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Helen looked at the man, looking at the man in the painting. His calm smile, working at nothing. He looked familiar. She had seen him somewhere before, she was sure.
“Helen!” her mother shouted down the stairs. “Can you help me in the kitchen a moment?”
“Thank you,” she said pointedly to the stranger, and made her exit.
Mom was freaking out a little, in the privacy of the kitchen. “Your Dad told me what happened downstairs. I wish you’d be nicer to Jerry Steloff. He’s one of our biggest clients.”
“You mean one of Dad’s biggest clients.”
“I mean, we can’t afford to make him uncomfortable.”
Afford. It was possible Helen had never heard the word cross her mother’s lips before.
“I’m sorry.” Helen gulped. “I might be a little drunk.”
“It’s okay, we just have to be careful now is all.”
Silently, Helen helped her mother rinse glasses and put them in the dishwasher. Mom looked tired. Her Christmas sweater had a blob of tomato sauce staining the snowflake over her heart. Her hands were old, a hint of arthritis in the knuckles, liver spots haloing her diamond wedding ring.
“Who’s that guy, Mom? The one in the navy blue suit? The young one?”
“I didn’t see him.” Mom wiped the counter now with a sponge, her mouth firm, deliberate, too exhausted to smile.
“He was downstairs. By the bar.” Mom showed no recognition. “Was that this Brent dude you were talking about? Because if it was, I don’t think he likes girls.”
“Helen, honestly. Your negativity … ” Mom let her pursed lips finish the sentence.
Helen closed the dishwasher. Its click punctuated the silence. And in a flash of clarity, she remembered where she had seen that blue suit before. On another stranger, burned into memory: his back first, then spinning slowly in the air. Falling, pink tie flapping, limbs helpless against gravity and time, his whole body resigned to the fact that everything had already changed.