Considering the world as something more than the space you simply reside in has always been difficult for me. Mom said it's 'cause I'm a Leo. Leos are brave, and strong, but also selfish, she lamented to me as her bony fingers turned the pages of her ratty, tattered book of zodiac horoscopes and stuff. She let it define her life, every choice she made. It was thick and small, with a pink cover and a silhouette of a hand, with an eye in the middle. Sort of like the illuminati symbol on the dollar bill, but that's a pyramid.
It was a fall morning, I think, when she talked about my dad. I don't remember him at all; he left when I turned one. The only picture that Mom let me keep of him is a Polaroid that's bleached from laying on my windowsill in the sun all the time. Sometimes when I go to bed, I look at it. We're sitting on the scratchy old plaid couch in my grandma's basement, and I'm sitting there on his knee, in nothing but a diaper. I guess I wasn't an ugly baby, but I sure had some weird hair. It was super curly, and sprung out of my scalp in coils. I'm smiling a big drooly baby smile. My dad isn't looking at the camera, he's looking at me. He sort of looks like Santa Clause before he got old, I guess. He was fat and pasty pale like me. He had this beard that looked like it would be scratchy if you touched it.
He had these weird, purple-blue eyes though. They caught the light at just the angle so that you could see the mischief in his eyes. Maybe Mom saw the mischief in his eyes and knew he would be fun to hang around, or maybe she somehow knew that he had a wandering eye.
But I wasn't about to press her on that subject.
It was a particularly dismal day in the North End. We lived in this higgledy-piggledy brownstone that looked like it was gonna fall over any second. It wasn't really built all that well, but it's all Mom could afford with her telephone psychic job. She would work late into the nights, and I would hear snippets of conversations she had as they seeped underneath my door jamb. One time, I heard her telling a client that Richard Nixon was devil spawn on Earth, and not to vote for him that year. Boy, was she right.
Anyway, back to that fall day. I got up like it was any other morning. I did my frizzy blonde locks into messy braids, washed my face, brushed my teeth, and put on my favorite flowery peasant shirt and bellbottoms. They were my favorite pieces of clothing, since I'd ordered them from the Sears catalog by myself. It made me giddy, 'cause I was sneaking glances at Mom all the while I talked to the customer service person on the phone. Her wrinkles were deep around her mouth as she frowned in disgust. She thought revealing clothes were whorish.
I headed down the hall to the kitchen. Mom was sitting at the Formica, smoking. She always smoked long ones, that took a long time to dwindle down to nothing. She had her book with her, of course.
“Mellie, come here for a second.” She crooked her finger. “I need to tell you something.”
I headed over, and sat down across from her. “Yeah?” It wasn’t often that she asked me to do stuff for her.
“Let me tell ya somethin’ bout your dad.” She set her watery blue eyes on me, they were ringed with what she called kohl. It was an Egyptian thing.
“Okay, what?” Her breath smelled like Jack Daniel’s. Musty and sour.
“ My whole life has been a scam.I thought your dad was the real deal, and I let him get away. ” She sighed, dropping her head.
She never raised it back up. I pulled her book from her cold, acrylic grasp and set it in front of me. The page about Aquaruises was dog-eared.
The Aquarius is one of the most fluid, unattainable signs there is. They enjoy being independent and carefree, and see the world as their oyster. Maybe my dad was an Aquarius, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. My mind’s wanderings came back down when I saw my mom’s milky irises. Her eyes were still open. I closed the lids, and called the morgue.
I waited until the medical people came, in their filmy green pajamas. A tall, wiry guy looks at me with these pitiful eyes. The short, fat guy by his side helps him lift my mom onto a vinyl gurney-thing and covered her with a sheet. A police officer stepped in, big shouldered and stuff. His frame was rectangularish. Is that a word? I hope it is.
He knelt down and set a hand on my shoulder. His watery blue eyes looked..uncertain, is all I could say.
I blocked out his deep, lilting voice and looked at the book.
I would have to wait a little longer until I considered the world beyond myself. At least until my mom was laid to rest in the ground.