Geraldine Hoffman was an American who had lived in Paris over forty years, having become an expatriate in 1966 when she was thirty. While she retained a dual citizenship, she’d always thought of herself as a guest in France. She enjoyed the country’s slower pace, a place where people put a value on art and culture. Some might have said she was a snob, but she didn’t agree.
Unmarried, the former principal dancer with the Oregon Ballet Company and later with the Paris Opera Ballet, she’d lived for her art and when, at the age of forty-three, dancing was no longer a joy, when she feared she could no longer attain the perfection she demanded of herself, she left the stage and turned her hand to writing poetry. But living for art didn’t make her an elitist.
To be honest, her writing was of modest quality but she did publish in several journals, and had one slim volume of her works released when she was in her fifties. The book attracted the positive attention of a few critics, but she suspected the praise was more a transfer of allegiance from those who admired her as a dancer than to her skills as a poet. She recognized her talents were limited and, over time, she fell more to reading — a habit which led her to a life of quiet solitude.
She didn’t mind living alone. Her large, third floor apartment in the heart of the city gave her a splendid view overlooking the Observatoire-Jardin R. Cavelier de la Salle, an esplanade that led into the Luxembourg Gardens. She enjoyed peering down at people strolling through the park but seldom joined them. Somehow, she never felt a part of their world and feared being among them would make her feel lonely. She had no reason to feel that way, but as the saying goes, during the course of her life, she had often felt like a fish out of water.
Her affection for her current environs had more to do with its ambience than its beauty. Something about the place evoked a longing which she was unable to identify… No, that wasn’t quite true. Sometimes a memory came to her like a fragment from the past. In these moments, she could almost grasp…almost understand her yearning; but the minute she tried to hold on to it, the feeling faded like a passing fragrance and no amount of willing it back ever succeeded. Heaven knows, she’d tried to recapture that recollection, again and again, but her efforts always met with disappointment. The experience left her wistful, melancholy and over time, a malaise took hold of her so that she became isolated from her friends, preferring to observe the world as if it, too, were a distant memory.
Eventually, many of her acquaintances tired of her excuses to avoid their company. When she even refused to attend the ballet, they shook their heads and over time, drifted away.
No doubt, these friends thought she was growing strange and there were times when she had to agree, times when she was visited by notions that might have frightened them. Well, what did it matter what they thought, she’d shrugged. There was no choosing a new path now. She had only a few more years of robust health left to her. And in her own way, she was happy… wasn’t she?
Geraldine had one friend who was persistent in keeping contact, however. Strangely enough she was a woman with whom the dancer felt she had little in common. Nonetheless, Enid Galliard made a habit of fluttering across the threshold of her friend’s apartment, unannounced and at any hour, like an ill-timed breeze. What’s more she was always breathless and seemed to be in the midst of a sentence, as if she were chasing a conversation that had arrived before her. The habit was one Geraldine found bewildering, but she didn’t care enough to correct the habit. The woman’s remarks were seldom important and usually centered around Enid’s grandchildren, three in number, a boy and two girls, who where nothing short, in Enid’s opinion, of being among the most gifted and talented children in the whole of Paris. Occasionally she carried tidbits of slight interest, for the woman insinuated herself into a large circle of artists, musicians, and patrons of the arts. Geraldine knew a few of them but she cared little about their vacant lives.
Her friend, of course, cared about everything, wanted to know everything and clasped knowledge to her bosom as if it were an aphrodisiac. Perhaps being three years younger than Geraldine made her appear childish to the former dancer, though to see them together, one would assume the older was the younger by several years.
Enid did her best to take care of herself, of course. She was small boned and had worked to keep her figure; but her hair, abetted by prolonged use of chemicals, looked like straw rather than retaining its honey-colored hue of years before. Still, she behaved as if there were no mirrors in the apartment and would persist in giving Geraldine advice about her own appearance.
“Gray hair is so unflattering, Gerry,” she’d say, using the nickname she knew the dancer loathed. “Honestly, you should see my colorist. He’s wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. Why don’t you let me make an appointment for you?”
The invitation, when offered, always received the same polite evasion: “I’ll think about it.”
