Zog’s girlfriend wants to make a good impression on his mother, but someone’s doing a bad impression, and the truth, it may have to come out.
The streets were full of people, and their breath mists. They rubbed their gloved hands together to keep warm. It was winter. Icicles hung upon the black railing around the garden. The couple arrived at a door and paused.
“You cold?” he said.
“Nope.” She said.
“Ever?” He said.
“Never.” She said.
“Me neither, ever,” he said.
“Cool,” she said.
“He smiled at her. She smiled back as she chewed gum with her mouth open. He liked that. She knew it and grinned, and smacked her lips. She looked as sweet as the gum had been, back when it was fresh…way back.
“Ready?” He said.
“Born ready.” She said.
“Right, well…” he preferred to look at her some more before forging on – to be lost a little more in that little whirl of hot indescribable something she made him feel in certain part of his anatomy. His slightly awkward but charmed smirk – and what resided within, inflated her full, much broader smile. It racked up the chewing, the openness of her mouth during mastication-. “Oh… sorry, your…, it’s,”
“What?” She said. His eyes had gone to her neck. She offered it to him, he inspected it, then pressed his palm against it and gradually drew it down slowly, “Just need to tidy that up…” from her ear to her collar bone, “that’s got it…” he said. “We don’t want to-.”
“No, we don’t. The very idea!” She said. Was she being sarcastic? Possibly. “Shall we?” she added, and she gestured to the door. She was the yin to his yang, the chewing girl steering the geek Still smiling, still chewing, still watching him watch her…
“I’ll need to,” he said and he knocked on the door once, waited while counting to three under his breath, then twice, waited, then three times.
“I thought you had a key.”
“No, I do, it’s just a code – to say I’m coming in with someone – a stranger.”
“Very good,” she said with a lovingly patronising nod. The grin gained an amused edge, and its lips smacked – for him.
He let her go first, watched her move in, watched her taking in the little luxuries: the warm spacious hallway with its chandelier that specked the William Morris wallpaper with rainbow jewelled light, onyx topped table, the grandfather clock ticking its perfectly deep tick… Her eyes glowed loudly. His eyes glowed quietly.
“She’ll be at the back,” he said.
She sniffed. “Do I smell -.”
“Salt beef, latkas, humous, brisket…falafels? Yes you do.”
“And she, eats that?”
“Of course not.”
There was another chandelier outside the door to ‘the back room’, and as he pushed the door open, the speckles of light flowed in across the ruby red carpet of the darkened room.
“I’ll just,” he said drinking in one more quick view of the gloss of her lips, and he took a step into the room. Gerlain giggled.
“What?” he whispered.
“It’s not important,” she said, looking at a lump on his shoulder, under his jacket. It was about the size of half a watermelon and made him look like a hunchback.
“Mother?” He said.
Gerlain stepped into the room. Dark as it was she made out the ruby carpets, more deep bottle green on ivory Morris wallpaper…the even deeper green velvet curtains were open giving the room a subtle touch of the moonlight…and in that light, among the copious doyleys, the numerous tea sets, the plethora of polishes and dusters; and an extraordinary array of astrological equipment, was mother. Mother, in the shadows of a telescope in the large bay window, its tripod legs glinting somewhat from the moonlight – somewhat from the sparkling chandelier of the hall; Mother, dressed in pearls and a pink housecoat, with lilac silver hair set in a perfect candy floss like ball around her tiny head. Mother, perched like a sick bird, under – and staring up into – the long brass telescope, between the shining mahogany and polished brass tripod legs that spoke of craft and age. Her pinks and lilacs glowed softly in the dark, her pearls glinted.
“Zog! Oy gevalt!” Her arms flapped like chick wings as she spoke. “What time do you call this? You want to give me a heart attack?” She said.
“Well, it’s exactly the time we agreed actually. I’ve bought-.”
