A Secret Grave 158: The Prettiest Laundress

 

“So what’d you do then?” Janet asked.

Betsy leaned back in her seat. Their food had come and gone; neither of them had done much more than nibble at their sandwiches. She signaled the waitress for a cup of coffee. “Well, then I kind of went a little crazy. I bought a bus ticket to Palm Beach – I was going to see the Radnors, right? And I didn’t let myself think beyond that.”

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palm-beach-house

The Radnor Home (Old Palm Model Home, Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

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She found the Radnor house on Island Drive in Palm Beach and walked fast up the driveway before losing courage. She’d left her suitcase at the bus station. She was in the same black skirt and sweater she’d worn to synagogue and knew she looked a little ratty. A maid answered the door. “I’m here to see Cindy,” Betsy said smiling.

The maid peered at her dubiously. She was a middle-aged black woman with a stern face that reminded Betsy of her step-grandmother, Hattie. “Miss Cindy’s away at college,” she said.

“Well, then I’d like to see either Dr. Radnor or his wife Miriam.”

The maid’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Who should I say is calling?” she asked.

“Betsy Johnson. I’m Loraine Johnson’s daughter and I used to be Cindy’s closest friend.”

The maid left her on the doorstep. When she returned a few moments later, she was with Dr. Radnor, a man of about seventy, who took one look at Betsy and said, “I don’t know this young lady.”

“You don’t remember me, Dr. Radnor? My mother used to work for you. Loraine Johnson?”

Something stirred at the sound of that name. “Ah yes. My memory isn’t what it once was. Please come in and let me know how I can help you.”

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betsy-at-18

Betsy, age 18, during a short stint as a dog walker

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He led her into a small study and sat behind the desk, indicating she should take the chair across from him, as if she were there on business. The maid brought them iced tea, and Betsy used the opportunity to glance around the room at the tons of books and photos: the Radnors on a ski trip in Zermatt, on holiday in Thailand, Cindy graduating high school, Dr. Radnor shaking hands with a black man who looked like Jesse Jackson. “So how is your mother,” Dr. Radnor asked, peering at her over the rims of his glasses, his eyebrows very white and bushy. “I remember her fondly. My wife used to say she was the best laundress we ever had.” He chuckled to himself. “She certainly was the prettiest.”

When he said that a light flashed on in Betsy’s head, and she took a good hard look at Dr. Radnor, particularly his eyes which were the exact same shape and color as her own.

 

To be continued…

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Cover photo ~ https://www.nortonsimon.org/art/detail/M.1979.05.P

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