excerpts from Spring/Summer 2021 | 70.3

Page 1


with a remembrance by




The Carolina Quarterly


Vo l u m e 7 0 . 3 Spring / Summer 2021 VOLUME 70.3



Founded in 1948 P U B L I S H E D AT T H E U N I V E R S I T Y O F N O R T H C A R O L I N A – C H A P E L H I L L

Spring / Summer 2021 V O LU M E 70.3



Eli Hardwig Bailey Fernandez F IC T IO N EDITO R S

Paul Blom Matthew Duncan P O E T RY ED ITO R

Colin Dekeersgieter NO N- F IC T IO N ED I TO R

Jo Klevdal R E V IE W S EDITO R

Carly Schnitzler MA NAGING EDITO R

Ellie Rambo





The Carolina Quarterly publishes four issues per year (two print, two digital) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Subscription rates and payment information can be found on our


website: thecarolinaquarterly.com.

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Current single issues are $12 each. Back issues are $8 each. Issues

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check payable in U.S. funds.

SUBMISSIONS The Carolina Quarterly welcomes submissions of unpublished fiction, poetry, non-fiction, book reviews, and visual art. Only electronic

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submissions are accepted through our online partner, Submittable.

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Submissions are open year round. Please allow four to six months for a

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INTERNS INDEXING The Carolina Quarterly is indexed in the Book Review Index, Poem Finder, Index to Periodical Fiction, American Humanities Index, and the Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature. Member Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. ISSN 0008-6797. Library of Congress catalogue card number 52019435.

Renata Schmidt


Spring / Summer 2021 | VOLUME 70.3


Alphabet · 8

Birdsong · 9 Origin Story · 10 DEVON WOOT TEN

[Am I grateful / I am grateful.] · 11

[No thing compels.] · 12

[Our ashy tongues, our hearts afire—] · 13


The Worrier (marriage) · 14

The Worrier (hawk) · 16 The Worrier (houses on the lake) · 18 The Worrier (mushrooms) · 21 AGNES HANYING ONG

Swim in Minkowski Space · 23

Doxology · 25 Gotham · 28 Strewn Yellow Wound-Pink · 29


Radiant · 32


A Trap to Catch the Earth · 38


A Bit of Fluff · 45


Death by Papercuts · 54


Fire Drill · 63

On Certainty · 68


Bezoar: And Other Unsettling Stories by

Guadalupe Nettel · 82 G E O VA N I R A M Í R E Z

The Skin Artist by George Hovis · 85


Angels & Saints by Eliot Weinberger · 92


David Southern: A Remembrance · 98


Alphabet Zinnia and apple blossoms appear and appear and appear across the sun-bright orchard, and the honeybees are swimming from them, back to honeycolored hives, cradling their delicate song— Each geometric fold in the apiary is a golden letter singing, and the great hive is an alphabet, a song in which each letter appears just once— Knowing (as the hive does) that the letter (like the honeybee) is part and whole, is matter and memory, is a halfopen window and a wet plaster mold—knowing (quiet as they are) that the dark red nectar is the only song that the honeybee can sing, that the bright apple blossom is an Ur-sound stranger than song, that (up close) the white stamens rattle like vertebrae in the warm April wind—knowing it all, the honeybee alights on the apple tree’s x-shaped petals, faces at last the yellow sun—




Swim in Minkowski Space Of all journeys all-light could take in there is always so much up to give. I flitter of I. Is this not Rothko’s cupola fresco? Chapel a circularity of things? I flitter of I fill like falling in to ouverture of satellite, through a lampshade and exit soft sizzlings of little moth wings and find tumbleweed, in like everything god. I have given and given. Given up listening, to water and salt try outyelling one another and I will leave this elsewhere untouched. Not just yet torn from its steep dark, cursèd snow angel, Vitruvian-wavy ways maybe. All seeing is a receiving end of things. For a second fisherman’s yarn it, the speed—unspools shortening fuse submerging train AGNES HANYING ONG


paradox of gospels upon which a laminar rolling of buoyancy is equal to weight of water displaced. And wasn’t reverse crescendo, love straw -blowing cold dust, nor aperture of a pail supine -ning to the sky, to the sky of eye, fullness of moon whose shape we are all.