“I mean it’s nice to see you but, a little warning!” She had yet in fact, to see him, as her eye was still fixed to the telescope and as for the pleasantries, she had a voice that stroked and soothed the way rocks might if they had the words, ‘love’ and ‘respect’ painted on them and were then thrown at you. Her words on this occasion gargled and fought their way out of her throat, distorted as it was, by the angle of her neck as she continued to perch under and stare up into the mighty telescope. Despite the fact that, to Gerlain the huge instrument stood over Mrs. Leibowitz like a mother archaeopteryx about to feed her pink nylon and lilac cotton wool headed chick, she had become distracted by something else in the room: a seven-foot-long leather and wood basket, or cradle. It was on four small wheels and sat next the telescope. It would have quite suited the holding/ containment of a six-foot-long rugby ball, or cantaloupe melon…
Zog nudged Gerlain, and the couple shuffled forward a little. The grinning continued – the grinning and the chewing. He had a little grin of his own, partially at least as a consequence of Gerlain’s lips – partially but not entirely…he addressed his mother walking slightly on the spot – he seemed excited perhaps. “Remember I said I was bringing Gerlain around…to pay you a visit?”
The baby bird form that was Mrs. Leibowitz fluttered slightly, yet her one, opened beady eye stayed looking up, a small halo of brassy light reflected about it.
“Oh I knew someone was coming…sometime… oi, don’t know…” for a moment she seemed to drift away – as though to spend a few more moments allowing her telescope to do to her, what it did, then, “ You going to bring another one? you got some chutzpah! I should watch your heart get broken again? Again watching your expectations colliding with reality.”
Gerlain looked puzzled – puzzled and amused. She whispered, “Your secret coded knock: she must know I’m here, right?”
Zog shrugged. “If she heard it.”
“Did I do something terrible that you should put me through this? Why can’t you find a nice girl from your own background – from the old country?”
Her eye seemed for a moment to leave the telescope, to look in fact directly at Gerlain. “I hope this time the girl doesn’t look like a tramp with everything shown off! Oi vay! So, when is she coming?”
“Gerlain, this is mum.”
Mrs. Leibowitz’ eyes were drawn to and hovered upon Gerlain’s bust in the dark – the tall and more or less white form had but three interruptions to its tone – two were dark scarlet bra cups – three sided and made of leather. They formed pointy pyramids above the other interruption: a black skirt that could have been a belt – it was difficult to tell. She was tall, muscular and leggy. She wore stilettoes, black leather fingerless gloves and one single other item – a sheer white blouse that made no attempt to hide the body beneath it, nor that bra, nor the tattoo, which seemed to be some kind of tarantula scuttling over her shoulder. Barbarella meets Barbie, meets barbells.
Gerlain was chewing – loudly, with Mrs Leibowitz’ son smiling cock eyed at her shining lips, lost in some dirty place in his ungrateful head.
Mrs Leibowitz’ eyebrows raised. She sighed audibly, and re perched herself beneath the telescope – eye trained back on the heavens, rocking back and forth – perhaps for comfort, perhaps from general instability.
“Sorry.” Whispered Zog.
“Fascinating.” Replied Gerlain.
“That a mother should have to look away from the world to get some piece of mind! Out there…Out there it is so peaceful…The emptiness, the stillness of space…. the suns and moons…exotic nebulae invisibly dancing to the infinitesimally vast rhythms of the cosmos…but here?…planet…earth?’,” She said throwing hands into the air, “don’t get me started on planet earth already!”
“Ahem. Mother, perhaps some…tea? I don’t mind making it.”
Under the majestic red wood legs of her astronomically endowed lover, the pink and lilac form became still.
“What are you saying.” She said. A pause followed. Zog opened his mouth to maybe speak…but she was about to say more…probably… and then she stood: she stood tall for a moment, then wilted. “I never made you tea? What, do you always make the tea? I don’t make enough tea?” She paused, then had an idea – of sorts. “Shall I make some tea?” Her back straightened as if the rules of being a good hostess had been re engaged. “I could get you some tea…good, some tea…Perhaps a bagel?” she said, and she began a walk to the kitchen. She wobbled a little as she walked. She wobbled a little while doing most things.
Assuming mother to be silent for a moment while she waited for an answer to her bagel related question, Zog raised his finger in the air with the intention of speaking. His mouth opened. She continued.
“That someone should tell me I don’t make enough tea…in the old land we made tea for everyone, and cakes good cake…I got cake…” Then she had another idea, of sorts, “you want cake?”
She switched the light on in the room and looked at the couple, Zog – a good boy with a tendency to be misled by jezebels, and a Jezebel with a tattoo and triangular tits, chewing. She sighed deeply and significantly, and turned the light back out. “Now, my life,” she said walking back toward the telescope, “It is there, beneath the lens…that I should not have a telescope? Ah! Don’t get me on to it….
