Yvette said tightly that she would.
Dr. Nye, in his office with poor Abby sitting shirtless on the white table, confirmed that it was chicken pox. He was a white-haired man in a clean white coat, who reminded Yvette of a parish priest back in Canada when she was a child. He wanted to know when Abby had been exposed.
"At least ten days ago," she said. "The only child she's seen here is Cara Ferris."
"Can I play with her yet?" Abby asked. Cara lived next door, and had blond ringlets, and had marched at the head of the Fourth of July parade, twirling a baton, as Miss Hermosa Beach Recreation. Abby worshiped her.
"Not until you're better, sweetheart," Yvette said.
"But Cara's had chicken pox," the doctor said.
"Her mother said it was such a slight case she could get it again."
Dr. Nye made a little scoffing noise. "Just keep Abby home," he said, "and use calamine. I'll pronounce her not contagious as soon as I can, and she can play with Miss Recreation."
The next day a heat wave started that broke Los Angeles temperature records, even in the beach towns. The air was stifling, the sky was pale with smog, and poor Teddy left for work, miserable in his dress shirt and tie. The best refuge was the pool, surrounded by cool sycamores, where the children played Jump or Dive, shouting at the last second what the child launched from the diving board should do and squealing with laughter at the midair scramble to obey. Abby lay on the living room couch, banned from the pool, staring miserably out the window as Cara pranced to the car in her blue swimsuit and her yellow curls, a rolled-up towel under her tanned little arm.
They still didn't know where Clarissa was. Yvette talked to Teddy about it in bed, but he was too tired to be worried. He had too much work, and was ready to retire. She stayed home with Abby on Sunday, and Teddy went to Mass alone. She knew it was dangerous to compare sisters, but Margot wouldn't have sent a sick child without warning. She had devoted her life to raising her two boys, and she would never be unreachable about them.
On the fourth day, Clarissa finally called. Polka-dotted with dried calamine lotion, Abby told her mother she couldn't go to the pool and then went back to doing puzzles in a book. Yvette took the phone.
"I think one of the neighbor kids might've had it," Clarissa said. "I forgot."
"She's your child. She's your first obligation."
"Don't start," Clarissa said. "I've been so unhappy."
"Everyone is unhappy sometimes."
"I didn't know -- " Clarissa began and trailed off.
"What?" Yvette snapped. "That there were responsibilities?"
"That my marriage would fall apart. That there would be such killing boredom. That I wouldn't get to do anything I wanted to do. I didn't know!"
Yvette stood at the kitchen counter wondering what part of her daughter's selfishness was her fault. Had she not given Clarissa enough attention when she was Abby's age? Had her other children distracted her -- Margot, who was older and perfect, and Jamie, who was younger and troubled? Yvette took a deep breath. She would love her daughter as God loved them both, with all of their flaws. "Are you finding what you want, there?" she asked.
Copyright © 2006 by Maile Meloy
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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