SALTY TEARS

My life-long friend sat beside me, holding my hand as I lay crumbled in bed. Her eyes were rheumy from too many tears, very uncharacteristic of her; I was used to her carefree, bawdy laugh – just one of the many things we had in common.

“Is there anyone you’d like to talk to … besides me, that is?” she asked, already aware of what my answer would be.

“If you mean a priest, you know better than that” I whispered in reply. “No. I’m ready to go. And you’ll be on my heels, toots!” My friend cackled; she knew I spoke the truth but it did not frighten her. Like me, she had enough of this mortal coil.

We’d been through a lot together, she and I. We thought of each other as sisters, not just best friends. There was only one secret I never shared with her or anyone and I would take that to my grave. I knew I wouldn’t have to wait much longer.

We had both lost our husbands a couple of years earlier; hers went first and mine followed shortly after. We were there for each other through it all. Part of me was relieved my husband went before me; he had always been the stalwart in our marriage, a steady rock who cared for our family without complaint. He was stronger than me; I always knew that and at times it made me feel ashamed because I doubted I could do for him what he did for me. He cared for me even when he was exhausted and ready to drop. How he cried seeing me in pain; he thought I didn’t know but I could hear him weeping late at night. He loved me with all his being until his last day; he slipped away in his sleep without a chance to say goodbye – perhaps the kindest way for both of us. It would have killed him if I’d gone first, leaving him alone.

“I’m so pissed off” I said, making my friend laugh again.

Tell me about it!” she replied colloquially. “I feel your pain, sis.” And I knew she truly did.

Damn this arthritis, this crippling disease that turned me into a twisted dried up old vine! “Remember when I was a hot number a thousand years ago? My melons were nice and firm back then!”

“Haha!! They called us ‘The Honey-Do Twins!” and we both laughed again, happy memories of our once supple bodies dancing around in our brains. 

“What the fuck happened?” and again we cracked up. Our laughs turned to coughs and gradually we calmed ourselves. I strained my eyes to look at my dear friend; at this point, my mouth and my eyes were my only body parts that moved on their own without pain.

I’ve got one regret” I whispered. “I should have fought harder. I let this damn crippler control me. I should have pushed myself, done more with my family and friends. I pray they understand and forgive me. I wanted to spend more time with them, live a fuller life; I just hurt too damn much.”

Tears ran down my face and my friend wiped them away. “Do you want me to call your sons?” she asked.

No, not now. Wait till it’s over. I can’t bear to look at them.” Even now I’m thinking of myself. What a coward! “Kiss me goodbye, sis. I’ll see you on the other side. I love you very much, you know.”

My friend leaned over from her wheelchair; she gently pushed my hair aside and kissed my cheek, our salty tears mingling. 

“Goodbye, my dearest friend. I love you” she murmured, even though she knew I could no longer hear her. “I’ll be right behind you.”

NAR © 2022

EAT MY DUST

Particularly sensitive about her bright red hair, twelve-year-old Moira was constantly teased and ridiculed by the other kids in school. A day didn’t go by when she wasn’t under attack, either verbally or physically. The bratty kids would run after Moira, pulling her hair and calling her Devil Girl or Carrot-top. They’d force her off the bus and chase her home where she’d run inside crying, hiding in her room.

Moira’s mother begged the principal to do something but he claimed his hands were tied. “Kids will be kids. What do you expect me to do – expel all the students?” was his cavalier comment.

Aside from her cousin Andrew, Moira had only one true friend – a confident and strong-willed girl named Tanya, one of the few black students in their school. Tanya’s brother Justin taught her how to handle herself. She was no coward and would blast the other kids, making them back off. “Stick with me, girl! We’ll show those fools some day!” Tanya would laughingly say to Moira, putting her arm around her shoulder. Nothing seemed to bother Tanya but that was far from true. She felt the prejudice every day; she just never revealed her emotions and would wait until she was safe in her mother’s comforting embrace to vent her frustrations.

