Yesterday morning I went off to art school at the Brooklyn Museum but our teacher felt sick and sent us home. I was disappointed. I loved drawing the magical objects in the museum’s collection, the kachina dolls and pharaoh’s crowns.
It was my mother’s idea that I go to art school. She signed me up when she saw me doodling in the margins of my school notebooks. She made me the pink brocade shoulder bag that I use to carry my art supplies.
When I got off the bus at our corner I realized I could still catch the Saturday matinee with free popcorn at the Valentino Cinema on Avenue L. It was East of Eden starring my heartthrob, James Dean. My mother and little brother Seymour weren’t home. They were at a science fair at Utrecht High School where my brother had won some kind of prize. His revolting interest in the earthworms he dug up from the swampy marshes near our house had paid off. Maybe my father was home and would go to the movies with me. I love going places with my handsome father.
Women were always looking at him and I wondered if sometimes they thought I was his date. When we’d go to the movies, he would always buy two Hershey Bars with Almonds but gives me the almonds from his because he knows how much I like them. On the way home he likes to talk about my opinion of the movie. He tells me I have a very smart, insightful mind.
Our gray Plymouth Fury was in the driveway, an encouraging sign. I went in the side door that led to our finished basement. I thought he’d be down there reading the newspapers in his big leather chair.
My father was in the basement but he wasn’t reading newspapers and he was not alone. He was leaning over the studio couch, his pants down to his thighs. What happened to his underwear? There was a woman beneath him and she wasn’t wearing clothes. He was moving up and down on top of her and she was letting out silly, little squeals like my brother’s pet hamster, Eisenhower.
I knew exactly what they were doing. My parents had a book, Love Without Fear, that they kept in the drawer of my father’s bedside table. I used to read it when I was alone in the house. I knew all the illustrations by heart.
The woman had such big boobs they spread out on either side of her like yeasty white dough. I could see my father’s scrotum, pink as a chicken neck, bouncing up and down below his ass as he moved. He bent his head; started to kiss her chest. Her nipple was exposed; a sloppy brown stain like a coffee spill, but that didn’t stop him from taking it into his mouth.
Then I saw her face. She had an ugly little snout for a nose. Bright orange lipstick was smeared all over her mouth and chin. She looked like a clown. My father started pounding into her harder and harder; I stood on the bottom step, as if rooted, unable to tear my eyes away from the horrid scene.
I felt a quickening between my legs where I was cleft. The tiny button that was there, which Love Without Fear called a clitoris, began to twitch. My insides were heaving and churning. I felt sick.
I made myself go back up the stairs and outside. A few doors down from our house a brand-new, pink and white Oldsmobile was parked. I’d never seen it on our block before. I knew this was the evil chariot that had brought the clown to our house.
I ran down to Seaview Avenue, the border between the development of split-level houses where we lived and the fields beyond. I went out through the bulrushes into the swamps, way beyond Canarsie Pier until I found the spot I was looking for. It was a deep dip in the sand surrounded by rocks and tall reeds a little distance from the Belt Parkway. I had gone here with Morty Rothman three times to make out. I crouched between the rocks crying and throwing up. After a while I went home.
The Oldsmobile was gone from its spot and our car was gone too. The door was locked so I let myself in with my key and went up to my bedroom. I lay down on my belly, unzipped my jeans and put my fingers inside the crotch of my panties. This was the position I liked best when I wanted to comfort myself. I put three fingers into slit; my mother likes to call it a lily. I pretended I was wearing a pharaoh’s crown and Morty Rothman was my body slave. He was rubbing baby oil all over me and between my legs. He saved my clitoris for last. I came twice, then I dozed off.
I heard my mother and brother talking downstairs. I got up and found my mother in the kitchen washing dishes; my brother was watching the T.V. in the living room. When I told her what I saw in the basement, she staggered to the kitchen table and fell into one of the chairs still holding the soapy sponge in her hand.
She sat quiet for a long time. Her face was pale. I thought maybe I didn’t do the right thing but then she told me she loved me very much. She said I should go and watch the Gong Show with my brother. That evening, my father didn’t come home for supper.
