#shallow


How shallow am I?  Shall I count the ways?  Don't worry I won't start counting because that would turn into an entire book, and seriously, I don't have the energy to write a bestseller.


The thing about shallow is, for starters, I can't escape it if I tried, and well, it is really, really different for men and women. (Warning: gender bias.)  When guys are shallow, they mostly talk about home remodeling (which, once or twice a decade, I can talk about) or work, but no, never about their necks. Or at least, I've never hear them complaining.  (Which is weird.  Don't guys have necks?)

But when women get shallow (don't shoot me,) there is a lot of talk about hair and skin. Hair, in my case, takes up an awful lot of brain space.  You know, all those hours you spent listening to Greta and how the planet's vanishing (which it is, but how long is it supposed to go anyway?), I was thinking about…yeah, you got it, my hair.

I'd recently read an essay here by a writer I enjoy, which was about sex, but also hair, and she began by stating that she spends "north of five hundred dollars" to give her hair that certain bedroom look.  Now, the essay was terrific, with lots to say about sex, the old-fashioned dirty kind, the type where men pull hair.  But all I could think that morning, was, wow, $500 is what fashionable New Yorkers spend on their hair; and if I spent that much (doubtful, to be honest), would my hair look genuinely tousled?    


Backstory. My hair started falling out eight or nine years ago, sometime after my mother died, after my thyroid stopped working. Clumps of my formerly thick hair began appearing at the bottom of the shower.  When I'd dare to comb it, more fell out. If anyone ran my hair through his fingers, even more.  And yes, I tried potions and creams, and no, nothing worked.


I'd never seen myself as vain (at least, not in the $500 at a hair salon way.) But baldness, the fear or it, emptied my mind: hair was all I could think about. And all I thought was: don't become bald.  As if baldness were a curse.  Even though I knew many women wore wigs, and the world had far worse in store for me (trust me, I was right about that). And then, the hair returned. Not the luxurious hair I once had, but enough to cover my head.  
The bar's lower now, that's what aging does.

Any day, my hair might start falling out again. I could pretend it doesn't frighten me, I could pretend I'm wiser, deeper, too enlightened to care. But I don't bother.

Why? Because, well…#shallow.  

Penny Lane, an essay by Carla Sarett


Penny Lane

My niece is a Beatles fan.

By her age – she has turned 23 – I no longer listened to the Beatles.  My college boyfriend played jazz, and we listened to Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal; and later, I fell under the spell of Chopin, and slowly started to buy classical music for myself (not much, I had little money.) Yes, I occasionally went to clubs downtown Manhattan to see Patti Smith; but I'd more or less forgotten my innocent teen loves. 

I forgot about the Beatles.  They were behind me.

And yet, maybe not.  Maybe in the process of being, wanting, living, feeling, we all keep a stash of musical memories.  They're all in there, ready to be retrieved at one sound of chord, lyrics on a page. 

Because – and why this should be so is opaque to me – when my niece started talking about the Beatles, a memory returned to me.  A perfect cloudless day in upstate New York, in the Adirondacks, where I'd been attending a summer arts camp.  I had played the ingenue role in Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme—a play which, at the time, meant nothing to me. The performance had come and gone.

I had not flubbed any of my lines, but it hadn't gone as well as I'd hoped. Some element (or all) of Moliere's refined wit had escaped me; my comic timing had been adequate, but not precise enough to get laughs; it had been flat. And the day after, I had my first nagging doubts that theater might not work out for me, after all. Small doubts, but they were there. 

I wasn't in the mood to talk to anyone about it. I wasn't sure what to say.

That afternoon was a lazy one.  Rehearsals and theater exercises were over, the summer was ending. Nothing much planned except for a late afternoon swim at the lake, and even that was voluntary. There had been a desultory picnic-style lunch outside, benches and wooden tables.  And afterward, someone played the radio, and I heard "Penny Lane."

Not the first time I'd heard "Penny Lane" by any means. I'd heard it many times. Everyone had.


But that afternoon, for two or three minutes, however long the song lasts, I felt a shocking blast of calm and joy.  A secret thrill. The lyrics in my ears and in my eyes, here beneath the blue suburban skies, we sit and meanwhile back branded themselves, wherever happy thoughts are stored. It felt like an announcement of childhood: ending and beginning, everyday, over and over.  Part of me – I can't tell you exactly how much – wanted that single moment, the sun shining on my face, and the late August heat and stillness, the tangy scent of mountain pines, and the sweetness of the Beatles' harmonies, to go on and on and on.  

