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My mother has a bright pink coat with three giant matching buttons. She wears it on special occasions and to church in the spring, with a dress and low heels. God hasn’t said okay yet to pants on Sunday.
I was sad when I noticed the cigarette burn on the cuff of one of the sleeves. She must have looked away for just a minute. Chatting on the corner with a neighbor or another mother from school maybe, while the embers bore through the material to the silky lining underneath. They left an orange ring, surrounded by a thin brown border that won’t go away.
The hole’s in such a weird spot, and some problems are too hard to fix. I guess Mommy has to learn to live with things just the way they are.
I sneak into my mother’s bedroom when she’s on the phone. I rummage around in her drawers and closet, trying on clothes and shoes, scrutinizing myself in the big mirror. I check on her pink coat and look for the hole. I hate that it’s still there. I slide my finger inside the tiny opening and make it bigger.
With each visit to her closet, I grow that hole. I get more and more worried about its size, but I can’t seem to leave it alone. I panic every time Mommy gets dressed to leave the house. Surely, she’ll realize the hole is getting larger. But she never says anything, so I just keep at it.
Me and my cousin, Michael Francis sit across from one another inside Tony’s, a luncheonette right up the street from Aunt Joan’s house. Our mothers bring us here on Fridays. We wait for the older kids to be dismissed from school. Michael and I are still too young for full days. We only go for a few hours in the morning.
I’m getting good at the alphabet. I’ve got the first half memorized – all the way to M, for Mary. The rest of the letters are hard. My teacher says I’m smart, and I want to believe her. She’s the teacher, so she should know, right?
I can’t tell if Michael likes me or not. My guess is he doesn’t. He is careful and quiet, and I’m neither of those things. I picked him some dandelions before we got here, but he didn’t want them. He wouldn’t even take them from me. He just walked away. I don’t know much about boys. I get afraid around my cousins, even though we’re related.
Mom and Aunt Joan meet here for the usual meal, coffee and cigarettes. Us kids eat grilled cheeses while our mothers talk about everyone and everything but mostly, the people who make their lives miserable. Daddy’s name comes up a lot.
My lunch arrives with a pickle. I don’t want that thing anywhere near my sandwich, leaking its juice all over my bread, so I rake it to the edge of my plate with a fork. It’s hard to pretend it’s not there, spoiling the rest of my food.
Me and Michael are trapped in this booth, and we can’t get out. Our mothers are blocking the way. Nobody cares that we’re dying of boredom. At least Michael has two little cars to play with. He drives them back and forth through the contents of a sugar packet. I wish my cousin would let me play with him, but he’s not gonna. I’ve decided he hates me.
After lunch, we sit around for five hundred hours. Mommy and Aunt Joan smoke and stamp their butts out into some uneaten coleslaw. They flick ashes into our half finished Cokes. Lipstick is smeared along the rims of both coffee cups. What’s left of our meal is too disgusting to even look at anymore.
I press my face against the window. Outside, three construction workers in orange vests feed a thick hose into an open manhole. They stop what they’re doing to watch this girl cross the busy avenue. She’s wearing a short skirt and fancy pink sandals. When she runs, I can see her underwear. The men whistle. They call out to her, and she smiles.
“What a disgrace,” my mother says as she lights another cigarette. “There’s a bimbo who’s looking to get raped.”
Aunt Joan recognizes the girl. “That’s Josephine’s daughter, Monica. You know her.”
“I don’t know a Josephine.” For whatever reason, my mother can’t stand either of these women.
“Sure, you do. She works at the bakery.”
“Oh, her. She’s the one whose husband ran off last year. Am I right?”
“For Chrissake, Mary. He died.”
“God forgive me, I guess she got what she deserved.”
“Monica’s a sweetheart,” Aunt Joan insists.
The men’s shouting gets even louder as the girl continues up the street. Finally, she swings around, holding up a middle finger. They love this reaction. They howl and high-five each other as she disappears inside one of the stores on East Tremont.
“Dressed like that, she’ll be knocked up in no time.”
And now, I am nervous for Monica. I don’t want anything bad to happen to her or her pretty outfit. I hate when Mommy ruins the thoughts I’m thinking.
I also hate flies. and they’re everywhere in this place. Some are small, others, fat. All different types, buzzing around our leftover french fries and messy puddles of ketchup. They zip across the edges of the table, crawling along the tips of our knives and forks. When they dive-bomb onto my face and neck, I slap at my own skin to get them off of me.
“You’re so dramatic. Give that shit a rest,” my mother says. Like it’s easy.
I reach inside the sleeve of her everyday jacket, the ugly brown one. I feel around for a tear in the fabric, something I can tuck my fingers into. But the lining is smooth, the seams, intact. There is nowhere for me to hide.
Mommy grabs at my arm and squeezes really hard. It leaves a bright pink mark.