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Summer/Fall 2001Volume II Issue III

contents

portal to our archives

from the editors

News & Notes

who we are & how to submit

linkage

Myla Goldberg's novel

Bee Season

Bee Season was named a Notable Book by the New York Times. Her short stories have appeared in Virgin Fiction and Harper's Magazine. She is currently at work on a novel set during the 1918 influenza epidemic.

 

 

Bee Season was recognized by Booklist as being "An impressive debut from a remarkably talented writer."

Dwight Garner, of The New York Times Book Review, wrote, "Bee Season reads like a spiky, artfully twisted Allegra Goodman novel--it's Kaaterskill Falls meets American Beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Going for the Orange Julius

Myla Goldberg

 

Itís not only about looking good. If youíre just looking good, youíll probably be able to get a cone or a soft pretzel, but definitely not an Orange Julius.

"Carrie," Grandma says to me as we walk into the mall, "are you feeling like a lady?" The ceiling of the mall when you first walk in has mirrors on it, so you can look up and see yourself and whoever youíre with.

"Yeah, Grandma," I say back. "Iím feeling like a lady."

Then we both look up at the ceiling so we can see each other and Grandma says,

"Well, here we are, two ladies going out to see the world."

Grandma only wears real gold and keeps her cigarettes in a genuine leather cigarette pack holder. She always wears dresses and panty hose and heels high enough to show sheís got class and low enough to show sheís no tramp. When we go out in her Caddy she lets me sit in front, which is one of the things I donít tell Mom. Grandma never wears a seat belt, but she always makes me wear one, which I pretend bothers me but which I donít really mind. With Grandma itís air conditioning and no open windows because a lady must always look her best. At stoplights, Grandma turns to the car next to her and gives her best smile. Mom says itís the cigarettes that make Grandmaís teeth yellow.

First thing in the morning, Grandma wakes me up and we go to her beauty chamber. Grandma puts her face on first, then mine. Itís easier to look at Grandma once sheís drawn in her eyebrows. When I ask why Mom doesnít shave her eyebrows too, Grandma says itís because Mom doesnít care enough to make the best out of what she has, which is why she canít keep a man and lives in a dump. Unless you watch Grandma put on her make-up, you wonít know that the beauty mark above her lip isnít real. She says that when Iím older Iíll have to pick a permanent place to put my beauty mark, but for now she lets me pick a different place every time. I have to hold very still when Grandma does my face. Sometimes the eyeliner brush tickles, but if I squirm it messes her up and we have to start all over again. Iím allowed to put on my own lipstick, which is pink instead of red like Grandmaís because some things just arenít appropriate.

At McDonald's, I get hot cakes and hash browns and Grandma gets coffee, which she drinks with extra milk to keep her complexion creamy. Before we get back in the car, we go to the ladies room to refresh our make-up. I have a purse to carry my own make-up. In the beginning I lost the purse a lot, but I am much more mature now.

Grandma's favorite store is Lord & Taylor's, which she says if I ever manage not to walk like a cripple for a whole day she will buy me a present from, which is something I haven't managed to do yet. When we walk in, we go right to the perfume ladies, who squeeze their hands together and say,

"Why if it isnít Eleanor and her granddaughter, Carrie. How long has it been since we saw you last, Carrie?" and I tell them,

"A month," which Iím not really sure is true, but which is about how often Mom needs a break and calls Grandma to do the trade-off.

"Any longer and I donít know if I could undo the damage," Grandma says, which I wish she wouldnít say, but the perfume ladies laugh like itís a big joke so I pretend that it is.

The perfume ladies are extremely nice. Their hair is always perfect and their faces are on exactly right. Iíve never seen their feet, but I bet they wear heels the same height as Grandmaís. Grandma wonít buy me heels because Iím pigeon-toed and sheís afraid Iíll fall all over myself in heels. When we walk anywhere together I have to concentrate on walking toes pointed out. It's hard to walk just right, most of the time I am either walking like a cripple or like I'm wearing a diaper according to Grandma, who knows these things. The perfume ladies spritz me with something that smells like baby powder, which I definitely like better than smelling like flowers but not as much as smelling like peppermint.

