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"Model Behavior" - by Darren Akerman 

Darren lives in Winthrop, Maine.


© 2007 Darren Akerman



Mary opened her eyes and stared through the pale reflection of her own face in the car window. She had been asleep since New Hampshire. The white blade of a November moon skimmed above a field of ragged cornstalks, disappearing behind the blue-limbed spires of northern pines and pointed firs. They were back in Maine, almost home, to Wentworth.


Her father slid his hands into his lap, hooked his thumbs over the lower rim of the steering wheel, and sighed. Mary kept still, her head cradled between the vinyl-smelling seat of the Maverick and the coarse wool of her folded coat against the window. She kept still because she didn't want to answer another of her father's questions about Yale University.


"You sure you're getting enough to eat?" he had asked her no less than eight times.


Mary didn't want to think about Yale anymore. She'd seen enough of studded gothic doors and stone walls, dimly-lit classrooms, and creaking lecture halls. Her roommates, Gail Cameron and Ashley Vanderhoff, snickered about her tartan skirts, home-knit sweaters, and square-toed loafers. She knew they sipped peach brandy with the other girls in their dorm rooms and smoked cigarettes behind the library at night, infractions she wouldn't have minded if only they had asked her to join them even once. How she hated them both.


The moon sliced across an opening between the hills like the vibrant curve of a single parenthesis. Again, she closed her eyes.  Mary wanted to erase the image of her solitary desk in the dorm room by the arched window, decoding Latin, or sounding out the Old English of Chaucer that clunked like a pair of wooden shoes above the female voices of pleasant outrage from the quadrant below.


In her senior year at Wentworth High School, she had never dreamed it would turn out like this. She graduated as captain of the debating team, class president, valedictorian. On the ride home she spoke about Yale with the pliant optimism her father expected, until New Hampshire when she felt herself nodding off in the red coal-like glow of sundown, weary of his interrogations and her own cheery answers. She lied because it meant as much to him as it once did to her.


Mary recognized the Manchester Drive-In Theater sign rising into view. Ashen tubes of neon lined its stamen-shaped bulk. On the unlit marquee black letters spelled: LOSED FOR SEASON. Somewhere in the brittle tufts of milkweed beside the Highway 202 hid a missing 'C'.

"Dad," Mary asked, "how's Kelly doing in school?"


"Oh, you're awake," her father said. "Kelly's takes after you—model behavior. She'll tell you all about it at Thanksgiving supper tomorrow. I imagine you'll want to turn in as soon as we get home. It's past midnight already."


"I'm not tired now," Mary said.


"I'm done in," he said. "But it's nice to have you home. Kelly wants to hear all about college life. She'll be the next one to go, you know. What with Ted stationed in Norfolk, and me driving around on patrol till all hours...well, it gets kind of lonely for your mother around the house. She's been cooking since five-thirty this morning. You know that English pudding she makes? What's it called?"


"Trifle," said Mary.


"Yes, that's it," said her father. "She's also making an apple pie, a pumpkin pie, a blueberry pie...Let's see, what else was there?"


"There's only the four of us, though," Mary said. "Why is she making enough to feed the Russian army?"


"Five," said her father.


"I thought Ted couldn't get a furlough," she said.


"He couldn't," he father said, "but—"


"But what, Dad?" asked Mary.


"It was supposed to be Kelly's big surprise," he explained. "Kelly's boyfriend, Mitch. I will never in my life be able to figure out why your sister, mother, and most other females do things the way they do. Kelly swore me to secrecy about him, and that's what I get for trying to play along with her foolishness. Keeping secrets from your own family."


"Mitch who?" Mary asked.


"Mitch Stevens," her father said. "His folks are Lyle and Harriet Stevens. They run a small accounting business out of their house on the far end of Makinachook Lake. Now, don't you let on that you know, Mary. Kelly would run up one side of me and down the other if she knew I told you. She wants you to meet the boy."


"Of course," Mary heard herself say. "I think I remember his older brother from school. Bob or Brian or something like that."


"No matter," her father said. "Just don't spill the beans, okay?"


"I won't," she said.


The crescent moon glinted through the twisted branches of the apple orchard near the Burse Road. Wind blasted against the windshield like the hollow roar of flames. A pair of red tail lights slit the darkness in front of the Maverick.


"A '62 Buick Skylark," he said. "I can tell from here."


Her father depressed the directional signal lever on the steering column. Mary swooned with the surge of the accelerated engine; they swung into the opposite lane, speeding ahead of the other car. With an upward flick of his hand, the green arrow on the speedometer ticked and pointed again. Perfectly in control, her father swerved back into the lane.


She inhaled the mentholated aroma of his aftershave, glancing at his attentive, crew-cut profile in the phosphorescent dashboard light, wishing he had arrived at Yale in his police cruiser to make her escape seem more complete and, perhaps, throw an official scare into her roommates. But he would never use the cruiser for personal business. He took the old brown Maverick with its rusted fender and coat hanger radio antenna. Instead of his uniform, he wore a flannel shirt tucked into his pressed woolen trousers, his pocket watch chain looped from his belt.


"How many years with the state troopers has it been, Dad?" she asked.


"Eighteen," he said. "I started the year you were born."


"Remember how you'd let Ted and Kelly and me ride in the backseat of the cruiser after school?" she said. "And the time you got a call for backup at the bank when—"


"Yes, I do," he said, tugging his earlobe with a faint grimace. "Please don't remind me."


"It was so exciting," Mary said.


"It was dangerous," he said. "Besides, technically, I could have been suspended from the force."


"They'd never do that to you, Dad," she said.


He grunted at her praise and exhaled. Mary could see he was tired, his eyes glassy from driving, his face gaunt in the green radiance of the dashboard. Again, she studied her own pale reflection in the car window. Pinching her chin between her thumb and forefinger, she studied the shadowed curve of her cheek with wistful pride, imagining a faint resemblance to a Modigliani painting from Art History.


The Maverick crested the slope of the valley. Wentworth glittered below, and the moon fled behind a fringe of silver clouds.


"Almost home," she said.


"About time," her father said.


The red brick walls of the old woolen mill loomed above the center of town, the smokestack thrusting far into the night above Main Street like a scene out the slide-projected images in Art History class of De Chirico. The cadence of that name tolled through the corridors of her mind: "De Chirico, De Chirico, Disheer-i-co;" not, "Day-chur-ee-co," the way she had pronounced it to Gail and Ashley during class one day. They laughed, exchanging a few words in Italian, before correcting her. She shuddered with the memory, the stinging moment when she saw in herself what, undoubtedly, everyone else must have seen in her all along. She laughed along with them, swallowing back the urge to cry.


Main Street glided into view. Mary surveyed the closed storefronts with unrepentant nostalgia: Abruzzi's, the pennycandy store with its unlit shelves of pink bubblegum, jars of jawbreakers, red licorice, Needham's chocolates, and malted milk balls; Hallicourt's Grill, where she used to order ham Italian sandwiches and foaming mugs of root beer with Janet Gauss and April Fournier; and Barton's Pharmacy with its gleaming spigots and  marble-countered soda fountain. On Saturday afternoons, between spoonfuls of a vanilla butterscotch sundae, she used to spin on those silver-rimmed stools with Kelly, laughing until her ribs ached.


Soon Mary peered at the familiar houses on upper Moore Street, the unlit kitchens, the pine-blackened backyards, and closed-up porches for fall. Indian corn hung from the doors. She detected the aroma of woodsmoke, expecting joy once the Maverick stabbed its headlight beams into the driveway of the yellow cape she'd known all her life as home; instead, a sharp ache throbbed inside her, as if the pointed edge of the November moon had skewered her where she sat.  She folded her hands across her abdomen to quell the pain.


Of course, she'd had only a bowl of oatmeal and twelve raisins since Tuesday.