Radiant On the weekends, Megan is beautiful, and she takes herself out to new places so that for the rest of the week she can remember how it feels. A while ago she read an article on the internet about self-care, as she sat in her cubicle during her break and drank the dregs of her coffee frappé. It had a list of ideas, peppered with banner ads and links to products that would make you feel special and pampered and relaxed. Megan couldn’t afford any of those sheet masks or smoothie makers, even if she’d wanted them. But she liked the seventh item on the list, enough that it rang in her head for days after she read it. Romance yourself a little. Take yourself on dates. A sweep of lip gloss and a spritz of perfume. A nice dress, something sunny and butterfly-light; kitten-heel shoes, $299 from Anthropologie. Feel cute—feel pretty. You’re your own boyfriend today. Or her own husband, in Megan’s case. She will be the kind of mother-to-be that the world wants to see, with a seamless uncomplicated life and all the trappings. Before she goes out on the weekends she puts on a white-opal engagement ring, because her husband (hubby) knows she likes those better than diamonds. Then a wedding band that nearly matches, even if the rose gold is just plated on—it’s all right, because from a distance no one will notice. She always puts on her belly after the rings, because her parents would never approve if it were the other way around. The belly’s band zips up the small of her back, beige and elastic, cinching around Megan’s skinny waist in a way that makes her body feel secure. Rosy lip gloss, rosy perfume, a flowered sundress snug across her middle; ballet flats, $29 from Payless. She feels cute. She feels pretty. For a few perfect hours everyone around her will feel it too. Being pregnant is better than being sick ever was. That had been her first idea, back when she didn’t dare dream of beauty. Megan would velcro her arm into a cast, or brush eye shadow onto her lower lids to make her kerchief more convincing. Then she would wander through the mall, keeping pace with the elderly walkers in their orthopedic shoes, pausing once in a while to sit by the sunglass kiosk and pretend to catch her breath. People had looked at her when she was sick, and at first that did mean something. Megan no longer had to settle for doctors dismissing the real symptoms they couldn’t see—racing heart, moody guts, the way every soft thing inside her felt shredded and vulnerable in a way she couldn’t explain. With crutches or a pink beanie, Megan looked



as sick as she knew she was, and when other people saw her they finally believed her. But she could see the way pity turned their eyes into scalpels; they found the seams she felt inside herself, and flush with compassion they probed and pulled and tore until they saw her body fall apart. They told her she was as fragile as she felt. In the end it only made her feel worse. Pregnancy is different. Her body is solid and productive, doing everything it’s supposed to do. Megan is keeping a promise she can’t remember making, one that up till now she’s never known how to fulfill. Sometimes on the bus an older woman will reach for Megan’s belly and press it firmly under her palm, as if she can’t resist touching. Megan is so tangible now that even the softest, most uncertain parts of her can’t make her doubt it anymore. On the weekends her stomach is calmer. Her heart beats steady. She eats and breathes for two. In the office all week, without her baby bump or her rings, she is the same wisp of flesh she’s always been. She’s never even been the only Megan—all through school she was one of two or three in each class, and one year she wasn’t even the only Megan K. The other one took precedence, because she had a boyfriend and her eyelashes were longer. Megan was left to try and distinguish herself by other means; for a while she introduced herself as Megan Rose, as if with the help of her middle name she could transcend her Megan-ness altogether. But people ignored the Rose, just like they ignored the rest of her. She wasn’t Megan Rose, or Megan K. She wasn’t anyone. At the office there is another Megan, one who started there first and has a fancier job. This one wears jewel-bright blouses and crisp little skirt suits, the kind that only hang right if you have real hips. She laughs like a bell and always has chunky hoop earrings, and she can wear scarlet lipstick without the rest of her face fading into nothing. She is nice enough to Megan. Everyone is nice enough. So, she’s Megan K., still. She is the one who cleans and fills the coffee pot first thing every morning. She is translucent as the steam from her afternoon tea, as the soft blue smell of her store-brand fabric softener. Megan doesn’t have cable, so before venturing into the break room she reads recaps of all the shows her coworkers watch, so that she will know when to nod and smile and agree that a plot twist was ridiculous. Sometimes the other women hover around the counter and cut slivers from someone-or-other’s birthday doughnuts, and Megan joins in the chorus of oh no, I shouldn’t, I’m being so naughty. After the rest of them leave she plucks a whole doughnut onto her paper plate, then another, and bolts them in greedy, shameless mouthfuls. The others often go out for lunch, salads and surreptitious cosmopolitans and MICAH NEMEREVER


