Tina Bambina

August 4, 2008
By
When Tina was five, she sat in a booth at a Friday’s, coloring in a photocopy of a cheeseburger with a face. She had her crayons and her Sprite and she was set.

“Promise me to be polite, baby. I think you’ll like this one.” Annette peered into a compact mirror, smoothing make-up into her hard-lined jaw.

“Play tic-tac-toe with me,” said Tina, her chin barely reaching the top of the table.

Before the game could begin, a man wearing training sneakers with jeans and a button-down bowling shirt slid into the booth. There was a Mickey Mouse emblem on the shirt pocket with the words “Team Mickey” written across it.

“What’s with the shirt?” Annette asked as she re-arranged her jet black hair. Even as gray roots budded from a small part of her scalp, Tina knew her mother looked younger than most thirty-five year-old moms.

“Thought I’d dress nice for the little lady,” said the man, nervously pulling the collar from his neck.

“You’re really trying, aren’t you?” the woman's toned arms were crossed against her chest, her olive shoulders poking out from her tight red tank-top.

“Hey, it’s not often I get to wear this shirt. Don’t feel like cooking for the little lady tonight?”

“Trust me, she’d rather have chicken fingers than the #$$ I cook, right, Tina bambina?”

Tina nodded. Here these two people sat, across from one another at dinner for maybe the fifth or sixth time, the entirety of their lives unraveling upon each other, little by little. Her mother’s flirtatious grin was as strange as the shoe she was coloring in. It didn’t make sense for cheeseburgers to have shoes, but that was all right with Tina. Then the man looked at her.

“I’m Steve,” he said, reaching his dark-haired arm out. She wanted to be left alone to coloring in the cheeseburger’s shoe, but she dropped a purple crayon and glanced up quickly at the large-knuckled hand.

“Ciao.” She tried to say it like her mother would. It didn’t make sense to shake a stranger’s hand, but that was all right with Tina, and so her little hand was enveloped in his before the waitress returned.

“What can I get for you to drink, sir?” asked the redheaded waitress. Before Steve could speak, Annette’s voice broke into “I’ll have another white zinfandel, with ice on the side.”

“Only an Italian orders wine at a Friday’s… Heck, I think I’ll have the same,” said Steve as the waitress jotted the order down silently and walked off.

“She has pretty hair,” said Tina.

“Agreed,” said Steve. Maybe he was just trying to relate to the little girl, but when Tina looked up to her mother, Annette’s red, penciled-in lips curled into the same kind of frown she made when Tina would forget to pick up her toys or scribble on the walls of her room.
Tina returned to her paper placemat, vigorously filling in its corners until there was nothing left to color. Annette swept up her wine glass, telling Steve about finding dead scorpions under her ping-pong table at home, which had a table cloth over it so that it looked like a decent place to eat. Tina liked Steve’s laughter. Her mother was the only grown-up she knew who could amuse other grown-ups with her stories.
When the drinks came, Annette stopped rambling. Chilled water ran from the refilled plastic soda-cup and onto Tina’s coloring. The waitress placed a wine glass in front of Steve, then Annette.
“You forgot my ice,” said Annette. Tina dreaded the sternness that rose up in her mother’s voice.
“Ugh, I’m so sorry. I have a bad short-term memory.” The waitress hit herself on the forehead, her top lifting just enough to expose her milk-white hip.
Tina began twisting her straw around her wrist, managing to tie the ends together with one hand. “Look, mama. Jewelry,” she said.
“Not now, bella. Listen,” she said to the waitress, “if you can’t remember a simple order like that, cut down on the weed, baby.”
The waitress's almond-shaped eyes grew wide with disbelief.
“I’m sure that’s not the case, sweetheart,” said Steve, leaning in toward the waitress, “what is your name?”
“Lisa.”
“Don’t worry about it, Lisa.”
“What do you mean ‘don’t worry about it?’ I’d still like some ice,” said Annette.

Steve twiddled with his napkin a few times, and then finally asked Tina what her favorite color was.
“Purple,” Tina said as Steve slowly took the purple crayon out of the pile on the table. “Hey, give it back!” she smiled and tilted her head down bashfully.
“Can you stop acting like a child for a minute? I want to speak to a manager. Our server is awful,” said Annette.
“Oh, she’s doing fine. Look, here she comes with your ice,” said Steve.
“You know what, Steve?”
“What?”
“Why don’t you just get her number already?”
Steve dropped the purple crayon he took from Tina and looked up like he had just forfeited some kind of a game. “I would if I knew she’d give it to me.”
There was that frown on Annette’s face again.
“I’m hungry. When’s the food gonna be here?” asked Tina.
“We’re eating somewhere else, honey. Let’s go.” She grabbed Tina’s arm, her acrylic nails digging into her daughter’s baby-fatted forearm, as Tina kneed her way out of the booth by the force of her mother’s pull. She stood at the side, wondering what it was her mother would do this time. Annette clenched her fist, lunged into the booth, and punched Steve in the jaw. Her high-heels clicked violently across the tile on her way to the exit as Tina tried to keep up with her mother’s strides. Glancing behind her, she saw Steve rubbing the side of his face and looking around for the waitress. Her mother kept pulling her by the arm until they got to the car.
“Fongule. Tina, men are nothing but dogs. Never get involved with dogs” was all her mother said to her on the drive home. It made Tina feel like she was on one of those sit-coms where there’s a serious moment, and the mother sits on the edge of the bed and tells her princess how to be a lady. She felt almost like a daughter. Men are dogs. Tina said it in her head first. “Men are dogs,” she said it aloud: high-pitched, nasally. She made her mother laugh.


“How come you punched that guy in the stomach tonight?” Tina lay tucked underneath her bright pink sheets that night as Annette dusted the windows and closets, bent like a broken reed.
“Because I’m crazy. Did you like him?” asked Annette. Black kohl was smudged around her eyes and her mouth hung like it served no other purpose but to take in oxygen.
Tina shrugged her shoulders and turned to her side. The door-bell rang before she fell asleep and her mother’s footsteps faded from the room. She had a dream about a mermaid swooping up and out of the water. She thought she was gliding by its side with no arms or legs to hold her back. When it swam off, dolphins leaped up next to her in sprightly clusters, in perfect contingence with her own moderate pace, as if humans and all their words and footsteps meant less than all this.
She woke up the next morning, confused by the smell of buttered toast and pancake batter. Mama never cooks breakfast, she thought. She walked into the kitchen and a pit formed in her stomach. Steve was in plaid pajama pants and a Jets T-shirt, frying eggs and whistling.
“Buonna mattina, Tina bambina!” said Annette as she stuffed a Zebra Cake in her mouth, making an orgasm noise after biting into it.
“Mangi,” said Annette, adjusting her silk night gown. Tina wanted to flip the frying pan into Steve’s face and pull the table cloth off of the ping-pong table and call him a ‘dog’ and go back to sleep.
“I’m not hungry.” She locked herself in her room. She pulled a box of crayons out from underneath her bed, and taking out every shade of blue she had, she scribbled waves onto the white walls until her fingers were numb.





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HannahBanana said...
Nov. 23, 2008 at 3:56 pm
I love this, Marianna :)
She's you right? Little Tina Bambina...I'm sorry, friend.
 
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