It Is Not Too Late
by Uvi Poznansky
can hear a noise of some kind, clicking awful close to my ear,
somewhere on the other side, I mean, Lenny’s side of the bed. I try to
stay still, because of this dull pain, and because of wondering if,
somewhere deep inside, my baby can feel it, too.|
So I turn my head—just a little—and peak over my shoulder. I glance at that standalone mirror, over there by the opposite corner, which isn’t facing me—but rather, the wall at the other side. And what do I see reflected there, if not something that is, like, so strange to my eyes, so unusual, that it makes me want to blink, or wipe them in awe:
Three squares of fuzzy wool are being held there, suspended in midair. Directly behind them hang three shadows, under which are three chubby old women, crinkling their noses—long, longer, longest—and like, straining their crossed, beady eyes with great focus, under three pairs of glasses. They are clinking three pairs of knitting needles, like, all together now! And there, on the floor, three balls of thick yarn are like, chasing each other; and from time to time, getting tied in knots, every which way across their ankles.
Anyway, at first glance they look a bit similar, like a rough, wrinkled copy of each other, what with those high arched, strange eyebrows. I pinch myself, but they’re still there—in the mirror as well as outside of it—no matter how long I try blinking and wiping my eyes. It takes me a while to tell them apart:
The one sitting to the left is toothless. The one in the middle has a pimple on her veined temple. And the one to the right, well, her nose isn’t only the longest, but also the knobbiest of all three. Wrapped around her neck is a long tape measure, the edges of which roll all the way down and curl there, in her lap, where a pair of scissors can also be found.
All of a sudden, like something has clicked in my head, I know who she is: This is Hadassa Rosenblatt, known to all as aunt Hadassa—though nobody can tell me exactly whose aunt she is anyway—she was the one spreading nasty, awful rumors about me, saying I was dating some other boyfriend, like, behind Lenny’s back. So I decided to make things real easy for her, and told her there’s no need for her to come to my wedding, and in fact it would be so much better if she would stay as far as she could from me; which made her sisters, Frida and Fruma, stay home, too.
Since then, my mind is kinda at ease—except for wondering: Why the gossip? Why did she try meddling in my affairs? And now, are the three sisters gonna curse me, like them witches are known to do, in old children stories?
And what on earth have they been doing here, in my bedroom, sitting there behind me, watching me so quiet—so mute like, even—that for the last hour I didn’t hear no squeak out of them? Or else was it me, was I too sleepy, too dazed, perhaps, to notice them?
In a blink of an eye I can tell that aunt Hadassa can tell, somehow, that me, I’m awake, and that I’ve been watching her for the last few minutes.
So at once, she straightens her back and elbows aunt Frida, who in turn elbows aunt Fruma. And they all nod a slight nod to each other, and each sister in her turn pulls some yarn from her ball and then kicks it, so it goes into a whirl and then settles there, at their. All of which seems so smooth, so precise, so much like a chorus line; which is where they used to dance, like, a lifetime ago.
I remember, Lenny says that one of these days, he’d like to write a story about them. So like, here’s how he describes them:
Having fled from Poland during World War II, the Rosenblatt sisters arrived in Paris, where they discovered glamor, or at least the chance for it. They bleached their hair super blond, so as to put the shtetl, and the horrors they must have suffered, right out of their mind, along with the old way of life.
Around the same time, they changed their names to Brigitte, Monique, and Veronique. Along with their names, they threw out a few other things which had failed to serve them: Their long, dark skirts, and their modesty.
Wearing frilly underwear and black stockings, they auditioned for a show at a night club, a highly acclaimed night club called the Folies Bergère—only to be rejected, because sadly, their dance routine was like, nice and conservative; which made them furious, and even more driven to make it.
So with clenched teeth, they learned how to lift their skirts, and flap them about in a highly erotic, flirtatious manner. After several months of hard, painstaking work, the three sisters finally became an overnight sensation.
They ended up joining a cheaply produced show in the nightclub district of Montmartre. Their fame spread; they became kinda known for their fancy cancan costumes, which left them practically naked.
Their earlier, orthodox upbringing didn’t seem to inhibit them in the least: Behind the curtains, they went from one scandal to the next, and had countless affairs. They never married, or had children. In secret, they told Natasha that at one time Brigitte—also known as Hadassa—had gone through a difficult abortion. She couldn’t afford a real doctor; so who knows what instrument was used there.
Soon after, she was kicked out from the show, because sadly, she couldn’t perform the required cartwheel no more, or even the high kicks.
All this is, like, incredible. Me, I find it hard to believe that there was a time when aunt Hadassa could do any of that. To this day, she still wears the black stockings, as do her sisters; and she can keep an incredibly fast beat, which you can hear by the clicking of her needles. Anyway, she has declined with age: Her flesh looks doughy, and she’s kinda heavy.
Looking at her makes me decide one thing right away: I’m never gonna grow old! I simply refuse to do that.
