Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Family Fiction: Part 1 — "What Eve Does Not Say"

This is an imagined encounter between my fictional parents, 70 years ago. 

july 1942
she is 15
a boy is in love with her
he wants to marry her

he is also 15
he looks 25
she looks 21

they go to the Bronx Zoo 
he brings a blanket
and a brown paper bag

they sit on the blanket
far away from the smelly elephant house

she is careful to cross her legs
at the ankles

she has nice legs

she is not wearing stockings
and her painted toe nails
peek out of her sandals

he says
"pink is pretty"

what he means is
his mother and two older sisters
paint their toe nails red
and it scares him

but this girl 
who he wants to marry
wears pale pink polish
and it is pretty

and she is pretty

in a way that everyone
and also in another way
that only he recognizes

"what's in the paper bag?"
she asks him

she hopes he hasn't brought 
a bottle of wine
or worse
a bottle of beer

she doesn't like the way
beer smells

she has never tasted any

she once tasted wine
but it was too sweet
and gave her a headache

she wants to pull
her knees up

she is getting a cramp
in her legs
but she doesn't know how
she could arrange her skirt
with her knees up

so she just reverses her feet
and now the left ankle
rests on top of the right

and there is some
relief in her calves

"apples," he says
and opens the bag
there are two apples
"I saved them from lunch"

"two?" she asks

"my mother gave me one
but then I took another one
for you"

he hands over an apple

she wishes he had a knife
or if she had a knife
she would peel the apples

her mother taught her how
to do it so the peel
comes off in one long
curly strip

she does not want to think 
about her mother

her mother would not like this
she would not like this
at all

she doesn't approve of sitting
on the ground
not even on a blanket
because cold and damp can seep
through a blanket

what if you catch a chill?
why aren't you on a bench?
there's a perfectly good bench right over there
what are you doing at the zoo in the first place?
put your hanky over your nose
you don't want to breathe in the dirt
how do you know the apple
was properly washed?
and what if his mother
intended that apple for someone else?
what if that other person is going hungry now
because of you?

she doesn't want to hear her
inside her head
but she hasn't learned yet
how to not hear
her mother's voice

so she bites into the apple
she has good strong teeth
it's a small sound
but it is enough to stop 
her mother's voice

"that's good," she says
about the apple
and she smiles at him
but she does not laugh

he laughs too much
he laughs every day
he is always laughing

she doesn't think there is
that much to laugh about

she doesn't want to encourage him

she thinks if she only smiles
and not with her lips open
but with them shut
just letting the ends of her mouth go up
then he will get the message

but she is wrong

he laughs

he says "it sure is good"
and she doesn't think he means
only the apple

she notices he hasn't bitten 
into his apple 
he holds it in his right hand
and rolls it around

he never takes his eyes off of her

this is something else 
she doesn't like
his laughter and his stare

how can she tell him?

she could say
maybe it would be better
if you didn't laugh so much
and also
please don't look at me"

she practices the words 
inside her head

this is what she wants to say
but also
she doesn't want to be rude

she is wondering about
the difference between
being rude and being honest
when he leans in close

and kisses her on her

this is not the first time
he has done this

he kissed her in Crotona Park
two times
last week

and he kissed her in front of the
Chinese Restaurant
on Tremont Avenue

that was wrong
she told him

because people 
were walking by

what if somebody 
recognized her

she does not want a reputation

but at the zoo
this far from the elephants
there is nobody around

and he brought her an apple

and she thinks she should say
but she doesn't want to say

she says "Morty"

and then she doesn't know
what else to say

she doesn't say anything
and he says

"Eve, I want to marry you"
and she says

"not now, Morty"

which she knows is not
the same thing as saying