Welcome, Beauty was what the sign said. It was right up in
front of the SeaHarp Hotel, where everybody in the world
could see it. What I didn't find out until later was that the
sign had said Welcome, Miss Greystone Bay Beauty, but the
windstorm the night before had blown the rest of the letters
to kingdom come. When my Momma and I saw that sign,
she squeezed my hand and I felt like my heart was going to
burst open. My Momma always called me Beauty, and now
the SeaHarp was calling me Beauty too.
Oh, that was a wonderful day! My Momma used to tell
me the story of Cinderella. I could never get enough of it.
And when we took the curve in that fancy, long black car
they'd sent for us, and I saw the SeaHarp Hotel up on the
hill in front of us, I knew how Cinderella felt. If you were
to take a dream and put sugar frosting on it, you'd have the
SeaHarp. All those windows, that green grass, the blue sky
over us ... and that sign. It made my blood thrill, to think
the SeaHarp knew my name. 'Course, my little sister Annie
had to come along with us, and she was kicking a fuss
because it was my day to get all the attention. But I didn't
mind. Not much. I missed Daddy being there, but Mr.
Teague wouldn't let him off from the mill, not even for a day
like this. Momma says things about Mr. Teague that I
wouldn't tell a soul.
The driver pulled us on up to the front steps. Another man
in a uniform came down and opened the door for us. We got
out, and we went up to the porch and we didn't even have to
carry our own bags. Then I stood at the open doors looking
in at the SeaHarp like a frozen statue while Annie danced
and raised Cain all around me. Momma told her to hush and
not disgrace us, and the man in the uniform smiled and said,
"It's our honor, Mrs. Guthrie," in a voice that let you know
you'd gotten to where you were supposed to be. My Momma
smiled, but her lips were tight; she was always ashamed of
her teeth, the front one broken and all.
Before we went in, I turned toward the Bay. It was full
of sunshine. And then I just let my head turn along the
crescent of the water, and way off in the distance I saw a
smudge of smoke against the sky. It was coming up from a
long brown building that hardly had any windows. "My
Daddy's there," I told the man at the door, and I pointed.
I saw my Momma flinch just a little bit, but the doorman
smiled real nice.
I won the contest, see. The Greystone Bay Beauty Contest,
for young ladies sixteen to eighteen. The winner got a dozen
roses, a hundred dollars and a weekend stay at the SeaHarp.
And her picture in the paper too, of course. I'd just turned
sixteen, on the second day of May. My Momma always had
faith in me. She said I could sing up a storm, and my voice
was okay I guess. She said, "Beauty, someday you're gonna
go far. Gonna see and do things I never did. I wish I could
go with you to those places."
I said, "You can. Momma! You can always go with me!"
She smiled, a little bit. "You're a beauty," she said, and
she took my hands and held them. "Beauty outside, beauty
inside. Me, I'm just a tired rag."
"No!" I told her. "Don't you say that!" Because my
Momma was a pretty woman, and there's nobody better say
she wasn't. Isn't, I mean.
The manager was waiting to meet us, in that big lobby bathed in light. He
was a tall man, in a dark blue suit with pinstripes. He said how happy he
was that the SeaHarp could host us for the weekend, but I hardly heard him.
I was looking around that lobby, and trying to figure out how many of our
house could fit in it. Maybe ten. We only had four rooms; they called where
we lived a "shotgun shack," and the walls were gray. Not in the
SeaHarp. The walls were white, like clouds. I'd never seen so many chairs,
sofas and tables outside of a furniture store, and there were crystal vases
full of fresh-cut flowers. I've always loved flowers. I used to pick
daffodils in the Spring, where they grew along the creekbed outside our
"Hello," the manager said to me, and I said hello back.
"Someone's wearing some nice perfume."
"That's violets," Momma said. "She always wears the
scent of violets, because that's a right smell for a beauty like
"Yes," the manager agreed, "it certainly is." And then
he snapped his fingers and you would've thought the carpet
has sprouted bellboys like mushrooms.
It's strange, how you notice things. Like the pink dress my Momma and
Daddy had bought for me to wear. It looked fine in the gray light of
our house, but at the SeaHarp ... it looked like the pink was old and
faded. It looked like something that had been on a hanger for a long,
long time. And the sheets of my bed in that room were so cool and
crisp; they embraced you. They didn't want you to leave them. The
windows were all so clean, and the sun was so bright, and
you had hot water whenever you wanted it. Oh, that was a
Cinderella dream come true.
Momma said Daddy was going to come visit the SeaHarp
when he got off work, even if it was at nine o'clock at night.
