In the past month I have frozen 14 dinners in plastic margarine containers to bring to my mother. I should have labeled them when I froze them, but I am not an organized person.
My daughter, Myra, tells me that the cellophane tape won’t stick to the cold covers and that the marking pen won’t write on the wet plastic. I am rushed as it is since the two older girls are already waiting in the car, but I run to the garage to find some masking tape, in case it is stickier. Danny is in the driveway putting water in the radiator, and I call instructions to him over my shoulder while I hunt for the tape.
“Put four folding chairs in the car and the bag of oranges and the carton of groceries. The milk and the hamburger meat are already in the ice chest. Don’t forget the vacuum cleaner. My mother’s is broken, and I told her I’d bring mine.”
I rush back to the kitchen, and we try the masking tape which sticks to the round translucent margarine lids better than the cellophane tape. I open each container and look at the icy stuff inside.
“Write beef and barley soup on this one. Spaghetti and meat sauce on these two.”
Myra is in fourth grade and does not write too well. I wait and feel the pounding of my heart. I really don’t want to go on this ride today. The truth is there’s usually nothing much to say when we get to my mother’s, since I talk to her for a half hour on the phone every day. Her voice is still young, and she’s usually cheerful on the phone. It’s different when we go to see her.
“I’m ready, go ahead,” Myra says. She pushes her hair out of her eyes and stares at me. Will she do this for me when I am a widow living alone in a two-room apartment?
“Write chicken soup and matzo balls on that one and the one beside it; this looks like beef stew in here. These three are brisket and kasha. The next two lasagna. Then cream cheese pie, noodle pudding, and banana nut muffins.”
My daughter completes the job with a grave air of responsibility. I tell her how important it is, and I thank her.
On the way to Los Angeles, we pass the cemetery where my father is buried. We never used to go this way, but a new freeway opened, and it makes the hour trip to my mother’s a little shorter. We pass just under the hill where my father has lain for ten years—he’s a little to the left of some tall pine trees and just below a trash can set in what looks to be the hollowed trunk of a tree. I remember the day my sister and I went shopping for a grave site. My mother could not leave my father’s side at the City of Hope, and we knew we had to buy a plot immediately. We were giddy, listening to all the sales speeches about comfort and quiet and security, and we turned down sites in several cemeteries because we felt they were too noisy or unscenic or too crowded. We finally took this plot on top of the hill because the grass was green, and the view was good, and a bridle path ran along the bottom of the hill where young people rode beautiful horses. “Daddy would enjoy this,” my sister said.
Now that the freeway is in, my father can enjoy the millions of cars, too. Sooner or later one will come along and his family will be in it. I wonder if he feels any special vibration when his blood kin zip by at 50 miles an hour. Since we usually come this way on Saturday, when the cemetery is closed, Danny always says that if I want to, we’ll come back soon and visit the grave. For me, passing on the road is quite enough. All I would do if we drove into the grounds would be to press my hand on the raised letters of the bronze plaque that has my father’s name on it and think about what the dead can know.
As it is, I am left with a quiver in my stomach, and a shiver down my back.
“If any of the rest of you are alive when I die,” Myra says suddenly from the back of the station wagon, “I want to be buried in the graveyard on Mesa Boulevard, right near our house.”
“By the time you die,” I say, “you may want to be buried far away, maybe in another state, maybe beside your husband or in his family plot. Or maybe Daddy and I ought to buy up all the land around my father, and then we can all be buried together.”
“No,” Myra says. “I want to stay near my home. My childhood was there.” She is nine years old.
Luckily, the next attraction down the road is Universal Studios, and Danny turns the talk to the parting of the Red Sea and the glacier that melts and the size of the shark’s teeth used in the Jaws movie.
The two older girls are reading books in the back seat; they are bored by these trips, and soon they will refuse to come. Last month it became clear that we did not all have to go to the same places at the same times anymore. It came about when Danny and I offered to take them all to see a Woody Allen movie if they got their rooms in shape first. As we were about to leave, I checked their rooms and found Bonnie’s in complete disorder, clothes on the chair, pajamas kicked under the bed, books open underfoot, candy wrappers, knots of hair, high school hall passes, crumpled tissues on her dresser.
