TE21 Serbian Moments

Andrea Scrima

Like Lips, Like Skins

I stuff the Ronzoni Ziti and Slim Fast back in the cupboard and push the door shut. There’s a geometry at work in every family, a collusion of secrets and taboos, and as far as mine goes, Micha insists there are things I haven’t fully understood. Your mother’s pretending, he said. There’s something deliberate in her avoidance of the past, there’s design in it. I thought he was exaggerating; I didn’t see thepoint inbringing up thebad.What do you want me to do, Micha—hold her accountable? She’s a girl at heart; she wants to have fun. It’s the part of her that’s been stifled all theseyears, that never tookwell tomotherhood. My mother’s voice startles me; she’s holding the receiver to her ear, her chin set squarely. — It’s like I always say: in theend you have to look afteryourself. One day they’re eating you out of house and home, and then before you know it they move away and you never hear from them again. The pounding in my head gives way to a dull buzz; I wander into the living room, where a gold-framed mirror hanging heavily above the couch cuts my reflection off at the neck. Have the ceilings in this house always been this low, the windows this miniscule? As I move through the room like a decapitated giant, it feels as though the walls were reaching out for me, as though the space itself, this hovering whatness spinning on a spinning globe retained an invisible imprint of all the yearning, 180 — My words exactly, Evvy.

all the teasing and fighting and laughter that took place here, an infinity of individual moments, each of them comprised of a unique blend of color and emotion. And other moments too, moments when the space around me seemed to solidify, when the ringing in my ears added a layer of static to the din of my mother’s rage, when my teeth clamped down hard and a feeling of dread began to uncoil in the pit of my stomach. I press my face against the window screen and inhale the fresh air of an approaching rain. The first drops are already pelting against the screen, I can smell the oxidized aluminum, but before I reach up to close the window, I run my fingers along the sill in an instinctive gesture, feel for the tooth marks from the afternoon I stood on tiptoe, gnawing at the wood while Lillie and I watched our mother fighting with Mrs. Santorini. We’d been riding our bikes that day, veering off the pebbly sidewalk that ended on Mrs. Santorini’s corner and racing over the slate tiles in the grass. Mrs. Santorini was waving her arms in fury; she said we were ruining her lawn and demanded that our mother make us ride in the street. The street’s no place for the children, I heard my grandmother say in her stern voice. My mother didn’t answer; she just stood there on the sidewalk in her slippers, growing pale. I bit harder into the sill. Mrs. Santorini was shrieking now, Lillie was pressing her palms against thewindowpane, and the tasteof theshellacprickedmy lips as the wood grew soft frommy saliva. And then everything burned up in a blinding flash as Mrs. Santorini grabbed at my mother’s housedress, and when the world around me acquired visible form again, I saw the tires of white fat exposed by a wide rip inmy mother’s dress and my grandmother giving Mrs. 181

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