We get to the Food Court around 2, after the serious lunch-eaters have gone because Grandma says itís important to make clear that this is not about being hungry. She always makes sure I eat really good before she sends me off so that itís the lady in me talking and not my stomach because guys can always tell the difference. Today I get the number #3 special at China Wok. I try to get my mouth around the egg roll in a way that wonít mess up my lipstick but Grandma makes me stop because she says it makes me look like a tramp.

When Grandma is driving, she puts her hand on my knee and says My knee. If I disagree she squeezes tighter and explains it really is her knee because I'm part of Mom and Mom is part of her, so I'm part of her too. When things get to be too much for Mom, she calls Grandma and they meet half-way for the trade-off at Howard Johnsonís and I go from Mom's sticky seats to Grandma's cushy red leather.

Weíre sitting at the far corner of the Food Court by the Roy Rogers because thatís where the best view is. The Food Court tables are on a raised platform with fake potted plants. The platform has six sides and reminds me of a musical jewelry box I have with a ballerina that spins when you open the lid. Grandma says the music they play in the Food Court is trashy. The Food Court plays Journey, Air Supply, Billy Joel, and Hall & Oates. I pretend the songs have been picked especially for me. That way, itís like the whole Food Court is rooting for me.

Grandma's Caddy has electric locks with master switches by the front seats that let you lock and unlock any door you want. Iím not allowed to play with the locks because what if I'm leaning against the door and it flies open or what if we're driving through a dark neighborhood and someone sees us and gets ideas? For a long time I thought dark meant no streetlights.

After I finish eating, I throw out my tray except for the soda and then I go to the bathroom to check my face. Grandma used to come with me, but now checking my face by myself is part of the whole thing. The Food Court bathroom isnít cleaned very often and smells like smoke. When I walk in, the girl from Candy World pretends like sheís tucking her hair into her visor when the bag of jumbo malted milk balls is sitting right on top of her purse and her fingers have melted chocolate all over them. I can tell sheís waiting for me to go, but when I donít she finally picks up her purse and leaves.

Even though I donít think I have to pee I make myself try because going to the bathroom in the middle of sitting with a guy is a signal and Grandma would get mad if I did it only because I had to pee. Since the Candy World girl is gone, I can turn on the water in the sinks, which helps. Grandma doesnít like me to sit on public toilet seats, so I donít because I know sheís going to ask me when I come out and she can always tell when Iím lying. I do my best not to sprinkle, but itís hard and, besides, there was some there already.

To check my face, first I stand really close to the mirror and then I back up three steps. Close for the details and further away for the full effect. I have to stand on a toilet with the stall door open to see my whole reflection, which is another reason why I waited for the Candy World girl to go. Today everything looks pretty good except for my lipstick, which is smeared because of the egg roll. Just to be safe, I also spray on a little more hair spray, which I do using Grandmaís special method which she says is one of the dividing lines between ladies and tramps. Only tramps spray hair spray directly onto their heads, which gloms the hair together. Glommed hair is one thing guys notice without knowing theyíre noticing it when they first peg a girl for a tramp. So, I spray the hairspray next to my head and then step into it, sort of like Iím stepping into the shower. That way all the hairspray molecules settle evenly around my head and hold my hair without a single glommy spot.

Grandma says my skin is clear enough that I donít need to use foundation yet, but sheís bought me my own bottle so that itíll be there for me when Iím ready. Grandma uses one a little darker than her own skin to make her look sun-kissed, but she never puts it on her neck, which makes her face a different color than the rest of her.

When I walk out of the bathroom and go back to the table, Grandma is waiting. She says,

"Are you ready?" in the same voice she uses when Iíve picked something to wear that she doesnít like. Except for one time, Grandma has always found something that needs fixing when I come out of the bathroom. Letting Grandma look me over and knowing sheís going to find a mistake is the hardest part, harder than actually going up to a guy.

"I think so," I say, trying to sound all calm and sure of myself.

Itís like Grandma is the sun through the magnifying glass and Iím the bug. The side of my head will burn a little and Grandma will tell me that my barrette is out of place, or my cheek will burn and Grandma will say that my blush is uneven. Even though she never says it, I know Grandma is doing all this so that I can do better in life than Mom, who canít keep a man and lives in a dump.

