Adelaide inhaled the calming nicotine, then tapped the cigarette against the glass rim of the ashtray. Smoking was a filthy habit and one she should give up. But not this weekend, she thought, bringing the cigarette once more to her lips.
Sitting on the edge of the canopied bed, she looked around her old room. All these years and it was still the same: lace curtains, pillows dressed in pink ruffles, and furniture painted white. A timeless testament to the girl who never was.
She frowned, grinding the finished cigarette into the ashtray. Why hadn’t Mama changed the goddam room into a den or a sewing area?
But Adelaide knew the answer. The room was her mother’s bitter monument to what should have been.
It had been twenty-five years since the confrontation. At the time, giving in to a tempest of tears, Adelaide had sworn she’d never come back. In response, her mother regarded her with icy eyes and turned away. Twenty-five years of bitter silence.
It was her father’s call, heartbroken and in the middle of the night, that finally brought Adelaide home. “Please, Addie – the service is tomorrow. Come home – just don’t bring her.”
Her. Even after all this time. She has a name, thought Adelaide, she has a goddam name!
Still, Adelaide came home. For her father’s sake.
Liar! You came for Mama. In spite of everything, you came for Mama.
Reaching into her purse, Adelaide fumbled for the crushed packet of cigarettes, dismayed to find it empty. Tossing it onto the pale pink coverlet, she wondered if she should make a quick trip into town. Instead, she walked over to the framed photograph sitting on the bureau. Taken the day of her parents’ wedding, it set the course for the relationship between her mother and father.
Her mother, beautiful in pale blue, wore white gloves and a wide brimmed hat that dipped slightly over one eye. Glacial in expression, she stared resolutely forward. Beside her, Adelaide’s father gazed raptly at his wife. She was his glorious Varina, the center of his life.
It would always be that way.
Varina Douglass, the original steel magnolia, possessor of soft words and even softer skin. Beneath the softness, however, was a hide tougher than that of an armadillo. She conquered her small town with exquisite manners and fastidious propriety, reigning ruthlessly over the Clayton County Junior League, the Ladies’ Garden Club and the First Baptist Church. She was the arbiter of what was right, coolly reminding transgressors tempted to stumble, “That’s not our way; it isn’t seemly.”
She imposed her will on everyone, especially the unhappy Adelaide, who was forcefully dressed in ribbons and bows. Even as a young child, Adelaide knew that frills and flounces were not for her, and yet her mother persisted. Adelaide would be the debutant her mother had been, the girl with many beaux. Adelaide would be popular, would marry, would bear several beautiful children that would be a credit to all Varina held sacred.
So many ‘woulds’ – and the biggest of them all was that Adelaide would live up to her mother’s code of what was seemly.
There were early indications that Adelaide was not her mother, indications Varina steadfastly ignored – at least until the afternoon she entered Adelaide’s room without knocking, surprising the two girls in bed.
No soft words then; instead, a sharp slap.
“What’s wrong with you, Adelaide? Some behaviors are evil,” said Varina. “You’re a freak – an affront!”
The ‘freak’ soon left home, never to look back. Except… maybe sometimes… Holiday calls, her father always answering, saying her mother couldn’t come to the phone. Cards and letters returned unopened – Adelaide had a drawer full of them.
It was always about you, Mama, always about what you wanted.
But I loved you… in spite of everything. Why couldn’t you love me, Mama?
Turning away from the photograph, Adelaide picked up her purse. Maybe she would go into town and get those cigarettes. Later, after she returned to Chicago, she’d make an effort to give them up. It would please Janet, who worried the habit was killing her.
It’s time to let go of killing things.
Walking past the front parlor, Adelaide heard quiet voices. It was one of the ladies from the Junior League, speaking with her father.
“Poor Adelaide, home at last. How is she, Robert? Such a terrible thing for a daughter, losing her mother.”
Slipping quietly from the house, Adelaide’s eyes filmed over. The truth was she’d lost her mother a long time ago.
©2015 All Rights Reserved Kate Loveton and Odyssey of a Novice Writer
Note: With this story begins a series of short tales I hope to write, each tale named for the character in the story. The entire series will be called the Alphabet Soup Stories. I hope you like this first entry.
The story is also written in response to the Three Word Wednesday challenge (found here) to write a tale using these three words: bitter; glorious; stumble.