The Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary that Miss Borgen and the fourth grade had given me at my farewell party fell open in my lap. Without looking, I placed an index finger on a silky page: kismet. A Turkish word meaning fate or destiny.
Once a day — even on the train — I was going to learn a new word, and each word would be a link between me and the fourth grade back in Harvester, Minnesota. Tears began oozing into my eyes and I brushed at them with the back of my hand.
Then the heavy door to the outside thrust open, and along with the roar and clatter of the train, a gust of icy air blew down the short passageway and into the club car of the City of Los Angeles.
The glamorous woman I’d noticed in the Omaha depot glided in, accompanied by an older man in a gray pinstripe suit. Although she no longer wore the slouch hat, she still sported the houndstooth pants and the satiny white shirt with its collar falling gracefully away from her throat. Over her shoulders was flung the fox jacket, as if it were any old thing she’d grabbed in a hurry.
She was short and seemed tall, thin and seemed curved. She flowed between retreating banks of uniforms, and people fell silent or spoke in murmurs, eyeing her glancingly. Two sailors at the last table relinquished their club chairs.
Her hair was jet, glossy and liquid. Cut in a simple Prince Valiant style, it slid forward to shield her from sidelong glances when she dipped her head.
Her skin was the color of unbruised gardenia petals, and her hooded eyes made me think of cooled tar, which when you crack it open is as shiny and polished as a gem inside. She wore no rings or bracelets but carried a little red satin bag that gave the effect of a jewel.
”Who’s that?” the young lieutenant sitting beside us asked.
”I don’t think I’ve seen her in the movies,” Mama offered, “but she must be an actress or an heiress.”
Like sandalwood perfume, calamity hung in the air around the woman. Some scandalous act, perhaps still unconceived, followed her. I loved her. Instantly. Forever. And I wished that i could warn her. But I had barely courage enough to look at her.