It happens every day, at least once. Her mother's voice trilling from somewhere in the house as she calls "Laura! Laura!" holding the first syllable to make it sound playful. The noise echoes strangely in the small house.
Laura doesn't know who her mother thinks she's pretending for.
She'd been lying on the sofa polishing her small collection of glass animals, but at her mother's repeated call Laura slowly got to her feet and shuffled towards the kitchen. She'd barely sat down in the chair before Amanda Wingfeild whisked into the room and laid a newspaper in front of her. Tom leaned against the far counter, eying them all with impatience.
Lately that was all that he had been doing. He would come home and pace the rooms, or simply stand and make cutting remarks. Her mother avoided him whenever he was in such a mood, but Laura was unable to leave so easily when Tom entered. At these times she merely lowered her eyes and resumed the handling of a few glass figurines she kept on a shelf. But the figures were in another room today, and mother was trying to speak to her.
"You've not had any gentleman callers." Amanda started. Laura frowned, shaking her head.
"Gentleman callers?" Tom scoffed, "She hasn't left the house." Neither replied. Laura looked away from him, but Amanda continued on as if she hadn't heard.
"Laura, dear, this can't go on." She wrung her hands absently, gazing at her daughter. "What will happen to you?" A silence, one that Laura could not find a voice to meet. Her mother's voice got sharper. "Laura? Laura are you listening to me?"
"Yes mother." She breathed, looking at the table rather than at her mother.
"I was thinking, until the gentleman collars arrive..." Amanda tapped the paper, to an advertisement. A thick black box was drawn around an ad for a typewriting course. Learn quickly and easily! It promised. Type with speed and accuracy! Laura looked up at her mother, mouth open in horror. "A typewriting course?"
"It would do you well." Amanda told her. "Get out of the house.... and learn some valuable skills, darling, we can't pretend you're still in high school..."
Laura was on the verge of protest when Tom's cutting voice silenced her.
"And what about me?"
"Tom?" she said instead, looking quickly up at her brother and away again. He was angry tonight, angrier than she had seen him in a long time. His eyes burned. Like a snake his body was tensed, ready to lash out at whatever it perceived as a threat.
"A business course for Laura. How much does that cost? While I'm down at the warehouse every night working to keep this house and you two-"
"Tom!" Amanda cried, shocked, but he ignored her.
"And everything how it should be. Then I come home to pace around this little room and watch you cook dinner and Laura fret about. It's not-" He stopped, biting off the rest of the words. Amanda looked shocked, scandalized. Tom let out an angry sigh. "I'm done here." He retreated, to the fire escape.
"oh my...." Amanda wrung her hands, eyes darting around the kitchen nervously.
"Laura, why don't you talk to him? Make him see.... we're all trying our best..." Such a feat seemed a doubtful proposition at best. But Laura rose obediently, steadying herself with the table before following her brother out onto the fire escape. They could hear the drifting melodies from the music hall next door, but the night was clear and still. She stood beside Tom in the silence, trying to find the words to say the things that their mother needed her to impart.
He didn't seem to have any words for her either. After several long stretches of silence, he finally sighed and spoke. "I'm going to the movies. I don't know when I'll be home."
He left without another word. Amanda waited in the living room, trying her best to appear unruffled. Tom swept by her, but Laura stopped in front of her mother. I can't. I'm sorry.
Her mother smiled, a tremulously fragile smile that tried to hold the world. "Come on, Laura dear." Was all she said. She took her daughter's hand and led her to the sofa. "Let me braid your hair, you'll like it." She carded her fingers through the strands, combing them out before starting to braid.
"Men like a french braid you know." She told Laura as she worked. The touch of her hands was comforting. "It makes you look like a lady. Sophisticated. The times I wore my hair in a braid- they gentleman callers lined up around the street! You ask anyone. I wore my hair in single french braid that day I had seventeen of them. Including your father, I might add."
Laura let her prattle on, safe on the couch and in her mother's hands. She let her mind drift, to highschool and times spent in the theater with Jim. She's listen to him sing, and her heart would feel like it was bursting. Blue roses. She was his blue roses.
"What have you got there in your hands dear?"
"Oh." She'd been fiddling with one of her figurines. "It's a glass figure. An elephant."
The tiny sculpture wasn't perfect: the tusks were too long to balance it out, and the legs didn't look quite real. But she liked him.
"It's very lovely." Amanda nodded. "You like them?"
"Him." She corrected, tentatively. "More than anything. Yes."
"Maybe we'll get you another then." Her mother smiled softly. "Your hair is done."
Laura bit her lip, saying finally "I'll take the typewriter course." She could force her way through it, if only to make her mother happy.
"Of course you will, dear. And I'll have Tom bring around some gentleman callers for dinner, won't that be nice?" And she left Laura on the couch, breezing back into the kitchen where Laura was unable to follow.
Some things never did change. But the next day her mother came home with a tiny glass unicorn tied in ribbon. "For you dear." She said lightly, turning away to start dinner. Laura didn't reply, already enraptured with the figure nestled carefully in her delicate hands.