Missing Mister Wingfield: Part 2

This is an early draft of the first chapter of the novel Missing Mr. Wingfield, available now.

Standish went silent, adjusted her spectacles, and read. She moved her lips for the first few words, then caught herself.

Though she would never say so, Tracy was thankful that Principal Standish wasn’t in love with her. From the moment she’d transferred here, all those years ago, they’d all treated her like some kind of golden child. How miraculous she was for having survived the divorce of her parents, the marriage of her mother to another woman, how astounding that, despite all the trouble in her life, she’d not only survived, but thrived. Tracy remembered the first spelling test she’d taken here on the Cape, back in the third grade, how the teacher has applauded the emotionally bruised child for spelling knight correctly on her first try. How hard it must be to string six letters together—some of them silent!—when your soul was as black and blue as hers. Tracy could still feel that teacher’s hands on her shoulders, the sympathetic squeeze. She could still feel the fire in her cheeks as she tried not to look any of her new classmates in the eye.

“Which Mr. Wingfield?” Standish asked. “The son or the father?”

Tracy smirked, then thought better of it and ducked her head. Damned pompousness coming out again.

“The father,” said Standish, closing the book.

“Most people forget he’s there,” said Tracy.

“But he isn’t,” said Standish. “And that’s the point.”

On one of his visits home from Hawaii a few years before, Tracy’s uncle Michael had taken her into Cambridge to see a play one of his college housemates was putting on at some derelict building just outside the ivy-covered walls of Harvard. It wasn’t a theater, this place; it was more like an old house. But that was perfect, Uncle Michael told her, “exactly what this guy’s been imagining since the first time he read the script.”

The script, of course, was The Glass Menagerie, and Tracy traced the abstract lines on its cover, the dog and the giraffe and all the rest, as Michael covered his ears on the Green Line, the ceaseless whine of the subway car driving him batty.

While they changed trains at Park Street, Michael, rubbing at his temples, told her about the thing he was most looking forward to. “The photo of the father,” he said.

“The father?” Tracy asked him. “What father?”

Michael laughed. “Everyone forgets about the father, but my pal, the director, he wrote his whole thesis on the dude.”

“There’s no father, Uncle Michael.”

“Yeah,” said Michael. “That’s why he’s so important.”

Tracy recalled little of the forgettable production, but she would never forget the comically large portrait of the smiling soldier in the doughboy’s cap, his toothy grin frozen in sepia forever. It hung above the mantle of the working fireplace, which roared throughout the show, and it was so big that the stage lights actually obscured the top of his head, his hat.

“On purpose,” Michael had told her. “All on purpose.”

Maybe, Tracy had thought, but she realized even then, even as young as she was, that a decision made on purpose could be a bad decision just the same.

“Do you miss your father?” Standish asked.

To be continued…

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