“Don’t you want to go?” I said.
“But you didn’t straighten your room.”
“I guess not,” she said.
“Then you can’t go.”
“Then we’ll all have to stay home because of you,” I said.
“I can’t help it.”
“But your sisters cleaned their rooms in good faith. They want to go badly. What kind of a person are you?”
In the end, with bitter anger between us, we left her home alone for the afternoon. As we walked out, she and I looked at each other with fear. We had never left her alone before under circumstances like this.
I said, “Please don’t do anything drastic.”
She ran to me and hugged me awkwardly, roughly, beginning to cry, and said, “I’m not that type. Don’t worry.”
Now she and Jill are reading adult books—novels. They get them in the library, I don’t have anything to say about their reading anymore, they’re mature girls for 12 and 14. Myra doesn’t like to read. Of the three of them, she’s the only one who listens to rock music for hours in her bedroom and plays solitaire while her long bare toes tap the beat.
A car cuts in front of Danny, and he stops short. I hear the cooler tip over and the ice cubes slide across the floor.
“Stand the milk carton up straight before it spills,” I shout to the girls in the back.
“Isn’t it dumb to bring a quart of milk all the way to Mommom’s?” Myra says.
“You know the reason,” I say. “Mom-mom doesn’t shop very much and if I don’t bring it, we don’t have anything to eat there all evening.”
As we drive through Hollywood, we pass the Institute of Oral Love. We see a man walking down the street wearing a white lace midriff and carrying a flowered shoulder bag. Another man wearing a black cape and black boots, carrying a cage with a parrot in it, is waiting at a bus stop.
“Why do some men look like women?” Myra asks. I promise myself I’ll talk to her about this another time, but now I cut her off firmly.
“Well, we’re almost there and we must decide right now what we’re going to do. Daddy has to get some books in the Library at UCLA. He’ll be back at Mom-mom’s by dinnertime. We can let him drop us off at Mom-mom’s store, and we can spend the afternoon there, or we can wait at her apartment and you can play cards, or we can borrow Mom-mom’s car and go to the Tar Pits and the County Museum. Or we could stop up and see Aunt Gert.”
No one answers me. We have done each of those things so many times, they don’t even bother to hear me.
I say to Danny, “Stop in the driveway at my mother’s apartment first, so I can put the food in the freezer.”
The old man who lives upstairs thinks there has been a tragedy as he comes down and sees the line of us standing at her door, with chairs, a vacuum cleaner, cartons, and bags.
“Mrs. Goldman died? Are you the new tenants?” he asks, as I struggle to choose from my keychain the various keys to the bolts my mother installed after she was burgled last year.
“No, she’s fine. I’m her daughter. We’re just visiting.”
The old man clears his throat, then spits in the alley. He walks away. He and my mother are mortal enemies. He’s deaf, and he listens to his TV at full volume. He also goes to the bathroom ten times a night; my mother hears his clumping about and has complained. They have both wished the other to drop dead, aloud, many times.
Danny and I exchange a glance. Even now, the sounds of too many neighbors, too close, is unbearable to us. We can smell onions and garlic frying, a child is screaming, dog turds are on the step in front of the mailboxes.
I get the door open, and we carry in the folding chairs (my mother’s dining table has only two chairs at it), the food I am going to cook for dinner, the frozen dinners which will nourish my mother for the next couple of weeks on the nights she is too tired or depressed to eat out, the cans of soup, and oranges from our tree.
A man appears suddenly at the screen door, shouting and cursing. It seems Danny’s car is blocking the driveway. This man is the Israeli hairdresser who lives in the building. He can’t get by us to pull into his parking cubicle behind the building.
Danny steps outside, explaining to the man that there was no place to park on the street, we were just taking a few minutes to unload. My husband smiles and holds up his hand, indicating there’s no problem, he’ll get his car out immediately. The dark-haired man is shouting in a language we recognize from having heard it in holy places—synagogues—but we have never heard such violence in it.
