I’d would gladly follow my girlfriend into the garbage, despite its interminable odors.
I love to kiss her, with those inviting lips and skin and smells of freshly washed socks with fabric softener.
I could do this unendingly though my timing is not always on time. I did, for example, ask if she came after four minutes, and this causes us both to recharge our wires and be cautious, whereas before this mild interruption of insecurities, I’d jubilantly make love like a raccoon feasting on the delicacies in a Hefty bag.
My mother hovers above me whenever I am in a relationship.
She is 100% certain that that I shouldn’t be in this liaison.
My mother has been dead for eleven years but would prefer that the GPS in my car keeps me going in the wrong direction for three hours than I meet my lover and get in the hotel sauna.
I keep circling around the same intersection and cursing, or cussing, as they say in the South, though it is a matter of making a U-turn, but for those of us who began driving when we were 47, it is not a random fucking turn. There are turns and turns and then there is my mother’s spirit jiving with the GPS that keeps me recurrently moving for hours in the same direction without getting to the lovemaking suite, the one my lover rented for us, in the middle of suburbia, which is behind a barbeque place, and even if my mother weren’t collaborating with the GPS, it would have taken me an hour more than most people to find it.
There was another time I drove four hours to my girlfriend’s house and joyfully met her but then suddenly, for no reason whatsoever, I was unable to find my car keys. While she scooped, or at least attempted to scoop me up in her arms, I was left armless, diving into my car to locate the keys my mother likely upended by throwing them on the floor in the cavernous Subaru.
My mother, even when she was dying, fought with me.
“Do you like my voice?”
“Do you think my voice is too loud, Mommy?”
“Why are you howling like a coyote?” Yes, in hospice, when Gemzar, an Eli Lilly drug that kept her alive for 18 months with pancreatic cancer, stopped working, Mother declared how “deafening” I was.
“Why can’t you be more like Candace Schwartzman?” she asked. Candace Schwartzman was a best friend, one of several, from my days in college, who had children and an amazing sense of humor and never regressed to psychiatrists or their medicine.
Candace’s children were my mom’s pseudo-grandchildren and Candace sent pictures my mother posted on her bedroom mirror, which led brother Oscar to say, after Mom passed, “who are these people?”
I’m not sure if my mother liked me but she was apparently obsessed with me, as I was obsessed with her because we spoke at least six times a day, and whether she or I called, the point where the conversation began and ended was unclear.
Mother loved my brother Harold more than me, which is why he was the executor of her will, whereas I’d have been executed, before even a consideration was made to include me in any legal proceedings.
Mommy, which we affectionately called her, had a graceless and unyielding face and when you were at the Passover seder and asked, “Mom, do you like your Cadbury bar?”, she’d correct you and say, “Cadbury egg,” though she was dying next week and shouldn’t eat trayf (the non-Kosher stuff), but when you’re terminally ill, these rules become less important.
Mommy’s last conversation was recalling her recipe for apple pie.
“I remember when you made the dough from scratch,” she said.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “it was more impressive than when I won the debate trophy in high school.”
“It was,” she agreed. She then stopped talking, and the hospice nurse covered her with a sheet.
Mom has not left Earth. She lives in my Subaru whose name is “Esther,” which is what my ex-girlfriend called the car, because no one in my family christened our automobiles. My brothers and me and my mother, and likely my father, no, we didn’t anoint our cars. It was Chevrolet, Pontiac, Toyota, and my brother Harold, the favorite, purchased a Volkswagen—only after Mother expired—the insipid German car, which was verboten because we had several family members who walked on a death March in Austria during World War II.
Mom despised all things German, though she sent me to Germany when I was 16, so I wouldn’t abhor Germany as much as she did because she heard the cries of Jewish babies being rifled by Nazi soldiers on the radio.
Mother would have preferred I marry a Jewish man, not because it was an entirely conventional thing, but all her friends—even the borderline personalities she knew—their kids were showing up in shul with offspring.
Mom believed it was important to wear pantyhose, which, if I were to attend synagogue, I had to put on.
Though I mostly wore men’s clothes and shoes, a section in my bureau contained pantyhose for dresses when I went to Mother’s house during the Jewish holidays. If I decided to unwear dresses and subsequently pantyhose, there’d be screeching and dish crashing and it was easier to keep that drawer filled.
Mom was not flexible about my using her silk pantyhose and kept an inventory or made me buy another pair if I wore hers because my large toes would cause irreparable damage to them. I didn’t manicure my toenails like Mom, though my dad, back in the day, said cutting your toenails was paramount to good grooming.
Mom, in the middle of suburban Pennsylvania, manipulates the GPS so I keep going around and around. Finally, after getting twenty feet from the “hotel,” I approach a man in a truck, who tells me the hotel is not an extension of the neighboring Barbeque Bar, and “please follow me, it’s difficult to find.”
I get there three hours late, but my lover, who has paid for the room with her credit card, including the fake fireplace and the bubble bath from CVS, is not angry.
She grimaces, sees stress in my eyes, and I announce, before entering our hotel room, “my mom made me late.”
Isabel—my girlfriend’s name—opens the door and asks, “your mother?”
“She lives in the Subaru.”
