THE BEST IN THE CITY; PARADE; FIREFLIES
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.
His office smelled like
the same disinfect they used
to wipe the middle school
The faded magazines in the waiting room
were every month’s issue of
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
searching like a surveyor
for the hidden ridges.
“Scoliosis,” the doctor announced tenderly,
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
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
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.
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 Dermarblend under eyes in patting motion
and blend into surrounding skin.
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
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
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
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.
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?
Yet at the cemetery he tried of throw himself
into my mother’s newly dug plot.
Take me too.
He closed his eyes once, twice,
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
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.