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No wonder they felt like hell. Mary Zuleika Jones was a pretty girl who was hot and let it show. She had a sense of humor—that is, she made fun of females who had to make do with nothing but other females, and she made fun of genuine old maids, especially the ones who had to work hard for their livings but then spent every last cent, selfishly, on themselves. She made fun of old maids because they were selfish. In the summer of , the polio epidemic happened. I was eleven. The Health Department warned everybody to keep their children in their own yards or in the house.
No going swimming at the town pool or going to the picture show or church or having any contact with any other children unless they belonged to the family. This was something new. Usually, it was a typhoid epidemic; the Cape Fear River would overflow and get inside the drinking water, so we got painful inoculations that made us feverish. I did what I usually did during the long, humid summers: I squatted down in the sandy driveway and used a stick to divert or destroy the industrious ants laboring to perfect their ant-hill homes.
Fanny was that particular selfish old maid Mary Zuleika made fun of. Fanny was a treasured bookkeeper for a plumbing supplier. She drove her fine car fast; she bought herself diamond rings and brooches, and she lived in a big two-story white house by herself. She was always in a thrilling state of happiness. Fanny had bought me a present. To get me through the epidemic, she said.
It was a book. I already needed glasses; the world was a blur. We need a lot of other things around here besides glasses that make you look ugly, said Mary Zuleika. And Lucy was the orphan, not me. Fanny was my godmother. I kept on tending to my tiny, almost invisible ants in the sandy driveway. My nose was to the ground, so I could see them.
The girl next door leaned on her windowsill and told me that when the polio was over her mother was going to give her toe dance lessons. Rosa would invite me to eat supper with Doris Lee. Rosa served us supper in the dining room where the table was covered with white linen and the plates were china and we used silver to eat with. You were supposed to hold the meat down with your fork, cut a piece with your knife, then lay your knife down and transfer the fork to your right hand before you put the piece of meat in your mouth. The first things Rosa saw were our underpants.
We stripped, then tossed our underpants on Mr.
Rosa was friendly. She just laughed, then walked out again and shut the door. Mary Zuleika had a big crush on girls who took toe dance. She took me to their spring dance recitals to teach me how pretty a girl could be if she only smiled and tried to make people happy. Mary Zuleika had done her level best by me, but I stayed in the audience. Scared girls made mistakes; they ruined it for the rest. Her girls had to appear before the public confident and serene.
When the dreadful event, menstruation, got me, I searched through my bag of tricks till I came up with a more suitable explanation for the blood pouring down my legs. Mary Zuleika had to whip me till I bled, but I forgot till just now. Sister Mary Joseph, who was herself a pretty girl, said, No. My ability to forget has been essential to reinventing myself. I was ashamed of myself. Mary Zuleika made it plain how I ought to be ashamed of myself.
I became fiction. My secret life has always been memory in infinite detail, and its reworking.
I must have been six or seven when Mary Zuleika brought me out, although the process began, in tiny increments, before then. Her erotic technique was rejection. She avoided touching me; she turned her head and laughed at me when I tried to kiss her. She told jokes and riddles rife with sexual innuendo in my presence to her best friend, Sally Maloney, and to her sisters. I had my first drink when I was six; I was five when I heard her tell the peach riddle, so I practiced self-control for nearly a year afterward.
Mary Zuleika believed, till she stopped believing, that she had married up. John was twenty years older than she was when they met and started double-dating with Sally and Frank Maloney. John had the look—long, lean, with mother-haunted eyes—of James Joyce, so he looked intriguing; and drink still worked for him; and he behaved as if he were rich. Mary Zuleika and Sally were living at the Ivy Inn, a respectable boardinghouse for unmarried girls who had to work till they married up when, in the slaphappy reasoning of the times, they would be granted a home of their own and everything else their hearts desired.
Sally married up. Frank Maloney was in fact rich, the owner of a Chevrolet and Cadillac dealership, and the home that Frank built for Sally was a grand one, and it was enviably childless. It was pointless having a daughter, Sally once told Mary Zuleika, when you could afford hired help. Mary Zuleika, who had been buying her trousseau bit by bit while she worked for the telephone company, took her suitcase to Dillon with her.
Five pairs of seamed silk stockings were in the suitcase. She was wearing the blue garters her best friend Sally had given her something blue , and the fourteenth pair of peach silk panties, the third peach slip and third brassiere, and she was anxious about whether the seams were still running straight up behind her legs on her sixth pair of new stockings. Her Coty powder and lipstick were in her navy blue pocketbook, which almost exactly matched the navy blue suit and the little veiled hat she was wearing.
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She had chosen the navy blue suit because it would set off the white orchid he would give her. His mother, Bertha—Miss Bert, they called her—might find out. And then she would know. I questioned her about every instance of her life before John, and then before me. You hush, she always answered. All immigrants to America are nervous.
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Miss Bert had immigrated from County Kilkenny with a husband from Dublin who died young and was never mentioned, at least in my presence. Miss Bert had been a servant in an Anglo-Irish household. I know the difference between the glass for claret and the glass for port. Then the old thing promptly vomited all over his rosary, and I finished my pint of gin, then told the priest to go fuck himself.
After I was born, John had to tell his mother. Miss Bert never had anything to do with either of us. The Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth were good enough for her—unlike some people. Or draped on the blades of the lawnmower. Fanny went out and hired an elderly black couple, Percy and Elizabeth, to look after me. Mary Zuleika drove John to drink he always said so, those times he was beating her by nagging him, nagging and nagging, for a home of her own. It was an ugly little box on an ugly rectangle of backyard and front yard. Oil heat cost money; the living room and the dining room had to be shut off during the cold months.
The oil burner stood alone in the little hall that had doors to the two bedrooms and bathrooms and kitchen. It was five feet tall and made out of squared-off brown-colored tin. The cold months smelled like fuel even when we ran out of fuel. Its flames showed through its tiny glass porthole when the bill got paid. I cost money, too. Mary Zuleika, lover of new cloths and shoes, had to go without because of me.
He got to fuck her, but who he loved was his mother. Somebody had to love Mary Zuleika. I made my move the summer I was four. We were heading for the bus stop. Mary Zuleika was walking her fearsome walk; it was a stomp, a coming down heavy on first one high heel, then the other. Yeah bring our electric shaver back, I bought it we shaved each others back it was important to me and. Kwame Dawes. Junot' Diaz and Edison, NJ. The first time we try to deliver the Gold Crown the lights are on in the house but no on.
Raphael Perez. There is n. In a strange twist of what seemed like reverse vandalism, the Graffiti Mecca was painted over. Forest Gander A Translation. Quassan Castro, poem Grandson to Grandmother. Low like the mean dream of Newark the sky must have seemed to its builders. Rickety now, unhinging, I. At last, the extremes of his present methods seemed to offer the happiest avenues. The strengthening. Poem, Knot.
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