Stories of My Mother #8: Pierced Ears

79767-5515780-IMG_5637neu_jpg2CULTURAL NOTE:  I am writing this from Berkeley, California, where there is no such thing as a dirty car, and where the locals complain bitterly as the temperature approaches 70 degrees.  To quote from my daughter’s landlady: “We don’t move to Berkeley to be hot.”

Like most girls of my age, I longed to get my ears pierced. to complete my ideal hippie self with an array of long, dangly, shimmering, beaded, bangled, silvery earrings.  Alas, my mother did not share the sentiment that this was a wildly great idea.  She was from a different era, and more importantly, a different social stratum.  For her, pierced ears conjured up images of…immagrants.  Women straight off the boat cradling tiny infant girls whose tiny infant ears had been brutally stabbed in order to place tiny bits of stone on their lobes.  Never mind that every single infant boy of the time was circumcised, a sizable portion of skin lacerated from his newborn penis.  One was clearly a sign of the success of public health to ensure progressively better hygiene, the other a horrifying pagan ritual.

I begged, pleaded, cajoled, litigate, and prepared essay-structured polemics as to why it was absolutely necessary to have pierced ears, lest my truest and best self never be fully realized.  By the summmer that I was 14, I had worn her down.  She took me to a local physician, an Italian (cough*immigrant*cough) who was a colleague of my father.  He pierced my ears the old-fashioned way, with a surgical suturing needle and surgical thread.  I had heard the folklore that ear lobes have very few blood vessels in them, and therefore hardlybleed at all when pierced.  Ha. Haha.  One of my ears obeyed this rule, the other gushed forth in a truly impressive fashion.

In no time at all, I developed a raging infection in both of my earlobes.  They bled, oozed, and pussed in an even more impressive array of textures and colors.  My father prescribed one round of antibiotics, then another; one kind of antibiotic ointment, then another.  The infect remained undaunted.  I was forced to conclude that the only reasonable alternative was to allow my hard-one holes to close up and heal.  But I am not one to give up easily.  I tried again.  But like the world’s worst deja-vu, the entire infection calamity repeated itself.

When I talked my mother into making a third (and, I was sure, final) attempt, she thought: “Oh, for heaven’s sake; I’m doing it myself this time.”  She got her own suturing needle, her own surgical thread, and took me into the downstairs powder room of our house so I could direct her aim and watch the amazing rivulet of blood spring forth.

It was one of the rare moments that I was awake before my mother.  She padded into the kitchen in her sleippers and robe to fine me wide awake, fully dressed, and crying.  “Did you hear me talking on the phone?” she asked.

“No,” I said.  The tears were in free fall by this time. “I’m gonna have to let it close up.  Again.  It’s a mess.  A total mess.”  I had awakened to a number of different colors and viscosities of goo and blood crusting and running from both sides of my ear lobe.  “What do you mean: did I hear you on the phone?”

“I was on the phone.  I thought maybe you heard.  Your Uncle Steve died.”  She stood there in her robe and slippers, her eyes clear and dry.

I thought of the time when I was a very little girl, 5, maybe, or 6.  I was playing in my room and heard a faint sound coming from down the hall.  I followed the sound down the hallway and into my parents’ bedroom, where my mother sat crying on the bed.  My world was turned upside down.  I had never seen my mother cry before.  I believed that feelings were something that children encountered, sure.  But just children.  That they were something that you grew out of — like skinned knees, and teeth that fell out, and homework — things your bore in childhood, but never after.

My mother continued.  “He died last night.”  My Uncle Steve was her baby brother.  “Now let’s take a look at that ear.”

Photo from Flickr by David Uzochukwu

Tales from the Gym, #3: The Speedo, part 2

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I know this Speedo is the right damn size, and yet, by the time I have figured out which holes to put my legs through, and gotten it up to approximately my knees, I am reminded of the deeply humiliating times that I have tried on jeans that are too small – way too small. You move around in ways you didn’t even know you could accomplish, and yet you know those babies ain’t going nowhere. I guarantee this experience makes even the most body-confident woman (wait – is there such a person?) immediately visualize a mental list of at least 623 things that are tragically wrong with her body, her life, her entire place in the universe.

