Scarlet Mantle Goes to Goodwill
by Marina J. Neary
Road to Kabul
I found Bailey at the train station. His briefcase was open. Sketches and photographs that he had prepared for his interview were flying all over the tracks. I noticed a few red stains on his shirt; he always got nosebleeds in times of stress. I wiped his nose with the bottom of my dress. He didn’t protest.
“Did you have any friends there?” I asked him.
“Just Chris... And Brian... And Jimmy... I was actually looking forward to eating lunch with them every day for the next thirty years. It would be just like high school all over again, except without bullies to steal our chocolate milk. The four of us would sit there and trade baseball cards, and talk about Godzilla, and Spiderman. Looks like there’s a new breed of bullies out there.”
I never met Chris, or Brian, or Jimmy, but I knew I had to say something comforting to my husband before his nose started bleeding again.
“Listen, Bailes, you’ll just have to get over it. If something happened to Amy-Leigh, I’d probably cry for a few days, but then I’d find another angry interracial butch to take her place. Nobody’s irreplaceable. Besides, you still have Evan. He’s alive. He tolerates you. He’ll take you fishing. Don’t worry about not having enough of wholesome male companionship. I think that now we should go to Kabul.”
Bailey opened his mouth and shook his head.
“No, silly, Norwalk, CT. It’s a restaurant! We had an office party there a few months ago. I even became friends with the owner. Omar always gives me extra cuscus on the side. Their specials are to die for, and I’m starving. I lost my breakfast — twice.”
Bailey opened his mouth even wider, and then jumped to his feet.
“Well, don’t let me ruin your appetite! I’m glad that you’re still in touch with your cravings, even in the face of national tragedy.”
Now it was my turn to explode.
“Oh, beat it, Bailes! I’m carrying your offspring, and I’m starving. So, if you don’t mind...”
“Can’t you pick something more patriotic? This is the time for hotdogs and root beer. Why do we have to pay our American dollars to that filthy Muslim?”
Just for the record, Omar was not Muslim. He was Episcopalian. He graduated from Oxford and spoke a British accent. He had more active brain cells than Bailey and I put together. The restaurant was just one of the many things he owned. Half of South Norwalk belonged to him. Every Christmas, he donated tons of money to charity. We had to show him our support. It was just a matter of hours before the local skinheads would trash his restaurant.
Bailey had no strength to argue with me and silently turned on his car. The radio was playing “My Sweet Lord”. Towards the end of the song Bailey started nodding his head and moving his lips. He loved George Harrison. Nothing on earth could diminish his devotion to the Quiet Beatle.
We passed by the house where Amy lived. She was sitting on the porch in her polyester pajamas, eating artificially colored fruit loops out of the box. I rolled down the window and waved at her. She did not notice me or pretended that she didn’t.
“People grieve differently,” Bailey said. “Some need to be alone.”
“She’s not grieving,” I replied. “She hates America. She hates humanity. She can’t wait for the world to end.”
“Well, I guess she won’t be going to Kabul with us,” Bailey muttered and turned up the radio.
That night we spent at my parents’ McFortress on Cascade Road. I desperately wanted to see Kitty-Cat, and Bailey wanted to see Evan, one of his few remaining male friends.
Kitty-Cat was sitting on the leather sofa, with her tan, freshly shaved legs crossed, her neon toenails glowing in the twilight. She did not stand up when we arrived but only turned her frosted head to the window and murmured in Russian:
“My business is in the gutter. Another Great Depression will hit, and people won’t be able to afford music lessons. I’ll have to go back to working for five bucks an hour. And I still have to pay off the grand piano!”
I climbed up on the sofa next to Kitty-Cat.
“Upstairs, in his den,” she replied in English. “He gave blood today. My sweet little patriot! Sometimes I’m glad I married an American. Your biological father would never do such a thing. He wouldn’t do that for his own family members. You know, you could lay on the ground with both legs blown off, and he would stand there, nattering on about his joyless childhood. He says he hates his childhood, but I have a suspicion that deep inside he loves it. He hasn’t outgrown it to this day. By the way, Rinnie, he called me here, looking for you. I had the pleasure of hearing his drunken voice.”
It was a perfect time to change the topic of the conversation.
“I hope I have your stomach muscles when I’m forty-eight,” I said to Kitty-Cat.
“Well, you have to wean yourself off of ice cream and do sit-ups.”
“That’s not what I meant. I hope I live to be forty-eight.”
