Short tale
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By Sharon Goldner

When Amy hears what her father has done, she thinks she is having a heart attack. “Are you sure?” she asks her mother, who is out of state in Amy’s childhood home. Amy is talking loudly because of the din of the lawnmower going at it next door. Her mother screams “Goddamn it” and hangs up the phone on Amy. That’s when Amy thinks she feels the heart attack give birth to itself. Her whole left breast aches underneath where she suspects her heart is. Amy tries calling her mother back but she will not answer and the heart attack lightning-bolts her. It isn’t at all what she thinks a heart attack will feel like. “Let it be over quickly,” she says. When there is no response, Amy answers herself: “Okay.” Amy caresses her breast, since she can’t get to her heart, and it feels good; no, it feels better, but good that she can take care of things herself, with husband and children at school. She thinks about how things could have been so different. She could have married that rabbi, freshly ordained, he wanted to marry her, and then there was that doctor, a heart doctor, now is that some shade of apropos or what, but he dumped Amy for a famous actress person, thirty years his senior. So Amy married Ralph instead and she hates him and hates this marriage, and he is always screaming how he hates her, too, 40_Stories_Final.indd 9 6/18/12 5:38 PM 10 Sharon Goldner and how that time she called 911 because he was screaming so badly and they told her that they could only send someone out if he hit her or threatened to hit her. She wondered if 911 would come out if she thinks it is a heart attack but isn’t really sure. Or if they would tell her mother to stop hanging up on her all the time. Amy likes the word “tits” but only in private, and only when she is by herself. She takes off her shirt to undo her bra and now that it is undone, she lifts it up and off her shoulders. Sensing their immediate release, Amy uses two hands to caress and cajole. Her breasts are loopy and long, having stretched out beside themselves after years of expensive but essentially nonsupport bras. She considers turning some music on for mood but that would require the effort of getting up and the only effort Amy wants is the one right now on her breasts. She sings to herself instead, trying to drown out the mowers. Living in a gated community in the suburbs the lawns and gardens of the big expansive homes are always being fussed over. Amy has all but forgotten about the pending heart attack. Her fingers deftly follow the vein down the one breast that starts in the middle of nowhere. The fingers have gone this route before. She is feeling the rise of her chest and the boldness of her C-cups elongated as they hang out with her since her mother hung up on her today. She doesn’t care if Ralph wants her to have a boob job; he’s got enough D-cups in his porn collection to start a new nation. “These girls are not fixer-uppers,” Amy always says. Amy goes from the middle of nowhere vein all the way down to the nipple. When she was nursing her youngest many years ago—the swell of time bruised and bloated—her older child asked about the breastfeeding. He was precocious enough to be in a gifted-and-talented kindergarten class where he was learning his colors in Español. As she began to give him the beautiful explanation of the breast as nourisher, he exhaled words as if they were mucous he wanted to get rid of. “No, what’s THAT? That blue thing,” he snaked, “on your boob.” Amy looked down at the vein. “It’s gross!” he screamed. “Mommy’s got blue boobs.” She had to explain to Ralph that she didn’t show him her boob, he looked. The phone rings. When she hears her mother’s voice on the an- 40_Stories_Final.indd 10 6/18/12 5:38 PM Amy Having a Heart Attack 11 swering machine, Amy’s fingers let go of the breasts. “Why did you hang up on me?” Amy asks. Her bra looks funny, hanging half on the kitchen chair. Half off. Which one is it really? “You know I don’t like when you hang up on me.” The chair almost looks like it is wearing the bra in a very revealing way. Amy’s daughter, the youngest, recently wondered why nobody thought to dress up furniture beyond the fabric of cushions or pillows. “It would be funny to see a sofa wearing a dress. A love seat could wear a skirt and a pair of pants because it’s a love seat and it could be a boy and a girl together. Of course, it could be a girl and a girl or a boy and a boy, too,” referring to her aunt, Amy’s sister, and her wife. This child was gifted and talented, too. “What do you mean asking me,” her mother snipped into the phone, “am I sure? I’m right here. You’re not here. You’re all the way there. Exactly what part do you think I am not sure about?” “It’s just that . . . ,” Amy stutters. “Your father embezzled from a client,” her mother says, reaching pitches not previously thought possible. “He got caught. It doesn’t matter to them that he was going to pay it back before they caught him. He was going to make it right in his own time but they are going to make him make it right faster than that.” Her mother exhales the last few words in a stream. “Oh my God. Are you smoking?” Amy asks. She is appalled, particularly since her mother’s recent cancer diagnosis. “I already have the cancer,” her mother says, “so what’s a cigarette in the big picture? It helps me relax and Lord knows I need to relax. It’s not like your father is going to take me on vacation anytime soon. And if he gets convicted, well then, that’s really no vacation. And no sex either. A double damnation. Oy.” Amy hears the tap-tap of the cigarette into an ashtray. Knowing her mother, it’s probably a soup can or a soda bottle. The china