We watched in awe. Every move had such a natural grace and unassuming symmetry that we both knew that she was magical and that, all of Mr. Tucker's riches paled to insignificance when pitted against her stunning beauty.
We, like everyone else who came in contact with the new Mrs. Tucker, were drawn to her, so in between school and all the little games we played, we spent an increasing amount of time up the road by the mansion, just hoping to get a glimpse of her and dreaming what it would be like to be so beautiful, live in a big mansion and have everything you ever wanted: she must be magic!
On a cool, bleak, gray, November afternoon, we peeked up over the hedgerow and saw her has tea in the sunroom. She was wearing a tan silk robe that clung lovingly to her splendid figure.
“God, she's beautiful” Amy whispered.
“Umm” I replied. “Someday I'm going to be just like her. Mr. Tucker must be so happy with her, don't you think? I mean, he must wait on her hand and foot, and attend to her every whim . . . it must be divine.”
As we stared daydreaming, Mrs. Tucker looked up from her tea, noticed the two young peeping tomasinas, and waved our way.
We were starstruck. She noticed us! Oh god, how embarrassing and yet so wonderful. It was like being noticed by the queen. We timidly waved back and then, too shy, dropped, red faced, behind the hedgerow. She must have giggled, such a sight we were, two little rag a muffins, bouncing up and down like jack in the boxes. We ran all the way back down the tree lined road, the cool air biting our cheeks, making us even more red faced.
Still, little girls are nothing if not brave, and that Saturday Amy and I were again at our post, manning the hedgerow, hoping for a glimpse of Mrs. Tucker.
After a short time she appeared again in the sun room, wearing a gold velvet dressing gown with her wet hair, damp and falling halfway down her slim back.
“Do you know” Amy observed, “We haven't seen Mr. Tucker at all the past few weeks. You'd think that if he was away he'd take her with him.”
“Maybe it's a business trip or something” I opined. “She must be lonely there by herself. It's such a big house and all; she could spend days just wandering around from room to room.”
“Well, maybe if she's lonely we should introduce ourselves” Amy said as she turned to look at me.
“Are you sure? I mean, do you really think she'd like some company?” I couldn't hide the excitement in my voice . . .Oh, this was something! What were we going to do, just stroll up to the front door like we've been invited to tea?
Amy had a mischievous grin as she bobbed her head. “Yeah, she could probably use some conversation, and it's not like we don't like to talk.”
“OK” I agreed. “But you go first. And don't chicken out”.
“Don't be silly,” she said. “After all, I'm ten years old.”
With that she sharply turned on her heals and marched towards the mansion. As we got closer it got bigger and bigger, almost surreal in its oppressive hugeness. I almost turned and ran, but my friendship for Amy stopped me, so, with palms sweating, I climbed the seven porch steps and bumped into Amy as she stood in front of the massive oak double doors.
“Well,” Amy whispered. “I led this far, now you ring the bell.”
“Me?” I gasped. “This was your idea. I mean, what if Mr. Tucker is home, or what if she just wants to be alone, or doesn't like kids, or . . .”
“Enough already!” Amy scowled her 'if looks could kill' look. “What a sissy coward. I thought you wanted to see the magical lady?”
“I do, but . . .” I wrung my hands together. “Oh well” I sighed, “All right, here goes nothing”.
I reached a shaking finger towards the button; visions of ET racing through my mind. I felt, or maybe imagined that I felt, a little shock as I rang the bell and heard it chime, like a cathedral behind the oak doors.
“Maybe she's not home”. I said anxiously when the doors didn't open immediately.
“No way, silly” Amy chided. “We both saw her in the sunroom.”
“Maybe she's busy and doesn't want to be bothered, or maybe she knows it's just two little kids and . . .”
And the door opened and a tall, bronze goddess stood before us. Smiling, she looked down at the two of us, all bundled up against the cold, and said “Hola, ninas . . . excuse me, please, what can I do for such adorable children?”
I was ready to run, but her smile disarmed my fear. “Uh, hi Mrs. Tucker. We're the third grade welcoming committee. I'm June and this” I said bringing Amy close beside me “is my best friend Amy. We live down Church street on Somerset Lane, and well . . . we just came by to say hi . . . and welcome to Wellsly Corner.”
She smiled, radiating warmth and goodness. “Why thank you ninas. It is certainly a pleasure to meet two such well mannered and beautiful children.” As I blushed, she continued “It's awfully cold out her on the porch, would you like to come inside for tea, and allow me to show you the house?”
“Wow, really?” Amy exclaimed. “I mean, are you sure you don't mind? Like, we're just little kids, and my mom says we're always bothered the adults and should be seen and not heard and stuff.”
“Of course I mean it.” Her voice was smooth as velvet. “I am looking forward to having someone to talk to . . .It'll help me practice my English. – Would you like tea or cocoa?”
I glanced at Amy and she glanced at me, and we said in unison “Cocoa, please!”
“Magnifico. I think I have some marshmallows to float on top Now please, come inside before we all catch cold.”