I tell the children to wait in the car with Daddy; quickly in the dark little kitchen, I place the margarine containers one upon the other in the freezer. Nothing but half a loaf of white bread is in it. I wheel the vacuum cleaner into the bedroom. The space in the room is consumed by the king-sized bed my mother and father used to share. On the bed is their old pink electric blanket, which only warms on one side now. The TV is beside the bed (there is another in the other room on a bookcase) and the single window in the room is banded by iron bars. (“Would I rather die trapped in a fire, or be killed by a rapist?” my mother once asked me.)
I feel as if I am suffocating in this place; the windows—two in the whole apartment—are always kept heavily draped, for privacy, for safety. There is no air, no light, it is like a hole.
No wonder my mother cannot cook in this place. It’s a wonder she can breathe here.
In the living room, I stop to play a few notes on the grand piano. It’s the same one we had in Brooklyn when I was growing up; I used to practice my scales on it. On an impulse, I go around to the side of it and look into one of the holes on the soundboard. When I was a child, my mother used to keep money hidden there, and her one fine bracelet made of gold lionheads which my father gave her the first year he was in the antique business. Now there is a long envelope folded and crunched into the hole. I pull it out and recognize the drawing of Moses which is the symbol of the memorial park where my father is buried. I open the envelope and find the deed to a burial plot. My mother has bought herself a place on that hill beside my father without telling any of us.
I replace the envelope, get my purse, and carefully lock all the deadbolts with the proper keys. Then I run down the alley to the car, and Danny drives us the two blocks to the store.
The same battered yellow sign is there—my maiden name in lights—Goldman’s Antiques. In smaller letters, added after my father’s death, are the words: Anna Goldman, Proprietor. The buzzer shrills as we cross the threshold. It’s a horrible sound, and always scares customers as they come in. My mother had it installed last year after she was surprised by a nun who ran out the door with a pair of candlesticks under her cape before my mother was aware someone had even entered the store. She’d been playing the upright piano in the back, which she often did when there was no business, which was most of the time.
The children love to stand in front of the electric eye and make the buzzer shriek. I can’t stand the din. I scream at them to stop.
Then I kiss my mother. Half her face is covered by immense dark sun glasses, worn to keep the glare out of her sensitive eyes, which are not seeing very well these days.
She smiles at me. It’s a funny, sorrowful smile, as if coming from a tearful face. She seems thinner than the last time I saw her. Her wispy hair is pure white and lies softly on her delicate head. Her face is like sunlight to me—I cannot look at it too long. It shocks my eyes, the way it has changed. I don’t know how to reconcile my two mothers—the one with the radiant smile who used to wait for me with arms outstretched at the school gate when I was in the first grade and this present, mourning, mother of mine, whose face has diminished to a wrinkled puff of air.
I turn my head away, grateful to hear her voice. It is the same as always, very vibrant, lilting, almost girlish.
“And how are my darling girls?” she says, embracing my children, who hug her back. She never kisses Danny, because she understood long ago that it was not his way.
I look around the shop. It is long and narrow, overcrowded, dense with things that curl and twist, everything is ornate, nothing is clean and straight, the way I like it. There are things here that Danny admires, that he would like to have in our home, but I refuse. Now that I have a choice, I want modern things, pure straight surfaces, smooth heavy planks of wood for tables, utilitarian objects, like clocks or lamps, which also serve as decorations.
I am terrified by the thought that someday soon all these objects will fall to me, be mine to dispose of. If I ever pray, I pray that my mother will choose to liquidate the shop while she is well and capable. There must be 10,000 items here in which I have absolutely no interest, whose value I cannot conceive of, whose dusty features repel me.
But there is no doubt that my mother will keep this place going till the day she can no longer stand on her feet, and that will be the time (when she can’t even help us) that my sister and I will become the unwilling recipients of this empire.