Mary woke the next morning in cold panic. The lime-green numbers on the alarm clock between Kelly's already made bed and her own read ten-thirty. Mary blinked her eyes in disbelief. Gray daylight sifted in between the edges of the window shade, illuminating the pitched lavender walls of the bedroom and the brass handle of the closed door. She'd never slept in so late in her life. A muffled clatter echoed downstairs in the kitchen, followed by her mother's voice.


"Brad! Brad! Can you get me those bowls from the top shelf?"


"Yes, Margaret," her father said. "Get down off that chair before you break your leg."


"Keep it down, Brad," she said. "Mary's still asleep."


"Yes, I know," he said. "I hope she's not coming down with something. She slept most of the way home last night."


"Let her sleep as long as she needs," she said. "Now, I'm coming down from this chair. Give me your hand. Oh, Brad! Brad?"


"Easy, Margaret," he said.


Mary dressed slowly, tugging the leather belt across her plaid skirt with mild satisfaction. The pointed clasp slipped easily into the third hole she had poked with a compass. She could hear the clamor of the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning. With care she made her bed, creasing the sheets into military-style corners, smoothing out the ruffles, and plumping the pillows. She tried to dispel the peculiar impression of being a visitor in her own house. Kelly announced her presence before she'd gotten halfway down the stairs.    


"Oh, look who's up!" she cried. "Hello, sleepy-head."


"Good morning," said Mary.


"How about some breakfast, Mary?" her mother said. "I can make you scrambled eggs or French Toast or—"


"Nothing right now, Mom," she said. "I'll just wait until later."


"But that's not for hours, Mary," her mother said.


"Really, Mom," Mary said. "I'm  just not hungry right now."


Her mother pursed her lips and put away the frying pan. For the next several hours Mary fended off her mother's questions about Yale. The aroma of roasting turkey filled the air. Charging across the rose-patterned linoleum floor in slippers and a housecoat, her mother set out hors d' oeuvres, losing the battle to keep her beehive hairdo intact. On his way upstairs from the cellar with the squash, her father tilted his head, looking at Mary as if she were some under-grown vegetable herself.


"Are you sure you're getting enough to eat?" he asked again. "I swear you can't weigh more than you did as a kid."


"Brad," he mother said, "don't you know better than to ask a lady about her weight? Honestly. You look lovely, Mary. Don't you pay any attention to your father. He may know everything about police business, but he doesn't know the first thing about women."


"You'll get no argument about that from me," he said.


Munching dill pickles and cheese slices, Kelly came to Mary's rescue.  "My God, Daddy," she said. "Leave her alone. Mary looks fabulous. You don't have to treat her like she's a delinquent or something just because she slept in. She's probably exhausted with all the studying she's got to do. Here, Mary. Have a pickle. It'll make him feel better."


"Maybe later, Kelly," she said.


"Here's some apple bread, girls," her mother said.


"I know when I'm outnumbered," said her father. "I'm going outside to check the oil in the Maverick."


"It's raining, Brad," said her mother. "You'll get soaked."


"It won't be the first time," he said. He pulled his cap on to step outside.   


"He's so cheerful," said Kelly, rolling her eyes.


"Oh, he's just being Dad," said Mary.


"I just hope the state police can get through one Thanksgiving without calling him for an emergency," said her mother. She dabbed her forehead with the back of a plump wrist. "I'd take that telephone right off the hook if I could, so help me. If that Sergeant Whose-a-Magingy calls for him this year, I'll tell him a thing or two."


By two o'clock the kitchen windows misted with heat from the stove. The bark of pine trees darkened in the backyard lawn. Her mother's patter continued as steadily as the rain outside. Mary ate three black olives and a cracker. 


Then Mitch Stevens arrived. The tweed sports jacket he wore added the illusion of maturity to his slender, boyish frame. He comported himself a shy formality that suited the wary glances of Mr. Donnelly. Mary joined Kelly and him in the living room, confident of her relative maturity.             


