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PENINSULA/WíZZowg% Johnson THE HOUSE CREAKED and the flames of the Advent candles danced in the draft from a gale wind coming off the bay. Two days before Christmas and they were at dinner, Ellen serving, Mother and Papa, Uncle Pete and Aunt Daria and Jan herself, sitting across from the promising Mr. Ted Phillips, one of Papa's engineers. His flight home had been postponed due to the weather, and Papa had asked him to dinner. "Please pass the salt, dear," Mother said. These were among the only words she'd spoken to Jan since that morning, when she and Papa came out of Dr. Heath's office with grim, ashen faces. They didn't actually tell Jan—hadn't told her, even now hours later—but Jan knew the instant she saw their faces. By Ellen's lips, pursed in fury, and by her quiet acquiescence to Mother's requests, Jan could tell Ellen knew. Indeed, Jan sensed an enraged nuance in the way Ellen filled the water glasses, in the way she put the plates on the table, in the very sound of her leather soles on the oak floor. AU that fury coalesced when Ellen aimed her accusing eyes at Jan, as if Jan had done it, as if she had taken Jack Sanford in her own irresistible grip and had her way with him. God and Mother only knew if the others had been told—well, surely not Ted Phillips, but Pete, come down from Richmond, and his brittle wife, Daria, who sat so straight and proper that her back didn't touch her chair, who had never been much able to contain her disdain for Jan's own extremely proper mother. In fact, as they'd sat down to dinner at Ellen's bell, Daria had picked up her knife and held it a moment in candlelight, her quiet way of announcing it was spotted. Mother sipped her water. "Well," she said, laying her hands flat on the white tablecloth. She looked around at all of them and then up at Ellen, who stood by her side. "We've had the most wonderful news about Jan." This, Jan thought, could absolutely not be happening. Impossible that Mother would announce it to all assembled, even to the moist and ingratiating Ted Phillips. "Jan," Mother said brightly, "do you want to tell everyone?" Her life must be a nightmare. That was it. She was going to wake up and find herself a virgin princess in some delightful kingdom, not the raped daughter of this madwoman. She knew Mother was upset, for The Missouri Review · 139 the surest way to tell Mother was deeply, profoundly upset was that she did not tell you her opinion of something. Usually she was more than forthcoming with her opinions on anything from Democrats to nasturtiums. But to cheerily announce the whole thing to this crowd. Unbelievable. Clearly Dr. Heath's news had sent Mother off the deep end. "No," Jan said flatly. "I don't believe I do." Ted Phillips looked at Jan with the most fervent interest in his eyes, and then looked back up at Mother. "Well," Mother said, and paused, as if to savor the deliciousness of the moment, "we've just today found out that Jan has been accepted to study for a semester at the Université Sainte Marie. In France." Daria gave Pete an arch look. This was the first Jan had heard of it. And what if she had said yes, she'd be glad to tell everyone? And she had told them the real news? What would Mother have done then? "Why that . . . that's wonderful," Ted Phillips stammered. "Have you been to France before?" "No," Jan said, "no, I haven't." "Nor have I, but I've always wanted to go," said the young engineer, trying a bit too hard, Jan thought, to sound dreamy. "Will you be in Paris, then?" Daria asked. "Tm not familiar with the—what was it, Marg?" "The Université Sainte Marie," Mother said. "Yes," Daria said, rolling the word overher tongue, savoring it. "It's in Paris, then?" she asked Jan. Jan hadn't the slightest...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 139-148
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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