so-naughty shouldn’ts. Megan stays behind in her cube with a greasy café croissant or a burger and fries. She eats, barely chewing, and shops online for maternity clothes. Her preferences gradually expand from wispy pinafores, embracing the kind of sailor-style dresses and trim skirts that the other Megan might wear. The belly makes her body rounded and firm, something that deserves to be hugged close. Between shopping she scours baby name websites, not just for the baby but for herself. On the weekend she can be Claire or Margot or Therese—names that people notice, that give the illusion of a gloss to her dishwater hair. Claire teaches kindergarten, Margot is a pediatric nurse. Therese is a stay-at-home mommy, a housewife, who already has a two-year-old named Hunter. She used to be a department-store buyer, but no longer; now she supervises play dates and compliments Hunter’s snarls of finger-paint, and whenever Nick has to stay late at the office he sends her flowers. There are annoyances in Therese’s life, but pretty ones, which she can share in sly confidence when a woman pats her belly. Her sister-in-law can be a little bit catty, but threw a lovely baby shower, which was sweet; her father calls her marketing bachelor’s an MRS degree, and he’s only teasing but it sort of hurts her feelings. Do they know what they’re having? Whatever name Megan has chosen for herself, her answer never changes. It’s a girl. Pink balloons at the baby shower and daisies embroidered onto the white-eyelet curtains in the nursery. They’re thinking Olivia, or maybe Maya. She’s always wanted a girl. It turns out that strangers like Therese best, with her peasant blouses and her artfully messy bun. She is sophisticated and soft, because Nick takes such good care of her that she has time to be both. She goes to the art museum; she loves the Impressionists. On her way out, she dawdles in the gift shop, holding her belly, and emerges into the sun with a sly Warhol banana onesie or an educational toy for her son. People don’t always chat with Therese or ask about her shopping bag, but that’s all right, because they can guess who she is just by looking. Back at the apartment Megan keeps all her purchases together, arranged on her bookshelf like an offering. Megan has a rough stretch at work one week, though there’s no good reason for it. She struggles all Thursday with a clunky Word template her predecessor made, and it shouldn’t make her cry, but it does. For long stretches she sits frozen, not working at all—she keeps her sobs silent and sits with her chin in her hands to hide the tears, but she wants someone to notice and no one does. The other Megan chirps hello into her cubicle, but doesn’t stop to chat.



At Greg’s retirement party the next day someone introduces her to the new CFO as Megan K. When everyone else has left the break room Megan cuts off a wide strip of sheet cake and crams down unchewed mouthfuls like a child. She’s too tired for the art museum that weekend, too tired for Therese. She can’t be smart enough or gentle enough. She can’t stand the sight of Therese’s favorite skirt, with its line of butterflies printed around the hem. She wears a crisp sharp-edged dress, dark blue, and it doesn’t make her feel as pretty as she hopes it will. She’s halfway to the bus stop before she realizes she doesn’t even have a name. Megan goes to her old mall and follows her own shadow. She walks faster now that her body isn’t ravaged with tumors. She stops for lunch at the food court, but the band of her belly never tightens enough to feel real. She isn’t what the world wants to see. She’s a sloppy pregnant girl in a neat dress, gulping down soda and pizza as if she wants her baby to be sloppy too. An elderly mall-walker smiles at her, but he doesn’t pause, and Megan doesn’t even have time to smile back. She feels all wrong without a name, but she still can’t choose one. She stops in the beige over-perfumed ladies’ room and chews stick after stick of mint gum until her breath feels clean again; she applies a new, darker lip gloss and plays with her hair, as if by rearranging her face she can make herself into something new. Lily, she thinks for a moment, before she realizes it will just make her wilt like the remnants of a funeral bouquet. All she can think to do now is go to the far end of the galleria, into the candy-colored shop whose signs promise that everything is perfect for baby. Even if nothing else is true, she is still having a baby girl, the one she’s always wanted. But for the first time Megan doesn’t want to look at the baby dresses or the pink toys. Somehow, she finds herself lingering by a little striped shirt, in a section called Unisex that is indistinguishable from the one for boys. Her mother would hate to see something like this on a girl. Megan brushes the fabric with the tips of her fingers. It’s so soft that she wants to devour it, to take it into her body alongside the baby that isn’t there. Another woman draws up beside her. She is looking at the same shirt, and when she meets Megan’s eyes she nods and grins, as if they’re sharing in a secret. The other woman’s body is dense and soft, her belly’s heft pulling her torso into the shape of a pear. Alongside this woman Megan is the liar her doctor has always thought her to be. She sees how pregnancy has rounded the real mother’s face and neck and shoulMICAH NEMEREVER


