Friday, August 27, 2010

The Yin and The Yang of It

Kathleen is my opposite in looks and temperament. I have dark hair and mahogany eyes. Kathleen’s Irish eyes are cerulean and she was born a redhead.

“A true redhead,” she would tell new friends, “all you have to do is look at my…”

We usually interrupted here because we understood that Kathleen did not censor herself, did not feel the need, did not get embarrassed about using such words as hoo-haw in front of a stranger.

Reserved and hating to be the center of attention, that's me. But Kathleen knew how to break the draconian rules the nuns imposed without ever getting caught. The girl who could say things the rest of us could not because we thought the world -  as we knew it - would end.

Everything is described larger, better, longer in her world. She told me when she met her future husband at a party, it took just "one look" before they kissed for three hours.

“It was only fifteen minutes,” her husband said.

My shyness troubled her. Once, while on a shopping trip with us, her husband modeled a pair of trousers too small for him. We tried not to laugh.

"I just need exercise, dammit," he said and people turned their heads to us.

I walked across the aisles to allow Kathleen time to tell him that thinking is not the same as doing. But, really, I was pretending not to be here with those two.

A saleswoman came to help and he complained he did not need "two wives telling me what to do.”

From across the room,  Kathleen winked at me. I worried.

"You need to listen to us or there won't be any sex tonight," she told him.

Handing him a larger size, the nonplussed saleswoman looked over to me. She called out that “the second wife should come and have a look.”

Shoppers stared as I tried to hide in an empty dressing room.

Through the years, Kathleen’s dinner parties were never oh-I-just-will-throw-something-together affairs, and her telephone invitations held breathy promise of something themed.

“Sister,” she said during one of those calls, “Please come to my loggia party!”

So on a balmy August evening, we sat beside a mural of an ancient Tuscan scene she painted that morning. A group of male friends walked up the driveway dressed in white toga-like outfits. They carried a pallet where Ferret Bob, called that not because he resembled one but because he owned thirteen of the mammals, perched regally, with silver-plated leaves festooning his head and silver makeup highlighting his face in the twilight.

I looked over at some friends and knew we shared this thought: How on earth can we invite Kathleen over to just…dinner?

Kathleen dyed her hair to a golden blonde sheen that day. It suited her. While chatting new guests brought by friends, Kathleen told them she wanted to travel to Ireland to meet relatives, when the talk inexplicably turned to beauty products.

“Oh, no,” I heard her say. “This is not my natural hair color. No. I am a redhead. A true redhead.”

She stopped, and turned to me, and waited. I stood a few feet away talking to the toga boys. I cleared my throat and said, “She can prove it. All you have to do is look at her hoo-haw.”

Kathleen smiled. The world did not end.

© 2010 Marisa Birns

Note: A year ago today,  I wrote my first fiction piece for #fridayflash. This is it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

It's All In The Cards

She stopped reading and rubbed her eyes.

“Is that it?” she said, and sighed and shook her head when her assistant pushed five more envelopes across the desk. Part of the job, she thought. The hard part.

As Director of Admissions at an elite college, she spent many long days sharing coffee and discussions with her team. There were too many qualified teenagers with similar credentials vying for the limited available spots still unfilled. Now, she needed to make final decisions on this last batch of applications left in the Yes or No pile.

Opening the next envelope, she read the name on the cover letter. “Ah, a male applicant,” she said. “We need more males to balance the freshman class.” Her assistant nodded and wrote in a notepad.

The letter consisted of eight sentences: My transcript shows I am an excellent student and more than capable to continue my studies in a stringent college environment. All awards, civic activities, inclusion in sports teams, summer employments, and teacher recommendations are attached as well.

As for my personal essay, when I was in first grade, my teacher had us write on note cards as part of an assignment. We had to say something we admired about our fellow students. Enclosed are the cards written about me. They were true then. They still are. Thank you for your consideration.

She shook the envelope, and a confetti of brightly colored laminated cards fell onto her desk. She glanced at her assistant, who held out her hands palm side up and shrugged her shoulders. Spreading them as if playing a game of solitaire, she looked at each one.

-Brian is smart and reads lots of books.

-He is fun and loves to sing.

-Brian knows lots of big words.

-He is kind and knows how to fix things.

-Brian helps anyone. Even if he doesn't like you.

-He brings good snacks. He shares his lunch if you forgot to bring one.

-He is good at sports. And wins!

And this one from his teacher: Brian is a leader.

She read all the rest, and put them and the supporting documents back in the envelope. Placing it on the small pile on the right side of her desk, she looked at her assistant, who smiled and handed her another one.

© 2010 Marisa Birns

Friday, August 13, 2010

Full Circle

He sat on the bed rubbing her back.

She moaned, then cried softly as she usually did when he touched her now.

When she was pregnant with their first child all those years ago, he would move his young hands and firmly press down and circle that spot in the small of her back.

Yes, right there, she would say, exactly there - but more slowly, please.

So he would slow his stroke and circle and caress until she fell asleep. In the morning, she would kiss him awake.

It was the same when the passing years brought two more children.

When she once told him not to bother waking up for her, he said he did not mind, that they married for better or for worse, and his rubbing her back was meant to make it better.

It does, she said.

Tonight, the oncologists came up to him as he paced in the family waiting room and told him again that all they could do now was to make her comfortable until the inevitable. They urged him to go home to rest for a while, but he shook his head. He turned to his daughter and sons and asked them to go home to their spouses and children until tomorrow.

After they left, he went to her private hospital room to sit with her for another night.

I can't do this anymore, he said now as he listened to her tears while he moved his age-speckled hands and gently pressed down with fingers that slowly circled and lightly caressed that spot.

She stopped crying.

No, don't say that.

But it hurts you, he said.

It does.

I only want to make it better, he told her, and lifted his hands to wipe his eyes.

I know, she said.

Later, she watched him sleep beside her. At least for another night, she fought her body's command that it was time to go.

In the morning, she kissed him awake.

© 2010 Marisa Birns