12 more days to pre-order–here’s today’s offering, my short-short story, “Black Suede Stilettos”

il_fullxfull.863755918_6ghh

            I was twenty-seven, divorced, and with no boyfriend in sight. After a painful breakup, I started jogging and swore off sweets and alcohol. I lost so much weight that I needed size 4 clothes. And I wanted new shoes, like ones I’d seen in a French film,   with four –inch stiletto heels and thin, elegant ankle straps. I found them, in the least likely place: Paul’s Cancellation, a hole-in-the-wall in a rundown mall. I was home visiting my parents that Thanksgiving, and avoiding the leftover turkey and pumpkin pie.  The shoes were on sale, though still well beyond my budget.

            I spied them from a distance, on the sale rack next to cordovan loafers and lime-green flats.  They beckoned to me from across the long, narrow shop. Between me and the black suede stilettos a knot of women tried on shoes, bending over to pull on knee-high boots, or turning this way and that before banged-up mirrors to critique their ankles and calves. Open boxes of shoes lay on the floor surrounding customers, and Paul rushed around with towers of shoes balanced in each hand. He craned their necks this way and that, sweeping the small room with a look of consternation as he tried to remember who had requested which shoe in which size nine.

            I made my way to the black suede stilettos, carefully stepping over shoeboxes and handbags littering the carpet. “Sorry. Excuse me,” I said repeatedly, until I reached the clearance rack. I scanned the shoes up and down for the sizes, but saw no labels or signs. Just my luck, I thought. The toes of the black suede stilettos were pointing right at me now, as if to say, “Too bad your feet aren’t smaller, girlfriend.”

            I reached out and petted the shoe from vamp to toe. My fingers made a small depression in the suede. I fingered the small brass buckle on the narrow strap. “Nice shoes,” a woman standing next to me said. “What size are they?” I turned the shoe on its side and looked for numbers, but found nothing, then I turned the shoe over, and saw the number 39—European size for eight. My heart leaped. “My size,” I said.  When I looked up, the woman had disappeared.

            I didn’t wait to find a vacant chair to sink into, but slipped off my clogs. I pulled off my socks and leaned up against a nearby pillar.  I slipped on one shoe, then the other, then bent down to buckle the ankle straps. Walking gingerly in the four-inch heels, I maneuvered over to one of the small mirrors. I pulled up the legs of my corduroy pants and glanced at my feet.  I remembered how once after college, a boyfriend had said, “Nice gams,” when I showed up at his apartment wearing green ribbed tights and a short plaid skirt. I bought the shoes.

            They were fabulous. They were also trouble. They attracted men, but the wrong men: A married man who wouldn’t leave me alone at a dinner party. A handsome Italian poet at a cocktail party of literary scholars. He talked with me about Austen and Eliot and invited me to spend the night with him. A wild-eyed actor with disheveled hair. A talented amateur photographer who invited me to his studio, where we drank champagne and he took rolls and rolls of film of me in the black stilettos.

            I wore the shoes through my thirties. They stayed pristine, because I only took them out of their box on special occasions. I aged, they stayed young, as though they had just flown back from a weekend in Paris. After I was married and had children, the stilettos languished in their original box in my closet. One rainy Saturday, I deposited them at the Goodwill van at the Home Depot parking lot. I bought pumps with patent leather toes and gold bands on the chunky one-inch heels– classy shoes for a woman of a certain age. Which is to say, boring, almost sensible shoes.

            The stilettos were hard to walk in, up stairs, on city streets, over grates on New York sidewalks. They were impossible to dance in.  After I bade them goodbye, I never missed the balancing act or the aching  back and feet the morning after.. What I missed—and still do—was that delicious moment of anticipation each time I slipped them on, when I bent to caress and fasten the straps, wondering what excitement lay ahead in the glistening, magical night.

To Pre-Order The Glamorganshire Bible, go to Finishing Line Press here.

I f you’re ordering by credit cad, enter through the Pay Pal portal. The FL Press uses Paypal to process credit cards.

29063516_1880600231971930_2112781948630859776_n
Heather Corbally Bryant (L). and me (R) at AWP in Tampa, at the Finishing Line Booth.

Peaches

download-1

   We were  good Catholic girls, never in trouble for anything more than doing a halfhearted job of washing the dinner dishes or taking out the trash cans for the Monday morning pickup. It was late August, and Suzanne, Maria and I were about to start our junior year at St. Mary’s. I had passed my driver’s test in June. Suze could drive too, but on this particular night, her parents had revoked her driving privileges for two more weeks for some minor infraction. Her father had been a military man, and he liked to run his family like it was the Army . School was starting in eleven days. I was determined to make the most of the summer’s end. I left my family’s station wagon parked in front of Suze’s house on Northwood Drive, wedging it between a couple of her neighbor’s cars.  Suze grabbed her house key, called loudly to her mother who was ironing in the basement.

“Be back later, Ma,”

We walked out her kitchen door really fast, past the trash cans at the end of the cement walk, out the gate and down the alley route to Maria’s.

             Mrs. Selig opened the door. Grey haired, stern, and a little hard of hearing, she never wore makeup. I guess she always made me feel a little on edge. My manners weren’t good enough for her. Today, she wore an apron spattered with shards of red and yellow fruit. The smell was sweet and fragrant, almost overpowering, though.  But for a change, Mrs. Selig seemed happy to see us.

           She even smiled a little as she poked her head into the dining room and said brightly, “I hope you like peaches, girls.  Come on in—Maria and I are just getting them ready for freezing.”

            In the small kitchen ripe, fragrant red-flecked golden peaches were piled up on the counter, the table, in plastic containers and china bowls, and on the floor in a half bushel basket. Maria was in shorts and a sleeveless blouse, her dirty blond hair pulled back into a ponytail that she’d pinned under so it looked like some kind of French hairdo but only half done up. For a few minutes we just stood there and watched her slice peaches for the freezer and put them into a square plastic container. A long, flat peach cake still in the pan cooled on a rack on the Formica table next to four or five large crockery bowls of the fruit. Mrs. Selig peeled fruit after fruit. After she skinned each one, she wiped her hands on her apron.

