“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” – Paul Gaugin
When Jeffrey comes in I don’t know which way it’s going to go. When I am in the blue bedroom and he comes in, or when I come home after work into the white cottage with lime-green shag. I take my cues.
In the summer apartment with the pale shiny wood floor always spotless and the sliding glass doors that lead out onto the terra cotta roof garden – in that place, the tension is high. I awaken there in the bed that is tucked into the tiny room off the kitchen – a room where a person who wants to appear rich could house a maid – a bed that I will cover with a piece of maroon velvety fabric during the day so that clients can sit on it as if it were a couch. There I wake up in the morning. There are no choices. I must shower and dress and fulfill my duties. I have a set of duties here – setting the breakfast table exactly the way it was set yesterday – blue and white china we bought at Bloomingdales on my mother’s credit card which we will never pay.
I have been a prisoner most of my life.
Dexter sits next to the window in his office while I sit across from him on the couch. I opened the window while he was coming up the stairs. The room felt stuffy and Fred had complained. Dexter sits next to the open window now. He is dressed in casual black. His hair, eyes and beard are also dark.
Somehow the spotlight of the conversation has settled on me. “Close your eyes,” says Dexter softly. “Finish this sentence,” he says. “If I don’t do it…”
“Nobody will,” I say, nt letting myself pause to come up with something more interesting.
“I have to do it because…”
“I can do it better.”
“If I make a mistake…”
“I will get in trouble.”
My mother called a couple of nights ago. Or I called her back. She had suggested a visit for this coming Sunday. For a day or two I had tried to see if I could fit in a visit with her and still feel like I had had a weekend – an opening, a space without restriction – but by Thursday I’d realized I was feeling completely squished and not only would I take a sick day off from work, I would postpone time with mother too.
I called. Came up with questions so there’d be a semblance of conversation. She asks me questions too sometimes, but I don’t like to give her answers. She has never been my real friend. She has not been an enemy in the dramatic sense of one – in easy fiction friends and foes are so easy to spot. There were years when I thought of my mother as my friend even though even then I didn’t want to tell her anything.
I explain how I can’t come this Sunday. It all feels plausible. Then she mentions my book. She has only mentioned its content once before – in one sentence – and now she brngs it up again, and starts to tell me what me and my younger sister were like as children.
It is interesting to me only because it is her perspective. It doesn’t change what I already know of that time from my own memory.
“Liz was so shy, and you were so bold when guests came, and those Hungarians could be so thoughtless – they didn’t know any better, they didn’t have children – if your Canadian grandmother had been there she would have made up for it and cuddled Liz. And Liz isn’t shy anymore, you know. She gives talks now and everything.”
I don’t care. My mother’s flounderings, attempts at communication, do not open my door. Her versions of the stories have nothing to do with me. Her blind spots and inabilities.
“But call, even if you aren’t coming down for awhile,” she says in that tone I recognize from the ancient days when that tone could immobilize me, freeze me with fear. It is a veiled threat. It is cold and hard and I ease further and further away.