Violet Fielding sits in her front room, her gaze fixed on the line of trees in the distance. Any minute now, the car will pull into view. Any minute now, she will meet her future daughter-in-law.
Some might think that she has had altogether too many daughters-in-law, considering her singular quantity of sons. Some, in fact suggested that very thing right to her face as they sat across from her, clutching their tea and wearing their ridiculous hats during what was to be their last visit to the Fielding home.
As if her angel, her Osgood, deserved anything less than perfection. All those other women were wrong for him. She always knew before Osgood himself. She always knows.
The reason she is sitting so still at the moment, hands clasped together in her lap, eyes trained on the narrow ribbon of road beyond the estate, is that this time might be different. She has never heard her son sound as genuinely happy as he did last month when he telephoned to share the news of his engagement. She can't imagine how, but maybe this Daphne is exactly the woman for Osgood.
A few minutes later the car appears, and begins to wind its way up the drive. When it stops in front of the house, Violet stands and walks toward the front door as fast as her eighty-six-year-old body can take her, which isn't very fast at all.
Osgood and Daphne are in the foyer when she arrives; the maid is on her way up the stairs with their luggage. Daphne smiles, looking for all the world like she wants to turn tail and run. She has the legs for running, that is certain. Violet looks Daphne up and down for a moment, taking in her height, her broad shoulders, and her strong jaw. She wonders if this is someone's idea of a joke. But then she turns her attention to her son, who is gazing at his future bride with rapt happiness. And she understands.
This very well could be the person for Osgood. Whether she is a woman or not is irrelevant.
As a child, Osgood lived with his head in the clouds -- singing songs to his imaginary friends, claiming to see fairies in the woods, and making up elaborate stories to explain ordinary events (gnomes lived in his shoes, and pulled the laces untied when he wasn't looking, he said). Violet adored him, and he adored her in return, gracing her with his beautiful smile whenever he saw her. But he was an only child, and shy around other children. The only person he seemed at ease with, besides his mother of course, was the gardener's son, Billy.
Billy was a few years older than Osgood, tall for his age but skinny, with thick black hair that was always in need of a trim. He delighted in sneaking up to Osgood, stuffing dirt (or worms or rotting leaves) down the back of his shirt, then running away to the sound of Osgood's shrieking laughter. Osgood would shake out the detritus and give chase, disappearing between the high hedges after Billy.
He never caught him. Or so Violet thought.
When Osgood was nine, Violet discovered she was wrong. She found them in the orchard. Billy had Osgood pressed against the trunk of an apple tree. They were only standing there, not moving, eyes squeezed shut, but the sight of it sent Violet's mind reeling.
"That's enough monkey business. Your grandmother is here to see you, Osgood. Come inside," she said. She walked away as if nothing was wrong, but her heart was pounding wildly in her chest. Her boy, her darling boy. She had thought that all she wanted was for him to be happy, but now she knew: more than that, she wanted him to be safe, to be normal.
Later that night, she had a talk with Osgood. If his father were still alive, the task would have fallen to him, of course, but Violet had been a widow long enough to know how to be both the nurturer and the disciplinarian.
She was glad to see the hot flush of shame spread across his face as she spoke. He needed to understand. He needed to know that life was not a fairy tale, and sometimes you had to play by the rules, even if the rules didn't fit you.
They have lunch in the dining room. Daphne fumbles her silverware and neglects to place her napkin on her lap until halfway through the meal, but she proclaims everything delicious and eats heartily, which makes up for her lack of table manners in Violet's eyes. Between bites, Osgood regales Violet with tales of their adventures on his yacht -- adding in some ridiculous story about a shootout between the Coast Guard and the Chicago mafia. His imagination is still intact, it’s clear.
"So, the good news is we don't need to worry about unexpected visitors with Tommy guns," Daphne says, breaking into a nervous giggle. "But the bad news is there are a few bullet holes in the port holes. Bullet holes in the port holes!" She giggles again. "I don't suppose that counts as a rhyme since it's the same word."
"You should have seen Daphne try to get the Coast Guard to pay for the damages."
"Well, it is our yacht." She looks over at Violet and stammers, "I… I mean, it's your yacht."
