Excerpt from Playing Botticelli by Liza Nelson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Playing Botticelli

by Liza Nelson

Playing Botticelli
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2000, 288 pages
    Jan 2001, 288 pages

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Not that I want to get into heavy political second-guessing. When I settled here, I pretty much left politics behind. That was the point of moving us to the edge of nowhere in the first place.

I'm out of the loop as they say a lot these days in Washington. Me and Vice President Bush. I mean who in their right mind wants to be in the loop? We thought Vietnam and Tricky Dick were bad, but the sixties were nothing. Let's face it, we're stuck in the middle of a decade that is spiritually pure shit, and Ronnie Reagan, with all his crummy little wars that keep breaking out on our collective chin, is leading the way.

Shit. Shat. Shitty. Wash my mouth out with soap. Nice girls and ladies do not talk that way around here, not that anyone would include me on her list of Esmeralda's nice ladies exactly, and not that I care. In any case, I do love the word. "Shit" has to be the quintessential female expletive. "Fuck" and "damn" are basically masculine, don't you think? Hard and sharp. "Shit" has the same number of letters but it's slower to say, softer across the tongue. A nice, nasty contradiction. Plus there's the mud pie in your eye against all those nice-nellyisms, like "ca-ca" and "poo-poo," our mothers taught us to use to keep us proper.

I mean really, in my deepest heart of hearts, I'm still twelve years old, the vinegar sting of my mother's slap hot on my cheek, pickle juice pooling at my bare feet that are pink from the blood trickling down my ankle where a glass sliver has lodged.

"Oh shit," was all I said when the jar hit the linoleum.

"Judy, please!" There was a splatter of small dark stains down the front of my mother's cashmere sweater. "I can't stand it when well-brought-up girls say that word."

The s-word. I was barefoot for God's sake and there was glass everywhere and that was all she could think about. Of course, now that I'm a mother I'll give her the benefit of a doubt. She could have been overwrought about something unconnected to me: the bad perm she got at the beauty parlor; trouble she was having getting the household checkbook to balance; Daddy coming home late from his insurance office yet again without calling. No matter. The devil had me by then. I laughed in her face and said it twice more, louder. That's when she slapped me, hard. Another in a series of intimate moments between Mom and me.

Don't get me wrong. I do not hate my mother. We talk almost every month. When she closed up the house in Connecticut seven years ago, I flew up to help her pack. The last time I was on a plane by the way. Since then, once or twice a year I drive Dylan - although she's getting old enough to send alone - to Hilton Head, where Mother has a condo with Jack, whom she refers to discreetly as her special gentleman friend. A perfectly nice man, Jack.

No one would ever have dared to describe Daddy as a nice man. That's what I loved about him, even during those two and a half years we didn't speak because he had decided I could not be his daughter Judy Blitch if I was also an unwed mother living in a commune "with a bunch of long-haired, commie bastards" and calling myself Godiva Blue. "Jesus Christ, you sound like you've turned Negro. If you've got to change your name, why not call yourself Virgin so we could all laugh at the joke?" Daddy never did mince his words.

Mom minces, dices and arranges on a platter with parsley and radish hearts every time she opens her mouth. As I said, I do not hate her or resent her or even dislike her any more. As I said, we talk on the phone with a certain regularity. But let's face it, all the phone calls in the world will not change the fact that we simply do not connect. She hasn't the slightest inkling what I'm about, never has.

She loves Dylan of course. Not that she wanted me to give birth to her - as if I had an alternative at the time - but once Dylan was born, Mom couldn't have given her up any more than I could, I'll hand her that. She has more or less adjusted to the terms of my motherhood. Her great joy is sending along articles she's clipped from earnest women's magazines about single mothers and how they cope. Coping is one of her big themes. She does not believe I am coping well. Of course, she believes coping is a good thing: make do, stiff upper lip, stoic forbearance, the Puritan spirit at work. What in her life, aside from Daddy dying over all those pain-filled months, has required coping I am not sure, but I don't bother to quibble because basically she's right. I do not cope.

From Play Botticelli, Liza Nelson. (c) December 1999, Liza Nelson used by permission.

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