The Babka Sisters
Sit down, shah, you ready? You got your tin can going there, you want to make a test, make sure my voice is good, everything is working all right? OK, so now I'm gonna tell you a story, a story I never told nobody. Why I'm telling you, a stranger, I don't even know, but all right, eppes, it's time.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, around the Stone Age it was, takeh, I was a young maidl, and quite a looker I was too. I know what you're thinking, you look at me now and what do you see? A fat old lady wrinkled like a prune danish with hair like cotton candy. But, nu, I had quite a shape in those days, my hair I wore in a braid down my back thick as a man's arm, my skin was smooth as a baby's tuchus. You don't believe me, but you wait, mamela. Gravity ain't got no favorites; it catches up to everyone, eppes, someday even you.
So my childhood ain't nothing to talk about. An ordinary girl I was, I went to school, I came home, I helped my mother with the housework. Sure, five children she had, four boys and me, so who else is gonna help her? I had friends, too, boys and girls, no one special, there was a group of us that stuck together, to the movies we went, and to get a nosh at the diner, dancing once in a while, you know we did all the things young people do.
And then, when I was 16, a new girl moved into the neighborhood, and that girl, I had such a feeling for, I just couldn't take my eyes from her. You know the expression "love at first sight," sure, who doesn't, well of course that's what it was, but what did I know, we was two girls; girls don't fall in love with girls,who ever heard of such a thing? I just knew I wanted to be her friend, help her out, you know, show her around. It could be overwhelming, such a place, to a person who first walks in and don't know from it, eppes, it takes a while to get used to, it was a very big school.
Look, here's a picture of her, my Evie. You see, here we are both in the last row. That's our class picture from 11th grade, we was both tall girls; now I'm all stooped over like an old turtle, but back then my spine was straight as a Shabbos candle, from my (MORE ....)
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Family Is Family
No, no, no, I don't want no coffee, no cake, thank you very much, I don't want to sit down, I don't want to take my coat off. Frankly, I don't even want to be here, but a promise is a promise, and I promised my daughter I'd come, though believe me I'd rather be home in front of the TV with my feet up, tonight is what, Wednesday, I think The Nanny is on. I'm welcome to stay anyway? Thank you very much, Mrs. Hostess With The Mostess. Don't take things so personally, you'll never get through life that way, if you want a little advice. What? Instead of telling everyone what I don't want, why don't I tell everyone what I do want? What do you think I want, Mrs. Busybody? I want what everybody wants and what is obviously too much to ask for: a grandchild or two or three, God forbid. What would have been so terrible, would the world really have come to an end if Eleanor Hershberger had a little munchkin to bounce around her lap, if she could feel his tiny bootied feet stamping up and down her more than ample thigh, if she could hear the word Bubbe fly out of his sweet little mouth, Bubbe, or Grandma or even Nana? At this point I wouldn't care what he called me as long as he was healthy and happy, andmy daughter the liberal would kill me for saying thisJewish or if not Jewish at least a hundred percent white. All right, I know what you're thinking, beggars can't be choosers at this stage of the game, and, believe me, I would beg, I would gladly get down on my knees, swollen with arthritis as they are, and crawl all the way to Boca andback if I thought it would do any good, which it wouldn't. My daughter's not an imbecile, she went to a very expensive school, Hampshire College, which is where all the trouble started in my opinion. What kind of college is that, coed dorms they live inwith coed saunas yet, have you ever heard of such a thing? The kids major in frisbee-throwing, and the teachers aren't much better. Grades they don't even give out, you get evaluations instead. For my money I want a real report card, but never mind. The point is she don't need a Ph.D., my daughter, to know exactly what it is her father and I both want.
