Category Archives: 28 Chapter Twenty-Eight

Eden 28:5

EdenAfter supper, Joe went out to the stable and Eden helped her mother clean the kitchen in near silence.

“Come with me to the porch,” Lillian said, wiping down the kitchen table with a towel, folding it and laying it on her own chair.

Eden followed her mother to a pair of chairs under the low eaves. The horizon glowed a faint purple as the sun set and soon stars began to appear.

“What happened at Minna’s this morning?” Lillian asked at last.

“Nothing, Mama. She was just busy.”

“If she was busy, you might have helped her—taken the babies at least.”

“I don’t think she wanted me to do that.”

“She has missed you—especially last summer. She was hurt when she heard nothing for so long after sending you her news. You got it, didn’t you?”

Eden was quiet for a moment. Last summer she had been working on Aphrodite. She had been sorry to hear about her sister’s baby. But Arizona had been so far away. Then Sophia had come…and gone. After that, Eden had written no one else for months.

“I got it,” she said.

“You must have been very busy, yourself,” Lillian said.

“Yes.”

“Your picture?”

Eden had not told her parents about the exhibition. “How do you know about that?” she asked.

“Eleanor Stephens sent some clippings. She was afraid you would be too modest to tell us about your success.”

Eleanor - Version 2“El wrote you?” Eden’s voice rose. “Is that all she sent? Clippings?”

“Now and then she writes,” Lillian said. “Nothing since the clippings.”

“What does she write?”

“Just news about you. She tells us how well you are doing.”

“She writes to Papa too?”

“She means me to share the letters with your father, I’m sure,” Lillian said.

Eden had never considered that any relationship between her parents and Eleanor existed other than one she might orchestrate herself. But of course, Eleanor could write to anyone.

“Do you write her too?” Eden asked.

“I never felt the need.”

Eden reached instinctively to her breast pocket, then remembered not to smoke.  She bit her lip instead. And she told her mother about Aphrodite; about Caroline; about Sophia.

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Eden 28:4

That evening, Eden stood in her mother’s kitchen doorway. She’d taken her father’s horse when he had come home, had rubbed it down, fed and watered it and turned it out into the dry but shady paddock behind the stable. As she made her way back to the house, she could smell the biscuits her mother would soon put on the supper table.

But her parents hadn’t heard her as she approached and now she watched them quietly through the open door.

Their backs were to her, her mother wrapped in her father’s arms as he kissed her neck and rocked her gently off balance so that she had to rely on his body for support. Her mother was giggling modestly. Her father was speaking low near her ear.

All her life, Eden had watched her parents in moments like this, which they did nothing to conceal from their twin daughters. She had come to realize, as she grew, that the other couples on the Double S did not behave this way. There was no doubt that everyone on the ranch shared fierce loyalties both to their own families and to the others there. But everyone knew without saying it that there was something special about Joe and Lillian Smith. They were still as in love with each other as a pair of newlyweds.

Eden took off her boots, letting them drop loudly by the door.

Her parents turned and smiled at her. “Are you hungry, darling?” her mother asked. Joe sat down at the table and Lillian stepped to the oven, reached in and brought out the biscuits.

Joe“How was Minna?” Joe asked.

“Busy, I suppose,” Eden said. “I only talked to her for a few minutes.”

Lillian poured lemonade into a glass by Eden’s plate. “I thought you spent the day over there.”

“Just the morning. I went riding.”

Joe looked up. “You took Arrow out?”

“Just down the river a little way.”

“It’s all right,” Joe said. “He’s your horse. How was he?”

“He was lively. But it was all right. I miss that.”

cowboyJoe smiled. “Come out with us tomorrow—there’s plenty more where that came from. You know we can always use your help.”

“All right,” Eden agreed.

Eden 28:3

On the morning after her arrival, Eden stepped into her sister’s yard and took the basket of clean laundry from her arms. “Let me do it,” she said. “Go sit on the porch and rest for a change.”

Minna put her hands on her hips. “You’re telling me to rest, now? You haven’t been home in two years. When you’re away I’m lucky to get a letter from you every three months. Now you’re going to ride in and rescue me?”

But Minna took the clothespins from the pocket of her apron and handed Eden half of them. Minna’s three-year old twins, Edith and Oliver, chased a cat under the porch and five-year old Nate chased his siblings in turn.

Eden and Minna hung the wet clothes together in silence for a long time.

“I’m sorry I haven’t written more,” Eden finally said. “I haven’t heard much from you either.”

“What can I tell you that you don’t already know?” Minna said. “Things here are always the same. But you’ve been all over the world. Don’t think I’m not glad to see you. But I hardly know you are anymore.”

