Beverly chooses by default both Hal, the man she marries, and the house they buy before Callie is born. Beverly gives in and settles for what, in the final instant, cannot bring happiness. What is she doing living in a tract home on a cul-de-dac in Vacaville, California, playing neighborhood bridge every Saturday night, pretending she is like everyone else and that her heart is where it is not?
She does love Callie and being a mother.
Beverly strolls Callie, first as a baby and then as a toddler, around the two little cul-de-sacs curving out like Mickey Mouse ears from a stub of a street in the California suburbs. Beverly's semi-circle is Oleander Court.
Lily who lives on the other cul-de-sac, Wild Lilac Court, is her only real friend in the neighborhood.
Lily, Beverly admires close up. Helene, on the short straight street, Olive Street, is someone Beverly admires, mostly from a distance.
The developer of this tract planted bunches of oleander in the front of the houses on Oleander Count. On Wild Lilac Court, he planted wild lilacs. On Olive Street, he planted a single neat olive tree on each front lawn.
To Beverly, Helene exists on Olive Street, all complete as if she never existed anywhere until Beverly moved into Oleander Court. Helene is indeed a an olive tree, sparse and competent, bearing fruit.
Lily who lives on Wild Lilac Court, is like a wild lilac, delicate, dainty, rambling.
Beverly lives on Oleander Court. Oleanders now, they're supposed to be hardy and full of lasting bloom. They're supposed to be fragrant, too, but Beverly has never caught any scent from them. Anyway, Beverly knows she is different from everybody else who lives on these streets of houses that are exactly alike except for one model that has a family room and the other model that does not. Beverly and Hal's model does not.
Lily doesn't go out of the house without make-up. Her fingernails and lips are ruby red, her hair henna. She wears teddies and gold jewelry and lavender perfume. She moves fast. She washes fingermarks on doors and woodwork on her way to the bathroom. She bakes a pie while talking on the telephone in the time Beverly debates moving the hose. Lily styles Beverly's short hair for her every once in a while, listens to her, talks to her, likes her. And after Hal and Beverly separate, Lily loans Beverly her car easily. Fred, Lily's husband, doesn't mind.
On Callie's first birthday, Lily, rosy with good deed, surprises Beverly with two pink-flowered dresses to match, one for Callie and one for her. Lily made them without a pattern.
Beverly is happy. "See, Callie." Beverly holds up the two dresses. "My dress. Your dress. Here, let's put this pretty dress on Callie."
Beverly is always glad to be in Lily's house on Wild Lilac Court even though, all the while, Lily's two-year old, Matty, runs in and out of the house, calling his mother, "Dummy Mommy. Dummy Mommy."
When Beverly babysits Matty, and Lily comes home, Matty jiggles around, wanting Lily to pick him up. Lily leaves him down, diverting his attention with a compact or cigarette case from her purse. He grabs his lesser choice and leaves, his thank-you another Dummy Mommy. Beverly wonders why Lily doesn't hold Matty, and why does Lily accept his rhyme of her?
Also Lily smokes too much. Lily almost shakes as she lights a cigarette. Her head gives the impression it is about to start trembling, and her hands do tremble.
Helene, Beverly's other friend, who lives on Olive Street -- well, Helene and Beverly are not frequent deep friends, yet Helene gives a solidity to Beverly's life. Helene and her husband, Mitchell, are good Catholics and use the rhythm method. Helene is thin and beautiful and certainly does not look like the mother of seven. She looks like a model.
How many loads of laundry does Helene sort every day, wash, dry, fold, put away? She completes everything in the house before she goes outside to work in the garden even if it takes her until three in the afternoon. Gardening is what she likes to do.
Beverly would do it garden-first, if she had a garden, Beverly thinks, as she accepts fresh garden tomatoes from Helene's hands.
Helene is an able mother but not motherly at all. She doesn't nurse her babies. She takes no nonsense from her children; the oldest is eleven. Twelve years ago she was a newlywed and didn't know anything about babies.
Who am I, Beverly wonders. She doesn't know who she is at all these days. She left herself somewhere. She is Hal's wife, and that has no meaning. She is in limbo. She used to have an identity. She used to have a presence. She used to be desirable. Now she is invisible. She used to go to plays. Now she plays bridge. What is she doing here?
In over two years, Beverly hasn't furnished the subdivision house she and Hal and Callie live in. She doesn't know how to furnish it. Oh, there are a couple of straw chairs here and there. There's a table and chairs in the kitchen, and a box spring and mattress in the bedroom and a yard-sale dresser or two. The living-room is a room to walk through.
Callie's room is furnished beautifully in bright pink.
Also the patio has furniture, ordinary green-and-white webbed chaise lounge and chairs that you find everywhere. Hal picked them up. A wooden telephone reel serves as table out there.
In the middle of the back yard, Beverly has an artichoke plant that she waters.