Kelly, who had spent twenty minutes prior to Mitch's arrival brushing her hair in the bathroom mirror, clung to Mitch's arm on the couch, giggling. The three of them watched an old Laurel and Hardy movie on television, Babes in Toyland, and spoke little. Mary excused herself to help out her mother in the kitchen.


"Is there anything I can do, Mom?" she asked.


"Oh, nothing, Mary," she said. "It's all under control. Have something to eat."


Mary nibbled a celery stalk at the table. Her mother bustled back and forth across the linoleum floor, opening cupboards, lifting lids from steaming pots and pans, refusing any offers of assistance. Her father plugged in the electric carving knife.


"Are you sure I can't give you a hand with something, Mom?" Mary asked. "Anything?"


"No, no, nothing at all, Mary," she said. "Oh, dear God, look what's happening to my squash. Brad!"


"What's the matter?" he asked.


"The squash is still full of water," she cried. "I need you to drain the water from the pot! I can't lift it myself. Brad?"


"Coming!" he called from two feet away.


Her mother fluttered around him, hurrying him to drain the water into the sink. He squinted through a cloud of steam at her cherubic, raging expression.


"Brad," she said, "you're spilling the squash into the sink! Brad!"


"Yes, Margaret," he said. "I know."


Mary saw that the kitchen with its cluttered gold-flecked formica countertops, handle-worn cupboards and beige walls decorated by homespun artifacts, had not changed a wit. Her parents, too, reenacted their traditional holiday banter, her mother's frantic exclamations, her father's dry replies.


"That's the last squash I ever buy from Newton what's-his-name in Mount Vernon," declared her mother.


"It is draining, dear," her father said.


"Oh, look at my peas," she said.


Yes, everything was the same—except for Kelly and Mitch Stevens. Her little sister had grown taller, her amber hair longer than ever before. With a hint of bitter envy, Mary noted the slender curve of her hips, that effortless claim of childhood. She chewed another black olive, savoring its salty pulp. Although Mary felt the warmth of the oven against her legs, the proposition that life had continued in the house since her departure chilled her to the bone.


At last, her parents lifted the turkey out of the oven, and placed it on a wire rack on the countertop. Her mother peeled back layers of tin foil from the browned skin with reverent expectation, and her father positioned himself over it with the electric carving knife. With the rattling blade, he sliced steaming cuts of white breast meat and placed them on a serving dish. He removed the two drumsticks gartered with parsley sprigs, and scooped out a mound of stuffing into a serving bowl. Her mother shuttled warm fragrant dishes filled with mashed potatoes, peas, and sweet orange squash to the table. Mary assured herself that Thanksgiving came only once a year. She would skip dessert.


"Okay, kids!" her mother called. "I guess we're as ready as we're going to be."


"We're starving, Mom!" Kelly called.


Kelly and Mitch came into the kitchen, grinning. Mitch pulled out a chair for Kelly and sat down next to her. His gray-green eyes glittered in the lit candle at the center of the table. A stray lock of blonde hair drooped across his forehead; he swept it away from his clean-shaven, angular face. Kelly kicked Mary in the shins under the table; their father took his place at the end of the table.


"Margaret, come sit down, already," he said.


"Yes, yes, Brad," she said. "I'm coming. Here, find a place for the gravy, will you?"


"I've got just the place for it," he said, patting his stomach.


"Please, Margaret," he said. "Sit down now. These kids will all be in college by the time we get started."


Her mother sat on the edge of her chair, looked at the table with a final frantic glance, and then lowered her head. Bowing toward his empty plate, her father closed his eyes.


"Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which through Thy bounty we are about to receive through Christ Our Lord, Amen," he said in a quick, monotone voice.


"Amen," came the refrain of voices around the table.


The avid faces of Mary's parents, Kelly, and Mitch crowded the halo of candlelight. Conversation resumed, plates were passed along. Kelly poured a glass of wine for her mother.


"Oh, Kelly," her mother said, "I shouldn't."


