Mrs. Burnham's very small household was in a very big flurry. All the activity was on Mrs. Burnham's part, while Violet only watched with large, intelligent eyes from the bed, her paws crossed neatly in front of her.
Although there was plenty of time, Mrs. Burnham was rushing, her rapid, awkward movements resembling those of a drowning woman.
"This is a special day for me, Violet, a very special day." She was dressing to go out, and the pink bedroom was strewn with articles of clothing considered and rejected. She looked in the mirror and held a brooch to her bodice, moving it from place to place. "What do you think, Violet? No? Too large?" She tossed it back into the jewel case and drew out pearls for Violet's consideration.
The impetus of her anxious preparation came from a phone call on Wednesday from Marge, one of the few friends with whom she had kept in touch since Harold's death. "Just a little get-together Saturday on the patio, a few friends. The Kesslers will be there — you remember them, and the Johnsons — you won't recognize her, she's gained so much. But you have to be there," she emphasized. "Someone you haven't seen in years is coming and wants to see you." Her voice suggested unsustainable mystery.
"Who?" Mrs. Burnham asked.
"John Wilkens. He's on the coast for business. Says Jean died last spring — complications in surgery for something or other — and he's dying to see you!" And Mrs. Burnham had sunk to the chair at her telephone table and put her hand to her chest.
Marge went on: "Oh, I'll never forget what a handsome couple you two made. He says it must be thirty-five years since he's seen you ... what dear? What did you say?"
"Thirty-six," said Mrs. Burnham, "thirty-six years."
"Yes, a long time, so you simply must come then."
Those had been tempestuous and passionate years, but never dull. Her off-and-on relationship with John had lasted through high school and three of their college years until, during one of the off periods, he had met and married Jean Foley; and then poor Harold Burnham had come along.
She never loved Harold. Within a year of their marriage, she had dropped the pretense of love and, since life seemed to Mrs. Burnham to have no need to justify itself, she had settled into the long years of barest accommodation, thwarting Harold's persevering attempts at affection. Since his death, she had only begun to forgive him for having wasted her life.
She blotted her lipstick and scrutinized her salt and pepper hair in the mirror. "What if he doesn't recognize me?" The dog yawned and rested her muzzle on her forelegs. John's hair was dark and thick, his body athletic. Harold's body had settled into the shape of a pear out of which thin legs appeared to dangle. His hair had grayed and thinned to a fringe around the base of his head.
The room filled with the scent of perfume, and Violet stretched, curled up tightly and tucked her nose under a hind leg. Mrs. Burnham pulled several pairs of shoes from the closet.
Mot until the past three days had she fully realized the extent to which John had been there between them all those years. She had made no secret of it, and his name popped up routinely when she spoke of the past. "Harold understood," she told herself. But tonight a great wrong would be acknowledged and set right. "The gold ones, don't you think, Violet?" The dog lifted her head and cocked it to one side.
Mrs. Burnham twirled a fringed wrap around her shoulders. "How do 1 look?" The dog beheld her approvingly. "Don't wait up tonight ... oh no, not now!" The phone was ringing.
It was Marge, a little breathless. "Oh, I'm glad I caught you. We're going to have to call off tonight. Ed's come down with a dreadful flu. Sorry to do this so last minute."
Mrs. Burnham was silent for a moment. "Have you talked to John? You know where he's staying, don't you?"
She hated Marge's husky laugh. "Oh, yes! He called yesterday. He and some cute thing he met here a couple of days ago went to Las Vegas last night for the weekend. Says he's crazy about her. That old rogue always did have an eye for the girls. But I don't know why I'm telling you ... no one knows that better than you do!"