"A man with such a beautiful wife will want a remembrance of her," he said.
Yvette said nothing.
"Such pretty little girls, too," he said.
Yvette agreed that the children were sweet. Then the photographer grew serious.
"You are," he said, "the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."
She laughed, and tried to shake the way the whiskey was keeping a smile on her face so she could frown and send him on his way.
"I work with models," he said, still serious. "I know beautiful women. But your beauty is a radiance, it comes from within."
She wanted to tell him the radiance was from the whiskey, but she was afraid she might seem flirtatious. She thought of her father, who hadn't allowed her mother to go shopping without taking Yvette with her, in case she might be meeting men somewhere. But there had been no wars for her father, just the Depression, and the family under a tighter rein in a smaller house. And here was Teddy gone again, and this strange man who wouldn't leave.
Yvette stood from her chair to show the photographer he should leave, and then he had an arm around her waist and his lips pressed against hers. He kissed her so hard that when she twisted free, his teeth cut her lip. She sent him away then, with his camera and his flash, and did what she'd never done as a hostess: closed the door on him before he was halfway down the walk. Then she opened it again to check for the girls, and saw the photographer, flushed and angry, get into his car and drive away.
She didn't know how to tell Teddy what had happened. She tried to put it in writing but it came out wrong, and she tore the letters to pieces and started again.
The photographer came back with his prints when Yvette was alone in the house, and she opened the door just a few inches. He acted like nothing had happened, but she was cool with him. She made him turn the envelope sideways to get it through the door. It seemed better to keep the pictures than to have them out in the world. All week she had blushed when she thought of them.
"I'll get you a check," she said, when he let go of his end of the envelope.
"I don't" he said.
She closed and locked the door, found her purse and fumbled it open, feeling her heart in her chest. Teddy's name was printed on the checks with hers. She had no idea how much to give the man. Ten dollars? She wrote the check for fifteen.
"I don't want a check," he said, when she opened the door again. He was standing in the same posture as before, a hand on the door frame to support himself. She thought he was trying to be casual, but his voice was angry, and he wouldn't look at the check she offered. "I wanted to do something nice for you, that's all," he said. "I just wanted to do something for you."
"Thank you," she said.
"I'm not a bad man," he said. "I thought we could have made each other's lives a little better, that's all. That doesn't happen very often, you know."
"I'm married," she said, and she started to close the door, but he put a hand flat against it from the outside.
"I want you to tell me something," he said. "Is it really because you're married, or is it me?"
She closed the door against the pressure of his hand, and locked it, and hung the chain. Her heart slowed as she leaned against the door. The fold of the envelope, when she opened it, was damp with the imprint of her fingers. They were good, big prints on heavy paper. The girls looked like themselves: Clarissa a mess and Margot a perfect little nun. Yvette had a wild smile on her face, her eyes too wide, but you might not notice if you didn't know she'd had a drink in the afternoon.
She didn't send the photographs to Teddy. She talked to him on the telephone when he was able to call, but she didn't tell him anything because the girls were in the room. There was no one else to tell. She had never made up with her family over their disapproval of Teddy. Her older sister, Adele, was unhappily married, and in Canada, too, and no help.
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.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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