Best-Dressed Kid on the Block
“I’m a flower,” said Marcie Jane Klonsky, “and rain is falling on me.” She gazed up at her fingers waggling overhead: the raindrops. She was five. Her mother, dressing her for a visit to Aunt Sydelle, gave a fierce tug at the child’s hem.
“Look how short it is,” said Florence Klonsky, bitterly. “It’s a shame to let you go in it. . . . Well, let your aunt see, and maybe she’ll stop being so stingy with the clothing.”
“Mommy, I’m a flower.”
“Put your hands down and stop wriggling, so I can dress you.”
Marcie Jane obeyed for a moment and Florence began to tie a bow at the child’s waist. Marcie Jane dropped suddenly to a crouch and began to chant. “Now I’m a jack-in-the-box and it’s so dark inside—”
Florence jerked her to her feet and slapped her hard.
“Will you keep still when I tell you to!”
Marcie Jane ducked free and ran bawling into the living room where the maid, Stella, a slim Negro girl, was rubbing down with damp newspaper the mirror that from floor to ceiling framed the artificial fireplace.
“Now what?” said Stella.
The child turned up wide dark raining eyes. The tears coursed her pretty plump face and wet her elegant though too-small dress. “She hit me,” cried Marcie Jane.
“Yeah, she hit you, but what’d you do? You didn’t listen to what your mother said, you didn’t listen at all, that’s why you got hit.” Stella carefully placed the damp newspaper on a cloth she had laid out to protect the thick maroon pile of the carpeting. “Now what you crying like that for and getting your nice dress all streaked just before you going to visit your aunt?”
Florence, dropping in fatigue to a sitting position on Marcie Jane’s bed, heard it all as she gathered strength to go inside and retrieve her child. She stared bitterly a moment out at the street where, an hour past noon, the automobiles parked bumper to bumper along the curbs glistened blue, gray, and green; black, maroon, and tan, under the sun of late autumn. The sun lay also in blots of blinding yellow against the apartment windows across the way. And the women, her “friends,” were already out with chairs and children for the afternoon. Before her marriage she had had two actual friends, girls who had been her chums through school and afterwards. But now they lived in Queens and had their own husbands and children to take care of. And evenings they had ceased coming to visit her, because when they used to, her husband began with sex cracks and, sore that they didn’t respond, ended by muttering around the apartment in pajamas and robe as if they were keeping him from sleep. So, little by little, Florence came to lose them. The neighbors, however, she could never lose. They bent to each other there in the sunlight before the low sere hedges of the apartment building, grinning, nodding, talking.
They envied her.
They envied her her maid, among other things. This sourly struck Florence as she went to the living room, where Marcie Jane, still sobbing slightly, had her face pressed against kneeling Stella.
Florence tried to sound calm, tried to subdue the edge of hysteria that often crept into her voice. “Come, Marcie Jane,” she said. “Come, let’s go back and finish dressing.”
Marcie Jane made no move, unless to huddle more tightly against Stella. Stella gently detached her. “Now you be a good girl, Marcie Jane, and do like your mother says.”
“I won’t!” yelled Marcie Jane. She turned on Florence and added, “I hate you—big fat stupid!”
Florence effortlessly pulled Marcie Jane out in front of her, walloped the child hard across the seat, and sent her flying screaming into the foyer. At Stella, Florence shouted, “When I want you to take care of my child I’ll let you know. In the meantime you’re here to do the housework!” Yet even as Stella turned to the mirrors Florence felt shame rising through her anger. For she well knew how often in her disgust and tiredness she left Marcie Jane to Stella whole days.
“All right,” said Florence to Marcie Jane, back in the child’s room. “Stop crying now. I don’t want to hit you, I didn’t mean to hit you, but—”
Marcie Jane went on sobbing as Florence got her into the expensively tailored russet coat that was also too small.
The clothing had all come from Florence’s sister-in-law Sydelle, her husband’s sister. Only it seemed to have stopped coming. There had been nothing for months, although Florence knew Sydelle two weeks ago had taken her daughter, Elaine, for a new wardrobing at Franklin Simon. It was one of Sydelle’s idiosyncrasies to outfit Elaine frequently with clothes an exact fit the moment they were bought. Of course Elaine outgrew them in no time. Which was when they were handed to Florence for Marcie Jane, who was a half year younger than her cousin.
