Still Half Moon
When I let myself into Mrs. B’s second floor apartment at eight p.m. I think she is asleep, but when I hear something drop to the floor I know to find her in the kitchen. I pick up the butter knife and place it in the sink. She takes out a new one, then rubs mayonnaise on one side of bread, cuts her sandwich in half. She comments on my haircut, asks me about my daughter, Emma, then moves to the navy blue recliner in the living room. She eats her sandwich in six bites and leaves the crust behind. I ask Mrs. B if she wants to watch television, if she wants me to make her a cup of ginger tea, if she needs me to go downstairs and put some towels in the laundry machine. She says her daughter came over before work today and threw some in, says it was nice to see her but her face looked pale, her eyes red. Mrs. B presses the button on the side of the chair and reclines. Her left sweatpant is tucked into her socks. She believes matching socks are a true sign of old age, so she wears one striped and one solid black. She wiggles her toes and half smiles. I ask Mrs. B if she’s in any pain today. She wiggles again. Do your feet hurt, I ask her. Paint them, she tells me. Will you paint my nails for me, Sunny? Actually, I think just fingers, she says, then holds them out to me. I ask her if she has any nail polish and she says there’s some in the bathroom medicine cabinet. It’s been ages since I’ve had a manicure, she says, staring at her small hands.
The first thing I do is massage lotion into her skin, which feels loose and cold against my own. Then I carefully push her cuticles back using the eraser side of a pencil that I found in my purse. Next, I clip each nail, keeping them as long as possible, the way she likes them. I hold up two colors, rust and pale pink, the only ones I found in her medicine cabinet that weren’t dried up. I paint three careful strokes of pink on each nail, trying not to get any on her skin. When I get some on there anyway it barely shows, but I still grab a tissue from the coffee table and dab it away. I remember the way my mother used to press my hand down on the table so firmly, how she would pull my thumb to the side to make sure each strip of color fit my nail. Sometimes when she was bored she would ask if I wanted a manicure, and most of the time I said yes even though it always hurt the way she held my hand. She’d make popcorn and real hot chocolate on the stove, and we’d sit on the floor in the living room while my father smoked cigarettes on the couch, reminding us once in a while not to drip polish on the glass.
When my mother sees me with the box of my grandfather’s photographs, she tells me to put them back. She says it’s good that I’m fixing up his old camera I found in the garage, that her father would be happy to see someone using it. But his pictures aren’t for understanding, Emma, she tells me. When she gets home from her overnight shift taking care of Mrs. B, her face is long and her coat has a stain on the sleeve; I ask her how her night was but all she asks me is why I’m still awake and where I found the box. I ask her why I can’t look at it, why I’m not allowed to know who my grandfather really was. She tells me not to go in her room and when I ask why she says I’ll find things I don’t want to see. I tell her I know there’s pot growing in the closet, that Dad isn’t doing a very good job. She says I’m fourteen and I don’t know what I’m talking about. I tell her one time when I was a kid I tried her spray deodorant before I was allowed to have my own. I tell her how I would play on her bed when she was downstairs cooking, how I would spray the deodorant all over my body, how she never caught me smelling just like her. I don’t tell her that I saw the gun in her underwear drawer, how one day I took it out and pressed the cool metal side against my cheek, then got scared and put it back under the pile of briefs.
My mother takes the box from me and holds it in her lap. She touches the corners of the picture on top, one of my uncle wearing tight shorts while hosing down a van in the driveway. My grandmother is in the background, bent over pulling weeds from a flowerbed, but her head is turned around facing the camera, and I know my grandfather must have called her name as he was snapping the picture. My grandmother’s hair is yellow and her skin is tan. She wears big gloves that look like mitts, and even from far away I can see that the tip of the shovel is holding dirt.
I didn’t see this one, my mother says. She’s holding a photo that I took a few days ago of my best friend, Alice, who hates being photographed. She’s sitting on the couch in the garage with her hand shielding her face like the sun is in her eyes. She’s looking down at her shoes but she’s smiling—just a little bit. I got the camera to work, I tell my mother. She asks me why the picture is in this box and I say it was a mistake. She hands it back to me and I put it half under my leg next to me on the couch. She closes the lid and says not to go in her room anymore. She says she’s tired now and she’s going to bed, that I should get some rest too. When my mother leaves the room I hold the photo of Alice in my hands, and another one of my grandfather at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. This one my grandmother must have taken.