How I of all people raised such a selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed, self-obsessed child is way beyond me. Didn't we give her everything? A roof over her head, food on her plate, clothes on her back, ballet lessons, tap lessons, piano lessons, violin lessons, a hundred Barbie dolls, a thousand stuffed animals. Nothing was too good for her, our darling daughter, whatever she wanted she got, including her father, him she had wrapped around her little finger from the minute she was born. Me she didn't want to know from. After all, who was I, just some dumb shmuck up there on the table with her legs spread wide for all the world to see; I was nobody, just some nudnick who practically died up there with her feet in the stirrups so her royal highness could take her first breath and come into this world safe and sound with all ten fingers and all ten toes perfectly intact. So long we waited for this miracle, this bundle of joy. Two miscarriages I had already and on top of that I'd buried my father too. So young he was, a heart attack, my mother came home from the store, and there he was, dead at the kitchen table, the soup she had served him for lunch, ice cold. She was never the same after that, my mother. I had to take care of her on top of everything else I had to dothe cooking, the cleaning, the shopping. The point is, and thank you for asking, that heartache was no stranger to my family, and with all that was going on, it was a miracle I got pregnant again in the first place, and then I had trouble holding on to the baby, flat on my back I had to stay for the last two months, but did I complain? No, not a word, not one word because when I finally gave birth, when I finally put my brand-new, perfect baby daughter into my mother's arms, my mother cried, and then she laughed, and that was the first time I saw my mother laugh in two whole years. Not a smile, I'm telling you, since the day my father died, that's how much she loved her husband, that's how much I love my Irvingwhat's that? Is he here? What are you, crazy? Tell our troubles to a roomful of strangers, Irving would rather stick needles in his eyes. He don't even know that I'm here, why should I bother him with our crazy daughter's problems? See, that's how much I love my Irving, and that's how much I wanted my daughter to love her husband and her childrenthe same way you love your own family, the same way they're supposed to love you.
She's my one and only, my daughter. Such a hard time I had, the doctor said I shouldn't have no more, and then he shoved the papers at me to sign, and so groggy I was with the drugs and with the pain, I signed on the dotted line. Then my tubes they cut, and of course I regret that now, but it's too late already anyway, what can I do, I'm not crazy like that meshugeneh in her 60s who just gave birth. I read about her in the Times. Just you wait, lady, some day your precious offspring who you sacrificed everything for will come home with green hair and pierced eyebrows and tattooed cheeks, and you'll think, This is the thanks I get? Not a grandson or even a granddaughter, though I always hoped my daughter would have a boy, girls can be so difficult, and believe me I should know. No, not a grandchild at all, just two cats, Mulvah and Delores, have you ever heard such names? The kids, she calls them, to add insult to injury, to rub salt into my old wounds like they don't hurt me enough. "I took the kids to the clinic," she says to me on the phone. Once in a while we talk, every couple of months or so, have you ever heard of such a thing? Like strangers we are, nu, my bank teller, the kid who brings the paper, the auto mechanic I talk to more than I talk to my own flesh and blood. And when we do talk, that's what she tells me: "The kids needed allergy shots," like they're her children. She did it on purpose, my tochter, she knew once there was a cat in the house, Irving and I would never visit, I hate cats, always have. I was very concerned when she got them. "What's gonna be when you have a baby?" I asked. "A long time cats can live, and they can be very jealous." I didn't go on and tell her cats have been known to smother babies in their sleep; they wait until you go to bed, and they don't have to wait long, so exhausted from a newborn you are, you sleep the sleep of the dead, so as soon as they hear you snoring, the cats, they climb up into the crib and lean against the baby's mouth and nose with their big furry backs, and they cut off the air supply, and that's the end of it. But I kept my mouth shut because I didn't want to hear her say, "Eleanor," in that exasperated tone she always uses, like her mother is so stupid, such a moron she is, she still thinks the world is flat.