Don't end, I thought, just keep going, just like this.

Yet, another part of me was wondering how I would think of that very moment, decades later, when I was no longer young, and life's sense had changed me.  That part of me thought, remember this, it doesn't happen often. I squeezed my eyes tightly, to make sure of it. 

So now my niece is starting her own adventure, only this time the Beatles aren't behind her, they're along for the ride. Whatever sense she will make of life, in her ears and in her eyes, "Penny Lane" is part of it.  It doesn't end, it just keeps going.  

The Taming of the Shrues, a short story

It's summertime, and that means vacations, which brings back a story I published in Commuter Lit, and polished a bit recently.  Hope it makes you giggle.


THE TAMING OF THE SHRUES

After twenty-five years in the travel business, Dan Defoe of Adventures Unlimited boasted that he could make any dream come true.  He had a reputation – which is why a certain Mr. and Mrs. Shrue showed up at his office nine o’clock sharp on a Monday morning. 

Mr. Shrue declared, “We want the perfect vacation.  Money is not an issue, you understand?”

“I understand,” said Dan, his mental cash register clinking.   

The Shrues were a familiar type. Mr. Shrue had skipped youth to achieve early middle age, paunch and all, and wore brightly colored argyle socks and yellow ties with pink pigs on them, without irony.  Mrs. Shrue wore tennis whites to show off her early summer tan; and a lime-green tote and matching headband, with the very same pink pigs.     

 “We want a true adventure,” insisted Mrs. Shrue. 

“We’re all about adventure!” added Mr. Shrue.

As Dan knew well, the true adventurer rarely graced the inside of a travel agent’s office. The adventurer came, saw and conquered, with no budget and a single knapsack.  Those who hired Adventures Unlimited wanted, say, Johnnie Walker Blue delivered to mountain retreats.     

“True adventure is why I'm in business, Mr. and Mrs. Shrue,” said Dan with a straight face.

“Andy and Mandy,” said Mr. Shrue affably.   “We’re going to be friends!”

“Andy and Mandy,” repeated Dan.

 “Just one teeny thing,” said Mandy.  “It must be completely different.  Last year, we did Everest, and can you believe that we met our neighbors there? What’s the point?  We need different.”


“Think out of the box, as long as it has golf,” Andy added, with a wink.

“Trust me,” Dan said, winking back.

Alas, easier said than done.  This globe-trotting pair had done it all—African safaris, white-water rafting in Maine, rock-climbing, hang-gliding, and archaeological digs in Mexico, Israel and Greece.  No city on earth had escaped them: Rio de Janeiro, Lima, Prague, Trieste, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sydney, Rome, and Istanbul, not to mention every village on the Dalmatian Coast. Add to that Andy’s hankering (actually, demand) for golf and Dan was flummoxed.   

Dan’s days became a veritable stream of Andy-Mandy communication. Andy emailed in the morning, and Mandy picked up the slack in the afternoon with a flurry of anguished texts; they split the difference in the evening.  Dan tried to remain cheerful.  But his stockpile of vacation ideas was growing low, since even talented travel agents have a limited repertory of so-called “adventures.”  

Dan’s ever-practical wife solved his problem over dinner.  She said, “My friend Trudy is going to Nirwana Bali, it’s a golf course in Bali.  She says it’s got rice paddies and the world’s best golf.  Plus, it’s this fancy resort on top of a cliff and it overlooks the Indian Ocean—which for some reason is better than the Atlantic.  Can you imagine?”

 “Idyllic retreat,” Dan told the Shrues, “very expensive, but very remote.”

“We love remote,” cooed Mandy.  

 Dan forged ahead with intricate preparations:  translators, chauffeurs, guides, as well as daily shipments of organic produce to fit Mandy’s new North Beach diet.   He counted the hours until he was rid of the Shrues.

Everything was set, until one day before departure.  Mandy called. “Dan, there’s a big problem,’ she said. 

“That’s what I’m here for,” Dan replied, grabbing a few aspirin.

“Our neighbors are going to Nirwana Bali, you know, the same ones we met on Everest.  And we hate them. We can’t go,” she said. “I’m so sorry to cancel like this.”

Moments like these defined a legend like Dan Defoe.  “Not to worry, I have a back-up plan,” he said.

“Back-up?” asked Mandy warily.

