A French Song in New York(6)

By: Anna Adams

Mrs. Mary’s wince was not caused because of Maude’s statements. She dragged the vacuum cleaner to where Maude’s footsteps left prints and turned it on.

“These kids don’t get much encouragement from their relatives or friends!” she yelled. “But I can assure you, I encourage them as much as I can!” She turned the vacuum off with her fist. “I’m tired of people saying I don’t do enough for them. I work hard and I fight for them all the time. And I vacuum this living room twice a day!”

“I know that you care for Grace,” Maude replied, ignoring the glares directed at her shoes. “I love how you were thrilled when you heard of this opportunity for her. But I need another favor.”

“I can’t handle another task,” Mrs. Mary moaned. “I’m tired as it is. You do realize I also have needs. Does anyone ask me what I need? Who gives me any favors?”

“Last one, I promise.” Bending over, Maude hopped on one foot as she took off her right shoe. “Won’t you allow Grace to live with me while I prepare her for the audition? And hopefully for the musical.”

“I can’t do that. I’m responsible for Grace.”

“But don’t you see? The other girls here will discourage her.”

Mrs. Mary dropped the vacuum handle.

“Are you saying she’s being bullied? Who’s doing the bullying? I’m sure it’s Desiree. Always the quiet ones.”

“There’s no bullying!” Maude blurted. “Don’t get me wrong, I do think that the other girls are discouraging her, but I’m not even sure they realize it themselves. It might be envy, but it might also just be plain disillusionment on their part. Whatever it is, it’s not helping Grace.”

“There are rules, Ms. Laurent. You do realize that? Who will make sure she goes to school, that she eats well?”

“I will do all that. I mean, I lack cooking skills when it comes to Mexican cuisine, but for everything else, I’m a decent cook. I’ll make Grace eat her vegetables.”

Mrs. Mary looked at her with circumspection. Her gaze detailed Maude’s thin frame, her hopeful eagerness, her hair tied into a neat afro.

“You’re too soft. Not sure you have what it takes.”

“I’m not soft,” Maude flung the word with disgust. Rolling up the sleeves of her blouse, she stated, “I raised two awful twin brothers until they were eight. I cleaned, cooked, and ran an entire household on top of studying for tests. Believe me, I vacuumed way more than just twice a day during the weekends.”

Mrs. Mary peered at Maude without animosity, intent on determining if what she said was true.

“Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. But now you’re a star. Not sure you’ve done much discipline since then.”

“I may not be Mary Poppins,” Maude admitted, “but I can do this. You have no idea how effective this change could be. If Uncle James had not removed me from my home in Carvin, I’d never have become the person I am today. Don’t you want that for Grace?”

Mrs. Mary could picture it. Grace’s fame, her thanking Mrs. Mary on a podium with an imaginary prize oddly resembling a vacuum cleaner.

“You can take her for one night this evening. If she likes it, we can find an arrangement. You’ll have to abide to strict rules if you’re to become her foster mother. But I’ll help the process go faster. You’re lucky you’re a celebrity.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Mary.”

Maude hugged her, picked up her shoes from the filthy floor, and ran to the kitchen.

Effie and Grace were taking turns unscrewing the resisting lid on a jar of pickles. They’d tried with a knife, with a cloth, had run it under water and Grace was ready to smash the jar when Maude happened on them.

“What are you ...?” Her gaze went from Grace to the jar held high over her head. “Never mind. Pack an overnight bag. You’re spending the evening with me.”

BENJAMIN BALDWIN WAS in the habit of seeing people come in and out of his home.

Friends, artists, women from his mother’s shelter invited to sleep over when it was full: the Baldwin house was home to all.

Jazmine’s band regularly met in her room to discuss concerts and future gigs. These days, they met more often than before.

Apart from Matt, who had come and gone way before she had moved in, Maude had never brought anyone inside the family circle.

Until Grace Heaton walked into their home.

Anyone who slept over instantly became family. It was the Baldwin way to include strangers into their intimate circle. This approach often met with success, the most notable being Matt and Maude.