As the brand-new Speedo hovers around my knees, I silently thank my lucky stars that I decided to try this little fucker on in the privacy of my own home, rather than – oh my god – the gym locker room. For now it occurs to me that there was one other excellent reason that I was so gleeful about abolishing the health club experience from my life for that wonderful 15 years: the locker room.
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While I was still busy avoiding the idea of swimming (and waiting for my eBay Speedo to arrive in the mail), I got a free trial week at a different local “Athetic Facility,” where I stuck my toes back into the fitness club waters by arriving there in my full regalia of workout clothes, hanging my ground-length down parka on a hook, and trying to convince myself that as long as I was going to sweat in the service of my health, I may as well have a very nice view of Lake Michigan. Forty minutes later, I put my parka back on and went back to the private confines and comfort of my own home to shower and change. I was delighted to see how many scores of other people did this same thing! Scores of students from the Affiliated University of this Athletic Facility walked right over in the full brutality of winter, wearing their shorts and running shoes!! And hung up their coats, did their thing and left!!

Alas, if you’re gonna swim, you’re gonna have to find yourself in the locker room.

Sigh. I recall a woman from my old gym. I can picture her standing in front of the mirror, doing her entire routine of hair drying/styling/coifing, and then skin care regimen, and then multiple layers of make-up – stark naked from the waist up. Showing off what was obviously a state-of-the-art boob job. Those girls were expensive, carefully planned and deeply tanned, and she wanted them to be seen. I never actually saw her working out, come to think of it; and for all I know, she just stood there in front of the mirror and did her routine over and over, all day.

Then there was the time that the mother of a teenager I worked with accosted me in the locker room at the precise second when I had emerged from the shower, returned to my locker, an let the towel drop. I was stark naked. She wanted to talk with me about her bill, the fact that she owed me a great deal of money. And she was crying.

 

 

Stories of My Mother, #5

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Everything changed the year that I was 13, and before my 14th birthday I had tossed out my last jar of Dippity-Do, deep-sixed my hair curlers, and thrown away a large number of white and pink-white and nearly-white tubes of frosted lipstick. Even though I was slightly late to the party, I considered myself A Hippie, and pared my wardrobe down to one pair of jeans that were long enough to abrade the bottoms in an artful fashion, a pair of moccasins that I wore in all weather conditions, 4 identical mock turtleneck sweaters in different colors for winter, and four men’s T-shirts for summer.

Suddenly everyone who had been desperately trying to get their hair to hold a curl was straightening it! I grew my hair to my waist and beamed when people asked me regularly if I ironed it to get it so straight! I was a Natural Woman. I told my mother she had given me her last Toni home permanent, thank you very much, and gathered up my bras for a ritual burning. My mother was actually quite accepting of the changes in My Look, never getting especially excited when I came home with frozen feet from wearing moccasins in mid-winter, or put the same pair of jeans in the laundry time after time (though jeans were not meant to look clean at this time – we doodled on them with ink pens, and if we didn’t smoke ourselves, we co-opted friends’ cigarettes any chance we got, so we could grind the ashes into our jeans to create a look that was just so.)

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My mother drew the line at the bra thing, however. She commenced in giving me anatomical lectures about the Cooper’s ligament, and how I was putting myself and my 14-year-old breasts in danger of developing a ghastly condition known as “Cooper’s Droop,” due to my poor, unsupported B-size breasts being unable to support their own massive weight, the ligaments stretching under the immense strain, and ending up with – Cooper’s Droop. Her own mother had suffered this fate, she told me. Being a fashion victim of the 1920’s, the “flapper era” when women’s ideal appearance was flat-chested, my grandmother had bound up her ample bosom, resulting in – Cooper’s Droop. My mother alleged that things degenerated to the point where my grandmother had to lift her breasts out of the way in order to fasten her belt. My mother attempted to horrify me even further by saying that at least it was easier for grandmother to see the breast lumps she kept developing.

I was unfazed. Cooper’s Droop be damned. My girls were set free.