Eleanor she calls me, nu, have you ever heard of such a thing? One day when she was 12 years old she woke up and decided Mommy or Mom or even Ma was too good for her mouth. From then on it was Eleanor or sometimes Ellie, which is what Irving calls me, or when she's in a mood, just El, like she don't have time to say all those syllables, she has much more important things to do than talk to her own mother who only wants the best for her, who gave up the best years of her own life to clothe her and feed her and shlep her to the doctor, the dentist, and later, when she was older, to the movies, the mall. We thought maybe she was meeting a boy, Irving and I, but what did we care? After all, it's normal. I didn't mind as long as she was careful. I was young once too, you know, hard to believe, you're just meeting me today for the first time, what do you know, but it's true: a thousand years ago, around the Ice Age it was, I wasn't bad looking, I had a fella or two on my arm. Not that my mother didn't watch me like a hawk, but all right, she was from the old country, she had seen plenty of things in her time, she had a right to be a little afraid, a little cautious. But she had nothing to worry about, my mother, I would never do anything to embarrass her or the rest of the family and drag our name down into the mud, like certain people who shall remain nameless, though she's broadcast her name loud and clear from coast to coast for all the world to hear.
What is her name? I haven't said it yet? Well, there's a reason for that, which I'll get to in a minute, Mrs. Buttinsky. What's your big hurry, you got a plane to catch? For your information, my daughter is famous. She's a performance artist, which, in case you don't know, is someone who actually gets paid to be completely obsessed with herself. You may have heard of her, Virginia Dentata? What the hell is wrong with Susan Hershberger is what Irving and I want to know. I suppose it could have been worse, right, she could have named herself New Jersey. But Virginia Dentata, it's a joke, you know what it means? Dentata means teeth, you know like dentures, dentist, Dentyne. And Virginia, well, one day when she was about six years old, Susan comes home from kindergarten, and she says right there at the dinner table, "Mommy, why do ladies have Virginias?" Straight out of a Woody Allen movie, when Woody Allen was still Woody Allen, before he took up with his girlfriend's adopted daughter, have you ever heard of such a thing? All right, nu, what can I tell you, everybody's got problems, even Woody Allen. But listen, never mind Woody Allen already, Irving and I thought it was so funny, Virginias, we got a good laugh out of it, like I said I was a bit of a looker back then. Those were the days Irving and I still had a good time once in a while, hard to believe now or even remember, but I can still hear him after supper, when I was doing the dishes, he'd sneak up right behind me and whisper, "Want to take a ride to Virginia later?" his voice soft and sweet in my ear.
So, Virginia Dentata, get it? I'll give you a another hint: Her show is called Virginia is for Lovers, like the bumper sticker, ha ha, very funny, where she got such a sense of humor from, God only knows, certainly not from my side of the family. It's a sex show, for God's sake, I went once. No, of course she didn't know, it's not like she's ever invited Irving and me; I read about it in the paper. I pick up the Village Voice once in a while, I know what goes on in this world. So there was her name, Virginia Dentata, and I'm thinking, Susan's in a show, why didn't she tell us? Why wouldn't she want her own parents to come? We went to all her plays in high school, Guys and Dolls, they did, How to Succeed in Business, you know the shows. She's always been a performer, my daughter, she likes to be the center of attention, all right, who doesn't? But anyway, why wouldn't she invite Irving and me unless she was doing something that made her feel ashamed? So one night when Irving was working latesome dinner meeting he had, you know he works like a dog, my IrvingI took my life in my hands and went into the city, down to Avenue A. That's some neighborhood she works in, my daughter, she lives there too. So hard we worked, like slaves, to get our kids out of the city, they should only know what a tree looks like, a flower, a blade of grass. They should only know what peace and quiet feels like, not to have a stranger on top of you every five minutes. I remember the first apartment Irving and I had was in Brooklyn, in the basement it was, I would look out the window, and all I'd see was shoes. But all these suburban kids had it too easy, they ran back to the city the first chance they could get. For them it's a lark to live in the bad neighborhoods, it's a thrill to trip over a bum lying in the gutter, it's exciting to see a family in the subway who ain't got what to eat. Take it from me, it wouldn't be so exciting if Daddy wasn't waiting in the office, Susan's calls he always takes, and if she needs a couple hundred to make the rent, he whips out his checkbook and puts in a little extra, too, his daughter should buy herself a little present, another ring to put in the side of her nose, like an animal. I tell him, Irving, if she can't pay the rent, let her come home, her room is still here just like she left it, but he says, leave her alone, it's just until she gets on her feet. Ha, Irving knows as well as I do that those feet are almost 40 years old. It's time for her to get her head together, never mind her feet.