            “I’ll finish up,” Maria said to her mother. She flashed and me a look, as if to say, I wish she would just leave. “Meg and Suze can help.”

            Mrs. Selig managed to sound pleased and annoyed at the same time. She took off her apron and folded it carefully over the back of a chair. She rinsed her hands under the faucet and told Maria, “Just be sure you wipe off all those counters, hon, so I don’t feel anything sticky when I come in later on to make your father’s lunch for tomorrow.” She strode off towards the living room and we heard her switch on the tv.

                        “Did you bring the money?” Maria asked me.

                        “Right here,” I said. I patted the front pocket of my shorts.

                        “How much?”

                        “Fifty,” I said, reaching into my pocket and pulling out two twenties and a ten, and laying them on the table next to the peach cake.  “Enough for all of us and more.”

                        “More is good,” said Suze. “We can always sell what we don’t want.”

                        “You want to walk down there or what?” Maria asked Suze and me.

                        “Let’s drive,” Suze said.

                        “No way.”  I was always so paranoid about the car. “If anything ever happened to my dad’s car—that neighborhood –“

                        “So what are we gonna do, take the bus?” Suze asked. It was pretty obvious how stupid that idea was.

                        “Very funny, Miss Schmitter,” I said.

                         “Let’s call Bill Nash and make him take us,” said Maria.

                        “Right, sure, Mr. College Boy is gonna drive us down to Thirty-Third Street,” I said. “Like in what, his mother’s Dodge Dart with the push buttons?”

                        “Who cares? He’s cute,” Maria said. “Let’s call him.”

                        “Let’s walk,” said Suze, “Bill’s so boring.”

                        “You just hate him because he never asked you out,” I said. “Not that your mom would let you go out with a guy in a car.” He’d never asked me out either, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from giving Suze a hard time. She shot me a pissed off kind of look, but she didn’t say anything, probably because she knew I was right.

                        “How about we get your car, you drive us, you drop Maria and me off at Thirty-Third Street and you wait in the car for us?”  Suze looked straight at me. “No big deal, Meggy. It would take about ten minutes.”

                        I hesitated. It was only seven, and it would be light for a while yet. Where we were headed wasn’t such a great neighborhood, especially after dark, but we had plenty of time to get down and back. And the last thing in the world I wanted to do was call Bill Nash for a ride anywhere. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him.  I’d had a thing for him since the beginning of tenth grade, when I saw him play a small part in a Calvert Hall play. He was the guy constantly stumbling in drunk and falling down in “You Can’t Take It With You.” The play was stupid and I didn’t remember a thing except this tall boy with rosy cheeks and a shock of dark brown hair, crashing to the floor and causing waves of laughter from the audience, especially the girls. Since then I’d heard that he and his friends at St. Matthews had won a couple CYO drama contests, only for serious stuff. Now he was in college, and I wondered if he had a girlfriend. Probably some older girl—no way he’d be interested in a high school junior.

                        “Are we going or not?”  Suze asked. “I need a smoke. Now.”  Maria’s parents didn’t allow smoking in the house—at least not for kids. It was fine for them to smoke, of course.” Let’s get out of here,” Suze whined.

                        “Fine. I’ll drive,” I said.   The fan in Maria’s kitchen was making a loud hum. It would be good to have some fun for a change. The whole summer had been nothing but boring—working at my father’s store, mowing the lawn, driving around at night with my girlfriends wishing we had someplace to go—a party, maybe to D.C. where it was legal to drink if you were eighteen, maybe hang out with some older guys. But all we had so far was the movies and if we were lucky, someone with a house on the shore invited us down overnight. Once Wanda Barber had us down to a cookout at her family’s summer place on the Severn, but we only put up with her because at school she kept trying to sit at our lunch table. Eventually, we just caved in and Wanda started thinking she was one of us. Needless to say, she wasn’t.

                        “I have to ask if I can go out tonight,” Maria said. She crossed her fingers and held them up.  Suze tapped her foot loudly and sighed as Maria wiped her hands, threw the towel down onto the kitchen table, and walked into the living room.

                        “Let’s wait on the back steps,” Suze said. “I bet her mom says no way.” She pulled her cigarette pack out of her shorts pocket and tapped one out. “You want one?” She opened the door for me very quietly and we sat down on the concrete stoop.

                        I wasn’t a regular smoker but sometimes it just felt right to have one.   Suze pulled out a silver lighter, lit my cigarette and then hers.  She inhaled and started blowing smoke rings. Fully aware that I’d not yet mastered that skill, I took a long menthol-soaked drag and just blew it out slowly.

                        “Nice lighter,” I said. “Where’s it from?”

                        “I copped it from my sister,” Suze said. Her sister Catherine was in college. She had a summer job waitressing in Rehoboth and had left most of her good stuff at home in the room they shared. “I have to put it back before she gets home next week.”

                        “Don’t lose it or she’ll kill you,” I said. Catherine was a notorious bitch, and very particular about her possessions, especially the expensive gifts she got from boyfriends, of which she had many.

                        “Fat chance,” Suze answered.  “I have the goods on her. She and her friends had a party when my parents went away that weekend and I helped her clean up—so now I can use all her stuff and she can’t stop me.”

                        Just then, Maria practically ran out her back door. She grabbed us by our wrists and pulled us down the narrow concrete walk through the back gate. Letting go of us for a moment, she swung the metal gate back hard behind her to close it tight. “She is so damned annoying,” she said, looking back over her shoulder. She’d unpinned her hair and it was loose now, falling down past her shoulders. Her tanned face was still wet from when she’d just washed it.

                    “Get a move on, you two!” she laughed, and she bumped her hip lightly, first against me, then against Suze. “I made parole, but the Queen says I have to be home by ten-thirty.”

                        “Poor kid,” I said. “My curfew’s midnight.”

                        We started singing together as we walked three abreast down the alley: “Nowhere to run, baby, nowhere to hide. Got nowhere to run, baby…I know you’re no good for me…”  The singing ended abruptly as we dissolved into laughter, about, it seemed, nothing. Perspiration ran down my face and I could feel it drip right down into the front of my sleeveless top. My hair, which I had worked so hard at straightening that afternoon, was frizzing up. I pulled it back as flat as I could under my headband, trying to look as cool as I thought Maria did.