At Howard Johnson's I always get fried clam strips with French fries and extra tartar sauce and bubble gum ice cream for dessert. The great thing about bubble gum ice cream is saving the gum balls in your mouth until the ice cream is all gone and then chewing the gum, which there's so much of by then that it takes up your whole mouth. Grandma says that gum chewing is not lady-like and makes me look like a cow.

Sometimes Mom eats with us at the Howard Johnsonís. I like it better when she doesn't because it's easier for me to think of her being a part of Grandma when they're not sitting across a table from each other not talking.

"Your blouse isnít tucked in right," Grandma says, and I look and itís true. "Show me how a ladyís blouse should be tucked in," she says.

I re-tuck in my blouse so that the creases are slanting down in front. Grandma once described it as the creases coming toward each other like roads converging at the Promised Land. I say,

"Is that better?" and she looks me over again and says,

"Much better," and I know that itís time to get started.

Grandma has taught me that the right way to put on a bra is to place each bosom inside the cup like you're scooping up a baby chick. Mine are so small that it's impossible scoop anything up yet, so what I do is I pretend there is something to scoop, which Grandma says I do so well she can almost see my young bosoms. Grandma is the only person I know who says bosom, which for a long time I didn't know was the same as titty. I have matching bras and undies that Grandma keeps special for me in a drawer at her house that I can only wear when weíre going out to see the world.

Grandma starts looking for my assignment, and we both sip our sodas like weíre taking a break from shopping. Love is a Battlefield, by Pat Benetar, is coming through the Food Court speakers, which makes me feel totally prepared and like the songs really arenít a tape that plays over and over. I sip my soda by holding my cup with one hand and casually putting my lips just at the very tip of the straw and sucking on the straw until only the slightest bit of soda comes up and then taking the straw out of my mouth and starting all over again. Grandma and I are experts at looking around the Food Court like weíre not looking at anything in particular when weíre really noticing everything.

At first glance it seems like there are a lot of ladies around, but mostly the Food Court is full of tramps. I can tell a tramp by their make-up or their clothes, or by the way they eat their food. Even when I think Iíve found a lady, Grandma usually points out something Iíve missed that makes her a tramp, like the way she wears her hair, or the kind of purse she has. Itís incredibly difficult to be a lady. I donít really blame Mom for not being able to do it.

Mom always asks me when I come back from Grandmaís, How was your stay and I always say Fine. Then she says Donít let her turn you into something youíre not, and I say Okay. Once, I forgot to take off my nails with the fake tips and Mom started crying in the Howard Johnsonís parking lot and saying She's only a baby and You promised you wouldn't do this to her and Grandma said Iím not doing anything, it was only a little manicure and Mom made me peel the nails off before getting into her car. I knew after that it would be better not to tell about the matching bras and undies. Or about Grandma showing me how, when I got hair down there, it should be a nice, neat triangle with no Goody Trail, which is the hairs that lead from under the belly button to the Promised Land.

Iím watching the girl at Candy World and counting up all her tramp qualities when Grandma says,

"Thereís someone who looks like he could use the presence of a lady," and sheís pointing at a guy in line for China Wok. When I first started out, Grandma would only assign me guys my age, but now that Iím more advanced, she sometimes gives me guys a little older. I was really shy at first about going to older ones, but they usually end up being easier because they have more money. This guy looks maybe three years older than me and Iím surprised that heís the one Grandma picked because heís wearing parachute pants, which Grandma says are trashy. I actually have a pair of parachute pants that I never take to Grandmaís because she would throw them away. Then I realize that Grandma might not be able to tell theyíre parachute pants because theyíre black and China Wok is all the way across the Food Court.

Grandma says that in order to keep a man itís important to act interested and to give him a little taste and that the reason Mom can't keep a man is because she gives him the whole seven course meal, but I never see Grandma using her advice on Grandpa who's always watching golf in his recliner with the volume turned up really loud. Grandpa has the hairiest arms I've ever seen, which I'm glad for that reason he's not the hugging type. He and Grandma say as little to each other as Mom and Grandma, which makes me think that Mom must have had the quietest childhood in childhood history.

