Liana Scalettar
PROSE
 

Where Do We Go From Here, Aibhanne? (Where Do We Go From Here.)

            When I was a boy I lived in eternal anticipation and Aibhanne, my next-door neighbor, lived there too.  We did not know what we waited for.  We were eleven and then twelve.  This was a long time ago, thirty years, on Peabody Square in Baltimore. My house and Aibhanne’s had big front windows, high ceilings, draughts and ghosts and music always—there was always more music to wait for.   Like the other children who lived in the neighboring houses, we were faculty brats: our parents taught at the conservatory from which the square had taken its name, when they were not playing with the symphony or doing dinner theater. Our living rooms, long and planked, tended to be empty of furniture, except for music stands and broken-backed chairs and a piano. Our fireplace flues did not draw properly. We were nowhere near rich.  We were not equipped with the heaps of toys and clothing and ski trips and pompoms of our schoolmates, and we were often sent to school dressed indifferently for the weather, or in tatterdemalion homemade sweaters whose lumps our mothers adored.  And yet it could not be said that we were poor.

            So we waited: when our better-dressed classmates, glossy-haired and leather-shod, came to our houses for their music lessons, we ran howling out of the kitchen, we wrapped ourselves in old costumes, we whirled around them like the demons we were. With pleasure, we saw their pert faces crumple into smeared frightened masks at our approach.

            When I was a boy, fall smelled of asters and black-eyed susans and dirt. Fall smelled of new canvas shoes and of resin. And resin, with its hard amber self and luminous insides, was like gold.  I saw how violinists and cellists and violists horded it, how they kept blocks of it wrapped in pink chamois cloths, nestled into specially made sections in their instruments’ cases. When I was a boy and Aibhanne a girl, fall would unroll in scarlet and gold swathes –so we pictured it, looking a lot as we did at the blazing leaves on our bedraggled city trees.

            We, anakhnou, we pictured, we looked, we whirled. We anou. Here on King George Street, Jerusalem, Aibhanne is not with me. Autumn as I understand it is not. But the square, surrounded on four sides by brick rowhouses, suffused with a sweet and tangy melancholy that drifted in with the frequent fog, is. I can see it anytime. Sometimes, walking in the Old City and smelling frying onions, my house is too. 

            Most weekend days my friend and I played tag or Rigoletto, which we acted out in an endless serial that bore almost no resemblance to the original. When we got tired, we ransacked the hidden kitchen drawers where my mother kept chocolate truffles given her by her students, who knew without fail about her sweet tooth. And then, high on chocolate and theft, we would go back to the game, we would twirl around the long cold corridors, tied snugly into outlandish sarongs made from fraying red velvets and satins.  

            “Hey,” Aibhanne said one day. “Let’s play outside.”

            It was Halloween. Our neighbors on the square celebrated ardently, elaborately: they turned their basements and old coal cellars into haunted houses, which you could walk though to find yourself haunted by living monsters and ghouls. In honor of Edgar Allan Poe, who had once lived there (as he seemed to have once lived everywhere, in Paris, in New York, in Charlottesville), our neighbors the Darnbys held an annual Red Death ball. Children were not invited. But this year Aibhanne and I had begged and begged until Lulu Darnby, taking off her omnipresent tartan tam and eyeing us shrewdly, had said, “just this once then.” It was 1970. Things were somewhat in flux.

            Now outside we loitered around the Darnbys, trying to see in the windows or to glimpse the insides of the packages that kept arriving, carried in heavy bank boxes and wardrobes by men who did not usually come to that part of town. We had no luck. We sat on the Darnbys’ stoop, me on a lower step and she on a higher, with her skirt wrapped tightly around her chickeny knees.

            “I can tell you something,” she said. The nonchalance of her tone would have warned me, had I been old enough to have been warned.

             “You don’t want to know,” she said; and, because I agreed with her in every way, at all times, I said: “Don’t then.”

            “It’s good-bad,” she said, using an expression she was especially in love with then. She was tapping her foot.

            In fact, as it would turn out, the something to which Aibhanne was privy was bad-bad. But neither of us knew it then.

            She was wearing a skirt with an eyelet border and I could see the skin of her knees and shins through the neat holes in the lace. She was dressed too lightly for the weather, despite the prolonged summer we were then as in every fall drifting through, and goose bumps covered her legs.

            “What’s your costume?” I asked. She squinted down.

            “My costume,” she said regally. “Is Eskimo princess.” Perhaps she had told me of her plans already – I tried to remember, but came up blank.