                        We cut through the end of the alleyway and onto Northwood Drive. As we walked, we saw kids everywhere, it seemed—little kids out with empty screw-top jars, holes carefully poked into the metal tops. They were running over front lawns, squealing and catching lightning bugs. Some girls were lining up at the curb by the white Good Humor truck, and the Good Humor man, a short, dark guy dressed all in whites with his change-maker at his belt, was pulling popsicles and rockets from the freezer of the truck, the dry ice making smoky looking stuff curl up, right out of the little open door at the back.

                        “Want a popsicle?”  Suze said. “I might.”

                        “Get out, we have to go,” I said. “The guy told me he’d only be there till eight, and he might not stay that late.”

                        The guy was called Steve. A girl who lived down my block, Doris,, had told me about him. I used to ride bikes and play hopscotch with Doris when we were back in grade school, but now she went to the Vo-Tech and ran with a tougher crowd. At the bus stop, though, we would talk about boys, and makeup. She was going to be a beautician, and she always carried this weird shiny plastic case with all her supplies like curlers, end papers for perms, special equipment that hairdressers used. For several weeks while we waited for the bus, we talked about where it was easy to buy beer, how to get fake i.d.s, and where to find some diet pills and grass. She knew a lot about all this, and I knew practically nothing, but I figured I could get some good leads from her. One day she wrote down Steve’s phone number down for me on a scrap of paper torn from the top of a magazine–just his first name and a number. Then she gave me some advice.

                      “This is where you want to go if you want grass,” she whispered to me one afternoon as we both sat waiting for the bus to take us to work. “Down near the Waverly Theatre is where he hangs out. He’s not a sleaze, he won’t rat you out, and he’s nice. And sort of cute, for an older guy.”

                       Her express bus  pulled up just then as she handed me the piece of paper, filled with her fat round handwriting, all its i’s dotted with circles. She stepped up to the token box, dropped in her fifteen cents, and looked back at me over her shoulder for a split second.  Scaggy-looking, I had thought—she had  white-blond  teased hair, white lipstick, and too much black eyeliner. But on her, it looked cool. She was tall and thin and knew how to carry it off. She knew that everyone else knew it, too.

             “Hey, daydreamer, I have dibs on the death seat,” Suze was saying. She opened the passenger door of my car and climbed in.

              “Fine with me, age before beauty,” Maria said as she slid into the back seat. “Thirty-third and Greenmount, driver,” she said, giggling.

               “Are we sure we want to do this?” I asked.

                “Are you turning chicken on us?”  Suze said.

                “No way,” I said, as I turned the key and pulled out onto the street.  Suze switched on the radio and started fooling with the dial.

                The street was quiet when we arrived on the block where Steve had said to meet him. I had called him from a payphone earlier that day. “Bring cash, fifty bucks minimum,” he said when I phoned him. “You take my word on it. You don’t get to try the stuff first,” he told me. “And anyone asks, you don’t know me.”

                “See if you can find number 505,” I asked Suze. She rolled down her window and peered out.

                “This is the six hundred block. One more block west. You’re not getting weirded out, are you?”

                I maneuvered the station wagon into a parking place, not a legal one, near a fire hydrant. “Should we get out and wait for this guy, or stay in the car?” Maria asked.

                “Don’t be stupid. We stay here. This isn’t the best place to be, even in daylight,” Suze said.

                “Looks fine to me,” Maria said.

                “You are so damned naïve,” I said. “You two stay here. Let me check to see if this guy’s around.”

                The front door of one of the houses flipped open fast, and out walked a guy, a lot older than us but not as old as our parents. I’d say he was maybe thirty. He had on jeans and a pocket t- shirt, really dark blue, with a pack of cigarettes in the pocket. Winstons, I think, or Marlboros, a red-and-white package.

                “You Meg?” he called down to me from the doorway. He had short dirty blond hair and blue eyes, and very strange little teeth,  pointy at the ends.

                “That’s me.”

                “You girls want to come in for a sec?” he asked.

                I turned to Suze and Maria. Maria had a weird expression on her face, giving me a look as if to say, No way.

                “Well,” I hesitated.

                “Come on up. I need a few minutes to get it together for you is all.”

                He seemed sincere enough, but I didn’t know if we should go in. I ticked off the pluses and minuses: bad neighborhood; a guy we didn’t really know; no information about who was in the apartment already. Plus, we were obviously about to engage in a criminal activity – buying drugs. “No, thanks,” I said, smiling weakly. “We’ll just wait here.”

                “Have it your way, babe,” he said, and disappeared into the apartment.

                “Hey, Meg, maybe we should go and buy some beer,” Suze said. She sounded nervous.

                “Yeah, right,” I said. “At your age, sure. Good luck.”

                “No, really, “ Suze was annoyed. She waved a card she had pulled out of her back pocket. It was a Delaware driver’s license. “I have I.D.”

                This was something new. “From where?”

                “Get out,” said Maria. “ What does it say?”

                “Mary Ellen Steele, 4015 Walnut Avenue, Wilmington, Delaware,” Suze read. “One of my sister’s many fakes.”

                “Suze, we don’t need beer,” Maria said. “What we came for is better. Anyway, we don’t need them both, that’s for sure.”

                “Stay put, Suze,” I said. “ It’s my car.  Wait right here.” I fixed my eyes on Steve’s front door.

                “Hey! Get up here, Meg!” Steve was back at the screen door of his place, calling down to me. I could barely hear what he was saying.

     “You coming up to do this or not? Who else is coming with you?” He smiled. I noticed for the first time that he had a dark green tattoo, maybe a gargoyle, on his forearm. His jeans were really tight, and kind of dirty, with thin lines of grime running horizontally across his thighs.

                  I glanced over at Suze and Maria. “Who’s going?” Neither of them said a thing. Suze jerked her chin up and over towards the porch where Steve was standing.