So she ushered us in; two gawking ten year olds, sneakers squeaking across the marble foyer, mouths wide open as we surveyed the opulence.
“It's really just a big old drafty barn” Mrs. Tucker said as we were seated at cushioned, wrought iron chairs in the fern lined sunroom. “So cold, so heartless” she continued “except this room. It has light and life, don't you think?”
As she served us hot cocoa, she told us that Mr. Tucker was in Tai Pei on business and wouldn't be back for another month.
“Gee” I exclaimed “ a whole month? I mean, didn't you want to go with him? Isn't Tai Pei in the orient? I think it would be super cool to see the pagodas and the women with white faces . . . um, geishas . . . yeah, geishas! Isn't that right Amy?”
“Yeah, that's what they are. All beautiful as flowers and quiet as night. Boy, I'd sure jump at a chance to go.”
Mrs. Tucker gave us a wistful smile and, reaching out, scruffed our hair. “Ah, ninas, of course I wanted to go, but Frank, Mr. Tucker, he says that he'd be gone too long and I'd just get bored cooped up in a hotel room, 'cause it's just too dangerous to go out alone there. Still. . being cooped up here is almost as bad.”
Then she smiled “Well, it's not so bad, now that I have somebody to talk to. So, you're in the third grade. What do you study?”
We talked all about school: the students, the teachers; how I liked reading and history and Amy liked Math. Mrs. Tucker let us ramble on, at least affecting to look interested, and I assume she really was, as she asked all sorts of questions, leading us on like a proper hostess.
After we had talked ourselves out, Mrs. Tucker asked if we would like to see the rest of thehouse. I shook my head yes, and Amy said “Sure, if it isn't too much trouble.”
“Come ninas” she replied “if it were a bother, I wouldn't have asked.”
As we strolled from room to room she told us that, as a small child in Brazil, her family had had a nice house. She said she could barely remember the enclosed gardens, wrought iron gates and stucco porticos overlooking elegant fountains. She said she was still very small when the new government came and took their house away.
“Politics” she spat. “It killed my father and made an old woman out of my mother.”
She explained that her father just faded away and died aft the government gave everything he had worked so hard for ' to the people'; and her mother worked, it seemed, all day and all night, to support her and her older sister, who had the job of taking care of her. As soon as she was old enough, her sister moved to one of the resort towns in order to support herself, and later, when Mrs. Tucker was old enough, she followed her sister. It was here, in the resort town, that she first met Mr. Tucker, and, after several years of periodic visits, he had asked her to marry him.
Since her mother had died and her sister had recently gotten engaged herself, Mrs. Tucker found herself saying yes, and moving to America and into the big house.
As we sat down on divans in her large mirror lined dressing room, she told us that she had hoped to see more of Mr. Tucker, but since moving into the big house after their honeymoon, he had been away on business for the majority of the time. He sent her letters and called from time to time, which helped, but she'd much rather see him in person.
“Oh well, life gives and life takes, doesn't it ninas?” she asked.
We agreed, not really knowing what we were agreeing to. She smiled and then her eyes lit up. “I've got a surprise! Can you two keep a secret?”
Amy looked at me and I looked back and the two of us sat on the divan and mimicked zipping our lips before returning our hands to our laps.
Mrs. Tucker giggled, strode to the corner of the room, stood on tiptoe and reaching behind a row of shoeboxes, and produced a big box of chocolates. Opening the box, as the sweet smell wafted across the room and filled our nostrils, she offered it to us saying “Now promise me you won't tell on me. Mr. Tucker would kill me if he knew I had these hidden. I had to smuggle them in past Mrs. Steiner, who cooks and cleans and she watches me like a hawk.”
She plopped a chocolate into her mouth and sighed “Gracias Dios, these are wonderful. So creamy and rich! Have another ninas” as she chose another chocolate for herself.
“Mr. Tucker, he doesn't wasn't want me to lose my figure, so I have to sneak. I feel almost like a criminal, but it's worth it, si? '
'He even has Mrs. Steiner under orders to practically starve me, and she, I think she likes to see me suffer. A bird would starve on what she serves me.”
We stayed in the dressing room for quite some time as she began showing off some of the outfits Mr. Tucker had bought for her. We watched in awe, caught by her magic as she spun and pirouetted, primping and preening in front of the big mirrors, her graceful, lean body poetry in motion. All the while I watched, eating chocolates, and praying that someday I could be just like her.
Finally we heard a door open and close downstairs and Mrs. Tucker glanced at her watch “Caramba. The time! Mrs. Steiner is here and it must bed almost dark out. Come ninas, let us get you home before your parents start to worry.”
She grabbed the half empty box of chocolates, re-hid them and then ushered us downstairs. “Now, I want to thank you both for a wonderful time. Please come back and visit again anytime.” And then she winked and whispered “And bring chocolates. Remember, it's our secret.”
“Right, our secret. We won't forget. Thank you. Bye Bye” Amy and I chimed in unison, then turned and ran down the porch steps and down the long drive, stopped at te hedgerow, turned, waved, an ran all the way home, racing the darkness.