time life

Knowing I wanted to be a writer smelled like crayons.  Call it a Pavlovian premonition, but I "knew," the way you are suddenly certain of something without proof or reason… the way dogs know when their owners on their journey home.  I was sprawled on the cold green tile floor of the hallway, outside Mrs. Kalb’s classroom, with a handful of crayons.  A tabloid sized piece of recycled-looking paper was split into two parts.  The top bit was blank and reserved for drawing a story, yet the bottom bit was lined for words.  As I wrote, I knew, even at eight years old, I’d want to write for the rest of my life.

The same force of a thought came upon me in college, during a fiction workshop.  The professor liked to jolt our creativity with an exercise at the beginning of class.  She held up a photograph from Time.  It was a black and white photo of a woman getting dressed, with a young child observing her ritual.  "Okay, write."

So I did:

Before my daughter Sarah was born, I believed my birth took my mother’s life.  Sarah’s birth has not only saved my life but has saved my past.

When I was about eight years old, Mother cut off my hair.  "You need to make your mark in this world, Doritt, and never say ‘Remember me?’ to a person.  If you have to ask, they usually don’t."  My best friend Judy told me it was crooked, and I said I’d never go back to that salon again.  I was embarrassed that Mother cut it; I was ashamed we scrimped money.  My hair was very long, down to my waist, except it was a lot thicker on top.  Parts of the curls broke off at the ends.  Mother said the beauty parlor was impractical for the amount I wanted taken off.  "We’ll just get rid of all this splitting," she said as she grabbed a thick handful of my orange hair.  I screamed, I mean I really screamed, when I saw that first handful of my loose curls on the cold bathroom tile.  “What are you doing?  I said I only wanted a trim!”  Mother pulled my hair taut to quiet me, glared at me in the mirror, and in a low voice reserved for dreaded things told me God made a mistake in creating me.

With my black mink muff from Fisher Brothers that my husband Nathan bought me just before Sarah was born wrapped around her arm with smears of icy blue shadow along its edges, and in the pearls that I just had re-strung last week, Sarah does her best to strut over to me to ask if I will cut her hair so it looks like Claudia Schiffer’s.  Her ruffled silk panties poke through the polyester headscarf she has tied loosely around her waist as a sarong skirt.  Batting her eyelashes and making a dramatic curtsy she asks in a saucy English accent, “Darling, don’t I look gorgeous?”  She has trouble balancing in my beige pumps with the two pairs of Nathan’s knotted sweat socks stuffed into the toes, so she staggers and finally falls, her legs straddled out in front of her like fallen wooden posts.  With liquid, loving laughter in her voice she pleads again as if she is asking for a dollar for Mr. Softee.  “Please cut it.”  I scoop her up with both my arms and set her down in front of the vanity table.  She looks like Nathan.  Loose wisps of hair the color of warm honey make soft commas on her neck.  She has my silver hair pins clamped on to her ear lobes, rouge all over her hands, eye shadow up to her eyebrows, and red lipstick on her teeth. 

“Where’s Poppa?”  I ask, but I don’t need an answer because I know Nathan is probably already asleep with his tie still on. 

“He’s snoring.”  She whispers as she hands me the cutting sheers.

“And how was your day at school today, Ms. Sarah?”

“Mom, come on.”

“Are we going somewhere?”

“Mommy…” Sarah tugs on the hem of my skirt.  “Come on!”

“Where we going?”  I tease.

“Cut my hair!”  She’s pouting.

“I’ll do no such thing with that tone of voice.  Is this how you greet your mother?  Give me a kiss.”  I say as I squat closer to the floor.  Instead of a kiss, she licks my cheek, giggles, and skips out of the room, leaving my pumps behind.

“You kiss like a dog.”  I shout, but stop laughing because I remember that Nathan is asleep.  I peak into our bedroom and see him, asleep on his back.  His tie is off, but his shoes are still on.  His feet dangle at the edge of the bed.  I slip off my clothes, all of them, and squat on the floor where his arm is stretched out straight but hanging, as if someone is holding it there for him.  I slowly take off his watch and put it on his nightstand.  Climbing softly onto the bed, I try not to move the mattress too much.  As I begin to unbutton his shirt, he swings his arm back onto the bed, and opens his eyes.  Then a thin smile spreads across his face like a snake. 
In his scratchy voice he says, “Well.”  Then, he clears his throat not expecting to sound so hoarse.  “Isn’t this a surprise.”  I smile and kiss him on the nose.  He finishes unbuttoning and hurries to peel off his damp clothes, kicking off his shoes but leaving on his brown dress socks.

“Do you want me to open a window?”

“I can stand the heat.  Besides, you think I’m letting you out of my sight?”  He squeezes my ass, and this makes me want to climb under the covers.

“Get up.”  I stand over him. 

“Ah, ah, ah.”  He waves his index finger like a teacher sure in his dogma.  “Please allow me.”  He sits up, pulls the covers back, grabs my hand, and pulls me on top of him.  His muscles are defined like braids, each one wrapping itself around the other.  “You feel incredible.” 