I catch myself dozing off on the couch and when I look over I see Mrs. B's head bobbing. I say her name only once, softly, and she wakes immediately, then repositions herself in the chair. She grabs the remote and switches the channel to an infomercial selling the perfect omelet maker. We watch it intensely for a few moments. The man selling the omelet maker has a perfectly trimmed red beard and unnaturally white teeth. I watch Mrs. B for a while and I think she's getting close to calling the number. I don't trust him, she finally says to me, breaking our silence. Me either, I say. The man flips the device over and the eggs come out fluffy and yellow. The presentation is beautiful. A series of testimonials scroll on the television, confirming the omelet maker makes the best omelet anyone has ever had. Mrs. B switches off the television and gets up. Well, she says, isn't that something. When I ask her where she's going, she replies, aren't you hungry?
For Alice’s fifteenth birthday her parents throw her a party in their backyard. At night, after everyone leaves, we set up a tent and convince her parents to let us sleep outside. Her mom gives us a pile of blankets and makes us promise to come in if it gets too windy. After her parents go to sleep Alice and I go back inside. We grab four cans of beer from the fridge, then run back to the tent, and in the dark, in between sips of Genny, I think about kissing her. When Alice is done drinking she falls asleep with her head on my stomach, and I can tell by the way her breathing moves her chest that she feels safe there, that I cannot break this, not ever. When I can't fall asleep I walk to the creek, drop the cans in one by one, then watch to make sure the water carries them all away.
Mrs. B’s daughter bought her a laptop, and when I let myself in I find them both on the couch together. When Mrs. B. introduces us, her daughter shakes my hand and it’s warm and clammy. I was just leaving, she says to me without making eye contact. As she grabs her coat and shoes she explains how she got the laptop at a great price and couldn’t pass it up. Mrs. B thanks her daughter, then moves the screen to show me Solitaire. Her daughter kisses her on the cheek, and at the same time Mrs. B reaches her hand up to touch her daughter’s face. When she pulls her hand away she looks down at the remnants of face powder on her fingertips. I watch Mrs. B rub her fingers together until the powder is gone. She wipes her hand on her pants, then notices a smudge on the laptop screen and wipes that away too. When her daughter is finally gone, Mrs. B closes the lid. What’s in the bag, Mrs. B asks me. Shit, I say. Shrimp. It needs to go in the fridge, I call over my shoulder, already halfway to the kitchen. I’m worried about that Robert of yours, says Mrs. B, and she’s talking about my husband, Rob, who brings home so much discount seafood from the grocery store he manages, our freezer is overflowing. I’ve started bringing it to Mrs. B, but now it’s getting to be too much. There’s no room, I yell back towards the living room. Maybe if I consolidate the open boxes of raviolis, I think. Mrs. B buys her groceries in bulk to get the best deals; sometimes, when she’s sleeping, I go through her cupboards and count the cans of black olives and chocolate cake mixes that I know will go unused. I like the neatness of it all, how there’s anything and everything at a fingertip’s reach. I think about doing my grocery shopping here since I know Mrs. B wouldn’t mind. I don’t do it.
When we go back to school a few weeks later, I tell Alice I'm falling in love with her, and then she stops talking to me. I stick the photo that I took of her in her locker, and when I see her in the cafeteria I look away. When my mother asks why Alice hasn’t been around lately, I say she’s grounded because she walked to the beach one night with her neighbor, Chucky, without asking. I’m a terrible liar. My mother says nothing and instead turns the radio up loud. One time your grandfather taught me how to dance and this song was playing, she says. This is Barry White, she tells me, in a way that makes me feel bad for not knowing, for being too young. She finishes peeling potatoes, fills up a pot with cold water, then drops them in and lights the stove. She’s quiet and I want to say something but I don’t know what, so I just watch her move around the kitchen, mouthing the lyrics, no sound. When she finally looks up at me, the lines around her mouth seem longer than the last time when I noticed them. Be right back, she says with blank eyes. Watch the stove.
At night, once my mother goes to work and my dad falls asleep on the couch, I go into my parents’ closet and find the box of old photographs, which my mother unsuccessfully hid from me. I slip the photo of my grandfather at the kitchen table back into its place, then notice that the plant my father was growing is gone. I close the closet door behind me, leaving it open a small crack just the way I found it. Before I leave my parents’ room, I check my mother’s underwear drawer. The gun is gone but there’s something new in its place.
