A quiet smile moved across Ellen's pale lips. She stood, hips resting against the cupboard, slicing a yellow onion on the counter. At each slice a tiny spray of oily onion juice misted upwards. Translucent concentric rings of onion lay on the chopping board, leaning on each other.
As she cut the last slice from the papery yellow skin she was blinking frantically; she stepped back and rinsed off her hands under the kitchen faucet. She was remembering the look on Jay Leed's face when he passed by their room in the teachers' dorm. She and Cal had been given the octagonal room in the center of the second floor and they had painted each wall a different color. Jane, who was just learning to talk, was delighted.
"Jane, this is red." And Ellen would point to the red wall.
"Red, ed!!" Jane would say gleefully, sticking out her belly.
Construction paper cut-outs of the alphabet were Scotch-taped to the walls, Mother Goose illustrations, magazine pages, origami birds with their wings extended, pictures of whales and posters showing the plants of the solar system in their repetitive journeys through starry blackness. Jay Leed, the headmaster of the boarding school, had peered in at the chaos, his face stuck for a moment in appalled indecision, shook his head and walked on. Twenty years later the memory still made Ellen smile a private smile of mischief.
She dried her hands on the faded dishtowel, feeling her swollen knuckles. Arthritis at forty-five. In the old days she had had suchlovely fingers, long, thin and delicate, bare of rings, fingernails unpainted and cut close like a man's. Clasping her hands, she had felt beautiful.