TE21 Serbian Moments
Like Lips, Like Skins
at the jar of Taster’s Choice, wondering if its residual caffeine will ease the throbbing in my head. Why am I so haunted by the past? Is it because I left home, while Lillie and Alfie and Delphine stayed and raised families and the onward march of the everyday, day by day, successively replaced what was with what is: children’s birthday parties and piano lessons and homework and dance recitals—the all-absorbing practical business of parenting, the is, is, is of daily life—whereas my history here ended the day I boarded an airplane to London, a caesura that preserved the past in an unnaturally indelible way? It’s all there, like a stack of cans on a shelf: open one and there’s Delphine sitting on the bottom of the bunk bed in the room she shared with Lillie, her hand smeared with blood from her stained jeans—and then the entire scene unfolds, and there I am sitting next to her, staring at her in horror and crying out, Delphine, you’re bleeding! She looked down uncomprehendingly, stoleaquickglanceatherboyfriendsitting next to her, and then her hand flew out and slapped me. I was eight or nine and didn’t know any better, and Delphine, coping with the perils of high school and whether or not to tongue kiss, was mortified. I ran out of the room, my face stinging, and locked myself in the bathroom, crying at the injustice and the fear and at not knowing what I had done wrong, and Delphine the whole time pounding on the bathroom door to let her in. But I wanted nothing more to do with her and her bleeding, and I screamed back for her to leave me alone. And then my mother came and the threat of punishment sobered me into opening the door a crack to negotiate, but my mother forced the door in and yanked me out by my arm, and then she beat 176
me all the way into the kitchen until I scrambled under the table and made a run for the outside hall as Delphine slipped into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. —You said it, Evvy. At somepoint you just have to let go.What’s done is done. My mother holds the telephone to her ear with her eyes closed. She looks thirty years younger; she’s adopted her darling voice, purring into the receiver and smiling blissfully into space. She laughs. Micha didn’t like my mother; he’d seen right through her charisma, and she’d sensed it. And although she flirted and teased, there’d been something wary in her coquetry that day, something cagey and calculating. He ate his dinner quietly, cutting the meatball Parmesan into small portions and placing them carefully in his mouth, but later that evening, his agitation resurfaced. She’s hiding something, Micha said. And you’re different when you’re with her, he added, and it’s true, it’s as though some ancient loyalty caused me to regress, to slip into an old role and yearn for her attention and approval. And as I stand here at the kitchen counter, watching her chatting happily, I want her to take notice, to be curious about my life, to tell me that everything’s going to be alright—all of the things that were never forthcoming, because she wasn’t that kind of mother. And then I see myself standing here in another time, 177 — Oh, just wait until I tell that to Dee-Dee!
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