 5

Nate is no longer with us. I enclose a copy of the letter he sent me. He was gone before I even got to Town Center. Banishment was swift. Swift, I believe, because of his alien status.

I am at a terrible loss, Mother—one I cannot even begin to artic­ulate. Were there all twenty-six letters available for my use, my abil­ity to translate my feelings, my thoughts of Nate to this page might still be put to supreme test.

"F" leaves us tonight. I haven't even the strength to curse those beasts with that epithet you taught me never to say. It's pointless at this point, anyway.

So long, "F." So long, my sweet Nate. I will miss you. Fero­ciously so.



The *uic* br*wn *ox *umps over the la*y **g


Ribs, October 13

Many have come to us to learn whether or not, given the latest alphabetical prohibition, employing tetra/penta class numbers as numerals (e.g. 4; 5; 45; 54; 5,445; 554,554,455 etc.) is still allowable. It is. (As you can plainly see.) Using numbers will always be per­missible. There are no numbers in the vulpine-canine sentence. Only letters.



Executive Secretary

High Council


Ribs, October 13

Violation number two this morning, this hapless Ribs the Thir­teenth! I was caught in the act, very near our house—right there at the piscimonger's booth on the pier while purchasing shrimp! (It was my plan to surprise Rory with a special gumbo supper to honor his birth-anniversary.) I witlessly put to use a grapheme which I have been—at least up to now—abstaining with relative ease:

"Boil-seasoning with that, Mrs. Mittie?"

"Not this time, Xenia. I'm preparing gumbo."

Then a most curious stare. I'm sure I won't be able to relate to you with any great success this woman's expression. But I'll try, nonetheless (because it was such a strange mixture): surprise, slight anxiety, momentary consternation, then overwhelming, saucer-eye panic!

I began to stammer: "What is it? What have I—"

It then became obvious. In an eye bat. All this time—in my brain—never having seen her name written out, I was misspelling it. You see, Xenia's name began not with an X, but with the other letter—the one that brought in this whole reprehensible era! Hers was, obviously, the legal spelling. Hence, my culpability.

This woman isn't a stranger to me, Tassie. I am no stranger to her. There is twenty-year amity between us. This is why I am so sure that she wasn't the one to report the violation. It was the other woman. The one in line with me wearing the worn-out tunic with all the paint splotches. Georgeanne Towgate. The ever-present, honor-bent Georgeanne Towgate!

I'm sure that she was the one whose ears got it all. My suspicion was met by a smile—a sinister simper, twisting her saliva-moist, overly rubilious lips as she apparently thought it all through—espe­cially how important it was to bring this glaring violation to the Council's attention as soon as possible.

My thoughts were spinning at that moment as well: giving seri­ous contemplation to pushing this Mary Cassatt aspirant—now my veritable nemesister—right over the railing. Straightway into the heaving sea. What a pharisaic, vigilante witch! The nerve—to report me—not once, but twice!

Not being one to waste time about such things, Mrs. Towgate, I'm certain, brought in her eyewitness report within minutes; by early evening your poor mother was in ignominious cephalo-strait.

The opportunity was mine to silence the witch in perpetuity. I let it go. I am an ignoble poltroon!


Your ignoble poltroon Mother


Sunshine, October 15
Aunt Mittie,

Tassie gave me your letter. I am so sorry. What a moronic way to spell one's name! Give me permission; I will happily terminate Mrs. Towgate, saving you the trouble.

Enterprise Thirty-two has hit a wall at 47. Instructor Mannheim with the university, in alliance with his tireless pupils, assures us that they will soon breach barrier 44. But I am not so sure. Many others here in town, though, seem to have given up. Pop is begin­ning to believe it to be an impossibility—this thirty-two letter-grail ("chimera" he calls it) we all pursue. But I am not in agreement with those who own this opinion.

So many long-time isle inhabitants are now gone. Most are expulsion victims, but some are no longer with us simply because they choose not to live in such a hostile, inhospitable place. It is no place to thrive, Aunt Mittie—no place at all to raise young ones, to be even marginally happy.

Mother worries about you with Tassie not there. (Especially given what you mention in your last letter.) Is the gentleman Rory being proper helpmate/protector? It gives her solace when she recalls your mentioning his ease with language—the way he seems to clearly embrace the challenges inherent in communication with restriction. Ah, that we might all ultimately rise to such challenges.

Tassie is well—heart-ailing, but otherwise well. We will not per­mit you to worry about her. She is writing to Nate as much as she can. There are no guarantees that her letters are getting through to him in the States; she can only trust that those to whom she passes them to smuggle out, with proper payment, will honor their con­tractual agreement.

