She was not my mother. Someone paid her to pretend for a few hours a day. She forgot we were pretending and so did I. She was good at it; mothering me. I let her be, because I loved her…and maybe her love was real…not just the bought kind. Anyway…no one was paying me. I loved for free.
And then there was you. She put her her face for you.
Because of you, I learned from her, who I did not want to be. She cooked all day! Cooked your favorite foods while dancing around her ironing board and singing opera. She sprinkled your food with spices, while salting your underwear and handkerchiefs with starch and water from her little spray bottle. She sprinkled me, from time to time, whenever I mispronounced her Spanish words or misquoted Shakespeare, or sometimes just to make me laugh. She was all that was beautiful about my childhood. I breathed for her…the way little girls breathe for their mothers. But she did not live for me. She lived for you.
At 5:00 P.M. she would send me to meet you at the door…to stall…so she could put her face on. I would tear myself away from the cinnamon tea with milk she had made me…so I could carry your whiskey and your pipe. I would meet you and we would go together to your bedroom so you could hang up your work pant. You would unbutton them and hand them to me and sit down on the bed. I would carefully put the inseams together, just like you taught me and then run my pinched fingers out to the creases…and put them under my chin. I would take the wooden hanger and thread the creased leg through until half the pants were on one side of the hanger and half on the other. You would sit on the bed with the fly to your underwear wide open. ou would pretend that you did not know…and I would pretend that I did not see.
I would hand you the pipe and you filled it from a leather pouch on the bedside table and then you would set it aflame from the Zippo lighter…the one with your name on it…the name you shared with her. I would stare at the tobacco as you inhaled…each time you breathed in…the tobacco turned red. When it stopped you would lift the lighter again. I counted the puffs and you watched my face…both of us pretending that you were not exposing a little girl to evil….forced voyeurism. Sometimes I got to 65 before she would save us, by sashaying in, wearing her fresh, new face.
I still hate the smell of butane.