Authors: Adena Halpern
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Barbara didn’t want me to move into the city. “It’s too far from me,” she said at the time. “Why don’t you get something in the suburbs?” I’ll tell you, I’m even happier that Barbara still lives in the suburbs. Barbara and I are close, too, but not in the way that Lucy and I are close. Lucy and I understand each other better. Barbara and I could never have that kind of closeness. Honestly, I don’t think that’s entirely my fault.
When Barbara and I talk, it sounds like an argument, but it’s really a conversation. With Lucy, it’s a plain old conversation. My
daughter keeps tabs on me like I used to keep tabs on her when she was a teenager. I tell her, “For Christ’s sake, Barbara, I’m a grown woman, and I can take care of myself!” She doesn’t listen, though.
“Who is going to look after you if I don’t?” she asks me.
“I can take care of myself,” I tell her, even though I’m not quite sure that’s true.
Lucy comes over about twice a week, sometimes more. She doesn’t have laundry facilities in her apartment so she does it here. Those nights I’ll make us a brisket and we’ll eat and watch her reality shows while she does her laundry. Sometimes we’ll leave the laundry and go to one of the quaint BYOs in the neighborhood. Lucy tells me all about her love life and her job designing clothing, and I listen. I listen to all her gripes about the boy of the week she thinks she’s in love with. At twenty-five, Lucy has yet to have a serious boyfriend, and I’m so happy she hasn’t. She has mentioned this boy Johnny lately, but I don’t think there’s anything serious to that. Who could take a person seriously when his name is Johnny, and not John or Jonathan? Barbara begs her to meet someone and settle down already, but I always pipe up and tell her she’s got a lot of years ahead of her for that. I listen to her stories about work and who she’s met and who she sold her clothing to and how much they bought. I love every minute of it. I always wanted to work with clothes like Lucy does. I used to know the inventory of Saks Fifth Avenue better than some of the women who worked there. My mother’s best friend, Hester Abromowitz, worked there until she died. Hester outlived my mother and her friends by twenty-five years, and she always said it was because she worked. I loved Hester
very much and think of her often. Before Hester’s funeral, her daughter Diane, who was much younger than me, asked if I would say a few words about Hester, so I spoke about her time at Saks, since that was where I saw her most. I talked about how she took such great care of her clients, most of whom were at the funeral, and about her great style. People always said I had great style, and I thought so, too, and always attributed it to Hester. Over the years I thought about taking a job sometimes, but I had Howard and Barbara to look after, and even though we had full-time help—Gladys—I still had my role. Also, in my time, you were looked down on if you had a job. I brought it up to Howard a few times over the years, and he laughed.
“What are we, poor?” he’d say and smirk.
A lot of times, Lucy will go out after she visits me. She’ll go to meet her friends in a bar in the neighborhood, and I can hardly keep myself from telling her I want to go with her. Sometimes I joke to her that I’m coming along, and she eggs me on, saying, “You’d be the coolest woman there! Let’s get you dressed!” Once, just once, I’d love to go with her and see what her nights are all about.
Lucy is also much smarter than Barbara gives her credit for. Barbara wanted Lucy to go to law school, like Howard, but I know that’s not my Lucy. Lucy went to the Parsons School of Design in New York City to learn how to design clothes. She worked for Donna Karan
for two years as her personal assistant, and then she moved back to Philadelphia last year to pursue designing clothing on her own. Oh, and you want to know what else she did? She took my last name! Okay, Lucy Jerome looks a lot better on a design label than Lucy Sustamorn.
How horrible is the last name Sustamorn? When Barbara first brought Lucy’s father home and he said his name was Larry Sustamorn, I thought,
Oh, that’s just pathetic. It sounds like “such a moron” if you say it quickly.
Try it—say the word
ten times fast and see what you get. Anyway, Lucy Sustamorn became Lucy Jerome, and although her mother was a little hurt by it, she came around. After all, my Lucy has her dresses in some of the best shops in Philadelphia—Plage Tahiti and Knit Wit and Joan Shepp—and the new Barneys CO-OP on Rittenhouse Square is interested in her dresses. Barneys!
I know. I’m such a proud grandmother.