She turned to Bailey and ordered abruptly:
“Young man, go to the kitchen and get your wife a nice hard drink. This instant! Don’t you see she’s hysterical?”
“But she’s pregnant,” Bailey murmured.
“Big deal! I drank while I was carrying Rinnie, and she turned out just fine. Look at her! Is there anything wrong with this girl? Now be a good boy, and fix her a Bloody Mary. I think we should all go outside and have cocktails by the pool, under the stars. This may be our last year in this neighborhood, kiddies. Now that Evan is unemployed, we may end up losing the house.”
“Mrs. Griff, the cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck. It may cause oxygen deprivation.”
“The leading cause of cerebral palsy!” the nurse chimed in cheerfully. “You’ll need a c-section. We’ll operate as soon as the anesthesiologist gets here — in another fifteen-twenty minutes.”
I grabbed manicure scissors from the table and put the tip to my navel.
“I’m going to cut myself right now!”
“I wouldn’t do it, Mrs. Griff,” the doctor said. “You’ll bleed to death.”
“I don’t care! I’d rather die.”
“Darling,” he mumbled, “don’t be silly. The good doctor knows what he’s doing. Here, I brought you some magazines.”
He bent over to give me a kiss, but I raised my leg, ready to kick him in the chest, and whispered those magical words that had a new meaning after September 11.
“Your mama sleeps with Arabs.”
Seriously, at that moment I wanted to die. Not because I would die for my baby. No, nothing of that sort. I meant I would rather die than be stuck with a baby that was anything less than perfect.
“We’ll do general anesthesia on her,” I heard the doctor say. “Spinal won’t work. It just doesn’t feel right sticking a needle into her back. She’s the wiggliest patient we’ve had. I tell you, those twenty-something screamers...”
When I woke up, my hair was in hot rollers. Kitty-Cat was applying shadow to my eyelids. A red silk robe from Victoria’s Secret was dripping from the chair.
“It’s your scarlet mantle, honey,” Kitty-Cat said. “You totally deserve it. You took this nasty c-section like a trooper. I was out shopping, and I saw this cute little bathrobe, and I thought it would be perfect for you. My sweet little Rinnie! Those hospital robes are so ugly. You can’t pose for your first postpartum photo shoot in something like that.”
Bailey was also in the room, loading film into his camera.
“Where’s the baby?” I asked.
“In intensive care,” Bailey replied. “They had to pump the fluid out of his lungs. Then he got cold, so they put him into a pan that looks like a French-fryer. It’s pretty funny, actually.”
When the anesthesia wore off, I examined my hospital room. Josh sent me a cake shaped like the Twin Towers. No bakery in New York would make it, so he asked his mother.
Around 8 pm the baby arrived from the intensive care unit, sooner than I had expected or was prepared to see him. They plopped him on my stomach. Allen Ryan Griff. Seven pounds, eight ounces. A male version of me, with beady eyes and what promised to be a prominent nose. At last, my penis envy would be satisfied.
He still smelled like blood. When his nails sunk into my breasts, and his hot slippery jaws closed around my nipple, I laughed so hard that the stitches on my cervix nearly popped. I laughed, because everyone expected me to cry.
He remained in my room for the night. I was really hoping to get one last night of sound sleep before assuming my maternal duties, but the nurses said we should bond. When everyone was gone, I reached out and scratched his head that looked like a giant peach, pink and fuzzy. That was the way I intended on keeping him at arm’s length. I was determined to become best evening-and-weekend mother in the world. I kept thinking of all the money I would spend on the gift certificates for his nannies, tutors and piano instructors. I would be the most generous employer, the most grateful client. Just because I’m a Russian immigrant, it doesn’t mean that I can’t pretend to be a New England corporate bitch once in a while.
Little by little, I started singing a melody that only he could hear:
Hush, little piggy, don’t make an oink.
Mama’s gonna get you a girl to boink.
And if the girl does not put out,
Mama’s gonna buy you a case of stout.
And if the stout is warm and flat,
Mama’s gonna get you a Persian cat.
And if the cat makes you look like a fag,
Daddy’s gonna buy you an Irish flag.
And if the flag gets burned by the Brits,
Daddy’s gonna blow them all to bits.
And if your Daddy goes to jail,
Mama’s gonna put up ten grand for bail.
And if ten grand is not enough,
Mama’s gonna take her panties off.
That night I was dreaming of a giant boat sailing off from the Long Island Sound. Josh and Amy were standing on the deck, snuggling under the scarlet mantle, waving goodbye to me.
Copyright © 2009 by Marina J. Neary