“Yeah, and I don’t think we’ve discussed this yet, but she doesn’t want you to be my girlfriend…”
“Huh?” The innocence in her eyes is like the dead baby lamb in August Friedrich Albrecht Schenck’s 1878 “Anguish” painting, where the sweet but deceased lamb lies by its mother. In it, crows—like Mets fans waiting for their team’s demise—stare at the mother and baby.
Isabel, if she had been in that painting, would be the babe at its mother’s hooves.
“My mom does not want you to be my girlfriend,” I repeat.
Isabel says nothing.
“My mother made me late,” I tell her.
“What? Amanda?” Amanda is my mother’s name.
“Yes,” I reply.
Isabel also has a mother who does not approve of me, though she doesn’t know I exist, because Isabel knows that telling her mother about us would make her livid.
“No point in having two unhappy mothers-in-law,” I agree.
When I make love to Isabel, I use an alarm clock.
“Why can’t you make love to me without an alarm clock?” she asks, puzzled.
“I don’t know,” I whisper.
I use an alarm clock during intercourse, and if I don’t make her come in four minutes, and the alarm clock plays The Police song “Can’t Stand Losing You,” it means I have failed and my mother is triumphant.
“Whatever, Mom!” I’d yell when I was 16 and she told me to dust.
“Are you talking back to me?”
“I’m going,” I said.
“Going where?” Mom wondered, “you don’t have any friends.”
“Why would anyone bother to love me?” I ask Isabel, who is crying.
“You are so beautiful,” she says, hovering above my mouth.
“But Mother said, ‘you don’t have any friends,’ which was true, and now that I do have friends, I can’t have a girlfriend.”
“Come here, sweetie,” Isabel mutters. I hear her every word. It’s like rain painting the hemisphere: a spark of green and purple and birds flying in my face.
“I want to kiss you, honey,” she says, moving closer.
Isabel is nearby, whereas I’m moving further away, sleeping in my old home where my family lived, which was sold to Orthodox Jews. Our house is now a synagogue, though the color is the same purple Mother had it painted.
“You’re not mad at me for being hours late?”
“It’s okay,” Isabel strokes my cheek.
I take her hand and move closer. We lay on the bed and I feel her supple body. It is smooth and I am delirious.
I stay in my bed for many hours, incapacitated, unable to move, holding my dog Henry.
I’m so immobilized after the breakup I can’t see my friends who are visiting from Boston.
I am streaming on the empty hemisphere.
The dog’s fur is touching my face.
Every time I move he scoots next to me.
I prevail at failure, and my mother has me post-mortem on this bed, waiting for God to fall from the sky, for the birds to depart, and Isabel to leave.
In my Subaru, whose name is Esther, if you look under the plastic mat, you can see Isabel’s hair clasp.
“Why do you keep it there?” Mother asks, “you broke up with that shiksah.”
“No Mom,” I say, driving the automobile out of the Target parking lot, “you broke up with her.”
I am a raccoon hunting for fresh turkey salad, after the family has thrown out the garbage.
Sometimes I hear from Isabel, little wisps of friendship that blow through Facebook. It gives me comfort, however, when she e-mails a heart.
My mother is still dead, though she now leaves the car and comes with me to therapy.
Every time a bell rings or an alarm goes off or Sting plays on Apple Music, I think it’s Isabel.
“It’s your mom,” my therapist says.
“What do you mean?” I ask him.
“She loves you but doesn’t like you,” he confides.
Mother is speaking through him and no therapist could compete with her command of Freudian dialectics.
“Ahhhhh,” I say, wiping a tear, “that’s it.”
“Yup,” he replies.
I miss Isabel, like when she touches my leg after we make love.
I listen to Joyce Carol Oates in the car CD player on the way home from therapy and wonder if her prose is as unhappy as mine, if her mother interfered with her relationships.
I sit peacefully outside a coffee shop, after fighting with the barista, who made me a regular coffee though I ordered decaf.
I consider blocking Isabel, who wants to be “friends” on Facebook.
I frequently delete the app, particularly if I have a desire to say, “let’s go to a museum,” or “can I visit you this weekend?”
I send her photos of Edward Hopper’s river paintings that appear at the Whitney, or videos of my dog Henry barking.
Henry and I sit peacefully outside the café. We hear people play music and sounds from inside. Cars go by and the quiet seeps in. My mother is somewhere, maybe in the trees, where she waits.
Eleanor Levine’s writing has appeared in more than 60 publications, including Fiction, Evergreen Review, The Toronto Quarterly, Faultline Journal of Arts and Letters, Litro, The Denver Quarterly, Wigleaf, Barely South Review, The Breakwater Review, Atticus Review, Gone Lawn, Juked, Spoon River Poetry Review, Santa Ana River Review, HCE Review, The Dos Passos Review, Switchback, Cleaver Magazine, and BlazeVOX2018 Fall; forthcoming work in Thrice Publishing’s 2019 Surrealist/Outsider Anthology.
Eleanor’s poetry collection, ‘Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria,’ was published by Unsolicited Press (Portland, OR) in 2016. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Hollins University (Roanoke, VA) in 2007. Her short story collection, ‘Kissing a Tree Surgeon,’ was just accepted for publication.