Rated: E · Short Story · Family · #1316913
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| Charlotte smiled. She already knew she was pretty, but she could be beyond pretty when she set her mind to it. She didn’t know why she cared so much about her looks tonight. It was 6:20 on a Friday night in September. All her friends were at football games or parties, not getting their picture made. Her family had to get their portrait made for the church telephone directory. It was a colossal waste of time in Charlotte’s mind, but still, she might as well look nice. |
Her brown hair, recently cut into a “Chicago” style bob, was curled to perfection. It had taken her 45 minutes, but it looked well worth it. Her makeup was nice. Rose-colored blush defined her high cheekbones even more dramatically; pale pink eye shadow made her eyes, an unusual shade of blue-grey-green stand out. She wondered what boys couldn’t see in her. She was quite alluring, tall, but not a giant, slender, but not a stick. She wore her favorite blouse, black with sheer sleeves and a feathery white pattern. Her black skirt revealed nice legs, marred only by a long, faint scar near the ankle of her left leg. Her black, satin-covered high heels added about three inches to her height, making her a striking 5’11. She grabbed her favorite handbag, a vintage, black silk clutch and flounced out the door.
Five minutes into the drive, conversation with her family began to grow tedious. The conversation was slowly beginning to turn to her less than stellar math grade, so she put the earphones of her Ipod into her ears and ended the exchange with her mother. She closed her eyes and chose a song at random from an immense playlist. Much to her delight the song that started to play was “Killer Queen”, oddly appropriate, and in Charlotte’s snobbish mind, a sign of divine approval.
When they got into the church and up to the second floor, Charlotte changed her gait from a graceful, measured step, to a strut, fairly beating her heels against the grey tile floor in an odd 21st century fanfare, alerting all in the picture area to her arrival. To her dismay though, there was no one whose presence interested her. There was the lady at the desk who was signing people in as they arrived. Charlotte was intimidated by her. She was tall and bulky. Her hair was short, grey, and curly and she had a red face. The small silver butterfly pendant around her neck seemed lost suspended over her rather large bosom.
The music minister and his wife were there. Charlotte had never even seen his wife before. She had been pretty once, now she was more of an aging femme fatale, a character from a Tennessee Williams play. Her soft blonde curls and plump physique reminded Charlotte of an opera singer. Rather a sulky opera singer, but still she seemed a good match for the absent minded, demure music minister.
There was another solid respectable middle-aged couple in the room. They consisted of a burly man with a florid face and silver hair who laughed boisterously at everything said to him, and a thin, petite woman with a pointed face and short clipped brown hair who was mostly silent, although she did occasionally add a quiet point here and there to the chat that had already struck up between Charlotte’s parents and the other adults.
Charlotte was beginning to get bored with the conversation when two more people walked into the room. From the slightly curious glances it was obvious that Charlotte was not the only one who hadn’t seen them before. The pair consisted of a woman and a little girl. They sat down in the only available seats, right next to Charlotte. Charlotte looked them over with obvious distaste. The mother was dressed like a “lady of the night” as Charlotte’s mind rather dramatically phrased it. She was in her mid- to late thirties, and had a cheap, gaudy prettiness. Her hair was peroxide blonde and looked stiff and unnaturally wavy. Her bangs were only about two inches long and looked odd, to say the least. Her eyebrows were dark, her face was haggard, and her green eyes were hard and nervous at the same time. She wore a rose-colored tank top that was thin and low-cut, exposing more than half of her chest. Her tight, faded blue jeans and white canvas slip-on shoes looked out of place in such a conservative atmosphere.
The little girl looked to be about eight, possibly nine. She was a fairly pretty little girl with a mass of curly brown hair, blue-green eyes, and rosy cheeks. She looked somber though, not like most little girls her age. Her long aqua blouse was snagged and worn from too many washings. Under her blouse she wore aqua leggings, which were becoming fuzzy from excess wear. She also carried a little purse, light pink with dangling light pink sequins. She sat down next to Charlotte and squirmed uncomfortably in the chair. Then she saw something on the floor that caught her eye. She stared at it for a few seconds, then her eyes darted to the picture of Jesus on the wall, thence to Charlotte’s eleven-year-old sister, Maya. Her mother, who had been intently following the girl’s gaze, finally said something. “I like your shoes.”
