other mothers are home baking cookies, my mother's head is rolling to shore on
a nightly basis. I learn this at the start of the second act of the Off Broadway
show she's performing in. By the end of the first act I am happy. Her clothes
are still on. And she is not the love interest. Usually several men would be fighting
to their deaths over her by now. But in this production my mother is the one to
intermission, the lights come down for the second act. In the pitch black room
we hear the voices of two fishermen boom throughout the theater. They've just
found something floating in the water. It's my mother's severed head.
is not what I had hoped for. I am eight years old. When I go to the theatre to
see my mother, I wish for different things. Like a long flowered dress will be
her costume. She'll work in a candy store and no one will ever kiss her. The
I am left to imagine my mother without a head. Her head without a body. Imagine
it 'til the curtain call when she finally runs out from the sidelines. Intact.
Her hair not wet or laced with seaweed. Smiling as she looks up at the balcony,
to the back of the orchestra, and bows. She does not scan the audience. Tug on
her ear like Carol Burnett does, a symbol of love to her children. She does not
look around for me.
try to forget the show. Until the next day at the Woolworth's. I've spotted a
bottle of purple glitter nail polish. Grape Disco. And I want it. I want the polish
with the tiny little go-go girls dancing all around it. I have no money. But I
tell myself I can take it. I can take it because my mother's head is rolling to
shore on a nightly basis. Because other mothers are washing clothes and showing
up at school in pastel sweater sets. Picking up their children on time. Not late.
Or bounding up the school stairs in an endless variety of audition wigs.
put my hand around the shiny orb of polish. Walk the just-mopped aisles still
damp with Top Job. My scrambled reflection in the floor's glow. Past the rows
of colored candy. Eyes straight ahead. If the cherry flavored Milk Duds have finally
arrived, I'd never know it. All my attention on breaking out of this five-and-dime.
out my exit is easy. Because no one's really watching. Except for the birds and
lizards trapped in tiny cages in the kitchen section. For some reason not worthy
of their own department. Locked up next to the spatulas and the no-stick pans.
Their eyes full circles. Wet like they've been crying. One yellow feathered tilts
his head, nods in my direction. I think to cheer me on.
escape is complete. I've stepped outside the building. But then I hear it. Hear
it as the door closes. Hear it in the swish. That taking nail polish makes
me very independent. Makes me an eight-year-old thief. And thieves don't need
their mothers. Thieves are on their own. Or I'm afraid that's what she'll tell
me if she finds out.
pull the city noise around me. Let it wrap me up in its loud blanket. Hold me
tight so I won't fly apart on this busy street corner, waiting for the light to
change from red to green. So I can hurry home to her. Even though she's not there.
Is probably at the theatre. As I realize this the light turns from green to red
and in the thump, thump, thump of the traffic light, I feel her starting
to forget me.
me like the time she wore her high shoes. Tripped on the pavement. Grabbed my
arm on the way down, as if I might break her fall. But instead just took me down
with her. Something I didn't mind. I wanted to go. I wanted to go where she went.
go to her singing lessons with her. Wait in the back room. Watching The Price
Is Right on a tiny portable TV. Learning the prices on plastic wrap and cheese.
with her on auditions. The getting there the best part. We fly across the street
hand in hand. Bouncy hair and purses blown up and out by the wind. So That
Girl! and her little That Sister! So Mary Tyler Moore when she spent
the day with Phyllis's daughter, Bess, laughing at the mall. Eating ice cream
and walking up a bridge as the sun set right behind them.
months later my mother is in a new play at The Public Theatre. Very experimental,
the role of the grandmother will be played by a man. As for my mother, half way
in she's still alive and dressed. Though there's a man on stage that really wants
her. Reaches behind her back and slips her coat off. I'm sorry to see it go. Even
sorrier when he sits her on his lap. And slowly starts to kiss her. I look away.
Down at my purple polish. One small dot near the end of every finger.
I saw the purple polish glimmering at the Woolworth's I imagined that if I sat
close enough, it might sparkle in the run-off of the stage lights. Flicker and
catch my mother's eye. Make her look beyond the fourth wall. Find me in the darkness.
A fist full of Junior Mints melting in my hand.
version for easy reading|
material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission|