by Phyllis Souza
"Mom!" Bernadette yelled, slamming the front door behind her. "I'm home."
"I'm in the living room."
"You're not watching that soap opera again, are you?'
"Addictive, sort of like coffee. How was school?"
"Fine. The junior prom is two weeks away, and I don't have a date. You know Mrs. Barbera, don't you?" Bernadette dumping her school bag on the floor entered the living room.
"Yes, she belongs to the Alter Society at church, but what does she have to do with the prom?" Martha got up from the sofa, walked over, and turned off the television.
"I want to go with her son, Ernest. I thought maybe you could talk to her."
"You want me to arrange a date?" Martha frowned wrinkling her forehead.
"Not exactly. Well, maybe."
"Aren’t boys supposed to ask girls?"
"That's old-fashioned, Mom. Girls ask boys. Besides, if you ask, I wouldn't be asking; you would.”
"Well, I don't think that's a good idea."
"Please, Mom," Bernadette pleaded with clasped hands. "I'll do dishes for a week." She brushed strands of hair away from her face. "Ernest is nice; he's smart, too. Not like his goofy brother Donald, always cracking jokes."
Martha rubbed the back of her neck. "You said you'd do dishes for a week... make it a month?"
"Yes, yes, I'll do dishes for a month."
“What if her son says no?"
Bernadette laughed, "I won't be doing dishes."
“Okay, I'll call Mrs. Barbera. Only because I love you, and I don’t want you to miss out."
Bernadette rushed to her mother and hugged her. "Thanks, Mom. Thank you."
Marking each day by crossing it off a calendar, Bernadette's excitement grew as the date for the prom became nearer.
After checking her schedule, Bernadette said, "Only a few hours to go, Mom. I've got to take a shower, set my hair in rollers, and put that awful dryer bonnet on my head. Then file and paint my fingernails. That'll take over an hour."
"Stop, panicking, honey. While your hair's drying I could paint your nails."
" Bright Hussy Red or Pale Pink?" Martha laughed.
"Pale Pink, to match my dress, of course."
Bernadette sat at the kitchen table with a plastic hood encasing her head. While hot air flowed over her rollers, she splayed her fingers on an oilcloth. "My first date. Can you remember yours, Mom?"
"My sisters and I weren't allowed to date." Martha drew the nailbrush over the lip of a tiny pot to scrape off the excess polish. "The boys had to come to our house to visit. My parents were old fashioned. Overprotective. But sons, they were allowed to run wild."
"You never dated?" Bernadette lowered her brows.
"I went to dances under the strict supervision of my mother. She, along with the other mothers, would sit on a long bench against the wall and watch us Rumba on the dance floor."
"That was the 1930s. It's the '50s now. Things are different." Bernadette responded.
"Aren't you lucky." Martha held Bernadette's hand. "You have long, slender fingers, just like mine." She laughed--the same laugh as her child.
Martha finished polishing Bernadette's last nail.
Bernadette sat patiently while her mother piled her hair on top of her head. Martha poked bobby pins into the tight, little curls, making sure every hair stayed in place and sprayed them with Aqua Net.
"Now, look at me.” She cupped Bernadette's face in her hands. "My goodness, you look like a young woman. Go get some make-up, and I’ll fix your face."
Dashing to the bathroom, Bernadette grabbed a bottle of foundation, a tube of lipstick, and some rouge off the bathroom counter, returning to the kitchen, sat in her chair.
Martha gently lifted Bernadette's chin. "Close your eyes, while I make you even more beautiful."
She covered the freckles on Bernadette’s nose with thick creamy liquid, applied rouge to her cheeks, and painted her lips pink. Then stood back to survey her work, "Hmm... I think it’s time to put on your dress."
Bernadette jumped from the chair and scampered toward her bedroom.
While Bernadette stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror, she felt like every fairytale princess that ever was. "I love this dress." She touched her chin and slid her fingers down her neck to the snug bodice. Swirling around, she enjoyed the feel of the full, pink chiffon skirt, and the crinolines under it brushing against her ankles.
Martha held out a wide satin ribbon. Stand still for a minute, baby. " She belted Bernadette’s waist and tied a big bow in the back.
"Do you think Ernest will like my dress?"
"He will, but only because you're wearing it.
“I think I just heard a car drive up,” Martha said.
Bernadette's heart leaped. Bubbling with excitement, she ran through the living room to the entry hall. She paused, took a deep breath, and opened the door.
"Oh." Bernadette stared at the boy standing under the porch light. He wore a plain, dark suit with a boutonniere on the lapel, and clutched a clear, plastic flower box containing an orchid wrist corsage.
"Ernest couldn't make it and sent me in his place." Donald smiled.
Bernadette noticed the space between his front teeth.
Her bubbling excitement fizzled into disappointment.
"This is for you." He gave her the flower.
She took the corsage. Forcing a smile, she said, "Come in. Wait here in the entry. I need to get my mother to tie this on me."
Bernadette walked toward the kitchen.
Seven o'clock and eleven minutes
"What's wrong, honey? Your face is pale." Martha put her glass of water on the counter.
"Do you know who's waiting for me in the entry hall? Donald, that's who. I can't believe it." She threw the corsage box on the table. "I'm going to die." Tears welled in her eyes.
"Don't cry, Bernadette. You'll mess up your make-up. There must be a good reason. What did Donald say?"
"He said, ‘Surprise!’" Bernie stomped her foot. "I'm not going."
"You're not hurting that boy. You're going, and you'll be gracious. Do you understand?"
"But nothing. Go and try to have a good time. Besides, I've seen Donald around town, he's rather cute."
“He’s not. He’s a dork.”
“Well, if you ask me, Ernest’s the dork, sending his brother and not saying a word about it. You deserve better. Give Donald a chance. Please, do it for me.”
"Okay, but I'm not going to have a good time."
“Good girl. Let me put on your lovely corsage on your wrist.”
To Bernadette's surprise, Donald could Swing Dance and Lindy Hop. They won first prize for the best dancers.
It was a wonderful night at the Junior Prom.