Beauty, like truth, is enduring. But only one can set you free.
- Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- THOMAS NELSON
- NOOK Book
- Sales rank:
- File size:
- 1 MB
Read an Excerpt
The INHERITANCE of BEAUTYA Novel
By NICOLE SEITZ
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Nicole Seitz
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEighty-something years later ...
It started when Miss Magnolia got this great big package in the mail on the very same day Mister Joe moved in, just a few doors down from her. At the time, I didn't put two and two together, but I know better now. Something was different about that very morning—the air was cool and crisp on an August day, the birds were quiet, and the cat was prowling some other corner of the house, not the first floor like it usually did ... waiting for some old folk to die.
Nobody died in Harmony House that day the man come hightailing in the front door, carrying that package all in a hurry. None of us aides had ever seen anything that big, so we was all eyes, you know, wondering who it could be for. I seen it said Mrs. Magnolia Black Jacobs, and I remember feeling pride 'cause she was one of my own and being so surprised 'cause I never known she was a Black. In the two years I'd known her, she'd just been Mrs. Jacobs, Miss Magnolia, George's wife, to me. That package hinted she had a life before—before Harmony House, before age came and stole her away, before she ever married George Jacobs and had a family with him.
I walked with the package man back to room 101 and asked what was in it. "Don't know," he said. "Maybe some kind of painting?" It was a large, rectangular thing. The address was from New York City, but there weren't a sender's name.
I opened the door and found Mister George and Miss Magnolia still sleeping sound in their bed. It had been a rough go for them, 'specially the last six months, for Miss Magnolia losing her mind with each pin stroke, losing her independence, her ability to communicate. But for Mister George, I declare, it was even worse. For a while, his wife seemed to be forgetting everything and everybody. Even him, her husband of seventy-some years.
After the man helped me heft that package into the room, I leaned it up against the wall. I tiptoed on over to the bed, and Mister George stirred. "Goo-ood mornin', Mister George," I sang in my brightest, happiest voice, wanting to wake him with a Southern smile. He deserved some sweetness.
* * *
I open my eyes and see Miss Annie hovering over Maggie, her large frame blocking the sunlight, her face hard to wake up to. I've been spoiled by my lovely wife. "Good mornin'? Sheesh, maybe for you—you got all your teeth." I reach over and fumble, trying to find my glass.
"Over to the right a little," says Annie. As I reach into the water, I realize what a stupid thing I just said. Miss Annie, the colored woman who takes care of my wife, has terrible teeth, all crooked and small and yellow, like little bits of corn left out in the field too long. And a face like a beat-up frying pan, but sweet like an angel. Think, George, before you speak. That part's never come easy for me, thinking. I pop my teeth in.
"Ah gee, I didn't mean ... I'm sorry, Annie."
"For what? I ain't understood a thin' you said, what with your no-tooth self." She winks at me. "You sleep good?"
"Yeah, reckon. Fair to middlin'."
"Mornin', Miss Magnolia," Annie sings. "How we doin' today? Rise and shine. The Lawd done give us a new day together."
I turn over because I don't really know how my wife is going to react to being woken up. She doesn't know me anymore, and I'm pretty sure she doesn't know Annie either, and I just don't want to see a whole production right now. It's something that's hard to prepare for, and you never know when it might happen. Not too long ago when Maggie could still speak, Miss Annie was putting her to bed one night, and she turned and looked at me and said, "Where's he sleeping?"
"Right here, in the bed."
"With me?" said Maggie.
"Of course," said Annie.
"The hell he is."
My wife had never used a profane word in all her years, but it's not what bothered me. I was a stranger now, just like everybody else.
Miss Annie knows enough to leave me alone every now and again. Occasionally she finds me lying on a bed of white towels in the bathtub, crusty tracks on my face from crying half the night. It's been hard. I won't lie.
I sit up slow and hang my legs off the bed, struggle to find my slippers. I rub the back of my head and my whiskers, my unshaven face. And I tell her about my dream, hoping to smooth over any unpleasantness on the other side of the bed.
"Miss Annie, last night I was young again. How 'bout that."
"Yes, ma'am. Old George. Dreamt I was sitting at this watering hole we used to have near the farm. I'dsit there as a boy, eight, nine, ten ... with crickets or worms on my hook. I'dget bream on a good day, catfish any other. Sometimes we'd sell 'em at the store, Jacobs Mercantile. In this dream I had, there was somethin' on the line. It was a big somethin'. I was pullin', haulin' it in. The water was dark and I couldn't see, but I was pullin' and pullin' and pullin' and—"
"Well, what it was?"
I realize my hands are stretched out like I'm fishing, so I stop. I turn and watch Annie helping my wife sit up, the powder white of her hair like snow on her sweet little head. I miss touching that softness. I miss those shoulders, that body. I miss the woman who knew me. I miss my wife. But I'm not complaining. She's still here, see. That's more than some people can say.