ders, how it sets her hips wide and splays her feet. With her slack coverall dress and dark brown roots, the other woman isn’t pretty. Instead she is beautiful, because Megan knows who and what she is. She doesn’t need to ask the woman for her name; this is the kind of person who has one by right, a name that is her own. How far along are you, the woman asks, and when Megan claims a slim seven months she knows that even this sounds like a lie. But the other woman just laughs ruefully and says just you wait. My back is killing me. I swear I’m peeing every ten minutes. I don’t know how my mom did this four times. This woman is one more thing to make her want to cry, one more thing she doesn’t understand. Megan can’t make herself move. She watches the other woman pluck one of the shirts from the rack and examine it for loose threads, because one day soon a baby will wear it, and this woman is thrifty and practical. If Megan buys a shirt for her own baby she will fold it and set it on the bookshelf, on the shrine to her bloated credit-card bill and to every lie she’s ever told. Do you know what you’re having? Megan asks, but the woman doesn’t. I (not we; no ring) wanted it to be a surprise. We’re having a girl, Megan replies. The other woman nods politely and hangs the baby shirt over her wrist; she is already planning to walk away. What are you thinking for a name? the woman asks. Megan, she answers, and she doesn’t know why. The woman pats her arm and leaves to look at blankets, beyond the racks and out of sight. Megan takes one of the shirts, but she immediately jams it back, leaving the hanger hooks tangled. She has to buy something else, something that will turn her baby into the kind of Megan who doesn’t need a last initial. She needs bright colors, sequins—too tacky for Therese or even Claire, but she doesn’t care. She chooses a polka-dotted sweatshirt with buttons along the shoulder, with a red faux-fur heart sewn to the chest that means she’ll have to wash it inside-out. This Megan will grow up to have firm hips, to wear thick earrings and red lipstick, and when she has a baby of her own her body will swell. Megan drapes the tiny shirt on the checkout counter and picks at the clasp on her wallet. She doesn’t want to look at the clerk, but when the girl takes Megan’s card their hands briefly touch. The clerk is young, even younger than Megan, probably a college student working a summer job. Oh my god, this is so cute, the girl says, and Megan presses the heel of her hand so hard into the side of her empty belly that she can almost feel the phantom pain.



Are you all right? the clerk asks suddenly. Megan had thought she was smiling, but she isn’t. It’s the first time in years that someone has noticed her crying. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s the hormones, and the girl nods sympathetically as she wraps the shirt in tissue paper. Don’t worry, she answers. It happens at least twice a day around here. Megan finally smiles, still through tears, because it’s something a real mother-to-be might do. When the clerk hands her the shopping bag she pauses for a moment to catch her eye. You’re glowing, the girl says. It’s the kind of thing she would only say if she thought Megan deserved to be here. I’m glowing, Megan repeats in her head, and the loose pieces inside her lock back into place.




Fire Drill Sonja, my reborn after-the-Holocaust mother, pampered her skin with creams and lotions. Her cheeks were soft as ripe peaches. I felt them brush against my face when she grabbed me sometimes, inexplicably, and kissed me. Her wavy black hair flowed back from her temples with a soft rise just above her forehead. She donned stylish, two-piece suits and pencil skirts that gripped her hips and accentuated her quick, purposeful steps and well-shaped legs. How sexy and fearless she must have been before the War. From a comfortable distance: she had a mildly crooked nose; striking, deep-set hazel eyes; and lips not quite full, but not too thin either. She would have been considered attractive in that dark, vulnerable, Jewish immigrant sort of way. I learned not to look too closely, too intimately into her face, never directly into her eyes, exactly as one learns to avoid looking into the eyes of a predator in the wild. In my mother’s world, patience was not a virtue. People of value didn’t wait in lines. Early on she taught me that people who stood in lines wore the scent of debasement or the stigma of being humiliated. Her lesson to my sister and me was, always, your survival depends on your ability to slip through the cracks, to outwit or outmaneuver those who are in charge. As I watched her navigate the world outside our four-person family, she played charming one moment, confrontational the next, or suddenly dim and confused if she thought that persona was the best strategy. Only at home or alone with me, was she her raw, unsettled, unmodified self. Sonja was born in the Ukraine and taught Russian literature and trigonometry at the age of sixteen. That’s what she told us. When she felt like it, she could recite dozens of pages of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, her favorite novel, from memory. She used her Russian when she didn’t want my sister and me to understand her arguments with my father. She was an articulate speaker of several other languages, too: Yiddish, the vernacular of daily life; Polish; Ukrainian; German; Czech; Hungarian; and Romanian– eight languages, she would remind us, when we cringed at her rendering of English. We lived in an apartment on the fifth floor of 109 Norfolk Street, a red brick building with ancient plumbing and crumbling plaster ceilings. Norfolk Street, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was narrow and deeply pockmarked. On the milder days of winter, I could step through the film of snow and land knee-deep in slush. Our building stood beside a bar. When we climbed down the stairs and emerged onto the S A B E N A S TA R K


