Kelly Bak was joining Pat for a private lunch at the White House. They’d become quite close during Rich’s run for governor of California— both wives to powerful, and in Kelly’s case, very wealthy men. They could talk freely about their travels, their servants, their possessions, the famous people they knew, without sounding pompous or pretentious. All these things were incidentals, elements of their daily lives.
They both knew that the Mellon family didn’t eat shellfish, that coats made from the fur of female mink were lighter in weight but just as warm, and the first name of the owner of the hidden hotel near the Spanish Steps. They could share concerns about temperamental cooks and valets, discuss which make-up artists were the most competent, or when to wear the real jewelry and when to wear the paste.
On this day they met in the small family dining room, where Pat’s “help”, Constance, had laid out sandwich triangles of egg and ham, fruit salad, and slices of chocolate chiffon cake, along with pots of tea and coffee, on a smooth white linen cloth.
They chatted briefly about their daughters, Julie being only a few years older than Kimmy, when Pat noticed a shadow cross Kelly’s face. “What is it?” she asked.
“I think,” said Kelly, “that Kimberly made a mistake.”
Kelly hesitated. She lit a cigarette, a Virginia Slim, and inhaled deeply. Feathers of fawn-colored smoke swirled in the air around her.
“There was something going on with her riding instructor,” Kelly said at last, setting her cigarette on the rim of a cut glass ashtray that Pat had thoughtfully moved closer.
Pat didn’t smoke or drink in public, but she looked at the cigarette cradled in the Vallon ashtray with longing, and fought an impulse to smoke, herself, as she always did when conversations or feelings became too intense.
“Oh dear,” said Pat.
“He’s gone, but…”
Pat said nothing. She clasped her hands in her lap. An image of Julie and Kimmy as small children, splashing about in a turquoise blue wading pool, popped into her head. She remembered the bathing suit that Julie wore, her favourite, a pale pink and yellow plaid with a skirt frill.
“She made an appointment with a doctor,” Kelly said slowly. “A different doctor.”
“Perhaps it’s nothing— a teenage thing,” Pat said.
“No,” said Kelly. “I don’t think so.”
Pat wanted to say, Why don’t you ask her? But she knew what happened when you asked questions. They both knew.
“Would you like more coffee?” Pat asked.
Kelly set the china cup on the table and Pat poured from a silver carafe. “How is Richard?” Kelly asked.
“Richard is just fine!” Pat said. “As always.” And she smiled, and poured a second cup for herself.
- Original Prompt: Crossroads, April 26, 2016.