Fortunately the friends had something in their favor: they were both incredibly beautiful. Unlike most redheads Moira’s creamy face had no freckles, her eyes were a bewitching hazel and her hair was straight and lustrous, not a shock of fire-red curls like Little Orphan Annie. Tanya’s complexion was like velvet, the color of hot cocoa. Her eyes were a glistening golden-brown and her jet-black cornrows were luxurious and silky smooth. Their exquisite good looks confused the fickle boys and threatened the jealous girls.

Tanya and Moira remained close all through their teen years. High school wasn’t a cakewalk for the girls; every day a new challenge would present itself and the friends would put on a brave face. Tanya became Moira’s coach, teaching her everything she learned from her brother. Slowly Moira’s confidence became stronger and school wasn’t such a living hell.

Not one boy had the guts to ask Moira or Tanya to the prom which was no surprise. “Screw it!” was Tanya’s reaction. “Who needs them?!” Moira came up with a wild idea and when she shared it with her friend, Tanya grinned and said “You’re on, girl. Let’s do this thing!”

On the day of the big dance the friends went to the salon for “the works” – nails, hair and makeup. When they were done they looked amazing and totally different, playing a crazy game of trading places.

The outcasts walked into the prom not knowing what to expect but once everyone saw them, all trepidation disappeared. The boys were dumbstruck, mouth gaping open while the girls stared, seething with envy. Moira was on Justin’s arm while Tanya walked hand-in-hand with Andrew.

They left everyone eating their dust.

NAR © 2020

I GEMELLI

Resemblance can be a freaky thing. Supposedly everyone has a doppelgänger; someone out there is a duplicate of you with your mother’s eyes, your father’s nose and that annoying mole you’ve always wanted to have removed. Apparently there’s a 1 in 135 chance that there are several pairs of clones walking around, each completely unaware of the other’s existence.

Speaking of doppelgängers, my husband has an identical twin – exactly the same in every way except their political leanings and choice in women. All their lives people have called Bill by his brother’s name and the same is true of Jim. Even our sons look more like brothers than cousins and have been confusing people for years.

In his late teens Bill had a cyst just below his right eye. After surgery he was left with a tiny, almost imperceptible scar. At last, something to differentiate the twins! A few months later while doing repairs on a boat, Jim turned his head abruptly, banged into a pipe and cut his face. He now has a tiny, almost imperceptible scar in the exact place as Bill. Identical right down to their scars!

My cousin Franco has lived his entire life in Sicily. The first time my family traveled to Europe I was about 14 years old and met my cousin for the first time. The strong resemblance between us was undeniable. We could easily pass for fraternal twins or, at the very least, siblings. It was simultaneously amusing and disconcerting for both of us. Everyone referred to us as “I Gemelli” “The Twins” – so named for the thin tubes of pasta twisted around each other. Fifty-plus years later and our resemblance remains strong; however, Franco has a mustache and beard and I, fortunately, do not!

It’s been said, and scientists concur, that the longer people have a pet the more they begin to resemble that pet. Pure-bred dogs have been matched to their owners by strangers time and time again. I wonder if the same can be said about husbands and wives or perhaps even friends. Apparently, that phenomenon is true. I can’t explain it – I’m not a scientist, just a writer of stories. However, the possibility became quite real when events unfolded at my son’s wedding.

There were many people in attendance, friends and family alike. My sister Rosemarie was one of the guests as was Debby, my next-door neighbor and best friend for the past 35 years. I should point out at this time that while Rosemarie and I have some familial similarities, we really don’t look alike.

Time arrived for the family photo session. The music was playing, people were dancing the Macarena and mingling about. Janet, the wedding photographer was scrambling around trying to wrangle immediate family members for photos. Craning her neck for a better look into the crowded room, Janet turned to me in surprise and said, “You’ve been keeping secrets from me!”