In the middle of the night terrible yelling woke me up. My mother and father were having a big fight. I put my thumbs in my ears and my pillow over my head but I could still hear them.
This next morning when I woke up my mother told me we were going on an adventure, a visit to my Aunt Zippy in the Bronx. She sent my brother to spend the day at his friend Bruce’s house.
When we got on the train at Utica Avenue, my mother started to tell me about Aunt Zippy. I only knew her from weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. She was an old lady who wore velvet dresses and funny hats on special occasions. Even though she was bent over and had wrinkles on her face the men buzzed around her. She danced every dance.
My mother told me that Aunt Zippy’s full name was Zipporah. She was a witch, a real witch with potions and spells. She’d studied with the most famous witch in Lithuania, Hepzibah the Hebrew. Aunt Zippy came to America long, long ago before people were riding around in cars.
On the day she arrived in New York she was standing on a street corner trying to hail a livery carriage. She had the address of a Witches Association in Rego Park, Queens. A distinguished gentleman in an elegant carriage pulled by two snow white horses drove up and offered to take her anywhere she would like to go. It was Diamond Jim Brady. He was captivated by her ravishing looks and brilliant wit and helped her set up shop in the top floor of the Woolworth building. She was quickly successful, drawing her customers from the cream of New York society. The Great Houdini came to drink champagne with her after his magical feats. Boss Tweed, with whom she had a passionate affair, was among her many admirers. Powerful men among her acquaintances helped her make some good investments in real estate.
Then she fell in love with a musician, a saxophone player she met at a speakeasy named Slim Fats. I knew what a speakeasy was because I had seen Public Enemy Number One. She soon found out Slim Fats was already deeply in love with someone else; his sister. All Aunt Zippy’s spells and incantations were not strong enough to break that tie.
When Slim Fats left her, she went out of her mind and was sick for a long, long time.
Boss Tweed arraigned for a special maids to be with her night and day and bathe her in milk. Houdini visited and fed her creampuffs with his magician’s hands.
Eventually Zippy recovered, only to find she had lost her powers as witches do when they fall in love. After a miserable year of doing nothing but crossword puzzles, one of her powers came back, that of clairvoyance. She wanted to return to work right away and help women who like her had suffered disappointments in love.
She moved out of Manhattan to one of her properties, a tenement on Jerome Avenue high on top of a hill in the Bronx. Once again, Aunt Zippy took the top floor with its many windows because a witch must be able to see the nighttime sky, the moon and the stars. A few phone calls were all it took and soon she was back in business, women clients only. Gradually, Aunt Zippy regained the ability to do simple spells, but she knew that never again could she change herself into a tiny fairy the size of a thumb or fly though the night riding one of the hounds of hell.
Two huge, battered stone lions stood guard at the door to Aunt Zippy’s building. We ascended six flights of stairs to stand in front of a heavy steel door.
The door was flung open before my mother even had a chance to knock. There was Aunt Zippy. She was wearing a tall, black pointy hat and a long filmy red negligee. Beneath the flimsy fabric of her negligee I could make out the top of her low cut black brassiere. Aunt Zippy had amazing cleavage.
“Darlings,” she cried out. As she stood on tiptoe to embrace my mother who was only five feet two, I saw that Aunt Zippy’s eyes were yellow, smoldering like the eyes of the tigers in the zoo. She kissed me on both cheeks, then took my head in her hands.
“You resemble your mother,” she said, “but you have a beauty of your own. You have the face of a poet.”
Did she know about the secret notebook I kept under my mattress already half-filled with poems?
A black dog the size of a collie but without a collie’s pointed muzzle stood behind her. I didn’t like dogs and drew back.
“He’s not a dog,” Aunt Zippy said. ”He’s a cat, Morris, my long time companion. He will never harm you.” She led us down a long hallway, lined with photos of her with many different women. There was a picture of Aunt Zippy seated with Greta Garbo on a park bench. Another picture showed Aunt Zippy drinking cocktails with Mae West at a long bar and another showed her sitting in a rowboat with Eleanor Roosevelt on a clam lake. There was also a photo of Aunt Zippy shaking hands with Golda Meir.