One of Lucy’s favorite things to do is go through my closet and pick out styles she can copy. I’ve saved everything through the years, and boy do I have a closet to show for it. By the time I moved from the house in the suburbs, I had filled every closet in the house. Barbara’s childhood closet held my Chanel and Halston suits from the sixties and seventies. The guest room closet held all of my beautiful gowns. My furs (when fur was acceptable to wear, and you weren’t in danger of having those people throw paint on you) and other winter coats were downstairs. I had my own closet for all my shoes and the clothes I wear now.
“You could put this stuff up for auction!” Barbara told me when I started to pack up the house.
There was no way I would do that, though. My clothes contain my memories of all the good times. I don’t have scrapbooks full of pictures of old memories; instead, I’ve got the closet of a lifetime. My Oscar de la Renta pale blue taffeta suit from Barbara’s wedding; my gorgeous James Galanos white sequined one-shoulder gown that I bought for a black-tie affair Howard and
I went to in New York once in the 1980s—Howard said he’d never seen me look more beautiful. I would never give up any of it. No siree, bob.
So I bought a three-bedroom apartment and turned one room into a closet. It took more than three months for the contractors to get it right, but when they did it became my favorite room in the world. Barbara doesn’t understand it. Lucy does.
Lucy and I could spend hours in there together. She makes sketches of some of my dresses. She even copied a bright pink Lilly Pulitzer shift I bought on a trip to Palm Beach, Florida, in the 1960s, before Lilly Pulitzer was anyone in the fashion world.
Lucy calls it “the Ellie Jerome dress.”
She named it for her grandmother.
When I think of my granddaughter, I glow.
And that’s exactly why I’m jealous of her.
So tonight at my seventy-fifth birthday party at The Prime Rib, all I could think of was how much I wished I could go back in time and do it all over again in this day and age. Even for just one day. I wished that for one day I had my firm tush again, and my smooth, tanned skin. I wished that I could make mad passionate love to someone who only wanted to pleasure me. I wasn’t asking for a lifetime; I didn’t want to be piggish about it. I just wanted to have one day out of my miserable old-fogey life to experience the things that I missed out on and gain some appreciation for the things I took for granted. Do you know that I’ve lived for exactly 27,394 days? I figured that out on my calculator this morning. Out of all those days, would it really be a big deal to take one day off and really go crazy? What a wonderful wish! I thought it was highly creative. I would have shared the idea
with someone, but of course you’re never supposed to tell your wish or it won’t come true. Ha!
So that’s what I wished for when Barbara and Lucy came walking in with that big birthday cake.
“I could only fit twenty-nine candles on it,” Barbara told everyone and laughed. Barbara can get on my last nerve sometimes.
So I wished on my twenty-nine birthday candles.
I wished to be twenty-nine again for one day.
If I had that one day, I would change everything.
This time, I would do it the right way.
And I would never regret again.
my word! i’m gorgeous!
The first thing I noticed when Barbara called and woke me up this morning was my boobs.
I always sleep on my stomach, so I have become used to waking up with my boobs hanging around my underarms. The first thing I do every morning is pull those mounds of flesh into a more comfortable position.
The phone was ringing when I came to, so I instinctively reached out to comfortably situate the first boob and noticed it was not in its usual spot. The boob was where a boob should be.
I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t a big deal, and didn’t jolt me into recognizing the changes that had occurred during the night. I only realized later that this should have been the tip-off.
As I opened my eyes for the first time to grab the boob (and the phone, of course), I looked at the digital clock beside my bed and saw that it was eight-thirty. I’ve been blind as a bat since I was fifty, yet I could read the clock. I thought that I’d fallen asleep with my glasses on. I’ve done that many, many times before, only the glasses never stayed perfectly on my face, especially
since I sleep on my stomach. I looked at the clock again and then felt my face. No glasses. So I grabbed my glasses. Maybe I just
I could see the clock. Obviously, I wasn’t thinking with a clear head.
As the phone kept ringing, I sat up in bed and put my glasses on. The world around me suddenly became blurry.
So I took them off again.
The world was in focus.
So I put them back on.
Bernice Zankhower, a friend of my friend Lois Gordon, woke up one morning and found that her feet were a half a size smaller. I thought that maybe this was something along the same lines. What did I know?
