You’re in Pier One, a sort–of upscale Oriental import store, about to spend $800 on an armoire the saleslady tells you is from Indonesia. You’ve been stalking the armoire for weeks, popping into Pier One on your lunch hour, wandering amidst tinted blue glassware ringed with red rubies, a mirrored bedroom set you find totally undesirable, and rattan love seats with matching chairs and ottomans painted an unattractive maroon like the color of the Ford Spitfire your parents had in the 1950s. But the armoire you’ve been eyeing has a delicate indefinable color, a cross between lime green and teal blue that reminds you of summer and the scent of the ocean.
You have outgrown your hippie days when rent was a bourgeois obligation you felt entitled to ignore. You no longer stuff your underwear into a milk crate and push it under your bed. You now have a law degree, a well-paying job, a dresser, credit cards, woolen suits, high heel shoes.
Despite the mini-drama of your lunch-hour comings and goings, you know you’re going to buy the armoire. You just need gestation time. The saleslady has a high tolerance for 236
your strain of aberrant behavior, feigned ambivalence, as natural for you as gravity’s pull, always present, weighing you down.
It should be, you think, the simplest of formulae: See. Like. Want. Buy. But nothing is simple for you about wanting.
Twelve years old, you and your mother are on the subway barreling towards the department stores in Downtown Brooklyn. You secret your teenage heart’s passions—the plaid-pleated skirt all the girls are wearing, the baby-blue cardigan, soft as desire—inside your not-quite-blossoming body, two bullets for tits is mostly what you remember. Your mother insists on rummaging through the sales racks at May’s, the marked-down, everything’s-a-bargain mecca for those who hurt for money, and those, like your mother, who can’t stand to spend it. Your mother heads for the Junior’s department in the sub-basement, where miscellaneous rejects—a cardigan minus its buttons, a skirt missing a zipper—hang in out-of-size order.
As the escalator clanks down, you reluctantly ask, “How about going to A & S?” telling yourself, don’t let her know how much you’d prefer it. A for Abraham and S for Strauss is the upscale store down the block.
“Don’t be fooled by chichi labels and fancy names,” your mother says.
You scour the miscellanea until you find a lemon yellow blouse. You pull it off the rack, count the buttons, hold its billowy cotton up to the florescent lights, checking for stains. You say to your mother, “I think it’s ugly,” for in the exhausting strategy you perfected in childhood you know that your not wanting the blouse may be reason enough for your mother to buy it.
Now at Pier One, there’s cash in your checking account and credit on your charge cards, so money’s not the issue. The saleslady recognizes you, the recidivist ruminator, and slogs over.
“So, how’s work?” she asks.
“The usual,” you say, curt and dismissive, the way you usually talk to your mother.
“Is today finally the day?” she asks.
You’re about to say “yup” when suddenly all you can think is, what would my mother say?
But you know what your mother would say. After ogling the price tag, she’d say, So much for an armoire? Really? Or she’d say, What’s wrong with closets? Or say, Such thin wood. You should get a darker color, even though the thickness of wood has nothing to do with its color.
The saleslady takes out her pen. She begins to scribble the model number on a pad she’s pulled from her apron pocket. But instead of “yup,” you say “stop.” You tell her you want to think about it, because first, you have to deal with your mother.
“Your mother’s here?” she says.
“Often,” you say.
You sit in a black-and-white rattan chair, its back arced into the shape of peacock feathers, part of the outdoor patio display. A combination flamboyant fowl and Oriental throne, the chair sells for $450, and you can’t imagine anyone who would be out of her mind enough to buy it.
“It’s my money,” you say to your mother once you’ve settled into the rattan chair.
“So, go spend it,” she says. She bends go spend it into its opposite: Why in the world would you want to buy that stupid armoire?
So you say, “Don’t be nasty.”
“Who’s being nasty?”
“You know exactly who’s being nasty.”
Then she says, “I know who’s not being nasty.”
You’re about to say, “yeah, who?” but before the gunfire gets out of control, you realize you’re never going to get your mother to drop the who’s-being-nasty-to-who stuff. She is, like you’re afraid you’ve become, stubborn.
The saleslady waves from across the store. You wave back, so she saunters over.
“What’s up?” she says. “Did you get through to your mother?”
“Still trying,” you tell her.
As soon as the saleslady’s out of earshot, you say to your mother, “What do you really think of the armoire, Mom?” though you don’t know whether what your mother thinks makes a difference to you anymore, or you just wish it did.
So you don’t know why you’re making such a fuss, or why you’re stuck in the peacock chair waiting for your mother to tell you the armoire’s a fascinating color, a teal that’s tender, like green, and a green that feels blue, like the color of the ocean.
Then you remember running zigzag over the scorching sand, pail and shovel in hand, resting your burning feet on other families’ blankets while your mother lugs the cooler, blanket, and chairs to where her friends sit. You are seven, a spry girl but a tentative swimmer. “No,” your mother shouts as you race towards the ocean. The spray tickles your face. The wet sand soothes your feet. Birds caw. Shrieks of delight merge with the roll of the ocean.
You picture your mother. The straw hat, the sunbaked skin, the unruly hair, the ruby lips, her fulsome breasts packed into a dark navy bathing suit, hands on her hips, planted like a monument in the shifting sand.
You pull yourself out of the peacock chair and wave to the saleslady who’s kept her cautious eye on you. You wonder whether she’s concerned about the sale or worried about you. She hurries over.
“Today’s the day,” you tell her.
“You got through to your mother?” the saleslady asks.
You want to say yes, whether or not it’s not true. But before you can, your mother whispers, “Tell the saleslady I never said ‘no,’ ” though she knows that’s not the truth.
Your mother follows as you proceed to the cash register. She hovers, like bated breath, as you wrestle your Amex card, both rigid and bendable, out of your wallet. Once wrenched free, you grip it like an unruly child, afraid it might slip from your hands.
“One of my favorites,” the saleslady says, pointing past the chaos of the tinseled glassware and the clamor of neon blue to the armoire, its elusive color a wish, an ache, an inchoate longing.