We entered a light airy room with a high ceiling. Curtains of crystal beads hung in front of the high windows, sending shining reflections of sparkling light on the white walls. A modern white sofa stood in the center of the room, flanked by matching armchairs.
The only testament to Aunt Zippy’s profession was a gleaming skull on top of the pine coffee table in front of the sofa. The contemporary décor surprised me.
“Just because I’m a witch,” Aunt Zippy said, “is no reason for me to succumb to conventional thinking about my vocation. I’ve already lived a hundred and ten years.
Maybe I’ll live a hundred more. Why should I spend my time in some dismal dump filled with bats? Like they say, it isn’t over until the fat lady sings.” My mother giggled, “Right,” she said, smiling.
Aunt Zippy snapped her fingers and three glasses filled with ruby liquid materialized on the coffee table. She picked up one of the glasses and handed it to me.
“Enjoy this wine,” she said, “A glass of wine a day will keep the worry wrinkles away. Your mother and I will be back shortly.”
My mother nodded at me encouragingly as she and Aunt Zippy each picked up a glass. They vanished through a door decorated with black roses that had appeared in a corner of the room.
Morris didn’t follow them. He spread out under the coffee table and regarded me lugubriously. I had never tasted wine before. I took a sniff. It smelled like raspberries and Vicks Cough Syrup. When I tasted it I found it had a much stronger zing. I closed my eyes and listened to Morris purr softly somewhere below me. He seemed to be humming the first few bars of Earth Angel, my favorite song.
Morty Rothman and I danced to it at when we met at the party celebrating my friend
Cora Sue’s sixteenth birthday. That was the first time I felt a boy’s bone grow hard and press against me through my clothes. He nuzzled my neck and stuck his tongue in my ear, another first. It was warm and wet and I liked it.
“Sorry to disturb you,” Aunt Zippy said. “We need you to do something; pull a hair out of Morris’s tail? It won’t hurt him, he’s used to it. We need a hair from a black cat’s tail. Only a virgin can pull the hair out and you are the only virgin here so it’s up to you.” Already I could refuse Aunt Zippy nothing. Morris swung his tail up on the couch next to me. I gingerly took a single long strand between my thumb and index finger and yanked. It slid out easily. I handed it to Aunt Zippy. “Thanks,” she said and vanished again.
When my aunt and my mother came back into the room, my mother was wearing a small purple velvet pouch on a ribbon around her neck. I watched her tuck it beneath the collar of her red polka dot dress. “Oh, I need to go to the toilet,” she said. She turned and went back behind the black rose door.
Aunt Zippy sat down beside me. She put her feet up on Morris as if he was a footstool. “First,” I want to give you my phone number. Call me any time,” she said. She handed me a white card with a number in gothic lettering. “Second, I want to tell you something. Your true love will have blue-green eyes.” I was puzzled. Morty Rothman’s eyes were a flat brown like a Hershey bar. “But, but ..,” I started to object. “No buts about it,” Aunt Zippy cut in. “Now, promise me you’ll remember what I told you.”
“I promise,” I said.
My father didn’t say anything to me about me telling my mother. For the next few days no one said much of anything around our house.
Wednesday afternoon Morty Rothman sat down next to me on the bus riding home from our high school. “How’s about we go to our spot today?” He asked. “I have a surprise for you. I know you’ll like it.” I was feeling sad and maybe the surprise would cheer me up. He was unusually chivalrous walking through the swamp. He carried my book bag, something he never did before. When we got there, he even took off his Levi jacket and spread it out for me to sit on. Then he pulled something out of the back pocket of his pants, a red rubbery thing that he stuck on the middle finger of his hand. It had a lot of little spines all over it like a caterpillar. The top was cut off and the tip of Morty’s finger poked through.
“This is a French tickler,” he said. “I put it on my thing and then I put my thing inside you. You’ll love it.” He wiggled the tickler finger at me. It looked disgusting.
“If you let me do it, it will mean we are going steady.” I noticed for the first time how small and squinty his eyes were, like the eyes of pig. So far I had let him put a finger in me, only a finger. “I won’t come inside you,” he went on. “I promise.”
I heard Aunt Zippy’s voice talking in my head. “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” she said. I knew she was right. “No,” Morty,” I told him, “No, I won’t do it, no way.”
