Birthday Girls

Birthday Girls by Jean Stone

Book: Birthday Girls by Jean Stone Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jean Stone
covered the walls; the carved basswood frieze that outlined the ceiling; the handblown French crystal set inside the glass-front, neoclassical cabinet.
    It was the house of Hardy. The self-contained kingdom of the rich and famous, the palace of conspicuous consumption. Where only the people were layered with veneer.
    She let out her breath. Tears drizzled from her eyes as she looked at the photo of when they were ten: a playful, innocent image of Kris smearing Abigail’s face with frosting, of Abigail’s startled look, of Maddie in her Mousketeer T-shirt, of Betty Ann.
    She stared at the picture. Had that really been them? Had they ever been so young? They were children, little girls. She ran her hand over the glossy paper, aware of how white the others were, how dark she was. The picture captured the evidence: Kris Kensington was a black girl. She was not one of them. She was a black girl in the rich white man’s dining room.
    It was then, she remembered, that she’d begun carving out her fantasies, weaving her thoughts into stories—action-packed, emotionless stories—that offered an escape from the pain: the pain of being different, the pain of being alone.
    Yet she had not been alone in the world. There had been Abigail and Maddie and Betty Ann. Since then, there had been no one, no one but the characters of her imagination. No one but other people’s families. And other people’s children.
    Silently Kris closed the book. And slowly a new idea—a wild, insane idea—began to nibble at her soul.
    “By the time I am fifty, I am going to be dead,” Maddie said, ripping another sheet of teapots-and-trivets paper from the kitchen wall and tossing it into the heap of shreds on the floor. Sophie had decided she wanted her kitchen to look more like Abigail’s, to have an earthy, woodsy decor that “enhanced relaxation.”
    “Madeline, please don’t talk like that,” Sophie admonished quietly, aiming the nozzle on the wallpaper steamer to cleanse the remnants still stuck to the plaster. She had to be the only eighty-two-year-old woman who wielded a wallpaper steamer instead of a walker. But then again, Sophie was going to live forever, not like Maddie with the deep-thinking soul.
    Maddie tipped back the brim of her painter’s cap. “What’s the difference, Mother? We’re all going to die. Any day now. Maybe today. Right here. In your wanna-be-Abigail kitchen. Slap me against the wall and paste me on, I say. Life’s got to be better on the other side.”
    Sophie sighed. “If you spent less time feeling sorry for yourself, you’d be a happier person. You’re not dead yet, Madeline. God doesn’t want you yet.”
    Maddie ripped off another sheet.
    “You need to be more like your friend Abigail. Look what she’s done with her life.”
    “Ha! It’s her fault I’m feeling this way. Birthday wishes indeed.
By the time I am fifty
. What a lot of crap.”
    “What are you so afraid of? You’d think that just because Parker left you it was the end of the world. Do you think Abigail would have behaved this way if it had happened to her?”
    “Well, it didn’t happen to her. It happened to me. Besides, what makes you think she’s so all-fired happy? I think she’s having a midlife crisis. It’s like she’s trying to make amends to Betty Ann. She’s trying to let go of her guilt.”
    Her mother was silent for a moment. She aimed another blast of steam at the wall. “And what about you, Madeline? Have you ever forgiven yourself?”
    “Time heals all wounds, Mother.”
    “Only if you let it.”
    Maddie stared at the wall. It must have been smooth and clean once, back in the nineteenth century when the house had been built, long before sheets of wallpaper and coats of paint covered its purity. “Sometimes I think I’m still being punished,” she said quietly. “Losing Parker. Losing the magazine. It’s as if my whole life has been tainted because of the accident.”
    “Tainted? What about Bobby? And

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