To be honest, Geraldine couldn’t remember how she came to know Enid. It was ages ago when they were young women. They’d probably met at one party or another, but even then, Enid seemed needy. She made a habit of sticking to a person of interest like hot tar. Discouraging her was difficult and few struggling artists tried. A widow of many years, Enid had oceans of money which she would lavish on almost anyone of talent who courted her. Geraldine never did. But then, Geraldine was never a starving artist. Nevertheless, Enid stuck to her like a barnacle without encouragement. Perhaps it was because — as she’d once confessed — she, too, had dreamed of becoming a dancer but though she lacked the talent.
Geraldine tolerated Enid’s intrusions. After all, a fly’s nature is to buzz. But after one long, tedious visit during the peak of summer, Geraldine was so exhausted, she laid down for a nap and failed to retrieve her post from the lobby until nearly the dinner hour. As to meals, Geraldine seldom cooked. She’d hired a chef who prepared menus by the week and delivered them in frozen packages on Saturdays. That evening, for example, she was thinking about defrosting a ham and cheese quiche as she hurried to the lobby.
No one was about when she arrived at her letter box, an absence for which she was thankful. Turning her key in the lock, she was surprised to see that among the advertisements to be discarded was a single letter. At first, she thought there must be some mistake. No one had written to her in years. Her sister Allison used to write regularly, knowing Geraldine had no computer and would never countenance e-mail. But that was nearly eight years ago, before Allison had died of lung cancer. After that, Geraldine’s niece Perri — a woman in her forties at the time, married and with one child — never communicated. She seemed unable to forgive her aunt for continuing to live once her mother had died.
As she thought of her niece, Geraldine hoped the woman had been able to reconcile with her mother’s loss by now. But for that single tragedy, her niece’s life seemed to be an idyllic one: the owner of a winery somewhere in Oregon. As for the son, Steven, Geraldine had sent him gifts for a time but when he went off to college, their communication had come to an end, as well.
The envelope addressed to her, seemed to be written in a masculine hand. Could it be from Steven, she wondered. No, surely not. This letter was posted from Boston. Her nephew had gone to study in New York. She was sure of it. Of course, that was a few years ago. He could live anywhere now.
Unwilling to solve the mystery while standing in the lobby, she put the envelope in her skirt pocket and headed for the wrought iron elevator, eager to enjoy her small but sumptuous dinner. Afterward she would imbibe in a glass of Port, her one vice.
The meal finished, she’d almost forgotten about the letter until she saw it peeking out from the stack of advertisements which she’d yet to discard. Picking up the envelope, she studied it again, and then reached for a paring knife and sliced it open. The paper inside was a single sheet upon which, in a neat hand, a note was written.
Dear great aunt Geraldine,
It has been several years since I have corresponded with you but I remember your kindness to me as a boy very well, particularly the electric train you sent all the way from Paris when I was ten. The instructions were in French but fortunately my father had a man working at the winery who came from Bordeaux and it was he who put the set together. I can’t tell you who enjoyed that train more, my father, the workman, or me. Mother boxed it up years ago but I still have it and one day, perhaps, I shall pass it along to a member of the next generation.
As you may have guessed, I have finished my schooling and earned my MFA at the Columbia University School of Fine Arts. I studied to be a painter and have been living in Boston for the past year. I can’t say that I’ve turned the city on its head but I have managed to get two small pieces into a gallery of some note. They haven’t sold yet, but I am hopeful. Mr. Worlock, the proprietor, has been encouraging and is even considering buying one of the paintings for his private collection. It’s a small landscape of a little cove I found outside Yarmouth, in Cape Cod. In the meantime, I earn my daily bread as a waiter at a bistro and share a flat with two friends, one an actor and the other a painter like myself.
I’m writing because when Mr. Worlock learned I had a relative in Paris, he encouraged me to consider paying a visit to your beautiful city to study the art scene. My parents have agreed to pay for my passage and to provide an allowance for one year if you could help defray the cost by putting me up for a few weeks until I get my bearings. I’m sure there are restaurants in need of waiters in Paris and my French is pretty good. I’ve no doubt I could read those electric train instructions now.
I know my request must come as a surprise but I hope you will consider my proposal. I could probably even make myself useful in some way. If my idea comes at a bad time, I will understand; but I’m hoping you might be pleased at the prospect of company for a little while.
Geraldine read the letter twice as she sat at the kitchen table and took a large swallow of Port from her glass to overcome her chagrin. Company was the last thing she had expected or would welcome. Yet here was a total stranger proposing to share her premises. Great nephew or not, she knew nothing about him…didn’t even have a recent photograph of him. If she’d made no effort to keep tabs on the family, it was equally true they’d made no effort to keep tabs on her. Until this letter arrived, neither branch had paid the slightest attention to the other. The more she considered the request, the more impertinent it sounded.
Was she, at seventy-five, expected to prepare meals for her guest, do his laundry and change his bed linen? Surely not. What’s more, she had no inclination to entertain a young person, particularly a male. What could they possibly talk about? Art, perhaps, was on possibility. But that didn’t seem enough.
In her mind’s eyes, she imagined their dreary evenings together as they struggled to maintain a conversation when they had little in common. No, she doubted she could endure the intrusion. Where would she find the quiet time to read, or hum to herself or stare out the window, thinking? What’s more, she went to bed early and was an early riser. What were his habits, she wondered. Did he like the loud noise that passed for music these days? She couldn’t bear being subjected to that. And she certainly wasn’t going to buy a television to entertain him. He’d have to go elsewhere for amusement. But that meant she’d have to give him a key, make introductions to the neighbors and be subjected to his comings and goings at all hours. And what sort of friends would he make in Paris? Fellow artists, probably. They could be an unruly lot… And what if there were women?
Geraldine shuddered in horror. No, no… she really couldn’t face having a guest underfoot. Maybe Enid knew someone who would take in a lodger for a reasonable fee…
The moment the thought occurred to her another followed. In Paris a “reasonable fee” was an oxymoron.
Well, there was nothing for it. She’d have to beg off, tell him she wasn’t well even though she’d never had a sick day in her life. Mercifully, no one in the family knew that.
Leaving her few dishes in the sink, Geraldine headed for the living room. She would attend to them later. Her first priority was to put the question of a visit to rest. Seated at her mahogany desk with its hutch and cavernous drawers, she opened one and pulled out a pen and a sheaf of pale blue paper.
My dear Steven,
How lovely to hear from you. Yes, it has been a while. Let me congratulate you on your academic achievement and your good fortune in finding a gallery where you can place your work. That must be gratifying both to you and your parents.
I had forgotten about the train set. It was so many years ago. The fact that you still have it
touches me greatly. I bought it in a toy shop on the avenue. The proprietor told me it had a very durable little engine and that the set would survive several generations; so it is entirely possible that you will be able to pass it along. How nice for us both to be remembered with such a gift.
As to your request for accommodations in Paris, I’m afraid being elderly, I wouldn’t be much company for you. One has aches and pains, you see, and the smell of liniment hangs too heavily upon the air. The setting isn’t suitable for a young man, though I do have the space and I could provide you with a private bathroom.
What I mean to say, is that I doubt you’d be happy staying with me. I’m not used to company and for all I know, I’ve become a bit eccentric. Still, if it’s only for a few weeks…
Geraldine paused to look at what she’d written and couldn’t believe her eyes. She’d meant to write a polite but firm refusal. Now she seemed to be equivocating. “That won’t do,” she cried aloud and tore the letter to pieces before tossing it into a nearby waste basket.
Determined, she began a second letter but was no more satisfied with it than with the first. She tried again but it ended with the same equivocating tone. What was the meaning of it? Was some magic at work? Or was it possible some part of her welcomed company? She refused to believe it and set her pen to paper for a fourth time. But when it ended as the others had done, she set the letter aside and went to the kitchen for a cup of tea. She wasn’t thirsty. She needed to think and keeping her hands busy was part of the process. After two cups, she came to a decision. She returned to her parlor to write the fifth and final response.
You are welcome to stay with me for a week or two until you are settled. Let me know when you plan to arrive.
