Home -> Bookstore -> Sudden Moves: The sequel to Fresh AirSudden Moves: The sequel to Fresh Air
On her way to bed, Lucinda stopped in the living room doorway to look at the black-and-white pinspot-lit photographs of her mother and father on the far wall. Lily's was the famous 1957 Hurrell portrait, with his signature exquisite lighting and airbrush work. Simply made up (Lily had refused the usual false eyelashes, heavy penciled-in brows and overdrawn mouth), her deep-set, clear blue eyes looked directly into the lens as if offering a somewhat amused challenge. Her normally limp, naturally blonde hair gleamed in an elaborate upsweep that accentuated the length and vulnerability of her exposed throat, and her famous cleavage was on display courtesy of a tastefully lowcut, long-sleeved black moiré silk dress. No one would have known, from that photograph, how thin and tiny a woman she actually was, and how very unprepossessing in real life.
Beside it, in a matching frame, was the blown-up late-40s studio photograph of her father, Adam Bentley Franklin. In his pristine white dress uniform, rows of ribbons on his chest, spine perfectly straight, he looked impossibly young. His slight smile was sufficient to show the appealing dimple in his left cheek-a man of evident good humor, despite the formality of the pose. He had the same hazel eyes as Lucinda's, the same mouth and cheekbones, the same high forehead and slightly squared jaw. But unlike her hair which was dark blonde, his was black, with the standard military short-back-and-sides cut. And unlike her complexion, which was pale like Lily's, her father's was dusky. The first time she'd come to visit after Lucinda had hung the photographs, her grandmother, Elise, stopped in the doorway, her hand lifting to her heart, and said a little breathlessly, "Oh, but this is wonderful! How lovely they were, eh, chérie?"
Lucinda was perpetually awed at her parents being side by side, together for anyone to see-something they'd done in reality only a few times during their lives. Public or studio knowledge of her having a husband of color would have put an end to Lily's film career, and neither she nor Adam had been willing to risk that. Nor had they wished to risk stigmatizing Lucinda's life. So they'd gone to great lengths to ensure that their child wouldn't know the true facts of her parentage. Lily always said, "I've got no idea who your father was. Okay? It could've been a couple of different guys. What's it matter anyway? I did right by you, didn't I?" True. She'd done better than all right. She'd been a wonderful mother-easygoing and proud of her daughter's slightest accomplishment. It was just that she'd had a big secret she'd gone to extraordinary lengths to keep. There had been no other men. Only the one. And his identity had died with her, leaving Lucinda to search every avenue, using every conceivable resource, until all the possibilities had been exhausted.
It wouldn't have mattered, Lily, she silently told her mother's portrait, as she often did.
She'd have been happier knowing her family, spending time with them, instead of losing years, decades, to a paralyzing uncertainty that had, like a bizarre life-support system, kept her breathing but not truly alive.
Lucinda stood enjoying the fragrant breeze and the early summer sun piercing the heavy foliage to lay splashes of warmth on her arms. Everything was in bloom and the colors were, she thought, like the primaries of a beginner's set of Crayolas. She loved spring. But full summer, when the air stood motionless and heavy, too thick almost to breathe, was unbearable. Despite having spent the first part of her life in California-the land of perpetual summer with the periodic peculiar effects of the Santa Anas that often drove otherwise rational people to do irrational things-she'd never tolerated the heat well. Lily hadn't either, and used to say she'd passed her native New England genes to Lucinda. Which was why Lily's first major expenditure on the Connecticut house had been the central heating/air-conditioning system. Her second and last expenditure of any significance was the installation of the swimming pool for Lucinda (Lily herself didn't swim). And that was that. Lily's taste in furnishings had been terrible. Lucinda had grown up with a woman who, while meticulous in most other areas, had been content to live with furniture the Salvation Army would've rejected.
Nearly thirty years before, when Lily's estate finally cleared probate, Lucinda had become the owner of a property that included the old farmhouse and barn on two acres of land (which had the local real estate agents salivating and phoning endlessly, begging her to sell), more money than she could possibly spend (given her limited needs and desires), and a number of cartons of highly collectible memorabilia from her mother's film career. By then, though, Lucinda was in a state perilously close to agoraphobia. With a desperate need to humanize the space that had come to contain her as tightly as a vacuum-sealed, seethrough package, she had had the house renovated. But the barn had remained untouched, a repository for rusted-out farm implements, dead lawn mowers and crumbling wicker furniture; the home of nesting birds and small burrowing animals.