Lenny tells me that later, when they moved to the States and settled in Los Angeles, the Rosenblatt sisters became very close to his wife. They have shown themselves to be protective, like, fiercely protective of Natasha, perhaps because of having no kids of their own; which in the end, comes down to hating me.
Of one thing I’m sure: If they could wave a magic wand, or a needle for that matter, to undo whatever binds us, Lenny and me, to each other—this marriage and above all, this pregnancy—they would do so without thinking twice.
What’s more, they seem to keep a secret among them, when it comes to this question: Where’s Natasha? She hasn’t shown up here for the last, say, five years; which is kinda good for me—but still, strange. If I ask them about it, which I did at one time, the sisters would find a way to skirt the question; and if I ask Lenny, he would hide the truth, somehow, with a kiss, and anyway, he won’t give me no real answer, either.
All of a sudden aunt Hadassa clears her throat and says, “So? Why are you staring at my eyebrows?”
To which I say, “Who, me?”
“When you’re older, dear, you’ll understand,” she says; which serves only one purpose: To inflame me.
And so I ask, “Understand what?”
Aunt Hadassa wraps the yarn onto the left needle, and loops it around. “Understand this, Anita,” she says. “The thing about eyebrows: It is the first thing to go, when you get older.”
Me, I don’t have nothing to add to this piece of wisdom, to which she adds, “They hang down, I mean, heavily, over your eyes, and show your age, being so droopy and white, and so slick, to the point of resisting any fix, any type of makeup.”
“I’m never gonna grow old,” I state.
Which makes her curl her lips knowingly, and say, “Give it time, dear, give it time! My, my, Anita, you’ll end up just like me, having to be cruel to yourself just to pluck them! Pluck-pluck-pluck! And then, just so you can be somewhat presentable, paint them right back in, dear—as best you can.”
“Really,” I insist. “It isn’t your eyebrows. It’s that nose on you. That is the thing that fascinates me.” Naturally she seems surprised to hear that; which forces me to clarify, “I really, really hate it.”
“So do I,” she admits, for no other reason than to try to appease me.
Now aunt Hadassa slides the knot onto the other needle, and so does aunt Frida, and aunt Fruma too, in her turn. Their arms are as wrinkled as yesterday’s newspaper.
I look at my hand, and imagine a long, smooth formal glove gracing it, with pearly buttons at the wrist, which looks real classy. I lift my pinkie finger and tilt it slightly, as if holding a teacup. “Hey, aunt Hadassa,” I call. “See here, my hand?”
“What about it?” says she.
Now waving a fist in the air, I say, “I just want you to know that if you ever stick your nose, like, anywhere close to me, or to any of my private affairs, you’re gonna leave me no choice, see, but to punch it. Seriously, this is one thing I learned from my ma, and I warn you now: I learned it real good.”
“Ha,” she puffs. “Your affairs, they seem to stick out like a sore thumb, and right in our noses, too. It is you who, by fainting at the most ill-advised time, forced this stink on us, on our delicate sensibilities.”
“Why, how d’you mean?” I ask, in confusion.
“Who do you think has been taking care of you all day,” she say, “Ha, princess?” And aunt Frida joins in, “Who has been wiping the dribble from the corner of your mouth?” This, while aunt Fruma chimes in, “And who, do you suppose, has been changing that pad, down there in your cute little panties?”
“What?” I ask, in great outrage.
“Yes, dear,” says aunt Hadassa. “Lenny, he found you right there, outside the kitchen door. He said he called you, and called you again, then again, because the omelette, it was almost ready, and you never answered; so he figured you must have left.”
“And the omelette,” she continues, before I have time to catch my breath, “it was getting cold, and of course it is no good cold, so finally he figured, of course, that he was hungry; because all he had for breakfast was coffee. You know he is sick of your egg salad, right? He never eats it, dear, now does he. Why you keep making it is beyond me!”
By now I’ve opened my mouth to answer, which at once makes her raise her voice. “So,” she says, “he transferred the omelette to a plate, and added some butter on top, and waited a bit, just to let it melt, and to make sure you, dear, were not coming back; and then he just ate it, after which he came out and realized, suddenly, that quite sadly, he was mistaken; that in fact, you were there all along, in the corridor, lying flat on your back, and barely breathing, too; which is when he picked up the phone and, finally, called us.”
In disbelief I say, “Help? I don’t need none of your help! And where, where is he now?”
To which she says, “My, my! He is so exhausted now, after all that excitement, I mean the wedding first of all, and then his stay at the hospital. Too weak, I am afraid, to be of any use! And his son, Ben, what can I say? Men! They managed to lift you, somehow, and carry you to bed; so now, consider yourself lucky, dear, to be in one piece. As soon as we came, they went out.”
“Out where?” I ask.
But in place of an answer she just waves her hand, saying, “I do not wish to lump them all in one heap, but somehow, you see, men can never take care of themselves, let alone take care of us women. They are never there for us when we need them, now are they!”
For a minute I hesitate to ask, “What did you say, just now, about changing my pad? What pad?”