I begin to think of the dimples he must be feeling on my ass and roll off him onto my side.  Nathan says that cellulite is feminine, and that he loves how soft I am.  During seex, I feel my sides jiggle, my ass fat bounce, and I have to remind myself that seex is supposed to be pleasurable.  But, I’ve come a long way.  I’m just recently learning how to sleep without a shirt on, but I still sleep with my underwear because of my dimples.      

“What’s wrong?”  He asks, eyebrows wrinkled.  He looks concerned.

"Huh, nothing.  Nothing’s wrong.  Come here.”  I rub his back and kiss his neck.  His penis is hard and leaking.

“Don’t put it there.  I can get pregnant that way.”

“You can not.”  He whispers as he tries to glide it in.

“Yes, men dribble before they shoot.”  I wiggle loose.

“Oh, pithy, Doritt.”  He smiles.

“Mom, are you going to cut my hair or what?”  I was startled to see Sarah there, leaning her elbows on the bed. 

Nathan rolls off of me and asks her, “What did we say about knocking and private time, Sarah?”

“But Mommy promised she was going to cut my hair tonight.”

“Oh, no, Mommy said no such thing.”

“I’ll massage your feet with Kerri lotion.”  She tries to barter services.


“And, I’ll rub Poppa’s head with the paper towel.”

“Oh, I get to be in the deal too?  Well then, if you’re rubbing my head, I want cold hands, no paper towel.”  Nathan knows that Sarah likes to rub his head only with the paper towel because his bald scalp is greasy, and she complains about how her hands smell afterwards.

“Mommy, please.”  She pleads with raised eyebrows.

“How about tonight we give ourselves bubble baths and tomorrow after school, we’ll both get our hair done like Claudia’s?” I ask as lean over the edge of the bed to smooth the loose powder off the bridge of her nose and smear the eye shadow out of her brows with my finger.   

“Can I get yellow ribbon, then?  Two bows?”   

“If you get your p.j.’s on right after we clean up all that mess you left out there, and you go straight to bed, we’ll talk about the bows in the morning.” 

I put on my robe, assured Nathan that I’d be back and for him not to go anywhere, and watched as Sarah put Mother’s perfume pot where the brushes belong.  “Now you know better than that.”  I remind her, and she puts the pot where it belongs.

“But darling, I’ll just die if I don’t have ribbons.  Peggy wore pink boxed ribbons today.”  Sarah murmurs as she leans into me, nuzzling me with her nose.

"Squirt, get your tush out of my scarf and into the tub.”  I say as I swat her with the rolled up newspaper from the magazine rack beside the dresser. 

As I tuck her in, she asks me if she can bring Aunt Judy’s dog in for show and tell.  Judy is my oldest and dearest friend.  I say that I’ll ask her at work tomorrow while she’s in school.



  1. I wish I was given the gift of being a writer. It seems like good therapy which I need a lot of.

  2. I wish I was given the gift of being a writer. It seems like good therapy which I need a lot of.

  3. I wish I was given the gift of being a writer. It seems like good therapy which I need a lot of.

  4. Plantation, if this is genius, then what is Sontag, Chomsky, Updike, Cheever, Mailer, Shakespeare, Goethe, Locke, Marx, Spencer, Kundera, Milosz, Havel, Inouye, Kafka, Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, etc. etc.??

    Elitist intellectuals?
    2nd rate authors?

  5. Robotnik…I guess all of the above.

    On a serious note, I am not trying to take away from Stephanie's talent, but I also agree that genius is a very strong word to use.

  6. har har. I hit post twice by accident.

    Any more corrections or comments Robotnik?

  7. Damn. That's some seriously imaginative writing. Did you pull that together within the duration of one workshop?

  8. Good stuff. I'm impressed. You've got a talent for dialogue- very natural, distictive voices.

  9. Al, just busting your bollix. Stephanie is used to me doing that.

    Ok…here's my pledge for '05: no more corrections.

  10. Ladies and gents…I think that was game, set, match….winner Stephanie Klein.

  11. I've an Irish accent. I also say: "Oi! Me bloody 'ead"

    Even though I'm Romanian.

    On a different subject: isn't it awful having so many men brown nosing you on this blog? (You know who you IS)

  12. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder Tom & Jerry, er, Robotnik. Yes genius. Maybe those other classic writers are 'more genius,' I don't know? All I know is that anyone who can make me drool over soggy & spicy nachos saturated with warm cheese sitting under a heat lamp as well as smoked salmon over waffles with a dollop of crème fraiche with dill has immense writing talent.

  13. I'm not directing this to anyone specifically, but I do think that the comments correcting grammar, spelling, and other writing problems discourage would-be commentors. Just a thought…

  14. Ah, yes PT…I'm down with "immense writing talent" in "genius'" stead. Now you're talking.

    SR: I've made me…pardon, MY '05 resolution regarding grammar/syntax/Strunk & White.

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