A Red, Red Rose
When you shiver in heels, there is always the chance that you will fall in a hurry. I would like to learn the trick to not turning to confetti when dressed up. Until that time, which will no doubt be never, I will stick with these extremely unprovocative crêpe-soled shoes designed to prevent romantic encounters; they work, essentially, like helmets for the entire body (and soul, whatever that is). My mother did not avoid rock and roll, or heels, or the practice of unfolding her body (and maybe even her soul) in a flash, even when she had young children, even when she had old children.
Today the clouds furniture the sky to such a degree that the glare makes us permanently squint at each other. She wears large round sunglasses, the kind that are over the top in any era, but they cannot hide her frustration with me for wearing sensible shoes. We are going for a walk in the park on a possibly drizzly day, I tell her; even if I had sexy footwear I would not have it on today. She takes the six steps down in her platforms, and sure enough she trips at the bottom, landing in the shards of a broken bottle on the sidewalk. Her street stinks of urine and incense and cheap marijuana and unwashed clothing on people too wealthy to be panhandling. The concrete is stained with all kinds of liquids and solids and things like chewing gum that reside in between. I offer my arm, but she just laughs, ass in glass, then gets herself up and manages somehow to do it elegantly. Then we walk, and I tell you she is a queen to the shopkeepers, the trash pickers, the drummers, the jitterers, the screamers, the sighers, the scramblers, the wanderers, the mumblers. A white guy in dreadlocks approaches, starts to ask me for a smoke or a dollar or a Lamborghini or something. Then he sees my mother, steps back, ignores me, tells her she’s looking fine on this fine day—neither of which are true: my mother is not fine and neither is the day. Her body is collapsing from the inside out, and any moment it is going to rain. The young man is wearing thick black army tanks on his feet which look like they could keep him underwater if he got tossed into a river. Nonetheless, he produces a rose, red, of course, for my mother, who calls him baby and sticks the flower in her purse, its droopy head poking up from the frazzled blue satin. We walk on, or I do; my mother glides, a few inches above the rest of us, even those dressed sort of like her. In my navel, surrounded by the questions about what to do the next time she falls and how come she never called me baby, is a peanut of silvery awe. Any moment now, a rainbow will land on her, and no one will be surprised.
His Jittery Fingers
The jaybird was sneaking around, quiet as ointment. Tommy and I both noticed it drifting in toward our crumbs, but we had nothing much to guard: we had eaten or used up everything, had only small amounts of money left. To be hungry at a campsite that is your only home is just about the end of the road, especially of you encounter a stranger. But Tommy was not a stranger; he was my son, my jewel. He fit on me like my own fur, and we were in this cell together. His jittery fingers brushed the salt off the picnic table. The jay did not even flinch, just froze. Then Tommy went to the tent and removed the sleeping bags. That’s how I knew we were moving on. I shook them out, rolled them up, while he pulled up strings and stakes. He navigated, I drove. He told me where to go, but he did not tell me where we were headed. At 55 miles per hour, Oregon looks like Maine, dark evergreens, oyster-colored skies about to rain. Maybe there’s more moss here. Once Tommy left me in the woods, and I tried to sleep in its green velvet. When the body gets really cold, it stops shivering and holds onto itself from the inside out. That’s when Tommy came back for me. His timing may be his greatest weapon. The scarf he wrapped around me was plaid and wide as a shawl. His eyes were ashamed as he gentled me into the passenger seat. He is missing an ingredient, the one that lets you feel a slice of what someone else is feeling. To mother him is to protect not just him but others, and I am dedicated to my job.
I used to be a ball-throwing motherfucker, my arm was electric, even in my early sixties I played in leagues with guys twenty years younger and I made them sweat. I was fierce, I whiffed them, I went 0 and 2 and then threw a fastball right down the middle, taunting, and all they could come up with was air. Then, time, and what it does to the body. They put me out to pasture, only they called it a meadow. In my youth and even middle age I skipped tooth-brushing and other responsibilities when I got drunk and reckless. At those times, I might also be undoing the buttons on a woman’s blouse, which is possibly the most wondrous thing a man can do with his hands besides hurling a ball across the plate. And I’d be thinking, when I can no longer do this with the small disc through the slit in the fabric, when I can no longer grip the seams with three fingers on top and the thumb under, let me just slink off like a sick cat and never be found. Then the future arrives, and it turns out I am a coward, popping vitamins, urging my bones into slow postures, regurgitating any old remedy that someone once believed in.
Frances Lefkowitz is the author of To Have Not, named one of five “Best Memoirs of 2010” by SheKnows.com, as well as hundreds of articles, essays and stories in national literary and consumer magazines, from Tin House, New World Writing, GlimmerTrain Stories, and The Sun, to Good Housekeeping, Whole Living , and National Geographic’s Green Guide. Honors include the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Literary Fellowship and special mentions for the Pushcart Prize (twice) and Best American Essays. More at www.FrancesLefkowitz.net.