Friday, September 9, 2011

A Glimpse of Paradise

Polly Winkie lived in the apartment next door to us. She was both unmarried and childless, at a time when those lapses were considered downright eccentric. 
But my parents didn’t hold it against her. They were happy to have me out of their hair, and since Polly let me come visit whenever I wanted, they adopted a live-and-let-live attitude.
Behind the door of apartment 1B everything was blue. Polly’s chairs, sofa, ottoman — they were all covered over in a light blue material. Her kitchen cabinets were painted blue; the shag rugs in her bedroom and living room were also blue. The bathtub, sink and toilet; blue. It was very comforting. 
I learned how to tie my shoelaces while sitting on Polly’s rug, and how to drink out of a grownup glass without spilling. And I learned how to keep a secret. A really, really big secret. I learned how to keep the secret of George.
Polly had a dachshund named George. There wasn’t a no-dog rule in the building, plenty of people had dogs, our down-the-hall neighbors, the Tamowitzes, they had a schnauzer named Butch with bad allergies, he  sneezed all the time. The fact that George was a dog was not the secret. It was the kind of dog he was; that was the secret. 
George was the not-real kind. The kind that’s made out of brown velvet. The kind you buy in a toy store, not a pet store. The kind that doesn’t bark, or wag its tail, or eat, or sleep, or breathe. The kind that grown-up women aren’t supposed to keep propped up on their beds, right there on the baby blue bedspread, resting its little brown head against the baby blue satin pillowcase.

Sometimes the three of us would sit on the couch together and talk. Polly said we could put our feet up if we wanted to, even with our shoes on. Polly and I were the only ones wearing shoes, though. George didn’t have clothes, he only had jewelry. George wore a blue satin ribbon around his neck and hanging from the ribbon was a real live genuine diamond ring. I know it was real because Polly told me. 
The best times I ever had in Polly’s apartment were when she threw parties for George. We celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah, Passover, Easter, the 4th of July, Flag Day, Arbor Day, and of course New Year’s Eve.
But the most fun of all were the holidays that were only for George, like his birthday, or “George is Beautiful” day. On these George-holidays Polly and I would drink iced tea out of her tallest, bluest glasses, or hot cocoa from George mugs constructed, as was George, in the shape of a dachshund. You sipped from the mug’s rear end, but if that sounds weird to you trust me, it wasn’t, it was perfectly normal. We’d make a toast, and then we’d give the George cheer. 
It went like this: GEORGE, GEORGE, GEORGE, GEORGE, GEORGE, GEORGE, GEORGE!! Yay, George!!!!
My fondest childhood memories, far better than my own birthday parties, are those extravagant celebrations with Polly and George. 
One day Polly said she was worried that George might be lonely, spending so much time on his own each day when she was at work. So she bought him a goldfish, a real one, from a pet store. It swam and everything. She bought a large fish tank and an air filter, a carton of goldfish food, tiny blue pebbles to go on the bottom of the tank, and a little ceramic mermaid castle, though she didn’t buy the ceramic mermaid. She could have, she said, but she didn’t want George to be distracted. 
Polly asked me to come up with a name for the goldfish and I knew right away what it should be: Princess Annabella.  Every morning before going to work, Polly propped George next to the fish tank, so he and Princess Annabella could visit together. It was a match made in heaven, Polly told me, and later, after she moved away, that’s how I remembered her apartment: heaven. With all those blues, and a wise, fun-loving god named George, and the lovely Princess Annabella, who swam and swam and swam and never got tired.
The day the moving men came I threw my arms around Polly’s waist and held on. My mother had to pry my fingers open and pull me away. I knew that George was safe inside Polly’s pocketbook so I waved to the pocketbook. I blew kisses to Princess Annabella, floating in her little travel-sized goldfish bowl, the kind of kisses Polly taught me to make, where you suck your cheeks in all the way and pooch out your lips so you look just like a fish.
Later, I  considered myself a very lucky girl to have been allowed a glimpse of paradise. But that day I didn’t feel lucky at all. And the next day, when the Kaminsky family moved into apartment 1B — the scowly mother and father, and the two giant Kaminsky brothers — I knew for certain that paradise was lost.