"What's going on?" The voice came from somewhere above her head. "Mom? Mom, are you okay?"
Mattie brought her hand up across her forehead to shield her eyes from the sun's harsh rays, focused on her like a flashlight, and stared toward the large cedar deck that extended off the kitchen at the back of her red-brick, two-story home. Her daughter Kim was silhouetted against the autumn sky, the sun's glare rendering the teenager's normally outsize features curiously indistinct. It didn't matter. Mattie knew the lines and contours of her only child's face and figure as well as her own, maybe better: the huge blue eyes that were darker than her father's, bigger than her mother's; the long, straight nose she'd inherited from her dad; the bow-shaped mouth she'd gotten from her mom; the budding breasts that had skipped a generation, moving directly from Mattie's mother to her child, and that were, even at the tender age of fifteen, already a force to be reckoned with. Kim was tall, like both her parents, and skinny, as her mother had been at her age, although her posture was much better than Mattie's had been at fifteen, better, in fact, than it was now. Kim didn't have to be reminded to push her shoulders back or hold her head up high, and as she leaned against the sturdy wood slats of the railing, swaying like a young sapling in a gentle breeze, Mattie marveled at her daughter's easy confidence, wondering whether she'd played any part in its development at all.
"Are you all right?" Kim asked again, craning her long, elegant neck toward the pool. Her shoulder-length, naturally blond hair was pulled tightly back against her scalp and twisted into a neat little bun at the top of her head. Her Miss Grundy look, Mattie sometimes teased. "Is someone there with you?"
"I'm fine," Mattie said, although her continued coughing rendered the words unintelligible, and she had to repeat them. "I'm fine," she said again, then laughed out loud.
"What's so funny?" Kim giggled, a slight, trepid sound seeking inclusion into whatever it was her mother found so amusing.
"My foot fell asleep," Mattie told her, gradually lowering both feet to the bottom of the pool, relieved to find herself standing.
"While you were swimming?"
"Yeah. Funny, huh?"
Kim shrugged, a shrug that said, Not that funny, not laugh-out-loud funny, and leaned further forward, out of the shadow. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine. I just swallowed a mouthful of water." Mattie coughed again, as if for emphasis. She noticed that Kim was wearing her leather jacket, and for the first time that morning became aware of the late September chill.
"I'm going to school now," Kim said, then didn't move. "What are you up to today?"
"I have an appointment this afternoon with a client to look at some photographs."
"What about this morning?"
"Dad's giving his summation to the jury this morning," Kim stated.
Mattie nodded, not sure where this conversation was headed. She looked toward the large maple tree that loomed majestically over her neighbor's backyard, at the deep red that was seeping into the green foliage, as if the leaves were slowly bleeding to death, and waited for her daughter to continue.
"I bet he'd really appreciate it if you were to go to the courthouse to cheer him on. You know, like you do when I'm in a school play. For support and stuff."
And stuff, Mattie thought, but didn't say, choosing to cough instead.
"Anyway, I'm going now."
"Okay, sweetie. Have a good day."
"You too. Give Dad a kiss for me for good luck."
"Have a good day," Mattie repeated, watching Kim disappear inside the house. Alone again, she closed her eyes, allowing her body to sink below the water's smooth surface. Water immediately covered her mouth and filled her ears, silencing the white noise of nature, blocking out the casual sounds of morning. No longer were dogs barking in neighboring yards, birds singing in nearby trees, cars honking their impatience on the street. Everything was quiet, peaceful, and still. There were no more faithless husbands, no more inquiring teenage minds.
Copyright © 2000 by Joy Fielding
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