The Pretty One A Novel About Sisters - By Lucinda Rosenfeld


OLYMPIA LOUISE HELLINGER HAD always been the “Beautiful One” in her family. Among her sisters, she was also understood to be the Artistic One, the Flaky One, the Chronically Late One, the Mellow One, the Selfish One, and the Unambitious One. Whether reality reflected reputation was a matter of opinion. But at thirty-eight she was the events coordinator of a small museum of contemporary Austrian art, located on the Upper East Side. She was also a single mother. Little wonder that, as much as she loved spending time with her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Lola, she also longed for more hours to herself.

For years, Olympia had been painting watercolors of little girls and furry animals. This had been true even before she’d given birth to Lola—or brought home Clive, a borderline-obese New Zealand white rabbit with pink eyes, from a local pet store. In her spare time, Olympia also enjoyed shopping for clothes; listening to music; setting up other single friends on blind dates; perusing symptoms lists on WebMD and fearing that she’d contracted a fatal disease (and feeling, somehow, that she deserved it); and then, as a distraction from her worries, drinking too much and reading the mystery and espionage novels she’d loved since she was a child, beginning with Harriet the Spy.

A week before Christmas, however, a more serious form of sleuthing beckoned. Impatient to begin, Olympia started “bath time” fifteen minutes earlier than usual. “Story time” followed. For the sixth night in a row, Lola wanted Olympia to read her Madeline’s Rescue. Miss Clavel having turned off the light for the last time, Lola demanded that her mother “ask her a silly question.”

Olympia complied with this request as well. “Excuse me,” she began. “But there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. Can you explain to me why there’s a slice of pizza coming out of your elbow?”

“Ask me another silly question,” Lola replied with a giggle.

“I was also wondering why there’s a piece of celery sticking out of your ear?”

That was apparently an even funnier image to behold. Lola laughed so hard she burped.

“Also,” said Olympia, “could someone tell me why there’s a cheese sandwich attached to your behind?”

Now in stitches, Lola collapsed onto her mother’s lap, then the rug. Enchanted by the sound of her daughter’s laughter, Olympia momentarily forgot what a rush she was in, bent over Lola’s tiny body, and, in an attempt to prolong her hysterics, tickled her exposed tummy. (Lola’s beloved Disney Princess nightgown, a hot-pink firetrap given to her by her babysitter and featuring the entire royal assemblage clustered like newscasters on a billboard, had ridden up to her armpits.)

Shortly thereafter, Olympia’s internal clock resumed ticking. “And now it’s sleepy time for Sleeping Beauty,” she announced, lifting Lola into the air with her as she stood up.

“I’m Belle—not Sleeping Beauty,” declared Lola, her laughter abruptly ceasing.

“Well, Queen Mommy has decreed that all princesses must be asleep by eight thirty.”

“One more silly question.”

“No. You have school tomorrow.”

“It’s not real school. It’s daycare.”

Olympia released a heavy sigh of exasperation before attempting to regain the upper hand. “Okay, here’s my last silly question: can you please tell me why you’re not in bed already?”

“That’s not silly.”


“But you didn’t sing ‘Favorite Things’ or do ‘This Little Piggy’ yet!”

Olympia had a new tack. “If I do both things, do you promise to go to sleep?”

“Okay,” Lola agreed.

“But do you promise?”


And so Olympia assigned neighborhood destinations to all ten of Lola’s toes. Then she did her best Julie Andrews impression. Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes!, she sang in a high register, secretly impressed with her own vocal skills and, for a split second, wondering if she could have made it a career. Silver white winters that meld into spring, she went on. Or was it melt into spring? And did it matter? Finally, Olympia arrived at the last of the feel so bads. “Okay, that’s it. It’s eight thirty,” she said. It was actually eight twenty-seven; luckily, Lola hadn’t yet learned to tell time.

Olympia deposited Lola in her toddler bed, then switched off the butterfly lamp on her dresser. The room went dark but for the fluorescent glow of a night-light.

“Noooooo!” moaned Lola. “No sleep. Not tired.”

“Lola, you promised!!” said Olympia, her temperature rising.

“I’m scared.”

“What are you scared of? I’m going to be in the next room.”

“I’m scared of the dark.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s not even that dark in here.”

“Is so.”

“Is not.”

“Is too,” said Lola, throwing her legs over the side of the bed as if