"No, Annie, I never did see what it was. I woke up before I could reel it in. I tell you this though, it was somethin' mighty big. And in that dream I felt like if I could just pull that thing up from out of the water, it'd be like winnin' the lottery, like finding a pot of gold, you know?"
"Magic fishes, imagine. You find one, bring it to me, hear? Miss Annie gonna fry it up and get rich. There you go, Miss Magnolia. Give me this leg. All right. Careful now."
I could help Annie get my wife into her wheelchair. She's thirty-something years old and strong as an ox, but still, I could help her. I might be in my nineties, but I'm not use- less. This morning I just don't feel like it. I can't get my mind off of that dream. I can't stop thinking what could have been under that water. Maybe tonight I can go back to sleep and figure it out, what I was supposed to pull up. Maybe there's treasure waiting for this old man, after all ... though at this age, what in the world would I do with it?
"I brung you somethin', Miss Magnolia," says Annie as she goes to the windows and throws open the blue curtains. Yellow morning spills over everything, and I rub my eyes. I slide my feet into my slippers and hold myself propped on the edge of the bed.
"Good-looking white man drivin' a FedEx truck brung you this great big package here. All the way from New York City."
New York? I pick up my glasses and stick them on my nose. Hey diddle, she's right. The biggest box I've ever seen, long and skinny, is leaning up against the wall behind the card table. It's almost too big for our little room.
"What is it?"
"Don't know. You want me to open it?"
I tell her yes and look over at Maggie who's studying the big brown box as if Miss Annie's let a perfect stranger into the room. "There's a letter opener in that drawer there."
Annie grabs the box and attacks the edges, sliding down one seam, across another, and my heart stirs. What in the world has come for my wife? Who does she know who would ever send her anything, except for Alex or Gracie, and they could deliver it themselves if they needed to.
"Alrighty then," she says, pulling the side open and reach- ing in. "Wrapped it good." She pulls it out, huffing. Finally she cuts the Bubble Wrap off and there we are, Annie standing back, and me on the bed, Maggie in her wheelchair, staring at the biggest, most beautiful portrait of a young girl I've ever seen. She's lying on her stomach at a swimming pool, pushed up on her elbows, with wavy hair and full bosoms and all sorts of curves.
"You okay?" Annie asks, as I must have gasped out loud.
"I don't believe it. It ... it's Maggie."
"Naw. Wait. Lawd have mercy, sure 'nough! I never seen a body so lovely ... Miss Magnolia?" She crosses over to her and pushes her wheelchair to within two feet of the photograph. "You see this? This is you, ain't it? Weren't you were the prettiest thang? I swanny. Look at you!"
I watch Maggie, sitting there with her hair still uncombed and white and pink pajamas on. She studies the life-sized portrait of herself in a bathing suit. It must have been taken around the time we were married—she's only, what, seventeen or eighteen? Maggie lifts a trembling hand and puts it in her mouth. "Annie, grab her a washcloth."
She does so, and Maggie chomps down on it instead of her raw knuckles.
"How come you never told me she was such a beauty? Where's this picture from? Some magazine?"
"This is new to me ... unless I've forgotten," I say now, low and inadequate. "Which is entirely possible. I—my goodness. No. I've never seen this photo in my life."
It dawns on me then: There are things I still don't know about my wife. After all these years, how can it be? But then again, there are things she still doesn't know about me either.
The thought of it all makes me want to tell Miss Annie to leave us alone awhile. I've got to study the young face of my wife. It's the pretty face that used to smile only for me. Apparently she smiled for some other creep too, somebody living in New York City now.
Maggie and I are walking down the hall toward the dining room. Well, I'm walking, anyway, and she's riding quietly in her wheelchair. From here, all I can see is the white-soft top of her head. I lean down and kiss it.
We tried to prepare as best we could, Maggie and I, for getting older. We talked about what would happen if one of us should go first, about how we would get along, would we remarry, that sort of thing. Of course, I said no way in the world, but she teased that she might—and she might have, but we'll never know now. She's stuck with me for the duration.
What we didn't prepare for was just how long we might live. You read about some Chinaman who drinks green tea and lives to be 114, or one of those Joes in the Bible who lived to be a hundred, maybe seven hundred years old, but you know that's not going to happen to you. Well, now, look, it's nearly happened to me. To us. We're antiques.
Now that Maggie's quiet, it's lonely at times. I live off my sense of humor, my good looks, my friendships. We have friends who still come to see us every morning for breakfast, Emmet and Jessica—they live upstairs. Emmet and me, we're rare in this home. I'dsay, oh, eight out of ten here are women, widows. For married men like Emmet and me, don't mean a thing, it just means sometimes we got to change a lightbulb or fix a television set, or fight off the affections of a lonely old lady with wandering hands.
