by Michelle Reale
The girls mimic her reflection in the mirror. They toss alphabet chips on the baby boy’s tongue to stop the crying. The mother blots her greasy lipstick with toilet paper, preparing for her character in Yiddish Revival Theater at the nursing home. She cannot act. She is not Jewish. She places her gold cross on the bathroom sink. Her son’s father, younger than she thought possible, takes in the length of her from the bedroom doorway. She maybe isn’t pregnant again. He hopes. You know how hard it is to keep a man? she asks her daughters, preparing for the stage, her precious souvenirs from the chain-smoking poet from Gdansk. Their eyes glowed, slanted, like remnants from the steppes. Her man hauls their son up by his arm. She winces. He slaps the car keys in her hand, refuses her red kiss. The play is full of twists and turns. She can hear the strange inflection of her own voice on stage. She breaks a rule, stares into the audience full of people long past their prime. She forgets where she is. On the way home, she grips the steering wheel with one hand, scrapes at the thick layers of makeup with the other. In the back seat, the girls ball up her tissues in tight, white-knuckled fists. Her man sits at the kitchen table, one hand on his lap. She resorts to dry tears. A delicate hand to her head. This is how we got here in the first place, he says.