She sniffs. "If you like that sort of thing. It's too goopy. Blatantly sentimental."
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were still jealous."
They stand side by side in the hall, a man and a woman, oblivious to my presence, absorbed in the outsized oil painting on the wall. I didn't notice it on my way in and I probably would've walked right past it again, but the energy of their focus draws my attention.
It's a portrait of a woman. Wearing some kind of exotic costume. My gaze climbs from her sandaled brown feet to the long white dress hemmed with a wide geometric border design in black and turquoise. The loose sleeves drape softly just to the elbows, and a black sleeveless tunic clings to the outline of her hip.
Then I get to her face.
I've heard the phrase "shock of recognition," but I never understood what it meant till now. It's not the simple recognition of a person you might know or a place that looks familiar. It's the recognition of a truth that shines in your eyes like a bright light, whiting out everything else. It's that recognition that makes your knees shake and your mouth go dry. The recognition that empties you of yourself.
I take two steps straight backward to stand and stare while my heart bangs against my ribs. Long dark hair, pulled austerely away from her face, tumbles loose down her back. The mouth--full lower lip and narrow upper lip. The long, straight nose. Eyes--one dark brown, one amber. Her face is a mirror image of my own.
The air feels suddenly thick and shimmery, like heat waves rising from a road. My eyes burn, too big for my head, which in turn is too big for my body, too heavy to hold up.
The conversation beside me has dwindled into silence. Have they stopped talking or am I not hearing? The first sound to cut through is the little plopping noises of baby rellenos hitting the Saltillo tile floor.
"Miss? Are you all right?" His words are muffled but real enough to anchor me and keep me from drifting away. I turn in their general direction just as the trays are lifted from my hands. Concern becomes surprise, and surprise deepens into shock when he gets a straight-on look at me.
"You'd better sit down," he says.
Then the woman's voice. "Ho-lee shit."
A straight wooden chair materializes under me. "Lindsey, get her a brandy. Over there on the desk." In a minute he's putting a glass in my hand, guiding it to my mouth. I suck in too much at once and it explodes in my head, making me cough, filling my eyes with tears. He takes the glass away. Through the blur I see two intact trays of rellenos on the table under the painting. The rest are in a heap on the floor. Oh God. Dale's going to shit pink fuzz. I have it in my mind that I can salvage some of them, but when I try to get down on the floor, my head swims.
"Better not make any sudden moves just yet." The woman comes out of the bathroom holding a washcloth. "Put this on the back of your neck, honey." She's sort of pretty, with ash blond hair and a smoker's voice.
I lay the cool cloth on my neck, as directed, and it does make me feel somewhat more in the moment.
"I'm sorry," I manage.
The man, who's been watching me intently all this time, suddenly comes to life. "I can't believe it," he says. "This is beyond-" The woman clears her throat noisily. "Well . . . I think I'll just go make myself irresistible and find rich husband number three."
The sound of the door closing behind her is exaggerated in the silence and I sit motionless, eyes fastened on the picture of my mother.
"Where on earth did you come from?" His voice is so soft, I wonder for a minute if I imagined it. I probably look like I don't remember where I came from, so he offers, "I'm Paul DeGraf."
The foregoing is excerpted from Isabel's Daughter by Judith Ryan Hendricks. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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