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evening close to five, her father, a tall man, pale and austere
with a thick scar running from his temple to his cheekbone, pushed
through the swinging doors of the household kitchen and said, "What
do we do with Mary Beth?" He was talking to Mrs. Polk, who was standing
across the wide counter from Mother, dipping a finger into the clam
dip Mother had apportioned into three silver bowls for the Polks'
dinner party. Mrs. Polk sucked her finger, and when she turned and
faced her husband it was hard to tell if what was on her mind was
the clam dip or her husband's question.
can come to my house," I blurted out.
hardly been at the Polks' a month, and despite Mother's repeated
warning to mind my place, to speak only when spoken to, I couldn't
contain myself. It made perfect sense. Mary Beth's parents were
having a function for her brother dinner for his friends and their
parents and, after a half-minute discussion, they would decide to
send Mary Beth to her room with dinner and schoolwork. I'd seen
it happen before.
Polk looked up, found me and Mary Beth behind my aproned mother.
She held her sucked-clean finger in mid-air, about six inches from
her face, indicating her surprise.
Mother snapped over her shoulder.
Mrs. Polk said to Mother. "It isn't a bad idea." She craned her
neck to check with her husband. The bright overhead light caught
the curve of her unbelievably long neck, highlighted by the way
she pulled her hair up and tight in a twist. A sprig of short bangs
sprang tastefully from her forehead; I thought she looked like Audrey
Hepburn on the cover of Life magazine. She and Mr. Polk gave each
other a look I knew well; I'd seen it in teacher's eyes when it
was my turn to have my fingernails and hair inspected.
quietly slicing celery into uniform sticks, sensed as much, too.
I saw her pause, the stained knife still a moment, before she resumed
her work and said, "Go on out, Iris."
suddenly embarrassed. I crammed the celery stick I was holding and
eating into my dress pocket and turned to go.