Go Back To Your Mama
by Uvi Poznansky
Lenny’s gone, but still, I’m thinking about him; about how he has touched on that time, the lost time nearly five years ago, when I went out the door, swearing I wouldn’t come back to him, not ever. What he hasn’t said—and what left such a bitter taste in my mouth—is how he told me, back then, “You are a nice kid, Anita. Go, go back to where you came from. Go back to your mama.”
And what he doesn’t know is that ma wasn’t all too happy to see me, “Because,” she said, “I told you so, didn’t I? Didn’t I say, he’ll grow tired of you, and dump you before you know it? He’ll go back to his wife, because it’s her that he wants—not you! And if not her, then—then, it must be something else with him, always something else, like, looking for other women. Maybe they remind him, somehow, of that thing, who knows what it is, which he found in her. Maybe what he’s really looking for is just, like, the idea of her.”
And when I mumbled, “Whatever,” ma said, “I knew it! She can twist him around her little finger, if she wants to.”
She didn’t tell me nothing else about this thing, this idea of her, which ma thought was fixed, somehow, in Lenny’s head; and I didn’t ask. Instead, I bought a six-pack for her and a six-pack for me, and we sat down on her pillows, on the narrow iron bed, drinking beer; she talking, me weeping all night, after which ma wiped my face, and grabbed the palm of my hand—like she used to do in the old days—to read it.
And she told me to stay put, to wait for her, because she had something crucial, something real big to tell me, like, about the future.
I bet she saw some clue of what was coming—but didn’t quite grasp it; not in full, anyway, because the next thing you know, ma went out; came back a second later, picked the empty beer bottles, and took them with her. Along the way she gave me a peck, smack in the middle of my forehead, which surprised me. Then, having kissed me goodbye, she went out again, and then... Then, on her way to work, right there on the corner of Euclid Street—Bang! I could hear the sound, out there—she was killed in a car accident.
I stayed in her place till the end of the month; but couldn’t stay longer, because I didn’t have no money to pay for the rent, on account of not having a job. So I started moving from one place to another, trying to hide behind someone’s garage, or in a little cove on the beach; or share a room with one friend, then another. After a while, I lost count of all the places where I’d lived; which is why I don’t want to ever think about finding a new place again.
A few months later—I can’t even say how many—I was walking in a daze down the street, and raised my eyes from the ground. I found myself on the Pier, staring at the swirly, painted letters of the ice cream shoppe; and then, in a flash, it hit me: This, this was the place, the very same place where we had met, Lenny and me, that first time.
I backed away, all shook up. Words started drifting in my head. I thought about him, and about how far away, even absurd the whole thing was; I mean, like, the idea of us together. And I thought about the hunger, and them buckets inside, full of chopped nuts and cherries and coconut flakes. The air trembled; and in it I caught a sniff of cream, and a whiff of waffle cones, which at once awakened the pain, right here in my stomach. How strange it was to be back here again—only this time, on the outside, because that is, like, a totally different place; even if most people don’t really care to know it.
My feet carried me, somehow, till I stopped right there, under the Santa Monica signboard, which arched over the entrance to the pier. And no way, I swear, there’s no way you could even begin to guess my surprise when all of a sudden, I spotted Lenny up there, behind the large window of The Lobster. Sitting inside, he was holding a margarita glass, laughing his head off, and like, having a real good time.
I could see the slice of lime on the lip of his glass, and closed my eyes—but still, was blocked from smelling it. I tried, in vain, to bring back the touch of salt around the rim, and the scent of butter on mashed potatoes, and the meaty flavor of wild mushrooms, and the pleasure you get with every gulp of hot, thick clam chowder. I could almost lick the spoon, and pinch the bread, and wipe the bowl with it, because I had known all that. I had been there with him, like, a lifetime ago.
I leaned over the railing of the pier, and for a second hoped he would see me. How could he not, with my hair flaming red, and blowing, long and wild, in the winter wind, which swept across the divide?
Now I could see the girl sitting there, opposite him. She raised her glass and clinked it against his, then cuddled up to him, like, to whisper something up close, in his ear.
I don’t know if there was something odd with the air, which stirred past me with cloud after cloud of salty mist; or the sheet of glass over there, which must have had some flows all over it; or the mirror image of sunset, which buckled out of shape, in and out of the flows; or else, was it the film of tears, which formed in my eyes; or the sorrow, which came in like a tide, to wash over me—but in a blink, everything blurred.
Everything started swimming in front of me: Like, the shadow of her little black dress, the flash of her gold earring, even the blond streaks in her hair. All of these things, which lived on the other side of the layers—the layer of mist, and of glass, and flows, tears, wash—they all rippled a bit and then, settled into a haze.
I blinked again and at once, things went back to the way things should be; except that the girl was still there, by his side, where I should have been, had I not left him.
I had never met his wife before, but of one thing I was sure: This girl wasn’t her. She was no Natasha. I don’t know how I could tell; maybe it was the way she laughed, flinging her hair back, and batting her painted lashes, and opening her mouth real wide—but this I knew: This girl, she didn’t have no class; but then, unlike me, she was bending over backwards, just to fake it.
