Jealousy worked on Espinosa's heart like a starved termite let loose on a log cabin. It was the end of summer, and her blonde soprano-singer girlfriend, Darlene, had just signed a Broadway contract. She would play the ingénue in Light in the Piazza.
“It’s because I’m so slim,” Darlene gushed. “A year in the Big Apple. I hope it’s the Big Green Apple. I’ll rake in reviews, a ton of money.”
“Won’t you be playing an emotionally backward girl? Besides, what’s wrong with Iowa?”
“Right, Espy—Iowa, where all dreams come true and fortunes are made. What was I thinking?”
When Espinosa told her father the news, he said, “Don’t be envious. Pay attention to your own finger painting.” He’d been telling her that since she was three, but it was hard advice to follow. Espinosa’s finger paintings had always been average, a conglomeration of smudges too muddy to differentiate color. The visual ramblings of her friends had been more interesting, brilliant even. Her mother’s wandering eyes had said so.
When Espinosa told her mother about Darlene and New York, the older woman sniffed. “When your Uncle Alexander invested in shares of The Fluorescent Light Company, that’s what I did.”
“Because some people’ve just got it—so you stick with them and hope some of it lands your way.”
“Sounds like a rather leech-like approach.”
“It’s what Daniel MacFarland Moore did, and if it was good enough—”
“The developer of the fluorescent light, and a friend of Thomas Edison’s. When Edison’s interest went from the fluorescent light to the incandescent kind, Moore was there to pick up the discard. Everyone knows you’ve got to stay up with the pack leader—bide your time—then pounce.”
Wonderful, Espinosa thought, my mother’s encouraging me to become Salieri to Darlene’s Amadeus.
Espinosa phoned her friend, Stewart, and then drove her depressed-self to the café on Main Street to meet him. “Gee,” he said, as she approached the sidewalk table where he waited, “any lower and your knuckles would be dragging the ground.”
“Sorry.” She pulled out a wrought-iron chair, scraping it along the concrete. “Just wondering about the intelligence of having majored in middle-school phys-ed. I mean, really—where was that going to take me?”
“Here, drink your coffee, and remember—at least you’ve got a job.”
“Again—sorry.” She poked the foam with a wooden stick. “They’ll probably hate me.”
“Those pimply, attitudinal seventh graders.”
“Are you kidding? They’re going to be dazzled with your onyx hair and emerald eyes. Once you show them your basketball moves, they’ll be putty in your hands.”
“Yes, in Iowa. There are lots of great things in Iowa. After all, ‘this is the place.’”
“That’s because the sheltered Indians who named it had never seen New York.”
“I give up, Espy.” Stewart shook his head. It set his mop of curly hair into motion. “Why don’t you go, just go? Darlene told me there were two vacant rooms at the boarding house where she’s staying. Just go.”
Espinosa sat straight up. “Really—she told you that? She didn’t tell me that. You think it’s a good idea?”
“I’m sure your mother would loan you the money.”
Espinosa caught her breath. “But what about you?”
“I'll find a job. If not in marketing, then in something else. Iowa’s where my heart’s always been anyway.”
Stewart was right; Espinosa’s mother was happy to loan her money. “What an opportunity,” she repeated every morning as moving day approached. Darlene’s response had been equally repetitious. “How great. How great. The two of us together. How great.”
Her father said nothing.
This fact nagged at Espinosa. She was paying attention to her own finger painting. She was—maybe. Perhaps the overall plan needed rethinking.
Her father agreed—rethinking couldn’t hurt.
Darlene agreed. Stewart could take the already-paid-for-room for a month—see what happened.
“She’s infuriating, Mom,” cried Espinosa. She’s trying to make me jealous. What should I do?”
“I’ve always considered Darlene a winner—a girl with her head screwed on straight. One who was going places. Take her lead. Don’t look back.”
Espinosa pondered this.
“You’re right, Mom. Exactly right. And that’s exactly why I’m staying in Iowa. The leech-like approach to love may not be the high road, but what the heck.”
“I’m not following you.”
“Exactly—you never have.”
That's when Espinosa promised non-wandering eyes to any future finger painting mop-headed children she might have. Ever. Effectively ending her green period.
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