The Girl of Gold


Marta Pelrine-Bacon

The view from Shane’s apartment looked into the heart of the city, the darkest trees of the park, and at night she glimpsed lights glittering from there. If the wind blew the right way, she heard music. Sometimes she heard laughter all the way up to her room on the 25th floor.

When she saw the lights, she imagined a heart filled with fireflies. When heard the music, she had good dreams. But she was not allowed to go far into the park. The shadows of the park were one of the few things denied her. The more she wasn’t allowed to go, the more her imagination filled the spaces. One day, though, her father wouldn’t be able to stop her. She’d go. No matter what.

Shane was about to turn 17, and her father was throwing the biggest party the city had seen in years. Her father, everyone said, knew nothing but success. Every business deal and investment worked. He’d been investigated but everything proved good and true. These facts interested Shane not in the least. Her father didn’t interest her much either.

The party spilled from the ballroom into the dining room and out to the courtyard. The walls were lined with flowers. Gifts piled up in the grand entryway. Shane floated around everything. Gold beads decorated her hair to match her fine gold lace dress. She made sure with every turn that the skirt spun out to catch the light and to show off her shoes.

After dancing with one handsome young man, the son of someone important, she bumped into her father at the edge of the dance floor. She hadn’t even been sure he had come down to the party.

“Walk with me, dear,” he said. He took her by the arm.

“Do you like my dress?” she asked. “It’s your favorite color.”

He led her out to the dance floor. “How do you like your party?”

She’d taken all the necessary dance classes and even while she thought it all a bit old fashion, she liked waltzing around the room with her father. People cleared a path for them. She hoped someone was capturing it all in a camera.

“Have you ever considered,” he asked her, “what you would do without all this?”

“Daddy. It’s my birthday. You used to say the world was mine on my birthday.” A cluster of her friends stood in the corner of the room. They were whispering to each other or texting on their phones.

“Other people have birthdays today. The world can’t belong to all of you.” His hand rested lightly on her back.

She smiled at a young man they danced by. “I know how to share. You think I don’t, but I do.”

“Sometimes the world belongs to everyone but you, and the world doesn’t share.” He brought their dance to an end.

“Daddy, don’t get philosophical on my birthday.” She kissed his cheek. “I’ll learn all about the real world, okay? I promise. Just not right now.”

“Shane,” he said.

“Hush,” she said. “Lori’s here.” She turned from him and pushed her way through the guests. She looked back over her shoulder. “Say goodnight when you go upstairs!”

For a couple hours she danced with friends, kissed Trent Fairfield while standing behind the rose bushes in the courtyard, and ate three slices of cake. She was out of breath from spinning in circles with Lori, Trent, and a handful of others until they all fell onto the grass. She opened her eyes to her father standing over her. The torches burning around the courtyard lit up his face and cast deeper shadows as well.

“You’ll ruin that dress,” he said, though his voice lacked anger.

“It’s just a dress. This is my birthday.”

“You’re a pile of gold in the grass.”

She laughed and kicked her feet. “Lori,” she shouted. Her friends were getting to their feet. “I’m a pile of gold.”

“Fool’s gold,” Lori shouted back.

Her father reached down and pulled her up. “Come with me,” he said.

Her hair coming undone, she walked beside her father. At the archway from the courtyard she waved to Lori, to Trent, to everyone. “You haven’t sung me happy birthday yet!”

“We will when you get back,” Trent called after her.

A waiter walked by Shane and her father with a tray filled with champagne glasses. Her father took one glass, handing it to his only child. “It is almost midnight. You can toast your birthday.”

“Really?” She watched the bubbles sparkle up the sides of the glass.

“Just one glass though.” They walked around the dance floor.

She sipped her champagne. “That’s amazing. I shouldn’t’ve waited so long for this.”

They went through the dining room. A few people tried to say something to them, but her father waved them away. She didn’t notice. She sipped her champagne. “You’re awful. Keeping this a secret from me all this time. I shall hate you forever if you don’t let me have another glass.”

They reached the grand entryway. “Do you ever wonder where all this comes from?” he asked. They were at the front doors.

“From France?” She was almost to the bottom of the glass.

He shook his head. “The money.”

“Daddy.” She downed the last of the bubbles. “That’s your grownup business.”

“I make deals.” He opened the double doors. The doormen were not there. “Everyone knows that.”

She rolled her eyes. “Daddy, my friends want to sing me happy birthday.” But the fresh air felt good. At the top of the steps, her head spun.

“When you were born, I made a deal with your mother’s people,” he said.

The delightful spinning in her head stumbled. “What?” They never talked about her mother’s people. She’d never heard the phrase before. She’d never even known her mother. A long time ago she learned not to ask. Everyone thought her mother was dead, and so did she.

Shane realized her father was looking down the stairs and to the street. A horse pulling a caravan was there. A young man stood beside the horse, and the back door of the caravan was open. “I don’t understand.”

“You were never meant to,” her father replied. “Go on.” He gestured to the caravan.

Uncertain, she went down the steps. The young man smiled shyly at her when she looked his way. Her father stayed where he was. “I keep my end of every deal,” he said. Faint music came from inside the caravan. It reminded Shane of the music from the park.

She went around to the open caravan door. Yellow light leaked from under a red velvet curtain. “That is the world that belongs to you,” her father said from above.

Shane pulled back the curtain and went in. Her friends never sang happy birthday.

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