            “Sorry,” I said.

            “Eskimo princess,” Aibhanne said. “I explained it all two days ago. Eskimo – seal skin which is really my mother’s old rabbit cape. Princess—sequiny tiara, kohl, sandalwood bead necklaces, Turkish slippers.”

            “I get it,” I said.

            “Is this striking any chord of remembrance whatsoever?’ She moved her feet out of my reach.

            “Yes,” I said.

            “You know Jeremy,” she said standing. “Ladies like to feel attended to. Ladies like—.” But I could not hear the rest of what ladies liked because Lulu Darnby tottered around the corner on high silver heels.

            “Move along now,” Lulu Darnby’s scratchy cigarette voice said. She stood at the bottom of the stoop holding a brown paper bag. “Jeremy, Aibhanne—please do not force me to take this up with the authorities.”

            Lulu was often threatening people with the authorities. She had once threatened my mother because a branch from our cherry tree reached into the Darnbys’ yard and my mother refused to have it lopped off.  “We cannot destroy fruit trees,” my mother said. I would not learn of Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year of Trees, until years later; and when I did, I would think invariably of Lulu, of her tam askew on her already graying hair. In retaliation for Lulu’s threat, my mother left the baking soda off a copied-out recipe for peach cake. Then Lulu’s cake failed to rise. “It’s French,” she said. (I heard this from Aibhanne, who got it from her mother, who heard it from one of the Darnbys’ guests, Nina Roffelett, who had eaten a few flat crumbs out of obligation.)

            We left the stoop and hung around the square, kicking broken bricks.

            “My costume is pirate,” I told Aibhanne.

            “Very original,” she said sniffing. If I was hurt I did not show it: our triumph at having gotten invited to the adult event soothed everything in me. It was a slow pleasure, cool like the inside of an aloe plant.

            That night, for the first time, I dressed as I’d watched for years my parents dressing: slowly, taking care to choose the exact costume parts, the exact props, the exact jewels from those that jumbled together pell-mell in my mother’s old trunks. My father went to the Darnbys in the same get-up every year. He was Shylock, he limped and lisped and muttered to my mother, who despised the act, something about ‘inhabiting stereotypes.’ My mother changed her costume annually and this year she was to be Salome: she put on lots and lots of chiffon veils, and a low-slung belt made of old Egyptian and Spanish coins.  She was forty-five that year, and I believe terrified of aging.

            At eight o’clock, we left. My mother took my hand as we crossed the square and I balked, thinking she was leading me. Perhaps she wanted my protection – from what I didn’t know – because, as we got closer to the Darnbys, she said, “if I wave the blue veil at you, come keep me company, all right?”

            “Yeah,” I said, trying to free myself from her.

            “And don’t dilly-dally,” she said. “Come right away if you see that. You understand?”

            “Yeah,” I said. A few paces behind us, my father dragged his left leg in a mock stylized limp. He was stooped far over, like a very old man.

            The night had become clear and cool and in it the other guests made stark silhouettes, flat and crisp against street lights. The Roffeletts, jointly dressed as a starry piece of night sky, greeted us. Marnie and Jack Felix, local aristocrats who slummed once a year, came from the direction of the Conservatory: he powdered and wigged as the Sun King, she powdered and buxom as Marie Antoinette. They lowered their narrow chins in our direction but did not speak. My mother had refused point blank to go on giving voice lessons to their daughter, Becky, who ‘cried like an alley cat when she did not squeak like a poisoned mouse.’ The O’Connells, Aibhanne’s parents Bronwyn and Michael and Aibhanne herself, were ringing the doorbell when we approached.  My friend lifted the lion’s head knocker that Lulu’d insisted on keeping, and then let it fall. 

            “Evening,” Michael said. He swallowed the word’s first part, so that you couldn’t tell if you’d missed something crucial.

            “Good All Hallow’s Eve,” Bronwyn O’Connell, dressed as Maud Gonne in a lot of black velvet, said. Bronwyn’s red hair spilled over her bare shoulders and I wanted to touch it. (“Dye,” Aibhanne insisted. “It isn’t,” I told her. “Who would know if her own mother dyes her hair?” my friend would say. “You,” I said glumly. “Me,” she’d say. Aibhanne’s own hair was an odd cement brown.)

            “Bronwyn please,” my mother said then, as she did every year to this greeting. I had heard her describe the scene at the Darnbys’ stoop: the nocturnal procession, the dreams and fantasies straight out of Poe, and the stopping and the knocking and the way Bronwyn O’Connell said Good All Hallow’s Eve. My mother’s father had been a rabbi and she could not accept such a pagan greeting.