 “Oh, it’s a true adventure.  No questions, I don’t want to spoil it.  My driver—his name is Maurice-- will pick you up tomorrow. Trust me, you’ve never been anywhere like this.  And pack just like you were going to Bali…bring everything.”

Early the next morning, a beat-up Toyota arrived in the Shrue’s grand circular driveway. “Maurice, here for your Urban Adventures,” a grinning young Jamaican shouted.  “Hope you’re ready!” 
Maurice’s car had no air-conditioning, and smelled of strong incense.  Soon, the two were en route, as the car limped along the bleak streets of Northeast Philadelphia.  Traffic was heavy, too.

“We’re going away from the airport,” Mandy observed. “This is the Ben Franklin Bridge.”

“No airport,” said Maurice. “Urban adventure, it don’t need airplane.  Urban is all about urban.”

Andy whispered, “I think that urban is a synonym for…slum.”

“You are funny person!” laughed Maurice. “You stay with Maurice’s sister. She’ll make you nice goat stew, delicious.  You are going to love it! Only seven people in her apartment, but so much good food, you’ll forget about it! Wednesday, we go to Newark, even more urban!”

In less than half an hour, Maurice stopped in front of a dilapidated building in Camden, New Jersey – a town that was far from picturesque, and even farther from the imagination of Andy and Mandy.

 A teen-aged girl, wearing halter top, regarded Andy and Mandy with cool hostility.  “You a social worker?” she asked.  “We don’t need social work around here.”

Maurice said, “That is funny, social worker. No, no, no, paying customers…they are going to be my sister’s…guests.”

“Right,” said the girl. “I thought this building was condemned.”

“Ha ha, funny girl,” said Maurice.

  Whose brother are you?” asked the girl. 

Maurice gaily opened the door, and started to carry the luggage up—but Mandy stopped him.

 “What did she mean, condemned building?” she asked. 

“A matter of opinion,” said Maurice. “The police don’t mind so who cares?  Police all friends with my sister, you hear me?”

Andy and Mandy nodded. 

 “Good, let’s head upstairs, only five flights, but watch out, some of the steps not too strong.  Don’t mind the roaches, they don’t bite, they’re just really big.  You want excitement!”

“Five flights,” said Andy, looking up.

“Roaches,” said Mandy, looking down.

“Some rats, too, but small,” added Maurice. “Very urban adventure.”

The building was hot in the way only cities can be, the kind of heat that makes fire hydrants popular.  Andy’s slight bit of hair was matted down, and Mandy’s foundation, or what was left of it, had begun to streak. 

Mandy said, “I was thinking.  Our neighbors are not terrible people.”

“Rudy and Trudy aren’t bad golfers,” said Andy. 

“We should be more charitable…in the future,” Mandy said.  “But I guess it’s too late.”

Maurice smiled pleasantly. After a suitable pause, he said, “Mr. Dan, he hasn’t cancelled your trip. You could still go to that fine resort in Bali. Of course, it’s not such an adventure…might cost you a little extra.” 

Andy whipped out an unseemly number of hundred-dollar bills- and leading Mandy by the hand, headed back to the relative comfort of Maurice’s Toyota.  The ride to the airport was brief and silent—although, mercifully, cool since Maurice had somehow discovered the air-conditioning switch.  

“Here’s to the Shrue’s perfect vacation,” laughed Maurice, now in a navy blazer, over martinis that night with Dan.

“Not so perfect,” said Dan. “Their neighbors are on the very same flight.  I took the liberty of putting the seats together. It’s a very long flight.”

“That will be a true adventure,” said Maurice.


From research to writing fiction


People often find it peculiar that I turned to writing fiction after a happy career in market research. They seem so different, but not to me. 
  
To most people, research seems a dry, fact-filled occupation, filled with graphs and awful surveys about what foods you eat, what films you see, what car you drive or you'd like to drive, even what jeans you wear.  Some find it comical to picture an army of researchers analyzing such trivial choices. But to others, the act of categorizing people seems ludicrous or invasive or both. 

But any researcher can tell you:  there is no such thing as a meaningless choice.  Our lives are soaked in everyday-ness, and the reasons we offer for our choices are mostly lies we tell ourselves – fictions, if you will. We want to feel that we are idiosyncratic, individual, impossible to predict—that each of our preferences reflects some inner, hidden point of light.

No one wants to be that person – you know, the person the polls predict.

