EDITED BY BRIANA MORGAN
Rose spoke of recent adventures with friends while Ray watched the sun streaming through her hair, which blonde and straight, seemed to glow. He smiled, and the mother centered her dark brown eyes upon him, twisting a curl of hair with her finger. Doris laughed at something her daughter said, teeth showing careful white and fine polish. She kept her gaze upon him, smiling, always smiling.
“It is a wonderful day,” Doris said. The comment hung limp in the summer heat.
Ray felt no desire to respond.
The daughter shuffled a deck of cards and began playing a game of solitaire. Moments passed without any sound except the rustling of cards and the calling of birds. Ray reclined the chair and watched, looking from mother to daughter. Doris continued to finger her curls, running painted nails through dark brown hair.
“Tell me about your book, Ray.” She sipped her lemonade.
“I’m waiting for the galley proofs to be sent. You know, publishing stuff—quite tedious, if you ask me.”
“I’m sure,” she said.
Rose continued playing cards, seemingly oblivious to the conversation.
“I’m excited for the day I can see my book,” Ray said.
“When will that be?”
Doris nodded, crossed her legs, and leaned towards him.
“What type of advance did they give you?”
“Mother.” Rose grunted.
“What is it now, darling?”
“I told you no talk about money, okay?”
“I’m just asking him. If he doesn’t want to tell me, he doesn’t have to, darling.”
Rose got up from her chair, stared at her mother for a few moments, and walked towards the garden. “Tell me when you’re finished.”
Silence fell and Doris began swinging her leg, slow and steady, the red polish on her feet shining, her skin bronzed and glistening with sunblock. She ran fingers over one leg, staring out into the garden at her daughter.
“She is pretty, isn’t she?” It was a comment, not a question.
“Indeed,” Ray answered. His glass remained untouched, drops of condensation slid slow and unnoticed onto the table.
Ray looked towards the garden, noticing how small Rose looked from a distance. He watched as she chased butterflies with a net, thin muscular legs propelling her into the air, her skin a pale white. She caught a butterfly in her net and laughed with joy. She swung the net in a circle, jumping and screaming.
“I’m sorry about the money talk, Ray. I want to be sure you’ll be able to take care of my daughter.”
Ray shrugged his shoulders and continued watching, not turning to face Doris. He took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and put one between his lips, lighting it without looking.
“You have to quit that filthy habit one of these days.”
He nodded and took a drag, exhaling slowly in her direction.
“You went tanning.”
“Yes. One simply must have the finer things in life.”
She laughed and began telling him about her weekly beauty routine. He concentrated on the book release, listening to her with half-interest.
“What was that?” He asked her, coming out of his reverie.
“I said, this takes money.” She extended her hand in a sweeping motion from hair to pumps.
"Money can't buy happiness," Ray said.
“Darling, money is the only thing.” She stood and ended the discussion.
“Leaving?” he asked.
“I have to meet someone.” She turned, and without further comment, walked towards the house.
Ray shrugged and looked for Rose. She was still swinging the trapped butterfly. As she swung round, her shirt lifted, showing off her flat, smooth stomach.
Startled, she stopped her arm in mid-swing and placed the net on the ground. The butterfly was still trapped. “I didn’t see you there.”
He hugged her against his chest. “I wondered what you might like to do this evening.”
“Anything you want,” she said. Her eyes sparkled blue in the afternoon sun.
“That is what you always say. Tell me what you want to do.”
“Of course, really.”
She laughed and clapped her hands. “Let's go to the carnival.”
He lowered his head and muttered something she didn't hear . He tried again, loudly. “Why don’t you go with your friends?”
“I want to be with you, Ray. Why can’t you hang out with them more often?”
He sighed and reached for the net, attempting to lift it from the ground.
“No, don’t,” she said.
“It’s okay. Just tell me you’ll spend tonight with me.”
“I want to, I really do. I just don’t want to be around your friends.”
She dropped her arms to her side and stamped her foot.
“Why don’t you go with your friends to the carnival and then call me later?”
“Ray, you know I need to get up early tomorrow. I can’t stay up all night with you like last week.”
Ray turned and faced the house. He closed his eyes. What could he say?
“Go to the carnival. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Can you just do me one favor?” he asked.
“What is it?”
“Let the butterfly free.”
He walked towards the street, neither looking back nor answering her demands for him to stop. Getting into the car, he took a last look and saw her wave. He drove in silence for a time, staring at the road ahead without expression. Miles later, he lit a cigarette and looked into the rear-view mirror.
“Goodbye,” he said.