At the outset of this arrangement, which had been going on for two years, Florence had been rather embarrassed by the taking. For while Sydelle was wealthy—she had married into a realty family that owned half the Bronx—Florence was scarcely poor. Sol Klonsky ran a wholesale drug firm so busy, according to him, it left him little time for home: so there was not a question in the world of Marcie Jane’s needing hand-me-downs. Yet, out of a chance, genuinely un-meaningful remark by Florence that it was a pity so little use was had of Elaine’s clothes, hand-me-downs Marcie Jane wore. And the compunction that had made Florence laughingly suggest that Sol not be told had also, at the time, been innocent of ulterior motive.
But then it had been an easy step from not telling Sol the clothing had been given her to telling him that the clothing had been bought and paid for. It was easy to fabricate the bills he always demanded before he would reimburse her for such expenses. The money went into her private savings account, which, when she began it early in her marriage, was to have been a means to an end, but which now was a satisfaction in itself. . . . .
Florence thrust a lollypop into Marcie Jane’s mouth and at last the child stopped whimpering. Before the vanity glass in her own room Florence buttoned her Persian coat. Her face was thin and harried-looking: she would see thirty no more. Her figure she still had (she straightened her posture to bring out better the contours of her bosom), but what good did it do? That it sometimes impelled Sol to rush her into bed?
She tossed another of her bitter glances at her wedding photo on the chiffonier. Quite different, her face then, in the moment of innocent radiance she had attained under the bridal crown. It was clear what her appeal had been for Sol: she had known so little; and the little she had known her mother had glossed over for her. Yes, Sol was shrewd. He looked shrewd even in the picture, with his pale grinning eyes and thin smirking mouth supplying what passed for a smile on his lean features.
Marcie Jane was bent over her play table, the lolly stick a straight line from her lips, coloring avidly with crayons in a book. Florence sucked a deep breath and, calmly as she could, said, “Time to go, dear.”
Marcie Jane glanced up, shut the book, and obediently followed. Florence relaxed and took her by the hand as they walked out. She wanted to love Marcie Jane every minute. Why couldn’t the child always be this way?
Outdoors, passing the congregated mothers before the hedgerows on which were impaled scraps of tissue, newspaper, and candy cartons, Florence put on a frivolous face and prayed that Marcie Jane would not start jumping up and down and insisting that she wanted to stay and play with her friends. But Marcie Jane only announced to a couple of the children that she was visiting her aunt, and they walked on toward the subway.
Florence looked back. Her neighbor Norma Wonderman said, “Good luck, I hope the kid gets her outfit.” A half dozen smirks were bent on Florence, who gave them the silly nod they expected.
As she and Marcie Jane mounted the hill to the subway entrance on the Concourse, Florence ruminated with more bitterness over the fools she had to, play the fool for. It was her own fault. She talked too much, told all her business. To those fools on the street. She didn’t know why she did it. She talked, she couldn’t stop even when she knew she should. So they were aware of everything: her private savings, her arrangement with Sydelle—she supposed they were aware of her feelings toward Sol Klonsky too, though she had never, as far as she could remember, discussed them.
She never told anyone but her mother that her husband arrived home eight at night six nights a week on the claim that business demanded it. Maybe it did.
Once home, he continually surrounded himself with his numerous relatives or business acquaintances for business talk or cards. A slight stiffness in his right arm gave him a peculiarly predatory aspect as he raked in cards or winnings at the card table.
While Sol was busy with the men, Florence was free to amuse herself with the women. Sol knew of the household furnishings, which Florence always selected, all he cared to know: that they were expensive and—like his well-dressed wife—made a good display. But to the company’s women the display was a challenge—Florence’s clothes; the graceful honey-oak woodwork of the couch and chairs; the wall-to-wall carpeting in maroon; the draped festooned windows; the artificial fireplace; the gleaming mirrors—a challenge to which they valiantly rose with accounts of their furnishings, their wardrobes.