She said Daddy was so proud of me, just like she was. All
Annie did, though, was prance around and make a mighty
fool of herself. Momma said she was going to lie down and
have a rest, and for me to watch Annie and keep her out of
mischief. We went off together, through the white hallways,
and we found the stairs.
Annie said she could dance better than me, and I said she couldn't. I
was sixteen, but there was enough little girl in me to want to show
her who was a better dancer. So we danced up and down those stairs,
like that scene where Shirley Temple dances on the steps and she goes
up three, down two, up four, down two, up five, down ...
My head hurts.
Sometimes I get tired real easy. Sometimes day seems like
night, and night seems like a long day when clocks won't
move. I get tired, and I can't think right.
I leave my room, where the crisp cool sheets of that bed are always
laid open like a blue wound, and I go to the elevator. I know the
elevator man's name: Clancy. He's a black man with gray hair, and he
knows me too. He brings the elevator to where I wait, and when he
cranks the doors open I step in smooth as pink silk.
"Evenin', Beauty," Clancy says. I say hello to Mr. Clancy.
"Mighty quiet in the SeaHarp tonight," he says—this is what he
always says. Mr. Clancy only works during the quiet hours. He cranks the
doors shut, pulls a lever and the old elevator begins its descent. I listen
to the cables and gears turning above our heads. A gear needs oiling; it
squeaks too loudly.
"What time is it?" I ask Mr. Clancy.
"Gloria's sister June is gonna have a baby," he answers.
Oh, he can be a mean man! Sometimes he acts as if you have
no voice at all! "Got the names all picked out. Third baby
for her, shouldn't be no big thing."
"Is it springtime, Mr. Clancy?" I ask. "At least tell me
"Smithie got a raise. Seems like I oughta get a raise. You
know, that Smithie's always complainin' 'bout one thing or
I want to scream, but that would be beneath me. To tell
the truth, I like hearing Mr. Clancy talk to me. I like the
sound of his voice, and the noise of the elevator. I don't care
for the stairs.
The elevator arrives at the lobby. The doors open, and I
see the lamps glowing and the beautiful walls and furniture;
all there, all just the same as the first day. "You sure smell nice
tonight. Beauty," Mr. Clancy says as I leave—he always says this—and I
turn back and say thank you to his blind-eyed face. Then Mr. Clancy
sits on his stool and rests awhile, waiting for me to return. I roam
the lobby, between the walls of clouds. There are new, fresh-cut
flowers in the crystal vases. I decide it must be springtime, after
all. At the SeaHarp, it's always springtime.
This is my Cinderella dream. I can sing here, and dance
across a carpet the color of sun on the Bay. Once I saw a
young man walking here; he was a handsome young man,
older than me. Maybe he was twenty. I walked beside him,
but he had a newspaper under his arm and no time for beauty. I drift
amid the vases, and some of the flowers rustle as I pass. Sometimes I
hear other voices here: fragile voices, drifting in and out. Daddy
used to have an old radio he kept in the front room, and Annie and I
listened to it. That's what those voices are like: from faraway
places, places that aren't nearly so beautiful as this.
I don't like the attic. They don't keep it clean enough, and
the voices up there want you to do naughty things.
Once I was here, dancing and singing, and I saw the manager. The very
same man. I recognized him by his walk, and the way he snapped his
fingers at the people behind the front desk. They jumped like whipped
dogs. I came up behind him and snapped my fingers at his ear, and he
turned around real quick and for a second he looked right straight
into my eyes.
Oh, no, I thought. Oh, no. This couldn't be the same man. I was wrong.
This was an old man, with white hair and a wrinkled face. Oh, the man
I was thinking about was a lot younger than this. But he must've
smelled my violets, because he made a gasping sound and stepped back
against the counter and his eyes were as big as silver dollars. "Talk
to me," I said. "Somebody talk to me."
But the old man just gasped, and I went on.
What time is it? My head ... sometimes it hurts so bad.
Momma? I thought I heard—
I get tired, real easy.
Mr. Clancy takes me in the elevator, back up to the third floor.
"Goodnight, Beauty," he says, and I wish him goodnight too. Momma
always said being polite was a sign of good blood.
The door to Room 301 is open. It's always open. I wouldn't
have it any other way, because if anyone wants to come in
and talk to me, I want them to know they're welcome. I go
inside—and there's a woman sitting in a chair, a lamp with a
blue shade burning next to her. She looks up as soon as I
come in, and her eyes widen. She shakes a little bit, as if
she's about to get up and run for the door. But she settles
down and sticks, and I drift past her toward the bed with blue
"You're there, aren't you?" the woman asks. Her voice is
strained, but ... I know that voice, from somewhere.
