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Mad Girls in Love: A Novel

Chapter One


To-Do List

October 17, 1972

  • Get out of bed.
  • Or stay in bed and write down my side of the story.
  • Find an inexpensive (but smart!) lawyer.
  • Buy Summer Blonde to touch up my roots.

Notorious. That's what the Times-Picayune called me. And the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, "Wicked Bitsy Wentworth looks like a blond Barbie -- shapely on the exterior, but underneath the plastic is the razorsharp brain of a teenaged criminal."

My name is Lillian Beatrice McDougal Wentworth -- Bitsy for short -- and this is my side of the story: It began two months ago on a hot afternoon in August. The day started out normal. First, I washed my baby's hair in the kitchen sink. Jennifer has quite a lot of hair for an eightmonth-old, so it took a while. I wrapped her in a towel and we danced around the room. From the top of the refrigerator, the radio was playing Strauss's "On the Beautiful Blue Danube." Normally I would be listening to Neil Diamond, but ever since Claude and I had renewed our marriage vows -- six weeks ago, to be exact -- I was determined to improve myself. After all, Claude was a Wentworth, and his people have been cultured for the last hundred years. Which shouldn't be confused with buttermilk or bacterial cultures; I'm talking about sophistication. I'd tried to sound stylish by memorizing words from the dictionary, but sometimes I mispronounced the words, and Claude's mother, Miss Betty, would call me down. But I could stand to listen to classical music, as long as I didn't have to say the composers' names.

The baby stirred in my arms, sending up sweet gusts of baby shampoo, and we waltzed to the other side of the kitchen, stepping through puddles of sunlight, which poured through the long windows. Jennifer laughed. It came from her belly and sounded a little like Phyllis Diller, but in a cute sort of way. After I fluffed the baby's hair and dressed her in a pink sunsuit, I carried her into the living room. I picked up a blanket and was just starting to play peek-a-boo, when I happened to glance at the clock. It was nearly three P.M., and Claude liked his supper on the table by five sharp. I put the baby in the playpen, hurried into the kitchen, and flung open the freezer door. All I could find was an enormous package of ribs. Hoping they'd defrost faster, I shoved the rubber stopper into the sink drain and turned on the water, then I tossed in the package. Next, I changed the radio station to one that played love songs. The Fifth Dimension was singing "One Less Bell to Answer," and I asked myself why men leave and what did fried eggs have to do with it?

From the living room, I could hear Jennifer banging on her toy xylophone -- she sounded extra-talented to me -- and then I grabbed the charcoal bag and a tin of lighter fluid. I stepped outside and hunkered next to the hibachi. It was too soon to light the briquettes, but I thought I'd get them ready. As I piled them into the bottom of the hibachi, I tried to remember my mother's recipe for barbecue sauce -- did it call for honey or brown sugar? I couldn't ask because she was in a psychiatric hospital getting cured of paranoia and in no condition to exchange recipes.

The kitchen phone rang and I hurried back inside, skidding across the linoleum, my polka-dot dress swishing around my legs. I just love anything with polka dots, although gingham is awfully sweet, too. I grabbed the receiver and answered in my breathless Julie Christie voice, the one Claude liked. I'd copied it from Dr. Zhivago.

"Is Claude there?" It was a woman. I didn't recognize her voice, but it reminded me of sticky hot summer nights on my grandmother's old screened porch, mosquitoes humming in the damp air.

"No, but I'm expecting him any minute." I waved my hand, as if shooing a bug.

"I'm sure you are. Never mind, I'll catch up with him later." The woman laughed and hung up. I frowned, trying to place the voice. It hummed in my ear in dizzy circles. I wanted to slap it and draw blood. But maybe the caller was one of Claude's customers. He was a loan officer at Citizen's Bank where his daddy, Claude Wentworth III, was the president. People were always wanting to borrow money.

From the radio, Petula Clark began singing "My Love." I stared at the phone a minute. Then I dialed the bank. My love for Claude was deeper than the deepest ocean, and nothing in the world could ever change that love -- unless he was up to something.

When the receptionist answered, I pinched my nostrils to disguise my voice. "May I speak to Claude Wentworth IV?" I put emphasis on the numeral, so the woman wouldn't put me through to Claude III, my father-in-law.

"I'm sorry," said the receptionist. "He isn't in his office this afternoon. May I take a message?"

"What do you mean, not in his office ?" I cried in my real voice.

"He'll be here tomorrow," said the woman. Then in a more suspicious tone, "Who is this?"

I hung up and walked in a daze to the living room. I sank down into a teal blue plaid chair. I'd bought it at Goodwill, then Claude's mother had her upholsterer recover it in some of her leftover fabric. From this, I had put together a teal-and-white color scheme. Claude said he loved it. But then, he said a lot of things. If he hadn't been to the bank today, then where had he gone? Across the room, Jennifer had abandoned the xylophone and was busily fitting nesting cups together. She looked up and grinned -- the spitting image of the Wentworths, with their high foreheads and curly blond hair. Then she tossed the cups into the air and screeched ...

Mad Girls in Love: A Novel
by by Michael Lee West

  • paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0060985062
  • ISBN-13: 9780060985066