street, my mother clasped my hand tightly, steered us around drunks passed out on the sidewalk at the base of our steps and sitting propped against the handrails, their clothes stained and stinking of urine. She yanked me away from these glazed-eyed men who sometimes asked us for money. “Kik nisht,” she said. Don’t look, and don’t stop. Our section of Norfolk Street bordered the rear play yard of New York Public School 160, the block-square, neo-Gothic structure where I spent kindergarten and first grade. When the weather was good, our street was lit with the ecstatic shrieks of children running across the blacktop during lunch and recess. Their squeals and shouts punctuated the ever-present music wheezing out of the kitchen radio inside our flat. My mother sang along, half because she needed to sing and half to block out our neighbor’s voices leaking dully through the floors and walls. The sounds of school, home, street, family, strangers all accordioned together. During summer evenings, our Puerto Rican next-door neighbors played guitars and sang on the sidewalk below. Their melodies floated up like lullabies through the sweaty-damp airless air suspended at our open windows. And Sonja’s voice filled our rooms, too, on those nights. A voice that was rich, resonant, passionate. On school mornings, I ran downstairs alone and waited in front of our building while my mother leaned out the window five stories up and surveyed the street for oncoming cars. When she was satisfied that it was safe, she yelled down to me to run across. Gey! Gey shoyn! And I would race from sidewalk to sidewalk, through the school gate, to the sea of asphalt where clusters of children, hair brushed, sweaters buttoned, sorted themselves into strands, one behind the other, for the orderly trip to our rooms. Once we arrived in our classroom, I couldn’t hold back my questions and observations. Mrs. Stone called me “Mrs. Bigmouth” and “troublemaker.” When her frustration reached the point of explosion, she tried to shake and slap the noise out of me. And I would cry from the sting and confusion, my six-year-old body enclosed in the jaws of my wooden desk. For a few hours, I would be subdued. But eventually, the cycle would repeat. I came home and described these assaults to my mother but she did nothing to stop them. My parents would never tell my sister and me directly about their slave labor and internment camp experiences or of the demise of our grandparents and other family members. My mother said: Mir hobn zikh bahaltn, we were in hiding, during the War. She wouldn’t give us details. Yet we knew terrible things had happened. I spent years researching our family’s history to uncover what I could. In 1941, while my mother



was away at nursing school, the Einsatzgruppen, mobile Nazi killing units, rounded up and murdered the Jewish citizens of her small town of Podwoloczyska. My mother’s ten-year-old sister, Rosa; my mother’s mother; her grandparents; and the rest of her extended family, along with their Jewish neighbors, were forced to undress and then shot into a trench. Her two brothers were taken as slave laborers. When she learned of the slaughter of her family, my mother fled. She stayed ahead of Hitler’s killing machine and, during the next few years, fell in love with a young man who was conscripted into the Russian army. Pregnant, alone, she eluded capture until the Gestapo discovered her and seized her together with her first daughter, Zhana, azoy klug, azoy sheyn, the so smart, so beautiful girl mit lange shvartse hor, long, dark hair. My mother and her toddler were forced into the cattle-car to Auschwitz. As they disembarked, her baby daughter was ripped from her arms and murdered. Sonja, twenty-seven, strong and still appealing, was sorted into the group of lucky ones chosen to be work slaves. My mother re-lived this indelible horror, sometimes sobbing and often screaming uncontrollably, on many nights throughout my childhood. Once in a blue moon, as she liked to say, my mother would speak softly and, turning her eyes away from us, she would paint tender word portraits of her beloved little girl. I came to think of this daughter as my invisible, perfect sibling who would never return and could never grow up. My father also suffered the destruction of his family. He had been conscripted into the Polish army and, like my mother, was not home when the drunken Einsatzgruppen and their helpers murdered the 2,900 Jews of his town of Domaczewo. Among those killed were my father’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, his mother and father, his six brothers and sisters, and his beloved first wife and young son. My father escaped, time after time, from the terror unfolding everywhere around him until he, too, was arrested and shipped to Auschwitz. His pain was the perfect match for my mother’s. They were a salt and pepper set of loss and survival. The liquid-hot residues of my parents’ grief and rage seeped out and exploded into their interactions with my sister and me, their two after-the-war children. My mother was particularly volatile and her hands flew at the slightest provocation. Or at no provocation. It wasn’t unusual for us to compare my mother’s handprints on our faces or on other parts of our bodies. Those rosy marks were badges of character that we wore with some embarrassment. Maybe it was because this was the state of things in my household, that when I came home in tears after a morning of first grade and reported that Mrs. Stone had S A B E N A S TA R K