Even though my mother has for years made no profit from the store (and is lucky if her income barely covers her expenses), I know that this shop is what gets her out of bed in the morning, gets her dressed and into the world of the living. Here Anna Goldman has authority, she is in control. She meets people, she makes deals. She is the mistress of Goldman’s Antiques. At home, in the dark hole she lives in, she is as good as in the ground with my father.
I wonder how I could have lived in my family so long and never learned to tell cut glass from pressed glass, silver from tin, diamonds from rhinestones. In this store, my mother speaks a strange language to the ladies from Beverly Hills: “Tiffany,” “Lalique,” “Sonora Chimes,” “Soapstone.”
When, now and then, she comes to our home for the weekend, and I go on Sunday morning calls with her, I cringe as she makes offers to people who are forced to sell their beloved belongings because of death or divorce or deportation to old age homes. She stands hard as a rock amid their dishes and silver and paintings and offers paper money for the accumulations of a lifetime.
I feel claustrophobic here, I must have air.
I shoot through the buzzer and stand outside, breathing hard. Danny is saying he has to get to the library before it closes, and my mother is telling him about this week’s movie stars—how Barbra Streisand chiseled down the price of a beaded dress till my mother lost patience, how Red Skelton sent his chauffeur in to price a painting, lest my mother mark it up instantly when she recognized the comedian, how Glen Campbell was in and my mother didn’t know him from a hole in the wall till the secretary who worked next door came rushing in to breathe the air that had passed through his lungs.
It is going to be a very long afternoon. There are no chairs that aren’t too fragile to sit on in the store, and the children have nothing to do. They knock into tables full of china, they touch things that are breakable, and they sometimes ask to have things.
“This is a place of business,” my mother is now saying to Myra, hugging her to make refusal seem less cruel. “If I gave my grandchildren all the things they want, I’d have nothing left to sell, isn’t that true?”
Myra runs out to me and whispers, “I hate it here.”
“What was it you wanted?” I ask her.
She takes me back through the buzzer, holding my hand. She points to a carved wooden dog about an inch long in the display case. I want to tell her that when the store is mine, she can have anything she wants. Everything, in fact. What harm could be done if my mother gave her that? Or ten, or 20, other things as well. Would the family fortunes be diminished in any appreciable way?
“How about we walk over to Aunt Gert’s?” I suggest. “Or since Daddy is leaving now, he could drop us off there.”
“Yes, yes,” Jill says, showing the first signs of life all day. “She makes the most delicious chocolate and vanilla mandelbrot.”
Bonnie shrugs. I know what she is thinking. Aunt Gert will comment on how nicely her bosom is coming along, will question her about how often she washes her face, and is she using the smelly acne soap Gert recommended as a charm against a ruined girlhood.
“We really should stop by,” I say. “She’d feel very bad if she knew we were in LA and didn’t drop in.”
My mother agrees. “Gert always says she especially moved to California to be near my children. It wouldn’t be nice not to go over.”
What Aunt Gert always says to me is that she moved to California to be near my mother in order to see that she got a good meal inside her once in a while. We file out of the shop in staccato beeps, telling my mother to expect us back within the hour.
Aunt Gert knows Danny does not like to be kissed, since I have had to tell her so. Which means that when we come into her apartment, she doesn’t kiss him, but says to him, standing an inch away, “If I didn’t know you didn’t like to be kissed, I’d kiss you, but since I know you don’t, I won’t.”
That’s enough for Danny. Politely, but very quickly, he departs and is finally on his way to the library.
“Aah,” Aunt Gert says, kissing me. “It’s so good to have my little babies here.” She strokes Myra’s cheek. “Soft as a baby’s tush,” she says. “And Bonnie, darling, you’re getting such a shape, the boys will be knocking down the door soon.” Bonnie sends me a look of misery so acute that I remind myself to tell her about the Christmas I was in graduate school when I spent a week with Aunt Gert just after she was widowed. I slept on the hide-a-bed in the living room, and the first morning I awoke there, I heard Aunt Gert calling to me from the bedroom. “Come, darling, come in here and let’s snuggle together like in the olden days.” I was 22 years old then.
