TE21 Serbian Moments
Like Lips, Like Skins
Santorini a good, sharp kick in the shin. Lillie screamed, and a feeling of shame crept into my body like a cold chill. It’s our fault, it’s our fault, I thought as I sucked on the windowsill: our mother was naked for everyone to see, she was crying now, and it was all our fault. Does she remember? Does she remember anything at all? It’s exactly as Micha predicted when he urged me to stay with friends. It’syourfirstone-personshow inNewYork, hesaid. You have to remain focused. There, in our apartment in Berlin, it was easy to underestimate the house and its insidious pull, but Micha hadwitnessed me here; he knew. You growapathetic, he said. You turn into one of these—hemade a grimace andwaved his hands, as though hewere shooing something away—idiotic Americans who eats junk food and watches TV. And although I knew he was right, I wished he understood that it was really just a way of being close to her. In the kitchen, my mother is poring through the Staten Island Advance, looking for coupons. I’m struck by how little we actually speak to one another; how our being together hinges on this. I’d like to confront her, break through to her somehow, but it’s as though there were no words available, no common vocabulary. I wander over to the kitchen sink; I stare into a pile of dirty dishes. Next to the Brillo pad is her wedding ring, sitting in a small puddle of old dishwater with one of its tiny diamonds missing, like a tooth with a cavity. — They’re going to have to get that house fixed up at some 182
point, it’s a disgrace over there. And don’t you go telling me she can’t at least clean up a little—she’s home all day, there’s no excuse. Poor Alfie’s working himself to death, and then he comes home and has to put up with that house on top of everything else. — Let it go, Ma, it’s none of your business. I crank the window open and hold the sponge under the running water. — There’s no place to sit, she never invites anyone for a cup of coffee. They can’t expect everyone else to have them over all the time without returning the courtesy. I stare out the kitchen window and think of Alfie’s slender fifteen-year-old frame, the protruding shoulder blades and open wonder in his eyes when I took him to Wooster Street to see Nancy Spero’s 200-foot-long Notes in Time , tacked to the walls of the A.I.R. Gallery. Stamped images of Artemis and Kali, of Gorgons, Viragos, and Sirens; excerpts of newspaper articles, poetry, books on history and philosophy that explored the mystery of women’s oppression throughout time. But then the phone rings; startled, I drop the sponge in the sink. It’s one of my mother’s friends again. This time she keeps it short; she is only confirming a date. — Here, hang this up for me, will you? And before I forget, you’re driving me to rehearsal this afternoon.
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