EXTRACT: THE WITNESS
Chapter 1. June 2000
Elizabeth Fitch’s short-lived teenage rebellion began with L’Oréal Pure Black, a pair of scissors and a fake ID. It ended in blood.
For nearly the whole of her sixteen years, eight months and twenty-one days she’d dutifully followed her mother’s directives. Dr. Susan L. Fitch issued directives, not orders. Elizabeth had adhered to the sched- ules her mother created, ate the meals designed by her mother’s nutritionist and prepared by her mother’s cook, wore the clothes selected by her mother’s personal shopper.
Dr. Susan L. Fitch dressed conservatively, as suited—in her opinion— her position as chief of surgery of Chicago’s Silva Memorial Hospital. She expected, and directed, her daughter to do the same.
Elizabeth studied diligently, accepting and excelling in the academic programs her mother outlined. In the fall, she’d return to Harvard in pursuit of her medical degree. So she could become a doctor, like her mother—a surgeon, like her mother.
Elizabeth—never Liz or Lizzie or Beth—spoke fluent Spanish, French, Italian, passable Russian and rudimentary Japanese. She played both piano and violin. She’d traveled to Europe, to Africa. She could name all the bones, nerves and muscles in the human body and play Chopin’s Piano Concerto—both Nos. 1 and 2, by rote.
She’d never been on a date or kissed a boy. She’d never roamed the mall with a pack of girls, attended a slumber party or giggled with friends over pizza or hot fudge sundaes.
She was, at sixteen years, eight months and twenty-one days, a prod- uct of her mother’s meticulous and detailed agenda.
That was about to change.
She watched her mother pack. Susan, her rich brown hair already coiled in her signature French twist, neatly hung another suit in the organized garment bag, then checked off the printout with each day of the week’s medical conference broken into subgroups. The printout included a spreadsheet listing every event, appointment, meeting and meal, scheduled with the selected outfit, with shoes, bag and accessories.
Designer suits; Italian shoes, of course, Elizabeth thought. One must wear good cuts, good cloth. But not one rich or bright color among the blacks, grays, taupes. She wondered how her mother could be so beauti- ful and deliberately wear the dull.
After two accelerated semesters of college, Elizabeth thought she’d begun—maybe—to develop her own fashion sense. She had, in fact, bought jeans and a hoodie and some chunky-heeled boots in Cam- bridge.
With cash, so the receipt wouldn’t show up on her credit card bill, in case her mother or their accountant checked and questioned the items, which were currently hidden in her room. She’d felt like a different person wearing them, so different she’d walked straight into a McDonald’s and ordered her first Big Mac with large fries and a chocolate shake.
The pleasure had been so huge, she’d had to go into the bathroom, close herself in a stall and cry a little.
The seeds of the rebellion had been planted that day, she supposed, or maybe they’d always been there, dormant, and the fat and salt had awakened them.
But she could feel them, actually feel them, sprouting in her belly now.
“Your plans changed, Mother. It doesn’t follow that mine have to change with them.”
Susan took a moment to precisely place a shoe bag in the Pullman, tucking it just so with her beautiful and clever surgeon’s hands, the nails perfectly manicured. A French manicure, as always—no color there, either.
“Elizabeth.” Her voice was as polished and calm as her wardrobe. “It took considerable effort to reschedule and have you admitted to the summer program this term. You’ll complete the requirements for your admission into Harvard Medical School a full semester ahead of schedule.”
Even the thought made Elizabeth’s stomach hurt. “I was promised a three-week break, including this next week in New York.”
“And sometimes promises must be broken. If I hadn’t had this com- ing week off, I couldn’t fill in for Dr. Dusecki at the conference.”
“You could have said no.”
“That would have been selfish and shortsighted.” Susan brushed at the jacket she’d hung, stepped back to check her list. “You’re certainly mature enough to understand the demands of work overtake pleasure and leisure.”
“If I’m mature enough to understand that, why aren’t I mature enough to make my own decisions? I want this break. I need it.”
Susan barely spared her daughter a glance. “A girl of your age, physical condition and mental acumen hardly needs a break from her studies and activities. In addition, Mrs. Laine has already left for her two-week cruise, and I could hardly ask her to postpone her vacation. There’s no one to fix your meals or tend to the house.”
“I can fix my own meals and tend the house.”
“Elizabeth.” The tone managed to merge clipped with long-suffering. “It’s settled.”
“And I have no say in it? What about developing my independence, being responsible?”
“Independence comes in degrees, as does responsibility and freedom of choice. You still require guidance and direction. Now, I’ve e-mailed you an updated schedule for the coming week, and your packet with all the information on the program is on your desk. Be sure to thank Dr. Frisco personally for making room for you in the summer term.”
As she spoke, Susan closed the garment bag, then her small Pullman. She stepped to her bureau to check her hair, her lipstick.
“You don’t listen to anything I say.”
In the mirror, Susan’s gaze shifted to her daughter. The first time, Elizabeth thought, her mother had bothered to actually look at her since she’d come into the bedroom. “Of course I do. I heard everything you said, very clearly.”
“Listening’s different than hearing.” “That may be true, Elizabeth, but we’ve already had this discussion.” “It’s not a discussion, it’s a decree.” Susan’s mouth tightened briefly, the only sign of annoyance. When
she turned, her eyes were coolly, calmly blue. “I’m sorry you feel that way. As your mother, I must do what I believe best for you.”
“What’s best for me, in your opinion, is for me to do, be, say, think, act, want, become exactly what you decided for me before you insemi- nated yourself with precisely selected sperm.”
She heard the rise of her own voice but couldn’t control it, felt the hot sting of tears in her eyes but couldn’t stop them. “I’m tired of being your experiment. I’m tired of having every minute of every day orga- nized, orchestrated and choreographed to meet your expectations. I want to make my own choices, buy my own clothes, read books I want to read. I want to live my own life instead of yours.”
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