Frances Lefkowitz

Three Pieces

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, 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 HousekeepingWhole 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