ashtrays of her childhood were considered part of the set— valuable pieces not to be desecrated in any way. Amy holds the phone a little ways from her ear during the cancer talk, convinced that maybe cigarette smoke has so advanced itself that it can travel through the phone lines right into her ear, settling in for the 40_Stories_Final.indd 11 6/18/12 5:38 PM 12 Sharon Goldner night before making the pilgrimage into her brain and any other body part it damn well pleases. “What about Meg and Bob? Do they know?” While her mother extols the virtues of her siblings, Amy thinks back to a particular teenage memory with Meg and Bob. It’s the one where they were all in one of the bedrooms looking at record albums. They could hear, in the next room, their parents making love. Meg and Bob paused for a moment to listen to their parents. They had been looking at a Grand Funk Railroad album, saying “fuck, fuck, fuck” out loud a million times, which led to an argument about whether or not it had been a million times. They decided to take another hit of the joint they had been passing around before counting the million out again, and that is when they were stopped in mid-syllable by the grunting and alternate groaning of their parents in bed. Meg and Bob smiled and rolled their eyes, or for them being high, it was more like they rolled and smiled their eyes. They were lucky, they felt, luckier than all of their friends to have such cool parents. “Mom had like six abortions you know,” Meg said. “A few after Bob and then some before me. We were her chosen ones, Bob! You were supposed to do a drum roll or something.” Bob, picking brownie crumbs off his lap and eating them, declared, “What we just did to those brownies is downright savage. Brownies have feelings too, you know. Amy, you should have stopped us. When the brownie police come, we’re going to say it’s your fault, okay?” Amy, against the wall, heard her parents, louder than her siblings; and found their sex sounds comforting in a way—that her parents still wanted to be together like this. Amy is thinking on this, the sounds of comfort, and doesn’t hear her mother until she hears the screaming. “Goddamn it, of course Bob and Meg know. Who do you think posted bail? Jesus Christ, Amy. As if I don’t have enough going on. Sometimes I think being a preemie affected you in ways the doctors have yet to discover.” Amy heard all the stories about how her mother had to trek back and forth to the hospital with baby Bob in tow to bond with preemie Amy. “Well, maybe if you hadn’t smoked and drank during pregnancy . . . ,” Amy says. She sits down, her breasts jostled by the sudden movement. 40_Stories_Final.indd 12 6/18/12 5:38 PM Amy Having a Heart Attack 13 “Nobody said that was bad for the baby. Everyone did it back then. Your brother and sister turned out fine.” “Mom—I’m just saying,” Amy just says. The phone clicks. Amy has been hung up on again. In the old days, before the wireless technology, a hang-up was really a hang-up. It had power. It had oomph. It had drama. It required a physicality—the holding hand removing the phone from the ear, whooshing it through the air on its way to being slammed down. Now the effect of the hang-up was not quite the same. And the mowers outside seem angrier, chopping blades of grass with, ironically, blades of sharpened steel. Everything gets cut down in life, Amy thinks, drumming her fingers on the kitchen table. Her father was a respected man in their community. Everyone loved him. He gave out sage advice. He volunteered. He served on committees. He went to fund-raisers and galas. He hosted dinner parties where he shamed friends into giving hefty sums for charities. He was stable. A righteous man. Of all the labels you could pitch on a man, embezzler was not one of them. Of all the labels he wore for this meeting and that event, who would ever dream he would wear ones that said arrest? Police? Bail? Trial? This was unfathomable, and the more Amy sat on the pier inside her mind fishing for explanations, she realized that maybe anything was possible because really, how well do you know anyone at all? The heart attack feeling starts again, rolling in punches of pain, threatening to explode her rib cage apart. She crosses her arms over her chest in an effort to straitjacket everything in. The last thing Amy wants on top of, under, and in between everything else is a mess. The maid isn’t coming until the following week. Still hugging herself, Amy’s crossed arms send a message up to her brain that goes something like this: “Hey, don’t you see what’s happening here? Hello— remember the breasts?,” and then the rest of her goes, “Remember the breasts,” and then it occurs to Amy that she can make everything feel so much better like before. So Amy uncrosses herself and starts with the breast massaging again, vigorously and joyfully. Once the heart attack subsides, Amy finds ecstasy in her breasts, rolling and folding them. She works efficiently, as does a farmer who 40_Stories_Final.indd 13 6/18/12 5:38 PM 14 Sharon Goldner knows the lay of his own land, except that Amy can close her eyes for brief intervals because she is not working with dangerous farm equipment. There is a new pattern to her breathing, and sometimes her chest stays filled with air for longer than it heaves the air out. Amy thinks that, as long as she is one with her breasts, the heart attack can always be averted. She feels full, the way she used to when she was breastfeeding her children, seemingly long ago. Taking out the small compact mirror Amy keeps in her pocket, she looks at parts of herself—it is not the right size for a full view of face or body, and so she moves it around slowly, glancing at her hair, her eyes, mouth, and neck. Just