Eden 6:6

pissarroIf Eden’s interest in Alice Vine was ambivalent, her love for Paris was not. Between the galleries hung with old masters and the cafes peopled with young hopeful artists, Eden had found a place filled with the thing that had begun to obsess her more even than Gertrude Prescott. Eden could almost feel herself breathing art.

Eleanor had friends here too, though most of them not nearly as rich as Wil Hyland and the London people to whom Eleanor was related. Many of them were writers like Eleanor, many of them were women in various states of love with one another. They all wore skirts in the streets, and thought Eleanor and Eden very bold for not doing so as well. But Eleanor said that Americans were expected to behave shockingly, and besides, unlike most of her friends, Eleanor easily fooled strangers into believing her a man. Parties in private homes were another matter, however, and as Wil Hyland’s ball in London had been, these were always full of women in men’s jackets and trousers, ties and waistcoats to take the arms of ladies in fashionable gowns. This no longer surprised Eden, rather, she began to feel a certain comfortable ease when entering such a scene.  It was almost the same feeling she got when she walked into her mother’s kitchen in Arizona—the feeling of being fully known and casually accepted.

Eden felt herself shifting in Paris. She became in a few weeks, part of a society larger than herself, rather than a singular oddity, alone in the world.

***

“Would you mind terribly if we stayed on here and left Rome for another time?” Eleanor asked Eden one evening at dinner in the hotel dining room.

“I love it here,” Eden said simply, without asking Eleanor why she wanted to change their plans.

Eleanor was glad for the self-absorption of youth. She didn’t feel like talking about why she had avoided Rome for the past decade, though her family had a large house in the city, with a full staff shuffling round the empty place at god knows what ridiculous expense.

The truth was, Eleanor had nursed her brother, and last surviving near relative, through his losing battle to tuberculosis in that house and buried him in the Protestant cemetery. Since, she had neither been able to bring herself to visit, nor to sell the place.  She had thought taking Eden there would make it possible to face. But she found that even after so many years, she would still rather not.

The girl smiled up at her now, smitten with Paris like a schoolgirl with a crush.  Eleanor was surprised to find herself filled with a warmth she had not felt since the days when her young brother himself would come to her, excited about some play he’d written, hopeful for her approval.

She smiled back, “good, then,” she told Eden. “We’ll stay until we sail next month.”

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