So passed Florence’s evenings.
Unless there was no company. In which case Sol would wolf the dinner she’d prepared and fall into a soft chair to read the paper or his insurance policies.
Yes, insurance policies!
Once, when she was driven to complain, he retorted that she was the beneficiary. A lie, as it happened. For she had glanced over these policies one day when he forgot to lock the leather case he guarded them in, and the beneficiary was Marcie Jane.
Oh, he was crazy about Marcie Jane! “I’m a born father,” he would often brag to his friends. “Kids like me right off.” He wanted Marcie Jane kept awake, tired or not, till he finished whatever it was he did downtown and got home. Since Florence refused to do this, he would stomp into the nursery and jostle Marcie Jane from sleep. Delighted, she would fling her arms around his neck, tell him that his beard scratched, and ask what he had brought her.
He won Marcie Jane’s heart with toys, but after he had enjoyed his half-hour’s fun with her, it was left to Florence to calm down Marcie Jane and put her to sleep again. Although Sol was highly critical of the way Florence handled the child, he would usually devote at least a few minutes each day to trying to talk her into having another.
“But you don’t like the way I bring up this one,” Florence would reply.
To which Sol would be likely to retort, “You got a good head. Too bad there’s nothing in it.”
Only in bed did he sue for her friendship. There, she could never be friendly enough to fully suit his tastes.
And Norma Wonderman and the others envied her her good fortune. They envied her her full-time maid, her beautiful apartment in the newest house on Sheridan Avenue, her Buick. That the Buick was Sol’s didn’t matter, or that he used it mainly to business and back.
But most of all they envied her her savings. They kidded her daily about the savings and she had to act dumb and laugh.
What would Norma Wonderman have said if she knew that Eric Wonderman, her own husband, had been the cause of Florence’s beginning to save? What would she have said! Yet it was so.
One Sunday morning, years back, before Marcie Jane had been born, Florence stood outside the house while Sol simonized the car. Her doing so seemed perfectly natural, for each Sunday morning since the honeymoon had been dedicated partly to bed and partly to the car. Yes, Sol would polish, wash, or tinker with the car, or just sit half-in half-out on the front seat with the radio on.
That particular Sunday, though the weather was warm, Florence was seized with a spasm of shivering. They were all three—Sol, the car, and Florence—in the shade. Sun would cake the polish.
“Why don’t you let the garage polish it?” Florence suggested.
“I like to do it myself,” said Sol.
“I’m cold,” said Florence. This he did not seem to hear. She shivered some moments longer and then crossed to the sunny side where, before the Chinese laundry, Eric Wonderman was airing his infant son.
She and Eric began to chat, really for the first time. She no longer remembered what they spoke of that morning, but she never forgot how pleasant it was. He looked at Florence as he talked, he smiled, he seemed to like her. She was startled that she could have such an effect on a desirable man.
That night she determined to leave Sol. His first wife had left him, and now Florence could understand why. She did not like him and she never again would. She wondered how she ever had. Or had she? Or was that her mother’s doing? Why shouldn’t she meet someone like Eric Wonderman? Why shouldn’t she have a life to live?
But when she woke the next morning, leaving did not appear so easy. Where would she go? To her mother, who had conceived her match with Sol to begin with? What would she work at? Her parents had always been well off: her father had a wholesale hardware business that took all his time. Florence had worked in his store when they let her, and that was all.
And so she decided to stay and save enough money to keep her until she could make a living. Sol Klonsky had pretty shrewdly estimated household expenses and had budgeted Florence accordingly. But from this time she shopped bargains as though they were poor. She fired the maid and hired another at less pay, keeping the difference a secret from her husband. She started the bank account, and little by little it grew. It was not too long before she achieved the sum she had planned for.
Then she got the attacks.
Everything seemed to change during that period. The women on the street were nice to her. Her mother visited her every day. Sol, who had just about introduced his practice of late hours downtown, came home early again and, if she was well enough, took her to shows, movies, night clubs.
Why not? They all thought she was going to die.