                  “OK,” I said, loud enough for him to hear me. “Lock all the doors,” I said. “No. You sit in the driver’s seat, Suze.  Keep the keys in the ignition.”  Suze got out of the car on the curb side, locked the door, then walked around to the driver’s side and slid in behind the wheel. She leaned over and rolled down the front passenger window, and I tossed in the keys.  “Be right back,” I said.

            I walked fast up the steps to the porch and stopped a couple of feet away from the front door. Steve had just lit a cigarette, and taking a long drag on it, he said quietly, ”How much money you girls bring?”

               “Fifty,” I said.

                “Lemme see it,” he said in a low voice.

                “Where’s the stuff?” I asked.

                 “Don’t you worry about that, lemme see the money,” he replied. He started to move towards me a bit, letting the screen door smack shut behind him. From the inside of the house I could hear a radio playing music, country music.

                 “Okay.” I started to reach into my pocket. “Wait a second, Steve—-” I started to say.

                   “I ain’t Steve,” the man said quietly. “Come here now and give me that money.”

                   My heart began to beat faster now.” You’re not Steve?” I said. I felt my face flush. “Who are you, then?”

                    “Just give me the money, darlin’,” he said. “And get the hell out of here. Fast.”

                     My hand stayed jammed in my pocket, and I froze. He reached over and grabbed my elbow with one hand, squeezing it hard, while the other hand seemed to go into his back pocket. My heart started thumping faster, the noise rising in my throat first, and then in my head.

                I jerked my elbow away, and surprisingly, he was so unsteady on his feet that I easily stepped backwards a few steps and started for the steps, while he stood there seeming a bit dazed. “Get up here!” he said in a flat voice, as I felt my foot touch the top step and I tried to propel myself down. “I got what you came for.”  He started down the steps after me. I nearly tripped across the sidewalk, pounded on the passenger door window, until Suze leaned over and pulled up the door lock.

              “Drive!” I screamed, as I got into the car. “Drive! He’s coming! Drive, you idiot!”

               Suze started the engine and pulled out onto the street, tires squealing.  We rode in silence—no radio, no talking, my heart still pounding.  I wound down the window halfway and heard that strange whooshing sound as we quickly rode past parked cars, one after another.

                 “You okay, Meg?” said Maria quietly, from the back seat.

                 “Yeah, I guess,” I said. And then I thought of something. “No, actually, I’m not.”

                   “What happened, he try something?”  Suze asked.

                   “I don’t know what was going on. He didn’t have the stuff, I don’t think. God, he was disgusting—“

                    Maria lit a Newport, took a drag and handed it to me. “Here, you need this,” she said.

                    “Thanks,” I sucked in the mentholated smoke and exhaled slowly. “Maybe Doris Kozak set the whole thing up, that scag.”

                      “You should be more—we should be more careful,” Maria said. “If my mother knew I was down here—“

                      “Let’s leave your mother out of this,” I said.

                      “You really think she might have?” Suze said. “You’re okay, aren’t you? That guy was a jerk. How old you think he was, Meggy?”

                      “Ancient. Maybe  thirty?”

                      We began to giggle and then we couldn’t stop. “Put on the radio,” I said, when we finally got quiet. Let’s go back to someone’s house and just watch tv.” Neither of them said a word. We drove on, past the stadium and onto the boulevard heading north.

                      A few blocks away from her house, Suze said, “I’d better pull over and let you take the wheel. My father will ground me for another month if he catches me driving.”

                       “We could drive by Bill Nash’s house,” Maria said. “His mother works nights.”

                        “What was that guy trying to do, anyway? Suze asked.

                        “I don’t know, take our money, I guess,” I said morosely. “Maybe something worse. Forget it, Suze. I don’t want to talk about it. Maria’s right, let’s go by Bill’s house.”

                         Suze parked the car as near to Bill’s house as she could, considering the cars were bumper to bumper all along his block. We rang the doorbell. Bill appeared, tall and smiling, wearing cut-off jeans and a t-shirt from his old high school. “Ladies,” he said, as though he’d been expecting us. “Come in. Nothing like company on a hot, humid  night in the city. Mi casa es su casa, as they say. Please join me.”

                  He led us through the house, empty of adults and siblings, and out to his back stoop. We sat there for a couple hours drinking beer, smoking Marlboros, and listening to the Top Forty hits on the kitchen radio, which sat in the window facing out towards the fenced-in back yards. Suze and Maria sat on the lowest step, tilting back  the cans of Bud into their mouths and looking up at the darkening sky. Clutching their jars of lightning bugs, the last of the children were called in when the streetlights switched on. Bill and I started to sing along to the radio, and he slipped his arm around my shoulder. The stars came out, and the cicadas began their rising song.

                                                                  –Lynne Viti

Note from Lynne:

Dear reader,

I hope you enjoyed this short story.

Now, please  please pre-order my poetry collection–support poetry and support Mercy High, Baltimore scholarship and development funds. I’ll donate proceeds from my author’s copies to Mercy The link to order is here–go through the Paypal link to get to portal for major credit cards, or call the press and leave a message–they’ll call you back and you can use a credit card directly. Pre-orders end on March 23.  Thanks!

Here’s the link to order The Glamorganshire Bible!

Going Too Fast

My sister and I are walking down a long pink hall in the nursing home at Charlestown. A Catholic seminary in its former life, it’s now a huge complex of buildings on the south edge of Baltimore, apartments for affluent retirees, and an assisted living building. We pass a few patients sitting in wheelchairs and nodding at the television. We’re here to see Aunt Kate. Julia goes over to the nurse’s station and asks for the number of Mrs. Hopkins’ room. She steers me by the elbow and whispers, “This is it– this is her room.” Kate is not our aunt, not a blood relation, but my godmother. Her closeness to us was born out of my mother’s friendship with her. They were just neighbors at first, then they were two women who had their first babies late in life. They became as close as some sisters.

I haven’t seen Aunt Kate for  a couple of  years. It’s obvious that she hasn’t had a perm since then. Her hair, still mostly black with a few streaks of white, is blunt cut, held back in a tiny ponytail. She is in bed, covers up to her chin. They’ve put little socks on her hands, impromptu mittens.

