by Hillary Leftwich
A man respects a woman as much as she respects herself.
Evelyn sets her hair, allows her slip to fall over her body like a second skin. The silk is like warm flesh against her. She takes a moment to picture his hands on her, finishes getting dressed. She has dishes from her breakfast to wash. Barry, her fiancé, expects this to be done before she leaves. He is still sleeping, his body akimbo and half hidden by sheets, exposing certain parts. An arm here. A foot there. She considers kissing him briefly then dismisses the notion. She won’t wake him. By the time she leaves Barry’s house it is still early morning.
Always practice applying your lipstick in the mirror before you attempt this in public. No one wants to see a woman with sloppy makeup. A messy face is a messy wife.
Evelyn sits on the train, her purse in her lap as she carefully peels off her gloves. She applies her lipstick while the women sitting across the aisle flick their gazes at her. She knows it is perfect. She has practiced in the mirror a thousand times. When she is finished, she returns the lipstick to her purse and slips her gloves back on. She concentrates on the scenery blurring by her outside the train’s window. Cradles her curls like she is weighing fruit with the palms of her gloved hands. Counts down the minutes in her head.
Prepare the children. They are little treasures and your husband would like to see them playing the part.
In the morning Evelyn makes her lunch and packs it in a brown paper bag. A ham and cheese sandwich. A bruised apple. She has lived with her brother and sister-in-law since their father passed away. Most nights, when she isn’t with Barry, she joins them for a quick dinner, excusing herself to her room to read or stare out the window. She can’t see the city from where she lives but she can recall the Empire State Building in her head. When she was nine, her father told her brothers and sisters everything he knew about its history. How it was built during The Depression. How weeks prior to its construction, men were jumping off of buildings, not building them. Evelyn’s mother snorted, knocking back the rest of her drink. Her hair was loose and unkempt. The ice cubes settling in her cocktail glass made sad, tiny notes as they clinked together.
Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.
Evelyn arrives at Penn Station around 9 am and walks across the street to the Governor Clinton Hotel. Inside, she flashes a smile to the man behind the counter, asks him for a piece of paper and a pen. She composes a short note, making sure to loop all of her L’s and slash her T’s. When she finishes, she folds the note into her purse, returns the pen, and walks down the block. She loves the sound her heels make as she clicks her way down the sidewalk. How her footsteps bounce off the shop windows and alleyways. It reminds her she still exists. She catches herself in a shop’s window and pauses to fix her hair, straightens her skirt. A man in a business suit walks by, stares. When she reaches the building she doesn’t look up. She can feel its shadow melting over her. She clears her throat, adjusts her gloves. Her light brown curls bounce against her neck like summer waves. She purchases her ticket to the top of the building. Presses the elevator button. Counts up the numbers in her head.
A good wife always knows her place.
On the observation deck the wind is an angry child. Evelyn is wearing her Sunday best: a cream silk blouse, pleated gray skirt, church heels. A white scarf draped over her tweed coat. Mother’s pearls. Barry’s engagement ring is concealed under her gloves. The lavish diamond protrudes from her finger like a tombstone. There are two other people on the deck: a young man and woman, their backs turned to her, their hands woven together. Pigeons circle as she steps toward the guardrail. She removes her coat, folds it over the deck wall. Opens her pocketbook, takes out her make-up kit, freshens her lipstick. She pulls out the note she wrote earlier in the hotel lobby, scans the lines, pushes it neatly back inside. Sets her handbag next to her coat. She climbs over the rail and stands on top of the concrete wall. The wind picks at her, adjusting her hair and skirt like nagging bridesmaids’ hands. Her scarf wiggles free from her neck, floating down to the streets below, a relinquished flag. Evelyn clutches her mother’s pearls cradling her neck, looks back once at the couple behind her. They must be in love. They don’t even look her way as her heels scrape the concrete. She remembers when she was six, twirling around and around in her puffiest skirt until she collapsed, dizzy. Her older brother tugged her off the floor and towards the open bedroom window, swearing on their mother’s grave that if she jumped she would float down just like Alice in Wonderland.