It turned out only to be nerves. The doctor ho-ho’ed like a Santa Claus in a fifth-rate department store, told her she was a perfect specimen of health, and advised her to have a baby, it would give her something to do.
Most likely Sol had put the doctor up to the baby suggestion—the born father. For herself, something about the idea scared her: not the pain, something else, she didn’t quite know what. . . .
Even so, Sol continued awhile coming home early nights and, though less often than during her siege, taking her out. She did not know whether or not to leave him. She was not sure. It was like the beginning, when he asked her to marry him.
And then she became pregnant. . . .
Sydelle lived on Central Park West. From her windows you could see clear across the park. You could see the oval of the reservoir, with gulls and pigeons flying, the tennis courts, and the water tower. She had nine rooms, and the elevator let you off into a lobby that was private to her apartment.
Still, thought Florence, as she sat in the living room with her sleek, lacquered, rather hawk-expressioned sister-in-law, the rooms themselves were not as nice as her own rooms. In fact, they were rather old, and the antique furniture did not much appeal to Florence’s taste. One thing good though about the apartment was that the children’s playroom, where Marcie Jane had fled with Cousin Elaine, was so far off you could imagine the children were not present.
So Sydelle asked without much interest about Sol, had herself and Florence served Martinis, and bragged about some new clothes she had ordered but not yet received.
One Martini was enough to make Florence dizzy and brave. “Speaking of clothes,” she said, “we never see anything of Elaine’s for Marcie Jane any more.”
“Oh,” said Sydelle, “I’ve been giving them to charity.”
No doubt without the Martini it would have been discussed no further. But Florence, in her muddled condition, could not face up to losing Marcie Jane’s clothing money for her future savings. Nobody knew what the savings meant to her. Not her neighbors, not Sydelle, not anybody! They didn’t know how she would sit for hours and read the passbooks, yes, read the mounting numerals over and over again. They didn’t know.
“Well,” she said brazenly, “it’s a shame to give all those beautiful things. Why don’t you at least let Marcie Jane have a coat or dress you like especially?”
“I like them all especially,” Sydelle coolly replied, “or I wouldn’t have bought them in the first place.”
Florence, flaring with embarrassment, stared a foolish smile at her sister-in-law.
Sydelle quickly tilted another drink and said, “O, dammit, why should I be the fall guy? As a matter of fact, I stopped sending you the things because Sol asked me to, your husband.” She shrugged. “It offended his dignity, I suppose, as chieftain of your little clan.”
Florence kept staring and smiling. Everyone knew about her. Her secrets were everyone’s. She was naked to them all, a buffoon.
But Sydelle merely added, thoughtfully. “He said he could afford to clothe his own child. Why don’t you take him at his word, Flo? Bring the kid to Franklin Simon and send him the bill. Then he’ll appreciate what he had before.”
How strange! As soon as Florence realized that Sol had said nothing of her charging him for the clothes, as soon as she realized he had spared her the humiliation of complete exposure, she was so far from grateful as to be able to think of nothing but vengeance. Oh, she would fix him! She would, she would!
Yet, as always, even in her anger she saw through herself. He had not been so unkind. He had made no issue of it with her. She need not have come to Sydelle today. She might have bought clothing for Marcie Jane and played out a little game with Sol that she had always bought it. Nothing need have been said. Only the savings would have been less—which they were going to be anyway.
The savings! Her rage blazed up again.
As Soon as she decently could, she dragged . Marcie Jane protesting away from Cousin Elaine’s copious toys, not one of which was Marcie Jane’s own, and went directly to her mother’s house. Florence’s mother lived a little off the park, some eight blocks down. “Take a taxi, Mommy,” Marcie Jane kept complaining. Florence hustled her along by foot.
Florence’s mother, Mrs. Simons, opened her door a crack to squint out at them through pince-nez. “Well,” she cried, “look who’s here but Marcie Jane!” Though she was a refined-looking person, straight-backed, with bluish white marcelled hair, she did not hesitate to stoop and pull Marcie Jane to her bosom. Then, taking Marcie Jane’s hand, she said over her shoulder to Florence, “Come in, what are you standing in the hall for?”