“Do you think you could stay in LA till ten or eleven tonight?” Aunt Gert asks. “I’d like to you come to a meeting—Harry and I are going to get an award tonight from the City of Hope for raising more than $2000 this year. I’d like you to see that all this running around I do isn’t for nothing.”
“Oh, I know it’s wonderful work you’re doing, Aunt Gert. It’s just that we’d get home after midnight, and that’s too late for the children. Did you ask Mother to go with you?”
“Your mother! Of course I asked her, I always ask her. But when I told her the program is going to be a paramedic teaching the methods of, how do you call it, cardio-heart-massage, which is such a valuable thing to know at our age, what did your mother say: she said, “What do I need it for? To do it on myself, alone, someday in my apartment, when I have my heart attack?” Why is she like that? I offer her meetings, I offer her picnics, donor lunches, nothing is good enough for her. She goes nowhere. Only if someone is musical, a person is worth her time. I could have found her ten husbands since Abram died, he should rest in peace, but she won’t be agreeable to meet men. Ten years ago she was still a good-looking woman, her skin was firm. Now look at her. She doesn’t eat. Who would have her?”
“I don’t think she’s thinking about marriage,” I say. “She’s still missing Daddy too much.”
“So I miss Clark Gable! But a practical marriage is something else. Harry never takes me anyplace I want to go. I would love to take a ride in the country and see the cows. But he likes my cooking, and he’s generous to a fault. I’m grateful every day I was lucky to find a second husband so late in life. God should let him live a long time.”
“Sometimes Mother prefers her own company. She gets a lot of pleasure from her music.”
“Music! Can you hug a piano in bed?”
The girls are eating mandelbrot at Aunt Gert’s immaculate embroidered tablecloth.
“Are the kinder still lighting candles on Friday night?”
The girls all look at me. I am the leader of the conspiracy— Aunt Gert gave us my grandmother’s brass candlesticks on the condition we light Sabbath candles in them. We don’t. That is the conspiracy.
“We try to remember,” I say.
“I have coupons for you,” she says. She goes to a drawer and takes out a bag of papers. She hands the valuables to me one by one, so I can appreciate them. Five cents off on oatmeal flakes, seven cents off on toilet paper, 40 cents off on coffee, seven cents off on toilet paper, 40 cents off on coffee, a one dollar refund if I send six proof-of-purchase seals and the price labels from a pound of fudge cookies, plus the side of a carton of a half gallon of acidophilus milk.
I nod, thank you, thank you. Danny says I am crazy—I should simply say I have no time for such nonsense, I don’t need this junk. I can clip these out of my own newspaper if I want to. It’s no present. But I smile, “How nice,” I say. Then she gives me a little framed Sioux Indian Prayer: “Great Spirit, grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.” Then a poem called “The Value Of A Smile,” and a few clippings from The Reader’s Digest—”Quotable Quotes,” “Laughter Is The Best Medicine.” “My spiritual future is assured.”
“Now I want five dollars from you,” she says. “A raffle. You could win a trip to Israel.”
By now I am prepared for this, and I pay her the money. I don’t mind the raffle so much. It’s when she tries to sell me and the children things we don’t want that I get angry. “These are darling blue jeans, donated for the rummage sale by a very fancy store. They’re just the right size for Myra. I’m only asking three dollars. In the store you’d pay 15.”
“Myra wouldn’t wear them. They have tapered legs. They’re an old style, Aunt Gert.”
“Two dollars, then.”
“Well, girls,” I say. “Time to walk back to the store. Mommom is waiting for us.”
“You’re walking?” Aunt Gert says. “In this neighborhood?”
“It’s the middle of the day, nothing is going to happen.”
“You don’t know what’s been going on here these days. A woman I know was raped in her own parking garage. Another old lady who lives next door, she’s 85, for six dollars in her purse they do a thing like that, knock her down, break her hip.”