            When my father reached us he cuffed Michael’s shoulder with affection and admired Aibhanne’s beads: “Velly preddy,” he said, and my mother pressed her fingers against closed eyelids. My father ignored Bronwyn as he normally did and I wondered, as I normally did, why they hated each other so.

            To me my father said simply, “ready for the big leagues?” I nodded and he grinned.

            “I bet you are,” he said.

            The door opened onto the foyer.

            Stuart Darnby was a tall man of the type even other men called good-looking and he wore a black cashmere sweater with a horizontal neckline, black wool pants, motorcycle boots. He had decided not to take any chances, not to hide himself in costume, and so everyone could see the blue and green rills of color in his eyes and his long black lashes and his shoulders.

            “Happy Halloween,” he said. His voice was low with something withheld, sex or smoke, or perhaps something deeper that sounded sultry when it could not truly live.

            “All tricks,” Bronwyn said, planting herself before him. “No treats.” Aibhanne blushed and moved to the far end of the hall. She folded her arms in front of her chest, holding the rabbit cape close.

            My mother did not let go of my hand as we stepped over the threshold; I tried to extricate it but she held me firmly and stood in front of the rattling silver radiator.

            “Hello Stuart,” she said.

            Ignoring my mother, Stuart kissed Bronwyn on both cheeks and admired her costume; he lifted up and examined briefly one of her red curls, a vet with a forelock, cold and warm like that. When he had finished with her, he clasped my mother to him as if she were a long-lost cousin, held her there a beat too long, and thrust her away to arm’s length again.

            “So good to see you,” he said. He looked at the place where her stomach and hips became visible under the deep jewel colored veils. I thought about killing him. Meanwhile, my father and Michael were discussing the Orioles and the symphony’s new flautist and the possible conversion of warehouses in Fell’s Point into apartments. And as they talked they moved down the hall, nodding to Stuart, who managed to send warm waves of greeting towards them as he continued to look at my mother’s sheathed body.

            “Now then,” he said. I believe he pushed her away, and obediently, she joined Michael and my father and Bronwyn, who had caught up with Aibhanne on the verge of the party proper. I stared at my piratical feet.

            “You know we don’t have children at this party?” He asked. To prevent his lifting my face up by the chin, I lifted my eyes to his.

            “Yes,” I said.

            “And you know that Lulu excepted you and Aibhanne as a particular favor—as a token, really, of the esteem she feels for your parents and for the O’Connells?”

            “Yes,” I said.

            “And do you know, Jeremy,” Stuart said, “why we don’t have children at this party?”

            “Yes,” I said. I quoted Lulu’s words: “Because adults like to enjoy themselves.”

            “Adults like to enjoy themselves,” Stuart said. “On the propriety or the desirability, the goodness, the rightness, of such a project, I do not comment. And I hope to God, Jeremy, neither do you.”

            I nodded. I looked towards where my mother had last been, to see if she was waving the blue veil. But she and my father, and all the O’Connells, had been swallowed up by the velvet-draped living room. It was Poe’s red room, and in it everything was red; the kitchen was the blue room and the small study the green. For the rest of the spectrum you had to go down to the unfinished basement: the yellow and purple and orange were there, and the black.
 
            “Yes,” I said. “I mean no.”
 
            “Excellent,” said my host. “What will you have, soda, cider, chocolate?”

            “Cider please.” My mother did not allow me to drink soda or to eat certain things, such as the plastic-colored cereals Aibhanne was always swallowing dry by the handful. I did not dream then of disobeying her.

            Very good.” Stuart Darnby pressed bony fingers into the soft place where my neck and shoulder met. “It’s been a pleasure speaking with you Jeremy. You’ll excuse me, yes?” The lion knocker had dropped heavily several times since we’d begun speaking and as Stuart unlatched and pulled open the heavy door, I saw a massed bunch of feathers and paste and sequined beribboned masks, all anonymous, all extravagant, looming silhouettes against the square’s clear night air. And I wished, badly, that I had not begged Lulu to be allowed to come. It was not until I reached the lip of the vast living room that I realized I had no idea how or from whom to acquire my drink.

