TE21 Serbian Moments
Like Lips, Like Skins
see myself spread out in a sea of newsprint, lying on the living room rug upstairs with my chin in my hands, inhaling the vaporsof offset inkand studying theprintedpagesoclosely that my grandmother said I’d go blind. She retrieved a magnifying glass from the hallway closet, and a new world emerged as I inspected the photographs andmarveled that an accumulation of tiny dots could produce a picture that looked so real; that a small blob, a single lopsided splotch could reproduce the glint in a person’s eye or the hint of a smile playing at the corner of their lips. And then I’d hear the sound of my mother’s heavy footfall downstairs, the dull thud of a slamming door, and I’d bury myself even deeper, lifting the magnifying glass to let the refracted image of the funny papers swell and drawing it slowly away, and itwas here, at the edge of the focal field, in this loopy-looking oblivion, that I discovered the slippery patterns that arise when the printing plates are imperfectly registered, followed the blurry path of their misalignment to a cyan and yellow spilling over a black outline drawing meant to contain their composite green, or the magenta of a pair of lips slipped askew and planted on a cheek like the lipstick imprint of a sordid kiss. — Once, though—and you’re going to laugh, this is just my luck—I saw someone win a fortune on one of those slot machines. I just walked away from the stupid thing, and wouldn’t you know, a man comes up, drops in a quarter, and pulls the lever—and a whole slew of coins comes pouring out! Can you believe it? There was money everywhere, he didn’t have anything to put it in anymore—his pockets were full, his 188
hat was full—and it just kept pouring out, right onto the floor, with the coins rolling around all over the place!
—But theway someof thesewomen talk about their husbands! I never talked about your father like that. That’s one thing I never did, I never put your father down in front of anyone. I always tell Lillie: That’s your husband you’re talking to, don’t you forget it! Strictly speaking, there might have been some things I didn’t agree with. Your father and I didn’t always see eye to eye—but I never contradicted him in front of you kids. The way Lillie talks to her husband is a disgrace, and she does it right in front of the girls.
—What didn’t you agree with, Ma?
I try to sound surprised.
— I don’t know, your father wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with. If he didn’t like something, he’d walk off into the bedroom and close the door. Mr. Personality. It’s hard to explain; he never came out with anything, you always had to second-guess. I’m not a mind reader, for heaven’s sake! He was just like Alfie—they’re like carbon copies of each other. Never say a word. I think of the way Alfie looked from the art on the walls to me and back again that day. He seemed agitated; the art spoke to 189
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