“We’ll be careful,” I promise. The girls put their glasses in the sink. Here, where everything is neat, they feel constrained. I would like to show them Aunt Gert’s drawers as I recall them from my childhood. Every handkerchief was ironed into a perfect triangle, every lace slip without a wrinkle. Even now, she still irons her sheets. “They’re perfectly good, they’ll last another 50 years, what do I need this permanent press for, I have good linens.”
We kiss goodbye. “Give me a vitamin,” she tells each child. “Every kiss is a vitamin.” She is too trusting to see the disdain in my daughters” faces. I feel a pang of guilt that I have raised such skeptics.
We are so happy to be out in the sunshine that the four of us hold hands wherever the street is wide enough, and we skip the six blocks to the antique store, giggling and laughing till we can hardly breathe.
The door to the shop is locked. My mother is sitting at her desk with her hands covering her face. My heart turns over. Is she sick? What is it?
I bang on the glass of the door.
Very slowly, she rises from her chair and walks to the door. It takes her a while to unlatch it. She leans against it, not quite letting us in.
“What’s the matter? What is it, Ma?”
She tries to smile, but her lips are trembling. “I was held up,” she says. “I was just held up.”
Behind me, I feel the children reach for each other.
“Are you all right? What happened? Here, let us in.”
“I’m waiting for the police. It happened—not five minutes ago. He was in here. With a gun. He said he was going to kill me.”
“Oh God. I don’t believe this.”
We get inside and I lock the door behind us. We find seats; my mother does not notice that we’re sitting on fine things, on embroidered satin chairs, on needle point stools.
“Tell me, Ma.”
She is twisting the lion-head bracelet around and around on her wrist. The lions” ruby eyes look like drops of blood.
“I think Daddy saved my life,” she said. “I’ve always felt he was keeping an eye on us. I don’t know what happened. Something came into my mind, something made me say it.”
“I said, “My husband will be back in ten minutes, he’ll have more money with him.” “
“Ma, start at the beginning.” Suddenly I ask myself if this could have happened if I’d stayed in the store with the children. What if we’d all been here? Danny could have come back from the library and found us all dead. I am filled with relief—and guilt for my gratitude—that we were not here. Then another dreadful thought comes to mind—if worst had come to worst, my mother is, after all, almost 70. Because I think that, I take both her hands in mine, and kiss them. “Tell me.”
“It happened a few minutes ago. I was playing the piano. I heard the buzzer. A young black man was in the front, maybe he was 20. He had one of those knitted caps on his head. He said, “What kind of wood is that table?” Truitwood, ” I said. I thought to myself, what does a young boy like this need with an antique table that costs two hundred dollars? But you never know these days. The richest stars come in here dressed like bums. And so many of the rock singers are black, who can tell who’s a millionaire customer and who isn’t? But then he took out his gun. “Where’s the money?” he said in a very low voice.”
Myra starts to sob. I take her on my lap and kiss her face all over. “He won’t come back again, darling,” I tell her. “It’s all right now. He probably wasn’t a murderer. Maybe he was just hungry, maybe he had a family to feed. So many people have no jobs now.”
“Don’t defend him!” my mother shouts angrily. “He said, “Get me the money or I’ll kill you.” Don’t have pity for him!”
A loud knock at the door makes us jump. But it’s not the police, it’s some woman who wants to come in.”
I call out, “I’m sorry—we’re closed now.” The woman makes an ugly face through the glass and shakes her fist.
“Oh drop dead,” my mother says. “They come in here and pester me day and night and they never buy anything. They say, “You want 25 dollars for that piece of junk? My mother threw away ten just like it.”“
“Never mind, Ma. Tell me the rest now.”
“There were no bills in the cashbox. When is the last time I made a sale? There were maybe 20 dollars worth of quarters. I put them all in a paper bag for him. He made me lift up the cashbox. There were four dollar bills under it. I handed them to him. He saw some broken gold pocket watches in the drawer, and he asked for them, too. Then he told me to get my purse.”
“He took your purse?”