What was her show about? Don't ask. She gets up on stage, and believe me I use the term loosely, there was no stage, just a curtain stretched across the floor. She gets up there, and in front of everybody she takes off her trench coat, and a good coat it is, too, a London Fog, I remember when we bought it for her, and underneath she's wearing nothing but a ... a ... I don't know what to call it, a G-string, a loin cloth, whatever, and attached to this tiny piece of fabric that's barely covering her pupik, she's got a wind-up toy, you know, it's a mouth, and when you wind it up the teeth clatter. I remember the dentist used to give them out to all the kids after he cleaned their teeth. So very funny, right? It's supposed to be man's greatest fear, but, believe it or not, Irving had a few other things to worry about when Susan was growing up, besides if I was growing teeth somewhere they didn't belong, like how he was going to pay the mortgage, the car payments, the orthodontisthis lovely daughter should have lovely teeththe eye doctorhis lovely daughter should have lovely contact lenses, guys seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses. Not that we had anything to worry about in that department, but who knew that yet? I'm telling you, our daughter was perfectly normal in every way, and not only that, she was planned for, she was longed for, she came out all in one piece, perfect, with ten fingers and ten toes and with such a head of long, black, curly hair, the nurses all took turns combing it, the day we left the hospital, they tied it up in a ponytail with a pink ribbon, and everybody cried, such a simcha it was. You know what that means, a simcha, such a happiness, it almost makes you bust. I'm telling you, who knew that gorgeous, sweet-cheeked baby girl would grow up to cut off all her beautiful curls, tattoo a woman with wings on her left cheek, pierce her nose, her eyebrows, her chin, her tongue, and God only knows where else, and if God does know, I prefer He keep it to Himself. And if that wasn't bad enough, our precious babys girl who I stayed up all night with, the littlest sneeze, the tiniest cough I was there, our darling first and only born, named for her Great Uncle Shmuelhe never even made it to this country, what happened to him you don't want to know, don't even askwho knew our very own Susan would grow up to take off all her clothes in front of perfect strangers, and worse than that, set up housekeeping in the East Village with a woman named Max who walks like a man and talks like a man and dresses like a man and probably smells like a man, though I'm in no hurry to get that close, but isn't a man, unless Susan's not telling me something I don't even want to know. Sure, anything's possibledon't you watch Oprah? She's got men on there who used to be women, and women who used to be men.... In fact, the other day, and this is what I really want to talk to you about, the other day she had on this woman, JoAnn Loulan her name wassee, I wrote it downthis woman says she's a lesbian, but she has a boyfriend, so isn't it possible that Susan can keep being a lesbian but have a boyfriend, too? And maybe then a baby, God forbid, what would be so terrible? She never had a boyfriend, not one boy did she ever bring to the house, so how can she be so sure she wouldn't like it? So stubborn she is, my Susan, I remember when she was a little girl she knew exactly what she would eat and what she wouldn't eat, and once she made up her mind, forget about it. Like rigatoni. For some reason, she took one look at it and decided it wasn't for her. It's just like spaghetti, I told her, it's just a different shape. Just take a bite, just try it, and if you don't like it, you don't have to eat it. But she wouldn't budge. She shut her mouth tight as a drum and that was that. You know why she wouldn't eat it? Because her mother asked her to. If I make a suggestion, right away Susan thinks it's a bad idea, so I keep my mouth shut, if I say something she don't want to hear, that's it, it's all over, it'll be another six months before she picks up the phone to see if Irving and I are still alive.
