All That Glitters

By: Diana Palmer


THE BRIGHT TEXAS sun was hot on Ivory Keene’s short, wavy blond hair. She’d only just had it cut. Its natural wave gave it golden highlights, adding to the soft radiance of her oval face with its creamy complexion and faintly tormented warm gray eyes.

Her youth made the woman standing on the porch, watching her, feel her age even more. It added to Marlene’s resentment toward her only child. She took an impatient draw from her cigarette with her too-red lips, wrinkled a little around the edges from years of smoking. She used concealers, but they were cheap and didn’t work. If Ivory had taken the modeling job Marlene had tried to push her into, she would have had money for expensive cosmetics. She’d coaxed and demanded and cried, but for once, she hadn’t been able to move the silly girl. Instead Ivory had managed to get a scholarship to a fashion design school in Houston and now she was determined to go there.

“You’ve been out of high school for two years. You’ll be older than most of the other students,” Marlene argued from the porch, still hoping to keep Ivory from leaving. “Besides, you don’t even know how to set a proper table or get along in polite society,” she added meanly.

“I’ll learn those things,” Ivory replied in her quiet drawl. “I’m not stupid.”

I’ll have to learn everything you never taught me, Ivory thought as she stood in front of the house, watching for the neighbor who was giving her a lift to the bus station. Her mother had never been sober long enough to teach her much except how to fetch glasses and bottles and wait on her boyfriends. She felt a chill, even in the hot sun. Come on, she called silently to her neighbor, please come on, before she finds some way to stop me!

“You don’t even own a decent dress,” her mother scoffed. She herself was wearing a nice dress, a present from her last boyfriend. Ivory’s was a homemade cotton one, an original design and nicely made, if cheap. The girl could sew, all right, but one needed more than a little talent to become a famous designer. It amused Marlene that Ivory thought she had the brains or the personality for such a career. Now, Marlene knew she could have done it herself when she was younger. Except that she’d never learned to sew, and she didn’t want to spend every waking hour working.

Ivory’s slender hands clenched the old suitcase. “I’ll get a job. I know how to work,” she added pointedly. Her mother had always made sure that Ivory had had jobs since she had been old enough to be employed.

The sarcasm didn’t faze Marlene, though. It was early morning, but she had already had her first drink of the day. She was moderately pleasant, for the moment. “Don’t forget to send me some of your salary,” she reminded Ivory. “You wouldn’t want me to tell all the neighbors how you walked out and left me to starve, would you?”

Ivory wanted to ask her mother if she could possibly do any more damage to her reputation in the community than Marlene had already done, but there was no point in starting an argument now. She was so close to freedom that she could almost taste it!

“You’ll be back,” Marlene added smugly and took another puff on the cigarette. “Without me, you’ll fall flat on your face.”

Ivory gritted her teeth. She would not reply. She was twenty. She’d managed to finish high school in spite of having to work and in spite of her alcoholic mother. She’d tried to understand why Marlene was the way she was; she’d tried to encourage her mother to get help with her drinking problem. All her efforts had failed. There had been one or two incidents that would be hard to forgive, much less forget. In the end, she’d taken the advice of the family doctor. You can’t help someone who doesn’t think she has a problem, he told her. Get out, he said, before she destroys you, too. Ivory hadn’t wanted to desert the only relative she had in the world. On the other hand, her mother was more than she could handle. She had to leave while she still could. If she could manage to get through design school, her talent might help her rise above the poverty she’d endured all her life.

She looked down the road and thought back to her school days, to the children who had laughed at the way she lived, made fun of her clothes and her ramshackle house and her poor, sharecropper father’s illiterate drawl. They had all heard that her mother had been forced to marry Ivory’s father because she’d gotten pregnant when she was just fourteen, and that knowledge had damaged her own reputation in the community. Marlene had boyfriends, too. A little while after Ivory’s father died, her mother had taken up with one of her lovers, the town’s richest citizen, and painted her child as an immoral, ungrateful thief. Marlene had gained some respect because of her lover’s financial power; but even so, little Ivory was never invited to other children’s parties. She was the outsider. Always, it seemed, people here had laughed about her, gossiped about her. But she was young and strong. She had one chance to escape all of it and make a fresh start somewhere she wasn’t known. She was going to take it.