- After the Night of the Inheritance
On the night of the inheritance, Flora swiped the lace tablecloth from the polished mahogany dining table and dropped it on one of the shield-backed dining chairs. "Elise, your uncles are coming to meet with me. And stop making that face. You'll get wrinkles. Why can't you ever listen to me? I'm not serving any food tonight, either."
Elise shrugged, covering up her newly pierced ears. She was only twelve and hated every time her mother threatened. She would never marry. She wanted to be the first girl in the family to attend college. Worrying about wrinkles was stupid at twelve when she was just getting interested in boys.
"Mom, why do I have to go outside?" But Flora was busy fumbling in her apron pocket for a cigarette before she turned and click-clacked into the kitchen on her three-inch heels. Elise heard kitchen cabinets slamming until Flora shouted "gotcha" and walked back into the dining room. "No one marries girls with wrinkled foreheads. And my sisters-in-law and your cousin Max won't be here either. We're having a family meeting," Flora mumbled with a lit cigarette hanging between her lips.
A moment later, Elise's youngest uncle, who had just turned thirty, tiptoed into the living room, squeezing himself between his older brothers sitting on either end of the green couch. "It's time for you to take Elise outside," Flora said to her husband.
Elise's father fumbled in the crowded [End Page 97] dining room closet for her sweater. He held the sweater behind her back and she slipped her arms into the sleeves. Elise passed her silent uncles and waved goodbye as her father steered her across the living room to sit outside on the concrete steps.
A small light fixture sparkled on the Wissahickon schist, casting shadows on their backs. Streetlights illumined the young curb trees. From inside, a chorus of her mother's siblings' "Pop, l'shalom" wafted through the screen door into flat, unscented air. The peony stems on the lawn greened, presaging the deep pink flowers that the neighbor kids would later trample when running across the contiguous lawns to catch fireflies.
Inside, cigarettes and ashtrays were Flora's lifeline. From the sofa, the two older brothers recited their creed: "Pop made a mistake; we have to own the business. If you don't sign over Pop's business to us, we'll go to court and break the will. You have a husband to support you, anyway. If you try forcing us to break his will, we'll break up the family and you really will be sorry, even if you get more money. You already have a husband to support you."
Later, Flora spoke to herself, Everyone smoked. I left the dining room doorway and darted in and out of the kitchen to empty ashtrays until I settled on the bottom step in the living room. I didn't know how to fight back.
Two years later, a Japanese submarine torpedoed Flora's husband's ship, sending his body to the depths of the Pacific. Flora sank into another season of mourning. When the youngest brother visited, his first stop was the black baby grand from their parents' house. Flora pushed his hands into the piano shouting, "I hate Communists, you're as greedy as your capitalist brothers. All you wanted was my part of Pop s business." He told his older brothers that Flora was temperamental because she was pregnant.
After birthing the now fatherless Rebecca, Flora followed her husband into her own depths, the depths of depression. She was her own house of mourning, shaking her head to push back encroaching walls. Each night Flora's dead father visited. He stood staring with his cobalt blue eyes from the foot of her bed. In a soiled nightgown with sagging rickrack trim, Flora spoke to his ghost. In the morning she wiped her hand down the glass medicine cabinet, chanting "No, I will not go under," as she splashed water on concave cheeks and etched forehead, watching her red hair fade...