Berenice

Berenice remembered afternoons in a Queens playground where her father drove her to let her play on its many colored structures. The seesaw was her favorite. She especially loved it when her father sat opposite her, on fall days when the sun still warmed the chilly air. He would carefully set her astride the worn board and gently settle himself in turn. He was her mirror in reverse, everything she was not: dark, large, male. He’d give her a peppermint cane at he end of the afternoon, and a couple of hugs sweeter than peppermint, although the two remained indissolubly associated in her memories of her father.

They were so close in those days. Every morning she’d sit watching him shaving in front of a mirror in which he twisted and stretched his lathered face. Of course she outgrew the seesaw in time, and in time too became bored with the shaving routine, although she carefully concealed her gathering restlessness.

One day late in the bitter fall of her twelfth year, after she’d had her first period, Berenice decided to fall in love with a boy two years older than she. He wasn’t one to give her peppermint or give her anything for that matter, but love doen’t need presents after all. She carefully (making her mother her ally) said nothing about her enduring crush to her father, who disliked her boyfriend’s family — the father was a lush. Berenice rode the seesaw of devotion to her father and longing for her guy, who was handsome enough and knew it — any mirror he passed he’d glance at with cocked eyebrow and self-satisfied smirk. Her own mirror only filled her with doubt: the least sign of a nascent pimple made her fall into teary despair.

Her father couldn’t help noticing. He — and Berenice too — knew that their seesaw days belonged to another world, although every Christmas he made sure she had a peppermint cane in her stocking in gentle remembrance. He still loved her, the way any father would love the sweet, pretty girl that had once seemed all his, and he carefully avoided inquiring too closely into her semi-secret life.

On the other hand, Berenice’s boy was carefully brutal in his treatment of her, just keeping her in tow to show he could push her around. Now when he looked in his mirror he saw at his side not Berenice but a zoftig older girl, and one evening Berenice’s father saw him having a milkshake with just such a “tart,” as he described her in the fall lamplight to Berenice’s mother and then in a rage to Berenice herself. But his peppermint young girl turned on him no less angrily, saying she hated him, leaving him balancing on a seesaw of bitterness and remorse. Berenice ran out of the house pitching on a seesaw of her own.

She went to her boyfriend’s house. Before going in she carefully promised herself: no tears, no reproach. She might as well have promised to turn into a peppermint stick. The boyfriend was out. His father and mother laughed at her. In the mirror on the way out she saw the face of a nice skinny girl who’d just taken a fall no one would understand or even notice.

She went back to her mother; she refused to speak to her father. Her father was into his third gin-and-peppermint. He was staring carefully at the TV as though it was his shaving mirror. He’d forgotten the day long ago when she’d taken a fall from the seesaw.