Truth is, I can predict – yes, that word, predict – many choices from learning rather a few (very few, if I think about it) variables: age and gender, where you live, educational level, and a startlingly few media choices. If you live in San Francisco, and are white, male, and read, oh, The New York Times or The New Yorker, chances are you label yourself as a "passionate" environmentalist, you adore the films of the Coen Brothers, you eschew TV sitcoms, and on it goes.  (I don't even have to say voting choices, do I?)

The fun is asking the impolite follow-up questions, what I call the question behind the answer.  Say, you tell me you drive a Subaru.  You give your laundry list of reasons—but a little digging, I'm bound to get a different sort of answer, about your identity, about your values, which seems to have nothing to do with cars, and yet has everything to do with cars. A Subaru driver isn't going to drive a Cadillac—that goes without saying.

So what car does my heroine drive?  What does she read? I need to know, or else she'll remain lifeless. She needs everydayness to spring to life –I need to see her apartment, her outfits, her neighborhood. The outside leads to the inside—it can't stop there, it's a starting point, as every good market researcher knows.

Mr. Helen by Carla Sarett


Mr. Helen

America is such a different country from the one I grew up in, unrecognizable in many ways.  Even if the geography stays the same, the boundaries have shifted, are shifting, sometimes so dramatically that it's hard to remember where they once were, what they once meant, or didn't mean; so the very fabric of memory comes into question—because I wonder, could that ever have been so?  Was the world so different?

We had a woman who cleaned our house several times a week.  Actually, now that I think harder, she functioned more like a babysitter.  My mother went to a psychiatrist, a man she called Dr. Myerhoff twice a week, and because he was in Manhattan, and we lived on Long Island, her visits took up most of her afternoon, and she didn't return until dinnertime – at which point, Helen—our cleaning lady – had to be driven to the train station, to go back to her real home in a town called Amityville.  My father must have driven her since my mother never learned to drive, or maybe my parents paid for a taxi.

Now, strange as this seems, Helen was the only dark-skinned person I had ever seen, apart from, perhaps, another cleaning lady.  Our suburb was only white families, not rich, and we all lived in what was called a split-level development, in which all the house looked exactly the same except for their colors and, of course, their yards.  My mother, who thought of this modest house as her castle, had by  herself hauled huge glistening rocks from the nearby woods to form a circle, in the middle of which she had planted two young weeping willows—all of this, while Helen (whom I never called Mrs. Fosky, which was her real name) prepared meals and straightened the house. Since my mother never disciplined us, the house was more or less in a constant state of chaos; my older brother and his rowdy friends tore through it with astounding regularity.
But I was shy, and quiet, and I preferred sitting with tall, stout Helen. I felt safe with her. 

I loved Helen as much as anyone, and I loved to think of her in what I felt sure was the happy town of Amityville, where other dark-skinned people must live in houses (I felt sure) exactly like our own.  My mother had told me that Helen had her own family, her own children—a daughter my age, I think.  And so when I saw the cereal box for Cream of Wheat with a dark-skinned, smiling man on the box, I felt sure he must be Mr. Helen.  Who else could it be?


"That's Mr. Helen?" I asked her, as I ate the cereal, which was buttery and salty the way she prepared it.  I was a picky eater, but I loved Cream of Wheat, especially the way Helen made it.

I wonder what went through her mind when I asked that question.  Harmless, in one way, so poisonous in another.  I think of all the answers she might have given me.

But all she said, "Yes, darling, that's Mr. Helen."   