And what's gonna be, I want to ask her. Sure, she don't want to hear this, but her mother and her father with his big, fat checkbook are both getting old, we ain't gonna be around forever, and then what? Then she'll be all alone in this world without a family, and family is familythat's the most important thing. Who else is gonna be there for you through thick and thin, who else can you turn to when you have nowhere else to go? Where would my mother be if she didn't have Irving and me, wearing diapers and eating mashed carrots and peas in a nursing home, God forbid? Listen, you and I both know that Max ain't gonna stick around forever. She's somebody's daughter too, maybe she'll come to her senses yet, maybe she'll get married someday. All right, good-looking she ain't, but still, she could fix herself up nicesome lipstick she could put on, a dress she could wear. She got a nice figure, Max, and besides, there's someone out there for everyone, believe me, I see plenty of homely girls on the street with bellies out to here and a wedding ring on. I'm telling you, everybody needs a family. That's why God made things the way they are, a boy and a girl and a couple of kids. Six billion people can't be wrong, right? Only my Susan knows better than the whole human race, a husband and a baby ain't good enough for her, only another woman she wants.
What? Of course I know she's not the only one. Yes, I've heard of Ellen. No, I never watched it; I don't need to be reminded of my troubles at night, at night I try to relax. Anyway, thank God they took it off the air, it's bad enough the woman lives like thatshe's got to go on national TV and ten the whole world, too? Oy, her poor mother. What's that, her mother's part of this group? Really? Is she here? No? Well that's too bad. What kind of group is this anyway? PFLAG? No, I never heard of it. What does it stand for? Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. What does that mean? You all have children like my Susan? Oy, I'm so sorry, but misery loves company, right? What do you mean, you're not miserable, there's nothing to be sorry about, you're proud that your children are funny? Go on, you don't mean it, I never heard of such a thing. You do mean it? Really? Then you're all as meshugeh as your kids are. Of course I should have known Susan would send me somewhere crazy, what does she know from normal people, people who aren't sick in the head, people who know what's what. No, she didn't tell me nothing, she just sent me a piece of paper with a date, a time, an address. She said it was a place I could get help. I thought she meant help for her, not help for medo I look like a person who needs help? She's very clever, my Susan, she struck a deal with me. She said if I went she would come home for Rosh Hashanah, she hasn't been to shul with us in years, since she was in college she hasn't been home for the holiday. And everybody's dying to see her, so of course I said I'd come.
All right, I came, I saw, can I take this little brochure here, so I can show Susan I kept my word? They're free, very nice, such a bargain, thank you very much. OK, I've said all I have to say then, good-bye and good luck to all of you, and may God look down upon you with pity, upon you and me both and send a miracle down our way, it could happen, after all, anything is possible. Like Cynthia and Sol Greenblatt, you remember what happened to them? It was in all the papers; you must have read about it. I happen to know them very well, they live right next door. Their son Matthew had that terrible accident, remember? Skiing he was, I'm telling you, that boy had no business up on top of a mountain, if God wanted us to slide down icy hills, He would have put wings on our feet. Anyway, it was terrible, they said he'd never walk again. But P.S., last year he ran the New York marathon, on plastic legs he ran it, but never mind, he made it to the finish line, all 26 miles he ran. Such a sweet boy he was, such a good boy, years ago we thought maybe Matthew and Susan, you know, such beautiful children they would have made, but now of course it's out of the question. But the point is, if God made a miracle for the Greenblatts, maybe he could make a miracle for the Hershbergers too? We're not such terrible people, all of you look like very nice people too, despite your children, no offense, all I'm saying is as long as we're an alive, anything is possible. One must never give up hope. Even in the camps they never gave up hope, so maybe someday, God willing, Susan will wake up and become a person, and I won't have to be ashamed.
