The Astonishing Life of August March - Aaron Jackson

Part One

The boy was born in the Scarsenguard Theater on West Forty-Third Street during the intermission of These Dreams We Cherish. His mother, Vivian Fair, had just flawlessly delivered the rousing speech that concluded act 1. As soon as the curtains touched the boards, thunderous applause still ringing in her ears, Vivian waddled backstage, closed the door to her dressing room, and delivered, not a stirring monologue, but her son. She plopped the screeching, slimy creature into a basketful of soiled blouses, severed the umbilical cord with an eyelash curler, and was back in the wings just in time for places, a consummate professional.

The play over, Miss Fair was removing her wig when the baby’s cry startled her so that she nearly stabbed herself with a bobby pin.

A baby. She’d nearly forgotten. Vivian walked over to the basket and peered down at the newborn. Such a pathetic creature. Wrinkly and red and so very small, his tiny fists bunched, punching the air.

A sharp knock on her door caused Vivian to curse. She tossed a shawl over the newborn to hide it just as the knocker, a silly costar of Vivian’s with less talent than a coffee mug, poked her head in.

“Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you,” said the costar.

“What do you want?” Vivian snapped.

“Didn’t you hear? A producer was in the audience tonight. From Hollywood! He’s at Carlisle’s now!”

“Hollywood!” Vivian cried, clutching her neck. “Give me three minutes—I’ll meet you outside.”

With expertise, Vivian applied a becoming smear of lipstick, tousled her hair, and looked ready for even the most scrutinizing of closeups.

“You’re a star,” she whispered to her reflection.

The baby cried again.

Now here was a decision. She’d told no one about the pregnancy. These Dreams We Cherish was a period drama; hoop skirts had concealed her belly for months. And she certainly hadn’t told the father, whoever he was. Vivian had been meaning to deal with the situation, to make arrangements, but life kept interfering: an opening, a party, a gala. Events like that were important to her career, she’d thought. She’d figure out what to do about the baby later.

But now that the child had officially arrived, she found she wasn’t ready to be a mother. Not in the slightest. There was still so much she wanted to achieve.

Someone would find the boy and give him a marvelous home. Or that’s what she told herself as she dashed off to Carlisle’s with the rest of the cast for an evening of sidecars and schmoozing.

Much later that evening, as Vivian was kissing the bigwig Hollywood producer, he whispered to her what she’d told her reflection just a few hours prior.

“You’re a star.”

Vivian smiled, knowing she’d made the right decision.

Motherhood would be so horrible for her image.

* * *

Eugenia Butler was old. Ancient even. Brittle, bitter, and biting, she’d been employed as the Scarsenguard Theater’s laundress longer than anyone could remember. Longer than even she could remember.

Eugenia liked her work. And even if she didn’t, how else was she going to spend her evenings? Alone? Her mother had left her a quaint brownstone on East Twenty-Third Street, and though she loved it, Eugenia didn’t need to wander through an empty house every night. She preferred to keep busy.

So the day after her mother passed, Eugenia went out and secured herself a job at the Scarsenguard. What year had that been? It was 1933 now. Or was it ’34? Whatever year it was, her mother had most certainly died in 1865. Or somewhere right around there. Eugenia shrugged. Numbers had never been her strong suit. Common sense, good tailoring, and a solid