The tiny clearing off to the side was cooler than the obscenely voluminous garden with its organized cacophony of colors – massed vermilions and oranges alongside indigos, violets, and fuchsias, eye-popping yellows and the occasional calm of white or cream. Cedars bent over an exquisite pool, granite lined, with water more crystalline than glass. Almost lost between moss-padded banks that nearly met, a miniscule stream fed the pool, dribbling over mammoth slate slabs stacked like pricey leather-bound books resting on deep emerald velvet.
A ghostly woman sat on a stone bench, her thin gray hair parted on one side, a cane leaning on either leg. Her eyes were closed, head thrown back, joy — and oddly — a touch of anger on her face.
“When I was a child, we’d come here afternoons. It was different then, we were all alone, no others,” she said, though she sat by herself.
She wanted to walk the paths, the groomed walkways paved with crushed red granite. But it was hot, the sun beat down in the open area and she wasn’t sure. The heat, the crowds. So many people milling about. More people than bees. She could smell the flowers. Heliotrope she could recognize, and phlox. The magnificent lilies, milky whites and almost-black purples, swaying six feet tall and more, with their sensual pistils and shimmering stamens, dark pollens staining the petals sparkling as if dusted with crushed diamonds. What was the flower that smelled like cloves? She couldn’t remember.
She had not forgotten those times, but now saw with more jaundiced eyes. Here was a fantasy, an unreal place, a fairy land protected by an enchanted bubble, bankrolled by an absurd fortune. The play house tucked just inside the Chinese wall was bigger by far than the tiny apartment she lived in now. Then, it was for the children alone. The preposterous main house, perched on a cliff overhanging the harbor to catch the breeze as well as the view, had twenty two bathrooms and two thousand windows, kept scrubbed, cleaned, hand-washed by a swarm of servants who worked under her mother, the housekeeper. Now, the house was gone, as was her mother and the ties she had with the family who lived there.
What an irony, to now be a tourist with all the others, gaping at such ostentatious luxury. Even then she was a visitor, not born to privilege. She was adopted in by the housekeeper, at the entitled request of her employers, solely to be a playmate to the children of the house. Sometimes equal, as a grab bag of children playing together can be, but decidedly not equal, made clear in ways too blunt to be missed. She would be whisked away at meal times, to eat with her mother in their tiny apartment over the garage. Left to wander and play by herself when the family went to Europe or on cruises on their yacht, or to afternoon parties with the children of the other rich families nearby. She was not welcome beyond the garden walls. Her place was clear.
Once they all became adolescents, she was no longer of use. A gawky teenager, she was made redundant at thirteen, no severance pay or retirement plan. Dumped.
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