“I’m sorry,” whispers Gerlain, “Were we…not going to have tea…?”
“Well…,” Mother’s voice came once again from the pink and lilac mass beneath the lens. “I mustn’t be too hard on his female friends I suppose. For all I know you could be a brain surgeon, am I right, or am I right?” Where are you from? Are you? A brain surgeon my dear?
Zog took a step forward.“A voice asking questions from the darkness, it’s not a warm welcome exactly is it mother?”
Gerlain suddenly piped up. “Hey!” She gave mother a big cheer leader smile, smacked the gum teeth lips combination twice, and continued, “Let’s not make this all about me…” then she crouched a little, still smiling, as if talking to a child, or a mean naughty old elf perhaps. “Why don’t you tell me…about ‘the old country’ where do you hail from…exactly?”
For a moment all was still beneath the telescope but for the occasional glint of occasionally disturbed pearls as the wearer fidgeted. Mrs Leibowitz’ eyes were on her son. He looked like he thought something was funny. He was rubbing his thighs – just a little…enthusiastically. Shame he couldn’t make out her hard stare in the dark.
Mrs Leibowitz took in some air with which to speak, then let it out again. Then, “we are all from Israel – we are Jewish as Jewish can be. Jewish as anything.
“Oh really, I’ve been there a couple of times. Whereabouts?” Why did Gerlain look so mischievous…?
“Kanooka” said the voice in the dark.
“Is that even a real place?”
There was a stillness, a shuffling of pink and lilac, and some wobbling as Mrs Leibowitz – moving rapidly by her own standards – made her way huffing and tutting to the light switch. She turned it on with a beady eyed resignation to what she would see.
“What, you think I come from a not place? That I come out of thin air maybe? What am I, a trick of the light? You grin too much…no one should grin so much. You should have come from such a place as the one I didn’t come from. Then you wouldn’t grin so much…We smile there. Very little grinning.”
The moaning didn’t seem to be working on either of them. She may as well have been telling jokes and handing out gifts. Gerlain looked…enthralled. Zog seemed to be bouncing a little, on the spot as though waiting for a birthday surprise and the bouncing seemed to make that lump on his shoulder wobble…it may have been getting larger too.
Gerlain stood straight and put her hands on her hips. “So, that accent.” She spoke with an accusing slant. “It’s Jewish then. If I’m being honest, it is doesn’t sound right to me. Something…just seems…strange.” and Gerlain’s eyes turned quite deliberately to the strange cradle next to the telescope, then back to Mrs. Leibowitz.
“What are you,” Mrs. Leibowitz said, looking Gerlain up and down, “‘good cop, bad cop’ in one? You schizophrenic? Are you the bad cop now?” She was on her feet, coming forward. She arrived in front of Gerlain and stared up at her while Zog marvelled – both at the coming together of such forces as Gerlain and Mother, and at the sheer sexual potency of Gerlain and her chewing, and then he attempted some words of his own…
“All these questions, questions, questions. Pah!” barked Mrs Leibowitz, “and in my own house. What is it now, my accent is from no place too? What you think I have no nationality? Again with coming from nowhere? Maybe you should be so lucky as to come where you tell me I don’t come from. In the old country people…know…um…things….” had she run out of things to say?
“Look, Mother-.” Said Zog.
“Forget about it!” said his mother, followed by, “I, I think I need to lie down.”
Mother look, just-.
In a not entirely convincing woozy haze, she added, “I’m sure you are a brain surgeon. You have that look.”
“Shouting at his mother he is now.”
Zog chuckled, said “shhhhh!” and “I’ve been trying to tell you…she knows,”
“…look…just, WATCH.” A pointing finger came with this command. That a boy should point this way at his mother! Mother became quiet, her mouth closed and her eyes almost frozen open. This ‘silent’ face was entirely sarcastic – a rebellious conformity.
Mother would have discontinued the silence a second or two later – to give him a mouthful about how little she is ever allowed to speak… but her face did not move, nor did her mouth unzip. She had become distracted by Gerlain, who made the sound of something large and gloopy falling down a drainpipe forcing the air through it, so it sounded like a big flute in a small bathroom. This sound effect and what was to follow, caused his mother’s face to become much less mobile.
