The next part I remember is walking up a flight of wooden stairs to the second floor of my father's workplace which was lit partly by gaslight and partly by slanting shafts of sun from the big windows. Junior clerks sat on high stools before inclined desks, scratching out lists and letters, while my father watched from a high platform that afforded him a godlike view of their labors. When he greeted my mother, the more astute clerks removed their high short-brimmed black hats and the others followed the example. He took me from my mother, kissed me, handed me back. He said that he was happy that she was feeling stronger, what a surprise, and she must never to do it again, and then he turned to one of the clerks and told him to stop what he was doing to take us home in a company wagon.
When we were halfway down the steps my mother apologized to the clerk and said that she must stop to rest. She sat down on the steps. I sat beside her. The clerk stood behind us thinking God knows what. She coughed: a familiar sound. Whenever I played at being a mama, at a certain point I would interrupt my pretended chore to rest, saying, "Mercy." I would cough, with a reflective, listening, diagnostic expression, as if the cough contained a message, and put a hand on my chest or side. Then, grinding my teeth and wincing I'd get up and return to my imaginary work.
Often I would tell my dolls to hurry up and learn to be good, since I would not always be there to teach them.
Excerpted from Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies. Copyright © 2014 by Phillip Margulies. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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