Then Teddy was called to Korea, and they realized what a mistake the Reserves had been. At first Yvette thought it couldn't be true, that it must be a clerical error. Teddy had a familyMargot was seven and Clarissa was six. Clarissa's face was a little mirror of his, and she watched him in the house, staring him down. When Teddy caught her at it, he laughed, and she laughed, too. Yvette couldn't believe the Marines would ask him to leave again. But it wasn't an error, and she took the girls to see him off on the train.
At the station, two of the young Marines were joking for the crowd, making sobbing faces out the train windows, saying, "No, don't take us, we don't want to go."
Clarissa started to cry. "Why are they taking them?" she demanded. "They don't want to go!"
Yvette said the men were joking and they did want to go, but Clarissa didn't understand. She threw herself on the floor of the Plymouth, wailing, and cried all the way home. Yvette was surprised at the passion of Clarissa's grief. She thought her daughter might make herself ill, screaming so hard on the floor of the car. She didn't have time to cry herself, she was so busy tending to Clarissa.
Being at home alone with two children was harder than being first married, when the other wives had all been waiting for their husbands, too. It was busier, but it was also lonelier. Yvette couldn't entertain alone, and she wasn't invited out. A woman alone was a liability, a wild card. She didn't know any women whose husbands were in Korea; they were all younger than she. When her only single friend, Rita, got married, Yvette couldn't go to the wedding, because it was in a Protestant church. Rita was hurt by Yvette's absence, and then she was another busy wife, and Yvette didn't see her anymore.
One day, while Teddy was still in Korea, Yvette took Margot and Clarissa to the beach. While the girls were playing in the water, a man came and sat beside her. She was ready to ask him to leave, but he was polite, and they talked about the girls, and she was hungry for talk. He said he was a photographer, and offered to take their picture for her husband; he said it was the least he could do for a man who was at war. So he came to the house, with a big flash umbrella and a camera on a tripod, and set up his equipment in the living room. Yvette made him a highball, and because the bottle of ginger ale was open, she made herself one, too. On an empty stomach it went right to her head. It was three in the afternoon on a Saturday, and she'd dressed the girls up for the picture, but the photographer wasn't in any hurry. He was clean-cut with clear green eyes and looked like he could have been a soldier himself, in khaki trousers and a pressed shirt. They talked about the situation in Korea, and he told an off-color joke about war brides. He asked for another drink and she made him one, but Clarissa stalked in and said she wasn't wearing nice clothes another minute, so the photographer arranged them on the sofa and started to fiddle with his flash.
Clarissa sat on the ottoman, and Margot stood behind, with her hands on her sister's shoulders. Clarissa hated to be touched by Margot, and her hair was coming out of its curls. Yvette pulled the hem of Clarissa's skirt to cover her knees. Margot smiled serenely at the camera, and nothing about her was out of place. Yvette felt like her own smile might look tipsy, so she pressed her hand against her lips to try to straighten her mouth without smearing her lipstick. Then they all smiled and got a big flash in the eyes.
The photographer took a few more pictures and said he thought he had it, but made no move to leave. He took up his drink, and Yvette let the girls go outside. She asked if he wouldn't take payment, though there was so little money, but he refused.
From Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy. Copyright Maile Meloy 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, Scribner.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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