Happily Ever After...Eventually
By Lynne Hoffman
"In olden times, when wishing still helped, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, which had seen so many things, was always filled with amazement each time it cast its rays upon her face..."
Nora sighed and flipped the book closed, except for the front cover. She re-read the inscription: "For an obviously, youngest daughter -- Benjamin" and noted the date, Christmas - 1984 and then shut the book completely. It was so ornate, both in design and lettering, she had been absolutely enthralled when she'd first received it. She loved fairy-tales, happy-ever-after-tales and felt a warmth begin to brush her cheeks as she remembered its giver.
Oh God. Benjamin! It had been twelve years since that Christmas and those happy joy-filled days. She crumpled onto her sofa, drew her legs up, wrapped her arms around her knees and tucking her chin against her chest, let the tears fall. Regrets. Always regrets. No matter what she did or where or with whom, there was always something that made her think of him. Him and the lousy mistake she'd made all those years ago.
"Hey Mom!" Her son, lanky and fair, bounded up behind her and skidded to a stop just before he managed to ram into the back of the sofa. One look at her face and his demeanor changed, "What's the matter Mom?"
"Don't run in the house sunshine." She forced a smile to her face and blinked into his face.
"Don't run in the house."
"Yeah. I heard that but I mean...why are you crying?"
"Because I'm a girl and girls cry." She reached over her shoulder and tousled his hair, "What's the big emergency?"
"Auntie Lois said we're moving to New York."
"She did, did she? Hmmm. I'll have to have a talk to her about ruining my surprises." Nora watched the child's eyes as his concern for her drained from his face and was replaced with the startled realization that his Aunt's rumor seemed to be fact.
He narrowed his eyes as he studied her and then suddenly, almost magically burst into a magnificent grin.
"Whoo-hoo! New York! Near Donnie?"
"No? I thought Donnie was in New York."
"He is, but, there are an awful lot of people in New York. We're not going to be living near him. We'll call him when we get there and let him know we arrived. I'm sure we'll get together one day."
The boy danced around to stand in front of his mother and plopped himself down onto the floor at her feet. He looked up at her with a mighty grin on his face, "There's a ton of things to do in New York aren't there?"
"You used to live there, didn't you?"
"Yes. Before you were born." Nora sat up straighter and lowered her legs back down to the floor.
"Did my Dad?"
"Yes. Would you like a popsicle? It's awfully hot outside today." Nora adroitly changed the subject. She was in no mood to discuss his father with him.
"Yeah, sure. Do we have any?" David's blue eyes lit up and he pushed himself to his feet, "Where are they? In the freezer? Or do we have to go to the store?"
"Hey, hey. Slow down mighty mouse. One question at a time." She levered herself up and pushed him gently toward the kitchen, "There's exactly one left. You may have it."
"Is it red? I love red ones."
She shook her head, "Nope. Green. Still want it?"
He shrugged, "I thought green was your favorite color."
"It is but it's not my favorite flavor." She smiled at him teasingly, glad her ploy had worked. David's inquisitiveness regarding New York seemingly dropped. She opened the upper section of her freezer and handed the child the frozen treat. He unwrapped the paper covering from it and wrapped his mouth around it instead.
"Thmps shiz gump."
Nora slumped and catching him by his wrist, pulled his hand away from his face, drawing the green popsicle out of his mouth with a distinct slurpop.
"Funny boy. Try that again. Without the popsicle stuck in your mouth."
He grinned at her, happily, "I said, 'this is good'." He laughed and licked his treat again.
"Go away. Go eat that thing outside before it drips all over everything." She couldn't resist pulling him quickly toward her for a quick kiss to his cheek before patting him tenderly on his bottom as he headed back outside. She leaned back against her counter top and tightly crumpled the forgotten wrapper in her hand until her knuckles were white. Then she tossed it into the wastebasket under her sink.
She rinsed her hands and wiping them absently on her jeans, headed back into the living room.
That book was still there on the sofa where she'd left it and she had to decide whether or not to toss it into her ever increasing 'to keep' pile.
Her emotions were in absolute turmoil as she thought about their return to Manhattan. It seemed as though her son didn't remember ever having been there before. She wasn't surprised. He'd only just turned four six years ago, when they'd last been there and for a child, that was an eternity. Especially considering that one, singular trip had been a brief, fly-through visit, undertaken to satisfy her own wistful feelings, rather than to introduce her son to a part of his heritage. Remembering their last visit to New York hurt. She'd had a chance, then, to set it all to rights but she'd chosen not to. Then again, Ben hadn't exactly saved the day himself.