Grandpa used to be a doctor but he had to retire early on account of his heart. When Grandma picked him, he was only fifteen and the son of a grocer who drank too much, but Grandma says she could tell by the way he carried himself that he had motivation. She got him to notice her and the rest, she says, is history. Grandpa has a Cadillac with brown seats that aren't soft like Grandmaís. Every time we drive to dinner at the Italian restaurant he shows me the doctor's card clipped to his sun visor that proves he's got more important things to do than stop for a damn red light. Then Grandma says Watch your language, I'm bringing someone up to be a lady and Grandpa says Aw, shut up, what do you know about being a lady? which makes Grandma's lips crinkle like she's just sucked on something sour. If my knee is Grandma's, then I guess a part of me has to be Grandpa's too.

Instead of going in a straight line from our table to China Wok, I walk around the outside of the whole platform so it will look more like I found the guy in the parachute pants by accident and not like I have set plans. By the time I get to China Wok, heís actually leaving with his tray, so I follow him to where the napkins and plastic forks are.

I stand next to the guy in the parachute pants while heís getting napkins and pretend Iím waiting for a napkin while I look straight at him. When he looks at me, I look away but not until after weíve looked at each other for a split second.

"Hi," he says, which makes him at least soda material because a lot of the time, Iím the one who has to talk first. I relax then, because chances are Iím going to get it on my first try and Grandma wonít have to find me another one.

"Hi," I say back and this time I look straight at him without turning away. Heís pretty okay looking and I understand now why Grandma picked him. I havenít seen pictures of Grandpa before he got old, but Iím pretty sure heíd look a lot like this guy. This guy has Grandpaís dark hair although, lucky for me, not on his arms, and also maybe Grandpaís nose. Heís also built kind of big like Grandpa Ė not fat, but with big shoulders and arms and I bet he plays football. So thatís what I ask him next,

"Do you play football?" I say, because they like it when you ask them questions about themselves.

"Yeah," he says, "Iím the only sophomore on varsity," which makes him just the third high school guy Iíve done this with, which makes me a little nervous but also excited because it means I can definitely skip gum or candy or a soft pretzel.

"Do you go to Larchdale," the guy says, "ícause I ainít seen you at Pulaski." When I nod he says,

"You look a little young for high school," but with a grin that means he doesnít really mind. Heís done getting his napkins and his plasticware now, but he hasnít made a move to walk away or anything, so weíre both just standing there. I happen to be standing under an air conditioning vent, so thereís a breeze blowing my hair back in this really cool way that I couldnít have planned even if I tried.

"Yeah," I say. "I skipped kindergarten, so I guess Iím a little young."

Grandma says that being smart or stupid doesnít matter as much as motivation, meaning how hard will you work to get what you want, which it seems to me that being on varsity when youíre only a sophomore is a pretty good sign of that so I say,

"Look, you want to buy me some fries?" because I can tell heís the kind of guy who likes to get to the point. He just smiles then, he doesnít even need to say anything, and when he turns around with his tray I know weíre heading to Boardwalk Fries.

Iím not ever supposed to ask for lunch, even if the guy looks like he can handle it. With lunch comes obligations, Grandma says, and Iím too young for that. Like, for instance, I know this guy with the parachute pants would have bought me a turkey club. This is a guy who if I ask for a turkey club, heís going to buy it just so I wonít think that he canít. And guys like that make me want to push them, just a little bit, just a little bit further than they were thinking they were going to go.

We get to Boardwalk Fries and before I even tell him what size I want he orders me a large, which is really huge, and more fries than I could eat even if I was hungry, which Iím not. I know that Grandma is watching the whole thing and that as soon as she sees the size of the fries sheís going to get peeved because Iím only ever supposed to ask for a small because 1) itís unattractive to eat too much and 2) Iím too young to ask for any one item costing more than $2.50 or multiple items costing more than $5.00. And a large fries costs $3.75, which messes up my plan because after the fries I was going to ask for an Orange Julius, which costs $2.50 and is my trademark drink.

The guyís tray is already full with his stuff from China Wok, but he insists on putting the fries on his tray too, and a couple of fries fall into his wonton soup.

"Your fries just fell into my soup," he says, wiggling his eyebrows. "I think thatís a pretty good sign," and I giggle because I know Iím supposed to.

