Today's Reading

She took a discreet yet visible spot, exactly the row Josephine said she would, which sent audible shock waves rippling through the crowd. Constance Gardiner was in attendance and enjoying her triumph over Josephine's demise, if nothing else. Constance, the society matron, the horsewoman, the belle of New York society. The other beauty industry pioneer. Their rivalry had been legendary and even scandalous. Constance had outlived Josephine! And in this way, Constance...had won; even their longevity, competitive.

I personally had always found Constance a bit masculine for my taste and also a bit scary. I knew she was going to approach me and deliver her final chess move. The Xanax had not dulled the anxiety and anticipation of that moment entirely. I tapped my English brogues and looked at my rose-gold Patek, which Madame had given me for my fortieth birthday, knowing that for a man like me, age was not something cosmetics could solve.

* * *

The rabbi intoned the prayers and let the crowd know that the family was receiving, after the cemetery, at Josephine's grand and fabled Fifth Avenue duplex. People always gaped at the gargantuan rooms, ceiling heights, and Dubuffet murals. They also repeated the story that after being turned down by the building's white-shoe board in the 1930s, Josephine had simply bought the building lock, stock, and barrel under a corporate name. After divorcing her first husband, she lived with her younger Russian prince, taking New York society by storm. Some said it was a marketing ploy when she married him and launched her Princess Orlove line of lipsticks, rouge, and perfume, but she outlived him, too! The funeral was perhaps the one time Constance would ever even think of being in the same room as Josephine, and she appeared to relish the chance to inventory the riches of Josephine's life and, more important, the ruins.

After the service, I stood, pulling on my navy cashmere overcoat, comforted by the buttery feeling of the material, and saw her making her way through the crowd. Constance was always so very sure of herself. Suddenly she was before me, her South Sea pearls worn in defiance, each one the size of a large marble. Her face was still beautiful, pulled yet handsome. And she still had that Kate Hepburn style, wearing defiance as casually as her slacks. It was as though Constance had chosen to maintain 1930s-film style forever.

She took a moment to nod to the notables and to greet those people offering her condolences, as if the two beauty industry pioneers had been comrades-in-arms, despite their half-century-long battle. Finally, she spoke stridently.

"I'm so very sorry, Robert," she said, using my formal name, "I know how dedicated you were to her. It must be very hard to know she is gone." She paused. "And isn't coming back." She spoke in a clipped mid-Atlantic accent.

"Yes, we all admired her so," I said. "The woman who invented the beauty business." I had rehearsed the line over and over with Madame. I promised her I would say it as a parting gift, and I had delivered on my promise.

"That is debatable, depending on who you talk to and who signs your paycheck," she said. "So, are you going to come work for me now? I will double your salary, of course."

"Madame made me independently wealthy," I said, "and I would only work for a prestige house." I said this somewhat more meekly than intended.

"My, my..." She laughed. "You really learned from the old goat."

"Come now, Constance. This is, after all, her funeral." I had regained my confidence.

"Fine." She dug into her black crocodile Hermès purse. "Let's not make this any more uncomfortable than it has to be. I thought you should see this. Now that the old dragon has gone to her reward, I am suing for patent infringement." She shoved papers into my hand. The old case. Perhaps the most acrimonious battle that had raged between the two women.

"There is no way you can overturn the patent," I said.

"She stole Lashmatic from me all those years ago and I'm prepared to fight again," she said.

Miles, incensed at her mere presence, strode over with Jonny and joined the conversation. Soon, Charlene joined the ever-growing crowd. "Constance," said Miles, "don't you think you could have waited till the body was cold before you started hovering like a vulture?"

"I thought, perhaps, the private schools and family privilege would have given you a bit of polish, but you're as direct and blunt as your mother, may she rest in peace. I'm just here to claim what is rightfully mine."

"I think it's time you left," Charlene said, drawing herself into a regal posture.

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