In today’s Flash Fiction Friday, we meet the heroines of The Making of Henri Higgins- Elizabeta Flores del Fuego. Elizabeta for Eliza,while Flores means ‘Flower’ and Fuego means ‘Fiery’ – both aspects of the character of Eliza in the original Pygmalion.
My Elizabeta is as different from the original Eliza as can be – rather than an poor English flowerseller, Elizabeta is a South-American born single mother living in Canberra with her own mother and two children. She has an MBA and is developing the skills needed to run her daughter’s business. Two things they both have in common – A) they both want to be in a different place to where they currently are and B) Henri(y) Higgins is the path to achieving what they want.
Elizabeta opened the front door of her home to a cacophony of banging pots, loud music and wailing. Oh, the joy.
Silently making a promise to make some causa for the neighbours to compensate for the noise, Elizabeta closed the door. The priority was Angie, but she couldn’t reach her daughter’s room without passing the kitchen, so she’d have to deal with her mother first.
Elizabeta stepped from the entry way into the open dining room and kitchen. She was greeted by the smash of a large pot onto the counter. Elizabeta cringed, hoping it hadn’t cracked the linoleum.
“Good afternoon, Mama.” Elizabeta put her handbag on the dining table. “What’s wrong?”
“Elizabeta, u hijaes molestia y me causa nada más que dolor.” Another pot banged.
Your daughter is trouble and she brings me nothing but grief. “She doesn’t mean it, Mama. You know that.”
“Ir quieten ella. No puedo trabajar con ese ruido.” Another pot crashed onto the bench.
Obviously Maria wasn’t to be calmed until Angie was.
Elizabeta walked up the stairs, and stopped at the top facing her son Nicky’s door. The music had been turned down, a sign he had been using it to drown out the noise around him rather than signal anything was wrong with him. Still, Elizabeta decided to take a few seconds to check so she could focus solely on Angie.
Elizabeta knocked on the door and pushed it open. Nicky was lying on his stomach on his bed, reading a textbook. Elizabeta smiled. Her studious son. He’d inherited the desire to learn from her. His appearance was all his father, dark and swarthy. He wasn’t self-aware, was focussed on getting to university, so he didn’t see the looks the girls were already giving him, looks that would turn to action as they all got older.
Nicky lifted his head and smiled and as it did every time, it broke her heart a little, he was so like Alejandro. Ten years, and there were still moments she missed him. “Hi, Mum. Angie’s had a bad day.”
“Super. Aced a test today, then scored the winning goal in the game.”
“That’s my boy.” Elizabeta kissed his forehead.
Satisfied her youngest child was happy, Elizabeta went to talk to her oldest. The wailing intensified as she approached Angie’s door. Angie had turned expressing her emotions into an art form. Whatever had happened today had really hurt her.
Elizabeta knocked, then opened the door. The room was dark, the curtains drawn, but she could see Angie lying on her stomach on her bed, face buried in her pillow.
Elizabeta sat by her daughter’s hip and stroked her hair. “Tell me what happened, my darling.”
The wailing continued for a few moments, lessening into sobbing. Elizabeta kept stroking and waited. Eventually, Angie controlled her crying and was able to talk.
She rolled over and looked at her mother. “They destroyed dress.”
“Tell me exactly what they did, my sweetling.” Now Elizabeta stroked Angie’s broad forehead and cheeks.
“Bride dress. I took it, put it on dummy, and teacher said wonderful. When she gone, they said awful, teased and laughed, got scissors…” Her voice broke and she could say no more.
Elizabeta picked up her daughter’s hand and kissed it. “You know why they did that, right?”
“Yes, they are. They’re also jealous. They know they can never produce anything as beautiful as you can.”
It wasn’t just a platitude to make Angie feel better. From the moment she’d started at the design school two years ago, the teachers had been telling Elizabeta how talented her daughter was. It was always followed by something along the lines of, “A shame she’ll never be the success her talent deserves.”
Elizabeta was determined her daughter’s disability wasn’t going to stop her from achieving everything she wanted to. Elizabeta was working hard to ensure it happened.
“Can we fix the dress?” Elizabeta said.
“Well, why not have a look and see if you can turn it into something new? Take that back to class and show them that even if they try to destroy your work, you’ll just use what they do to make something even better.”
Angie sat up, wiping her eyes. “Something new?”
“A new type of wedding dress, maybe? Or not a dress at all. Something for the groom? I know you’re clever enough to work it out.” Elizabeta kissed Angie.
“Too sad now.” Angie flopped back onto the pillow.
“I know. You’re allowed to be sad. But only for one hour. Then you have to stop being sad and start working again, okay?”
Elizabeta set the alarm. She knew that the moment it went off, Angie would do as she was told, shake the sadness from her and move on. Sometimes, having a child with a mental disability was easy to deal with. Sometimes, it was almost impossible.
Elizabeta went back downstairs. The smell of frying onions, peppers and garlic was rich in the air and for a moment, she considered shucking work for the evening and staying home to eat with her family.
Maria wasn’t banging pots any more, but the dark look she gave Elizabeta made it clear she had not calmed yet.
“I’m sorry she was rude to you, Mama. The bullies at school ruined her wedding dress.”
The anger in Maria’s expression darkened. “Déjame tener un momento con esos matones y les enseñaré a ser mejores personas.”
Elizabeta nodded, not surprised she could turn her mother so quickly onto Angie’s side. “I promise that you and I both will get our turn with them. But not right now. Angie is having a bath, so give her some time before you call her to dinner.” Elizabeta picked up her handbag.
“Must you go? Angelina would like you to stay.”
“So would I, Mama, but I have a job to do.”
He thought it was all a game…until he grew accustomed to her face.
Henri Higgins is bored by everything – his life, his work, even the models he regularly sees socially (and privately). So when a close friend suggests a high-stakes, friendly competition, a ‘fame’ game, Ree leaps at the opportunity for a little shake-up in his daily routine. The rules are simple: the competitors are to take the first person that they meet at a certain time and make them as famous as possible within two weeks.
But Ree doesn’t expect Elizabeta.
Elizabeta Flores del Fuego has a plan. An office manager by day, she moonlights at a number of creative Canberra businesses by night to learn all she can about the fashion industry and put her in the best place possible to help launch her beloved daughter, Angelina’s design career. Cleaning the office of Higgins Publishing is just one of those jobs, but when Henri Higgins offers her a week’s worth of work and a paycheque large enough to get Angelina Designs on its feet, it’s an offer she can’t refuse.
But Elizabeta doesn’t expect Ree, and neither expect the lessons in love they’re both about to learn.