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Stories of My Mother, #4

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Over the two decades that my mother and I cohabited the planet, her beauty regimen changed very little. She switched from doing her hair herself to having it “done” each week at a salon. She chose a style which was highly constructed, bore no relationship to anything hair would ever do on its own, but could last a full week between salon visits and look astonishingly unchanged. Sometimes I would lie in bed and think about her hair remaining unwashed for an entire week. And looking the same! Occasionally I dreamed of plants starting to grow in my own hair that I would have to painstakingly pull out of my scalp, making sure to get the entire root without breaking the little sprigs.

My mother discovered the great joy that many women of the time shared – the weekly visit to the hairdresser! She returned with her curled and lacquered coif in bubbly good spirits that carried through the rest of the day. Each week we would hear new tales of Don and Gretta, the husband and wife owners of the shop. Don was clearly the front man of the outfit – the chatty, convivial, completely non-threatening, [cough*straight*cough] charmer that anyone would want to tell their troubles and secrets to. By early 1960’s suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania standards (ouch), Gretta was Glamor itself – meaning she came off as adorable (rather than trashy or “cheap”) in her bleached-platinum, cat-eye made up, slim. capri-sporting way. She was quiet, letting Don do the heavy lifting of the conversing. Quite slender and petite, she also gave the impression of perhaps just a hint of fragility, a hint that expanded considerably once she experienced a number of Tragic Miscarriages. My mother was all aflutter about poor Gretta, taking each of the miscarriages, and Greta’s increasing quiet, totally to heart; with the news of a third miscarriage, I came home from school to an open bottle of Anacin on the kitchen counter alongside a note saying she had taken to her bed, but that she had every intention of rallying in time to have supper on the table at the usual stroke of six o’clock.

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Gretta never did carry a pregnancy to term; she and Don never had a baby. But her tragic situation touched the hearts of her middle-aged patronage deeply. Meaning – business boomed. She and Don expanded into a brand new shop with considerably more space and more staff, and they began carrying a wide array of beauty products – including make-up!

Sadly, perhaps, this coincided with my own entrance into the 1960’s. In junior high, as it was called back then, I had endured the torture of setting my stick-straight hair in rollers that I slept on at night, even though my poor hair would invariably revert to its natural state well before I got anywhere near the school. I liked to think that I looked mighty fine at the bus stop, and perhaps for a portion of home room as well. At the ripe old age of 12 and 13, I never left the house without a chic coat of mascara and nearly-white lipstick. And, if I were wearing a dress/skirt ( which I was, every day at school, since girls wearing pants was a dream for the future), I wore a girdle. A girdle. At 13. WE ALL DID. And if you don’t think you’ve come a long way baby, read that last sentence one more time.

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Stories of My Mother, #3

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Many years ago I worked with a Chicago theatre ensemble. As ensembles are wont to do, we made every effort to cast our play productions from within our own pool of ten or so actors. An enormous pool of talent existed there, no question; but some of the corp were definitely more versatile in their range than others. None was more versatile, even chameleon-like, than one of our actresses – Lindsay.

When she walked in off the street, with her white-blonde hair, pale blue eyes and inevitable cigarette, Lindsay possessed the demeanor of someone whose strong preference was to remain unnoticed. She offered her greeting, her authentic questions about my own health and well being; then took her seat and immediately seemed to recede, as if she were striving to become one with the chair that held her.

Lindsay could use this trait to amazing advantage on the stage, in roles where she could appear, no be, so worn, and weary, and shrivelled up into some deep phantom of a former self, that her 20-some years seemed completely impossible. On the other hand, Lindsay could walk onto the stage and take your breath completely away. She was radiant, stunning, utterly beautiful.

My mother had this – whatever this is – that comes from some well deep within, and is able convince anyone who looks upon you that you are, in every way, beautiful.

My mother never worked at being beautiful, and in fact, would have considered doing so a shocking waste of time and a bewilderingly superficial focus. She came of age in the late 1930’s and early 40’s, when the makeup regimen of a serious, athletic college girl consisted of dabbing a puff of compact powder on both sides of one’s nose – exactly twice – and applying a good coat of lipstick.

