the ruth persico story
January 7, 2011 § 5 Comments
The day after is always hardest and spent in delay; everything postponed until after sunset. She eyes the old playbill, an invitation to Cynthia’s baby shower, and the neatly stacked leaves of her manuscript on the bedside table. “You need to get up,” She groaned. But her body doesn’t budge.
She focuses on the sweat pooling above her upper lip, and is annoyed by it. Fear of colliding with the things she hates in his wake, like her fingers dripping with the musk of her lady folds, and the memory of his hand forcing hers between them, keeps her palms at bay. Gently she rolls over, swipes her face against the pillow, and gazes at the industrialized ceiling.
She hears the muffled rings of the cellphone beneath the chaos of clothes and shoes strewn across the floor but refuses to answer it. Instead, shifts her attention to the sprays of crimson spilling across her bed like graffiti on whitewashed walls and welcomes it. Finally, the sun is setting. The Who’s Baba O’Riley replaces the ring. Whoever it was, had left a message.
Soon it’ll be nightfall and she’ll come alive like cherry blossoms and the other colorful things in the height of Spring. But her house phone rings and forces her out of bed. Each movement down the hall to the neon green receiver on the rotary phone is forced. Her sister’s three octaves too loud voice can be heard before it’s to her ears.
“Yes Dana?” She answers.
“Geez Ruth! Are you in bed already? Why didn’t you answer your cell?”
“Is mom alright?”
“Yes. Why didn’t you answer your cell?”
“Because I don’t want to be bothered.”
“I see. Did you get Cynthia’s invitation? And do you know Karensa is getting married?”
“Yes and no.”
“Well she is, to Paul Mentore. You remember him right? I think you guys dated back in grad school.”
“I wouldn’t call it that.”
“O really, What would you call it?”
“Dana, did you call for something?”
“Well I’ll be damned, do I have to have a reason to call? How about to chat with my sister?”
“I’m going back to bed. Love you.”
She unplugs the phone from the jack, looks outside the window at the East River, the Manhattan skyline beyond and The Empire State Building building bathed in orange, blue and white. The Knicks must have a game at home. Ships drift silently, save for the occasional horn, as the building lights flicker on.
She dumps the discarded clothes in the washing machine, returns the pair of shoes to the rack with its color coded counterparts, and enters the shower. Vigorously rubbing the loofah against her fingers, her neck and hands to chase the markings of his lips and teeth. The Jasmine body wash flushes her lungs. Tears and sudsy water slide down her body.
She feels the stinging of her inner thighs and knows he has left with a souvenir. Some men are known to take panties. He demands flesh and blood, like memory for indelible ink. She grabs a robe, scrambles two eggs, makes a pancake, lights a candle and eats before getting dressed.
She walks the dog, purchases Cymbidiums, a few used books, stops at a quaint café on Bedford Avenue for an overpriced tea and briefly ‘people watch.’ Her phone rings. It’s him. He isn’t due to call again, not until next month. She sends it to voicemail and heads back home.
She prepares amuse-bouche for 12, slips into a vintage LBD, drizzles a bit of Coco Mademoiselle beneath her earlobes, and gulps some wine before the guests arrive. They trickle in in pairs and groups. She waltzes in and out of the conversation; refilling glasses and changing the background music. He calls again. Irritated, she excuses herself to answer in the bedroom.
“This better be good!”
“Can we meet?”
“I’m up for partner, well, pending the outcome of this account and I…”
“Congrats. But I’m in the middle of my life.”
“You don’t understand. I need to see you.”
“I don’t do impromptu requests. And you know this!”
“Just shut up! I’ll see what I can do.”
She cuts the call, exhales, and returns to the party. The next three hours she forgets about him and the cell phone stuffed beneath her pillows. They discuss the future of publishing, independent films and documentaries.
After the last bundle of guests leave, she strips down to her underwear, powers up her notebook and checks on the articles for the next issue of the magazine. Even though she doesn’t like entertaining him the night before going into the office, she calls him. And as if waiting all night, he answers on the first ring.
Thirty minutes later he’s at the door.
“Thank you for seeing me on such impromptu notice.”
“Stop talking. You’re already infringing on my time. Get in the tub and don’t ever do this again.”
He fills it with water, undresses, submerges his body and battles the need to take a breath. She gazes at his fetal form and remembers the flutters of the life she once carried. The memory carries no warmth. She unplugs the tub and the water flushes like it did from her womb. She covers him in tarpaulin. He writhes, pushes, and registers a punch to her gut in the process. She sits on him. Birthing is painfully hard for both baby and mother.
She coaxes him to find the cervix, commands him to wait until it is fully dilated, then urges him to travel down the birth canal. They wrestle until she finally opens the tarpaulin. He’s out- wet and crying on the bathroom floor. Just like it happened when she was fourteen. She gently brings him to a breast and he suckles. She closes her eyes and thinks, a woman should not have to. Then gets up and heads for the bathroom door.
“Wait.” He begs, “What happened to the rest of infancy, and childhood, or adolescence and discovering my sexuality?”
With her hand on the knob and her back to him, she answers, “Not tonight. I’m exhausted and I have to work tomorrow.”
She stiffens in remembrance of her own pleas.
“Shut up!” was the screamed response. She offers the same.
“Mom, I won’t make partner if…”
“If you say ‘mom’ one more time, I’ll find someone else to do this with! Put on your clothes and leave.”
She hears the door click and runs to bolt it behind him, then slides down sobbing. The memories are a stampede. The thumping grows louder. She’s once again a little girl with unruly tendrils, bare feet and running with innocence. Then a tomboyish teenager with the glories of estrogen ruling her body. Chinua Achebe was right, things do fall apart. Especially on nights when daddy uncovers the nakedness of his little girl, even moreso when she becomes the host of her sibling-offspring.
She staggers against the onslaught of memories, lifts herself off the floor, and begins cleaning. Maybe she can scrub the filth away. She’d wanted an abortion but they said the womb is not a sepulcher so she carried the abominable thing. Its expanding life bleeding her own. A fraction desiccating with each passing month. Then finally the at birth adoption that came and went without a sense of loss. Just a vacuum where normalcy once resided.
It’s 3:00am and she’s done cleaning. A Matchbox 20 song with the same name plays, followed by Rives’ Ted Speech as she sets her alarm for 7:00am, pops a valium, and slips into her bed. She is a long way from getting it together. She knows this, and doesnt expect to ever get there. All she wants is a wholesome moment, or a few of them where she is somewhat okay. Just okay.