"It'll be yours too soon enough," Osgood says, reaching over to take Daphne's hand. Daphne's pleased smile makes Violet narrow her eyes.
After the maid has cleared the dishes away, Violet turns to Daphne and says, "I'd be delighted if you'd join me for a stroll in the garden."
"Splendid idea!" says Osgood, standing.
"No, darling, I was intending to speak to Daphne alone." For a moment, Osgood looks panicked. Good, she thinks. At least he knows.
"Oh," Daphne says after a moment of silence, her voice fluttering. "Wouldn't you be more comfortable inside? You must be so happy to see your son, surely you'd prefer to spend time with--"
Violet puts the full force of her years into her expression and raises her eyebrows just a fraction of an inch.
"-- I mean, yes of course, Mrs. Fielding. A walk in the garden would be lovely."
"Agnes came to call today," Violet said to Osgood over dessert one evening . "She tells me that Charlie will be going to Harvard next year."
"Yes, he told me this afternoon. He's very pleased with himself."
"She also tells me that you've become something of a ladies' man."
Osgood's spoon clanged as he dropped it into his bowl, and he grinned with forced nonchalance. "You tell a girl or two that she’s pretty, and suddenly you're a ladies' man."
“Just so long as one day you settle down with one of them,” she said. “I won’t have my son turning into a cad.”
“I can’t make any promises, mother,” he said, his smile slipping a little. “There are so many pretty girls in the world, how could I choose?”
“You’ll know, Osgood. You’ll know.”
The rose bushes are looking a little overgrown. She'll need to have a word with the gardener tomorrow, Violet thinks, struggling for a moment to recall whether that would be Robert or Humphrey.
That's the trouble with having lived so many years: the memories stack up so high that you can't possibly keep them from tumbling into a disordered heap. Something that happened fifty years past often feels like yesterday, while yesterday’s events seem decades ago. She frowns. Robert. It must be Robert, because she dismissed Humphrey when Osgood was still a child.
"Are you all right, Mrs. Fielding?"
She looks over at Daphne, who has a hand out as though afraid that Violet is about to fall. They are standing in the middle of the garden; the sun is starting to slide behind the hills.
"Of course not. I'm old," she answers.
"Oh, well, you're not that-- um, I mean you look great for… no, that's not right either," Daphne says, the last part so quiet that Violet is not sure it was meant for her ears.
Violet's bark of laughter seems to surprise Daphne. "I can see why Osgood likes you. You've got a healthy spirit." Daphne grins as Violet continues. "But if you hurt my son, so help me God, you will be very, very sorry."
Her words hit their mark. Daphne takes a small step backward. "I would never hurt Osgood."
"Are you after our money?" Violet asks.
Guilt flashes across Daphne's face, just for a moment, and then she bows her head. "At first, yes. But, actually, no." She looks up again and Violet sees there are tears in her eyes.
"Which is it?"
"No. But the money made a good excuse."
"Why would you need an excuse to marry my son?"
"Oh, I didn't mean it like that, it's just, you know, he's not really my type and… and, well--"
"You're a man."
Daphne's mouth hangs open. "Is my wig on crooked or something?" she asks in a deep, masculine voice. Her face relaxes; she pulls the wig off her head and holds it in her hands, as if it were a hat. Her hair underneath is dark and short. "I guess you should call me Jerry," he says.
"Do you want to be called Jerry?"
"Oh, sure. It is my name, after all. I never really liked it much, but you don't get to choose your name, do you?"
Violet considers her words carefully. "I believe in some cases, you do."
"I always liked the name Daphne," he says, his voice tinged with wonder. "She sounds like someone fun and sweet. Someone who'll be taken care of. I like being Daphne, but I'm not sure I am Daphne."
Violet begins to walk down the garden path again, and Jerry follows. "On the yacht, who were you?"
"Jerry most of the time, although sometimes I was Daphne. But not at first. I didn't think I had a choice, and then after Osgood convinced me that he… well, that he didn't care either way, it came down to my friend Joe. He still thinks I've lost my marbles."
Violet harrumphs and decides she doesn't much care for this Joe character. "Nonsense. You couldn't do better than my Osgood."