All right, that's it, that's all I have to say, this time I'm really going. You know what a Jewish good-bye is? There's an old joke: WASPS leave and never say good-bye, Jews say good-bye and never leave. It's true, no? So laugh a little, we've all got problems, right? After all, we're not here tonight on account of our good looks, or because we got nothing better to do. Yes, yes, it was very nice meeting all of you too. Thank you very much for listening, I'm sorry to have taken up so much of your time. I don't know if I'll be backthank you for askingbut I'll tell you what, maybe I'll strike a bargain with Susan, she thinks she's the only one who knows how to play Let's Make a Deal? Maybe if I come back here, she'll come home for Irving's birthday, a surprise we'll make for him, he'll be 75 in June, it would give him such pleasure if Susan came home. I won't even hock her to wear a dress or take the hardware out of her face or put a little makeup on. You see, I'm not such a terrible person, I know how to compromise. You gotta give a little, take a little, just like the song goes. You can't be selfish, you can't always have everything your way, you have to think about the other person every once in while. Maybe someday Susan will understand that's what family is all about.
The kiss was expected. The kiss was demanded. No one else was aware of the command. It was given with a slight tilt of the head, a presentation of the cheek. Lisa would rather press her mouth against dead horse meat than her own mother's flesh, but she steeled herself and placed her lips against the sagging skin. It was the only way to get what she wantedand to avoid getting what she didn't want.
The kiss came every year in August when Mrs. Weiss took Lisa shopping for back-to-school clothes. They always went to the Dress Depot, and by now the salesgirls knew better than to ask if they needed any help. It was obvious they needed a lot more help than girls with tight sweaters, teased hair, and seven gold loops running up each ear could give them.
Maybe this year won't be so bad, Mrs. Weiss thought as she pulled the car into a parking space. She turned the engine off and looked over at her daughter, but all she could see was the dark curtain of hair Lisa had pulled shut between them a long time ago. "Ready?" she sang out with false bravado and cheer. Lisa's reply was to hurl herself out of the car and slam the door shut without a word. Her mother leaned across the front seat to lock Lisa's door before she grasped her handbag firmly, got out of the car, and headed for the store. Lisa followed with all the enthusiasm of a death-row inmate walking toward her execution. Mrs. Weiss pulled open the door with grim determination and was momentarily soothed by the sound of a bell tinkling softly over their heads like the unexpected song of a bird as they stepped inside.
Before the door even had a chance to slam shut behind them, Mrs. Weiss hurried toward a row of clothes like they were her long-lost friends and started sliding dress after dress down a rack. Her fingers fondled the fabric of each one eagerly, as if she were searching for a message stamped in a secret code like braille, a message that would explain the mystery of her own daughter who stood a few feet away, scowling, her arms folded tightly across her chest. When Lisa was a baby, Mrs. Weiss imagined these shopping trips: the two of them, so alike you'd think they were sisterseven their hands don't give them away!oohing and aahing over prom dresses and then having a nice lunch at the mall, giggling like schoolgirls over books and boys, and then sharing a naughty dessert they knew they shouldn't be eating, but oh, why not, just this once....
Mrs. Weiss sighed and selected an outfit from the rack. "How about this?" she asked, holding up a brown and gold tweed skirt and matching jacket.
Lisa lifted her eyes from the floor with great effort and looked over at her mother as though she were an alien: initially interesting but ultimately too disgusting for words. "I wouldn't be caught dead in it," she pronounced before looking down at the floor again. Mrs. Weiss returned the outfit to the rack and chose another: a green-and-red-plaid wool jumper with a pleated skirt. She held the garment up to her shoulders and let it drape down her body, kicking her right foot out to check the length. "This is cute."
"It looks like Christmas paper."
"It comes in black and white too."
"It's cute. And the dropped waist is slenderizing."
"Then you wear it."
