Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Unlike Romeo and Juliet

by  Iris N  Schwartz

sparkling white wine 

 
I didn’t tell you this before? You’re sure?
 
At 5:00 p.m. every Friday, after slogging through his civil service job in Manhattan, my father would ride two subway trains and one bus to South Brooklyn. At about 6:30 p.m. he would open the front door to our home.
 
On this particular Friday he stealthily crossed the linoleum floor toward my mother.
 
Mommy didn’t hear him. She faced the kitchen sink and was running hot and cold water, scrubbing and butchering five to ten reasonably priced whole chickens, the parts of which she encased in plastic bags for storage in the freezer.
 
Daddy pantomimed shushing me and my sister Rochelle, holding one index finger in front of his pursed mouth. He tossed his trench coat over the back of a kitchen chair. I don’t know if my sister noticed that Daddy was carrying a pocket-size box in his right hand.
 
You would have seen it. You spot details.
 
I watched as he — then his lips — neared the back of my mother’s neck; she spun around so swiftly he had to step back from the cleaver she wielded. My father stumbled and almost fell, but righted himself and managed to capture the little box, too.
 
I lifted my chin in Rochelle’s direction, pointed at the domestic drama in progress; she shook her head back and forth, raised both palms. Returned to her textbook. (Unlike me, Rochelle spent considerable time studying. Which is why she garnered high 90’s or 100 percent on most exams. Which is why I didn’t.)
 
Yes, I know. Focus: father, mother, sister, Brooklyn kitchen, gift.
 
I heard Mommy chide my father: “Louis, not in front of the kids, please!” So he didn’t kiss my mother then, but he did open the lid of the tiny box to show her what was inside.
 
“Oh, Louis, you shouldn’t have!”
 
I think my father was still smiling.
 
“This must have cost a small fortune. Why did you spend so much money on me?”
 
Daddy’s mouth: a straight, horizontal line.
 
Later that night I examined the present where Mommy had left it, on the living room coffee table: it was a pin consisting of multicolored gemstones atop long gold “stems.” This bejeweled bouquet didn’t look expensive to me. It was, however, very pretty. I passed the box to Rochelle, who waved it away in order to concentrate on homework.
 
One Saturday afternoon not long after the flower pin debacle, the four of us sat in foldable chairs on our front porch. My sister was taking photos of Mommy and Daddy. One week later as we passed the pictures around I noticed that my mother’s hands were entwined with my father’s.  
 
I must have told you this: the first time I lifted my face to yours and closed my eyes, nothing existed but your lips and mine.
 
Maybe it was like that for my mother and father – when Rochelle and I weren’t around.

 About the author 

Iris N. Schwartz's fiction has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies, including Anti-Heroin Chic, Five-2-One, Jellyfish Review, Litro, and Spelk Fiction. Her short-short story collection, My Secret Life with Chris Noth, was published by Poets Wear Prada and nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. Shame is her latest collection.

 

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