THE BEST IN THE CITY; PARADE; FIREFLIES
By: Penny Jackson
THE BEST IN THE CITY
“You must be wrong,” my mother said, her face scrunched in disgust like a crumpled Kleenex. “I was lucky to even find an appointment. He’s the best in the city.” She closed the door with such finality that It felt like a blow to my chest. I went into my bedroom and stared at my face in the mirror. I was the same. But I was not the same. My eyes could not travel beyond my neck. That’s where it happened. That’s what was guilty. He was the best in the city. Dr. Simon. Spine specialist. His office smelled like the same disinfect they used to wipe the middle school luncheon tables. The faded magazines in the waiting room were every month’s issue of Reader’s Digest from the previous year. The kind nurse with the blonde braids walked swiftly out when the doctor entered. His white coat seemed so bleached that it was beyond white In the way that snow in the sun is beyond white And his hands were cold too. His nails perfectly manicured with a faint sheen like a shell. I can’t remember his face but I still hear the air-conditioner wheezing softly feel the frigid chill of the room, as my skin prickled with goosebumps. He never even said my name as his long fingers traced the contours of my spine searching like a surveyor for the hidden ridges. “Scoliosis,” the doctor announced tenderly, proudly as if scoliosis was a new rare blossom he just discovered. I thought the examination was over. Yet those fingers with the manicured nails suddenly drifted to my breasts as if moved by a breeze and remained there for what seemed like an eternity or maybe it was only for a few seconds. I could only stare at the black framed medical certificates on the wall Columbia University the only name I recognized. Now no longer his fingers but his hands as they traveled up and down my breasts in clockwise motion circling around my nipples and then a knock on the door. The doctor walked to the window. I stumbled into the hallway. No longer cold but burning. The nurse with the braids smiled at me. as she escorted another young girl Into the same room. I told my mother immediately. and after her response I went into the bathroom with scissors and hacked off a chunk of my hair Too scared to actually cut skin. The rest of Seventh Grade was a blur. Jeffrey Epstein was found dead today And once again I feel the same mute fury to my mother’s denial of my assault. Yet she still does not believe me. “He was the best in the city,” implying that Dr. Simon is dead. And I am glad. Yet still. Decades later I feel his fingers trace the lace butterfly on my training bra. A graffiti that will never be erased.
She knew the directions by heart: Apply moisturizer. Apply foundation Apply Dermarblend under eyes in patting motion and blend into surrounding skin. Finally, set with powder. The first time he gave her the black eye the makeup worked. No one in the office noticed. Although she had to keep reapplying every hour. But when he punched her in both eyes Dermablend proved to be more challenging. The “high-performance” cream that “hid all of your imperfectins” just wasn’t a match for her boyfriend’s clenched knuckles or studded silver rings. Instead she called in sick and Googled how to hide facial scars. Green concelear was best to cover the redness but her black eyes were still a carnival of colors; fuschia, gold, navy and magenta. Sunglasses was the easier alternative. A cataract operation, she told people. Even though twenty-eight was too young for cataracts. One morning the subway train suddeny stopped. Her sunglasses flying across the car. The woman who picked them up stared at her rainbow eyes, lids so swollen they would be miniature golf balls and handed her a small white card with a phone number. A year later she has thrown out all the lying makeup: foundation, setting power, concealer. All the tubes of Dermablend. No more patting motions. No more boyfriend. A new city. A new job. “What is the opposite of hide?” she had asked at her first meeting. “Parade,” a woman shouted, As everyone clapped as loudly as fireworks exploding a night sky.
The last five minutes my father spoke of fireflies. He was a man made of Manhattan subterranean subways and asphalt as arid as any desert. A firefly only lives long enough to mate, he said between rattling breaths. Has he been watching a nature show? I asked the hospice nurse who shook her head. My mother has been dead for two decades. She hated the outdoors And lived her life in the overheated sanctuary of a Bronx apartment overlooking the car fumes of the highway. Why fireflies? I am still not sure he even loved her. Their arguments propelling my brother and I in the closet breathing in the pine scent of the cedar chest which protected decades old sweaters from invading moths. Was my father marveling at the once in a lifetime opportunity for love? Or regret? Yet at the cemetery he tried of throw himself into my mother’s newly dug plot. Shouting, Take me too. He closed his eyes once, twice, lashes flickering. It will soon be time, The nurse murmured. Suddenly I remembered. The scientist on television warning fireflies are vanishing. Our children may never see them again. Yet outside my father’s window a flicker of light hovering glimmering. Then darkness.
Penny Jackson's novel BECOMING THE BUTLES is published by Bantam Books and her collection of short stories, L.A. CHILD, is published by Untreed Reads. Writing awards include a Pushcart Prize, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship and The Elizabeth Janeway prize from Barnard College. She is also a produced playwright and a screenplay writer. Her new short film, My DINNER WITH SCHWARTZEY, is currently in the film festival circuit. www.pennybrandtjackson.com "The Best In The City" was triggered by the new of Jeffrey Epstein's suicide. A long repressed memory surfaced and I had to write this poem in order to explore my feelings about a sexual assault that wasn't recognized. This of the three poems was my most personal and the most difficult to create. "Parade" was inspired when I read about a warning on a makeup to cover scars. The makeup directions actually said that if you were a victim of abuse, that there was an organization that could help you. I also remember seeing a woman with a black eye on the subway and another woman approaching her with a white card. I wanted the ending to be celebratory, and that is why I choose the image of a parade. "Fireflies" is about death. I recently lost my mother-in-law and several friends had lost their parents too. I was also interested in how fireflies only lives long enough to mate and that they could soon be extinct.The story about the husband trying to throw himself in his wife's grave is true. I hope the final image of light in the darkness would be inspiring for such a dark topic.