“Hi, Aunt Kate,” says Julia cheerfully. “We came to see you.”

“Oh, dear,” says Aunt Kate, looking at us from her lying down position. She starts to cry.

“Oh, dear.”

“What’s the matter, Aunt Kate?” says Julia, very sweetly, as if Aunt Kate were one of her children, who are still quite small.

“I can’t remember.” says Aunt Kate, then again. “I can’t remember.” She continues to cry.

“Don’t cry, it’s okay if you can’t remember. We’ve brought pictures,” says Julia. I am always impressed by Julia’s preparedness. Out of her large handbag, she pulls out a little binder of snapshots. I know she has pulled these from a dozen large albums. She has made a little anthology for Aunt Kate, just for this visit.

“Here’s a picture of you and our mom; that’s Sara, our mom,” says Julia. It’s a photo from a cruise in the Seventies. They are wearing long gowns. Kate is more than a head shorter than Mom, and she is wearing a pastel flowered dress that seems to have no shape. But tall, silver haired, dark eyed Mom is dressed is a pale green satiny thing. You can see her wonderful figure; the satin hugs her breasts just enough but it isn’t too sexy, not cheap looking. She’s wearing sparkling drop earrings, rhinestone but you wouldn’t know. She looks elegant and happy.

“I can’t remember,” Aunt Kate says again, and tears are running down the sides of her face towards her ears because she is still mostly lying down. Julia and I pull our chairs closer to her so our faces are nearly touching hers.

“It’s okay,” says Julia. “You two had some good times together. This was one of them. You were on a cruise. Dad was there too. You three took a lot of good trips together.”

Aunt Kate lifts her head a bit and looks at us. The look in her eyes changes slightly; she has attached on to something she recognizes from the past. “I know she was my good friend,” she says pointing to Mom’s image.

“She was your friend.” Julia echoes. Now Julia and I are both crying. Aunt Kate is crying too.

I signal to Julia and we get up from the stiff chairs and walk away from the bed for a minute.

“I think we’re upsetting her,” I say.

“Maybe,” says Julia. “Maybe we should get ready to leave soon.”

“No, just a few more pictures, some of us,” I say.

We sit down again. Julia takes out more photographs.

“Here I am when I was a little girl,” she says to Aunt Kate. “And here’s one of Isabelle.”

“I lived with you for a bit when I was little,” I say. ” After Daddy had his fishing accident, when he was in the hospital. I learned to eat fresh peaches at your house, do you remember?”

Of course she doesn’t, and I don’t know why I thought I could jar loose a few cells in her crackled brain so that she would reminisce with me. It strikes me that Julia and I are going through this exercise just to make ourselves feel better about Mom. I start to cry.

“You were very good to me,” I tell her.

Aunt Kate studies the picture for a minute, then looks at me. “You are very big now,” she says slowly. ” And you have such pretty…glasses.” I am puzzled, they’re just ordinary wire rimmed frames.

“Eyes,” Julia whispers to me. “She means eyes.”

“Thank you,” I say and kiss Aunt Kate. She has almost no wrinkles. Her skin is smooth and tawny. It’s the Indian blood, I realize.

Julia tells Aunt Kate we must be going. We hug and kiss her again. Julia stops to talk to a nurse in the hall while I pretend to read the notices on a little bulletin board in the hall outside Aunt Kate’s room. Julia is taking in information like a social worker. She’s so good at getting the straight story from just about anyone. I watch her talking–so animated, her hands moving quickly to punctuate her words. Then she cocks her head fast, towards the door, to tell me it’s time to go.

“I want you to see one more thing,” she tells me. “The chapel. It’s beautiful.” We walk down the stairs and out the front entrance of the building, past the same smiling young receptionist who gave us directions a half-hour earlier. As we walk out into the cold air I start crying again, this time huge sobs and a seemingly unstoppable flow of tears.

“I feel so empty, I feel like my whole life is falling away,” I say.

“No, it’s not leaving, it’s all still here, it will always be here,” she says,” taking my arm and pressing it against her side. “Come on, this chapel is lovely, it will make you feel better to see it.”

We enter an old stone building; it must be part of the old seminary. A couple of young guys are sitting behind a desk there too, and they point us down the hall to a new-looking door. There is a little vestibule with a plaque saying how some cardinal began building this chapel in the 1920’s but ran out of money before it could be completed.

Inside the chapel is all little mirrors and tiles, on the fat pillars, on the altar floor, just thousands of tiles in mosaics. Statues of angels leaning out of the wall above the altar. Like the Roaring Twenties, all excess and wealth and showiness. I am still crying, and I sit and think about Mom. Yesterday we went to the funeral home to identify her body before she could be cremated. Her body, her corpse I had to keep telling myself so I don’t really believe it’s her, lay on a plain gurney, a burgundy blanket covering her up to her chin. We had to go into the basement of the funeral home; it was carpeted and painted, but it was still a flight down from the ground floor. Then Julia and I had to give all the statistical information to the young woman at the Cremation Society desk.

She was pleasant and businesslike, and when we finished with the forms, she said, “You may see your mother now. She looks pretty good. But we had to clean her up a bit because there was a lot of blood, and some scratches on her face.”

My heart started pounding. Her body looked so small, lying on a gurney, covered to the chin by a burgundy blanket. She looks okay, but not really asleep. I kept telling myself, this isn’t really her.

Julia started crying that time. “It isn’t really her,” I whispered. It’s just her body, Julia.” I didn’t want to touch the skin; I didn’t want to feel it cold and stiff; she’d been gone for hours. I touched her hair. It was soft and so white and thick. I wanted to go back into the Cremation Society woman’s office to borrow a pair of scissors, to take a lock of hair. “Goodbye, Mom,” I said almost in a whisper, and Julia and I held each other for a few minutes. I looked down the long narrow low ceilinged room at coffins, propped open, revealing lush satin linings. I am glad Mommy is going to burn up in a burst of flame, I thought. This is the way she had always planned for it to end.