At this little girl, previously so grave and solemn said loudly, “I like your dress.” Maya, who was in a bad mood gave a quiet, curt “Thank you.”
Charlotte looked at the odd little girl next to her with some amazement, “Charming child.” She thought. She had no idea how such an obnoxious voice could belong to such a little girl.
“How old are you?” she demanded.
“Is that your little brother?”
“How old is he?”
“Is that your sister?” She threw her hand in Charlotte’s direction.
Not waiting for an answer she asked, “How old are you?”
“Fifteen.” Charlotte said.
“What’s your name?”
“What’s her name?”
“What’s his name?”
The girl’s mother threw a glance at Charlotte and knew she was getting impatient. “Molly.” She reprimanded the girl only slightly. “She’s autistic, been like that since she was born.” She explained this apologetically, and Charlotte started to feel bad.
“We’re from Virginia.” Molly declared this loudly; obviously she had not been following her mother’s conversation.
“Really?” asked the loud man. “We used to live in Virginia, near Williamsburg.”
“We lived in southern Virginia, on an Air Force base.” Molly’s mother looked more at ease. “My husband was a fighter pilot.” She smiled sadly, “He died about a year ago, so I took Molly and we moved back to Alabama, my parents live in Birmingham.”
Charlotte’s mother, thoroughly uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was headed in, tried to change the subject. “Molly, how old are you?”
“She’s nine, in second grade though. She repeated first. I hope she isn’t going to fall behind again. We left Virginia suddenly, and her school records haven’t come through yet, so she isn’t in Special Ed.” She looked lovingly down at her daughter, who was by this time sprawled out in a chair, obviously bored and not paying any attention to the conversation going on around her. “She’s a lucky little girl. Been showered in prayer since the day she was born. They took her to the ICU right away; couldn’t even suck on a bottle or anything. Just since she started school she’s gone miles. She talks, and walks. She can carry on a coherent conversation. She really is bright, I just think things get lost in translation, on both sides.”
“I love your hair Molly.” Charlotte was surprised to hear herself saying anything at all to the little girl.
“Thanks! It’ll get straighter when I get older. Right, Mama?”
“I don’t know, it might get a little straighter.”
“I think it’s gonna get a lot straighter. Yours got straight when you got old.” Her mother had to smile at that.
“Do you like living in Alabama, or did you like Virginia better?” the desk lady asked.
“Well,” Molly thought for a moment, wearing a serious expression on her face. Charlotte thought she looked a little like Shirley Temple when she did that. “I have to say I liked Virginia.”
“That’s because she only remembers Virginia. We moved all over the place, she was born in Texas. Before she was born we lived in Hawaii. It’s a shame you missed Hawaii, Molly, you would have loved it.” Molly’s head now lay in her mother’s lap. Her mother was running her fingers through that brown mass of curls with a faraway look in her eyes. It was like she was remembering something wonderful. She probably was. Her husband was alive, they were living in paradise, so much less to worry about.
“When can we go to Hawaii, Mama?”
“Maybe we can this summer.”
“Will we drive?”
“No, we would take a plane, you’d like the airplane. It’s like being a bird.” As Molly started to think about this however, an old lady, the photographer came into the little hallway.
“Reynolds.” At that, Molly and her mother stood up and followed the photographer.
As Molly walked past, the music minister, the only person who had not added anything to the conversation, said quietly, “Smile pretty, Molly.”
“I will.” she assured him, and disappeared around the corner.
Three months later, Charlotte picked up the church directory, and opened it to Peterson, her family’s last name. The picture was decent, Charlotte looked posed, her smile looked forced, like her mind had been elsewhere. She tried to remember what she had been thinking about that night. Then she remembered. Molly. She thumbed furiously through the directory, looking for the little girl’s picture. She found it, and as she looked at it, she realized what she had done. She had judged another person without even considering what that had been through. She looked at the picture and remembered the minister’s words. “Smile pretty, Molly.” She had. Her smile was one of joy, and if the smile is a reflection of the soul, then Molly was an angel. And Charlotte, a mere mortal, had no right to judge an angel.