Eden frowned. “Of course you know me, Minna. Who else knows me so well as you?”

“You tell me.”

But Eden was quiet again.

laundry“I didn’t know what to write,” she said at last. “Everything was so different from home. I didn’t know how to explain it all.”

“You might have tried harder. When you left home you promised to write every week. And then you just slipped away and left me here alone.”

“Alone?” Eden said. “You have Mama and Papa—you have Peter. You have everyone…”

“You know what I mean by alone. At least you seem to now. Maybe Sophia was all you needed, but no husband could replace my own twin sister.” She pinned the last piece of laundry to the line and picked up the empty basket. “Do you think I wouldn’t have liked to run to you for comfort sometimes in the past two years?”

“I never thought of that. I thought you didn’t need me anymore.”

“How could you think so?” Minna’s brow wrinkled. “I wrote you when the baby died. You knew—”  a catch stopped her voice.

Faraway_Ranch_Main_House“I’m sorry. I guess I thought Mama…”

But Minna didn’t look at Eden. She turned and walked back to the house.

Eden 28:2

Sophia opened the front door. It was ten o’clock and she had been either sitting for today’s examinations or studying for tomorrow’s since eight in the morning.  She longed for bed and hoped Claire had already retired to her room.

She switched on the light and took off her hat, inspecting her exhausted face in the mirror as she smoothed her hair uselessly. On the table in the hall was a pile of mail. She nearly left it for the morning, but after hanging her coat on a hook, she picked it up and found beneath two letters from her mother, a thick packet sealed with red wax and addressed in an unfamiliar hand. The packet was postmarked “Paris.”

Her heart pounded as she groped her way up the dark stairs and to her room. Claire called to her, but she paid no attention, locking her door behind her. She sat upon her bed and opened the packet. At least a dozen letters tumbled out. A loose sheet that had been folded around them lay atop the pile. She picked it up.

Eleanor - Version 2Dear Sophia,

Enclosed here, please find the letters Eden has been writing to you since you left last summer.

I confess with some embarrassment that I thought it best to prevent her correspondence with you, knowing you yourself had forbidden it, and feeling that both of you would do better to part without the lingering pain such correspondence can cause.

I acted, perhaps, outside the scope of my friendship with Eden. Perhaps it is too much to ask you to believe I meant well or to forgive me for it now. But Eden’s behavior these past months has been increasingly alarming and now that she has left France and will have nothing to do with me, I see no harm in sending you these letters. Perhaps there is something you can do to help her after all.

Please accept my sincere apology for interfering in this way. You have all my best wishes and highest respect,

Eleanor Stephens

Sophia turned to the letters from Eden and read them in the order they had fallen, smearing the ink on every page with her tears.

Eden 28:1

IMG_2801Eden watched the desert landscape through the dirty window of the gentlemen’s smoking car and thought about how long it had been since she had seen it last. She remembered writing Sophia happy love letters in the summer before their final year at college and marveled at how naive she had been; at how different things were now. She lit a cigarette, leaned back against the seat and closed her eyes.

She wished she had never gone to Paris, never picked up a paint brush, never done a single thing but wait upon Sophia Abington like a priest serving a goddess. She cursed herself for ever thinking she needed anything more than to sit at Sophia’s feet for the rest of her life.

The train pulled into the Tucson station before Eden was finished with her cigarette. But she threw it on the floor of the car and crushed it with her heel. She didn’t want her mother to see her smoking. She collected a bag from beneath her seat and handed a check to the porter to retrieve her trunk. Then she stepped down to the platform and into her mother’s waiting arms.

A sob took Eden by surprise as Lillian held her tight. Lillian pushed Eden an arm’s length away and looked at her crying daughter. She ran her hands through Eden’s hair and brushed the tears from her cheeks. “My baby…don’t cry, you’re home now,” Lillian told her with a smile.

“Mama…Sophia…” Eden managed to say.

Lillian gave her daughter a grave look, “Eden? What of Sophia?”

“She’s given me back her ring. She won’t answer my letters. She won’t see me. I tried—in Boston. She…” Eden shook her head.

“Is it a man? Like Gertrude?”

“No mama,” Eden said, wiping her face hard, willing the tears to stop. “It was my fault…in Paris.”

“Alright, darling,” her mother said, “you can tell me about it when we get home. Your papa is waiting with the wagon.”

Southern_Pacific_Depot_1909Eden took a trembling breath and reached down to lift her trunk as her mother took her portmanteau and they left the platform to find Joe.