When they came out of the restaurant, I couldn’t help but follow them from a distance, like a stray kitten, holding back a purr, ready to roll over for the rub of a hand.
He hailed a cab and leaned into it, talking to the driver. For a minute I thought I caught Lenny glancing at me, over his shoulder, but no—maybe I only wished it. Then she kissed him. He opened the door for her. She climbed in, closed the door. He kinda waved, once. The cab merged into traffic, and away it went.
Meanwhile, I lost him in the crowd. A minute later I spotted him again: He was turning on his heels and oh, I couldn’t believe it: He started weaving his way between this shoulder and that, walking back closer and closer, directly here, to me.
And my heart pounded—oh God! How it pounded!—so, so hard inside me; after which I hung down my head, hoping he didn’t see me—or else, if he did, I was hoping that out of pity, he would turn away; because I was too thin and too dirty, and didn’t have nothing pretty to wear, all of which made people around me look away, or look right through me, like I wasn’t there, even.
I made a quick move, trying to slip away—but already, it was too late.
“My God,” said Lenny, now facing me. “You look horrible.”
What he said next blew me away. I felt like, this moment wasn’t real, because in a softer voice he told me, “How I missed you.”
For a second I wanted to say, Really? Doesn’t look at all like you missed me, does it, Lenny; and don’t even think you can use me, and then like, walk all over me. I may look like shit right now; I know I do—but no, you aren’t going to dump me, never, never again! And anyway, where is she, where is the dear wife, Natasha?
But instead, in a meek tone, I said, “How can you even say you missed me. You, you told me to go away.”
At that moment Lenny was lost for words, because he knew me, knew me well enough to get what I hadn’t said, too. So he took off his winter coat and hung it around my shoulders, very gently, like he was afraid I would break, somehow. And suddenly, it felt kinda good.
“You are shivering,” he said then.
“Me,” I denied, “shivering?”
And he offered, “Let me take you home.”
So I hid my face behind the collar of his coat, knowing it’ll smell awful bad by the time I’ll have to give it back. “Home?” I said, and now my voice was muffled. “I don’t have a home.”
“I meant,” he corrected, “let us go home, together.”
Which brought up the anger in me. “You,” I raged, “I don’t need you! And don’t you think that I do; cause I swear, I don’t! You told me to go back, back where I came from. So here I am, Lenny. I’m down in the muck, deeper than deep.”
He stretched out his hands to me, like he wanted to pull me in, to save me. And in spite of myself I flung the coat off, and shoved it, right there, into his open arms. “Take the stupid thing, and your pity, too! Stop acting so grand, and feeling so, so sorry for me! And you,” I pointed, “you go back! Go the hell back where you came from!”
People started looking at me now. They whispered to one another and pointed at me, like I was naked, which made me hot, crazed even. I blushed; it felt kinda strange, being visible again. The anger surged in me, it threatened to burst out, like, any moment now. And Lenny tried to say something—but I wouldn’t let him.
I raged on, “Don’t you dare say nothing to me now!”
And he said, like he didn’t even hear me, “How I missed your voice.”
And I said, “So listen to me, and listen good: I can get food, and I can get a place to sleep, and on a good day I can get a job, even! One day, Lenny, one day I’ll get back on my feet, I swear I will—and for sure, I’ll do it without you.”
And he said, “I know it. I have no doubt about it.” And then he added, “But Anita, I need you—”
“For that,” I countered, “you can get that girl. I bet she’ll come back to you, like, in the flick of a finger, and be fucking nice, Lenny, and spend the night.”
“No,” he said. “Now, you listen: It is you I need. I miss you.”
“Don’t,” I said; to which he said nothing, but his eyes did his pleading for him.
And I said, “You can’t beg a beggar.”
And he said, “You may not believe it. I do not believe it myself, when I hear myself saying it—but really, I even miss the way you speak.”
And I said, “I ain’t going to talk fancy no more, Lenny.”
And he said, “Not to worry; you never did.”
So I had to make it extra clear to him, “I ain’t going to enunciate them words, like you told me to, Lenny.”
“I understand,” he said. “This is so incredible. I can listen to you all night long.”
And I said, “You can?”
He took a step closer. “I should learn it from you, Anita.”
And he wrapped his coat around me, even gentler than before. “Like, your way to say it.”
“Them words,” he said, winking.
“You making fun of me?”
“No,” he said, serious now. “It is so cold; let us go now, Anita. Let us go home already.”
In the five years since then, I’ve noticed a change in him. There wasn’t that feeling no more, like he was waiting for something to happen, or for his wife to knock on the door, any moment now. Somehow, she wasn’t there, which made me grow edgy. I couldn’t fight her, because how d’you fight air? How d’you crush it? How d’you know when to duck, or even, when you’re open to attack? In my mind, she has become a threat; an unseen presence, about which he refused to say a word.
