Her eyes darted around at the plumes and bows bobbing in front of her, then rested on one ersatz bluebird clinging to a hatband. She leaned sideways, trying to see the faces of the women in front of her.
She heard Frank say imitation and counterfeit before silence fell once again.
A radiator rattled. Someone coughed. Then a pair of hands began clapping, and in a moment a hundred others joined in until applause thundered against the walls.
Mamah choked back a laugh. Frank Lloyd Wright was converting themalmost to the womanbefore her very eyes. For all she knew five minutes ago, they could just as well have booed. Now the room had the feeling of a revival tent. They were getting his religion, throwing away their crutches. Every one of them thought his disparaging remarks were aimed at someone else. She imagined the women racing home to strip their overstuffed armchairs of antimacassars and to fill vases with whatever dead weeds they could find still poking up through the snow.
Mamah stood. She moved slowly as she bundled up in her coat, slid on the tight kid gloves, tucked strands of wavy dark hair under her damp felt hat. She had a clear view of Frank beaming at the audience. She lingered there in the last row, blood pulsing in her neck, all the while watching his eyes, watching to see if they would meet hers. She smiled broadly and thought she saw a glimmer of recognition, a softening around his mouth, but the next moment doubted she had seen it at all.
Frank was gesturing to the front row, and the familiar red hair of Catherine Wright emerged from the audience. Catherine walked to the front and stood beside her husband, her freckled face glowing. His arm was around her back.
Mamah sank down in her chair. Heat filled up the inside of her coat.
On her other side, an old woman rose from her seat. Claptrap, she muttered, pushing past Mamahs knees. Just another little man in a big hat.
Minutes later, out in the hallway, a cluster of women surrounded Frank. Mamah moved slowly with the crowd as people shuffled toward the staircase.
May-mah! he called when he spotted her. He pushed his way over to where she stood. How are you, my friend? He grasped her right hand, gently pulled her out of the crowd into a corner.
Weve meant to call you, she said. Edwin keeps asking when were going to start that garage.
His eyes passed over her face. Will you be home tomorrow? Say eleven?
I will. Unfortunately, Eds not going to be there. But you and I can talk about it.
A smile broke across his face. She felt his hands squeeze down on hers. Ive missed our talks, he said softly.
She lowered her eyes. So have I.
On her walk home, the snow stopped. She paused on the sidewalk to look at her house. Tiny iridescent squares in the stained-glass windows glinted back the late-afternoon sun. She remembered standing in this very spot three years ago, during an open house she and Ed had given after theyd moved in. Women had been sitting along the terrace wall, gazing out toward the street, calling to their children, their faces lit like a row of moons. It had struck Mamah then that her low-slung house looked as small as a raft beside the steamerlike Victorian next door. But what a spectacular raft, with the Maple Leaf Rag drifting out of its front doors, and people draped along its edges.
Edwin had noticed her standing on the sidewalk and come to put his arm around her. We got ourselves a good times house, didnt we? hed said. His face was beaming that day, so full of pride and the excitement of a new beginning. For Mamah, though, the housewarming had felt like the end of something extraordinary.
Excerpted from Loving Frank by Nancy Horan Copyright © 2007 by Nancy Horan. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher
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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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