The noise was the first of many noises that Gerlain produced over the next minute and twenty-seven seconds. Most of the noises, to begin with at least, were of this ‘gloop down a drainpipe’ variety but there was also a smattering of ‘humus hitting wet dough’, some stretching squeaky rubber balloon noises, some moaning (a combination of hauntingly demonic and tetchy) and a final plop.
As interesting as the sounds may have been, it was their generation that took centre stage.
During what can only really be described as a ‘transmogrification’, Gerlain’s mouth, though still a mouth in terms of functionality, we suppose, had projected forward nearly two feet as though a giant finger had grown out of her face. The back of the head had then grown a kind of a counter weight – a bulbous blue baboon bum of a thing – so that the whole thing – one could no longer call it a head – balanced upon the neck like a fat seesaw.
The shoulders then rose up until they were much higher than the former head and then crept – grew – across and over it until they met, and fused, leaving it some way down the body. The simplest way to describe the overall first impression of the transmogrified Gerlain, would be to suggest you imagine perhaps fifteen or so sausages in a variety of garish colours arranged quite randomly on top of each other. The final plop, had been the evacuation of something from inside what had been the back of Gerlain’s head, to outside. It hung and swung there like a set of enormous goat teats.
At the end of the process, Gerlain through some reformed version of a mouth, said, “Tada!”
Mother’s mouth had moved little. In fact, it had made but one very slow movement from tight shut to impossibly wide open. She showed little signs of life, other than maintaining an upright position. Zog, like the good son, waited for her to her reanimate. Unlike a good son, amusement bubbled beneath his skin – literally, as the lump on his shoulder began wobbling around quite of its own accord and the rest of his skin rose and fell in little waves.
Gerlain laughed too. Don’t ask me how one identifies such a cacophony of ‘blubs’ as laughing…you just know it is when you here it I suppose. In any case, mother was ready to say something, which she did while backing herself up against the wall.
“Are you trying to kill me? To kill your own mother out of the blue? This? with no warning!” Don’t ask me how I know, but Gerlain was grinning again. “Again with the grin Gerlain, what is with that?”
Zog added, “I was trying to break it you gently but you never let me get a word in…so anyway, her she is. This is Gerlain.
“You’re lucky my heart didn’t stop…maybe you think that’s unlucky…it could have stopped; such a shock it is!”
“Look mother just-.”
“That you should find such a pretty girl after all!”
“What? You like her?”
“What’s not to like? Are you crazy, I love her! Maybe I should get some tea…a bagel you want a bagel. I think I might have some cake you know…”
“Yes, let’s have some tea, and I…I guess we can all relax now!” said Zog. He laughed, then stopped laughing in order to make the sound of large quantities of lumpy slop falling through a drainpipe, followed by an enormous sigh of relief, as his mind and body separated, so that the body could reconfigure, and the brain could plug back in at the end of the change which started with that lump on his shoulder. It just could not wait to escape.
Mrs Leibowitz said, “oi, oi vay!” and left the room, to go to the kitchen, to get food, and to make a noise like a yard of slurry moving through a drainpipe, in the privacy of her own kitchen.
Later that same evening.
They had been drinking, something and eating something. It transpired that neither Yiddish food, nor anything else we might recognise as food particularly tickled their fancy, wherever that was. Both they and the things they consumed had become indescribable. Zog and Gerlain spent most of the evening with adjoined appendages – probably holding hands I would imagine – while Mrs Leibowitz heaped food upon her son and her daughter to be.
Though inanimate, she felt whenever she was away from it, the telescope waited for her – looked forward to her return so that they could continue their affair.
The thing that was at times, Mrs Leibowitz shuffled into the backroom and paused to look at her friend and to listen once more to the gurgles and trumpets of delight coming from the dining room, from the two lovers, before shuffling the rest of the way to the bay window and to the large basket on wheels next to the tripod. She stood with what we have to assume with her back to it, before letting herself fall. She fitted it perfectly. It held her like two cupped hands holding a brain. And with two unidentifiable appendages that hung over the edge of the basket, she pushed against the floor and the wheels rolled and she moved toward the telescope, until a thing like an eye was centred below the lens.
The stars above twinkled for her. And her imagination, and her memories sailed through the celestial bodies to a distant star, barely visible in the night sky.
In her own language – a combination of guttural raspings purrs, clicks, and blups, she said. “I miss you, my old country.” And then in the voice and language of Mrs Leibowitz, she added, “But sometimes…sometimes it’s not so bad here.”