Emmet volunteers to cheer up the single ladies on our Alzheimer's ward. All it takes is a smile and a caring look, really. He walks them, one by one, to the dining room, mixing them up, the talkers with the nontalkers. Here he comes now with Smiling Betty on his arm. She's a looker still, but she doesn't talk much. Just smiles. Not a bad date. He could do worse.
"George," he says.
"Miss Betty, how you doin' today?" I say, charming her. She just smiles. "Well, that's nice. Emmet, you lookin' sharp today. Mighty sharp."
"Why, thank you, George. Say, you heard the one about the three old sisters in their nineties?"
"Can't say as I have, sir."
"The oldest was upstairs," says Emmet, rubbing his lanky Irish hands together to warm up his jokester. "She was putting her foot in the water when she called out, 'Hey! Can anybody remember if I was getting in or out of the bathtub?' The middle sister put her foot on the stairs to come and help, but stopped. 'Can anyone tell me if I was going up or down the stairs?' she said. The youngest sister was on the couch, petting her little dog, rolling her eyes, listening to the whole thing. She thought to herself, Sheesh, I hope I never get that senile, and she knocked on wood for good measure. Then the dog started barking, and she said, 'Hold on, I'll come up there and help you two just as soon as I see who's at the door.'" I laugh and Emmet looks over at Miss Betty. "Get it? The dog was barking? She was senile? Oh, never mind. Maybe it'll hit you later. I'll see you at breakfast, George? Let me just go walk Miss Betty to her chair."
"See you then, good man. See you then."
I watch as they shuffle by. I may be old as the hills, but it doesn't mean I feel like I belong here. Look at all these old folks. Dang, if they aren't cute. I wonder if anyone thinks I'm cute. I wish my wife still did.
Betty's so cute because she smiles all the time. What's not to like there? Maggie used to smile. At me, and apparently other folks too. I'm reminded of it in life-sized fashion these days. We put that Bathing Beauty picture of Maggie up against the wall. Not sure what to do with something that big or that beautiful. It hurts me to look at it. I remember feelings I had down deep inside from so long ago. Feelings of being a man. Things I've shoved aside for so many years. My wife. My wife, Magnolia, was the prettiest gal I'd ever seen. Still is. For the life of me, I cannot figure out who would send her such a large photograph of herself. Some old flame? Some secret admirer? It's driving me crazy. I know of no man.
I'd love to see Maggie smile again like that. At me. For real. But she doesn't think I'm funny anymore. Maybe that's it.
I push Maggie's chair to the table and scoot her up nice and close. I take a napkin and drape it across her lap. "Here you go, dear." Then I put my fingers to my ears and wiggle them as I'm sticking my tongue out and bugging my eyes at her. Nothing. No smile at all. She looks at me with those faded blue eyes as if they've been washed a few too many times. She blinks. I'll take that as, Thank you, George. I love you. And you're still funnier than a one-winged chicken.
Emmet comes back to the table, leans in, and kisses Maggie on her cheek. She startles and I study her face to see if there's any recognition there. Is it the same way she looks at me? Like I'm crazy? Some old coot? She's always been fond of Emmet. I think I detect a smile, some curling of the lips. Yes.
"Good morning, Maggie," Emmet says, loudly in case she can't hear him. "Do you know who I am?"
"Sure she does. You're the one who used to eat us out of house and home when you'dcome over to supper. Come with a bottle of wine, leave with all the corn bread. You remember that, Maggie? You remember Emmet, Jessica's husband?"
Maggie looks at neither one of us, but at a little square saltshaker on the table. She picks it up with slow hands and turns it over, watching the grains of salt roll onto her empty plate like seconds.
"There now. We'll get you some breakfast in just a min- ute," I say. "You want grits this mornin'? Oatmeal?" I look at the salt in the plate. "Grits it is."
Emmet is staring at something behind me. He stands up slowly and pulls a chair out beside him for his wife.
"Good morning, Jessica," I say. "How are you?"
"I am here for another day. C'est la vie," she says.
"Beats the alternative."
Jessica is wearing her nicest housecoat. Looks like an oriental thing with red and gold dragons on it. Black wig. She's French. Always dressed to the hilt. Was an opera singer once, and well, once an opera singer, always an opera singer I guess. Just like I'll always be a corn farmer, though I've got no corn anymore. And Emmet will always be a taxi driver, even though he can't see to drive. And Maggie, well, she'll always be the prettiest girl in the world ... and my bride.
We all sit down in our respective seats just as we do every morning for the past, I don't know how many years. Fantasia, our waitress, sweet colored girl, comes over like she does every day. "Mornin', what can I get you? The regular?" She sets a big pot of coffee in the middle of the table with cream and sugar packets and spoons for stirring.
Excerpted from The INHERITANCE of BEAUTY by NICOLE SEITZ Copyright © 2011 by Nicole Seitz. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >