… I walked up to Mom as she was standing in front of the register at the thrift shop. Her navy blue Dr. Scholl’s wooden and leather slides were planted firmly on the weathered forest green rug. The right sandal appeared to be covering a beginning hole that exposed a dark brown wooden floor. Her mauve colored toes were beautifully painted. I looked to her neatly manicured hands and her natural long nails rounded at the tips. Stepping towards her with the purse I was hoping to buy I smelled her Jovan White Musk mixed with the smell of her Marlboro Light cigarettes. In the front window by the register I looked to see an antique doll made of porcelain sitting in a small rocking chair with an aloe plant that had the longest stems appearing to aid in keeping the rocking chair steady. The right leg was stiffened in an unnatural way. The right eye of the doll looked no better. I looked to the side of the dolls face as a breeze flew through the door with the entrance of a man. I looked away from the doll as I looked to the older man. His shoes looked old. I saw some men shoes in the back near the umbrellas. I hoped he would find a good deal. I wondered if he felt as alone as he looked.
I looked back to the right eye of the doll. The eye went up and down, up and down as the swirl of wind that accompanied the older man violated the dolls eye. I stood on my toes a little and leaned over the solid wood checkout counter trying to avoid the huge brass bell to see what the left eye was doing. Nothing. It was wide open. I looked to see what it was looking at. A green fuzzy frog the color of a lima bean hanging in the upper corner of the window. Twenty five cents. Maybe I would ask Mom if I could get the purse and frog. The frog had big black shiny eyes and a smile that was too big I thought for his little body but I giggled a little because he was not like any other frog I saw before. Maybe I would get him only instead of the purse I thought. I looked to the side of the dolls face again. Missing eyelashes on half of the eye and the painted on eyebrow made the eye seem softer.
I looked to the short woman behind the register. Her and my mom seemed to be the same age I thought. Mom put her four pairs of jeans, two shirts and a silky long white nightgown that had frilly lace and a border of little pink roses around the bottom. Two of the roses looked more pale pink than the others. “Here Mom,” I said, handing her the purse. She looked at me. Thinking that maybe it was too much money I thought of the frog for twenty five cents. I looked up at her and she looked down at me. I saw her eyes were changing and her lips. I looked to her beautifully manicured toes and her middle toe was curled up making the little steel buckle protrude up. I was hoping that her feet were not in pain. Mom had painful Rheumatoid Arthritis to the point of her not being able to walk at times or to be able to open jars. I remember her having to use a grip like device to open most things in the kitchen. And then I got the look. I knew the look because she would give it to me in a flash and it was a pre-warning. Mom looked at the lady behind the register. I looked to the doll by the register then back to Mom then back to the lady who was removing a tag from the pair of jeans I found for mom.
$2 ~ the tag read. I watched as the woman slipped her index finger through the cotton string to meet her thumb that was waiting to help her index finger complete the task of removal and into the pile of others that laid next to the paper bag. I saw how the string looked frayed and how the little white pieces of cotton soon would be a white piece of aggravation on someones clothing. I watched as the woman picked up the jeans and folded them. I heard the paper bag being opened more than it should be opened. I watched as the paperbag began to crease and the fibrous pulp began to become tired. It was going to rip. Maybe it could have been my book cover for school I thought. I would have made pretty rainbows and heart balloons on the cover and back. It would have been the prettiest book in the classroom I said. But it was meant for moms jeans.
I knew I wasn’t getting the purse. It was okay I said to myself. I looked up at the green frog. Maybe it’s not a lima green color I thought. It was a spring days green and the spot from the sun in the window wasn’t worn out, it was going to be the sun, like on my favorite Care Bear, Sunshine Bear. I smiled as I gave this frog with the biggest smile and the sweetest eyes a name. He was Franklin the frog. I smiled. I wonder if he knew that I thought he was just lovely and that if I had had a quarter, I would have bought him.
“Are you going to get the purse honey?,” asked the lady behind the register. I looked at mom and then at my hand. I forgot I still had it in my hand. I was getting to know Franklin. “Um, I don’t know, Mom may I have it?” I asked looking at her. She looked at me. I looked at her lips. I saw her saliva glistening over the bottom half of her lip. Her glitter lip gloss was almost worn off. I thought about the glitter gold belt next to the crocheted plant hanger. “Do you want the purse baby girl?” Mom asked me. Her lips only moved a little.
How did I even hear, her I thought. “Yes.”, I said, looking at the lady and then Mom but when I looked at Mom, I knew. I knew. I was afraid. “Mom, your not going to hurt me are you?”, I asked her. I was done. I knew it in that moment. In that moment that she grinned at me and said, “Babygirl, why would you say that for?”. I just looked at her. I then looked at the doll with the one open eye. I looked at Franklin. I wanted to see the crocheted plant hanger one more time. The lady looked at mom. The lady looked at me. I smiled at her. I wanted to comfort her. Maybe she was hurt as a kid I thought. Maybe she could see the untrembling trembles. “Its okay.”, I told her from my soul to hers. I smiled again at her before we left.
I did get the purse that day. What I also got was one of my mothers severe arm pinches. She would grab my arm, halfway up and she would take her index finger and thumb and she would twist very hard, holding on until the skin would break several vessels. I cried because the physical pain was too much, it always was on my arms. I was small as a child in frame. I cried in the car and told her I was sorry. I told her I was confused because I wasn’t paying attention. I wanted to tell her about Franklin but decided not to. I feared she may go in the thrift shop and buy Franklin and kill him. I decided that he had the doll with the broken eye and stiff leg and they had one another.
When Mom was having her bad days, they were bad. For the whole day. I went upstairs with my new purse. I looked at it and put it near my pink school bag.
“MELISSA MARIE WOODING!”, Mom screamed. I was about to change my babys clothes and to feed her. I ran down the stairs almost forgetting to step on the last three steps. I made one but skipped over the last two. My arm was already passing the familiar purple stage. Three weeks I reasoned and I can wear short sleeve shirts. It was April and in New England it was cool until June. I had creative methods to hide moms bad days. “Sorry Mom,” I said, “I just heard you now.” My eyes were red still from crying. She looked at me and smiled. But it wasn’t that Mom kind of a smile. It was a satisfying smile. I knew she was well pleased with the red in my eyes. You see, I learned, I trained myself to never give her the satisfaction of seeing me cry because she would smile. I would have rather she had hit me. I felt in those moments of her smiles the saddest. Maybe that is why I cried the most. Because at least with the physical pain I could have the pain to embrace. It kept me company. It kept me from feeling the emotional stuff that would come after for awhile. The physical pain was a numbing astringent against the emotional giants that would come after. I had to deal with that on my own and after awhile that became too heavy for me. My mind began to unwind.
I was seven years old. In the middle of the night I would get out of bed and stand next to my TV set that had antennas on top. I would put my right thumb and my index finger to the right side of my head and I tried to turn the “channel” in my head. With my other hand I tried to fix the annetans to make her voice go away so I could have a clear mind. It didn’t work. I walked back to my bed and laid down. Tears quietly rolled down my cheeks onto the pillow. I thought about Franklin and the doll with the broken eye. I smiled because Mom didn’t know about Franklin. I rolled over and was happy I never asked Mom for a quarter.