I was rather perplexed by that comment and asked Janet what she meant, to which she replied, “I know your husband has a twin brother but I had no idea you have a twin sister!”

Then it hit me: Janet was talking about my friend Debby who does indeed look a lot more like my sister than my real sister! Many people have said we look like twins and it just so happened, totally by coincidence, that Debby and I were wearing the same dress that day; the only difference was I wore deep purple while Debby chose black.

I laughed and said to Janet “I really hate to burst your bubble but she’s not my sister; she’s my best friend.” I spotted Rosemarie in the crowd and pointed her out to the photographer. “See the woman in the cream-colored dress? That’s my sister.”

It took a lot of convincing for Janet to accept the fact that Debby wasn’t my twin sister; I think she may still be somewhat skeptical. I wonder: would the same people who matched the pet owners with their dogs match me and Debby as twins?

You be the judge.

Me and Debby
Rosemarie and me

NAR © 2020

MY DEAREST FRIEND

Known to everyone as Baby Mary, she was my dearest friend for three fleeting years, from age four to seven. Nearly six decades later and I can still picture her heart-shaped face the color of warm caramel framed by waves of chocolate-brown hair, her wide eyes glistening shyly.

At the time my family occupied the corner house of a row of two-family homes on Eastchester Road in The Bronx. Baby Mary and her large family, the Romanos, shared one house. She lived on the ground floor with her parents, maternal grandmother and older brother. Her aunt, uncle, cousins and paternal grandmother lived upstairs. We were just three houses away – close enough for little girls to run giggling back and forth multiple times a day. We spent all our time together, busy with important little girl things.

The residents of Eastchester Road were immigrants; they were not partisans but adhered devoutly to their Italian heritage and love of family. They were proud to be living in the United States and strove to become citizens; some passed the test, others didn’t. We delighted in celebrating all the traditional Italian holidays and festivities. Christmastime was a veritable light show, everyone in friendly competition for the most impressive decorations.

I was fascinated by Baby Mary’s mother and grandmother. They did piecemeal work from home, sewing little bows onto ladies’ panties. Their hands moved like quicksilver as they sat in their crowded living room watching soap operas and sewing. I rarely saw Baby Mary’s father; he worked in New Jersey in his cousin’s shoe repair shop and only came home on weekends.

At the age of five Baby Mary and I started kindergarten. Every morning my mother would walk us to school and pick us up in the afternoon. The best times were when she came to get us in her car. My mother was one of the few women in our neighborhood who had a driver’s license. We would gleefully hop into her Ford, begging she take us to Carvel for ice cream. Sometimes we’d stop for gas and my mother would complain about the price being 30 cents a gallon, calling it highway robbery.

When it was time for us to go to first grade, my parents decided to send me to a different school. It was the first time I was going to be away from my dearest friend and we were heartbroken. We would run to meet each other after school and we played together as much as possible but it wasn’t the same. And our trips to Carvel were few and far between.

One day after school Baby Mary didn’t run to meet me. I looked up and down the street but she was nowhere in sight. My mother brought me inside and told me the saddest news I had ever heard: the Romanos moved away that day. She explained that they went to live in New Jersey where Baby Mary’s father worked. I cried for days and couldn’t understand why she had to leave; now I felt so lonely. There was no one to tell my secrets to, play with my dolls or happily share ice cream. I had to see my dearest friend, even if it was for an occasional visit. I pleaded with my mother to drive me to New Jersey but she never did. There was always some reason why we couldn’t go. When a young couple moved into the Romano’s house it was as though Baby Mary never existed.

Years later I learned the truth: Baby Mary’s father was in The States illegally, a fugitive hiding from immigration authorities. He had committed a terrible crime before fleeing to America. He was apprehended in New Jersey and deported; the whole Romano family returned to Italy. I never saw or heard from Baby Mary again. I think of her often and wonder if she ever thinks of me, her dearest friend.

NAR © 2020