On the way back to Julia’s house we stop at a Dunkin Donuts for coffee; we drink it in the car as she drives the beltway home. We don’t have any music, and we don’t say very much. Maybe we talk about how much it will cost. Maybe we talk about how long I will stay before I fly home. We speak about how glad we are there isn’t going to be a funeral, a Mass or anything. Mom’s wanderings through various denominations has made it clear what she didn’t want; she didn’t want the Funeral Package. Not a Mass. Probably nothing Protestant either. We aren’t in California so we can’t do a New Age thing. We will have to work something out over the next weeks, something she would have liked.

When we get home, Julia takes a long bath. She fills the tub with Epsom salts and pins up her hair. She props her head on one of those inflatable plastic pillows that are supposed to look like a scallop shell. From several rooms away, I hear her crying. I ask her if she’s okay and she apologizes for crying so much. I take her a mug of herb tea, and leave her alone. Actually I’d love to be alone myself right now, in the bath and crying. Instead, I check my email on Julia’s old computer but there’s nothing there for me, nothing from anyone. Especially, there’s nothing from Mike. He’s silent from his end in LA. If I could talk to him now, what would I say? Please make me feel better sounds so pointless, as if he could do anything anyway.

We have the memorial service for Mommy on a sunny day in February. Julia’s boys are dressed up in these suits she’s bought at the Goodwill store; they look so grown up. Alex plays the violin, he’s chosen the Chorus from Judas Maccabeus, in his Suzuki book. I play “All Blues” on the piano, with the music teacher from Julia’s school on trumpet. Julia reads a poem, all I can remember of it now is “the refrain, “I had a mother who read to me.” Then Mommy’s old protégée Sis gets up and tells some funny stories not even Julia and I had ever heard about Mommy at work. Afterwards a blur of our friends from high school, the few who stayed in Baltimore, come over and kiss us, and there are a lot of teachers from Julia’s school, and some old neighbors, and Mommy’s handsome young lawyer Al, who’s been married three times. “I just loved your mother,” he says. He’s got dark brown hair and blue eyes and doesn’t look old enough to have been married so many times. Julia has her arm around my waist and is being very sweet. There are flowers from my friend Joyce who lives in Washington State, and two of our old teachers, nuns, from high school are there, wearing civvies as Dad called them, regular middle aged lady outfits with printed flowers, sensible shoes. When we get home, we spend the afternoon sitting and eating with our old neighbor Mrs. Frank, who has driven up from her retirement home in Annapolis. She is a laid back, chatty woman who doesn’t seem in a hurry to leave like everyone else. After she finally goes, Julia points to the box with Mommy’s ashes on the top of the CD player and says, “In the spring we have to decide what to do with these.”

But that spring, we can’t decide. We’d asked Mom once where she wanted her ashes scattered. Dad’s we put in a tributary of the Chesapeake, the Choptank River. Julia and I drove to the Eastern Shore one day in August with her boys, they were still small then, and we walked out on a stone jetty Julia had found on the way back from Ocean City. We were near a place where our father had fished many times. We told the boys what we were about to do, tried to explain that the ashes would be more like chunks than the ashes they were used to seeing in the fireplace, and we opened the tin. We each took some and strewed them on the water. The current was swift. It seemed to take a short time to do what we had come so far to do. On the way back we stopped and bought watermelon and corn.

But Mom always said she hated the water; in fact, she was a poor swimmer and afraid of it. “Oh, just put me in the garden,” she would say. But which garden? What if Julia sold the house and moved? Of course, she would, eventually. Where could we dump those ashes that would be a timeless, forever spot? And why did we fool ourselves into thinking that even the sea was some timeless way to dispose of their remains? I had no garden to speak of either, and we might not stay there forever anyway. So the ashes sat on top of the CD player. “Mom liked music, let’s leave her there awhile,” Julia said. Really, I was happy she was taking care of them, I would be uncomfortable with them in my house. It’s been three or four years now and I think Julia’s moved Mom around a few times. Right now she’s in Julia’s bedroom, near the books. Maybe this spring we can finally figure it out. Or maybe we will just wait twenty years.

“It’s going so fast,” Mike said as we spoke about our work and our lives, all the books we’d read and talked about. I remember that he was standing up and I was sitting on the green sofa, at his old apartment on West 104th. It was years ago. He took my face in his hands for a minute, looking down at me. Again, he murmured, “It’s going all too fast.” It was early summer, and we went for a walk, then, in the golden light.

                                                                                                     ~Lynne Viti

      Reprinted from moondance.org  (2000) and The Woven Tale, Spring 2017

House Guests and the Writing Regime

We’ve had four in a row, first  a young couple from Baltimore who are planning their wedding for next fall, then an old friend from my teaching days in Connecticut—now she’s based in Portland, the  Oregon one—and my brother in-law, who drove down from the north, for a Joe Jackson concert in Boston, and stayed overnight.

Then last night, my husband’s Men’s Book Club convened to discuss The Lord of Misrule.

It’s been years since we had this many visitors in such a short time, and the washing machine has been busy every few days, with sheets, pillowcases, towels and blankets. The dishwasher, which we usually put into service every two days, has been going full speed, Continue reading “House Guests and the Writing Regime”

Mercy Chronicles

By Lynne Viti and Gay White

The Mercy Chronicles

By Lynne Viti and Gay White

 

 

CAST

Girl 1

Girl 2

Girl 3

Girl 4

Girl 5

Narrator

Voice offstage

Nun

Richard Nixon

Scene 1:

May, 1962

Four girls sitting in a row, intently watching a television on a cart at front of classroom.

Narrator (imitating television commentator, probably Walter Cronkite on CBS):

And we can see the rockets lifting off the Sigma 7 capsule, with astronaut Wally Schirra

at the controls…liftoff is proceeding as expected. This exciting moment in America’s

history is the fifth Mercury flight, and the flight plan calls for Schirra to orbiting the

Earth six times in the capsule before touching down in the Pacific Ocean, where NASA

will have an aircraft carrier ready and waiting to take Schirra back to Houston for tests

and evaluation of this historic mission…

Girls jumping up and down in their seats, all together: 5, 4,3,2,1, ignition—blastoff!

Scene 2: Cuban Missile crisis, November 1962

Girls sitting at a lunch table.

