Four little girls play dress-up, wearing the same prom dresses their mothers wore long before they were born. Sherbet colors: pink, green, blue and yellow; worn over their shorts and summer tank tops. Little feet wobbling in old high heels.
The ladies sit around the table having tea under the large umbrella that shades them from the summer sun. Tea cups raised to lips with pinkies bent just so. Karen pours more iced tea from her small china pot, and then passes around the finger sandwiches: Ritz crackers filled with peanut butter and jelly.
The ladies nibble and sip, and gossip as they have observed their own mothers do at countless baby showers and Tupperware parties.
Laurie looks down and shushes her baby lying in the buggy.
"This baby cried all night long. I didn't get a wink of sleep," she exclaims to the others, who cluck their tongues and nod their heads in understanding.
"The twins are driving me crazy," Karen confides behind her hand, so her twin babies on a blanket in the grass won't overhear.
"They never eat at the same time."
"Does Bill help you with the twins?" Ann asks as she sets her tea-cup down on its saucer.
"Are you kidding?" Karen throws back her head, and laughs loudly. "Bill just hands them to me. He won't go near the kids when they are fussy, crying or in need of a diaper change."
The ladies nod again.
"Rich comes home, wants dinner on the table at 6 pm sharp, then reads the paper while I clean up and put the kids to bed," Ann complains. "He doesn't lift a finger to help."
Karen passes around the Nilla Wafers, and the ladies checked on their children. The babies are fast asleep.
As she munched on her cookie, Deb complained that she was on a diet.
"Rob was talking about the redhead that moved into the the Smith's place last month," Karen said gloomily.
"You mean the young woman who is living there alone with her little boy?" Laurie asks.
"She's a sweet lady," said Ann.
Three heads swivel in her direction.
"That's not the point, Ann," Karen hissed.
Ann is bewildered. She had met the new lady and her son while she rode her bike past their house just after they moved in. The lady's name was Mrs. Waters and her son's name was Timmy. He had red hair like his mom, and a million freckles. Ann was fascinated. She had never seen so many freckles on a person before. Mrs. Waters was young and wore tight capris like Laura Petrie on tv.
"But, she is nice and so is Timmy," Ann insisted, no longer playing the game. The others frowned at her, and kept talking, ignoring her.
" I heard she doesn't have a husband," Karen continued.
Deb chimed in, "I heard on the party line that she is dee-forced, whatever that means."
"It means she has no husband, dummy. Just what I said," Karen spat out meanly. Everyone stopped chewing and stared at Karen. She was the leader of this ladies club, and no one wanted to stand up to her. The consequences were swift and harsh. She would banish you from the club, and make sure the others didn't talk to that girl until she was ready to forgive your transgression.
Laurie nodded again, agreeing with Karen. Deb sat back and looked down at her hands, smoothing her dress.
"Sorry, Karen," she mumbled.
"Anyway, I heard that Timmy is a bed wetter and he picks his nose sitting right there on his stoop. He's not our kind," Karen finished with a sweep of her hand across the group.
Ann looked around at the other girls. Deb was staring at her hands, Karen's nasty words still stinging. Laurie locked eyes with Ann, but shrugged as she turned and replied, "Karen's right. He and his mother are not our kind."
Karen's eyes challenged Ann.
"I need to go home now. The baby's been in the sun too long." Ann gathered up her gown, and pushing the stroller with one hand left the backyard for home. She could hear Karen talking about her, not even waiting for her to latch the gate.
"Well, ladies. Ann has been rude. You don't leave a tea party before the hostess stops serving the tea. Ann won't be invited again. Now, who wants more cookies?"
Ann walked to her own porch where she let the gown puddle around her ankles as she kicked off the high heels. She sat with her chin in her hands willing herself not to cry.
"Hey, Ann, want to go for a ride?" Timmy was straddling his bike on the sidewalk in front of her house.
"Sure, Timmy. Let me go get my bike."
Causes Annette Talbert Supports
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, RIF (Reading is Fundamental),
Hands On Foundation, Dignity U Wear, Girls, Inc.