TE21 Serbian Moments
Like Lips, Like Skins
spurting everywhere. And then my mother and grandmother had to pin a wailing and writhing Alfie down while the doctor told them how lucky this little boy was not to have lost an eye as he sewed up the cut stitch by stitch with his huge curved needle and I, horrified with guilt, stood looking on. When I was finally able to coax Micha onto an airplane, when we flew toNewYork that first time the year aftermy father died, he hated the skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan, hated the narrow rectangles of sky zigzagging between them. America was louder than he’d ever imagined, a country of brazen claims and non sequiturs, and while I wanted him to witness me in the world that had formed me, to finally see what was American about me—the layers hidden in my assimilated life abroad—he was too overwhelmed to notice. Micha’s never been able to navigate through a city crowd, dodge elbows, swim along like a fish: he’s always too slow, winds up getting jostled and stops in his tracks, blocking traffic in the middle of a teeming sidewalk. When I brought him home to meet my mother, her eyes widened in alarm. Doesn’t he look just like Grandpa, she whispered, but when I glanced at her quizzically, she grew flustered and waved it away. Later, as we sat down to a dinner of microwaved meatball parmesan and my mother was restored to her usual chatty self, I asked her what it was that had reminded her of her father, and she deftly quelled my words in a cascade of playful laughter. But Micha had seen it too: an evasiveness that seemed almost compulsive, and the obvious fact that she feared him in some way.
Sounds of bustling in the kitchen; she’s awake. I pull myself out of bed, pad along the thick hallway carpet, and perch on the edge of one of my mother’s Colonial-style kitchen chairs. I rest my arms on the plastic tablecloth; sticky rings of something pinkish cling to my elbows, and I pull them away again.
— You’re up bright and early. Do you like chicken soup?
— I love chicken soup, Ma. Is there any coffee in the house?
— Get up and look. Did you sleep all right on that mattress?
A box of something topples out as I open the cupboard door; the shelves inside are crammed full, and I have to take out two boxes of Ronzoni Ziti and a container of Slim Fast until I finally find a jar of Taster’s Choice Instant Decaffeinated. —You’ll havetogouptoPathmarktogetyourself somecoffee—I never know what kind you like—and while you’re at it, pick up some Campbell’s Minestrone, it’s Buy One Get One Free. Oh, and do me a favor, close the window in the living room before you go out, it looks like rain. The telephone rings as my mother slides the coupon across the table; it’s one of her friends from the Sweet Adelines, judging from the Well, hel-lo! delivered in a lilting tease and followed by a flutter of melodic laughter, a tone of voice she was capable of switching to at a moment’s notice, even with a child trapped between her knees, cowering under her impending blow. I stare 175
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