In the living room Florence narrated what had happened, omitting her having made Sol pay for the free clothing. Mrs. Simons occasionally nodded, at the same time carrying on a wheedling conversation with her granddaughter. “So, Pretty? What have they been teaching you in kindergarten? . . . Are you enjoying dancing school? . . . How’s the bicycle Grandma gave you for your birthday, does it work? . . .” Marcie Jane replied animatedly, climbed on and off her grandmother’s lap, and even executed a few chubby demi-pliés.
Finally in exasperation Florence seized Marcie Jane’s hand and flung her half across the room. “Go into the bedroom and play with the toys Grandma keeps here for you!”
Marcie Jane rebounded wailing to Mrs. Simons, who gathered her up tenderly. “Are you crazy, handling a child that way?” Mrs. Simons asked Florence.
“You handled me that way and I survived,” said Florence. “I like to be paid attention to when I’m talking,” she exclaimed.
Mrs. Simons nodded. “Fine example for the child.”
“Never mind the child!” screamed Florence. And she screamed something more, something she had often thought but never before uttered. “It’s on account of you I’m in this fix! It’s on account of you I’m married to him!”
Mrs. Simons, still embracing Marcie Jane, nodded more, and Florence knew her mother was really right, she should control herself, especially with Marcie Jane right there in the room, and most especially about Sol. Yet it had been Mrs. Simons who years ago had dragged unwilling Florence, then twenty-two, to a hotel in the Catskills to find a husband for her. And while Florence wandered despondently about the beautiful grounds, unable to bring herself to speak to strangers, her mother found her a husband at one of the poker tables on the broad white verandah. Yes, while Florence profitlessly studied the flowered terraces, the wide slate-gray steps descending to the hotel pool, and the sky-blue wink of the pool’s water, Mrs. Simons busied herself among the clinking coins and rustling cards. There, besides winning money, she won—through adroit allusions to Florence and the benefits of housekeeping, as well as through a certain sympathy of temperament—the interest of the game’s only other winner, Sol Klonsky, for her daughter.
That night Florence found herself on a fragrant terrace with a man, under a low sky white and throbbing with stars. It was a new experience. He was tall, not bad-looking, and talkative. The last quality perhaps attracted her most; for, despite her mother’s endless coaching, making conversation with men was to Florence a torment. Sol boasted at length of his successful techniques in business, and hinted at his techniques, equally successful, in winning the hearts of women. She accepted as gold coin all the currency of his conversation and despaired that such a man of the world would bother with her more.
But he did. They danced evenings, or in the clubhouse watched movies or the floor show with Broadway stars, or sat in the grillroom, where Sol would sip beer and Florence lemonade. By daylight she followed him around the golf course, or they swam or played handball. He thrust on her notice the otherwise unnoticeable deformity of his arm, and showed her what an athlete he was in spite of it. At handball Florence never scored a point. She was surprised at his willingness to go on playing with her and thought it very kind of him.
In New York he came with flowers, candy, and, above all, praise. “I think you’re my type,” he would tell her. Mrs. Simons, after every date, asked Florence if he had proposed yet. She was very anxious about the proposal, Mrs. Simons. Florence, however, did not so desire the courtship to rapidly reach its anticipated conclusion. She simultaneously enjoyed it too much and was unsure that this was love. The good-night kisses led her to suppose that it must be, for lovers kissed; but the heavy blanks that often stretched out in their dialogue made her profoundly uneasy.
Deep down she could not imagine herself his wife.
But one night he called on her at home while she was nursing a cold. Her parents were out. In housecoat and slippers she half reclined along the couch as Sol reviewed his clevernesses of the day at business. Suddenly he stopped talking, stared so strangely she thought he was ill, and flung himself upon her.
He kissed her violently, unheeding where on her twisting head the kisses struck. His fingers probed her body.
With difficulty she escaped him and sprang to her feet. She looked down at him, her arms crossed over her heaving chest, more in bewilderment than anger. He reached toward her. She moved away.
He laughed loud. “You know why I like your?” he said. “Because you don’t remind me of my first wife—not one bit.”