#1: I’m scared. My father says that Castro’s got all those Russian missiles pointed right

at Washington DC and that Baltimore could be hit,too.

#2: My father said that President Kennedy will straighten this whole thing out fast and

make the Russians back down.

# 3: Then I’ll never get to see Artie again…What if the entire world blows up?

# 4. Maybe we should go to the chapel….

Lights out.

Scene 3

Voice: Good afternoon, girls. I have an important announcement. This afternoon in

Dallas, President Kennedy was shot (ALL SCREAM AS ANNOUNCER CONTINUES)

by an unknown assailant. Three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s

motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been

seriously wounded by this shooting. At this time, we will dismiss classes for the day…”

Girl # 2: Oh my God!

Girl #1: I’m scared.

Girl #4 Maybe we should go to the chapel…again.

Fade out.

Scene 4: 1964

A classroom . Four girls are gathered around a few desks in the music room. Loose leaf

notebooks are open on the desks, and a few hardbound text books are stacked up. The

desks are pulled into more or less a circle.

#1 (leaning over to # 2,who is sitting next to #1 and writing in a notebook with a

pencil, ): So if you subtract 8 on this side, you have to do the same thing on the other side

of the equation or else it’s –-look—scribbles something on #2’s notebook.

#2: Oh, I see! Swell, I get it right now but the test is next WEEK and I won’t remember it

by then. Besides, I’m screwed: I think Sister hates me.

#1: (sarcastically) Yeah, that Johannes is one mean nun. Boy oh boy!

#3: Hey, this math is killing me, too – if I get another C my mother will have a conniption

fit.

#4 (opens her handbag and pulls out a compact and lipstick, applies it carefully, looking

intently into the compact mirror): Forget math, girls–can’t wait till Tuesday. The Beatles

at the DC Stadium – and WE have TICKETS!

All sigh very audibly.

#3 (singing): “She was just seventeen, you know what I mean, and the way she looked

was way beyond compay-ah”

All five join in :”How could I dance with another…woooo –when I saw her standin’

there!”

#5 (to # 2) I can’t believe you only got four tickets.

#2: I told you, I bought them off that girl Mary Jane and I met in Bethany Beach an’ she

only HAD four an’ her mom wouldn’t let her go because she was afraid the girl’d be

stampeded in Beatlemania. Sor-RY. I wish you could come .

#1: (to # 5) Did you bring the record?

#5 pulls an LP from under the stack of books she is carrying.

(#1has taken the record out of the sleeve and is fiddling with the record player.)

[Music starts: The Beatles, singing “All My Lovin’” There’s a lot of dancing.

lot of swooning.

Enter a nun

Nun: (clapping hands) Girls! What on earth are you doing in Sister Mary Charlita’s music

room at this hour? It’s almost 4:30.

#1: Nothing, sister, I mean, we’re doing homework. Algebra.

(She holds up the math workbook. ) Equations, see? (smiles)

Nun: What’s this? [She picks up the album cover, which is lying on the top of the piano.]

Beatles. What a waste of your time. Those moptops will never amount to anything. Why,

in five years, no one will ever remember who they are! Now, girls, pack up and go home

–I have to lock up this room. And if I find you in here again after hours, I‘ll see that you

all get two days’ detention!

Quickly pack up books and leave, giggling.

Scene 5: June 1965

Girl # 1: I can’t believe this is it!

# 2: High School Graduation—and the hottest day in June ever! Is my hair totally

frizzed?

# 3: Is my hair totally straight and flat? Ugh! Straight, flat hair will NEV#R, EVER be in

Style/

All three bend over, fluff out their hair. One sprays her hair with hair spray).

# 4 (Breathless, rushing up to meet them: We have to get in line. Sr. Michelle is crazed!

She says IND’s graduation is right after ours and if we run late she’ll give us a week’s

detention! Guess she doesn’t realize that we’re officially launched now…She’s also

checking for “extremes in hair style and /or color” and excessive eye makeup!

# 1 Penny, I told you not to wear that purple mascara! Let’s go, girls.

(They walk off humming Pomp and Circumstance.)

Scene 6

An apartment in Baltimore. Four young women sit around a kitchen table. #4 is

pregnant. Some wear headbands, hippie style.

Girl # 1: So my mother found out we were living together, and she and my father won’t

speak to me any more.

Girl # 2: Tell me about it. My mother thinks it’s 1940, so I don’t tell her anything any

more.

Girl # 3: I can’t believe you are worried about trivial stuff like that when we are fighting

this useless war.

Girl # 4: You always were the political one.

# 3; Me? Look polls say over half the people in the country oppose LBJ’s dirty little war.

I can’t believe that boys have to worry about being drafted if they flunk out of college.

You remember Artie, the boy I went steady with in 8th grade?

#1 (interrupting) He was such a “hair”!

#3 Well, that “hair” went to Vietnam and never came back.

Silence from the group.

#3 I can’t believe that’s it’s almost 1970, we’re all together again, (pointing to herself and

the pregnant girl) we’re both married, YOU’RE expecting (pointing to the pregnant girl),

you’ve been teaching at St. Bernard’s for  5 years and you’re starting your master’s

program next year (pouring wine for everybody)–

#2 God, is the world falling apart?! Our parents are freaked out because we live with our

boyfriends. Our boyfriends are afraid they’re going to get drafted and sent to Nam and

get blown up. Lots of our girlfriends smoke pot. Or they go out to bars almost every

night, get wasted and go home with some strange guy. Or they get married and settle

down at 19 and have a baby at 20 -no offense, Janie. We are stuck in BAL-MER. And hey! I heard  a rumor that Paul McCartney is dead!

(They all break in with screams of No! No way! That’s crazy!, etc.)

#4 (continues) And—worst of all—RICHARD NIXON IS PRESIDENT! (more groans

from the group).

#1 We thought JFK had kicked his butt for good in 1960 but heeeeeee’s baacccck!

#2 Yeah, like Dracula…

# 4:Hey, I’m starving. Can we order Chinese food?

# 2: Better yet – let’s go down to Mee Jung Lo for old times’ sake and order our old

favorites.

