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sofia grant

The Daisy Children

The Daisy Children

Excerpt

November 1944

New London, Texas

Margaret Pierson was hiding in the coat closet, so close to the Daisy Club mothers gathering their coats and gloves that she could smell their perfume. She was here to gather secrets—secrets she would record in her diary for further consideration, because if there was one thing that Margaret had learned in her seven years on earth, it was that everyone had something they were hiding.

She was meant to be in the sunroom, saying goodbye to the other children, but three of them were boys and lately she had found their company unappealing. Boys were loud and reckless and often dirty, and worst of all, they seemed indifferent to her. Margaret was accustomed to being the center of attention since—well, since as far back as she could remember, which was a sunny afternoon with all of these very same children.

Her mother Caroline insisted it wasn't possible for Margaret to recall something that happened so long ago, but she distinctly remembered being set on her back on her parents' bed in a row with the others, their infant arms and legs waving in the air. She remembered being unable to move, to walk or even crawl, and having to depend on her mother to pick her up and move her about the house. She remembered dust motes dancing in the sunlight and watching the others, her fellow Daisy babies, though she did not know that name yet, grasping at the sparkling flecks.

And—on this point her mother burst into laughter—Margaret remembered thinking that the other babies were rather stupid to believe they could ever catch one.

Even then, her mother's amusement annoyed her. Margaret knew that there were certain unbreechable principles in the world, and sunlight illuminating specks that would otherwise be invisible was simply a fact. The babies had been lined up on the bed that day so that their photograph could be taken, the earliest group photo of the Daisy Club children. The photograph was now in a silver frame on the little curvy-legged table in the living room, and Caroline Pierson insisted that Margaret believed she remembered that day only because she'd grown up looking at the photograph.

So, Margaret had stopped taking her mother into her confidence. Instead, she had turned her keen eye on the other adults in her life. She'd hidden herself in the coat closet when the luncheon gathering started breaking up, and now she had a view of the foyer around the folds of Alelia's patched woolen coat, which she hung every morning when she came to work. Alelia had taken the ladies' coats upstairs to the sewing room, as there wasn't room in the closet for all of them, and brought them back downstairs after the luncheon and even remembered which belonged to whom. Margaret watched the women huddle close together, whispering while they waited.

"I wish they'd just stop having it," Mrs. Sowell said. "It's been eight years. Isn't it time? And besides, with the war going on, it seems..."

"Never," Mrs. Dial said fiercely. Her face, usually powdered and rouged to perfection, was mottled with rage. Her fingers were wrapped so tightly around the handle of her purse that the skin had turned white. "As long as I'm alive, no one is going to forget what happened that day."

Caroline Pierson made a clucking sound that Margaret knew well; she employed it to end arguments with her father. "There's lots of time to decide," she said in an overly bright voice. "Alice, don't forget to write down your deviled egg recipe. Hugh can't stop talking about them."

"If you don't want to be on the committee, you can always quit," Mrs. Dial snapped at Mrs. Sowell, unmollified. That was certainly interesting. People rarely ignored her mother.

Her mother stiffened for a moment, then put her hand firmly on Mrs. Sowell's shoulder and steered her toward the door. Once she was gone, Caroline closed the door a little more firmly than necessary and turned back to the others with a pained smile on her face.

"Don't give this another thought," Caroline told Mrs. Dial soothingly. She stood only inches away from the closet door, close enough that Margaret could count the hound's-tooth checks on her skirt. "Of course there will be a Remembrance Day, and the Daisies will attend, as always. But you must remember that Alice lost more than most. She's...vulnerable."

"I don't care," Mrs. Dial retorted in a strangled voice. "I lost Ralph that day, she lost her three—what does it matter? We both lost our children. And now she wants to just sweep them all under the rug like they were nothing—nothing but—"

She broke off in muffled sobs, and Caroline patted her shoulder uncomfortably. Margaret knew that her mother despised public displays of emotion, and she felt ashamed for poor Mrs. Dial.

"What we must do," Caroline said confidently once Mrs. Dial had composed herself, "is focus on the planning and not worry about our detractors. We have lots to do in the next few months. I could certainly use your help on the publicity committee, how does that sound? The others will come around—we'll just work on making this Remembrance Day the best ever."

"The best ever," Mrs. Dial repeated, her face bearing the dazed expression of cattle in the rail cars headed for the Fort Worth stockyards.

Margaret knew why Mrs. Dial was so sad. Her son Ralph had burnt up in the same school explosion that had killed Margaret's own sister Ruby, along with hundreds of other children, when natural gas leaked out of the pipeline and built up in the school basement. Helene Dial had told Margaret that sometimes her mother stayed in bed all afternoon clutching a dirty ragged old baby blanket that had belonged to Ralph.

Margaret and Helene—and all of the other Daisy children—had been born to make their parents happy again. They arrived in the world as the new school was being constructed, and there was a newspaper picture of them, lined up in their mothers' arms, at the ribbon cutting ceremony when it opened.

In the photograph, all of the mothers were smiling at once—something which, as far as Margaret could tell, had never happened again.

© Sofia Grant


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