Read an Excerpt
From Tickled Pink: North by Northeast
Mindy Solomon harbored a trust issue from an early age.
"You always have to give people the benefit of the doubt," Mindy's mother used to advise.
"Why?" Mindy would ask. "Isn't it safer to assume people are going to let you down?"
This was a complicated question for a child to ask, but Mindy had always been full of complicated questions: How do families who live in mobile homes get their mail? Where did moths gather before the lightbulb was invented? Why do you never see a baby pigeon? And, most important, how could someone as nice as her mother, who never had a bad word to say about anybody and whom everybody loved, be stricken with a terrible disease? That was a question that defied any answer. Fish banana. That's what Mindy's mother would say when things happened that made no sense.
Before her mother's illness, Mindy's biggest concern had been how she would get to ballet class seven times a week. Mindy adored ballet lessons. She reveled in the discipline and the fact that there was always something definite to strive for. One pirouette was achieved, then two. The methodical progression of physical achievement was both satisfying and tangible to her.
Her mother first brought her to a Russian émigré who had trained with the Kirov. His studio was located above a fish restaurant in Coral Gables. alexander mischinoff's school of classical dance and the friendly lobster were both featured on the same sign. Once, an unattended batch of live lobsters made its way up the stairs to the ballet school. Little girls can scream, but they scream louder than anyone can imagine when confronted with live lobsters. Mindy liked to remember the lobsters voluntarily returning to the restaurant, their claws clamped tightly over where their ears should have been.
"You must tuck your tush under so no one will know it's there," Mr. Mischinoff would say to Mindy while tapping her derrière with his stick, thereby creating a fixation that would remain with her for the rest of her life.
One muggy Miami day in September, Mindy sat calmly in the living room on the sofa and listened for her father's car in the driveway. Before he had even opened the garage door, Mindy ran out of the house and said in a voice containing none of the emotion a television movie about the subject would demand, "Dad, mom died."
"Okay," her father replied.
They opened the door that had remained closed so much of the last year, as if to keep the cancer from metastasizing to other parts of the house, and entered the bedroom. Neither Mindy nor her father wept. They stood there quietly for a few minutes, saying final, silent good-byes, then made their way into the kitchen. Her father picked up the red phone receiver that had never quite matched the café curtains in the way his wife had intended. He opened the address book and began the task that had to be performed.
"Harriet, Rose passed away."
"Miriam, Rose passed away."
Mindy watched in silent witness as her remaining parent methodically notified all the people who would be angry if they failed to hear the news directly from him. Mindy realized the term passed away was much easier on the people left behind. The word died, with its book-ending consonants, was too final. Passed away somehow implied the person now lived in another universe. Mindy, however, was unable to even get to passed away. She invented her own personal euphemism: floated up. Mindy preferred to think her mother was hovering above her, perched on a Posturepedic cloud, watching the show.
Mindy was thirteen when her mother floated up. She had never been a gregarious child, and her maternal predicament had made sustaining friendships even harder. So much of a child's social calendar is created by reciprocal invitation, and Mindy's mother's long illness had made hosting play days, birthday parties, and sleepovers impossible. Her mother's death further ostracized Mindy. Fellow students were sympathetic to her plight "There goes poor Mindy" was a refrain she often heard whispered behind her in the school corridors. However, nobody actively attempted to engage the glum, sallow teenager in a meaningful relationship. For her part, Mindy felt neither able to experience nor to understand the carefree hysteria enjoyed by her contemporaries.
She was still happiest in ballet school, lost in the individual complexities of new moves that her growing body struggled to master. It was here Mindy developed her plan: Too young to either consider or fear failure, she would graduate from high school, move to New York City, and become a professional dancer. She had no doubt she would land a job in a Broadway show. Other possibilities never occurred to her, like ending up a murder victim, a drug addict, or, even worse, one of those people who bounce around on street corners, wearing a giant hand pointing to the new condominiums.
And so it was, a few years further on, that seventeen-year-old Mindy stood in the foyer of her Florida home, framed by the midpriced luggage she had requested as her high school graduation present, waiting for a dented taxi with questionable suspension to shake her to the airport.
It was the summer of 1980: Ronald Reagan was running for president, Elizabeth Taylor was in rehab, and Sting had hair. Nobody was on the Internet, the ozone layer was thicker, and the Spice Girls were not yet potty-trained. It was not an innocent time, but, as with any year, it was more innocent than the times that would follow.
"Why are you going to New York? What have I done? Is it Smila?" her father asked, as beads of sweat serpentined guiltily down his forehead.
"Dad, it's not you, and it's not even Smila."
Actually, it was partly Smila. A mere year after Mindy's mother had died, her father had married a Swedish masseuse. Hal Solomon, possessing no psychological means by which to deal with his wife's tragic passing, had thought the best course of action for both his motherless child and himself was quite simply to replace one wife with another as swiftly as possible. Smila had not been difficult to find, Mindy had noticed bitterly, because Jewish widowers in Florida get snapped up faster than free samples of mouthwash at a garlic convention.
Smila possessed cheekbones that could slice salami and toes the length of fingers. Mindy marveled how, at six feet two inches, Smila could dust the tops of things that average-size women didn't even know were dusty. Mindy did not begrudge her father whatever happiness he could find. She realized how much he deserved a new life. However, his plan had backfired. Rather than providing Mindy with a replacement mother, his marriage caused Mindy to feel even more disconnected. When Mindy was sixteen her father and Smila unexpectedly produced a baby daughter who had a name that no one could pronounce, and now the three of them were a new family unit. Mindy felt it was time for her, part of her father's old life that had ended badly, to vacate the building.
"I have to go. There's nothing for me to do here," explained Mindy.
"You could go to college. That's why Grandpa left you that money."
"That's not what he said to me before he died."
"What did he say?"
"He asked me if he was in Canada."
"He was senile. I know he wanted you to go to college. He wanted you to get a teaching degree so you'd have something to fall back on."
"Well, all he said to me was that he felt there was a possibility he might be in Canada. I took it to mean 'Go to New York, be a dancer, and once in a while, face north.'"
It was a family trait to be glib in serious situations. Mindy remembered her mother, bald from chemotherapy, referring to her wig as a fur coat for her head. And in those final weeks, when Rose was too weak to watch television or to read, she had still managed to teach the family parrot, Rover, to moo. Years later, when asked to supply her religious upbringing, Mindy often told people she was "Glibbish."
The cabdriver honked outside. Mindy hugged her dad tightly and her stepmother loosely. The baby, Vendetta or whatever it was called, cried in the background.
Mindy took one last look at the living room. There was the expensive covered candy dish she had knocked over when she was three that became an ashtray in a house where nobody smoked. Nearby was the beige armchair with the cushion that must never be turned over because of the "barbecue sauce incident." And there on the wall was the too-perfectly-skin-toned family portrait of the happy three of them, precancer. The old furniture her mother had chosen was grouped into one corner of the room to make way for Smila's new modern sectional pieces. Mindy expected the old stuff would soon make its way to the garage, after which the Swedish masseuse would probably set fire to it.
Picking up her suitcase, containing mostly leotards and tights, and her shoulder bag, containing her grandfather's five thousand dollars and a tiny pink rose her mother had once made for her out of satin ribbon, Mindy made her way toward the front door. Her father followed closely.
"You can come home whenever you want to you can change your mind please be careful call me when you get to the hotel."
He ran his sentences together to make sure he got everything in before Mindy closed the brutalized taxi door. As the vehicle pulled away, Mindy lowered her head, hoping the driver was unable to see her crying in the backseat.
Copyright © 2001 by Rita Rudner