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IN LOCO PARENflS/Wendy Katten THE SUMMER AFTER my mother died, my aunt Flora moved in with her wig. It was bright orange, perfectly sculpted into a haylike , immovable flip. Early on I told a friend's mother that my Aunt Flo wore a wig that made her look like Bozo. I never found out how this got back to my aunt, but she wasn't impressed with my comparison , and said, "Il faut cultiver notre jardin," throwing her head back and pointing her nose in the air like some supreme authority. She always used phrases nobody understood. "Erin go bragh," Aunt Flo would say in response to a question she didn't know the answer to. (We were non-practicing Jews with no connection to Ireland.) I didn't know she was saying, "Ireland forever," but I appreciated the way her r's so smoothly rolled off her tongue, a trick I myself had failed to master. "Did you always wear an orange wig?" I asked Aunt Flo one night when she was placing it on the styrofoam head where it slept. "It's not an orange wig, Lucinda," Aunt Flo said, gently patting the fake hair as if it were a pet or a child. "What is it, then?" I asked. My real name was Lucy, short for nothing , but since she'd arrived two weeks before, she hadn't called me it once. "It's a burnt-umber fall," Aunt Flo responded with her familiar gesture of tossing her head back as if speaking to the ceiling. This time one of her fake lashes fell to the floor. I picked it up and handed it to her. "How do you wash it?" I asked, copying her movement, with even more exaggeration. "A fall is like a hat/* she said. "You don't wash it, you wear it." She went on to comb out her own, real hair, that looked somewhat simi-lar to the thing on the stand, only thinner, and without the crescentlike bottom I called "the tidal wave." When she was finished, she placed the wig on top of my head. Her point was to show me that a fall doesn't cover the whole head, but only the top and the back, allowing bangs and the sides of the person's real hair to peek out. Because her head was bigger than my own, the false hair fell over my eyes and onto my nose. It smelled bad, like dusty closets. I wanted to throw up. I went to my room and looked up "fall" in the dictionary. There were thirty-six definitions, but none that had anything to do with hair. I told The Missouri Review ยท 63 Aunt Flo that her hairpiece didn't exist. She said, "When I was small, I had an imaginary friend who delivered blankets made of chocolate and marshmallow to kids in poor neighborhoods. They could both sleep on them and eat them. That wasn't in the dictionary. Does that mean it didn't exist?" The next morning before I'was to leave for school, I returned to Aunt Flo's room to watch her apply her makeup and hair. It was a ritual she observed even when she wasn't leaving the house. Over her eyes, she smoothed powders and creams in wild colors like turquoise and fuchsia. She drew a fake birthmark with eyeliner pencil just left of her chin. I thought she was pretty, but she looked nothing like my mother, whose trips to the cosmetics counter had been few and unnecessary . Of the two sisters, only Aunt Flo had a heavy sprinkling of freckles covering her face, continuously reinforced by the Miami sun she had lived under for fifteen years. Her toenails were lacquered with polka dots. She was shorter than my mother had been, but had a pair of spiked heels that turned her into a giant. Even without this height, though, there was a sturdiness about her, similar to a tough child. She was athletic, unlike my mother, who had loathed sports, and she claimed to have nearly made it to the Olympics in diving back in the late '60s. I...


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