“Yeah, she was the friendly type—if you know what I mean. And she had plenty of friends. . . . And could she talk!” He held his ears. Then he caught Florence’s gaze of astonished dismay. He smiled. “Didn’t your mother tell you?” His blue eyes became enchanted with amusement. He gurgled. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you anything?” He began to hoot. “C’m’ere.” He reached out again. Again Florence drew away.
“Don’t run,” he said, “we’re getting married anyway, so what difference does it make? That’s what married people do.” The laughter burbled out of him again as he wheezed, “Oh, I forgot—your mother never told you—”
This was the proposal. Florence stood before him, empty with fear.
To get him to go she promised to think it over. What she wanted, really, was not to think. She darkened her room and lay miserably. Her head was clogged, she sniveled. Why did it have to happen now, when she had a cold? It was so unfair! She especially dreaded the customary post-date session in which her mother would pump Florence and pick apart everything she told her. Florence pretended to be asleep.
Her mother came and switched on the lamp. Under its persistent illumination Florence confided all—fears as well as proposal—while she dabbed continually at her nose. Mrs. Simons sat smilingly beside Florence and, stroking her forehead as she had done in Florence’s infancy, said, “Every girl gets frightened when the time comes. You’ll get over it. And the other wife? Why should you worry about her? If she couldn’t get along with her husband, that was her misfortune. What’s it got to do with you?”
“But he was so rough!” Florence insisted. “He looked so ugly!”
“Ugly?” her mother retorted. “He’s a good-looking man. And who are you anyway, Hedy Lamarr? Go look into your mirror and see how many more chances you can expect to get!”
Florence broke down and sobbed, working her sodden handkerchief at her swollen nostrils and leaky eyes.
Her mother fondled her again. In soft warm tones she reassured her. “Don’t worry so much about looks; looks are skin deep,” she said, “but a good heart means everything.” Sol Klonsky had a good heart. He would care for her, he would provide for her. And you don’t pick up a wholesale drug business like dirt in the street. “Don’t be foolish,” her mother whispered, “don’t be foolish. Don’t be foolish,” she told Florence softly.
How could Florence resist, she felt so dull. Soon, under her mother’s caresses, she had become warm and comfortable, like a little child. . .
Mrs. Simons now stroked Marcie Jane’s forehead, soothing her. She said to Florence, “You know what I advise? I advise you to go see a psychiatrist and have your head examined.”
That was enough for Florence. She pulled Marcie Jane, who fought her with small hammering fists, from Mrs. Simons, slapped on the child’s clothing and her own, and dragged her from the apartment.
Mortified by the child’s screaming before the elevator operator, utterly worn out, she paused limp on the pavement outside the house. Marcie Jane emitted a steady high-pitched whine. Florence was about to hurl a shout at her when, looking down, she saw on the child’s twisted face a squint of misery exactly reflecting her own. No, I mustn’t, she thought, it’s what my mother always did to me. In a spasm of pity (whether more for herself or her daughter she couldn’t tell), she raised the child and begged her not to cry. Marcie Jane tried to wriggle loose.
“Put me down!” she yelled. “I don’t want you to hold me. I hate you!”
“Please, baby,” begged Florence. “I’m sorry I was bad to you, I won’t be that way any more. Look, let’s go get you a pretty, new coat, right now. Won’t that be nice?”
Marcie Jane stared uncertain a second, her face red, her eyes wet. Then she nodded and laid her head against her mother’s shoulder.
“Sweet,” said Florence, herself ready for tears. “Isn’t it nice? Let’s always like each other. . . ”
But Marcie Jane weighed a ton. Florence couldn’t hold her another minute. She bent to put her down.
“Carry me, Mommy,” said Marcie Jane.
“I can’t, honey, you’re too heavy, you’re a big girl.”
Marcie Jane puckered again.
“Tell you what,” said Florence. “Let’s take a cab! How’s that?”
“Goody!” Marcie Jane clapped hands, jumped up and down, and ran to the corner and shouted “Taxi!”
In the cab Florence asked Marcie Jane what kind of coat she would like. “Like Elaine’s?”
Marcie Jane reached her fingers to the tight black curls of Florence’s Persian. “Like yours, Mommy,” she said.