At last, in the grip of long-accumulated inspiration, she'd hired an architect-a then-recent graduate whose tidy features flushed with ambitious pleasure at the sight of the massive hand-hewn beams and weathered wood walls. And the previous May the renovation of the barn had finally been completed after thirteen months of noisy saws, migraine-inducing hammering, and workmen moving about to the accompaniment of bad music blaring from the paint-bespattered boombox that seemed to be a vital part of their equipment.
Sometimes now, Lucinda would be drawn down the driveway to let herself into the barn and wander around for half an hour or so, admiring the heavy beams, the wide plank flooring, the loft and steeply pitched roof-that were integral to the original structure. The rough plastering on the walls had been painted eggshell white, in appealing contrast to the age-darkened exposed studs and beams. A kitchen had been created at the far end of the living room, separated from the main area by a long countertop that served both as a work area and a dining table. Three utilitarian bedrooms had been created in the loft, accessible by an open, thick-planked stairway, and were faithful to the overall simplicity of the place. The bathrooms, too, were plain, with white fixtures and ceramic tiles.
Dropping by mid-construction, looking at the uncapped pipes and spools of wiring feeding in from all directions, Lucinda's oldest friend Gin had said, "I don't know how the hell you stand it-the horrible noise, and all the nasty butt-cracks on view. I think construction guys-plumbers especially-love flashing their ugly bums 'cause they're so sure no woman's ever going to say, 'Kindly cover yourself, sir. The view is not pretty.'" Lucinda had stared at her for a long moment. Then they'd burst into mad laughter that had bounced back at them from the ribbed roof high above. The barn was now where Katanya and her mother, Loranne, and grandmother, Jeneva, stayed when they came up fromManhattan on weekends. In the past year, the three had taken to leaving personal items in their rooms so that they traveled on the train carrying only small overnight cases or, in Jeneva's case, a Bloomingdale's bag filled with containers of delectable food she'd prepared the night before. Katanya's room had a bulletin board where she'd pushpinned pen-and-ink drawings she'd done, programs from school productions and the Broadway musical in which she'd appeared, and a ju-ju bag she'd bought in an African shop in Harlem that contained, she said, "... my good luck shark's teeth that probably came from a dog, what's supposed to be antelope hair but I think is rat fur, and for-real chicken bones." Several worse-for-wear stuffed animals sat tiredly on the bed, and her dresser top held clustered bottles of nail polish and perfume, hair ornaments and tangles of costume jewelry. There was a poster of Albert Einstein on the wall over the bed and, next to it, one of Savion Glover. It was definitely a young girl's room-but, clearly, no ordinary girl.
Jeneva and Loranne were more discreet, less proprietary, leaving nightgowns and a few changes of clothing; scented soaps and hair-care products in the bathrooms. Their different fragrances lingered in the rooms and Lucinda would pause in each doorway to breathe in the scents of thewomen who'd become so close, so important to her in the three years since Katanya had traveled outside of Manhattan for the first time, courtesy of the Fresh Air Fund. Those two weeks had changed everyone's lives-putting a welcome, albeit unnerving, end to Lucinda's twenty-seven years of self-imposed isolation and bringing Renee (of the nearby host family) and her little boy Jason to Lucinda's door. Despite years of effort by private detectives, it had been impossible for her to track down her father. Defeated, feeling ever more fraudulent, her life had been put on hold. Lucinda had learned in the immediate aftermath of her mother's death that she wasn't a white woman after all, but a person of mixed blood, and she'd no longer known how to be what she'd been before or what she was now. How did you become a person of color? Were there codes of behavior, beliefs and values she had to know? If she continued to go out into the world as a white person, would she be denying her heritage? Would her travels be viewed as trespass? She was not naive; she knew the abuses, large and small, the prejudice suffered by those of color. But she had always believed that what lay beneath the skin mattered, not the surface. Was she supposed to come out, declare herself and, in the process, possibly tarnish Lily's memory? She didn't know. Nothing existed to inform her of a transformation process from white to black. She actually did lengthy Internet searches, following links from one site to the next until it seemed she'd gone thousands of miles through cyberspace only to end up empty-handed. She was able to accept her status as one-eighth black. That wasn't difficult. But knowing how to behave, who to be, was a question that went unanswered. Years got used up; they dissolved, began and ended, over and over while she become rooted in place, almost stone, like the trees Lily had taken her to see in the Petrified Forest long ago, when on a location shoot in Arizona.
Then, at Katanya's urging, Lucinda had made up a flyer and sent it to predominantly black churches in the area, asking if anyone knew the man whose photograph gazed out from the page. Recognizing his late uncle, Lucinda's cousin, Paul Junior, had telephoned his grandmother to say excitedly, "I am on my way with something you must see. Lucinda is looking for us, finally."