            Stuart having definitively left me, I made my way through the red living room. The Roffeletts and the Felixes were gathered around the piano, which Rafi Serota was playing. Rafi was a large man with bear-sized hands and he used these to great effect now for “Cheek to Cheek” and “Starlight” and “Goodnight, Irene.” With each downbeat he leaned towards the instrument, as if he would murder it for being able to produce such beauty as it did, and then he would straighten up, smiling a gaudy mouthful of corrected teeth at the little group. Nina Roffelett in her sky and stars costume seemed near tears. She mouthed each phrase with liturgical precision, holding the syllables in her mouth like ice on a hot Baltimore day before releasing them. Jack Felix, a man who gave the impression of suffering from an irreparable war wound, caught my arm above the elbow as I passed. He held me hard.

            Jeremy Chatlin,” he intoned. His powdered wig had slipped to one side, revealing an oily patch of pink skin.

            “Hi,” I said. I couldn’t think of anything else. (“Crippled,” Aibhanne would assert later. “Abso-posit-lutely crippled.”) Marnie Felix and the Roffeletts swung ably into “The Lady is a Tramp.” Rafi Serota leaned close to the keys, letting his fingers linger on each like it was an adored part of a woman’s body or an especially appealing jewel.

            “Jeremy Chatlin,” said Jack again.

            “Have you seen my mother?” I asked. Around us the party swelled and receded in a babbling wave: people held the sticks of Venetian masks tightly and approached each other, and fell back, in an elaborate but opaque kind of minuet. Lulu Darnby passed by holding a tray high on one palm and my cider in the other. “Cider!” she said, fluttering her thick lashes at me and handing over the orange cut-glass tumbler. “Shrimp pie?” she said, circling the tray down and around. “Lulu’s shrimp pie, Darnby pie in the sky?” The Felixes and the Roffeletts all took a fluted puff pastry that bulged at its seams with shrimp pink cream and flecks of chives. Rafi Serota let Marnie Felix feed him a piece. She pushed the pastry past his gorgeous teeth and onto the strong red of his tongue.

            “Yeah,” he said. “Too hungry for dinner at eight.” He sang and chewed and preened all at once, and Marnie placed her corseted breasts against his tuxedoed side and stuck there, a barnacle on a listing ship. Only I, out of this group, declined an hors d’oevre; already then I did not eat shellfish. In response to this news, my mother said, dusting me all over with an imaginary whisk broom, “Darling. Not eat Lulu Darnby’s shrimp pie?” As if Lulu Darnby’s shrimp pie had taken on the commandments and won.

            “Shrimpy shrimpy pie?” Trilled Lulu, going on her way.

            Now Jack Felix remembered my question. Now he said, letting go of my arm and staring at the rococco molding that festooned the ceiling, “Your mother is a charming woman, as I recall. Once refused to sing Carmen when Todd Duncan was disallowed a place in a segregated hotel in DC. Charming, charming. Candice Chatlin. My.”

            “Have you seen her?” I said. I was clutching my glass in both hands, was holding it before me like some sort of chalice.

            Jack considered. “Can’t say I have,” he said dubiously. Marnie, still pressed against the pianist, found time to contradict: “You saw her not two seconds ago Jack Felix. You saw her going downstairs.”

            “Candice,” Jack said, at last releasing me. “Candice.”

            The singers, closed around the piano in a vibrant scrum, sang on.

            With my glass in front of me—I used it as talisman, as lantern, as food – I went to the head of the basement stairs. The door, which on most nights was closed and latched, stood open and stopped with a stack of heavy books for the party. A cool metal scent, roots and moss and wine, came up. On each step, a candle sat in a glass dish, and the flames’ shadows climbed the wall.  I started down but something – the sound of a woman laughing, lightly and in clinging trills, as if the laugh were a dress she wore—stopped me. It was my mother’s voice, transposed into a key I neither remembered nor wished to know. She laughed again and a man said, “Candice no, Candice not again’ in a voice deep as a trap. Then both voices vanished into a rush of other voices, the whole rising and condensing and breaking up into bits, over and over again.

             Am I your date or what?” Aibhanne asked from somewhere near my shoulder. I jumped, and cider sloshed onto my boots. I heard, rather than saw, her eye-rolling agitation.

            “I’ve been waiting for an hour or something,” she said. She turned me around, steering me by placing her bejeweled fingers on one thin elbow, and led me into the green study. “I’ve been here,” she said. We were alone in the little hexagonal room. Draped in satin and velvet and painted burlap, the room had vanished, but for a gold-footed clock on the mantel. “An hour,” Aibhanne said, nodding towards the filgreed needles that were the clock’s hands. I didn’t notice until later that the hands had stopped.

            “The news,” she said. I drank some cider. Perhaps this was not a satisfactory response, because she took the glass from me and set it on the floor.