He'd chosen blissful ignorance himself, rather than facing facts and easing her burden. Nora snorted, newly angry, but at whom? Really, she thought to herself as she recognized the emotion, at whom?
She made herself as comfortable as she could on her sofa and picked up the book again. It could have had a fairy-tale ending, she thought bitterly, remembering...
After she'd made her first mistake and fled Manhattan in shame, pregnant with Davey, she had first gone to Pennsylvania. Then, four years later they had come here. To Minnesota. It was on her way here, she'd made the last of her foolish mistakes.
She had taken a detour on her way to Minnesota and had taken David to Central Park for a picnic and to visit the zoo. She shouldn't have. She and David had run right into the one man she had wanted to avoid the most. It was funny, really, come to think of it. She hadn't noticed him. He'd called out to her. They'd made polite conversation with each other and had awkwardly ended up spending the rest of the afternoon together. Of course that hadn't been their idea. Their children, Ben's 12 year old daughter Cynthia and 4 year old Davey, had suggested it. Co-conspirators in an action they were completely unaware of.
Bullied by a pair of juvenile delinquents...
Nora felt some of the anger melt away as she pictured Ben with Davey. Kneeling down to tie the boy's shoelace while Davey rested a fat, grubby, little hand on his head to steady himself. Watching him hoist the child onto his shoulders and remembering the almost inaudible grunt of exertion. Davey had been no featherweight. That thought brought her close to laughter. How Ben's shoulders must have ached and yet, he'd carried the child around up there for sometime. Eventually Ben had slid the child off of his perch and made him comfortable in his arms. Cynthia had been happy, too, running helter-skelter through the animal park taking pictures.
With her camera, Nora remembered. There were pictures in the house, stored away on a cob-webby closet shelf, which Cynthia had taken with Nora's own camera. She got up and went to get them. She knew exactly where they were.
She sifted through them lazily. Not quite enjoying herself but not anxious to tuck them away again. Little reminders of another place and time. A man and a boy. Two children. Well, Nora admitted, Cynthia hadn't taken that one. Other pictures Cynthia had taken of the animals, a few buskers. Herself. Herself? She raised her eyebrows. She hadn't remembered that one being taken. Sneaky child. She allowed herself a smile. A picture of all of them together. A friend of Ben's or a former neighbor or something, she no longer remembered which, had come along just as their afternoon was ending. She'd insisted on taking a 'family' picture. Davey had objected, firmly insisting that they weren't a family but the woman had just as firmly insisted, with a laugh, that they looked like one and deserved to have their happy day memorialized. They'd been too stunned to object further and Cynthia had handed the camera over to the woman in the blink of an eye.
So there it was. A 'family' picture. Of a family that only existed in one photograph. One phony memory of a happy, phony, family. The tears were starting again. Nora brushed them angrily away and shoved the pictures back into their box. She had to put them away before Davey came back in. It had been a great afternoon but it had ended, like all afternoons did and they had all gone their separate ways. Ben and his daughter had gone back to his apartment to spend what was left of the weekend together. Nora and Davey had gone back to their hotel 'til morning and then it had been on to Minnesota.
But not before one important, unrecorded moment. Davey had fallen asleep shortly after the group shot had been taken. Ben had carried him, for her, to the exit gate. He had offered to carry him as far as the bus stop but Nora had declined. He'd handed the sleeping child to her and nodded. Never said a word before turning around and walking away to rejoin his daughter. Davey hadn't even stirred. Nor had he hadn't stirred as they'd boarded their bus, despite Nora stumbling on the step. She had found a seat and leaned heavily into it, worn out completely.
And then she'd cried. He'd held his sleeping son in his arms and given him back to her. Now her tears were falling again at the memory. They had spent the afternoon together, politely, both of them conspicuously silent on David's paternity. If he'd asked her she would have told him but he hadn't asked so she had held her tongue.
The same way she'd held her tongue when she'd discovered she was pregnant in the first place. But the time for secrets was over. She'd deprived Davey of a father and Ben of a son long enough. In a few weeks she'd be back in Manhattan. As soon as she was settled in, she'd find a way to introduce Ben to his son.
She picked up the box of pictures and the book and took them to her room. She opened the book again, this time to the last page and added a p.s. to the traditional ending. 'Eventually... '