"Go ahead, Mrs. Donnelly," said Mitch. "I brought it from home for you and Mr. Donnelly. My parents said I could."


"Oh, I shouldn't," she said, accepting the glass. "But maybe just a little."


"How about you, Mary?" Kelly asked. "You're old enough now."


"Old enough? Aren't you sweet, Kelly," she laughed.


Her father leaned toward his plate, offering no remark. He dripped gravy onto his mashed potatoes from the serving cup. Mary sipped the wine Kelly had poured for her and winced. It was cold and metallic-tasting, but soon changed to soft fire inside her. She dabbed a spoonful of mashed potatoes onto her plate next to a single slice of turkey. Her mother, who had only begun to serve herself, got up from the table to whip fresh cream topping for the desserts.


"Kelly tells me you're quite the artist, Mitch," her father said. "Even won some kind of award?"


"Daddy, " Kelly stammered.


"Not really an award, Sir," Mitch said. "But I got a scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design."


"A scholarship?" her mother repeated.


"That's quite an accomplishment, young man," her father said. "You'll go far with that. Mary got into Yale on a scholarship."


"Is that right?" Mitch asked her. He gazed at her above his tilted fork. "It must be exciting. What's your favorite course?"


"Art History, I think," she said. "I'm a literature major, but there's something I love about modern art, you know? De Chirico. Modigliani."


"I sure do," Mitch said. "I always think of De Chirico whenever I go by the mill on Main Street. Modigliani, though, hmm. He used all those dark tones. Say, you could probably model for something like that, Mary. I mean, you've kind of got that look."


"What look, Mitch?" Kelly asked.


"I don't know," he said. "I'll have to show you in one of my art books sometime, Kelly. Sort of ...dreamy I guess."


"Thank you, Mitch," Mary said.


Mr. Donnelly cleared his throat, and took up the bottle of wine, reading the label, and set it down again.


"Is that all you're having, Mary?" her mother asked. "Try a little stuffing. It's the kind you like, with walnuts. They'll think we don't feed you back at college."


"Maybe just a little, Mom," she said.


"Brad, pass her some cranberry sauce," her mother said. "She hasn't got any cranberry sauce."


"Let the poor girl eat in peace, Margaret," he said.


Mary didn't hear them anymore. She ate the turkey, the peas, the mashed potatoes, the squash, everything. She'd never been so hungry. Halfway through the meal, her mother got up from the table again to uncover her pies and prepare coffee. On the countertop, Mary saw the tin pie plates puffed with flaky crusts, and the pedestaled cut-glass bowl striped with red jelly, yellow custard, topped with whipped cream her mother called Trifle.


By four o'clock they had finished supper. Mary's mother collected the dishes, piling them into an uneven pillar in the sink, and took down a stack of dessert plates from the cabinet. The coffee pot burbled over on the stove with a smell like burnt almonds; her mother lifted it from the burner, hurrying, her face flushed.


"Okay, everybody," she said. "I've got apple, pumpkin, or blueberry pie with whipped cream. And Trifle."


"Let me help you, Mom," Kelly said, rising from her chair. "Who'd like coffee?"


"I'd like to catch a little of the football game on television in the living room if you all don't mind," said her father, also rising. "Margaret, can I give you a hand first?"


"No, Brad," she said. "You go watch the game. You might actually get through one holiday without a call from that Sergeant Whose-a-Magingy."


"McGillervay, Margaret," he said. "Sergeant McGillervay."  His chair leg shrieked across the linoleum floor.


"What's Trifle, Mrs. Donnelly?" Mitch asked. "It looks delicious."


"Would you like to try some?" she asked.


"You bet!" he said.


"Want some coffee, too, Mitch?" Kelly added.


"Sure," he said.


"How about you, Mary?" her mother asked.


"I think I'll save dessert for later, Mom," she said.


"But you love Trifle, Mary, don't you?"

"Of course, Mom, but—"


"It's all right," she said, clattering coffee cups onto saucers. "You don't have to try it if you don't want to."


