In August of 1962, I held a small green parasol above my head. I was newly turned four, and loved the idea
of an umbrella so exotic that it was meant for sunny weather.
Now I can only guess, of course, how I felt about the parasol,
but within the square of this white-framed photo, I am smiling broadly. My mother wears her white oval sunglasses
and looks exactly like Ingrid Bergman.
Everyone said so, and it was certainly true. In the photo, her honey-colored hair says so. Her red lips, her impossibly white blouse
say so. She is behind me, bending over,
her hands on my small tanned shoulders, her whole face laughing. Her pose says, This girl is mine.
My father and my little brother are in the picture, too,
indicating that a stranger was persuaded to point the Brownie at us all. We are in a parking lot; it must be Sunday,
the only day my father didn’t work at the funeral home. My brother is frowning. My father’s dark brown Italian skin and
shiny black hair contrast strongly to my mother’s fair starlet looks.
I have to invent the part that the photograph doesn’t give
away. It’s only a 3 x 3 inch history of
a moment. We’re in the parking lot of
Palisades Amusement Park , where we spent many summer Sunday afternoons. My brother is two, so he’s frowning because
he doesn’t want to wait another minute to see if that tomato-red racing car on
the carousel is empty, or if some other kid is in it right now, when my brother
could have his small hands on the wheel, driving away from the tyranny of
bedtimes, and vegetables to be eaten, and strangers taking family photos.
My father’s squint and his serious half-smile say to the
stranger holding our camera, You’re wondering how I got her? You’re saying to yourself, Does he deserve
this pale glamorous woman? Well, me
too, pal. Me too.
MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA
Remember the funerals of great aunts? Each one’s remaining sisters weeping. Their perfumes and pearls. Their necks of fur.
Your grandfather drove. Each time, it was one of his sisters. You sat quietly in the back with your
younger brother, while your grandfather drove his black Buick Electra.
He paid cash for the Electra, babied
it. He even had the garage in Teaneck,
New Jersey lengthened to accommodate its hulking size. Your grandmother had a quiet fit when she
lost a third of her kitchen to it.
An elegant car, but big. A well-heeled gentleman who’s just a bit too
large for his tux.
way to the great aunts’ funerals in the black Electra, your grandmother sat
quietly in the front passenger seat, which was about three-quarters of a mile
away from the driver’s seat. Sometimes
she looked out the window, maybe taking in the brown or blue houses passing by,
the styles of their curtains, other people’s rhododendrons. Maybe she counted the number of chimneys or
eyelid dormers between her house and the funerals.
Why don’t you remember attending the
funerals of great uncles? Didn’t they
die eventually, too? Perhaps they’ve
outlived your grandparents. They’ve
remarried and are dying very slowly in Florida.
Remember when the three pairs of greats came to visit your
grandparents in Teaneck? Great Aunt
Marion brought you a bunny-shaped dish, or was that for your brother? In any case, you were both already too old
Her husband, Great Uncle Chamberlain
smoked cigars the size of your
arm, and had that
ridiculous first name. Other than that,
not much comes to mind.
Great Aunt Lottie and her husband Uncle
R.D. were there, too. What did “R.D.”
stand for? No one ever told you, but
you and your brother had ideas. When
entered the room, you saw
a plum-colored shadow swim across your grandmother’s face. She almost backed into you when he leaned
into her for a kiss. She wore the apron
with the blue boats and pilgrims on it, and you saw her small hands run into
the front pocket and stay there. She
seemed afraid, so your brother whispered in your ear that “R.D.” meant “Really
The other greats who came that day were
Aunt Rose and Uncle Charles. Rose was
quiet, tall and pale like an egret. She
seemed very fragile, and this made her a little scary.
Great Uncle Charles told those jokes in
which the child was always made the buffoon, and everyone laughed, but the
children stood there not getting it.
It was hard to tell how your grandmother felt about her
sisters-in-law. She spent many hours
cooking in the one-third smaller kitchen when they visited that day. The aunts followed the uncles into the
garage for your grandfather’s viewing of the Electra. In the kitchen, your grandmother’s small frame hunched over the
pots, her dark hair curled in the steam of boiling cauliflower and beans.
Eventually you’d all arrive at the great
aunt’s funeral, the surviving sisters posed like very tall birds on the steps
of the chapel, graceful and smelling like lilies. It was winter when they died.
Your grandmother told you that the clock
in her kitchen stopped at the exact hour of the great aunt’s death. And now you remember her telling you that
about another aunt, at another funeral.
You remember that distinctly. That, and your grandfather’s Electra,
shining, black as loam, when he turned to look at it on his way up the steps to
his sister’s funeral, the trace of a smile, nevertheless, on his face.
Melissa Montimurro is still in the rural northwest of the state, teaching workshops and writing.
Most recently, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the journals Runes, Square Lake,
The Comstock Review, and Tundra, and online at Sidereality, Poetrybay, and Can We Have Our Ball Back?
stories by Nancy Priff and Melissa Montimurro