            “Is,” she said. I held my breath in secret then. I hoped to forestall any announcements, as if in refusing air I could also hold off the world.

            “That we’re going to Chincoteague together for Thanksgiving—you and your parents, me and my parents, and the kid.” The kid was Aibhanne’s younger sister, Shannon. I exhaled in a rush and swallowed new air, green from the green all around us. We always went away for Thanksgiving with the O’Connells: sometimes we went away for Christmas too and at other times, we drove deeply into Virginia or Pennsylvania, my father palming the wheel of a decrepit Renault and whistling, my mother talking to me, singing for me, serenading me and holding my hand by stretching hers back between the two cracked front seats. 

            “What’s so bad about that?” I asked. Aibhanne had tilted her head back in triumph, and the glass necklaces she wore sparkled on her neck. The beads were entwined like seeds in a packet and, like seeds they sprouted, here thin trails of refracted light. My friend lifted her head back up and met my gaze. The kohl at her eyes’ corners had bled into feathered lines.

            “Nina Roffelett told Marnie Felix and Marnie Felix told Lulu Darnby that she thought our parents spent far too much time together and that it was – right odd – how Bronwyn never spoke to your father.” 

            “That’s it?” I said. I bent and rescued my drink and buried my face in it, hiding the tears that had come in a rush.

            Aibhanne held my arm then. She pulled at it as if it were a lever that would make me stop drinking and regard her again. With her close, I could smell the gardenia oil she’d painted onto her neck and shoulders; I could see a vein standing up on her neck.

            I had a vague idea she would kiss me, but she let her hand fall from my arm and said, “Crippled, Jer.”

             She said, “Don’t you see?”

            She said, “Don’t you see why we always go away together, all five of us?”  When we did not go to Virginia or Pennsylvania, we went to the Eastern Shore—St. Michael’s full of salt and masts, fields of dune grass and marsh roses that cut. My father ran into waves with me there and my mother watched us from under a great straw hat; she sat on the sand, she ate sand and peaches, she ate sand and plums. Bronwyn and Michael collected driftwood all day and barbecued all evening, and Aibhanne in an orange bathing suit turned cartwheels; she wrote things on the beach with the end of a branch.

            I drank the last of the cider. My friend had taken off her cape and in the room’s green dark she was foresty, a girl who was half-tree like in a story we’d had to read. She was heavy with what she had told. She was waiting, I realized, for me to comfort her – the removal of the cape had been the signal, as my mother’s waving of the blue veil would have been. “Don’t you see?” She said. She took a small step to the right and then to the left.

            I saw. But I pretended not to, and I left her there in the garlanded curtained room, and I descended the basement stairs. I passed the flames’ standing shadows.

            I had been in the Darnbys’ basement once before, sent by my mother to pick up a bottle of wine from Lulu. Then, the main room had been welcoming: a few dented Raleighs leaned together in a corner, near an old bookshelf, painted baby yellow and stenciled over with puffy cumulous clouds.  But the scene that now met me vanquished my prior memory entirely, as if a gaudy deep-hued scrim had fallen over it.

            People stood in tight clusters, tipping their masked and made-up heads in towards each other to speak: silvered spangled wigs and beaded tiaras and shelled and silk-rosed headbands sat on people’s silver-painted or veiled or hooded faces. There were more candles here: rigged into a bicycle wheel to make a chandelier, or potted in terra cotta flower pots, or held in place by their own melted selves, returned to a solid state: and their light played over the people, making a sequined panel or a rhinetone-crusted cheek sparkle for a moment, until the wearer moved and became invisible again.  In a corner, a trio of carved pumpkins scowled, its shadows jumping jaggedly.  Someone had taken out a violin and was playing something low on it, standing and rocking.  He wore a cloak and bowler hat, and an expressionless gold mask with a stork’s beak at the nose.  Around and over and under the melody, people’s voices coalesced and fragmented. Unable to see or hear anything distinctly, I felt that I was being pounded by an errant wave into the floor of the sea.

            I no longer heard my mother’s laughter. I no longer heard her name spoken. As for my father, he might have been dead, for all that I had seen or heard of him, and I remembered having once been lost in a down-at-the-heels amusement park, through which one wandered on foot from cottage to cottage, because he had become distracted by the harpist in one of the little houses and had let go my hand, leaving me to walk away and, later, to find myself alone next to a dark green pond, the flat surface of which reflected nothing.

