A dry, papery hand, furrowed with age and lined with heavy regrets lightly held two small reminders: a Zona Black eye pencil and a small, antique brass powder compact. The old woman’s eyes were cloudy with age, but her memory was painfully sharp. She looked out the window at the maples shedding their orange-gold leaves and looked again at the items in her hand. A tear escaped her ancient eye and rolled its way down a leathery cheek.
“MAMA!!! Harold’s tongue! He’s swallowing it!” cried Louise as she desperately tried to pry Harold’s seizing mouth open.
Mother came rushing in, as usual and this time showed Clara how to pry open his mouth from the side and stick the spoon that was lying on the supply tray for that very purpose.
“So tired, Mother.” Harold’s eyes fluttered between rest and wakefulness as his chest was rising and falling slowly.
“Sleep, Harold. You’re fine. Your sister and I are here, we won’t leave you, dear.”
This was the scene heard from upstairs where Inis was putting the finishing touches on her makeup. Zona black eye pencil heavily lined her eyes. A touch of powder from her copper compact and everything was set. She loudly kissed the air in front of her mirror and smiled. Speaking to the reflection she pouted her lips out, “Louise Brooks, pleased to make your acquaintance. Oh, my! Another movie offer? Why, you’ll have to speak to my manager.”
The events downstairs were a regular occurrence in a house with a paralyzed, bed-ridden brother who suffered from fits, or spasms. The doctor came around regularly, supplied a bottle of potassium bromide and directed Mother to keep the spoon handy to prevent him from swallowing his tongue. Harold was pleasant and rather clever, though pale and weak from a life of confinement. Oh, and sick. Always sick. The fits came regularly and were increasingly frequent as of late. Inis’s younger sister had recently quit school to help Mother with the household duties and care of their brother.
Inis herself had quit school last year to join the girls at Charlie’s. Dancing at Charlie’s club was not just supplying her an escape from home…albeit immoral by her family’s standards, but it also brought in serious cash and no one, not even her mother with her Protestant ways, would turn that down.
Upstairs, Inis shimmied into her tight gold sequined dress with the beaded fringe, struggled with the zipper a minute before she rolled her stockings right down to the knee. Lastly, she carefully adjusted her brown cloche hat over her slicked down bob, grabbed her clutch and stomped downstairs.
“Mama! I’m leaving!” Inis yelled towards the kitchen as she headed towards the front door, likely in hopes that tonight after Harold’s episode Mother wouldn’t feel up to a battle. Quick, light footsteps proved her wrong.
Slits for eyes peered at Inis’s heavily made up face, the heat of rage building.
“You’re a disgrace! Do you know what the neighbors say when they see you leave, Inis? I ran into Mrs. Redman at the store earlier today and she had the nerve to ask me if the rumors were true? Thinking my daughter’s a whore? Well, I sure don’t know what to tell her. You’re wicked Inis and if your poor father could see what----“
“See what? See that I bring money in to support you and Louise, and to pay for Harold’s medicine? I think he’d show a bit more understanding.” Inis was clearly steeled for this encounter. A car began honking outside. “I’m leaving, Mother.” Inis slipped out the door. Only the sound of squealing tires was left behind.
“Mrs. Larson?” the comforting voice of the nurse brought her back to reality. Kind, warm eyes looked upon her. “Can I get you something, sweetie?”
“No, I’m sorry.” She glanced over to her nightstand at the last picture taken of her eldest daughter. It was 1926, her sweet sixteen portrait just two years before the bridge accident. “I’m sorry, Mary. You’re so sweet. I was just thinking back…..back too far.”