My mother took very little time to get ready each morning. A couple of fast brushes through her hair, dab dab on her nose, a quick and artfully drawn mouth, a glance at both sides of her face. But like Lindsay preparing for the stage, by the time she finished this simple routine, a beautiful woman stared back at her in the mirror.

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Photos of Georgia O’Keefe by Alfred Stieglitz

In memory of Lindsay

Stories of My Mother, #2

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My mother thought of herself as a beautiful woman. I’m not sure how I knew this, but I was sure of it: she went through each day of her life with the confident certainty that her beauty was a given. She never spoke of this, and referred to it only once that I can remember. When I was a mid-range adolescent, maybe 14 or 15, and boys had begun to sniff and circle around our house, my mother said one day, out of the blue: “You definitely have the better body, but I believe that I have the prettier face.”

Even then, in my dewy youth, I thought: what a weird ass thing to say.

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photos by Garry Winogrand, from his book “Women Are Beautiful”

Stories of My Mother

While I continue to mull the future of “Pushing the River” – whether I will put the novel aside, discard it, work on a new, different project alongside it, or attempt to power through a finished first draft — it strikes me as a worthy idea to write something in the meantime. What has been on my mind quite a lot lately is: my mother. Undoubtedly this is because my own two children lost their father in a horrifying bike accident this past August; and it has created rippling echoes of my own first parental loss, when my mother did not wake up one morning in July, nearly forty years ago. She was 56 years old, and I was 20.

Here, then, is the first “Stories of my Mother.”

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My mother hailed from a long line of rail-thin, nasal-voiced, energetic women who were capable and prepared at the drop of a hat to whisk into the kitchen and whip up a corn pudding or a batch of date bars well into their 80’s and 90’s.

My mother’s own mother came from a family of five children – four sisters and one brother – Edna, Lula, Ralph, Nell and Honey. Ralph was apparently a gentle and quiet soul who faded away and died quite young, leaving the four sisters to march into old age and beyond in their own brisk company.

Edna was the eldest, the smallest, the most serious, and arguably the most capable of the batch. The death of her husband in the early years of the 20th century did not deter her from providing a loving home for their only son, while dipping her hand deep into the well of local politics and remaining involved in any number of civic organizations that endeavored to protect the excellent quality of life she found in Grove City, Pennsylvania. All the sisters had snow white hair from an early age, yet never seemed to change much after that. It could scarcely be believed when the day arrived, in her early 90’s, when Edna registered mild annoyance at her son when he asked her how to spell a distant cousin’s name – Becky – and she replied “B-E- eck – eck – Y.”

It was when my mother gardened that she most strongly exhibited her damn-the-torpedoes heritage.

I was born in the 1950’s to a physician father and a homemaker mother who had earned a PhD in Biochemistry. She worked as a chemist and physicist during World War II, helped write the first full assay of Vitamin C, then elected to stay home with her babies and never looked back. She committed to being a wife, mother, PTA member, churchgoer, bridge player, etc., with the square-jawed determination that I can only assume a woman would need in abundance to earn a PhD in a science in the late 1940’s.

Just as Donna Reed, June Cleaver, and their ilk would have you believe, women of this era lived their lives in dresses and skirts. In shirt-waist A-lines, or slim pencils, they cooked, cleaned, chauffeured, reprimanded, volunteered, and – if they were especially efficient and read the right ladies’ magazines – greeted their hard-working husbands at the door with a cheerful smile, a well-mixed cocktail, and the aroma of Big Meat wafting through the household.

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Women wore trousers only if the situation deemed this indignity inescapable. If it was blazing hot, it was acceptable to wear “pedal pushers,” a trouser also sometimes called “clam diggers,” but relegated mostly to Californians, bicycle riders, and teenagers dying to adopt new and shocking trends. Once in a great while the temperature and humidity would soar well beyond the pedal pushers zone, and my mother would unearth her shorts for an afternoon of gardening.