Finally I picked up the phone, and of course it was Barbara.
“Did you have a nice time last night?” she asked.
“I had a lovely time, dear,” I said, speaking my first words of the day. My voice sounded smoother, younger. Even Barbara noticed it.
“Well, if anything, you sound more relaxed today,” she said.
“I feel more relaxed,” I said.
I put on my slippers as Barbara babbled on, never noticing that my feet had no bunions from years of high heels, that my legs lacked the varicose veins I got when I was pregnant with Barbara. I did remark to myself that my pedicure still looked good after a week—a record for me. But the thought was fleeting.
“Didn’t Lucy look awful last night?” Barbara droned. “What she puts on sometimes. I know you like some of the things that
she wears, but honestly, Mother. And my steak was just a little too rare,” Barbara went on complaining as I walked to the bathroom.
“Oh, for Christ’s sakes, Barbara, everything was beautiful.”
“Still, I thought that we waited a little longer for our food than we should have. Your friends seemed like they were ready to faint from hunger.”
Truthfully, I had noticed Frida looking a little peaked from hunger, but Frida could stand to lose a few. She was a solid size eight before menopause, and then, poof! She was as big as a house, and she stayed that way for the next twenty-five years.
“Anyway, the reason that I’m calling,” Barbara griped on, “is that I think I left my sunglasses in your handbag. Remember how they wouldn’t fit in mine so I stowed them in yours? Are they still there?”
“Let me check,” I muttered without glancing in the bathroom mirror.
I knew that I had left my bag on the table in the foyer, in front of the mirror Howard and I bought in a Paris flea market years ago. That mirror has always been one of my favorite items. I used to have it in the entryway in the old house, and now I have it in my foyer here.
“If you have them, I’m going to run downtown and get them,” she said. “Maybe we’ll have a little lunch?”
“Sure. How about we meet at . . .” I said, thinking of a place as I grabbed the purse and glanced at myself in the mirror.
And I saw myself for the first time.
“OH MY WORD!” I screamed louder than I can ever remember screaming before.
“WHAT’S THE MATTER?” Barbara screamed back through the phone.
At first I thought someone else was standing behind me, so I turned around and around, but no one was there.
“MOTHER, ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?”
“Oh my GOD!”
“MOTHER, WHAT’S GOING ON? DO YOU NEED ME TO CALL THE POLICE?”
I was suddenly speechless. Barbara was screaming on and on, and I just stood there, looking at this person in the mirror.
Who is she? I thought. What happened? Am I dreaming?
“Barbara, everything is fine. I thought I saw a mouse,” I said, thinking quickly.
“A mouse! On the twentieth floor?”
“I know, crazy. I’m crazy today.”
All I could think was,
My arms, my arms! My arms are toned and tan!
Where was all the sagging old-age skin? I bought some new skin cream at bluemercury the other day for $120. The lady behind the counter said it was like a face-lift in a bottle—could it really have worked? Oh, please, like that stuff ever really works. But did it?
“Mother, I’m coming down there. I’m afraid you might be having a stroke!”
Maybe she was right. Maybe I’d had a stroke. Maybe I was dead and a ghost in some limbo universe that looked like my apartment. One thing was for sure: Barbara could not see me looking like this. What would she think?
“Barbara, on second thought,” I said, deepening my voice—why did it sound so high? “On second thought, I just
remembered I’m meeting Frida for lunch today. Why don’t you come tomorrow?”
“But I need my glasses,” she said.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Barbara,” I shot at her, “they’re not even prescription. You probably have five other pairs that look exactly the same.”
“So you don’t want to see me today?” She paused, sounding melancholy.
I looked at myself in the mirror again.
“No, I think tomorrow would be a better day.”
“Fine. You’re welcome for the party,” my spoiled fifty-five-year-old child announced, but I couldn’t bother with her antics.
As you can imagine, I had more important things to think about.
“The party was the best thing that ever happened to me,” I said and smiled into the phone. “I’ll call you later.”
I don’t know how long I stood in front of that mirror in my nightgown, staring at my face. A half hour? An hour? It could have been only ten minutes, though. Time just stood still. I just kept saying, over and over,
How could this be?