"Fine. You pick something out." Mrs. Weiss put the jumper back and folded her arms. Lisa stepped forward, and her mother stepped back, like two dancers who despised each other, doing a do-si-do.
Lisa fingered each garment on the rack with disgust, as if she were picking through a garbage can of rotten meat oozing maggots and worms. Finally she chose something: a black sleeveless minidress with a plunging neckline, a slit up the back, and lace filled cutouts on either side. "How's this?"
Mrs. Weiss studied the dress while choosing her words carefully. "Don't you think it's a little old for you?"
Lisa looked at her mother like she was the most pathetic person on the planet. "As if I'd even look good in something like this," she muttered to herself. Then louder, "It was a joke, Mother." Lisa had been calling Mrs. Weiss nothing but "Mother" since she was 12 years old, but still, every time she said it, the stiff, formal word stung the air like a slap.
"I'm going over to the sales rack," Mrs. Weiss announced, trying not to sound eager to put some space between herself and her own flesh and blood. Lisa didn't respond.
Soon the bargaining would begin. Mrs. Weiss would return to Lisa with half a dozen dresses slung over her arm, their hangers clanging, and define her terms: If Lisa picked out three outfits, she'd let her go to the mall by herself and give her money for two new pairs of jeans. Jeans and a leather vest, Lisa would argue. Mrs. Weiss would promise the vest in exchange for a pair of shoes for the holidays. Lisa would agree to the shoes if she could also get a pair of boots. Mrs. Weiss would give in to the boots only if Lisa wound up with five outfits, one for every day of the week.
Lisa wouldn't argue further. She really didn't care anyway since she never wore these outfits to school. Oh, she left the house in them all right, but then she headed straight for the garage, where she changed into black jeans and a black sweater or T-shirt, depending on the weather. Then she changed again when she got home from school. "My mother is so stupid," Lisa often bragged to her friends, as if Mrs. Weiss didn't know her daughter went to school in the same filthy clothes all week. She had found one of Lisa's outfits neatly folded and stashed behind some old winter coats one day when she went into the garage looking for an extra plant hanger. She had picked up the garment tenderly, as though it were something hurt and alive, and stroked the smooth purple wool, soothing it, in the same way she was now stroking a soft velour pullover. She added it to the pile over her arm and headed back to Lisa.
"Let's go try these on."
Let's not and say we did, Lisa thought as she silently followed her mother across the store. She took the clothes and pulled the curtain of the dressing room shut before her mother could even think about coming inside. "I'll wait out here," Mrs. Weiss called, as if it were her idea. Lisa undressed slowly, avoiding her own reflection, which was no small feat as there were mirrors everywhere, designed to expose her body from every imaginable angle. Lisa knew exactly what she looked like and had no need to be reminded of her imperfections: the sagging boobs, flabby stomach, lumpy thighs. She stood there in her bra, panties, and knee socks, rattling the hangers around so her mother would think she was trying something on. Sure enough, Mrs. Weiss called out, "Can I see?" with an edge of hope in her voice that made Lisa sick. What does she think, I'm going to pull open the curtainta da!and there, standing before her very eyes will be the pretty, smiling, well-dressed, cheerful daughter she's always wanted? "Can I come in?" Mrs. Weiss called again.
"No." Lisa said, spitting out the word. She let a little more time go by and then selected a few outfits. "These'll do." Lisa thrust several hangers through the slit in the curtain, and Mrs. Weiss accepted the clothes from her daughter's disembodied arm. "I'll meet you at the cash register," she said, walking away.
Lisa got dressed quickly and then sat down on the little pink dressing room stool for a few minutes. She knew that no matter how long she took, her mother wouldn't pay until Lisa was out there beside her. She'd stall by pretending to look at scarves, earrings, and belts, but she wouldn't approach the cash register until she knew Lisa was there to witness what a good mother she was to spend all this money on her daughter. You're very lucky, Lisa. Not every girl has such a wonderful mother. Some girls don't even have enough to eat, let alone new outfits every year.