By the way, her epistles must still be written with all alphabetical restrictions intact, lest interception bring them to the L.E.B., the result being Tassie's own banishment. (Although, I must say she is in a better position than most, without even a single violation to her name.) This is an important point; recently, several on their way to Pier Seven (then on to the States) wrote parting letters without employing the necessary caution with respect to current alphabeti­cal restrictions, only to have the recipients themselves brought up on charges! Remember, as well, that L.E.B. thugs are still wont to engage in spot home searches, hoping to turn up anything contain­ing the illicitabeticals. One cannot be too wary; last Thurby, a woman who lives near us was brought into L.E.B. Precinct 2. The charge: an unthought-through grocery list seen by a thug, there on her icebox.

Pop is staying out late, coming home with a pungent alcohol smell about him. (I am not eager to tell you this, but Mother will not allow me to engage her on the topic). 48 hours ago he was put on notice by his wholesaler that U.S.-Nollop business transactions were moving to hiatal suspension. Were Pop to continue to create his miniatures, especially those popular moonshine vessels, he will have to emigrate to the U.S. Which means we will have to go too. I am sorry to say, Aunt Mittie, that I was not sympathetic. Because this obviously means leaving my eighteen-year home here, who can say how long? Leaving all that I cherish. Leaving Tassie. Leaving my sweet Aunt Mittie.

There have been reports that Nollop expatriates are having a rough time in the States, are very much "at sea" in American soci­ety, in cultural isolation as it were—unable to melt into the prover­bial American melting pot. It will be the same with us, I am certain. As long as we are there we will live as outcasts.

I will tell Pop that we will live on my washerwoman's income, on our meager savings, until this crisis comes to a close. Then, as expa­triates begin to return home, house construction will surely begin anew, carpenters such as Pop naturally obtaining ample employ­ment in the process.

But let us say this never occurs. That the crisis continues. Because we cannot move below 47! Because the best brains at the university—the best brains in the nation cannot move us anywhere near 32 by November 16! What then?

It is late. Pop has yet to come home. Tassie sits writing letters to Nate—letters he may never see.

The gnawing apprehension has come again.

Help me, sweet Aunt Mittie, not to give in to it.


Your niece Ella


Monty, October 16

I cannot help you. Not now. Please tell Tassie: Rory is gone. It began this way: brash Council representatives, upon reaching his northern acreage, gave him papers that gave them authority to appropriate his property. No reason was given other than: "It is the Council's wish."

"Meaning it isn't Nollop's wish?" was Rory's angry response.

"On the contrary. The Council serves only Nollop. By extension, then, Mr. Cummels, whatever laws the Council passes are laws which by their nature must certainly have met with Nollop's approval."

"But I can't possibly see how stealing another man's property meets with Nollop's approval."

"The reasons are strictly ecclesiastical in nature, Mr. Cummels. Perhaps the Council wishes to erect a tabernacle on this site."

Rory was seething, his countenance nearly vermilion in hue. My worry that moment was that poor Rory might have a coronary arrest!

"A tabernacle—a temple—you actually mean—you actually mean a house in which to worship Nollop?"

"That is correct."

"But what about the Supreme Being we presently choose to wor­ship?"

"There is no other Supreme Being but Nollop."

"Repeat that statement, sir. Please. I want Mrs. Purcy to hear it."

I was then brought over as close witness.

The Council representative—his voice: even, treacly polite— gave his response again, with slight elaboration: "Mr. Cummels, it is the Council's earnest conviction that there is no other Supreme Being but Almighty Nollop. None whatsoever. Praise Nollop. Nol­lop eternal."

At this point, Rory lost all control. Now, Rory isn't a very reli­gious man—at least I never thought so. But he became at that moment positively apoplectic—moving to assault the representa­tive with everything available to him in his verbal arsenal, utterly without restraint—letting loose with a veritable, vituperative salvo—nothing printable here. Expulsion was complete within an hour's time, as an outgoing ship was set to leave at precisely the moment Rory was brought to the pier.

There was a cursory exchange between us—an impotent attempt at a chin-up bon voyage replete with the now customary, almost prosaic parting anguish. A moment later he was gone. As the ship was pulling away, Rory gave the store hasty mention. It is mine now. I will try to run it as best I can, preserving solvency until his return. Given this provision: he actually returns.

That is, given this provision as well: the Council chooses not to turn the little store into yet another Nollopian church. A church to bring a smile to that corpsal countenance we all must revere, or else. We have seen the "or else." It no longer scares me. The lamp will burn late tonight. We will best 47. Our battle may ultimately result in our extinction, but we will win at least this small success. Less than 47. It can be. Nollop was able in 35. Let us remember, as well, that Nollop was an imbecile.
With love,

Your Aunt Mittie


Toes, October 11

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. Raven­striate 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.




Th* *uic* *r*wn *ox *umps ov*r the la*y **g


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

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