"What's the matter, Liana?" My mother licked her upper lip with her browned tongue and then folded the silver foil over the remaining chocolate in her hand." Talk to me darling," she said.
Her kindness pained me. I wished I could return it but I couldn't. I wished I was happy about it but I wasn't. I did not want her attention.
I had come to prefer her neglecting me, demanding nothing of me but to show up when she thought something she didlike preparing dinner for Ivy and me that night, or asking me once if I needed some fresh bath towelsmight be as important as it used to be, before.
The splinters of chocolate had settled on her chest as if they were the jewelry pieces meant to go with her loose outfit and manners.
"Aren't we stopping off somewhere else?" I asked.
"Look Liana," my mother whispered into my ear. "We aren't going to tell anyone in Israel about the accident."
Some time after midnight on a mild summer night, my father had catapulted off a country road in Katonah in his blue MG sports car, crashing into the woods. There had been letters back and forth between my father and his former psychiatrist which, found, proved he had been thinking about ending his life, of letting go of the ivory steering wheel of his MG just that way. It had all been like some premeditated murder on Perry Mason.
On the airplane wall, by the entrance towards the pilot and his cockpit, was a clock like they had in my junior high school. The giant utility of timekeeping made me think about the days to come, how slow they would go.
The lights inside the plane dimmed to signal the approach of night.
Silhouetted against the shiny sides of the coach in the first four rows of seats were a group of dark-suited Hasidic men and their families.
Their curly black beards and side locks made them look like shadowed rag dolls. Six or seven crates of their duty-free Smirvoff vodka bottles were stashed under their seats. In 1963, the plane cabins were small and packed with as many duty-free articles from the airport store as passengers could carry on with them. Chocolate, laundry detergent, Winston cigarette cartons and other untaxed items from Idlewild airport cluttered the plane. I studied the Hasidic men. Too fatherly, their bodies so close, like it was with my mother. A nightmare of fathers in the wrong attire. They bobbed and jiggled and splashed their messy outbursts of affection onto their make-upless wives, their pale children. The vodka and their full laughterwhere were we going? To what world before? It was completely without my father. And had nothing to do with Ivy or me.
I looked around my mother at my sister seated in the opposite aisle seat. After my father's funeral, Ivy had started collecting records of incantations from India or Africa, with record jackets on which cameo pictures of spiritual amulets and naked black Warriors would appear. She also made notations onto little index cards she took from the high school library stack about the Amish who lived in some of the colonial farmhouses further down the road from us. She put a motto up on her bedroom wall in Westchester which read: "The Amish people live kindly and decently. They love what is . . . and are joyful." She had already tried marijuana and knew about the places in the woods in Katonah we could take some six packs of Colt 45 malt liquor, and consider the all-embracing energy waves of nature. We drank nips of Southern Comfort, too, in the cold, raking through the Westchester snowdrifts in large rubber boots where sometimes the rocks were stained with deer blood, fallen fragile and beautiful animals. We had searched for hunter's tracks, to find enemies. We had to be careful about how we moved about now, Ivy had said, and about what we said, about what secret thoughts swam in our brains, in case it had been our bad spiritual vibrations that had made my father leave us, or that had made him do what he did.
From Edges by Leora Skolkin-Smith. Copyright Leora Skolkin-Smith 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the author.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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