. Another scene from my WIP.
It was the schoolteacher that most broke my heart.
I held her gently in my hand, the delicate figure with her prim, placid face. The porcelain was hard and cool and smooth under my fingertips, the texture as soothing as a long-held note from a clarinet. She stood with her weight on one foot so that one hip under a slim skirt was higher than the other. In one hand she held an open book, spread like bird's wings, and in the other a pointer; her delicately painted eyes fixed on the book through narrow glasses, her dark hair rolled neatly behind her head.
She was my mother's favorite.
They'd bought it on their honeymoon, laughing at how it resembled her: Lorraine Brouillard Theriault, elementary-school teacher, stern yet gentle, devoted to learning and to her students, always with a book in her hand. My mother jokingly protested that she'd never worn her hair in a bun; but she never denied that that graceful porcelain lady could have been her spiritual twin.
I remember my cousin Delphine telling me how my mother had teased her, telling her she had been the model for it. She hadn’t teased me that way; my nature was too serious. I either would have believed her completely or not at all.
My mother was always so careful with her schoolteacher. As a child I had coveted it. I wanted to hold her, play with her. But my mother would never let me. Once she let me sit on the couch, and she put the figurine into my small hands—“be very careful, Claire”—and I gazed at it in wonder, turning it very slowly, letting my fingertips enjoy the silky smoothness of the porcelain, its coolness on my palm.
That day, the day she let me hold the figurine, I was five. She said to me, “When you’re sixteen, if you still want this, I’ll give it to you for your birthday.”
The promise should have made me happy. Instead I said, “That’s such a long time away.”
“Good things are worth waiting for,” she said. She stood up and put the figurine back, then sat down next to me again. “I want to tell you something, Claire.”
She took my hand and held it against her belly. My mother’s belly was round, rounder than it used to be, though I couldn’t see it now because she’d started wearing loose blouses that looked like tents. “You’re going to have a baby brother or sister.”
I took this in as thoughtfully as possible for a five-year-old. Then I said, “Can I still have the teacher lady, even if I have a brother or sister?”
My mother laughed and hugged me. “Promise,” she said.
My sixteenth birthday came and went. My mother never mentioned the figurine, and I never asked. It seemed to belong to a different life. The promise, like everything else that came before Toby, was severed with his death.
I would have to start getting rid of most of my mother's things, but this one I would keep. It represented her to me. What kind of symbol would exemplify my life?