Her thoughts were still in a whirr as she addressed the envelope, affixed the stamp and, to avoid having second thoughts, took the bird cage elevator to the ground floor where she mailed it.
That night she slept fitfully.
The reply to her letter came by return post, much and sooner than she had expected. It was as if the young man had been waiting, with everything in readiness, sure of her invitation. His confidence pricked her a little, but she couldn’t blame him for his enthusiasm. All that he knew of his great aunt was that she had spoiled him as a boy.
She was carrying linens to make up the spare bedroom for her soon-to-be-arriving guest one morning when her door bell rang. She knew it was Enid. No one else would call at 10 a.m. She answered it with the sheets and pillow cases still draped over one arm to find Enid, as expected, on the threshold. Her visitor was dressed in a perky yellow suit which she’d combined with a sapphire hat and a matching handbag and shoes.
“What do you think?” she asked as she swept into the small foyer without being invited. She twirled round as she spoke, waiting for her friend’s reaction, and failing to notice that the woman looked stunned, as if she’d allowed a canary to fly into the apartment.
“It’s not too bold, is it?” She chirped as she made another half turn. “After all, summer’s here with a vengeance. I couldn’t resist when I saw the mannequin in the Bon Marche window. I don’t usually buy off the rack. In fact, Mirabelle would be furious if she knew.”
“My seamstress, darling. You can’t have forgotten. I recommended her to you ages ago. I don’t know why you never called her. She does marvelous work. But never mind about that…”
Enid stepped deeper into the hall and then stopped, noting the linen slung over Geraldine’s arm.
“Have I caught you at a bad time… why isn’t Sophie making up your bed?” Sophie was Geraldine’s housekeeper who came once a week.
Annoyed at being asked to account for herself, the former dancer said as little as possible. “It can’t wait. Sophie won’t be here until next Monday…”
When she heard the explanation, Enid smiled as if she’d found a four carat diamond on the pavement. “Oh dear, we haven’t had a wee accident, have we?”
Geraldine bristled. She wasn’t incontinent but how like Enid to assume the worst.
“If you must know, I’m about to have a houseguest. He will arrive on Saturday.”
“He?” Enid’s mouth formed a scarlet bow and her eyes grew wide. “Who is it darling? You know me. I can be discreet.”
Geraldine sniffed, aware that Enid knew herself too little. But, as the linens were growing heavy on her arm, she invited Enid into the kitchen for a cup of tea.
“A great nephew? You’ve never mentioned a great nephew before. Why the secrecy?” By now the visitor sat perched on a wooden chair at the kitchen table, her chin supported by a pair of manicured hands. “I suppose he’s handsome. He must be if he’s a relative of yours. Young, you say? And an artist? He sounds intriguing. When do I meet him? I could introduce him to several important people…”
Geraldine turned from the sink with the tea pot she’d warmed with boiling water still in her hands. “Oh do try to restrain yourself, for once. The boy’s not yet arrived. Don’t go making plans until he’s put his feet on the ground.”
Enid looked crestfallen. “Yes but…”
“No ‘yes buts’ if you please. I shall be cross if you take him under your wing before he and I have had a chance to get acquainted.”
The woman in the canary yellow suit sat back in her chair and looked pouty. “I understand. You want him for yourself…”
“Nothing of the kind. I want him to be allowed to settle in without interference, that’s all.”
Enid accepted the china cup filled with Darjeeling tea that was handed to her with the innocence of a convent schoolgirl. “I see,” she said primly. But of course, she didn’t see and the former dancer wasn’t fooled.
Geraldine was overcome with all the preparations required to accommodate a houseguest. Not only were quantities of linens involved but the chef who supplied her meals had to be informed so he’d make enough for two; and Sophie had to be informed that there’d be a young man in the house when she came to clean. The concierge had to be alerted and the adjacent neighbors, as well, as they wonder about a stranger appearing and disappearing behind the door of Geraldine’s apartment.
She couldn’t imagine why everyone looked so aghast when she informed them about her visitor. Was it so unusual for someone to have guests? Or had they written her off as a recluse? Well, they were probably right. She was a recluse and made no excuses for it. People should mind their own affairs and leave others to get on with their lives.
When Saturday arrived, Geraldine didn’t go to the airport. Steven hadn’t expected her to. The hurly burly of so many travelers, most of them foreigners, would be too much for her. Rather, she’d sent him instructions on how to get to the center of the city by bus. From there he could hire a taxi to bring him to the apartment. His plane was to arrive at 11 a.m. She hoped it would be on time, but if he was late, the Greek salad with Feta cheese, cucumbers and olives she’d prepared wouldn’t spoil.
At a quarter to two, she heard a knock on her door. She’d spent the afternoon dreading the thought of it, but when the rap came it brought relief. Till then, the strain of anticipation had caused her to stare out the window incessantly.
As she hurried to answer it, her heart was pounding in her ears. Then she stopped part way, realizing she’d made no plans on what to say as a welcoming. “Hello Steven,” seemed too banal. “How wonderful to meet you at last,” might do. But should she extend her hand or give him a light kiss on the cheek?
A second rap propelled her forward and as to thoughts of proper greetings, the matter was taken out of her hands. The moment the two faced one other, the stranger lept forward to give the old woman a hug.
“Great Aunt Geraldine, I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here and to meet you at last.”
He took a step back to take in a full view as she stood rigid as a pin.
“Why, you’re beautiful,” he exclaimed, opening his eyes wide enough to wrinkle his brow. “I expected someone frail and stooped. But look at you… and so tall, with a mane of gray hair a woman of any age might envy.”
Embarrassed, Geraldine stepped aside to let the young man in, taking the smallest of his three bags while at the same time, she noted that he, too, was tall and thin, with haunting dark eyes and hair like black silk curling above his collar. “A heart breaker,” she thought as she led him into the parlor.
He came to a stop at the center of it and made a slight turn as he gazed about. The eyes of his great aunt’s followed his so that she seemed to view the room afresh. Together, they stood admiring the high ceilings with sunlight bouncing off the cream-colored walls and setting the Persian carpet of cerulean blue alight. A similar luster painted the white, upholstered settee with its matching armchairs but left the dark wood of the remaining furniture to stand in stark contrast. Indeed, the entire scene was a setting worthy of Jeremiah Goodman’s romantic brushwork.
“What a beautiful home you’ve made for yourself, Geraldine.” He peered at her with a questioning gaze. “May I call you that? ‘Great aunt Geraldine,’ seems a mouthful.”
“That would be fine,” she consented. “As long as you don’t shorten it to Gerry, the habit of one of my friends…”
“No, never ‘Gerry,'” the young man interrupted. “It lacks the elegance you require. But I confess, Geraldine doesn’t seem to suit you, either. Were I to give you a name it would be Aerial or Ondine, a sprite of the air or water.”
The old woman felt herself color and looked away. This relative of hers certainly knew how to flatter. She supposed he’d spread his charms among many women in his life.
“You must be hungry. I’ll show you to your room so you can wash up and then we can eat in the kitchen. I’ve prepared a light lunch. Later, we can go out for dinner or have something here, whichever you’d prefer.”
“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I’d love to go out,” said her guest as he fell into line behind her. “Dinner will be on me, of course, but the place shall be of your choosing…”
“The dinner will be on me,” his great aunt corrected. “Save your money for what’s important. You’ll find Paris very expensive, I’m afraid.”
After a lunch, during which Geraldine plumbed this new man in her life for information about Perri and her husband, she encouraged him to rest. He look tired, melancholy almost, a spirit to match her own. No doubt, the time difference between New York and Paris had left him jet lagged. She’d leave him to himself for a while.
He didn’t argue with her suggestion that he rest, and in the ensuing hours, while he slept, she marveled at how little she’d learned during that conversation. He’d amused her with his escapades as a student, given her reasons for why he chose to begin his artistic career in Boston rather than New York and much to her surprise, he’d made her laugh. But in spite of his charm, his air of merriment seemed forced at times. Or was she imagining? No, she didn’t think she was. His mentor, Robert Worlock had suggested the trip to Paris, but Steven had said something about ‘having to come’?
When she’d asked him what he meant his expression darkened. He mentioned something about a girl in Boston who was becoming serious. He couldn’t love her to the same degree and didn’t want her to sacrifice her talents for his. All very noble, Geraldine thought, but she felt there was more to his story than he was telling.
She must have frowned when as the talked because he’d hurried to on explain.
“Don’t be too hard on me. Can’t you see? If she gave up everything, the obligation would suffocate me. I had to come here.”
Looking into his somber eyes, she felt sorry for him, but her heart went out as well to the unknown girl who was ready to sacrifice everything for love.
That night she and her houseguest walked to a little bistro in the neighborhood. As it was a warm Saturday evening, the street was full of strollers and patrons who, like them, were hunting for a good dinner. The air was festive and Steven’s cheeks glowed as if he might be suffering from a fever, though he seemed well enough as he jostled the crowds. Geraldine supposed his heightened color came from his excitement.
When they reached their destination, they sat down at an outside table. Steven examined the menu and not only insisted upon paying for the meal but took the liberty of ordering for the pair of them. Intrigued, the former dancer agreed. No one had thought to order for her in many years. What, she wondered, did he imagine might please her?
When the waiter returned with their Chardonnay, she found that Steven’s menus selections were perfect. His knowledge of food and how flavors should be paired together surprised her.
But of course, she reminded herself. He’s made his living as a waiter.
When the plates arrived, the medley of baked chicken, roasted potatoes and asparagus looked and tasted wonderful. Eating in the open air gave the meal piquancy. Perhaps, too, the wine had loosened her tongue, for she answered questions about her life as a dancer and her sense of loss upon retirement that she never imagined she’d admit to anyone. Before the coffee in small white cups of espresso had arrived, much of her artifice had been exposed. The experience felt strange but freeing, somehow.
Why she allowed herself to be so frank with this young man or why he took an interest in her was a mystery. Still, she was unable to set aside the notion that more than blood ties stood between them. Beyond his surface gayety, she continued to detect a melancholy that matched her own. His charm, however, gave him convincing cover and at the moment, he was exercising it, peering at her over the rim of his cup with intense eyes. Such a gaze of appreciation! One might have thought he’d discovered some hitherto unknown painting by Rembrandt or Botticelli.
Never one to be reticent when there was something she wished to know, she asked him for his thoughts. Hearing her, he rolled back in his chair. A mixture of guilt and pleasure played upon his expression.
“I was thinking of a line from one Shakespeare’s sonnets: ‘age shall not fade her’ is how it goes, I think. It made me wonder if you would sit for me.”
“You wish to paint me? Whatever for?” The suggestion smacked too much of flattery and Geraldine took umbrage. “No one would be interested in such a piece. Anyway, I haven’t the time.”
Steven leaned forward again. “Why not? You can’t be all that busy.”
“I’m busy enough. I have my routine. I go for a walk. I struggle with my poetry. And I read. I read a good deal as a matter of fact. Thank heavens my eyes are still good.”
“You have lovely eyes. I’m sure many people have told you that. And you see things, don’t you…things that others miss?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean, Steven. There’s nothing extraordinary about me”
“How can you say that? You were a prima ballerina. You interpreted passion not intellectually but with your whole body. If you ask me, dance is the highest form of expression. It combines all the creative arts. There’s story, scenery, costume, music and all of it is meant to serve the dancer who must bring the whole of art to life.”
Geraldine smiled. Despite his hyperbole, there was truth in what he’d said. Those were her thoughts, exactly. That’s why, when she decided to retire at the peak of her career, it felt like a death. She could have postponed the inevitable for another or three, but in choosing to leave when she was strong, she assured her legend, rather than wait to see pity in the eyes of her former admirers.
“What are you thinking? You seem so far away?”
The former dancer stirred herself. It was true. She had been far, far away. But she didn’t tell Steven that. She didn’t want to talk about herself. She wanted to learn more about him.
“We’ve spent much of this evening talking about me. What about you?”
“But I’ve already said…”
“Yes, yes, I know about the girl who drove you to Paris and that you wish to expand your understanding of the art world, while you are here. But what does that mean exactly? What do you wish to accomplish?”