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Despite the fact that skirts still hovered just below the knee back then, and pedal pushers hit at nearly the same latitude, shorts of the time were alarmingly, well, short. Though it happened two or three times each summer, I never felt prepared for the sight of my mother dressed head to toe in clothes that never saw the light of day otherwise – white Keds sneakers, thin nylon ankle socks folded down in precise cuffs, extraordinarily short shorts, and sleeveless button down blouses with impossible color combinations of checks and plaids.

I may as well come out and say it: the sight of my mother’s mile-long, stick-thin, never-seen-a-drop-of-sun, otherwise skirt-covered legs horrified me. I was humiliated and embarrassed and saddened well before the age that all daughters are horrified and embarrassed by their mothers. I immediately went about the business of planning an afternoon inside the house, safely behind closed black-out drapes.

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My mother gathered up her armament of tools with the precision of a scientist who had tested munitions during World War II. She inserted her hands into her cracked, worn leather garden gloves with the care and confidence of a veteran surgeon. She approached an afternoon of gardening as her many generations of Naval officer family members undoubtedly approached their duty to protect their country. And though I could not bear to look at my mother’s frighteningly pale, spindly legs, I understood completely that when my mother returned to the house in the late afternoon – without a hair out of place or a drop of sweat on her brow – not a weed, nor a withered stalk, nor an unsightly rock would remain in the extensive garden borders. Not a one.

I Am Just As Surprised As You Are

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Those of you loyal and intrepid souls who have followed my blog posts of “Pushing the River” – my third novel-in-progress — well, undoubtedly you have noticed the rather vast silence of the past couple months.

It was nearly two years ago when I was enjoying a glass of wine with my friend Mary, regaling her with the latest tales of my extended family and trying to make some sense of it all. The number of people residing in my home kept growing, and with it an increasing quiet chaos and sense of foreboding, inescapable doom. Between sips (or perhaps gulps, by that point) of wine, I told Mary that I was seriously considering beginning a third novel sparked by the events taking place in my house. Without missing a beat she said, “Ha! And it should be told from the point of view of the house itself!”

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Viola. Inspiration. As it usually occurs – as a completely unexpected bolt from the blue in the form of an idea I could steal outright from someone else and make my own.

Life has thrown some pretty good punches since I began work on “Pushing the River” – just as life is wont to do. I have a decent one hundred or so pages, much of which I am reasonably pleased to re-read and know the words are mine. But the strangest thing has happened. I seem to have lost interest. In all of it! Even stranger – my friend and fellow writer Rita apparently saw this coming, and told me this recently over a shared glass of wine.* (*Obviously, there is a critical causation at work here; I must heed it and continue to drink wine regularly with good friends.) Rita (correctly) had the belief that this book, as I originally explained its conception to her, would need to be written quickly, almost breathlessly, to pour out a first draft while the fire of the original idea was hot within me. In some sort of shaman-like wisdom, Rita foresaw that if I couldn’t churn it out fast, the combination of me and the idea would lose momentum.

Well, here I am, just as surprised as you are.

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A Look Behind the Scenes: Writing “War, and Peace”

To write is to encounter continual surprise.

Even those of us who plot scrupulously, maintain note cards with excruciating details of our principal characters’ habits, gestures, obsessions, or plan a careful arc of increasing dramatic tension, climax, denouement – even we (ok, they) get surprised.

The idea for this chapter struck me — in one of those rare and delightful moments – as a bolt from the blue. It came from nowhere. When I was in the shower. An idea that had never occurred to me before blazed through my mind, and I understood immediately how well it fit into the novel-in-progress, how economically it conveyed an ever-increasing complexity of feelings and tensions inside the main character.

Originally, I had the idea that this chapter would be considerably longer than it currently is. I conceived of it going into lots more detail about the sex itself, and what went on in the character’s mind before/during/after that sex. The following version was written as a sort of schematic, almost like an outline that I intended to keep filling in. But, surprise! The schematic turned out to be everything that was needed. I think.

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By the second week of December, my Lady felt as if she had fast-forwarded through a twenty-year marriage in just slightly more than three months.

