What is the proper attire for the reading of your father’s will? I’m certain it isn’t the orange yoga pants that hang below my daughter’s slightly convex middle. “Luey,” I bark. “Please change into something decent.”
“Nothing fits,” she snivels. Louisa’s colic has continued for twenty years. Her nettling ways penetrate my thinner hide as she shimmies out of the pants, wagging her behind. On flamingo legs— identical to mine, minus my lattice of spider veins— I see my own behind from fifteen pounds and years ago. On one sharp hipbone a Rolling Stones tongue tattoo taunts me.
“What about these?” Luey presents two pair of jeans, one in each hand. I shake my head. “Or would you prefer a burka?”
Luey may have inherited my lower torso and face, but in almost every other way she is Ben. Though my daughter’s nose is sharp and her gums more evident than she’d prefer, her jigsaw of imperfection works. She has large, round eyes of a color people call hazel by default; lips that are full, pouty, and raspberry tinged.
“Where’s the black suit you wore last week?” I ask, weary. Following even our limpest confrontations, battle fatigue does me in.
“In the pile.”
For any degree of efficiency with which the Silver-Waltz family may operate we should thank, more often than we do, the unmatched competence of Opal Owens who, had she gotten the chance to have gone to college, could have led a Fortune 500 company. She will see that Luey’s suit is transformed into crisply dry-cleaned garments, as well as dispose of her ossified Thai food and trampled magazines. You can depend on Opal to not only unearth the thick biography of Colette that was due back to the Stanford University library four months ago, but to see to it that the book is FedEx’d with a polite apology.
“Skirt?” my daughter says, offering up a tube of brown spandex.
My daughter hoists the hanger like a Grammy and blows me a kiss. “With thanks to my savior, I will proceed. You are dismissed, Mommy dearest.”
With pleasure. I pad barefoot back to our— my— bedroom and escape into the dressing room. It smells faintly of cedar and Ben’s aftershave, a mossy scent that when mingled with his sweat, I consider the ultimate aphrodisiac. His suits, size 42 long, fill one wall. Blindingly white sneakers are waiting to be broken in after the marathon he missed by one heart attack. The Zappos Web site, the source of this footwear, promises “Happiness in a box.” Ben would appreciate the irony.
I twist the safe’s combination— two, fourteen, eighty-one, our wedding day— open the velvet-lined drawer, and reach for the ruby brooch, a modest posy on a gold stem given to my mother fifty years ago by my father when I was born. Today I need a piece of Camille Waltz with me, though I am grateful that through her veil of increasing dementia she may have forgotten that I have raised a brat. When we visit Mother, she fixates on Louisa and sees a younger version of me, albeit with hair spiked through the artful use of shiny goop. Despite her histrionics, Louisa Silver-Waltz makes her grandmother smile, and in those fleeting moments I forgive my younger daughter because she returns the mother I have lost, the mother I could use right now as a crutch and a crucible for my wobbly emotions.
The Widow Waltz can be purchased here.
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from The Widow Waltz by Sally Koslow. Copyright © 2013 by Sally Koslow