The performance was scheduled for that night at 6pm. Perhaps performance is a bit much considering it was a play put on by a bunch of six years olds for their parents and anyone they could convince to come and pay 5 dollars for the privilege. With a pretty yellow dress and a little bit of rouge that she stole from mothers dresser to make her cheeks shiny and pink, today promised to be the biggest day in Kathleen’s whole life. She had awakened to an early spring morning, sunny and warm with a crisp breeze from the mountains that freshened the air with the scent of the evergreen trees and fresh flowing water from the mountains icy snow melt. Today would be the best day ever.
“Kathleen, where are you? Not strutting in front of that mirror again.” Her mother called from the kitchen. And it’s true she was standing pretty as you please in front of the long mirror on the back of the bedroom door all dressed and ready to go, and only six hours early. She looked fantastic, and grown up, with her formal dress and make up on. She felt like she could float away, like the air around her lifted and supported her, like gravity surrendered just this once and she was light, free and without a care, completely distracted from her normal life. Today she was a princess. She was a petite slender child at six, white blond hair, toe-headed they sometimes called her although that didn’t make any sense to her. What’s a toe-head anyway? She’d look at her toes and think “I look nothing like toes, they’re all stubby and pink.” She looked into the mirror again and saw that she had an oval shaped face, long straight blond hair, high cheekbones, the perfect perky nose, tiny ears that tucked closely to her head, and bright twinkling blue eyes that missed nothing and kept everything tucked away. If the eyes are a window to the soul this poor child was already half shuttered.
“You really think you’re something don’t you, think you’re pretty?
Well you’re just plain wrong, and I’ll not have you putting on airs to the contrary.
You’re a scrawny plain slip of a girl that even your own momma didn’t want to keep.
Your momma handed you over the fence one afternoon when you were a baby, she must’a known what a stubborn pain in the ass you’d be.
Why we kept you I have no idea.
Felt sorry for you I guess.
We should’a sent you off to the orphanage when we had half a chance.”
Her mother often said things like this. She’d heard it all before, but why today? On the very day that she was to stand in front of the whole school, in fact the whole town, in her new dress right in front of all the other children and sing her song.
Her mother, the woman she knew as mother, was telling no lies when she said that her real mother had given her up; handed her off like a sack of potatoes over the fence to the married man who lived next door. The man she knew only as daddy, had a son who was five and despite years of trying the middle aged couple had no luck in conceiving again, so why not take in the little fair haired child. Besides she promised to be a real beauty, and she could be helpful around the house since his wife wasn’t much fussed about cleanliness or housework.
Kathleen’s real mother whatever faults she had, was as sharp as a whip and drop dead gorgeous; a tiny slip of a gal just turned 20 and in over her head with no family to help out with the little ragamuffin. Christian girls in Montana just didn’t bear children out of wedlock in 1945, and until her dying day she refused to say who the father was so her parents couldn’t force him to marry her, provide the child a father, to give her a name. Having no other recourse the family refused to bear the shame of harboring an unwed mother so they rented her a little place a few towns over and kicked her and the baby out to manage on their own. Not that daddy cared, Kathleen’s biological mothers shame was his redemption. He loved Kathleen from the minute he laid eyes on her, and that was a big part of the problem.
Daddy worked driving the hay truck, or herding cattle on horseback, and sometimes shoveling coal in the mines when he could get the job, but no matter what kind of work he did he couldn’t make enough money to keep his little girl in new dresses. Nothing but the basic, bare necessities for his family and far too few of those. Two weeks before the performance, daddy arrived home with a two yards of yellow cloth from the mercantile store in town, and insisted that his wife to make the child a new dress for the play. For Kathleen’s mother, it was a scandal, an outrage, not only did he want his own wife to do without new clothes which she badly needed, but he wanted her to make a dress for that ungrateful child. Having no choice but to comply she made the most beautiful dress she could given what she had to work with, and then berated the child in private every time she put it on. Today was the limit, that child standing in front of the mirror, thinking that she was something special, something pretty and lovely, something better than she was. Well she’d put a stop to that way of thinking, and right now.
Kathleen had always known that her mother didn’t like her. Deep down she thought that something must be wrong with her that this woman who’d been the only mother she’d ever known didn’t want anything to do with her, and frequently told her how pathetic and frustrating she was. She must be a terrible person because her own mother didn’t even love her? What’s a bastard anyway? Daddy wouldn’t say, just that she shouldn’t think about such things and run along and play.