My mother half-smiles. “I’m not so dumb I haven’t been expecting something like this. After all, an old woman alone in a fancy-looking store. Sooner or later it had to be me. So I keep a fake purse in the bottom drawer. With old eyeglasses in it, some keys to nothing, an old wallet with a ten dollar bill. He made me hand him the money. He didn’t want to touch anything. Then he said, “Hold out your arm.” I didn’t know what he was going to do to me. “Give me that,” he said. He meant my lion bracelet. “Oh, please don’t take that,” I said. “My husband gave that to me a long, long time ago.” I don’t know why—but he didn’t argue with me. But he was angry. “Where’s the rest of the money, then?” he said. And that’s when I said, “My husband will be back in ten minutes. He’ll have more money with him.” It’s as if Daddy put the words into my mouth. I know that scared him, he kept looking over his shoulder for Daddy to come in.”
“Then he said, “Get in the back.” He had the gun on my spine. He pushed me toward the bathroom, and came in it with me. He came in with me, Janet. I knew he was going to kill me then.”
Now tears come to my mother’s eyes. All my children start to cry with her, in terror. My mother stops crying and wipes her eyes. She laughs a little. “Look children—” She rolls up her sleeve, lifts her blouse halfway up her ribs. “No holes in me anywhere. I’m perfect—just like new. Nothing to cry about.”
Jill jumps up and hugs her, still sobbing. Bonnie hugs her on top of Jill. They are all climbing upon one another, feeling that my mother is alive.
But she has to finish the story. It is forming now for posterity, I can hear my children telling it to their children. “If you make a sound I’ll blow your head off.” he said. And then he left me there in the bathroom and closed the door. “When can I come out?” I asked him. “When I say so!” he said. And then I heard the buzzer, and I came out and saw he was gone, so I locked the door and called the police.”
She looks around her. “So here I am.”
We sit together, staring out front through the bars of the glass door. Finally my mother says, “I’m giving up the store, Janet. I’ve thought maybe it’s time for quite a while, but now I know it’s time. I can’t take a chance and go through this again. Next time I may not be so lucky.”
“But you mustn’t give it up!” I say, now that my prayers are answered. “You need this place. You can’t let one rotten criminal decide your whole future for you. A 20-year-old kid! He’s a nothing, nobody! He can’t be the one who decides you have to sit in your little apartment for the rest of your life.”
“Other dealers are giving up. They’re terrified. It happens up and down the street here, every day.”
“You can’t let bad people take over the world, Ma. You can’t give into terrorist tactics.”
“You didn’t see the gun, Janet.”
“But don’t decide today, while you can still feel it in your back. Give yourself some time.”
“I suppose . . . maybe I could hire a security guard.”
“Yes! Maybe you could.”
“Or I could keep the door locked, and only let in people who look nice.”
“Yes, maybe that’s a way. . . .”
“I can’t stay in that apartment. . . .”
Which is what I am thinking. “Of course you can’t. You’re much too active and energetic for that. If you gave up the store, what would there be for you to do?”
“I could sell raffles for the City of Hope,” she says bitterly.
Finally, a dramatic shadow appears at the door. The policeman has come. My mother is going to tell the story all over again. I see her getting her words in order.
I stand up. “I’ll take the children back to your place, now, Mom. There’s no room for all of us to stay here. I’ll start dinner cooking.”
“Oh no, I could never think of eating tonight.”
“But I brought food. And chairs to sit on.” She is unlocking the door for the policeman, who is tall and has curly brown hair. He is extraordinarily handsome in his uniform.
“If you and your family are hungry, you can go out to eat later,” she says over her shoulder.
I start to argue but I have lost her. She is smiling up at the policeman as they walk to her desk. He is such a concerned and gentle man, and she is so small and graceful and vulnerable a woman.
From the front of the store, I glance back. Her white hair could be auburn. She could be 20 years old. Her charming laugh to something reassuring he says is pure flirtation. The man there could be my father.
There is no way to get out the door without jumping to the jolt of the buzzer.