And so, because Katanya had been directly instrumental in bringing Lucinda to the family, she and Loranne and Jeneva together had served as the emollient agent to ease Lucinda's integration, and were welcomed whole-heartedly by the Franklins-as if they, too, had been long-lost relatives. Lucinda's love for the trio was, like the love for her found family, a self-renewing revelation that seemed almost dangerous at times. Like someone who'd been rescued from a desert sandstorm, she wanted to drink too much, too deeply; she couldn't get enough and felt a low-level yet abiding shame at her unquenchable thirst for more time with her family, particularly with her grandmother. She had to keep pushing itdown-ajack-in-the-box appetite that popped up repeatedly-in order to savor the pleasure of any given moment. And it might have been manageable had there not been the ongoing problem of her aunt Anne's active competition with Lucinda over Elise's time and affection. After being out of touch with her mother for months at a time throughout her adult life, as soon as Lucinda appeared Anne contrived ways to pre-empt Elise's free time or actually to be there when Lucinda arrived for a scheduled visit. Her inability to like her aunt added to Lucinda's shame but, try as she might, she couldn't overcome it. The precedent had been established on the August evening three years before when every member of the extended family turned out to meet Lucinda and she'd encountered Anne for the first time. Elise had warned her that her eldest daughter was difficult. "She is the one, I think, you will find not so agreeable. She has a mistrusting nature, I am sorry to say." In retrospect Lucinda could only think that, as her mother, Elise had been overly generous in her description of her oldest child.
Anne was pretty in a pinched, malnourished fashion that sank her eyes deep into their sockets and made her cheeks concave. Her prominently corded neck semi-concealed by an expensive enameled choker of singular ugliness, her platinum hair gelled and sprayed into a stiff helmet, she'd been wearing a hot pink Ungaro suit with thick red cord piping. Lucinda could imagine Lily saying, "Done up like a whorehouse sofa," and was fighting down a laugh as Anne eyed her suspiciously. The woman offered a handshake so slight and fleeting-a silken, fleshless package of small bones stroking across her palm-that Lucinda shrank inwardly as the woman's glacial blue eyes swept over her in instant appraisal-as if Lucinda were for sale and Anne was deciding whether or not she was overpriced. Anne was as brittle as old cellophane and, Lucinda decided, just as likely to crumble on direct contact. This was someone who got her way because people were afraid she'd fall to pieces if they challenged her. Lucinda had seen lots of women like her when she was growing up in Hollywood- usually the wives of the studio executives who liked to wield their husbands' power as if it were their own.
"You're tall!" Anne had accused in a razor-edged tone.
"Not really. I-"
"Adam was tall," she stated, as if the fact of her older brother's height might possibly be a proving measure of Lucinda's parentage.
Anne barreled on, saying, "Lily, as I recall, was a very small woman with unfortunately large breasts." She'd looked pointedly at Lucinda's chest, as if its flatness erased the point Lucinda had gained for her height.
"Actually, she was-"
Again, the woman interrupted. "I couldn't think what Adam saw in her, but they seemed devoted." This remark was delivered grudgingly-as if the couple's devotion was unimpeachable. There was an unpleasant subtext at work that Lucinda couldn't quite grasp. She tuned out for a moment, speechless in the face of the woman's harsh, accusatory manner, and looked down at her aunt's shoes-red patent Saint Laurent pumps with heels at least four inches high. Why, she wondered, would a woman of seventythree wear shoes that emphasized the extreme thinness of her legs; shoes that could send the fragile woman on a spill that would, without question, result in a shattered hip. One misstep and she'd spend the rest of her life wearing Hush Puppies and pushing a walker. Unexpectedly, Lucinda felt a small surge of pity for her aunt. Only someone consumed by fear would be so unconcerned with other people's feelings and so bold about her footwear.
"What is it you hope for here?" Anne was asking in her grating voice when Lucinda tuned back in.
"I beg your pardon?"
"All these years later, turning up this way. You're after something," Anne declared, keeping her voice sufficiently low so that no one else would hear.
"There's absolutely no proof whatsoever that you are who you claim to be."
"And I suppose it wouldn't bother you to have Negro blood, if it suits your purpose."
Anger beginning to eat at her innards like acid, Lucinda said quietly, "What bothers me is that you'd think I have ulterior motives-"
"My mother is a very wealthy woman," Anne cut her off yet again. "Suddenly, you turn up out of the blue, the longlost grandchild. I find it questionable. Any reasonable person would."
That this woman considered herself reasonable astounded Lucinda. She could feel a migraine, like a homing device, targeting her skull. Struggling to keep her anger under control, Lucinda forced a smile and said in an equally low voice, "I'm wearing J. Crew, not Chanel or Dior, so you think you know the sum of me." Seeing by Anne's slight flinch that she had hit the bull's-eye, Lucinda had taken a quick up-and-down look at the woman and said, "Ungaro with Fogal hose, Saint Laurent shoes and a knock-off Bulgari choker." Shocked, Anne's hand had risen involuntarily to her throat. "A long time ago," Lucinda continued in that pleasant, conversational tone, "I used to get that sort of instant-take reaction from underpaid salesgirls in overpriced stores in L.A. They'd do a quick onceover, see the inexpensive clothes but fail to notice the telling details like the wristwatch and the handbag and the shoes. So they'd dismiss me as just a browser, not a genuine shopper. For the hell of it, I'd buy a three-hundred-dollar blouse or a pair of five-hundred-dollar shoes just to see them fall all over themselves." Thrown completely now and unable to help herself, her mouth quivering slightly, Anne glanced down, belatedly taking note of Lily's gold Tiffany watch on Lucinda's wrist. Keeping the smile glued to her mouth, Lucinda said, "I am a very wealthy woman, and my only motive in being here is to get to know my family. As for being bothered about having 'Negro' blood, my understanding is that-"
"Mother, shame on you! You're monopolizing Lucinda!"
Lucinda had looked over to see a handsome green-eyed brunette her own age smiling apologetically at her. Gently but firmly taking hold of her mother's upper arm, she'd maneuvered Anne away, saying, "I think Aunt Adele is looking for you."
With a last raking look at Lucinda-as if to say, I'm not through with you yet-Anne allowed herself to be shifted.
"Such an unbecoming color for you, Madeline," she told her daughter, flapping a bony hand in an up-and-down motion to indicate Madeline's actually very flattering mint-green Thai silk dress.
"Isn't it hideous!" Madeline had said happily. "I just had to have it."
With a disapproving sniff, Anne tottered off in search of her sister as Madeline turned back to take hold of Lucinda's hand in both her own and said, "Forgive her. She doesn't know how to stop herself. Try to think of her as a wrinkled eight-year-old who's jealous of anyone who takes attention away from her. I'm sure she was saying horrible things. I could see you were uncomfortable. Please don't take anything she says seriously. My twin brother and I can barely manage to be civil to her, and we've never understood how someone as gracious and open-hearted as our father could've lived with her. But"-she shrugged-"she's our mother and we're stuck with her. So." She smiled again and squeezed Lucinda's hand. "I'm your cousin Maddy and I'm delighted to meet you at last. We've all been so excited about tonight. And how pretty you are!" Her warm approval was like ointment on a burn. "Such beautiful eyes, like grandmother's."
Lucinda had to smile. "Thank you. That was very ..."
"Oh, I'm sure it was," Madeline finished for her, her eyes sympathetic, her smile gentle. "You heard her about my dress. It gives her some sort of perverse pleasure to imagine she's being honest when, in fact, she's just horribly unkind. Try to forget it because, if you let her, Mother can be the equivalent of an earwig. She'll crawl into your brain and eat her way right through it. Michael and I learned early on to ignore her, otherwise we'd both be basket cases now. Or maybe we are and just don't know it. I never wanted children and Michael's a confirmed bachelor, which should give you an idea of Mother's capacity to do damage." She laughed softly. "Oh, and don't be thrown when my brother introduces himself as Michael Eye-Vee. He's the fourth and thinks that Eye-Vee business is hilarious. It's forgivable because in every other way he's so much like our father, who was a divine man with the patience of a saint. Which, as you can imagine, he needed. Now, come let me introduce you to the others. We've all had to wait because Mother insists on a pecking order. As the older sister, she gets to go first, regardless of the situation. She lives in an alternative reality where asinine rules like that actually exist. And poor grandmother has given up trying to change her." Then, taking her hand again-as if they were children who'd vowed upon meeting to be best friends forever -Madeline led Lucinda over to meet the rest of the cousins.
The next day, when Lucinda had telephoned to thank her grandmother for what turned out to be-despite Anne's efforts to control everything from the topics of conversation to how the food was served-a lovely evening, Elise had said, "You must disregard my daughter, chérie. To Anne, to be one-quarter black, it is as cancer. We have all felt the sharp edge of her tongue. I am her mother and I have love for her, but no liking. But her children, Maddie and Michael, they are charming, are they not?"
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