NO OLD FASHIONED ROMANCE by Carla Sarett

No Old-Fashioned Romance
Carla Sarett
(This highly personal story first appeared in The Medulla Review, and I am reprinting it for Mother's Day)
For my mother, always
To my mother, the characters in novels were as real as you or I.  She remembered every detail about them, the way they spoke and the way they dressed, as if she had met them yesterday on one of her many long walks.  She spoke of them as if they lived in her own house which, in a way, they did.
But she was unusual in her approach, to say the least.  My mother focused on the minor characters, the ones whom literary critical often ignore, the characters who seem to make comic points or add texture to the story.  For her, War and Peace was "really" about the orphan Sonia-- “Sonia’s is the real tragedy.  Natasha gets what she wants, but Sonia has to work as a maid to that awful religious horror, Princess Mary.”  My mother always grieved for Sonia.
Decades after she’d read a novel, my mother could recall specific scenes and descriptions as I never could.  I suppose that explains why later on, I often told her stories drawn from my own life. 
One of those stories concerned a certain Cathleen Carter and her family. Cathleen was a woman of grave demeanor who worked in my small office building.  Like many consultants, she called herself a group, The Carter Group.  I believe that she consulted on environmental crises, which have might have accounted for her earnestness.  In her tiny way, Cathleen was pretty with intense blue eyes and a pixie-style haircut. 
Cathleen and her husband had two daughters: one from her husband's first marriage named Muriel, and the other from her own first marriage, named Marianna.  I confess that I often got the daughters mixed up because their names sounded similar.  
Both Cathleen and her husband had been married to Jews: in her case, a neurotic scientist, in his case, a sarcastic writer.  These marriages had ended bitterly, but now the divorced parents were forced to share the daughters.
Cathleen's daughter divided her week between her “real” father and Cathleen.  Even so, the girl consumed, or appeared to consume, Cathleen’s every waking hour.  For Cathleen, this daughter—Marianna--was a mystery of tears, whims and tantrums.  
I held tiny Cathleen's shoulders. “Your daughter’s just a teen, teens are moody.  I was a sad sack of a teen myself--it broke my mother's heart.  Besides, Marianna is a daughter anyone would be proud of, what are you worried about?” 
Because to me, you see, the girl was perfect, sparkling and filled with life.  I had seen her once with her mother-- a Viking girl, towering over her tiny mother, dressed in blue jeans and a pink tee with a little red heart.  
Cathleen explained.  She wanted her daughter to be engaged with “meaningful” community activities, Model U.N., working in the community, studying voice, learning about music.  And her daughter did those things. 
But, Marianna had a mind of her own.  She wanted to become a fashion designer, work for a clothing company like Anthropologie and perhaps one day have her own clothing line. Cathleen admitted that the girl had done well at a summer fashion school-- her designs had been singled out. 
Still, Cathleen viewed her daughter’s dreams as pipe-dreams.  She wanted Marianna to have a profession filled, as Cathleen put it, "with dignity."  Cathleen had no sympathy for a life devoted to style—to her, it meant nothing at all.  She herself wore clothes from a decade or so ago, with ungainly shoulder-pads. 
So the daughter went on with the life that Cathleen had organized—the model U.N., community leadership and so on.  And there was school-work--calculus, history, literature-- all subjects which the other daughter, Muriel, excelled at. Marianna fell behind in school.  Even though she worked past midnight, she failed to finish her homework –and teachers complained.  She became sick, angry at her mother.
The Jewish scientist father complained that Cathleen pushed the girl too hard.  “Leave her alone,” he said.  
I told my mother about Cathleen, her two husbands, the two daughters, how the histories and names confused me.  I spoke mostly about Marianna, Cathleen's daughter—my mother and I both loved fashion. 
My mother, though, was eager to hear about the other daughter. “What is with the other girl, Muriel?  What’s happening with Muriel?”
Muriel was fine, I said, an honors students, about four years older than Marianna.  In pictures, she appeared dark and beautiful.  I believed she lived, most of the time, with her sarcastic mother, who took her daughter’s success for granted.   I told my mother, “No one has to worry about Muriel.”
From that point on, my mother worried only about Muriel.  She felt someone had to care what happened to Muriel, even if her father and her step-mother and her sarcastic mother and I did not.  
“There's something wrong there,” my mother said.
A year passed, and things had improved for Cathleen and her daughter.   They had gone to a holistic spa in Arizona, just the two of them, where they attended meditation courses. Later that year, they took a mother-daughter weekend on Cape Cod where Marianna had held her hand and said I love you, Mom.  Cathleen looked overjoyed as she told of this -- as if it were a rare event. 
“Perhaps it was,” said my mother. 
  By this time, I learned, Muriel had entered college, not the Ivy League college she had aimed for but a small school down South.  Muriel's sarcastic mother was unable to conceal her disappointment.  At first, Muriel was crushed, but she recovered and now was happy, popular—and, Cathleen told me, made Dean's List. 
“That’s Cathleen’s version,” my mother said. 
I started to piece together a different narrative about Muriel.
