Mondays were tennis days for my mother. When it turned cooler, she took to the indoor courts at Glen Cove, Long Island. This was back when I was too young to be left home alone, when I would only eat the heart of things, when homework assignments didn’t stretch beyond handing in a single page in a single subject. Mondays meant Bina.
Bina was the official nanny of the tennis center, keeping rule and lock over the toy chest, the pretzels, and the apple juice. There were two playpens, a small circular table with small wooden chairs, a petite bookcase filled with Berenstain Bears books, and chests of plastic toys. A wooden dog with colorful plastic features, skipped along on a rope. I remember wondering at what age did children find this kind of toy amusing?
Each week I was in search of a fresh page amongst the tattered coloring books. I wanted to eat the gold crayon. Even now, I know that smell, the insides of curled crayon wrappers, smooth and delicate, like eyelashes. I remember thinking there was something sexually blunt and ugly about the naked crayons, the ones who’d been slipped from their skins, poked into the built-in sharpening hole. Without their identifying names, they laid there bare, discarded and useless. I didn’t want to touch them. I hoarded the silver, copper, and gold, rolling one beneath my forearm, tucking it away so no one else could use it.
This room of Bina’s was located in the basement, near a vending machine. I remember looking up at the rows of packaged products, each tucked behind a metal lip. If I dreamt back then, I’m sure it was sometimes of this vending machine and sometimes of orange soda.
Most of the other kids there were Monday regulars, although sometimes we’d get a new kid, and my sister and I would pretend we were British.
“Oh, the chauffer Jeeves is outside with the limousine.”
“Which limousine, dearest?”
“The one with the pink satin seatbelts.” We were in a Pink Ladies Grease phase.
“Well, let’s just finish watching the Brady Bunch, then we’ll adjourn.”
Our mother used that word, or someone did, and we learned to say it with a British accent, as if we were saying, “AddYawn” very quickly.
Bina smelled like grandmother-apartment. Mothballs, matzo balls, and packages of nylon stockings. Hat boxes—if they had a smell, they smelled like Bina’s nursery. She always wanted to braid my hair. That meant sitting on her lap, which I was too big to do, and I hated how she’d want to brush my hair first. Even then I knew you didn’t brush curly hair, ever. One was to separate sections with fingers only. Instead, I offered to broom up the carpet with her rolling broom, which was the most amusing toy in the place. Pretzel crumbs, pencils and crayon shavings, became mine beneath the power of the rolling broom. Lea and I used to bicker over who got to use it. Bina called it “The Magic Wand.” She was a clever woman, considering all that wirey hair she pinned to the top of her head, in a pile that resembled the insides of torn cigarettes.
If by chance, I had too much apple juice, I’d hold it in, squirming and antsy, determined to continue work on my coloring project. Bina would say things like, “You have ants in your pants today, don’t you?”
I wouldn’t be accused of being uncleanly. “I most certainly do not.”
Bina tried to hold my hand, off to the little ladies room. Her hands were thick, dotted, and yellow. I imagined they smelled damp, like a sponge. They were meaty. I didn’t like her name. I hated holding hands with anyone, even my parents, or sister. Except when I was sick. It’s the only time I let people touch me and craved affection. I think I’m still this way. Lea said I didn’t love her because I wouldn’t hold her hand or pet her head. She craves it still today and complains that I don’t hold her hand back. "Like a fish," she says. "Hold it," she instructs, pushing the tips of my fingers around her hand. It’s work, to me, showing affection for anyone, aside from Linus, who can’t talk back, and never criticizes. Only bites. But never me.