as she moves the mirror down to her chest, intending on one breast at a time, the phone rings. “I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation,” Amy’s mother says. “Your father could do jail time for this. Can you imagine Daddy in jail? Your father an inmate? Wearing the same exact clothes as everyone else? That alone will kill him. You know how much he relishes style. And living with a roommate? I don’t think they are even called that. They’re cell mates. I mean, they can’t leave you with something nicer to call it? I have been your father’s roommate for some forty-five years now. Did I tell you we were living together before it was in style? We were pioneers, I tell you. Sharing living expenses and pleasurable expenses—that’s how he put it. Way back when they talk about the good old days, well, they really were, before anything else.” Amy tugs the phone away from her ear just a little. While her mother continues to reminisce. Amy closes her eyes, taking herself back in time to her father coming home from work—she never knew exactly what he did, but he did have so many clients, and all of those clients paid for all of the nice things they did have. “Daddy-o’s home,” he would sing in the doorway, and Amy, faster than Meg and Bob, would leap down the stairs and into his arms. “You’re too heavy for me to pick you up, baby,” he would eventually say, but oh how he would let her wrap herself around him into his cologne and pinstripes. “He’s going to have to pay back everything, plus lawyer fees,” her mother says. Amy can hear the grinding of the pottery wheel as she 40_Stories_Final.indd 14 6/18/12 5:38 PM Amy Having a Heart Attack 15 talks. Her mother is known in town for her colorful, if not impractical, ashtrays, mugs, vases, and things that had not been tablewareinvented quite yet. “You know we’re going to have to sell Sunny.” Amy’s jaw drops. She feels it slip away from the top part of her mouth, wide open. Her tongue, wet with that elixir of life, spit, having nowhere to unload its product allows it to sluice out of her in beads, down her chin. “No, not Sunny!” The expansive home of Amy’s childhood. Amy loves that house. It has always been there. Strong, reliable, safe—what a childhood home should be. Amy loves the breezy modern decor throughout, the theme of sunflowers in every room, even in her brother’s room, where they were hand-painted by their mother, camouflage, hanging over his bed. The real outdoor picnic table in the kitchen, with the umbrella that really worked. The formal dining room, with the real knotted tree bark that twisted up from the floor, flattening itself into the expanse of a table . . . how oddly divine the table looked when it was set for one of the many elegant dinner parties, as regular a feature of their lives as the four-tier hand-carved chandelier that drove flecked shimmers of light onto the room. The hiding annex Amy had discovered in her father’s study where she would sit and think and imagine. The grand entryway with the winding stairwell where Amy would pretend to be a famous megawatt movie star waving to her fans. “You can’t do this to me,” Amy says. “You can’t. That’s my life in there.” She places the phone down, turning it on to speaker. She holds her breasts up, her face down, and begins sobbing into herself. “Oh, for Christ’s sake,” her mother’s voice goes, coming through crackly on speaker. It fills up the kitchen like a noxious gas seeping into every space, sending its rebel forces all out with threats of overthrow down every path. “You’re an adult woman, for God’s sake, blubbering over a house you left long ago. When’s the last time you visited? Do you ever make it in for the holidays? Practically every month of the calendar there’s a goddamn holiday that you avoid coming home for. Your father and I beg . . . they’re our only grandchildren. And NOW you’re crying. Boo hoo for Amy.” Amy knows there’s a lot more anger in her mother’s hang-up than the click will allow. She turns the phone back on, waiting for the 40_Stories_Final.indd 15 6/18/12 5:38 PM 16 Sharon Goldner dial tone to die, followed by the recorded operator voice that says, “If you would like to make a call, hang up and dial again,” followed by the blast of beeps reminding Amy that the phone is still off the hook, before going completely dead. Determined to make the day go the way she wants it to, Amy starts back up with her breasts, fingers cooing on the skin freckled with perspiration, hips rocking in the vinyl kitchen chair. She reaches one hand down inside the waist of her jeans. They pop open, and her fingers scramble inside the dark denim. Outside, the edger guy on the path next door motions up and down to the lawn guy on the mower. The mower smiles, the space in between his front teeth holding a toothpick captive. He shakes his head, pushing his baseball cap firmly down, squashing bits of hair this way and that. He knows what the edger is gesturing about, and he’s interested, but no, not really. His wife at home has some really great chest. This missus here, well, hers are middle-aged and old. The edger guy mows up as close as he can to the window without seeming intrusive. He’s a professional, after all. Say what you will about their line of work, but how many jobs can boast of a little breast sightseeing on the side? A doctor, for sure. The edger guy shakes his head—too much school required for that. All he had to do was read a mower-and-edger manual. He swipes a look in Amy’s window, baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, just in case he has to say he wasn’t looking at anything— nothing at all—and it would seem like it was true.

Feb. 10, 2017, 3:46 p.m. 0 Report Embed 0
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