Lillies in Moonlight
- Wednesday, May 18, 2011
With gentleness Lilly couldn’t have imagined, the mother answered each child. Yes, the lady was pretty, but no, she was far too busy to come home for lunch. This response was given with a wary eye across the top of Teddy’s grubby face, but Lilly just smiled and winked.
It was enough that they thought she was pretty.
Lilly checked to be sure the silver lid was screwed on tight. Then, as the little family debated whether they should play on the swings or the slide, she reached inside baby John’s pram and nestled the lavender bath salts within his blankets. She quickly closed the latches on her leather case and lifted it off the bench.
Before she could get away, however, the mother called out, “Hey! I told you I can’t afford that.”
Lilly waved a hand behind her, bangles clanking. “Forget it. You qualify for the free sample of the day.”
I’m watching my figure.”
Three blocks later Lilly sat down again—this time at a drugstore counter—and filled out a sales slip. She thought back to the nearly empty powder box on the washstand in her room at Mrs. Myrtle’s Hotel for Women. She had a little more than three dollars in there—two of which were meant for next week’s rent. A couple of big sales would make up the difference, but she’d need to find better hunting ground.
“Hey, lady.” The man behind the counter wore a blue-and-whitestriped shirt and blue suspenders. His gray hair was thick and curly; the glasses on the bottom of his nose gave a kindly effect absent from his voice.
“This isn’t your office. You going to order something?”
Lilly dug into her little beaded purse and pulled out a dime. “Two Coca-Colas.” One for later tonight with the supper included in her two-dollar-a-week rent.
The man behind the counter popped the top off one of the bottles before swiping the dime across the polished wood. Lilly quietly unwrapped her sandwich, keeping it hidden on her lap as she tore off one bite at a time, chewing slowly and washing it down with sips of the cold, dark, fizzing soda.
Behind her the bell rang, and though she didn’t know another soul in this part of town, Lilly spun on her stool to see who walked in. Two women, probably in their fifties, wearing identical gray dresses, white aprons, and ugly brown shoes.
“Afternoon, ladies.” Now the man behind the counter lived up to his friendly visage.
“Two egg salads? Coffee?”
“Oh, it’s payday,” one of the women said. “Make it two chocolate sodas, right, Annie?”
“You read my mind,” Annie said, and the two of them giggled as if it were truly funny.
“Sounds good,” Lilly said. She imagined herself part of their conversation, but they responded with a dismissive glare. The few bites of sandwich sat heavy in her stomach, and she wished for just a minute she were sharing a sticky table with little June and Teddy.
Deciding these women weren’t worthy of her smile, she drooped her face into an exaggerated pout and twirled back to her sandwich, giving the women a view of the back of her neck, imitating the pose she’d seen on the cover of the Vogue magazine on the newsstand in the corner.
She continued with her sandwich and soda and sales-ticket book, all the while listening to Annie and her friend. Apparently their mistresses were at a weekly country club luncheon, meaning somewhere within walking distance there was a neighborhood with money.
Lilly tore her sandwich into smaller and smaller pieces, making it last long enough for Annie and her friend to finish their egg salads and chocolate sodas. Ed was not fooled for a moment; he’d come close to catching her midbite several times, but every time he asked if she wanted to order something, Lilly smiled her brightest and said no, thank you, she was watching her figure.
At ten minutes to one, the maids slurped the last of their sodas and Bid Ed good-bye. Lilly swigged the last of her Coca-Cola—warm and flat by now—and carefully folded the square of wax paper to put back in her leather case. It would wrap tomorrow’s sandwich.
“See ya, Ed.” She gave a little salute, bangles clanking, and set the door’s bell ringing.
With the women in gray about twenty paces ahead, Lilly straightened her shoulders, refreshed her grip on the case’s handle, and took a determined step. Fortune could not be far away.
Excerpted from Lilies in Moonlight by Allison Pittman. Copyright 2011 by Allison Pittman. Excerpted by permission of multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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