TE21 Serbian Moments

Andrea Scrima

Like Lips, Like Skins

I can still seeAlfie staring at the images of nudewomendancing across the paper scroll as I read some of the typewritten words out loud: “I heard the very stuff rip as she tore loose and ran; who will forget Helen, why did she limp and turn at the stair- head and half turn back?” — What are you, on another planet? You’re taking me to the Adelines later. Get a load of this, they’re murdering them now. Alfie looked up to me, and I looked out for him, but then I left home one day and abandoned him. I pull on the telephone cord, trying to tease a little bounce out of its tired spring.

And why does Lillie come to mind, stalking off to her bedroom screaming I hate you, I hate you and crying into her pillow until her sobs gradually gave way to hiccups? — Shot him right in the face. Three-year-old son and a wife at home. How does the one justify the other? I watch my mother tear another coupon out of the newspaper. We all hated her, didn’t we, but we feared her, too, because she was unpredictable; there was no telling what she might do, and so we kept quiet—everyone, that is, except Lillie. — Chicken cutlets are on sale, a dollar twenty-nine a pound. Do you like chicken cutlets?

—Who, Ma?

— Some kook walks into a clinic, past the front desk, and straight into the operating room—and then he shoots the doctor right there, right in the middle of the procedure with the girl out like a light and her legs sticking up in the air.

— Sure, Ma.

I observe her for some time. Suddenly she looks up, and her eyes, grossly magnified by her bifocals, dart back at me in a dark flash. Instinctively, I make a face; she sticks out her tongue and laughs.

She pushes the newspaper across the table.

—You have these young girls getting raped, and what’s happened to them is bad enough, but on top of it all they get pregnant. What are they supposed to do?—That’s no kind of life for a child, you can say what you want. I’m unsure what to make of my mother’s progressive views; is she repeating theopinions of her friends at the Sweet Adelines? 184

— Stop making fun of me. Chicken cutlets are expensive.

My mother rarely looks me in the eye; she always wriggles her way out with a little joke, and I always let her. And when our eyes do meet, there’s always something there that fills me with dread—and then it’s gone again, vanished. I try to unravel that delicate feeling from a moment ago: slowly, warily, afraid my 185

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