Rose talked while Ray watched the sun 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 a remark by her daughter, 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 and Ray felt no desire to respond.
The daughter shuffled a deck of cards and began laying out a game of solitaire. Moments passed without any sound except cards and birds. Ray reclined the chair and watched, looking from mother to daughter. Doris continued to finger her curls, running painted nails through hair dark brown.
“Tell me about your book, Ray,” she said, sipping 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, appearing to be oblivious to the conversation.
“I’m excited for the day I can see my book,” Ray said. “When will that be?” “Six months.”
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, ok?” “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, staring for a few moments at her mother and walked towards the garden.
“Tell me when you are 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?” This seemed to be more of a comment that a question. “Indeed,” Ray answered. His glass remained untouched, drops of condensation slid slowly 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 pearl 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 to 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. Listening with half-interest, he concentrated on the book release.
“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, ending 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 to see her still swinging the trapped butterfly. As she swung round, her shirt lifted, showing her stomach, flat and smooth.
Startled, she stopped her arm in mid-swing and placed the net on the ground, the butterfly still trapped. “I didn’t see you.”
He hugged her against his chest. “I wondered what you might like to do this evening.”
“Anything you want,” she said, her eyes sparkling a bright blue in the mid-afternoon summer sun. “That is what you always say. Tell me what you want to do.” “Really?” “Of course, really.”
She laughed and clapped her hands with delight.
“Let’s go to the carnival.”
He lowered his head and muttered something she didn’t hear. “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. “Sorry.” “It’s ok. 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 in anger.
“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 and tried to think of something to say.
“Go to the carnival. I’ll see you tomorrow.” “Ok.” “Can you just do me one favor?” He asked. “What is it?” “Free the butterfly.”
He walked towards the street, not looking back or answering her demands 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.”
If you enjoyed the fiction, buy paperbacks by Stephen Moran.