"Well, okay, Mom," said Mary. "Maybe just a little."


The television roared in the living room, flickering colored light against the door frame.  "I'll be right in!" yelled her father above the din. "It's almost time for the kickoff."


"Why don't we just have dessert in the living room, Brad?" her mother yelled back.


"Fine by me!" he answered.


Mary followed Kelly and Mitch into the living room. She sat with them on the couch opposite the television. Her father leaned back in his armchair, lacing his fingers over his stomach. Her mother carried in the dessert tray. A commentator's voice described the pageantry: the chanting crowd, the names and numbers of helmeted players trotting out onto the field. Mary set her empty cup and saucer on the coffee table and tasted the sweet, gelatinous Trifle.    


"Coffee, anybody?" Kelly chirped.


"Much obliged," said her father.


"So you must study Art at Wentworth High School with Mrs. Havilland, Mitch," said Mary. "Right?"


"Oh, sure," he said. "I'm really interested in the surrealists. Magritte, Dali, Ernst."


"Now, what exactly is a surrealist, Mitch?" asked her father.


"I guess it's the kind of artist who mixes together things that are real with things that aren't, Mr. Donnelly," Mitch said.


"In my line of work, we'd call that a con artist," he said.


"Daddy, " Kelly said.


"I'm just trying to learn something from all these highly-educated youngsters in the room, dear," he said. "Surreal, eh? I guess I've seen some of that myself on the New Year's beat. But it isn't exactly what I'd call a pretty picture."


Everybody laughed.


As soon as Mary finished her Trifle, a queasy heat pulsed beneath her skin. Her breath quickened. She tried to focus her attention on the countless family photographs on the display hutch in the corner of the room: portraits, communions, graduation. Kelly poured coffee from the silver pot into the cups and seated herself beside Mitch. He patted her hand. The Star-Spangled Banner blared through the stifling air. Mary stared at the squat reflection of her face in the pot. Her heart thumped wildly.


"Excuse me, please," she said.


"Anything wrong, Mary?" her mother asked.


"No, Mom," she whispered. "Just have to use the bathroom."


With the door closed behind her, Mary turned on the cold water faucet and listened to it swirl noisily into the sink. She did not look in the mirror on the medicine chest. Raising the toilet seat, she pressed her skirt against her thighs, and inserted her index finger into her mouth until it touched the back of her throat.



The lamp glowed between the twin beds that night, lighting the pitched lavender walls of the bedroom. Mary's eyes wandered, studying the magazine pin-up posters and Yale pennants tacked up in strategic disarray. Seated in front of the bureau mirror, Kelly brushed out her long amber hair with even strokes. The rain had stopped. Behind the drawn shade and saffron curtains, wind hushed through the pines.


"So what do you think of Mitch?" Kelly asked.


"He seems very nice," Mary said, sliding her bare feet under the covers.


"Just nice?" she asked.


"Okay, cute," said Mary.


"Do you really think so, Mary?" Kelly asked, turning to her. "I ought to be jealous. Mitch flirted a little bit with you. Dreamy! I kicked him, you know."


"He didn't mean it like that. We were only having an intelligent discussion about art, Kelly," she said. "Anyway, Mitch is your boyfriend, isn't he? He was just trying to make a good impression. That's all."


Mary's gaze leveled upon Kelly's reflection in the mirror, the sheets still cool against her ankles.


"So tell me everything there is to know about Yale," Kelly said. She rested her chin on the back of the chair.


"There's not much to tell," Mary replied. "Just classes and studying and getting through the first semester. Lots of people."


"Any boys?" Kelly asked.


"Well, of course," said Mary.


"Anybody special?" Kelly asked.


"Wouldn't you like to know," Mary said.


"Of course I want to know," Kelly said. "Tell me everything, for Pete's sake."  Kelly faced the mirror again and resumed brushing her hair. Waxen light spread out across the tufted quilts and fringed pillows on the beds, kindling in soft shadows the memories of shared  secrets and sisterly quarrels. An odor of talc and moisturizing cream blossomed out of the darkness.