Steven looked stunned and a little at loss for words. “Well, I want to get to know you better…”
“Oh please. Be open with me. I’m asking a serious question.”
The young man blanched, as if she’d reached across the table and pricked him with a needle.
“I-I must admit, I can’t really answer your question. “I’ve no idea why I’ve come… except to say I knew I had to… That’s it. That’s all I know.”
“Had to?” There was that expression again. Paris was one of many great art centers in the world. Why did he feel compelled to come here?
“All I know is that the moment Robert Worlock advised me to see Paris I knew he was right and that I had no choice. My parents were dubious about approaching you as there’d been no contact for several years; but I was certain you’d let me come. I just knew it.”
He paused to cock his head as he gazed across the table at his great aunt.
“Why did you agree? Can you tell me that?”
His relative felt confused by his question. How could she tell him she hadn’t meant for it to happen… that she’d intended to put him off… that what she’d finally written was a matter of impulse, too?
But she wasn’t going to admit that. Pulling herself upright in her chair, she lied.
“Of course, I’d want you to come. You’re my great nephew. Why shouldn’t I?”
Her response seemed to satisfy. The young man leaned back in his seat and looked more relaxed. “You don’t find me a nuisance, then?”
“Heavens,” she teased. “You’ve just bought me dinner? I haven’t dined out like this in ages. I don’t call that a nuisance. As for whether or not you’ll wear like an old shoe, only time will tell.”
Steven matched his mood to hers as he sat up in surprise. “Heavens. Not dined out in ages? That’s incredible. Unacceptable! I shall continue to correct that omission while I’m here.”
“No, no.” Geraldine waved her hands in front of him as if they were windshield wipers. “I’m not in the habit of such extravagance. Besides, I go to bed early. At my age, I can’t take too much night life…”
“Can’t or won’t?” the young man interrupted.
His great aunt sat a moment not knowing what to make of his impertinence. “A little of both,” she answered, honestly.
“Ha! Mostly the latter, I think.” Steven guffawed.
“You believe you know me so well, already?” The great aunt peered at her relative with an eyebrow lifted, calling upon her most imperious manner. It didn’t seem to quell his amusement or cause him to refrain from wagging a finger at her.
“I recognize certain traits of the family when I see them.”
“You mean you think I’m set in my ways? Stubborn?” Geraldine’s voice crackled.
“I mean when you square your jaw like that, I see my grandmother, your sister, in you. She held firm opinions, too, but I must warn you, I was pretty good at getting around her and I just might have the same success with you.”
Without meaning to Steven had struck a nerve. The mention of her younger sister brought the woman’s image flooding into Geraldine’s thoughts. Though separated in age by three years, the girls had seldom quarreled, and if there was a disagreement, Allison was usually the first to make the peace. She adored her older sister and tried to emulate her in every way. When she was old enough, she enrolled in the local ballet school where Geraldine took classes. But she was a sickly child who lacked the strength dance required and had to drop out. The disappointment didn’t make her jealous, however. Her role was to become Geraldine’s more ardent fan, behavior which gave great comfort to her older sister who often felt she had little in common with her parents.
“It is possible that I bear some resemblance to your grandmother,” Geraldine conceded. “But not entirely.”
Caroline Miller is a woman of many distinctions. She served two terms as Multnomah County Commissioner, preceded by a term as an original councilor with Metro, the Portland area regional government.
As a novelist, 2009 marked a creative milestone for Caroline Miller. Gothic Spring is a classic page-turner centering on a talented, independent young woman, tormented by her passions and intolerance and the mysterious death of the vicar’s wife. This novel is being reissued in print format by Koho Pono LLC and is available in electronic format. Miller published a fictionalized memoir, Heart Land, earlier that same year. A third novel, still unnamed, is slated for publication shortly.
Miller is a member of PEN. Her prolific short stories thrilled readers in publications as diverse as Children’s Digest, Grit and Tales of the Talisman. Her short story, ‘Under the Bridge and Beneath the Moon,’ was dramatized for radio in Oregon and Washington. Aside from writing, Caroline is a talented painter whose silk pieces have been sold in Portland art galleries and featured in juried exhibitions.