Dan continued to spend long, lazy days in the kitchen, carrying on animated conversations with himself while he fussed over his bean concoctions. This charmed her immensely in September; by mid-December the noisy stream of words made her seriously question his sanity as well as provoking the hairs on the back of her neck to stand at full attention.
The ticket had been purchased – the ticket for the airplane that would whisk him away to tropical paradise for all of the brutal winter that lay ahead. January 4th. He would be gone, poof. Madeline teetered precariously on the brink of wondering how she could possibly tolerate three more weeks of his off-key humming, his utter failure to get her jokes, his flossing ritual. When he shuffled off to the bathroom each night to brush and floss, knowing the absurd amount of time that he would be gone set her own teeth on edge to such a degree she felt certain her back molars would shatter into bits.

In the evenings, the two of them would sit together on the sofa. Sierra and the baby dozed together in the Boy’s old bed upstairs. Marie worked one of her two jobs, or ran hither and yon trying her best to manage her own and several others’ lives. Dan invariably began his kneading of Madeline’s thigh, or his massaging of each individual finger – a perpetual motion machine of continual buzzy movement. The sadistic mosquito who senses when you are just about to drift off, and whispers in your ear. “For crying out loud,” Madeline thought to herself. “No wonder this guy meditates. This is a man who hasn’t known one moment of stillness in his entire life.”

She set her jaw against his very existence, calculating how she would bear the number of minutes until she could suggest that they call it a day, go upstairs for the night. At least the flossing ritual would offer her peace. And then, the solace of a lonely sleep, with Dan’s inhumanly perfect profile on the pillow beside her.

Madeline sighed. She rested her hand on Dan’s thigh for a second – a friendly gesture – and told him she was heading upstairs. “Be right up,” Dan said, without turning his head from the TV. “I want to catch a bit more of this, if you don’t mind.”

Madeline was out of the room when she said, over her shoulder, “not a bit.”

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When Dan entered the bedroom, she was idly leafing through a magazine. In a different mood, she would have endorsed this particular journalistic effort as a “guilty pleasure,” a concept and a reality which she wholeheartedly supported. Tonight, leaning against the tower of pillows on her bed, she despised its banality, its endlessly recycled topics meant to appeal to the dark recesses of shame and anxiety amalgamated into the creature known as the American Woman. Which meant, of course, that she hated herself for reading it. For falling prey to its sunny, adjective-laden, exclamation-point-heavy!!!, bold and stylized font loaded B U L L S H I T about how to eat, dress, exercise, cut, coif, bleach, dye, tweeze, think, and talk as one’s best possible self, including, needless to say, fucking like a goddess.

“Are you in for the night?” Dan asked her.

“Yup.” She pretended intense concentration on her hated rag.

Dan switched off the overhead light, and began to undress. He undid his pants, which were baggy enough that they dropped immediately to the floor. Madeline unconsciously looked up at the sound of their thunk against the wood. She was confronted with the silhouette of his body, naked now from the waist down. Somehow the fact that Dan did not wear underwear – ever – still gave her a thrill, like an exquisite finger had touched a spot deep inside her belly. “God fucking damn it,” she thought to herself.

Dan crossed his arms, grabbed the sides of his shirt and pulled it over his head, rocking his hips first forward – just slightly — and back again along with the movement of the shirt as it climbed his abdomen, his chest, and down his arms to the reaches of his fingertips. He gathered his clothes from the floor, and stood in the dim light of the room with such an utter lack of self consciousness or guile that the ridiculous word “swoon” actually flashed across Madeline’s mind.

As if pulled by some string attached to that inner finger, Madeline’s foot inched up towards her other knee and fell to the side, leaving her legs open, wide, facing toward Dan.

Sometimes it is a smell, the particular angle of the sun’s light, the sound of a door closing – some thing that makes its way through the store of our life’s memories and touches something deep, far, previously lost. In this case, it was the movement, the precise position of her legs.

It was years before. Her still-husband Dick had come – had made an appointment to come — to the house while the children were at school in order to gather some of his things. She had not known exactly what to do with herself, and had gone into the bedroom to escape, to stay out of the way of this stranger she had married to for more than 20 years.
He came into the bedroom. He asked some question or other.

She had no idea what it was. The slight stoop of his shoulders she had not noticed before. The fact that he wore his glasses all the time these days. The awkward boyish uncertainty that made him speak just a bit too loud. The words were out of her mouth without her own knowledge, it seemed.