At her Southern college, Muriel had become socially ambitious.   She sensed that her sarcastic brilliant mother looked down on her.  But Muriel felt she could outshine her mother on a social level. She joined a sorority that, in earlier days, did not accept Jewish girls.  She dressed down in the way wealthy college girls do, wearing shorts to fancy restaurants just to show how little it mattered.  She wheedled her father into buying her expensive jewelry for Christmas, jewelry he never bought for either of his wives—and even made him pay for trips to Europe, ski vacations in Switzerland. 
  Around that time, Muriel started dating a boy from a nearby college.  His name was Richard Madden, and he was considered a catch, from a prominent family.  Soon, Richard introduced Muriel to everyone in his social circle.  When she came home, Muriel showed pictures of Richard to everyone so they could see how successful her college years were. 
It was an old-fashioned kind of romance, Muriel said.    
I told my mother that Muriel was now in love.  “It’s like an old-fashioned romance,” I repeated, as if brainwashed.  
My mother was completely unimpressed.  “Mark my words,” she told me. “This is no old fashioned romance.”
  Over the next months, I learned that Muriel's real mother, the writer, was to be married again in March, in Washington, D.C., which was not far from Muriel's college in Virginia.  It was to be a surprisingly grand wedding, for a second wedding, with hundreds of guests.
The timing of the wedding was inconvenient, right before college mid-terms. Muriel didn't expect Richard to accompany her, but of course, she hoped. Richard insisted he needed to be there, just to support Muriel.   
Muriel told her father and Cathleen, “Richard will do anything to please me.  That’s the kind of man he is.” 
Muriel spent days searching for the perfect dress—and when she found an amazing pale blue gown trimmed with a tiny band of white lace, she marveled.  She e-mailed an image of herself in the dress to her step-sister—she even swept up her hair to reveal her diamond earrings.
Marianna created a beautiful crystal bracelet to go with it.  “You’ll be more beautiful than any one there,” she told her step-sister.  
The day before the wedding, Richard did not call and he did not return any of Muriel’s many messages and e-mails.  Muriel even called local hospitals, just in case he had been in an accident.  She waited all night for his call.  
Early the next morning, Muriel called Richard’s parents—it was awkward by that time, but she didn’t know what else to do.  Richard took the call.  He was angry at the intrusion, especially at his parents’ home.  He told her that he had no time to speak, and besides, she didn’t deserve it. She asked about the wedding--she had no other date.  He said he did not owe her an explanation and hung up.  He didn’t pick up when she called again.  He was done with her.
Muriel entered alone in her pale blue dress. At dinner, she sat next to an empty seat.  She made excuses but she knew no one, especially her sarcastic mother, believed her.  Several times, she checked her voicemail and e-mail, hoping for an apology.  But he sent none.  She knew she would never hear from him again, but she did not know why.  She reviewed every word and gesture, she could think of nothing that resembled an argument. 
Muriel assumed she would never see Richard Madden again, but in this, she was wrong.  The next week, he showed up on campus with one of her classmates. Richard gave a friendly hello and no more, as if he hardly knew her.    
After that, Muriel rarely saw her father or Cathleen—and mostly spent vacations with her sorority friends.  She disliked visiting the home that her father had made with Cathleen. Most of all, she couldn’t stand the sight of her step-sister, with her blonde hair and her doting mother.  She never been close to Marianna, but now, she despised her and taunted her.  Cathleen's daughter listened to the insults in silence—but she cried herself to sleep at night. 
My mother was unsurprised about Richard Madden.  “I never liked that boy,” she said. And for a while, we did not speak about Cathleen and her family.
Another two years passed, and Muriel went to Paris—the trip was supposed to last a few months.  That is when Muriel disappeared.  Her father hired a private detective to find Muriel. There were the usual false sightings and many dead ends, and eventually, the families gave up.  They accepted her disappearance. Her father removed her pictures from the wall—and no one spoke of her by name.
Marianna, though, had blossomed.  Despite her mother's opposition, she had entered a national fashion design contest and she had won.  She was perched for success.
But Cathleen told me, Marianna rejected the idea that Muriel was lost forever.  She had faith that Muriel would return eventually.  
I debated about which part of the story to tell my mother-- Marianna's new found confidence or the disturbing disappearance of Muriel.  Like many Jewish families, we had ghosts of our own and names that we never spoke.  But I ended up telling my mother the whole story.
And after I had told her everything, my mother said:
“The real story isn't about Richard Madden and Muriel.  It’s about the girls, Muriel and Marianna.  That's the real love story.  That's the one that no one else can see. 
“Marianna will find her.  Mark my words, Marianna will be the one.  You'll see, years from now, she will not have forgotten her.  She will never forget her step-sister.  Marianna is not that kind of person. She will go through every city in Europe.  She will never stop until she finds her. The girls will be re-united, and when they have children of their own, they will know each other and love each other.  Marianna is the only one who can find her.”
You'll see, mark my words.  


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