            More music, recorded this time, came from the room that normally held Lulu’s gardening tools. Like someone newly blind, I stepped forward with a hand in front of my face. My progress interested no one except for a rotund man wearing jeans and a moth-eaten sweater, and a cheap pirate patch over one eye. As he reached for my arm to stop me, light illuminated his cheek, which glistened with sweat. He arched the eyebrow above his uncovered eye and gave me a three-quarter profile, his expression both damning and withheld at once.
           
            “Ahoy there,” he said.

            I didn’t respond.

            “We’re blood, you and me,” he said, looking me up and down. His gripping fingers and red eyes scared me, and I didn’t realize for a long time that he was drunk, or that he was holding on to me in order to be able to stand.

            “Ahoy,” I said, when he didn’t let go. The man smiled broadly and stumbled backwards.

            “Wouldn’t,” he said, jerking his head towards the small room, “go in there if I were you. Would stay and listen to fiddling.” The violinist had continued on, and now was into some sort of ragged mazurka.

            But having again heard my mother’s laughter, I was desperate to go to her. She was near, she was in the little room, and I imagined that she had needed me, had waved the blue veil for me, and that I had not been there.

            “I have to go,” I said. I leaned away from the man, pulling away towards my mother’s voice. He softened his grip but then, as I started off, grabbed me by both shoulders and brought me close.  He was stronger than I’d imagined. Sweet putrid breath—scented by anise, hashish, whiskey and a lot I didn’t recognize—came from him.

            “Some of us think we’re so smart,” he said. When he fell against the wall, breathing in truncated gasps, I fell with him into a hateful embrace, soft and undulant in places, in others dogged and hard. I let him slide down the wall, I went with him near to the floor, and then his eyes closed and I uncurled his hands from me.

            He would sleep and wake in the Darnbys’ basement for days afterwards. He was Stuart’s cousin, Haskell, who never bathed, who had been a brilliant mathematician, though no one ever said exactly when, and who could not stand to be touched.  I tried for a long time to forget that he had claimed me as kin.  He would be found floating in the harbor one day; one day, his work would be published by the Johns Hopkins press. He illustrated his proofs with pictures of birds and tropical vines. And these drawings, with their fluid sure living lines, would appear in the book too.
 
            Inside the small room, my mother was dancing to music I did not recognize. A ring of men, into which I pushed myself, watched her, as still as if they’d been mesmerized. Inside the ring of people sat a ring of fat red candles and inside of that, a ring of pennies, thickly piled, gleaming a little here and there when the light touched.  My mother danced; she laughed the laughter I’d heard from upstairs; she circled her hips in wide ovals and figures of eight, going around and around and around.  Discarded veils, four of her seven, lay on the floor beside her.  They were tumbled together into a great multicolored tangle, still and somehow perfect, like a fantastical snake’s fantastical rainbow of skin.
           
            My father was not one of the men watching my mother. Stuart Darnby was, and if he saw me there opposite him, he did not show it.  Candle light shot up the sharp lines of his jaw and fell away, leaving him immobile and rapt.  Michael O’Connell was, leaning into the wall with his arms folded across his chest.  Andy Serota, Rafi’s brother who drove a knife-sharpening van around Fell’s Point, ringing an old school bell and calling out “knives, shears, sharpening here,” like a peddler in an old novel, was.  He struggled to keep his eyes on mine, to convey something – I did not know what – but failed and gazed hungrily at my mother’s waist, as if from very far away.
           
            “Candice never fails,” a voice said and others took up this idea and decorated it: “Candice is a true delight,” “Candice gets better every year, could be a real burlesque girl, “Candice is sweet and hot like a redhot.”

            “Candice,” they said, and they began to clap rhythmically, and they began to stamp, and they drowned out the music, and then they let the music sound again. My mother continued to dance.  She arched her back so that her unpinned hair swept the floor she whirled around, pivoting on one foot, rotating herself with the other.  When she caught sight of me, she lifted the blue veil in one hand and snapped it before her; she turned and twisted the veil, like a pilot writing letters on the sky.  But thinking of what Aibhanne had told me, thinking of how I had left my friend, thinking of how my father had left my mother the minute we’d gotten to the party and of how he had grinned at me, I did not respond. My mother waved the veil towards me more frantically. Despite the dark I could see the sweat on her face and something that might have been tears; I could see the crow’s feet in which her powder had caked; I felt that I could see her heart, crystalline and perfect as an unblemished ruby sphere.  And I turned away and left her there, compounding her betrayal by my father, although it was he whom I should have hated.  It was he whom I should have fled.

 


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