Aug 15th, 2008 | By | Category: Student 2008
By Sharris Neary

Lorainne stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in an ice blue taffeta dressing gown, the kind from a 30’s movie. Bending forward and shaking her head, she watched as the drops flew through the sunlight to the floor. Maddie, the three year old daughter of Lorainne and her husband Max, watched intently as her mother prepped herself for the day.

Combing gel through her black, thick hair, she then carefully formed deep undulations with her fingers, clamping the high spots. Inspection with a mother-of pearl mirror confirmed the job to be perfect. Then, of course, came the inevitable moisturizing creme, followed by inflating her cheeks and slapping them with the back of her hands to ward off wrinkles. After all, you never knew when age might creep up on you. And, there could always be someone younger, more beautiful….like red-headed Marsha, the one who modeled for the painting on the Army poster. As if she would go to war!

Maddie watched and mimicked every move. Lorainne called her over, and sitting her on a chair, began to lovingly comb her thin, light hair, thinking hopefully that she saw a wisp of curl, but it was only where it had a little tangle. Still, by carefully combing in gel and pinning with bobby pins and clamps, Lorainne worked at achieving a wave in her hair. This was the only child she ever wanted.

Maddie worshipped her mother, and that was what kept her mother alive.  Her worship was an acknowledgement of her overriding gift – beauty. She didn’t see herself as needing to connect with people – they should connect with her. So what if her husband ran a gas station? It was located on Miracle Mile and he had servants of the stars as his customers, and he was high up with the union bosses.

Lorainne went to her dressing table and began putting on her make-up for the day: oil moisturizer, pancake makeup, and a cloud of powder. She applied a startlingly red lipstick to her lips, then pressed them together. She carefully examined the result, turning her head several times to make certain that the fading bruise by her left eye didn’t show through. After dabbing Tabu behind each ear, from the bottle she had smuggled across the Tijuana border, she was ready to get dressed.

She put on a two-piece light-weight suit, rather simple in a style; only the “in” people would recognize it came from I. Magnin–one of those special gifts from Max.
Turning her attention to Maddie, she took out the hairpins and began running her fingers through her scalp-warmed hair. She loved dressing and primping her little girl – the only child she would ever love. Her hands lingered over the small child’s head; then she lifted up her face to give her a smile and a kiss.

Between Max, Maddie, her own personal needs, and taking care of the house, Lorainne felt it would be impossible to add another child. And yet, secretly she knew that new life was stirring in her. She didn’t want it to be; Max wouldn’t want another child to support. “This is too much for me already!” She could hear him now. She had tried all the old remedies – especially hot baths, but nothing had happened.

There was a syrup you could buy from one of the old ladies, and that was what she was getting dressed for today. It was not for the usual stroll downtown with Maddie, looking in store windows, handling new yardage, and then having an ice cream before going to the market. Today their destination was a house at the end of the street with a yard full of flowers and interesting plants. Stories about that kind of house usually included peeling paint and shuttered windows, but this house was a fresh white with lace curtains and windows open to the air.

She dressed Mattie carefully, making sure that neither her slip or underwear showed, and that her sox were in perfect alignment. They twirled together in front of the full-length mirror, then turned to go to the front door. The sun was shining brightly as they walked down the stone steps. A right turn on the city’s sidewalk sent them facing Mrs. Grimaldi’s house and, hopefully, relief from Lorainne’s situation. She had heard of women using coat hangers, but she was too afraid to do that.

“What time is it, Mommy?” Lorainne looked down at the famous designer lapel watch, another special present from Max. “It’s almost 10:30”, she replied. A little sigh escaped her lips.

Hopefully this will soon be over, she thought.

A few blocks farther and they reached Mrs. Grimaldi’s front walk. Lorainne hesitated, a common occurrence witnessed from inside the house. Finally, she straightened her shoulders and bravely came up the walk. She had barely knocked when the lady of the house opened the door, smiling.

“Come in, come in!” she greeted. “Sit down!” “Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Oh, no,” Lorainne said. “We can’t stay.”

“I suppose I already know why you are here. You have that look. All you girls get that look. Shows right away. Have you tried anything else?”

“I’ve tried scalding hot baths,” said Lorainne.

“No, that doesn’t always work,” replied the little old lady, ruffling her immaculate white apron. “I have something that WORKS! But you have to be certain you really want it to work, because there’s no going back once you take it.”

“It must work!” Lorainne knew she didn’t have a choice.

Lorainne stood up as the older woman went into a back room and returned with a little unmarked bottle of dark liquid. They agreed on a price, Lorainne paid, and they quickly went down the path toward home.

“What did the lady give you, Mommy?”

“Nothing!” Lorainne said crossly.

Maddie sighed. She knew it was useless to question her mother further, and most of all, she should not say anything to her father. You learn many things in a family.

That night, Lorainne woke with terrible cramps and felt a warm sticky spot under her. She jumped up and went into the bathroom, running a small warm bath. She eased into it, not knowing what to expect. A great rush of pain, more blood, an involuntary push, and into the shallow water swooshed a little object. She grabbed it. It was a perfect little baby. As she picked it up, it let out a tiny cry. Just one. Then it went lifeless.

Max heard her get up, and was coming into the bathroom just in time to hear the cry. “What have you done?” He grabbed her out of the tub, and began punching her in the face and in her stomach. She didn’t reply, and he didn’t stop for a very long time.

The next night he came home with a big package–another one of his special presents. There was a long red hair on his jacket.

Lorainne never forgot the sound of that little cry, and years later, Maddie still heard her mother cry out in the night, “What have I done?”

Sharris Neary is of Cherokee/Scots/Irish descent and is currently a student at Salish Kootenai College. She says, “My instructor, Jennifer Green, encouraged me to submit this short story, which I really appreciate.” Neary has written mostly grants, but more recently she’s written reflections—”private writings about what I see around me.”

Neary says, “This is the first time I have had the courage to take a creative writing class, something my husband has wanted me to do for a long time.” She is especially indebted to her good friend Mary Louise Defender Wilson (Dakota-Hitatsa), “who told me stories and fired my imagination, as she has done for so many.”

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