Other People’s Mothers by Patricia Q. Bidar
Other people’s mothers’ hair is the shade of a new penny. When their husbands leave, they hire us to paint their bedrooms lavender. We take breaks to lift the lids of shoe boxes stacked in the closet.
Garish sewing projects are strewn around the house. I don’t mean Butterick and Simplicity blouses and capris for their daughters to wear. They are community theatre people. They sew costumes by hand while show tunes blare. You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, Man of La Mancha and Jesus Christ Superstar. They belt out snatches of Liza with a Z in Circus Donuts and the Del Amo Mall.
Other people’s mothers have a ribald gap between their two front teeth. They purchase a hat stand and sprinkle it with glitter. They own and wear a Sherlock Holmes hat and cape.
They are doing Oliver! They are doing the Scottish Play. They are doing a star turn in Auntie Mame. When they leave for the theatre, we make schnapps shakes and climb onto the roof. We pitch an army tent on the bleached front lawn.
She refers to herself as an old broad. Back home in Georgia, she was called “Toppy.” Her father, an itinerant preacher, believed she favored hats. In fact, Heather told me, it was her male classmates’ name for her, after her round and sweatered tits.
She learned to read from Burma Shave signs.
Spangled with paint, we set out the candles, the Ouija board and its magic plastic planchette. We take off all our clothes and pull on cocktail dresses and costume jewelry of Toppy’s. We place beside the Ouija board the kitchen cleaver from the bottom kitchen drawer. The candlelight flickers against the blade, the walls. We sprawl across the fragrant bed, trying to channel Marilyn Monroe.
Toppy keeps her thin nightgown under the pillow. In the morning we will see her in it, red hair undone. We will see her slender shadowy figure inside. Her face is worn without her makeup.
Toppy is packing for a weekend in Palm Springs with an old man named Jerry who can’t believe his good fortune. He has taken us to the Magic Castle so we’ll like him more.
Jerry returns to his wife. Toppy rents an apartment near Fairfax and 3rd, temping for minimum wage and working the Renaissance Fair with members of her coven. She wears her Sherlock Holmes hat and her cape to the bus stop. As cars roar past under the filmy Los Angeles sun, she stretches her lipsticked mouth over that wide gap-toothed smile.
When you meet someone else’s parent for the first time, they are already whole and finished. You don’t have that visceral expertise that you have of your own mother and father, whose smells and habits and little reflexive utterances you fully own.
There is nothing like divorce to shake up the finished whole, split it wide. For the adult to become a human being who sings and cries and breaks apart, yearning for love.
Who dies much too poor, much too young. A pair of false eyelashes like mating spiders on the hospice end table.
Patricia Q. Bidar is a California-based writer with family roots in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. An alum of the UC Davis Graduate writing program and a former fiction editor at Northwest Review, Patricia’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sou’wester, Wigleaf, ellipsis…art and literature, Litro Online, The Citron Review, Jellyfish Review, Barren Literary Magazine, Crack the Spine, and Riggwelter, among other places. Her Twitter handle is @patriciabidar.