His face got all tight and angry. ”What have you been doing all this time, stringing me along?” He almost spit at me, “You little bitch, you will do it.”
He jumped on top of me, pushing my body down with an arm against my chest,
“Bitch,” he repeated and slapped me across the face. He slapped me again. I felt myself growing smaller and smaller, thinner and thinner as I changed into one of those gray sand lizards that lived in the swamp. I slipped out from under his arm and scurried away through the reeds.
He didn’t try to follow me. As I moved towards Seaview Avenue I found myself growing larger and larger, changing back into myself.
When I got to our house, I stood outside to catch my breath. I was so lucky I escaped.
A few days later I was sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework. When I looked out the window and I saw the red seltzer truck pull up and double park. Mr. Fleishman, the seltzer man, was here for his weekly visit. My mother was down in her sewing room in the basement. She let him in through the side door.
When they came up into the kitchen, it was not fat Mr. Fleishman with his potbelly walking behind her carrying the wooden box of seltzer and sodas on his shoulder. It was a slim, wiry man who looked like an older James Dean. He even had his hair slicked back in the same style. He put the box down on the floor and straightened up.
“I’m Fleishman’s nephew Spike,” he told us. “My Uncle had to have a hernia operation so I’m filling in. Your usual? Three seltzers, three cream sodas?”
My mother nodded and he put the bottles on the kitchen counter. Then he grinned at me, “You must have got your pretty face from your beautiful mother,” he said.
“Stop with the fresh remarks,” my mother told him.
“Just being truthful,” he answered. “Say, did you grow up in Brooklyn?” he went on. “You sure don’t have the accent.”
To my surprise, she gave him a big smile. “I was raised in Manhattan,” my mother said, “East Ninth Street and Avenue A.”
“What a coincidence,” he replied. “I grew up two blocks away.” Within five minutes, I was exiled to the basement to finish my homework and they were drinking coffee and eating my mother’s raisin marble cake at the kitchen table. Before he left to complete his rounds, he gave us two complimentary bottles of cherry soda.
The next day when I came home from school, the seltzer truck was outside and Spike and my mother were in the back yard. They were on their hands and knees in the little garden she had planted there, heads close together over the tomato plants. He was gone before the time my father got home.
The night after that, my mother didn’t make any dinner preparations because Spike arrived at five-thirty to take us out. We played miniature golf, two rounds, on Ditmas Avenue. Seymour won both times. After that, Spike took us to a fancy Chinese restaurant on Flatbush Avenue, all red and gold inside. The fortune in my fortune cookie said Go with the flow. On the way back, Spike stopped at Carvel Custard and brought me and Seymour hot fudge sundaes. My mother said she couldn’t eat another thing. We were sitting in the cab of the truck outside our house finishing our ice cream when my father came up the block. He was staggering from side to side like he was drunk.
When he saw us he ran up to the truck and yelled through the open window. “Get out of there, get out of there, right now.”
“Drive away,” my mother told Spike, but he didn’t start the engine. Instead, he got out and walked around the cab of the truck to face my father.
“She doesn’t want to get out,” he said and then “why should she?” he added calmly.
“I’ll knock your dirty block off,” my father yelled at him, balling his big hands into fists. He was six inches taller than Spike at least and maybe thirty pounds heavier.
He swung a wide right at Spike’s head and missed.
“You asked for it,” Spike said. He crouched low, dancing from side to side on the balls of his feet. Then, with a lightening one-two punch he socked my father in the chin.
My father fell back on the sidewalk all curled up like a baby. Spike climbed back in the truck and we drove off. He turned up Seaview Avenue.
“Why don’t you and the kids spend the night at my place, Ruthie?” he asked my mother.
We drove a few more blocks before she answered. “No, she said. It’s not right. I should try to work things out with him. He’s my husband.” Spike sighed. When he pulled up in front of our house, he and my mother kissed. Then he kissed my brother and me
and drove away.
My father was sitting in the kitchen with the lights out, his head in his hands. My mother told us to go upstairs and go to sleep.
Sometime in the night I head the sound of the bedsprings squealing in my parents bedroom. It was a sound I hadn’t heard for a long time. I wondered if my mother was the one on top, riding him, but I didn’t want to get up to see if maybe they had left the door open and I could get a peek.