"You're there," she says, positive now. "It's Ann, Beauty.
It's your sister Ann."
"I know who my sister is!" I say, turning toward the
woman. "But you're not her!" This is an old woman sitting
in my chair; an old woman with gray in her hair and deep
lines on her face. "My sister's a little girl!"
"I ... don't know if you can understand this or not."
The old woman who's pretending to be my sister stands up,
and she grips her hands in front of her as if she's afraid
they're going to fly away like wrinkled birds. "I wanted you
to know ... that Momma died tonight. At the hospital. The
cancer got her."
"Liar!" I shout. "You dirty old liar! Get out of my
"Momma asked me to come tell you," the crazy old
woman goes on. "I was right there when she died. Can you
understand what I'm saying?"
"NO! NO! NO! NO!"
"Jesus, I must be a damn fool." The woman shakes her
head. "I'm talking to the walls. I'm in a damn hotel room,
talking to the walls."
"Get out!" I want to knock the stuffing out of the old
woman. I want to pick her up like a scarecrow and throw her
through the door. I want to drag her by the hair to the stairs
and shove her down the ...
My head. My head hurts. Oh, my head ...
"It's better she passed on," the woman says. Why did such
a crazy old fool think I'd believe she was Annie? "Momma
had some pain. It's better this way." She looks at her hands,
and I can see them too, in the lamplight. The fingernails are
broken, and her hands are rough and cracked. They're the
hands of my Momma. "I ... came up the stairs, Beauty,"
she says. "I was going to take the elevator, but ..." She
shrugs. "I needed to walk up the stairs." Then she lifts her
head, and I watch her look all around the room as if she's
searching for a ghost. "Beauty," she says, in a very quiet
voice, "I want to ask you something. It's been ... tearing
at me, for such a long time. Beauty, please tell me ... I
didn't make you fall down those stairs, did I?"
She's not my sister! My sister's a little girl! "YOU GET
OUT!" I shout at her. . .
"Please tell me. It's been killing me, all these years. I
didn't make you fall ... did I?"
She waits. Annie, what happened to us? What happened,
in an instant when balance failed? What time is it, and where
is our Momma?
"Please ... please," Annie says, and she lowers her head
and begins to cry.
"No," I tell her. "Annie? You didn't make me fall.
Annie keeps crying. She always did like attention.
"I'm all right now," I say. "See?"
She sobs, and runs a hand over her eyes. I remember
something, now: here, in my room, Momma sitting on the
bed and crying as she told me Daddy had died. An accident
at the mill, she said. An accident ... just like yours was an
"Annie!" I say. "I'm all right! Stop crying!"
"I just wanted to tell you about Momma," Annie says.
She blows her nose on a tissue and wads it up. An old
stranger, she moves toward the door. Then she stops, on the
threshold. "Beauty? I don't know why you stayed here.
Maybe Momma did, but I didn't. Maybe you're here and
maybe you're not, but ... if you can, could you go be with
Momma? I mean ... it seems like it's time for you to leave
here, Beauty. It's time for you to go on."
And then my sister goes through the door, and I follow her
to the staircase. She descends, treading carefully, and I watch
her out of sight.
"Annie?" I call down after her. "I love you!"
Momma? Are you here, Momma? Have you come to be
with your Beauty?
No, Wherever Momma is, she's not at the SeaHarp. She's
gone to a place I should have gone to first. She's already seen
things I never have. But we can be together again! Can't
If I want to be with her, I have to leave the Cinderella
dream. I don't think I'm ready for that yet. I'm afraid. I love
the springtime, and I'm so afraid of winter.
But I have my answer now. I know what time it is. Annie
told me: it's time to leave here. It's time to go on.
Maybe I will. Maybe. But if you were to take a dream and
put sugar frosting on it, you'd have the SeaHarp. Do all
dreams have to end at midnight? Do they?
My head hurts. I get tired real easy. I want to rest in the
blue sheets, and I want to hear the Bay crash against the
rocks. I want to dream of pink dresses, a dozen roses, and a
sign that said Welcome, Beauty. Maybe my Momma will find
me in that dream. Maybe she's waiting for me there, and if
I hurry we can go together.
But the SeaHarp holds me. It's so full of light and beauty, so full of
dreams. Can't I stay here, just a little while longer?
I need to rest. Mr. Clancy will be waiting, at the elevator.
He is the master of his little square of the SeaHarp, just as I
am the mistress of mine. Tomorrow is the first day of spring.
I am sixteen years old, there will be fresh-cut flowers in the
crystal vases, and all the world will be beautiful.