7 To read the first part of this chapter, click here.
Lynnie went upstairs to check on Boo again, making sure he had not awoken at the sound of our laughter, while we girls stayed with Dave doing dishes. Dave washed as we sloppily dried, a dishtowel slung over each of our shoulders, looking the part more than we performed it. Ara’s sloppy hair, half-pulled back in a barrette gave her the appearance of a downtrodden maid or a housewife with four too many kids. Romaine, with her hair pulled back in a slick ponytail, managed to make the dishtowel look like a chic scarf. That only lasted until she smiled, revealing a large gap in her teeth, the result of the loss of her two front teeth. Obviously, I don’t know what I looked like, but in my mind, I’ve always imagined I looked like my mother doing the dishes, quickly and plainly, no glamour or make-believe involved. Even a downtrodden maid held more allure for me, perhaps because she was different, a diversion from the norm.
Lynnie returned as we slapped the last plate with our dishtowels.
“Still sleeping,” Lynnie announced as she slid her arms around Dave’s neck. He turned his bearded face to hers and kissed her for a long few seconds. When their faces pulled apart, Lynnie smiled, her eyes crinkling at the corners. It was a smile so wide it was a half-laugh, like a high school girl in week one of a relationship with her long-time crush. Before she realizes his quirks, his vices, his inconsistencies. Or perhaps, a girl a year and eight months into the relationship, who learns to love all those things perhaps even more than the man? What is he without those quirks, those inconsistencies? Something so perfect that it becomes imperfect. A shell; a cold, Greek statue, perfectly proportioned; a piece of paper, meticulously lined, blank.
Romaine tapped Ara on the shoulder and whispered in her ear. Ara clapped her hands together and nodded. She turned to me.
“Do you want to play dress up?”
I cupped my hand over her ear.
“Sure,” I replied. Ara’s head bobbed up and down excitedly in Romaine’s direction.
Romaine came over and took me by the hand.
“You haven’t seen our real dress-up closet yet. Mommy,” Lynnie looked up from Dave’s shoulder where she had been resting her head, “can we show Emma the big dress-up closet?”
Lynnie looked at me.
“Of course you can, but I’ll have to come with you.”
“The dress-up closet’s in her studio in the attic.” Ara explained.
“We could break something up there.” Romaine added.
The four of us climbed up the first set of stairs to the second floor where Lynnie pressed her ear to Boo’s door before signaling that we should head up the final set of stairs—so narrow we had to proceed a in single file, the steps so high we had to fully bend our knees to climb. It was treacherous.
The attic had been systematically, if not quite literally, split in two. On the left side was clearly Lynnie’s studio: a potter’s wheel in one corner and a large table in the center of that half. There were bookcases and drying racks packed with fragile and obviously breakable objects. One rack housed delicately sculpted animal figurines, impossibly detailed and perfectly accurate, that I longed to hold. On the right side, there were a small closet, a large trunk, and a pair of cardboard boxes. The sleeve of a dress, caught when it had last been closed, peeked out of the trunk.
Romaine and Ara hurried, not quite running, to the right side of the room where Romaine threw open the doors of the armoire and Ara pried open the trunk. I followed, helping Ara when she struggled to get the top of the trunk loose. Lynnie had wandered to the left side, checking on glazing while we browsed the ample selection.
Ara and I rifled through the trunk, Ara flinging clothes and accessories over her shoulder while I attempted, in vain, to fold each article like my mother would have.
By the time I inspected my second accessory– a shawl after a small straw purse– Ara had already decided on a hat. It appeared to be a child’s Easter bonnet, all white with a wide brim. It was draped in a salmon-pink fabric, accented with various three-dimensional natural elements: spring leaves and flowers, a petite sparrow, a fragile butterfly.
“This is my favorite,” Ara told me before returning to her hunt through the bottomless trunk.
Romaine continued perusing the closet, pushing hanger after hanger aside. She finally decided on a white dress, ruffled at the collar and at the hem. I could be a young girl’s party dress or regular day dress, if she were so inclined. If I had a dress like that, I would have worn it every day.
“Why isn’t that in the closet in your room?” I asked. It was exactly her size.
“I wouldn’t wear it all the time. I have other dresses.”
Lynnie ambled over to the dress-up corner of the attic.
“We like it better for dress-up.” Romaine finished, beaming at her mother, who generously smiled back.
I had finished browsing through the trunk, having chosen a floral scarf of pinks and greens. I decided to search for a dress in the armoire. Romaine took my place next to Ara at the trunk.
“Oh, that hat would go so well with my dress, Ara. Can I have it?” I heard Romaine ask.
“No. I got it first. It’s mine.”
“But it matches my dress.”
“No!” Ara yelled.
“Girls,” Lynnie warned, “Ara got it first today so Romaine can get it next time.”
Romaine pouted for a moment, but within half a minute, all was forgotten.
I fingered each dress, pausing occasionally until I found the perfect one, fit for a princess, fit for dress-up. It was nearly my size, pink to match the scarf, and sleeveless with a poufy, tiered skirt down to the floor. Even the tag had been cut out so it wouldn’t scratch my skin in back. I slipped it off its hanger on the far right of the closet and gingerly brought it out.
“God, I’d forgotten about that dress.” Lynnie said as I held it up to examine in the full-length mirror attached to the wardrobe door.
“It’s so pretty,” I murmured.
“I hated wearing it,” Lynnie rolled her eyes for emphasis.
“You wore it?” My eyes bulged.
Lynnie seemed flustered, as though she were scrambling for words.
“Just once, to a party.” Lynnie waved a hand as though she were waving away a memory. It was suggested that I do the same.
Within a few minutes, we had decided on our outfits and hurried downstairs to Ara and Romaine’s room where we played make-believe until dark. We pretended we were rich women in France. Romaine threw in French words for authenticity, and Ara used a spot-on accent of a Frenchwoman speaking English. They made me laugh; I could offer nothing but my all-too-eager laugh.
Dave poked his head in at 8:30.
“Girls, what time is it?” He asked.
“Sleeper time,” Ara screamed as she broke out of character and ran to her chest of drawers. Dave began to sing the “Sleeper Time” song. The goal was to retrieve one’s sleeper before he finished.
“Sleeper time, sleeper time, sleeper time,” he warbled.
I arrived at my suitcase, unzipping it as quickly as possible.
“S-L-E-E-P-E-R,” he continued.
I rummaged around, searching for my pajamas. Mom would not have forgotten to pack them.
“Now it’s sleeper time,” he finished with a generous ritardando.
I victoriously held up my sleeper in one hand. Romaine and Ara clutched theirs.
“I’ll be back in ten minutes,” Dave said, “and when I come back, I want to see you in your sleepers, with your teeth brushed, ready for tonight’s story.”
We followed his instructions, taking turns at the bathroom sink, changing in the closet. As the ten minutes were ending, Ara returned to her own bed, only a few feet from Romaine’s, while Romaine pulled out the trundle bed for me.
Dave returned when he’s promised, a copy of Ferdinand secure in his hand.
“Now whose bed do I sit on tonight?” He asked.
“Mine,” Romaine replied instantaneously. “You sat on Ara’s last night.”
Dave settled at the foot of her bed and began to read.
“Once upon a time, in Spain, there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand.”
The sound of his voice lulled us to sleep.