“Dick. Let’s make love.” And when thought re-entered her head, she added, “Please.”

Her leg had moved up, her knees had fallen open, into that exact position as the words escaped her mouth.

Dick sighed. “I can’t.” He shook his head and looked at the floor. “I just can’t.”

“Twenty-one years, Dick. Twenty. One. Years. I have no idea, no memory, of the last time we made love. It seems like this is something I should have. We should have.”

He sighed again, shook his head again, looked suddenly much smaller, much older.

“You mean because of her.”

Dick said nothing.

“That’s what you mean, isn’t it. You mean because of her you will not make love with me. With your wife.”

“I don’t want you to think for a second that our marriage unraveled because of her. I can’t have you think that.”

“That’s an interesting choice of words. You can’t have me think that.”

“Madeline, for god’s sake.”

“It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable thing to ask. To know it will be the last time. To have a memory of it.” She added, “ We are still married, you know. Meaning that you’re already a cheater. Meaning that if you’re trying to avoid thinking of yourself as a cheater, well, too late.”

Dick walked out of the room and left the house.

Madeline remained on the bed, in the position with her legs open, for a long time.

No.

That’s not what happened.

That was what a large part of Madeline had wanted to happen. Part of her still wanted to believe that the man she had spent the past twenty-some years with was somehow an honorable man, a man who had strayed into a new love, and who had declared his undying loyalty to it, in the same way that he once had to her.

The truth was this. The minute her knee dropped, her legs parted, she called out her still-husband’s name, “Dick,” — who had come in to ask one question or another –he took one step closer to the bed. And then he took another.

She remembered the tentativeness of their first touches. The awkward reaching of their tongues, venturing for the first time in a long while inside the surface of one another. Her head awhirl in a cacophony of recalled experience, a blur of lightning-quick images. The two of them making love. Fucking. Doing both at once.

“Dan,” she said. “Come here.”

She ran her fingers lightly along the underside of his penis from the base to the tip and back.

He leaned his head back and said, “Ah, Madeline. Your touch.”

No.

That’s not what happened.

She and Dick did not make love. She would never know, would have no memory, of the last time. A tear ran down her cheek into the pillow. She wiped it away to the sound of Dan’s gentle snore.

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art, top to bottom:   Goya. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Bela Czobel

War, and Peace (part 2)

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“Dick. Let’s make love.” And when thought re-entered her head, she added, “Please.”

Her leg had moved up, her knees had fallen open, into that exact position as the words escaped her mouth.

Dick sighed. “I can’t.” He shook his head and looked at the floor. “I just can’t.”

“Twenty-one years, Dick. Twenty. One. Years. I have no idea, no memory, of the last time we made love. It seems like this is something I should have. We should have.”

He sighed again, shook his head again, looked suddenly much smaller, much older.

“You mean because of her.”

Dick said nothing.

“That’s what you mean, isn’t it. You mean because of her you will not make love with me. With your wife.”

“I don’t want you to think for a second that our marriage unraveled because of her. I can’t have you think that.”

“That’s an interesting choice of words. You can’t have me think that.”

“Madeline, for god’s sake.”

“It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable thing to ask. To know it will be the last time. To have a memory of it.” She added, “We are still married, you know. Meaning that you’re already a cheater. Meaning that if you’re trying to avoid thinking of yourself as a cheater, well, too late.”

Dick walked out of the room and left the house.

Madeline remained on the bed, in the position with her legs open, for a long time.

No.

That’s not what happened.

That was what a large part of Madeline had wanted to happen. Part of her still wanted to believe that the man she had spent the past twenty-some years with was somehow an honorable man, a man who had strayed into a new love, and who had declared his undying loyalty to it, in the same way that he once had to her.

The truth was this. The minute her knee dropped, her legs parted, she called out her still-husband’s name, “Dick,” — who had come in to ask one question or another — he took one step closer to the bed. And then he took another.
detroit-industry--detail-from-the-east-wall-diego-rivera

paintings by Joaquin Sorolla and Diego Rivera