[This story appeared in Issue 18 of MacQueen's Quinterly: Knock Your Socks Off Art & Literature, April, 2023]
Soon after my divorced mother totaled her VW Bug and couldn’t afford a rental, Ford Motor Company announced its contest—a brand-new 1968 Mercury Montego—for the best safety slogan.
Several years earlier, while married, Mom had taken a contesting correspondence course, and won transistor radios, meat carving sets, bicycles, a washer and dryer, a trip to Hawaii, and was crowned Mrs. Long Island at the New York World’s Fair. These last three wins landed Mom’s beaming face in newspapers.
Ford’s contest featured one pesky rule: contestants had to be twenty-something. Mom was forty-something. But she needed a car.
Her solution was to enter the contest under her cousin Robert’s name. He was a recent college graduate spending his last summer at home with his parents in Middletown, Connecticut. Mom wrote Robert a letter saying that although it was a longshot, if somebody called to say he’d won a car, he should accept.
Mom’s slogan--He who makes time courts disaster—won.
Posed next to the shiny, sleek sedan, Robert’s photo was plastered all over New England newspapers.
His father, Uncle Ben, a trusted and beloved family physician, forced smiles when patients and friends complimented his son’s impressive win.
After the publicity died down Mom apologized long-distance over the phone to Uncle Ben. “It’s been rough without a car,” she said. “And I can barely feed and clothe the girls.”
After promising she’d never do anything like this again, she took a train to the constitution state to pick up her brand-new car.
When my mother pulled into our driveway on a sunny Sunday afternoon in her shimmering, olive-green Mercury Montego, window rolled down, head wrapped in her faded cotton kerchief, and grinning, she asked, “How do you like our new set of wheels?”
My two sisters and I entered the spacious automobile. New car smell. Pristine upholstery. Gleaming handles. It made me wonder what else Mom could pull out of thin air.
God of the Cornfield
[God of the Cornfiled will appear in Issue 18 of MacQueens Quinterly, May 1, 2023]
After my Catholic mother divorced my Jewish father, we became churchgoers. Our Holy Name of Jesus sanctuary stood beside a cornfield. Every Sunday, our backs to the giant, waving stalks, we’d climb the concrete steps into the dim vestibule. My patent leather shoes pinched. My dress itched. During the homily, I cracked jokes into my sister’s ear. Mom flashed her stink-eye, digging nails into my six-year-old thighs, stinging with tiny half-moons. I wanted to bolt from the building, run barefoot in my underwear through the wild green cornrows, arms thrown wide, fingers brushing soft leaves, face pointed toward the sun.
[Published in Friday Flash Fiction, November 18, 2022]
My grandmother wore a hairpiece wrapped in a large bun on the crown of her head. Once, at Disneyland, she joined me on Thunder Mountain, a rickety rollercoaster ride. As we rounded a bend, her hairpiece flew off her head. She leaped, lunged, and snatched it in midair! Breathless, clutching her prize, her blushing face glowed with victory. It didn't occur to me that she might have felt humiliated. At twenty, I hadn't seen her bald head in years, but she never looked more beautiful than she did that day, exploding with laughter and relief. We celebrated with ice cream.
Letter to Isadora Duncan
[Published in The Dribble Drabble Review, Fall 2022, Issue VI]
Your elderly brothers lived upstairs, in my grandmother’s Astoria apartment building. As a child, my mother feared them. Crotchety, they kept to themselves, while you shared your soul with the world. When you died, Gertrude Stein said, “Affectations can be dangerous.” Affectation? You rejected ballet’s fairytales, choosing instead to reveal the truth. You spurned tutus and toe shoes and danced in flowing garments and bare feet. The night of the Astoria fire—you and your brothers long gone—we huddled on the sidewalk in flannel PJ’s. I like to imagine you were there, dancing your truth beyond siren and flame.
[Published in The Drabble, October 21, 2022]
A couple of years into therapy, long forgotten—and disturbing—early childhood memories surface. They are dream-like, hazy, scary, and unreal. As if I imagined them. Or as if I lived them in another life. One day, three thousand miles away, I work up the nerve to question my mother over the telephone: “Do you remember Daddy’s temper? How he’d lock you out of your bedroom while he beat me with his belt? I expect a cold, hard no, but instead, silence creeps over the line, and then, in a sad and tender voice, Mom whispers, “You were so little.”
[Published in Friday Flash Fiction, September 9, 2022]
“How’d you like to work at the Playboy Club?” he asked as I served his vodka martini. He handed me his business card embossed with bunny logo, his name, and title: Operations Manager. Paying his bill, he whipped out a gold money clip, peeled off a hundred-dollar bill, and said, “Keep the change.” I met him for dinner to discuss my interview with the Bunny Mother. Later, he lured me to his apartment and pounced. I kicked him in the balls and fled. The next day, when I called the club to register a complaint, nobody had heard of him.