Lisa got up from the stool like she was a hundred years old and dragged herself out into the store. Sure enough, as if on cue, her mother was just dumping her load onto the counter. Mrs. Weiss watched the salesgirl, who was just a few years older than Lisa, snip off price tags. "This is so cute," Mrs. Weiss said, fingering a black-and-white tweed jacket. "I'm so glad this one fit."
"It's adorable." The salesgirl held the jacket at arm's length to admire it before folding it carefully, sleeve to sleeve, shoulder to shoulder.
Encouraged, Mrs. Weiss went on. "They're wearing skirts a bit longer this year, aren't they?" Lisa couldn't care less whether or not they were wearing skirts at all.
"Just above the knee," the salesgirl said, smoothing the jacket into a bed of orange tissue paper. "Oh, I love this." She held up a maroon wrap-around skirt with gold buttons going up the side.
"Isn't it lovely?" Mrs. Weiss basked in the glow of attention from someone who so clearly shared her own good taste. Lisa watched her mother and the salesgirl from a short distance, feeling like she was going to puke. She imagined herself spewing green bile over racks and racks of clothing. Wouldn't that be lovely? Wouldn't that be adorable? Lisa watched the salesgirl through narrow, slitted eyes. She had what looked like a miniature red, curly telephone cord wrapped around her forearm with some keys attached. Lisa wanted to strangle her with ither and her mother, who was now making quite a show of searching through her wallet for her charge card.
Finally they were done. The salesgirl lifted two enormous shopping bags over the counter, and to Lisa's amazement, actually said, "Have a nice day." This was Lisa's cue. She stepped forward and took the bags while Mrs. Weiss fussed with her things, returning her charge card to her wallet and her wallet to her purse, searching for her sunglasses, her keys, all the while her head at that slight, beckoning angle, the same tilt of head their dog Polly used when you asked her a question: "Want to go out, Polly? Want to go out?"
Lisa knew her mother was waiting for the kiss, knew she would wait all day if she had to, knew just how long she herself had before her mother's patience turned into embarrassment and then rage, which would turn into Lisa's own misfortune when the two of them got home. Lisa waited a little longer each year, just to see what her mother would do. They couldn't stand there forever. The store would close eventually. Lisa knew she was pushing it, knew her mother was just as stubborn as she was, knew her mother did not want to look foolish in front of that idiot salesgirl, whom she wished was her own adorable daughter.
"What do you say, Lisa?" Mrs. Weiss hissed through clenched teeth while the salesgirl looked down, pretending to busy herself with a tangle of hangers.
I hate your guts, Mother, raced through Lisa's mind, but Mrs. Weiss knew that already. What Lisa really wanted was to take a bite out of her mother's cheek. She imagined her mother's face would crunch like an apple and then taste sour, rotten, like something that had to be spit out at once. Or maybe sickeningly sweet. Yes, that was it. Lisa leaned toward her mother until her lips were up against her face and whispered with all the saccharin she could muster, "Thank you, Mommy." Mrs. Weiss grabbed the counter, almost swooning from the feel of her daughter's breath against her cheek. As Lisa pressed her lips against her mother's flesh, Mrs. Weiss shut her eyes, pretending just for an instant that she had given birth to the daughter she had always wanted. Then she let the counter go and opened up her eyes.
Table of Contents
|Family Is Family||1|
|The Babka Sisters||28|
|A Religious Experience||43|
|Laddy Come Home||62|
|Whatever Happened to Baby Fane?||107|
|A Femme in the Hand||137|
|Girls Will Be Girls (a novella)||155|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book includes several well written, yet simplistic stories on the lives of girls, most of whom are lesbian. Their simplicity makes them enjoyable, but don't expect tales of deep seated love or the meaning of relationships from this book. A good read if you're looking for something light, or have a short attention span.