“But—” Florence began, then stopped. What a wonderful idea! What a revenge, when she would hand Sol the bill!
She leaned to the driver and directed him to the furrier who had made her coat.
As soon as the measurements were complete and the coat ordered, Florence regretted it. The idea was insane. The furrier at first had thought she was joking. When he saw she wasn’t, he stared so queerly at her she didn’t dare meet his eyes again. She paid a deposit and hurried into the subway with Marcie Jane. All the ride uptown Florence had a pounding headache. At home, she sent Stella out with Marcie Jane for an hour, took aspirin, and lay down. Had she the nerve, she would have canceled the order, deposit or not. But then the furrier would really think she was crazy.
Though she had no hope of Marcie Jane’s keeping the promise, she persuaded Marcie Jane to agree not to tell Daddy beforehand, it was to be a surprise.
And part of the surprise, for Florence, was that Marcie Jane didn’t tell. For days she played fur store in her room but explained to no one, not even to Stella, what inspired the game. And then, more surprise—when with pounding heart Florence took Marcie Jane to call for the coat, she found herself delighted with the result!
Marcie Jane looked unimaginably cute in the little black Persian, with muff and jaunty cylindrical hat to match! And Marcie Jane herself twisted and squirmed before the triple mirror in an ecstasy. Florence wore her own Persian, and even the furrier regarded the pair of them with pleasure. “It’s nice,” he grudgingly granted, “if you can afford it.”
“We’re so elegant,” said Florence, “we surely can’t go home by subway, can we, Marcie Jane? We’ll just have to take a cab, won’t we?”
“Goody!” exclaimed Marcie Jane.
At Broadway and 30th Street, amid glued eyes, smiles, sneers, and downright laughter, they waved to a taxi. Marcie Jane wanted to ride on one of the little seats that come out of the floor. Florence sat behind the child, one hand on Marcie Jane’s arm so that she would not slip off at quick turns. With her other hand Florence caressed Marcie Jane’s soft cheek. The child hummed and pressed against her mother’s palm. Never had Florence been so happy! She had done something foolish, yet for once it had turned out all right. Never again would she be impatient with Marcie Jane, never again would she hit her, never scold her.
She feared a little for the neighbors as they neared home. But Sheridan Avenue was somehow clear as they entered the house unobserved, where Stella admitted them, staring with wondering amusement. “Well I never,” she murmured, “I just never,” shooting Florence the same queer look the furrier had given her the day of the measuring.
Florence didn’t care. She was so pleased that she made up her mind impulsively not to make Sol pay for it at all! Her savings would bear the expense entirely!
And the decision didn’t frighten her one bit, though she wondered if she would still feel that way tomorrow, when the excitement and novelty had worn off. But during lunch, which she prepared and which she and Marcie Jane ate happily together, she knew that the savings would never again matter to her as they used to. How changed she had become! And a change she never would have dreamed possible!
And if herself, why not Sol? They both loved Marcie Jane, why couldn’t they love her together, and so come to love each other? Why not? Why not?
Her life suddenly opened on a vista of clear new light. Her heart was laved in its brightness. . . .
After lunch Marcie Jane of course wanted to display her fur coat outdoors. The women were all there, out on the sidewalk now, but—They had to be faced some time, thought Florence.
She faced them.
They actually pointed fingers at her and Marcie Jane as they laughed. Marcie Jane didn’t care, because all the children gathered envious around her. One little girl began immediately to nag her mother for a coat like Marcie Jane’s.
“Oh God no!” the mother gasped.
Norma Wonderman said, “Are you two going to be on a TV fashion show?”
“No,” cried Judith Kopp, “they’re going to pose for next month’s Ladies’ Home Journal cover!”
Let them laugh, thought Florence. It was all forced laughter, and worth the price anyhow. She took Marcie Jane’s hand and said, “Come, dear, let’s go to the playground.”
“Playground?” cawed Birdie Sobel. “Don’t wear the skins out on the slide, Marcie Jane.”
The women roared.
Norma Wonderman aimed a long finger at Marcie Jane. “You sure got even with your sister-in-law, Florence. This is definitely the best-dressed kid on the block—when she has her coat on!”
