“Look, lady. I don’t usually have time to take a bath. I got three kids.”

“Haven’t you got a husband?”

“He’s a manager down at Parson’s. Sometimes he works late.”

“So you never have time to bathe?” Lilly widened her eyes, creating an image of innocent incredulity.

“’Course I do.” The mother set baby John back in his pram and handed him a bottle of milk, a veneer of resentment on her smile. “Just nothing long and luxurious is all.”

Lilly pouted. “Poor dear.” She lifted the tan leather case and set it beside her.

Two clicks of the brass latches and she had a wide-mouthed jar— frosted pink glass with a silver-painted lid. “There’s no reason you can’t pamper yourself with even the shortest dip. It’s not the length of the soak but the quality of the soap, that’s what we say at Dalliance Cosmetics.”

“I use Ivory—”

“As well you should, what with the little ones and all. But how about something like this?” Lilly rose from her bench and crossed the path, carrying the wide-mouthed jar aloft like a treasure. Slowly, holding the jar just under the mother’s nose, she twisted the silver lid, wincing a bit at the glare from the bouncing sun. “Bath salts. Lavender. Here, just take a whiff.”

The mother closed her eyes, revealing thin lids with tiny blue branching veins. Perhaps it was the shiny silver lid that caught the attention of the now sticky and sweaty children, because they abandoned their swings and ran pell-mell toward their mother.

Lilly stopped them in their tracks with nothing more than a kohl-eyed glare. “Scram, kids. This is for your ma.”

The mother opened her eyes again, transformed. Soft and content.

“Very nice.”

“Not bad for a nickel, is it?”

“A nickel? You’re kidding.”

“Well, the whole jar is a dollar thirty, but there’s enough in here for at least twenty-five baths, so that works out to about a nickel a bath. Don’t you think at the end of a day you deserve a nickel’s worth of bath salts all to yourself?”

Perhaps some innate protective sense had taken over the children, because once again they abandoned their swinging and were running— more cautiously this time—toward the benches. Now the mother, with her arms crossed, looked at them with narrowed eyes.

“Teddy and June! You two go play or I’m going to give you a spank right here and now and another when we get home!”

Teddy and June obeyed, taking sulky backward steps so their selfish mother could gaze upon their sweaty, sticky, grubby faces for as long as possible.

The mother scooted an inch or so away from Lilly. “Put that lid back on. I haven’t got a dollar thirty to spend on bath salts.”

“Don’t forget about the beauty of the jar itself,” Lilly said, grasping to close the deal. “When you’ve finished with the lavender, you can always refill it with something from the five-and-dime, and none of your friends need be the wiser. With this beautiful Dalliance Cosmetics jar on your powder-room shelf, you’ll be the envy—”

“I don’t have friends who visit my powder room.” The mother lifted baby John out of the pram again and held him close, resting her chin on top of his bald little head.

Teddy and June would not be denied a third time. They scrambled onto the bench, wedging their way between the two women.

Lilly leaped to her feet, barely snatching the pretty pink jar from the grimy clutches of June.

Once again the mother’s manner softened. What sternness she had dissolved like so many bath salts as her children peppered her with silly questions. Who was this lady? What was in the jar? Could they have a Coca-Cola with their lunch when they got home? And could the lady come have lunch with them? And wasn’t she pretty?