She looked most beautiful when she wasn’t trying.
That is to say, she looked most beautiful when she felt no need to impress old Bic Johnston next door, the landlord who wandered out every morning on uncertain legs to bestow upon her a slimy and lecherous grin, all the while inquiring after the rent.
Or Timmy Davis, her own brother-in-law, the mechanic who spat tobacco juice in her front yard and winked, promising to keep her motor running and laughing wickedly.
Or Lenny Hickerson, who waited behind the butcher counter, a blood-smeared apron tied about his rubbery waist, while his wife, MaryAnne, an unrecognized beauty in her own right, mirrored his position behind the cash register, apron-less, her quiet hands folded before her, greeting customers as they entered the grocery, some boldly, nearly arrogantly, those whose accounts were up-to-date. Some, the children, liberated from school for the day, yet one day closer to a future uncertain, bursting through the doors like quick summer storms, swirling round the candy display, grubby hands held over sweet packages like divining rods. And, too, there were the customers who soft-footed into the grocery, hoping, perhaps, to escape Lenny’s notice, who ever made a show of searching for the customer’s bill, scowling and frowning and huffing, while the customer, in many cases, she, Laura, stood quietly melting before him, cursing her husband for having up and left her with four babes to feed and a mountain of debts to scale.
“Your account is nine months behind, Laura.” Lenny stood, back straight, glowering over his reading glasses.
“I know it.” Her words were tight and narrow.
“Oh, Len.” Across the way, MaryAnne’s fingers fluttered the air, as if grasping for some kindness that she could dispense to her husband, like an analgesic or a balm that could soothe his malevolence. “Think of them babies.”
“No…” Laura and Lenny began simultaneously. Just as simultaneously, as if engaged in that dance in which old married couples manage to synchronize every thought and movement, all speech and dress, they stopped, each eyeing the other.
“No.” Laura repeated, wincing at the thought of marriage to Lenny Hickerson. She reached into a worn leather bag, certainly a hand-me-down, and extracted a thick stack of bills.
Lenny’s eyes bulged. He ran a bloody sleeve across his thick and shuddering lips. “Where’d you get that kind of money?”
“Legally,” was all Laura said then and forever after.
And…forget my opening line because at that exact moment, when Laura Daniels settled her debts once and for all and the taste of freedom and independence settled upon her shoulders, Laura Daniels looked more beautiful than she ever had before.
This was written for this week’s Write Tribe prompt, in which we were to open or end with the following line: She looked most beautiful…
It has also been linked to Friday Flash.