# 1. Moo goo gai pan,

# 2. Shrimp toast!

#3 And Won tons! OK, girls, let’s go to dinner! We can solve the world’s problems later.

(All walk out, humming “you say you want a revolution, we-ell, you know, you don’t

need to change the world….”

Scene 7. 1974

# 4 is visibly pregnant again.

The television over the bar is airing Richard Nixon’s resignation speech.

(Narrator: ” I have never been a quitter. To leave office

before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I

must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time

Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.”)

# 4 : I’m completely speechless. I thought this would never happen. Thank God.

# 2: Good riddance.

# 3. Not that it will change much—Mark is still in Vietnam and I’m not sure when -or

IF- he’s coming home.

#1 At least I love my job. Grade four is definitely where I belong.

# 2. I guess maybe I’m a bit of a late bloomer. No husband. No job, no baby. But I should

be done with my masters soon, and maybe I’ll get a real job—NOT cleaning houses, I

mean—and anyway, why worry? We’re still a long way from 30.

All,  in unison: Never trust anyone over 30!

#1 More like never trust ANYONE – I just heard that Sandy is getting a divorce from her

SECOND husband, by the way. She’s got 2 kids and no money.

#2 Another round of Natty Bo, girls?

# 3. I still have a little, thanks. And beside, I have to split: I’m taking the red eye back to

California and my cute lil’ apartment in Haight Ashbury and my cute new boyfriend. So

gorgeous- a cross between Paul McCartney and Sylvester Stallone. And he’s a surgeon!

#1Paul was always your favorite

#1 I wanted John

#2 My fave was always Ringo.

#4 And ever since George came to Mercy that day he’s been my all-time favorite

Beatle! How ‘bout a toast, girls? To Mercy High School and our 10th reunion next

year!

# 2 And Beatles Forever!

# 3 And to Sister Frederick. Do you remember freshman year when she told us to take

that salt map of Odysseus’ adventures over to the Maps and Charts room? We thought it

was some unmarked room -after all, the school was brand new. It took us 45 minutes of

frantic searching to figure out that there WAS no Maps and Charts room! To Sister

Frederick!

#1 And to Janie’s new baby girl -Mercy class of ‘92!

They clink glasses and toast.

#2 Bye bye Tricky Dick. And let’s bring the boys home….

(They clink glasses and toast again.)

Scene 8: 1980’s

#1,2, # 3 and are present.

#2: And then I said to Caitlyn, you’ve GOT to be kidding: take off that eye shadow,

young lady, it makes you look like a tramp. And you’re not going to the mall. I don’t

CARE if all the other girls are going. And I told you to turn off that MTV!

#3: What’s MTV?

#1/ Music television.

#3. Like Buddy Deane?

#1 No, like videos of bands. You know, Michael Jackson, moonwalk.

#3. Moonwalk?

#1 Forget it.

Enter # 4: Sorry, girls, had to drop off Jamie at Kinder-Tot ballet, bake 4 dozen cupcakes

for Stevie’s 2nd grade Montessori class -which, btw, he told me about at 6 this morning! pick

up Frankie, Jr. at soccer practice, and then I had to buy PAC-man for my husband’s

birthday present–

#2 OK, OK, Janie, enough already! Look, we’re supposed to be planning our 35th

birthday celebration at Ocean City over Fourth of July, so let’s get busy.

#1 God, I hope I can get into my bathing suit from last year.

#3 Don’t even talk about it.

#4 (sheepishly)Uh, girls, speaking of bathing suits…… guess who’s expecting

again?

Scene ends with cries of OMG, Not again! Holy crap, Janie! Is this # 4 or 5?

Scene 9: 1990’s

(Again, # 1 is pregnant)

Enter # 1, with pillow, again.

They all just look at her and shrug their shoulders—big shrug, very overdone.

#1 Honestly, Janie, you’re such a CATHOLIC. You’ll probably be the only one at

our 30th reunion in a maternity dress.

#4 Girls, that’s not all: my daughter Jennifer -Class of ’92, mind you- just told me

SHE’S pregnant!

(unison singing) “well she was just 17, you know what I mean…” all break into

laughter.

Scene 10: 2010

the 5 girls again.

2 So who’s coming to this reunion?

3. I dunno…the usual suspects probably.

4. Know who I’d really like to see?

Enter # 1, not pregnant.

2. Glad to see you finally got your waistline back, girl.

3. I’d like to see Kate K, but she said she has to be up early tomorrow for the first

hunt of the season. English riding saddle, all that.

4. I’d like to see Diana.

1. Nancy .

2. Pat !

3. Libby

The nun— to audience–rushing in clicking the clicker—now,  girls, before we end, we want to thank you all for joining us today, and we’d like to let you know some of the reasons the rest of our classmates aren’t here:

Girl 1: Hip replacement two weeks before—can’t drive  yet

Girl 2:  Two hours  is too far to drive

Girl 3:  I’m not the  same person I was in high school

Girl 4: Can’t leave the dogs.

Girl 1:Would have preferred a dinner dance with spouses or partners.

Girl 2:  Husband’s family reunion is  that weekend, in upstate New York.

Girl 3: I’ll wait  for the 50th.

Girl 1 :Work  is too busy.

Girl 4: Can’t leave the dogs!

Girl 1: I have a board meeting in Ocean City that day.

Girl 3 I’m running a fundraiser for a charity that day

Girl 2: Going on a cruise.

Girl 1: Going to Rome and Egypt.

Girl 2: It’s too expensive for me to fly there.

Girl 4 : Can’t leave the cats!

Girl 1: I’m babysitting the grandchildren…

Girl 2: The last reunion I came to was so depressing…

Girl 3 Going to a wedding in New Jersey and it would be too much of a rush to get to Reunion by Saturday  afternoon.

Girl 1 : My daughter’s first baby’s due date is October 2nd, and she lives in LA

Girl 4: Can’t leave the dogs!

Nun: (interrupts): Now, girls !(clapping hands) You’re late for your ownReunion.Now get out of here and go get a glass of wine before it’s all gone!

FINIS

© 2010 Lynne Spigelmire Viti and Gay Johnson White

All rights reserved