Beautiful Little Fools

Elise Petracca

 

Her smooth legs, bare from beneath the gathered hem of her red floral skirt, kicked high in the air as she watched him walk out.  Jeanette kicked higher and in the direction of the closed door, smiling down at her daughter who was dancing the can-can, too.  Together they laughed and danced, legs grazing the air, skirts flouncing with each kick, the baby peering over her cradle smiling.  Three girls home alone, waiting for their man to come back.

When the music stopped, Jeanette fell into their overstuffed crimson couch, pulling her oldest daughter close to her, the two of them still giggling, the baby still cooing.

“Mama, when will daddy be home?”  Marie asked, nestling closer to her mother’s side.  My poor babies, she thought, so blissfully unaware.

“I don’t know, darling,” she tried, “but he’ll be home for dinner.”  He always came home for that.  Perfectly timed, it seemed; coq au vin already on the table but not yet cold.  And though it wasn’t often that he left the three of them for very long, she knew where he was when he did.  Well, not exactly.  But she knew what he was doing, and that was better than nothing.  But was it?

She swung her feet over the sofa’s edge, touching her toes to the rich Oriental rug that was slightly too big for the living room and reached a little too far into the dining area.  She always knew it was an awkward fit, but said nothing because she knew how much he loved it, and it worked well enough.  The colors complemented their modest furniture, at least, as well as Lautrec’s painting that hung above the mantle of their obsolete fireplace.  At least he could pay attention to certain detail, she caught herself thinking as she picked up Camille from the crib, cradling the infant in her arms.

She looked at each of her daughters, our daughters, she thought, and couldn’t help but smile.  They both had their father’s eyes: brown and deep, contemplative but open, the same ones she fell in love with that day on the train headed home.  Just before getting off at Wilmette, she slipped him a scrap of paper with her number scribbled on one side, her name on the other.  The baby clung tighter to her mother’s neck, bringing Jeanette back from the memory.  Turning to Marie, she caught another glimpse of her daughter’s eyes regarding the painting on the wall.  If only those eyes could see what I see.  But they couldn’t, at least not yet.  And maybe they never would.  Maybe they would never notice the dullest smudge of pink on the inside of his collar, or smell the hint of Chanel No. 5 that just lingered a little too long in his hair, or hear the bit of guilt not quite hidden by his banal questions at the dinner table.

“Come here, Marie,” she sang, “Come tell your baby sister about the can-can, I know she wants to hear your story.”  As Marie began, her excited smile lit up her eyes and the baby’s widened with intrigue.  I’d give anything for those eyes, Jeanette lamented, and waited for the front door to swing open so she could start dancing again.

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