slapped my face, there was little response. Maybe Sonja assumed that if a teacher disciplined me, I must have deserved it. Even so, in those days I still looked to my mother for consolation and shelter. But Sonja would rarely make eye contact with me unless she absolutely had to. There was no point. I remained a stranger who wanted something from her: love, approval, tenderness, all things she could seldom provide. She dressed my older sister and me to suit the weather, kept us clean and fed, and shielded us from obvious dangers. Despite this, I held on to the belief that somehow the maternal Sonja could emerge. If not for my sister, maybe for me, di kleyne, the little one, her youngest. Once a month P.S. 160 held a fire drill. The bell was ear-splittingly loud and its cadence relentless. The alarm could be heard halfway to Delancey Street at the far end of the block. We first-graders were instructed to stand next to our desks and march single-file down the hall, across the playground, and through an opening in the chain-link fence to the street. We were then expected to stand quietly along the sidewalk until the all-clear signaled, like a row of hostages or pintsized prisoners of war. When the fire bell erupted one early fall morning, we were lined up and led toward a gathering spot on the Norfolk Street sidewalk, beyond the blacktop and through the gate. I couldn’t stand still. It was all too exciting. We were outside, away from those confining desks, out of the glare and drone of that joyless classroom. We were going somewhere! I bounced and wiggled and chattered nonstop. I wanted to see everything, do everything, talk about everything. But, no. That was wrong. Mrs. Stone screeched, “I told you to be quiet,” her white-flour face contorted into a scowl. And I stared at her, terrified, as she took hold of my shoulders. Sonja was home that morning. She was not a woman who spent much time gazing out of windows so the clamor of the bell and the shouting must have caught her attention. Across the street and below, she must have seen the string of children. And to one side, planted beside the fence, was the teacher yelling and convulsing my three-and-a half-foot tall body. I was still in Mrs. Stone’s clutches when my mother came racing down four flights of stairs, out of our building, and across the street. My mother was short, exactly five feet, the teacher taller by a head, with longer arms and legs and large, alien hands. The first thing I remember is Mrs. Stone’s shocked look when my mother seized her by the throat. Out of my mother’s mouth came a barrage of invectives and threats in two or three of her eight languages. Klafte! Paskudnitse! Some swear words I recog-



nized, like miese mamzerte, a Yiddish curse roughly translated as, “You stupid, hideous bastard.” Many more words I didn’t understand. But her message was clear. The sentence I remember vividly she delivered in her most articulate Russian-Yiddish-inflected English, “Next time, I’ll twist it off.” She spit out the word “twist,” flung it like a knife, as she pinched Mrs. Stone’s nose and, with her other hand, clutched the woman’s white neck. My mother had small, delicate hands, though what she did with them was not so delicate. Her grip was vicious and I knew from experience the force of her blows. I stood frozen, afraid to move or speak. This wasn’t the first time I had seen my mother unleash her fury on someone considerably bigger than herself. I knew to stay out of her way. As the outsized Mrs. Stone began to shrink, I could feel a nervous smile growing across my lips. The curses continued. Then my mother added, “Don’t you ever touch her again.” Even though I wasn’t the so smart daughter, the real one, the beautiful one with long dark hair, the daughter she couldn’t protect, she focused her rage and protected me. The chubby, unruly, too talkative one, the poor replacement, the troublemaker. And now I understand: for a few rare moments, Sonja held her nightmare by the neck and saved her little girl.



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