When I go back to my bedroom, I open the window and crawl out onto the roof, which is still a little bit wet from the rain this afternoon. I roll my first joint, which is messy and too fat for just me. The town is quiet. I watch the light from someone’s television across the street, and when it finally goes dark I crawl back through the window, then fall asleep on top of my bed, not bothering to get under the sheets.
What’s wrong, asks Mrs. B. We’re playing Gin Rummy at the kitchen table. I ask her how she likes her new laptop, and she says it’s making a weird noise, like a light humming. I tell her that it’s probably normal. It makes me nervous, she says. We play cards in silence for a while until she asks me what’s wrong again, and when I don’t respond for the second time she starts telling me a story about her husband, Frank, who passed away ten years ago. I’ve heard the story before but I listen anyway. When she’s finished telling the story she puts her cards down on the table, then scoops mine away and places them face down in front of her. We’re not playing until you tell me what’s wrong, she says. So I tell her. I tell Mrs. B about the letter I found in the pocket of Rob’s jeans, how it was signed Robbie, how the spelling was perfect but the handwriting was young, the way Emma’s looks when she signs a birthday card or writes me a note to pick up more cereal. What did it say, Mrs. B asks. I tell her it said nothing really, just things about school and some fight with a neighbor and a sprained hand. And a birthday, I say. An upcoming birthday, but no age. Mrs. B doesn’t say anything, just slides my cards over to me, then picks up her own and reorganizes them in her hand. I don’t need to tell her Rob has a son he’s keeping from me. Your turn, she says.
The day after Halloween I hear the rumor about Alice, which is that she gave Michael D. a blowjob after the haunted hayride. He told everyone she was really bad at it, that he would never seriously like her because of her pointy nose. I hear five different versions of the story throughout the week, one of which is so mean, I pour a carton of spoiled milk over Michael’s head and get after school detention for a full week.
I leave Mrs. B’s at five a.m., an hour after my shift technically ends. I roll the windows down in the car even though the air is cool for November. I concentrate on the lines on the road so I don’t fall asleep at the wheel. I always see things when I’m driving at night. Mailboxes look like children, broken tree branches like curled up dogs in the center of the road. Sometimes I get out of my car to be certain, but most of the time, by the time I drive up close enough, everything’s name belongs, everything’s really stationary after all. I think I’m going home but I end up at the convenience store, the only one that’s still open and is two blocks away from the cemetery. I stop inside and buy a handful of carnations, red and orange, and for some reason they remind me of the lines Emma would draw as a child, pushing out from the sun. I pay for the flowers and a cup of coffee, then drive over to St. Matthew’s cemetery to visit my father.
When I can’t sit at the dinner table any longer with my father and his plate of boiled lobster, I say I’m feeling sick, that I need to go out and get some fresh air. My mother made her escape ten minutes ago and is turning over couch cushions in the living room looking for her keys. It’s a quarter to eight, I yell to my mother, who is going to be late again for her overnight shift. My father stuffs his hand in his pocket and I hear the car keys jingling. Shhh, he says to me, then grins. Before I walk out the door into the backyard, he calls me over to him. He brushes the back of his hand back and forth against my face, and his skins smells like mint and his knuckles feel like sandpaper. He moves my hair behind my left ear and looks like he wants to say something, but instead he grabs the car keys from his pocket, then puts them in the palm of my hand. Before you go, he says. Stop looking, Mom, I yell into the other room. I roll my eyes at my father, then close my fist.
Through a pile of wet leaves I see a set of teeth. I stop in the backyard and stare into the pile, then kick around with my boot until I uncover a rotting deer head. I squat down and notice how the eyes are still intact, how they look wet and full, like small pools of tar. The fur is dirty and matted and I want to look away, except I can’t pull my eyes from the brown jagged teeth. I think of going inside to get my camera from my bedroom, but it feels wrong to leave right now, so I just stay squatting for a few more moments, studying skin and bone. I hear the front door slam and a few seconds later the car pulling away, and I think of my mother driving and singing along to the radio, and I wonder where it is that she goes. I touch my fingertips to the face of the deer and it’s softer than it looks. Before I go back inside, before I go back to my father, I return all the leaves. Handful by handful, I don’t stop until the whole head is covered.
Lindsay Infantino is a second year MFA candidate at LIU-Brooklyn. She writes in many genres and enjoys impressionistic and experimental work. Lindsay’s plays have been produced by The Outer Loop Theater Experience and performed at SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Brockport. For three years she directed for Geva Theatre Center’s Young Writers Showcase in Rochester, NY. Lindsay currently lives and works in Brooklyn.