It was a silly excuse but one that would do when the truth was too painful. I didn’t want to see Lee holding her child. Lee, who had never wanted to marry, to have children, now had both husband and son. And my child was lost; her father, the man who should have been my husband, was an ocean away, living with a different wife, a different family.
Lee laughed. “Darling, that doesn’t matter. Wear a sheet if you must. It will be like the old days. Do come! On Friday, take the afternoon train to Lewes and we’ll pick you up at the station. On Sunday, we’ll drive you to Newhaven and you can catch the ferry to France.”
She stood and reached for the bill, signing it rather than leaving cash. I read her signature upside down. Lady Penrose of Poughkeepsie, it said. Lee still had a sense of humor.
I hadn’t yet agreed to the weekend, so she played her strongest card.
“Pablo will be there,” she said, and was out the door before I could say no.
Pablo. When I had to leave Paris, Pablo Picasso had been the one to help me, not because we were close—we were not—or because he was particularly kind to young girls in trouble—he was not. It had merely been one of those life-forming coincidences. That day, as I stood on the Pont Neuf wondering where I would go, what I would do, he had come toward me on his way to somewhere. There was just enough kindness in his voice when he asked, “Ça va?” that I sobbed my story out to him. He had already known, of course. That’s the sad truth of betrayal. It makes a poor secret except to the betrayed.
He paused, then gave me a piece of paper on which he’d written the name of a friend who would take me in. He would write to her the very next day, he promised, and I fled to his friend, Madame Hughes, in Grasse. Seventeen years ago. A war ago. A child ago. A lifetime ago.
Lee had introduced me to Pablo, and to many others. She had given, and she had taken. I looked out the window and watched Lee cross the street with that determined stride of hers. She waved, grinned, and disappeared into the crowd.
I stared at the card, wondering how much the train to Lewes would cost. No one ever said no to Lee Miller, and if she thought they might, she simply never asked the question. Of course, there was always a first time. Why should I interrupt my search for Dahlia to play houseguest for the woman who had, years before, derailed my dreams? Because the search is over, a dark voice said in my head. There is nowhere else to look.
I rose to leave the restaurant, walking in the wake of Lee’s perfume. I smelled it, then, that bottom note I hadn’t noticed before. Camphor, eucalyptus, and the salty, acrid bottom note of merbromin. Medicine. The smell carried me backward.
Scents are memories’ bid for immortality; they keep the past alive.