Back then, somewhere below my consciousness (like the concrete beneath my feet) was the certainty that the most beautiful creature on earth lived in my house. That was the little girl's belief: the power that swept all before it was my mother as she went through the door, on her way to a party. (The sensitive reader will immediately sense a shadow here, the one cast by the figure of the mother leaving, but the brilliance of the light for the moment has bedazzled the girl so she does not see anything but it, just now . . . just now.)
She was schooling me. She did not know, but she was chalking important lessons on the blackboard: Revlon lipstick in classic garnet red; a last glance in the mirror, head this way, then that (chin tilt: up). Nipped-in waist. Pretty heels. Then off--off to the place where beautiful goddesses congregated.
I had no idea what they did there (handsome demi-gods in tweed jackets alongside), but I knew it was not for me to know. It had to do with things they called cocktails, the exact contents of which were as mysterious as the print on the newspaper that was apparently so necessary to my father's regaining of his sanity every evening when he returned from the office, sitting down with it and a bowl of dry-roasted peanuts and, yes, another cocktail.
Everything left behind after would bear a ring of lipstick, the colorful ghost of a kiss: the rims of the glasses, the white butts of cigarettes. When they had a party at our house, my parents, after the furor of preparations (my mother in high snit; the purposeful need for the good china and glinting silverware to come out of their gray flannel wear and the place in the sideboard where they lived for most of the time, behind doors locked with tasseled skeleton keys), the doorbell would ring, and the smiles would come out. We girls were charged with bringing the coats upstairs to my parents' bed, a pile of deep furs and chesterfields and plaid scarves. There was tinkling--ice in glasses, laughter--and smoke. Things to eat perfectly arrayed and in great abundance (the legacy of my mother's Greek parents, and their belief that too much was never enough).
When they went away to others' parties, it was their coats carried to some other grownups' bed, I supposed. But I did not suppose much, when they went away. I only wanted them to return. This happened after epochs had passed. After I had resisted and could resist no longer the call of sleep; after I had dreamed. I usually dreamed of my mother, her beauty.
And then she was there. Bending over me in the dark, her sealskin coat still holding the cold as it brushed against me, releasing its sequential smells: perfume, cigarettes. I could fall back into the soft brown dark after that, after she retreated and the door closed. She was home.
My love for her colored her beauty, I see now. Both were towering. The utmost one can feel.
I wore, for a time, her clothes. In the city long ago, to parties and clubs. I never believed I could put on her distant beauty, though.
Now I rotate my jeans and t-shirts. Recently, I got a full-length mirror for the first time in years. I am, let's face it, a slob. We were born for different worlds: she never walked dogs in the woods after a heavy rain, jumping downhill rivulets and sometimes missing. And I no longer go to cocktail parties wearing a dress just like the one I saw in Vogue. But we are nonetheless bound. Somehow.