Jerry laughs. Violet likes the sound of it: free and easy, so different from Daphne's forced high-pitched giggles. "A few weeks into the trip, I started going by Daphne some days, and… you know, wearing the whole getup." He stops to smell a bearded iris blooming nearby. "Huh. That's pretty but the smell is nothing to write home about."
"So, you decided to ignore your friend's opinion."
"Oh, no, it wasn't that, not exactly. See, his girl, Sugar, she… so, they met when Joe was Josephine, but he was also a pretend millionaire wearing glasses, and-- that's not the point. The point is one day on the yacht I found Sugar and Josephine curled up on the sofa. Josephine, not Joe. Sugar was cooing about how nice Josephine smelled! Joe never said a word about it to me, although he knows I saw them. A few days after that, I put on my wig and did my makeup and when Joe saw me he said, 'Good morning, Daphne,' and that was that. From then on I did what I wanted."
They walk for a few minutes. Violet thinks of all the questions she wants to ask but can't, and all the worries she doesn't know how to put into words. "My son isn't like other men, you know," she says, hoping it encapsulates everything in her head. It doesn't.
"I know. I'm not going to lie… if I think about it too hard, I'll realize that I'm scared out of my mind. I don't know what's going to happen next. But I'm telling you now, I'm not going to run away. When I was being chased by the mob--"
"It's not as bad as it sounds. They just wanted to kill me for what I saw, I didn't do anything wrong. Anyway, when I was on the run from them, I was scared for my life. Now I'm scared in a different way. It's like when you want something so badly but you don't know if you're going to get it so all you can do is hope like crazy that everything doesn't fall to pieces."
"Young man, you're not afraid."
"Then why do I feel like I'm on a roller coaster?"
"That," Violet pronounces, "is excitement."
This one was going to be different, Violet told herself, even though she knew it was a lie. Osgood and his new bride, Alice, marched up the aisle, both beaming. She rose and allowed herself to be escorted after them, ignoring the strong sense of déjà vu.
Nearly a month later, Osgood showed up at her door, alone. "I thought I'd come to visit you, and see how you were getting on, mother," he said. She could see the sadness in his eyes.
"She's not right for you," Violet said, closing the door once Osgood had stepped over the threshold. He relaxed at her words; it always helped him to hear it from her first.
"But she's beautiful."
"That doesn't matter."
"And you should see her dance!"
"Your first three wives could dance."
"I thought Alice was different." His shoulders slumped forward. "What's wrong with me?"
Violet felt as though she'd been slapped in the face. Her precious angel thought something was wrong with him. All because he was trying to make her happy, to make the world happy. What had she done? It was her job to make sure he was happy, not the other way around. To hell with being safe, she decided. Enough was enough. "Nothing is wrong with you."
"Then why can't I ever find the right woman?"
"Because you are special, and special people need other special people. Find the person you really want, Osgood. Do you understand?"
His brow drew down. "I think so," he said, but she could see that he did not, and she couldn’t bear to say anything more.
A week later, he called to tell her he had met an acrobat named Cynthia. Violet sighed and told him to make sure she wasn’t a smoker.
Maybe one day, she hoped, he would find his way back to where he should have been all along.
"Oh, God," Osgood says when they come in from the garden. He is staring at the wig in Jerry's hand. Jerry smiles.
"Your mother is a very wise woman."
Violet pats Jerry on the arm. "You be good to my son. You'll make a beautiful bride, once we find a way to hide those shoulders of yours."
Jerry puts his hand to his chest. "I happen to think my shoulders are one of my best features."
Osgood looks at Violet and then at Jerry. He smiles tentatively, and when Jerry nods at him, his smile turns sure. He steps forward, puts his hands on either side of Jerry's head, and kisses him tenderly on the lips. "I love you," he says reverently. “From the moment I saw you, I knew you were the one for me.”
“A man in a dress.”
Osgood shakes his head. “A beautiful person.”
"You know, I think I love you too." Jerry looks surprised at his own words.
"That's enough chit-chat," Violet says, feeling happier than she can ever remember. "We've got a wedding to plan."