On the day of the Murano wedding my mother is in her bedroom beside mine. The walls are thin. I hear things. She’s just out of the shower and wrapped in a light blue bed sheet. She never uses a bath towel. Instead, she pulls the flat sheet from the bed and shrouds herself. Familiar sounds bleed through the walls as she shifts around her room getting ready: the muffled hiss of heavy heels on carpet as she lumbers to the dresser; grumble of drawers that hold undergarments and stockings; familiar creak of the bed and her grunt-sighs as she balances on the edge, working knee highs over thick calves bound by serpentine veins that bulge under her pale skin like indigo ropes.
I am fifteen and coiled on my bed, waiting for her call as I do my homework, contemplating Keats and the Grecian urn. The buzz of the Conair stops abruptly as my mother finishes her hair. Louvre doors rumble. The clicky jangle of plastic tells me clothes are being pulled from hangers. Honey, can you help? In her room she clasps the sheet at her neck and motions to the plastic bag on the dresser. Get the scarf, she says. It’s a crimson and navy polyester floral we found after our hunt for what she calls “pretty” things. I arrange it on the bed along the neckline of her blouse and reach for the shoes: blue vinyl flats, rounded at the toe, size 11. I set them on the floor at the edge of the bed, align them under the hemlines of her slacks that drape down in two wide swaths of dark sky.
Side-by-side we consider the two-dimensional mannequin from neck to toe, its legs pressed into perfectly manufactured front creases. My mother turns to me. Tell the truth, she says. I stare at the simple spread-eagle ensemble of monochromatic monotony. It’s a beautiful outfit, Mom.
She tilts her head slightly to one side as if picturing herself in it, then breathes in what seems like gallons of air. Dark colors will make me look thin, right? She holds it in. Yes, I tell her and turn my back so she can dress. You are never allowed to look.
Will you do the scarf? My fingers work a loose knot of the fabric so it rests like a rosebud on her collarbone. In the mirror, her eyes tell me she is pleased. I apply her lipstick: Revlon’s Million Dollar Red which matches her scarf perfectly, just as we planned. I adjust the blouse “just right”so the airy fabric falls over her hips. Do I look pret-ty? She accentuates the Ts. She raises her chin and pulls her shoulders back. And do I look thin? Her question sends me back to the day the wedding invitation arrived and my father told her she would not wear a dress. I’m not going with a circus tent, he said. I stretch my arms wide and pull myself close to her now. You look perfect, I say. But my stomach hurts.
My father is sick of waiting in the worn upholstered chair in the living room, strumming his fingers on the fraying armrest, pinky to thumb and back again. He’s grown impatient with pacing the house, glancing out the bay window that faces the street, sitting back down and repeating the jittery cycle from his nervous perch. I know he’s thinking of the life he longs for, one free of frumpy plaid sofas, stains in the rugs, the coffee table from Bob’s Scratch ‘n Dent. He dreams of a neat house devoid of strewn-about Twinkie wrappers and TV Guides. Socks thinned to fishing nets. He dreams of living in a sprawling colonial home. Leather furniture. Carpets white as cream. A wife who is not my mother. Kitten heels on delicate feet.
She’s almost ready, I say, to quell him in the hall. He slides back the edge of his sports coat sleeve with his thumb and taps his watch with the other four fingers, a “Rolex” he bought off the street in New York. It’s time to go, he shouts over my shoulder into the master bedroom.
My mother emerges from her bedroom. She twirls full-circle, showing off the end result of our week-long shopping scramble. And all this within budget, she tells my father, running her fingertips down her sides as if displaying an item on The Price is Right. She spins again and this time punctuates her dramatic twirl with arms launched overhead and a confident hip-thrust to the right. I nudge him. Doesn’t she look great?
At first he takes in my mother all at once, a blanket of scrutiny that could cover the earth. His eyes start at the top of her head and move slowly down her frame, sweeping in the details of the surface area. Hair done. Red lipstick. Coordinating scarf. Innocuous unicolor center. He nods his head in approval.
Then, he gets to her feet. There his weighty gaze settles, just long enough. His face reddens, tightens into a wall of wrinkled rage. Teeth clamped, he sputters, You’re wearing those shoes? Your flesh pops out of those things like fucking corn muffins.
In three exasperated steps, he is in the kitchen. I hear the chink of car keys palmed from the counter. Slam of the screen door. Grumbling engine of his Bonneville as he pulls away. I want to tell my father what I know about my mother. That she is beautiful. But he is gone.
My mother turns from me. From behind she is a dark shadow receding down the hall. Her hand fumbles with the scarf and the tissue-like fabric falls to the floor. Flutter of red and blue. Rare bird going down.
I stand alone unsure of how to progress. What beauty lies in mad pursuit? In persistent wanting? Here we are bound. Entwined. Uncertain. Most certainly caught in the middle of many tangled things.
Maura Faulise completed a Master of Arts in Teaching at Brown University and is currently an MFA candidate in Poetry at Pacific University. She is Assistant Professor of Writing and Literature at Community College of Rhode Island and Associate Editor of The Ocean State Review. Her work appears in New Ohio Review, Connecticut Literary Anthology, Third Wednesday, San Pedro River Review, and is forthcoming in South Florida Poetry Journal and Tar River Poetry. She lives along the Connecticut shore.