Kill Your Darlings
We've all heard the phrase. There's no rule against sharing them before we send them off to the dusty bottom drawer, is there?
Beth. That's what her mother called her, in a voice and tone so sweet it was a song wrapping around her heart. Sip.
Bet. It made for easy brother jokes – “Bet she did it!” and a lot of “You better you betta you Bet” from her Who-loving father. Sip.
Elizabeth. That’s what the reverend called her. And her grandmother. And Mrs. De Jong, her ninth grade English teacher. And mom when she was really angry, like the time she'd gone to Chicago with Nancy and Lois and didn't tell anyone. When people addressed her as ‘Elizabeth’ she automatically sat with her ankles crossed, knees together, shoulders back. Sip.
Bitty. That’s what her high school boyfriend, and probably the one true love of her life, called her. She wished she'd listened when he called her, instead of being lured by the excitement of a "famous" life. Sip.
Iza. That’s what they called her when she crossed the stage in Atlantic City. Iza Andress is named Miss United States 1972. That’s what they called her when she traveled the world representing her country. And that's what the hotshot senator from Connecticut called her when he cornered her in his office during a tour of the Capitol. And when he shoved his hand under her dress. And later when he took her to dinner. And when he proposed. And when she said “I do.” Sip.
After that, though, he only called her Elizabeth. In a polite, slightly distant tone. The tone you'd use to speak to a clerk at your favorite boutique, or the police officer who had just arrested your son. Again. Sip.
The wall of photos above her dressing table told her life story. She was a picture book, not a novel. The details of her life were represented by captured moments in time, not stories with layers. Not that there weren't feelings - they were kept locked up, not shared. Sip. Sip. Pour.
Note to self: Ask the housekeeper to restock the bar cabinet in her dressing room.
The first photo was her draped in the Miss Iowa banner. Blonde hair piled so high a bird should be living in it. Her pale yellow dress was appropriately prim for the time and the place – figure hugging, but elegant. Not like the girls wore now. Sip.
The second photo was the stage in Atlantic City the night she won Miss US. Another beautiful dress, even bigger hair, practiced smile, blue eyes glistening with unshed tears.
The third photo was her wedding to Dory. Dorance Stanhope. Handsome, respected, intelligent, sophisticated, influential. The junior senator from Connecticut. Sole heir to a candy company fortune, the candy having been sold to a giant conglomerate in the 1960s. Thanks to Dory’s brilliant investment strategies, the Stanhope family was one of the top ten wealthiest in the world. Sip.
That day, her wedding, was a day she would never forget. She was nervous when her parents flew to Connecticut from Iowa to see their only daughter change her life forever. Both taught at the University of Iowa, and were highly respected in their individual fields, but they were more Mother Earth News than Town & Country. Sip.
Most of the 300 guests came for Dory. Politicians, socialites, celebrities, international dignitaries. They wanted to see the woman who "captured" him, who dissuaded their favorite Senator from continuing his beloved bachelor lifestyle. Of course they wanted to curry favor for present and future requests. The gifts were ridiculous. Rare china, even rarer booze, promises of time on enormous yachts and private islands and exclusive hunting expeditions. Sip.
There were two more frames, each displaying a collage.
The first: Felicity Genevieve Stanhope (now Stanhope-Smythe). First born to Elizabeth and Dory. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed angel in her bassinette, in one of the rare moments she wasn’t howling her demands to the world. Dressed as a gray kitty for Halloween when she was seven. In a pale pink skirt and matching sweater visiting Daddy at work on a sixth grade field trip. Fourteen years old, wearing a tiny black skirt, curve-hugging red sweater, pom poms held to her chest as she demonstrated the splits. Junior prom, looking grown-up and beautiful with her beau in his tux. The last photo, taken by a friend at Felicity’s spontaneous wedding on a yacht off the Spanish coast. Bride in a bikini, groom in surfer shorts. They’d divorced less than six months later. Sip. Sip.
The second: Edward Stanhope. Sandy-haired, true angel baby, never cried, never fussed. Grinning cowboy with a wooden pony for his 5th Halloween. Looking handsome and proud in a dark navy suit and crisp red tie when his sixth grade class visited the capitol. His hair had started to darken and his features were sharpening so that he looked a bit European, less Midwest American than his mother and sister. That was the last smiling photo. Sip.
The next was from the military academy. Edward was slimmer than the other boys in the class photo, somewhat delicate at 12. Was that what had caused his change? Being smaller than his peers? His growth spurt would come four years later but by then it seemed it was all too late. The last photo was Edward at his high school graduation, not smiling, eyes telegraphing his disinterest in the whole pony show. By then he had grown into his physical self – tall, slim but nicely muscled, the “dark horse” in a very Anglo family with his thick brown hair and nearly black eyes. Sip. Sip. Pour.
Elizabeth stared at that last photo, a particularly vile memory surfacing. The most recent dark-haired ancestor on either side was three generations back. Dory had quietly arranged a paternity test when Edward was 12 after his looks and personality began to change. Dory was disappointed and a bit angry when science confirmed Edward was, in fact, all his. Siiiip.
Elizabeth was angry and disappointed too. If she’d had an affair, Dory would have been furious and no doubt she and her bastard son would be living in Iowa, “poor” and reviled. Perhaps it would’ve been the best thing that could have happened to any of them. Sip. Spill. Swear. Pour.
Today was her 45th birthday. Dory hadn’t mentioned it. No word from Felicity. A brief call from Edward, who was currently in either Belgium or Spain, she couldn’t remember now. The connection had been bad.
The bottle was almost empty. It had been full just a bit ago, hadn’t it? Never mind, there was another in the cabinet where she kept her handbags. Just a few feet away. Well worth the effort of pushing herself up out of the dressing table chair and waddling across the room.
Waddling. That’s what she did, now. No more beauty. No one wanted her anymore. Now she was a soft, fat, jelly roll of a woman with three chins and eyes that disappeared into the flesh of her face.
Shit. The crystal glass – why was she carrying it? She should have just left it on the table … slipped from her hand, shattering into large and small pieces, some sparkling under the chandelier light, others becoming invisible on the marble floor. The few bits of remaining ice melted in the wreckage, creating an clear pool of death. She felt a stab of pain and cried out, saw her own blood -- red, not blue -- streak the white marble where a shard had gone into her bare foot. As if in a dream she felt her foot slide out from under her, noticed more stings as dozens of shards of glass pierced her feet, knees, hip... then she landed face-first, felt hot, blinding agony as she smacked her nose and then forehead into the marble, and finally came to rest with one bent forearm pressing hard into her throat.
And with that, 46 years from the day she entered it, Elizabeth Andress Stanhope left this world.