A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26th. If you want to begin at the beginning, go here. If you want to read the book in its entirety, head over to Amazon and purchase a copy. (There’s a button on the left that will take you there).
Evelyn appreciates the irony when her first foray into the bowl of folded papers directs her to a box marked MARILYN, AGE 3-6. She feels validated in her decision to systematically random-select, and as she places the box in front of her and opens it, she is actually excited to see what will present itself from the years when Marilyn was so young.
Knowing she’s about to back up by nearly forty years, Evelyn extracts the item on the top of the stack. “Oh!” she sighs, speaking to no one, “I always loved this dress!”
Evelyn tilts her head and smiles as she dances the dress around in front of her. She studies the beautiful multi-colored smocking on the burgundy cotton background. She plays with the little puffy sleeves. She turns it around and looks at the big beautiful waistband bow that she tied so many times.
The bow that she tied so many times…
Remembering a particular morning, Evelyn slowly lowers the dress to her lap…
“And the bow has to be perfect!” Marilyn reminded her mother.
“But, honey,” Evelyn responded, shaking her head at her daughter’s sense of detail. “They aren’t going to take a picture of your back!”
“Everything has to be perfect! This is a very important day for me.”
Evelyn would get so amused by Marilyn back then. So amused by Marilyn’s sense of child-as-student responsibility. Even before she had Joy and Adam—when there was only Patrick to compare Marilyn to—Evelyn knew that Marilyn’s attention to teacher-parent directives was a bit unusual… and a little controlling. Invariably, Marilyn would not only bring home the “be sure your parents see this” announcement, but she also would insist that it be placed on the refrigerator and that any expired announcements be removed so as not to crowd the space. The refrigerator, essentially, was Marilyn’s bulletin board.
And so, for a full two weeks prior to this particular morning of tying Marilyn’s bow in the back of her dress, Evelyn was reminded that on October 15, 1969, the preschool class at Miss Emily’s Day School would be having a class picture taken.
“Okay,” Evelyn said, after poofing the bow as much as she could, “it’s perfect.”
“Just let me check in the mirror. Don’t go away!”
Evelyn suppressed a short laugh as Marilyn ran out of the room and the telephone rang. Hoping that the bow would need no additional poofing, Evelyn reached for the wall phone.
“Hello?” she said cheerfully.
“Evelyn,” came a familiar, but somber voice, at the other end of the line. “It’s Bea. I have bad news.”
“Oh dear,” Evelyn replied, knowing immediately what her mother-in-law was about to tell her.
“She died last night.”
“Oh, Bea,” was all Evelyn could say, as she sank into a chair.
“She was in the hospital since last weekend,” Bea continued.
“I know. Davy spoke with Russ on Monday.”
“Is he there?”
“Davy? He’s upstairs. His first class isn’t until ten this morning. Let me get him—”
In that moment, Marilyn came running back into the kitchen.
“Marilyn, honey?” Evelyn then said, not covering the mouthpiece. “Can you go upstairs and get Daddy? Please, honey?”
Marilyn dashed out of the room, her assignment taking on an importance once given to her dress’s bow.
“Oh boy,” Evelyn then exhaled, speaking again to Bea. “Jeez!” she added, hard-pressed to fight back the tears.
“It’s very numbing,” Bea offered. “We aren’t supposed to outlive our children. And even though we’ve seen this coming for a few months, it’s just—well, like I said, very numbing.”
“So, are you—?” Evelyn then cut herself off. “God, Bea, I don’t even know what to ask.”
“Well, as I think you know, she wanted to be cremated. She didn’t say anything about her ashes, you know, being spread somewhere. She just wanted to be cremated. So, that’s what we’ll do. And we’ll talk to the people at the church about a memorial service. I feel like this weekend is too soon. Maybe sometime next week? Next weekend?”
Davy, still in his pajamas and robe, entered the kitchen then. And seeing Evelyn’s expression, his own became somber. As she handed him the telephone, she quietly said, “It’s your mom,” and then she bolted into the pantry bathroom, where she knew she could hide and cry for a few minutes before taking the kids to school.
Evelyn looks down at the small burgundy-colored dress, with the smocked front, the puffy sleeves, and the bow that had to be tied perfectly. And she misses the friend whose life was stolen by breast cancer. She misses the sister she acquired when she married into the Bennett clan. Just five years older than Evelyn, Davy’s sister Joy quickly became a best ally and confidante. And in that way, she became the ultimate sibling. Like Davy’s parents, his sister—the inimitable Joy—showed Evelyn what a family member could be.
* * *
to be continued on October 30th .
In the meantime, if you want to read a short piece about the back story, click here.