Florence and Marcie Jane left the laughter behind as they went downhill to the playground, drawing turned heads at every pace. Marcie Jane played content all afternoon and, content, returned home hand in hand with her mother. They played again together after supper, and Marcie Jane fell quickly asleep at bedtime.
Sol Klonsky, home late in the evening, tossed his coat to a foyer chair, clapped Florence behind, and started as usual for the nursery. But Florence playfully caught his arm and said, “Don’t bother her tonight, Sol. Let’s eat. I’m starved.”
“Didn’t you eat yet?”
“No, I’ve been waiting for you. It’s more friendly that way.”
His lean face creased and his pale eyes narrowed in amused suspicion. “You short of a mink coat or something?” He laughed and went his way. In the nursery he flicked the light on and shook Marcie Jane’s shoulders. At first she moaned. Then her lids fluttered. She wrenched herself from sleep and scrambled up to hold a warm flushed cheek to her father’s mouth.
“Well?” he said, embracing her.
Holding his hands for leverage, she leaped up and down on the mattress. “Show him, Mommy, quick, show him!”
Sol’s smile carried to Florence. “Well, show me, you heard what the child said.” And to Marcie Jane. “What have we got?”
“My coat,” she said, “my coat! My brand new coat!”
Sol glanced again at Florence, who had not moved. “Bring it out, let’s see something you had to buy in a store for a change, instead of my sister’s garbage.” He gave a thin laugh. “Did you think I didn’t know? Marcie Jane keeps me posted on everything, don’t you, honey? And by the way, while I’m on the subject of your swindling, what are you saving up for in those bankbooks of yours? You want to be buried in a gold casket or something? . . . Well, where’s the coat? Come on, we’re anxious, ain’t we?” he added, turning for confirmation to Marcie Jane.
“Get it, Mommy!” ordered Marcie Jane. “Wait till you see, Daddy. Mommy, hurry up!”
But to Florence the voices were distant. She felt ashen inside and about her spread the great bleak plain of her disappointment.
“You sick or something?” said Sol, annoyed, and went himself to the closet, directed by Marcie Jane from her bed.
He did not at first believe what dangled from the hanger—the coat, the hat, the muff—and he held it to the light. While Marcie Jane begged him to hand it over for her to put on, he tried the fur incredulously between forefinger and thumb.
He then showed Florence a pleased clever expression that reminded her of his wedding photo, and said, “So you thought you’d get even with me because I caught you, eh? Well now I’m going to teach you a little lesson that even you should be able to remember for a long long time.” He marched with the outfit out of the nursery.
“Daddy!” shrieked Marcie Jane, and slid off the bed to pursue in her pajamas.
Florence, roused from her apathy, followed. “Sol-” she called after him, “Sol—”
Through the foyer he strode, out of the door and to the incinerator in the hall. Marcie Jane wailed barefoot after him over the tile; and Florence, in a very different way from before, again caught at his arm. He shook her off and opened the funnel. The muff and hat slid easily into the drop from which rose the acrid odor of burning garbage. The coat was bulky and he was still stuffing it in as Florence carried sobbing disbelieving Marcie Jane back inside.
Across one chair in the foyer lay Sol’s coat, waiting for Florence to put it in the closet. She sank trembling into the other chair with Marcie Jane and tried to kiss away the teardrops coursing the child’s cheeks, murmuring, “Hush, baby, hush dear,” and embracing her tightly.
Sol came in and touched Marcie Jane’s shoulder. “You didn’t want those things,” he said. “Everybody would only laugh at you. Now you know what I’m gonna get you? . . .”
But there were only Marcie Jane’s throbbing back and Florence’s white scornful face.
“And who do you think you’re looking at?” Sol Klonsky shouted at Florence between moist out-thrust lips. “Not a cent for those things, baby, not one red cent will you get out of me, not a cent for those bankbooks of yours!”
“Who asked you, you bully!” Florence shouted back. “Who needs your money—or you! We don’t need you! Do we, baby, do we, Marcie Jane?”
And to her unutterable joy she felt the sobbing child shake her head no.