Summer vacation came and my mother and father had fully reconciled. The bedsprings were squeaking almost every night. Mr. Fleishman was back on the seltzer truck. When I asked him about Spike, he said Spike was traveling. I hardly ever thought of Morty Rothman now I didn’t have to see him every day at school. By the end of the term he was openly going with Vivian Smolar. Rumor had it she bleached the hair between her legs the same platinum color she dyed the hair on her head. I was sure she let him use the French tickler.
On my brother’s eleventh birthday my mother asked me to go with him to the pet store. She had so much sewing to do for her customers she couldn’t take him. She was buying him his first big snake for his birthday. He could keep it in an aquarium under his bed. She gave me twenty dollars to spend.
The Jungle Pet Store on Rockaway Parkway had a cage of monkeys in one window and a cage of brightly colored tropical birds in the other. Our arrival occasioned so much cawing and squawking I almost expected a bare-chested Tarzan to be standing behind the counter.
Instead it was a tall skinny guy in a white t-shirt with short red hair and freckles. One step closer and I could see his eyes were blue-green like the ocean at Coney Island. A big smile opened up inside me. We just stand there looking at each other until Seymour pulled at my arm.
“My snake, my snake,” Seymour said, then he addressed the proprietor. “I want to see the snakes, sir.”
“We have the best snakes in Brooklyn,” the guy says. “Come this way.” As he moves out from behind the counter, I noticed the big bulge between his legs under his tight jeans. He saw me looking and I felt my face turning red. “And you don’t have to call me sir,” he adds, “My name is Larry.”
He led us past a pen of puppies and a wall of tropical fish to a long, low tank at the back of the room.
“Wow,” said Seymour, looking down at the squirming, undulating mass.
“What are the different kinds?”
“Those light green ones are your common variety garter snake,” Larry told him. “We also have Montana black horn noses, domesticated South American Anacondas, and one rare purple ribbon snake from Peru.”
“I’ll take the purple one, he’s the most special,” Seymour says.
“Good choice,” Larry tells him. He leans over and deftly grabs the purple snake, putting one hand behind its head and the other in the middle of its back. He lifted the wiggling creature and carried it back to the counter. He deposits it in a big plastic bag with little holes in it and knotted it at the top.
Seymour was so happy he jumped up and down.
“That will be $25. 99.” Larry said “I won’t charge you tax.”
“Oh, oh,” I said, “my mother only gave me twenty dollars.” “That’s okay,” he answered.
“You can have the snake for twenty dollars. My father owns the store.”
“Thanks so much,” I told him. We looked at each other again. I could feel my eyelashes curling.
He started to speak, stuttered, “Er, er, er…” His face turned red. Finally he got out the words. “Would you like to go out sometime?”
Larry and I have dated all summer. It is like a dream. We talk about everything. He thinks my poems are wonderful. He wants to be a writer too. His interest is science fiction. He wants to write about intergalactic space travel and machines that can think. He says one day there will be such things. He likes the movies as much as I do and he likes taking long walks in the marshes.
I never showed him the spot I went to with Morty Rothman. Larry and I have found our own spot, further out along Jamaica Bay near a clump of ailanthus trees.
We do a lot of things. We undress each other and kiss everywhere. He sucks my nipples and I suck his. He showed me how to do this, how to nurse and nibble there. His nipples tasted like salty peanuts and I cannot get enough of them. He kisses between my legs, finds my clitoris and sucks it like he does my nipple. He pushes his tongue down inside me, flicks it in and out. He says he has the tongue of a snake. I take his prick in my hand. That is what he has taught me to call it. He says “prick” is not a dirty word and that the word “fuck” isn’t dirty either. He likes it when I say fuck me, fuck me and that is what he does between my legs with his tongue while I rub my fingers up and down on his prick until we both come. We want to do more. We want to go all the way. Larry says we have to plan it on a Sunday when the pet store is closed and we have the whole afternoon. We decide on the next Sunday
I call Aunt Zippy and tell her I am going to give my maidenhead to Larry Petchnick in a few days. I tell her he is my true love with blue-green eyes. She says she knows and it’s about time. “Will it hurt very much?” I ask. “Maybe,” is her answer, “but sometimes pain is the gateway to the greatest pleasure. You will understand this more when you are older. Before I hang up she says, “Wear a blue ribbon in your hair and the day will be fair.” I tell her, “Thank you, Aunt Zippy,” and I hang up.