And the heat between us has cooled off. I would dab some perfume on my wrist, and light a candle next to the bed—but instead of coming in, Lenny would stay out there, on the balcony, perhaps to write. Some evenings he would call me to join him, and we would just stand there, watching the sky getting dark as the sun went down behind the opposite building.
At times, Lenny would bring out his typewriter and let me play with it, and set my fingers in place, and spread them on the keys, like I could type. He would ask me to talk about my ma, like, what she had told me before the accident, or what had happened to me during the lost time, out there on the street. He wanted me to tell all this, not to him—but to his tape recorder.
And once I started, I could say anything—any damn thing—without him cutting in, or getting angry, or making a sound, even. I would be in a different place then; so far away, as to forget he was there, listening. I would talk and talk. And if it was too much for him, Lenny would surprise me by taking himself elsewhere: He would go inside, and sit on the bench, and wait till I was too tired to go on.
After such a night, it would be hard for me to fall asleep; and if I did, I would soon open my eyes with a feeling of dread in my heart, and like, trying to break out of a bad dream. It’s always the same dream, too, and it’s been coming back, over and again, to haunt me.
Just yesterday—when I laid there in bed, bleeding all day, not even knowing where I was—that was when at last, the dream found me.
In it, I find myself in a public place, which is strange to me—even though I know, somehow, that I’ve already been here; I’ve visited this place, perhaps the night before. It’s raised like a stage, and flooded with light; a harsh glare, which blinds me. For a minute I can’t see nothing in the dark, beyond that ledge—but I know that them faces are out there, blank and blurry; they’re all there, hushing each other, gazing at me.
I see myself standing there in front of them, naked.
Red-faced, I hunch up as tight as I can; I fold over my thighs, trying to hide, to cover my body, my shame; but my hands, they’re way too small, so my nipple slips out of my fingers. And there it is, circled by light, for all to see, and to jeer at me, and to lick their lips, which are like, glistening out there; tiny sparks hissing in the distance.
For a little while, my sleep is light. And so—even as I’m looking straight into that spotlight, or like, reaching down to touch the ledge of that stage—I can tell that all this is false, it’s nothing more than a dream; but then I fall deeper, even deeper into it, and now I really believe what I see:
Some thread is crawling on my skin; and laying across my knees is a strap of fabric, which is frayed and stained, here and there, with my blood.
When I pull it in, trying to drape it around me, or use it for a blanket, it resists. It doesn’t give in, because it’s tied to something—no, somebody—standing right here, directly over me, over my bare back.
I don’t want to turn, but I take a peek over my shoulder. Wrapped in layers of rags and straps and loose ends, all of which are tattered and like, drenched in reds and browns, the figure seemed shaky. He lifts one leg, and tries to balance himself, teetering—this way and that—on one foot. His hand tries to touch the back of my neck—and misses it, grabbing a handful of air, instead.
And his lips, his blood red lips are curled up, in something that looks an awful lot like a smile. A mocking smile, one that doesn’t change.
In my dream, my feet must have frozen. I can’t move, can’t run away from him, or even climb off the stage, because at that point I’m weak, and too scared to even breathe, and because of that thread, which binds us. And so, rooted to that spot, I look up at him. At this close range, our eyes meet; and my heart skips a beat, because at that second, his are empty.
Suddenly I catch sight of someone else, someone standing way over there, in the distance, behind him; behind the curtains, even. Except for her hand, which is caught in the light, it’s hard to even notice her, because at first she’s like, real shy, even modest, and keeps herself in the shadows, out of the spotlight.
But then, she changes. Her long fingers are gathered, one by one, into a fist. And twisted around her little finger, you can find—if you focus—the ends of the rags, and the straps, and the thread, all of which extend from there to here, where he stands; all the way, to the joints of his wrists and his elbows, tying them like, real tight.
And from backstage, she’s pulling him—raising, dropping, tightening, loosening—making the puppet move, shake, jiggle, even dance on the tip of his toe, and like, bringing him, somehow, to life. I gasp, thinking: She can twist him around her little finger, if she wants to.
I cringe as he puffs, breathing something in my ear. “Go, go back home, go,” says the puppet, in a voice that is not really his. “Go to the place, the place where you came from, you came from. Go back to your ma, ma, your mama.”
And to the sound of teeth gnashing, I force my eyes open, and in one rip I tear the thread and break out, out of this dream, and find myself back here, like, in a safe place again.
And the last thing—just before the stage falls away, and things seem to blur out, and other things become solid, like the ceiling above my bed, which is finally all clear—the last thing I do is wonder: Is she playing us all? Am I being twisted here, twisted around her finger, like he is? Am I a puppet, too? How can I be sure that I’m not?
I wake up; and the first thing I do is move, because I ain’t frozen no more. I move them joints—the joints of my own wrists and elbows—every which way, to make sure I can do it at will. I look at them from this side and that, to check that they aren’t tied, or pulled by something, like some blood stained thread.
And the second thing I do is say aloud to myself, “I told you so. I told you so, didn’t I?”
|Uvi Art Gallery|