Dear Mrs Kennedy... (II)
Elizabeth has been through all kinds of difficult tasks, nailing them time and time again as any strong monarch should. None of them has proved to be as challenging or as draining as taking her eyes off Jackie Kennedy.
There’s a small reception before dinner, and after Elizabeth has made the proper introductions, she finds herself looming the first lady like a child too shy to approach a potential friend at a playground, speaking to everyone around her except for Jackie. And she feels much like a child, a young girl again, with all the nervousness and restlessness – and if she searches deep into her chest, a strange type of curiosity and excitement she hadn’t felt in a while – that hearing Jackie make small conversations with the people around her brings. Much like the corridors and halls in her palace, she feels like she is seeing color, after endless months of gray winter.
That’s probably why she surprises everyone, even herself, when she jumps on the opportunity when Jackie asks for a tour of the palace.They go alone. No husbands, no bodyguards, no secretaries. Elizabeth is usually one to find comfort away from all those people, alone with someone else, but she finds herself trying her very best to look as composed as always.All while avoiding Jackie’s eyes.
“Now, this is the picture gallery” Elizabeth walks one step in front of Jackie, and for the first time, it’s not about protocol, it’s about protection. She wants to keep her face out of view. Not wants – it would be a sin to want that, to have the prettiest face she’s ever seen out of her sight – but needs. She knows all her efforts will come tumbling down if she dares look Jackie in the eye. “this is my great-great-great-great-grandfather, George III, and he bought Buckingham House in 1761 for his wife, Queen Charlotte.”
Elizabeth falters, and looks at Jackie, who’s wandered away from her to look at one of the big portraits hanging from the walls. It’s perhaps the first time she properly looks at Jackie, and she looks somewhat different than she did at dinner. She’s still a glowing thing, with a sort of halo of light around her, and it doesn’t fade, but it seems to soften. She would even go as far as to say Jackie looks younger, looking up at the paintings with such curiosity, and it gives Elizabeth a sense of closeness. Maybe she’s not the only one feeling childish at this point.
“And who’s this?” she asks, freely. Doesn’t call Elizabeth ma’am, doesn’t even look back at her, and Elizabeth can’t find it in her to be bothered by the lack of deference. For the first time in ages, being alone with someone almost as important as she is, Elizabeth feels like a normal, common woman, like she did before her father died. By God, she sure misses that feeling, and it’s the strangest thing that the first lady should be the one to bring her back to it.
“That’s one of the Pitts. The younger.” Elizabeth says, walking a few steps to stand beside Jackie. “Known for something that’s always rather endeared me to him: crippling shyness. Apparently, he could barely look people in the eye. And yet he became our Prime Minister.”
“I quite understand. I’m also a shy person by nature.” Jackie responds, still examining the painting in front of her, and Elizabeth looks up at her with curiosity.
“Well, you could have fooled me” Elizabeth thinks – and lets slip from her lips – and immediately holds her right wrist with her left hand, putting her arms in front of her body like she’s protecting herself. Even the smallest demonstration of her own character can make her wonder if that’s a step she should take.
But Jackie chuckles, her small shoulders shaking in the most adorable way, and suddenly Elizabeth’s at ease again.
“I’ve heard that before. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve been trying to get the courage to talk properly to you all evening, and yet haven’t been quite able to.” Jackie looks at her, a soft smile on her face matching her voice tone, and it occurs to Elizabeth that this is the first time she does so since they started this little tour. And that maybe she’s not the only one who’s avoiding eye contact.
It crosses Elizabeth’s mind to say that she has been in the same position all evening. That she was also nervous and insecure and incredibly curious about the first lady, just as any other man or woman in that palace, and finding herself wanting to get a peek of the woman behind the glamorous persona. But she felt so intimidated by her self-confidence and her beauty that she couldn’t even think of what to say.But she contented herself with saying: “That alone sounds like a brave thing to say”
Jackie’s smile widens. “Probably” she pauses, and looks back at the painting. “Thank you, for taking me on this tour”. Even though no one is looking, not even Jackie, Elizabeth feels her face softening into a genuine smile “It’s my pleasure.”
The lingering moment, the silence, the possibility that Jackie might look at her again and see her standing there, looking at her with a smile on her face, all make Elizabeth feel so uncomfortable that she finds herself shaking her head slightly to snap herself out of it. She takes a few steps towards one of the doors, in the back of the room, and slips back into character to get herself through the rest of the tour. “Now, you see that door over there? It leads to our private apartments. It’s a shortcut.”
Jackie nods, a polite smile on her face like she just swallowed the words she was about to say and is ready to follow the queen’s lead, and follows Elizabeth into another room.