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The Most Important Rule
She told them all that she was thirty-seven. Believable, and not repulsive to the men of such younger bearings. Her gloves were rolled together beneath the oven, and turquoise negligees clung to the corners of our bathrooms, still sweaty from being peeled off of her perfect miniscule figure whilst deep in the actions of passion. I heard the noises from her bedroom when I was small, but they were quieter. Since my adolescence the absolute roughness of my mothers’ nights was raw and unprotected from my ears.
She had an aire of such class, the perfect Kyra Sedgwick fleck of a mole beneath her round beautiful eyes. She always wore red lipstick, despite the myth that red-heads should stray from the color. Her skin was creamy and was made up from the pigments of new snow and she smelled like the big department stores do in the mornings before the filth of people take away its glory with their scum. She had four of Calvin Klein’s summer hats in different variations that were not meant to be worn outside of parlours or tea shops, and she defied their rules with her beauty.
The man was bronze; he had the beginnings of a dark moustache buried beneath his nose. He carried the odour of expensive brandy and wore a navy suit with a pocket watch dangling from its front pocket. He nodded at me as he saw me, my eyes wide from behind the sitting chair. I was supposed to be my aunt’s daughter, come to stay the week with my rich exciting relative whenever they came over, but he greeted me as though he expected to see me for the third time that month.
He was breaking the rules. My mother’s rules, she thrived off of lies and no man was allowed into our home more than once, it would break the careful balance of our teetering life. I wasn’t to be spoken of, especially not as her daughter or her age would pour out. I was fourteen and well on my way to womanhood, so far that I had to trade in my trainer bra for a real one like my mothers last Thursday. Thursday’s were her most important rule, the just us rule, where she would wear big tee shirts and loose underwear and sit on the floor and make puzzles with me. The days that I could call her mommy and have dinner waiting for me hot on the stove when I clomped in from the rain.
She had never broken any of her rules, not even for me. Tuesday nights were only for the paying men. Not to say that she was getting paid, but she would have a shiny new wristwatch or diamond pendant clipped to her somewhere by Wednesday morning. She skipped a few PTA meetings for Tuesdays, but here the man stood. Third time this month, Tuesday, and he had never even given her a thing. I know because I asked her after the second time.
“Sophie dear, you really should mind your own business. It’s rude to stare.” My mother sighed. She was always trying to teach me manners, turn me into the proper young lady that she had been. I hadn’t realized how long I had been surveying him before that. I turned back to the TV guide, my cheeks purpling. I couldn’t keep myself from wondering how much he knew.
And if, he would be here again. Maybe my mother was in love? That the cold beautiful woman had found somebody to be all that she was not. I thought immediately of princesses and fairy tales pegging her at once as jasmine despite Ariel’s obvious similarities. I liked that love story better. Besides, my mother was more suited to be a goddess, though hardened by her uppers.
I lay tangeled in my butter yellow sheets and wondered if there were warm kisses and gentle strokes in the absence of the rough sexuality that those other men had brought. Not that he wasn’t captivating and handsome, but he seemed more reserved. Of course, the silence could also be due to his worry that I may hear. Perhaps he was more tender a man? Amazingly, I found it harder to sleep without the constant barrage of noises that I had become accustomed to.
In the cool of the sheets I stayed dreaming of my mother and the man before allowing my mind to drift into dangerous corners. Corners from which I asked myself if I would ever be loved as my mother was. I only needed one man, once to tell me that he loved me. I wasn’t like my mother in her capability to be utterly independent. For one night, to one different man, she was the most important thing in the world. Where boring wives and nagging girlfriends were entirely forgotten, their heart held captive to her.
And she didn’t want any more. I inhaled and was surprised to find my breath hitched and my warm cheeks moist. It had been years since I had last cried and even that was merely out of frustration. Restless, I made my way out into the hall for a cool glass of milk. My mother used to warm this when I was upset, the men would be turned away in favour of me. She would sit me on her lap and ruffle my hair, placing her lips at the top and smelling my scalp. She always told me that I had the best scent in the world. I hoped it was the morning smell of Bloomingdales and she would always laugh at that.
I set my little white chair that I had been given for my eighth birthday in front of the big mirror. And I looked, searched really, for some reason why they wouldn’t love me. As the tears dripped more frequently, I realized that I had begun looking for reasons that they would. I eyed my white eyebrows and nearly white hair in vain for a pleasant result. Timidly I pulled up my shirt then cursed myself immediately for doing so, but I couldn’t look away. It was so entrancingly awful. I grabbed a handful of fat and stared grotesquely at it, unmoving for several minutes. The banging of the air conditioner rebooting jostled me and I was brought from my trance. I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and stood up to go back to the sheets. I couldn’t find it within me smile at myself before I turned to the bedroom.
Eventually, at some gap between the tears, I remembered drifting to sweet slumber, but in the soft yellow of the morning light I seemed to forget again as I recall the memories of the latest part of last night. I turned over in my sheets, desperate to cling to the last parts of sleep that still hung in the inside corners of my eyes. But the memories plagued me and as further sleep was impossible, I surrendered to my wakeness*.
My mouth was dry and begged for the hydration of a morning ice water. I scuffled through the dim banana light of the morning in the open hall on my way to the kitchen. As I passed my mothers shut door I heard low giggles and a smile tugged at the east corner of my lips. I filled a glass with water not from a tap, but from a complex bubbling machine that kept it cool and pure. I took a sip resting my elbows on the chill of the Formica countertops.
As my fill was met I tiptoed back towards my quarters to shower and drain my mind of all thoughts with the heat. “Sophie isn’t the type to socialize.” That caught my attention, I was sure she never mentioned me on any of her dates. Even if they were extended to past mid morning. I decided to creep towards the door and risk my conscience telling me not to eavesdrop to hear more. “She’s so independent. She’s top of her class; I don’t think I’ve told you?” “No, not that one yet” came a smooth, but husky reply. My mother’s soft giggles echoed and filled both rooms.
“I’m telling you, she’s really brilliant. And she’s got such natural beauty with that warm holly red blush and those gorgeous amber eyes.” A rustle and a light grunt let me know that they had hugged. My eyes filled with warmth as soft tears spilled from the sides of them. My mother breathed in deeply and sighed with satisfaction. “She’s very artistic too,”
I heard the whining of the hinges on the closet doorframe and the untacking of tape being pulled from the door as she took from it what I knew was my seventh grade drawing of a bird. I thought that she just kept it for me, not that she really had loved it. I was especially shocked that she would show it to this man. She wasn’t proud of anything that wasn’t finery in her life, most especially when it concerned men. I pressed my cheek to the glossy finish of the wood beside her door, I knew that when I got up I would be scolded by my inner voice for listening, but sudden inspiration for beautiful resounding sleep had taken over fear in those words.
“I think that she will really make something out of herself one day. I know I keep telling her to be a lady, haven’t I told you? But I don’t think that she needs the security of that like I do.” I heard the man’s remark that she didn’t need a man for security and my mothers’ soft giggles before I reached my door and entered to dreams where I heard it all, all over again.