On Sunday we walk to our special spot holding hands. Larry has the plaid blanket from his bed around his neck. I have a bright blue ribbon woven through the braid in my hair.
Larry has a Trojan, the same kind of condom my father keeps in his bed table drawer, in his jeans pocket so we will be safe.
When we get to our spot, he puts the blanket down. We undress each other and then sit down.
I’m scared. I know that once I give up my maidenhead, I will be grown-up, a real woman. I can’t go back to being a girl again. I will be crossing a great divide with a question mark on the other side. I wonder if I should break the silence between us by
telling him I love him.
Before I can get the words out he grabs me in both arms and we join in a kiss. He starts to fuck my mouth with his tongue and I take his prick in my hand. What a big, purple prick my Larry has, so swollen it fills my palm.
I guide it between my legs and he is lying on top of me. He licks my neck, my shoulder. He puts his hand over my breasts, stroking, caressing. He is slow and tender at first but then he gets rough, pulling my nipples, pinching them. I like this even more, waves of wanting spread out into every part of my body. His prick is so hot and heavy against my skin; I think it will break through. Larry puts his hands on my breasts in such a way so that my nipples rest between his wedding-ring fingers and his fuck-you fingers. Slowly he squeezes the fingers together and lifts his hand pulling the rest of my breast up, up, up. My body turns inside out and I become a giant pulsing vacuum wanting him. I am delirious. My head thrashes from side to side and I hear myself say fuck me, fuck me. I don’t want his tongue now. I must have his prick.
“Yes, yes,” Larry says, as he rises and gets the condom from his jeans pocket. He sits
cross-legged as he tears it open and slides it on, sheathing his prick in white. He kisses me again, a soft little kiss, my last kiss as a virgin.
I am lying on my back. I spread my legs for him; open them wide into a “V.” He positions himself above me, leaning himself on his elbows to spare me his full weight. I know it is supposed to hurt but I am not prepared for the sharp slice of pain as my maidenhead rips open.
“Am I hurting you too much?” he asks. I find myself taking long, deep breaths.
“It’s okay,” I tell him. He takes it slow and soon it doesn’t hurt much anymore. As he moves inside me, his pelvis rubs against my mound; it is as if he is rubbing my clitoris, sending sweet thrills down. I am getting wetter and wetter, going with him, lifting my hips up, pulling him deeper in. We go faster and faster, our bodies building a fire that gets hotter and hotter. Then it happens, the heat between us grows and grows. Our insides melt together and we come in a way we have never come before. I feel the way a shooting star looks as it streaks across the sky.
I thought I would hear music like in the romance novels my mother likes to read. I don’t hear any music, not even a violin. Larry is still inside me but his prick is getting smaller.
He kisses my eyes, pulls out of me and rolls over on his back. He pulls the Trojan off and puts it in the sand. With his t-shirt he gently wipes between my legs.
“Is there a lot of blood,” I ask. “Nah,” he answers, hardly any. But when he puts the shirt back on, there is a long red stripe across the front.
“See,” he tells me, “I’m wearing your brand. Want to go for pizza?”
“Sure,” I say.
When I get home the family has already finished dinner. My mother is clearing the table.
“You hungry?” she asks. “No,” I tell her. “I ate pizza with Larry.” She takes a good, long look at me. “All right,” she says but her expression changes. I can’t read her.
That night I am too tired to watch the Ed Sullivan Show with my family. I climb into bed and fall asleep right away. When I wake up, the first rays of faint morning light are rising in the dark sky outside my window. I want to see the sky turn orange. I get up and stand in front of the window. When I look down into our back yard I see my mother kneeling barefoot in her nightgown digging a hole next to the tomato plants. She takes the purple pouch on the purple ribbon off over her neck and drops it in. I watch her bury it,
carefully tapping the earth down with both hands.