Which makes her lay down her square of wool and say, this time in a more subtle, cautious manner, “You know you are bleeding, right?”
It is then that I try to jump from the bed, because not only do I feel ashamed, even violated, which of course isn’t the first time in my life—but all of a sudden I sense a cramp, just like a stab, down in my stomach, in the same place where so far, the pain has been dull. So she hurries over, and places the palm of her hand, like, real heavy, on top of my shoulder.
“You can’t do that, dear,” says aunt Hadassa, pushing me back, and propping up my pillow, even as I rise up to say, “Why? Why the hell not?”
“Cause,” she says. “Just be a good girl for me and lie down, nice and easy now, and for God’s sake, be still. Take up knitting if you like. I can bring you instructions for anything: Baby blanket? Baby socks? Just tell me, dear, tell me what you like.”
Despite her offer, I’m sick of the way she keeps saying dear. There is no way for me to know what she means by that, because her tone is like, bitter, and it don’t hardly agree with the sweetness of the word, and because she keeps repeating it all too often; both of which tell me one thing: Aunt Hadassa is torn, She can’t decide between her feelings to Natasha, which means, wishing me ill—and her duty to Lenny, which means, helping me back to my feet.
“I won’t lie down,” I say, defiantly. “And I really, really don’t like knitting.”
Her painted eyebrows arch even higher, and I begin to get an uneasy feeling, because at this point, she is much too close to me, and the light bounces off her needle much too sharply, and now the tip is right against my skin, and it scratches.
I guess, this may be nothing more than an accident—but all the same, off comes my imaginary glove. I point a finger at her, like, right in her face, to make her take note of my nails. “Shove off! Away from me,” I tell her. “I mean it, don’t you dare come any closer with them needles.”
“I see,” says aunt Hadassa.
She wraps the yarn around her index finger and plucks it, as if to transmit a message by wire. “A feisty little kitten,” she says, “are you now!” At which time aunt Frida asks, “She’s a kitten?” and aunt Fruma confirms, “Yes: A feisty little one!”
By now Aunt Hadassa has retreated, and with a tightlipped expression she sits there and starts sawing the three squares of wool together, using some fancy sort of a stitch, and clicking her tongue, and sighing, like, “My, my.”
After doing this for a while, she pushes them glasses up her nose, and raises her eyes to me and says, “I’m trying to talk to you, dear, like I was your ma, you know.”
To which I say, “And what makes you think I need another ma? One’s more than enough! And you, you don’t know nothing about my ma.”
“I guess I don’t,” she has to admit. “But being pregnant is not for sissies, dear. You must make sure you are strong, just like me.”
At hearing this, I can’t hide my disgust. “If this is what strength looks like,” I tell her, “I swear, I’m gonna take disease.”
“I see,” says she. “In that case, it’s not too late, you know.”
And before I can ask, “What is?” she goes on to drive the point home: “I have done it before, and it can make things so much easier for you, because really, you like to run around and have your fun, don’t you; and here you are, poor dear, lying in bed, confined, probably, for weeks, if not months. Now with all this bleeding going on, my, my, who knows what happened there.”
She points her needle at me, stressing, “Maybe it’s no good anyway, I mean, not viable, if you know what I am saying—”
“Don’t you dare say it,” I flash a warning at her. “For God’s sake, bite your tongue!”
At that minute, aunt Hadassa picks up the scissors; which is when I suddenly remember that piece of music which I heard with Lenny. He took me to some opera, Wagner I think, which was long and kinda difficult to get, but he told me to listen, and he explained it all to me, and from there I remember them, the three Norns:
They spun the thread of fate, and they sang, like, the song of the future. Beware, they sang. Beware, I tell myself now, as aunt Hadassa holds up the yarn, and snips it.
And with a sigh she leans into her feet and gets up; so do her sisters, and all their images in that oval, standalone mirror, right there in the opposite corner.
“We are going to leave now,” she says. “We are going to hurry out, dear, because we do not want you to tell us we should go. Just think about it, will you? I was just saying... It is not too late, really... You are in pain, dear, I can see it quite plainly; and there is still time to end this.”
The three sisters file out with a quick, matching step, and go out to the corridor, followed closely by a whirl in the air, in which you can spot three bounces—high, higher, highest—of three balls of yarn.
And as they make their final exit, I shout as loud as I can, despite that sharp pain right here, in my guts, “Aunt Hadassa!”
I hear them stopping in their tracks out there, behind that door.
“What is it,” whispers one. “What does she want,” whispers another, and the last one answers, probably with a wave of a hand, “Who knows... Maybe, just to meow a little.”
Which in turn, makes me roar, “Who needs you! You, who think you can tell me what to do, and what not to do, and whether or not my pregnancy is like, viable, and should it come to full term, or not! I just wish that you leave me alone! Get the hell out! Get out of my womb, where it is not your business to be! And if I don’t see none of you never again, it’s gonna be too soon!”
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