At home, I have guys who are friends and who I would never let buy me anything. In fact, when we go to the arcade, we make fun of the girls who giggle at everything and wear pink all the time and are always changing their lip-gloss. But it worries me because I look at Mom and our dump of a house and at how unhappy she is all the time and I know I donít want to be like that when I get old.

"Why donít we get a table?" I say and lead the guy up to the platform so that Grandma can see everything. I canít sit too close to Grandma or Iíll get distracted. So instead I pick a table right in the middle of the platform, where she can see me but where I wonít be able to tell how sheís reacting to everything. I make sure to sit not facing her so that I donít start looking at Grandma instead of this guy, whoís supposed to be the center of my universe.

I know that because of the large fries, Grandmaís going to be paying close attention to make sure this guy doesnít get fresh and that I donít do anything trampy. Iím extra-careful to bite the fries in a way that doesnít mess up my lipstick, which means eating them one at a time and biting into them with my front teeth only and with my lips kind of raised up like Iím growling. The guy doesnít eat his food at all while Iím doing this, he just stares and I get scared that Iím doing something wrong, so I peek over at Grandma to see if I can tell what sheís thinking, but her face is totally blank and I realize sheís not going to give me any hints.

"Babe, you eat those fries sexier than any girl Iíve ever seen," the guy says, which makes me blush real hard which I know Grandma is going to notice.

"I donít know what youíre talking about," I say. "All girls eat fries like this."

"Not where I come from," the guy says and he laughs this low, heh-heh laugh that sounds a lot older than I thought he was and which makes me wonder if heís been a sophomore more than once.

"So, you play video games?" I ask, because itís good to find something you have in common and itís a subject Iím pretty good at.

"Nah," he says, sucking up a lo mein noodle real slow, "video games are for dorks."

"Yeah," I say.

"You ever play poker?" he says. The song coming through the speakers is Maneater, by Hall & Oates, which I use to remind myself to be brave.

"All the time," I say, trying to come up with another way to eat my fries.

"You should come over to my house and play poker with me and my friends some time," he says. "They would like you a lot," he says, "but donít worry. Theyíd know that you were with me and they wouldnít mess with you."

I canít eat any more fries because I canít think of another way to eat them without messing up my make-up. The guy reaches under the table and touches my knee.

If they touch me, Iím supposed to say I have to go to the bathroom and wait in there until Grandma comes in to tell me theyíre gone.

Instead I move my knee away and say,

"Buy me an Orange Julius," and he says,

"Sure thing, babe," but takes a few sips of his soup before getting up.

I know if I looked over at Grandma now, we could get out of the Food Court and into her Caddy before the guy in the parachute pants had any idea what was going on. We would laugh like we do sometimes when a guy gets too fresh. Grandma would say, What a scoundrel he was! and I would say Oh, yes, a real scoundrel, and we would go back to Grandmaís house and get changed for dinner and by the time we got to the Italian restaurant, it would be like nothing had happened. But I know if I did that today, Grandma would blame me for the fries. Even if I told her that I hadnít asked for a large, she would tell me I must have asked somehow because why else would a guy buy that many fries? But with the Orange Julius, which is my trademark, sheíll know that everything went okay despite the fries. She might even decide Iím ready for lunches, because from where Grandmaís sitting thereís no way she could have seen under the table. So instead of looking at Grandma, I fix my lipstick, which I do so well and so fast that my mouth is perfect by the time the guy in the parachute pants gets back with an extra-large cup.

If Iíd thought about it I probably could have guessed heíd get the extra-large, but my eyes get a little wide when I see the cup. Then the guy gives the heh-heh smile and says,

"Only the best for you, babe," and thereís no way Iím going to be able to drink all that. He puts it in front of me and sits down and pushes his own tray away and says,

"Show me how you drink through a straw," which makes me blush real hard again.

By now, the Food Court is playing Hot Blooded, by Foreigner, and I know Iíve got to do this, at least sip a little of it because the Orange Julius is my trademark drink. I hold the cup with one hand and casually put my lips just at the very tip of the straw and suck on the straw until only the slightest bit of it comes up. The guy puts his hand on my knee under the table. I want to say,

"My knee," but I know that itís not.

© 2001 by Myla Goldberg