"Remember the time Ted took Dad's cruiser for a ride through town?" Kelly asked.  Before Mary could answer, she leapt into her bed in a blur of pink flannel.


"You still jump into bed, don't you?" Mary laughed. "Afraid the boogeyman's going to grab your legs from underneath?"


Kelly yanked the covers of her bed up to her shoulders, shuddering with mock fear. "Of course, Mary," she said. "You know what a scaredy-cat I am."


"You didn't seem so scared at supper, pouring wine for everybody," Mary said.


"Except Dad," she giggled.


A branch scraped against the window, startling them. They both laughed.  Kelly's eyes sparkled in the lamplight.


"So what's it really like in college, Mary?" Kelly asked.


"It's Literature, Art History,  Political Science, Statistics and—"


"No, no," said Kelly. "What's it like to live away from home and be old enough to drink wine and meet boys and everything?"


"You make it all sound so romantic," Mary said.


"Well, isn't it?" Kelly said.


Mary shifted her legs beneath the weight of the covers. A sudden, delicious calm overcame her. Laying her cheek upon the slope of the cool linen pillowcase, she whispered, "Sometimes."


"Like when?" Kelly asked.


Mary could hear the measured cadence of her own voice, the slow loosening of her mind away from facts.


"Well, there was one night at the Old Heidelberg—that's a regular place for our crowd—when this handsome guy I saw on campus joined us in our booth. My roommates, Gail and Ashley, excused themselves to go to the bar together just to watch us from across the room. And I knew he liked me. He had the most beautiful Italian accent, Kelly, and it made me think how much there is to know in the world, how mysterious and exotic life could be. It was like nothing else mattered, not the books or professors or classes or even the 'C' I got on my Statistics exam."


"Mary, no!" cried Kelly. "You got a 'C'? What did you get a 'C' for?"   

"Because I spent too many nights holding hands with him across the table," Mary said. "And every one of those nights he asked to walk me home along the promenade. Sometimes we stood outside the door to my dorm, and I let him kiss me in the moonlight. Not exactly model behavior on my part, but there's more to life than doing everything you're supposed to."


"For God's sake, Mary," Kelly said. "What's his name?"


She paused, allowing her smile to linger.


"Giorgio," she answered.    


"Wow," Kelly breathed in wonder. "Did you ever—"


"'C' is for control, Kelly," Mary whispered. "And," she added, softer still, "the boys like you better if you're thin. Like a Modigliani model."


"Really?" she asked.


"Yes," said Mary. "I hardly ever touch beer or wine."


"How come, Mary?" Kelly asked.


"Too many calories," she said.


"Oh, I get it," Kelly said.


Mary pulled her knees up beneath the covers, feeling the warmth of her own body. Wind swept against the house. A brittle tapping began at the window, but it was only the branch again. How nice it was to be home for Thanksgiving, home on a windy night in Maine, talking to Kelly between the close lavender walls of their bedroom.


"What else can you do to be thin, Mary?" Kelly asked.


"All kinds of things," Mary said, yawning.


"Like what?" Kelly asked.


"Let's not talk about it now, Kelly," she said.


"Why not?" she said.


"Because it's late," Mary said, "and I'm tired."


"Do you think Mitch will like me better if I'm thinner?" Kelly asked.


"Shh!" said Mary. "You don't want to wake Mom and Dad, do you?"


"No, but just tell me one thing," Kelly implored.


"You really should wait until you're old enough," Mary said.


"Mary, please!"


"Okay, I'll tell you the best thing of all if you'll let me go to sleep."


"I promise," Kelly said.


"But you have to promise never to tell anybody," said Mary.


"Never," her sister repeated.


Mary leaned her face toward Kelly, eclipsing the glow of the lamp between their beds. Kelly's amber hair draped over her shoulders, and her eyes followed each whispered word, widening with the luminous awe of the faithful.








All work is copyrighted property of Darren Akerman.





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