The Girl with the Ruby Red Lips

You’re going to forget people. You think you never will. But, trust me, you will. You’ll lose track of them and then you’ll forget them. You’ll forget things too, like how many ounces are in a pound of cottage cheese or if you’ve had breakfast. But, like I said, you think it won’t happen…

…and then you grow up and go to college and meet someone and maybe have kids, and you go hiking in the Adirondacks, and your parents die, and then you find yourself sitting in a wheelchair at a table in a blue-painted room with palm trees stenciled on the wall, with three other people who you don’t recognize, wearing sunglasses inside, and there are posters in the halls with ‘Today’s Date’ on them and the names of everyone with a birthday that week, and a woman with an accent like a song puts a plate of baked salmon with parsley-potatoes and three sweet gherkins down in front of you and tells you to “eat it all up jus’ like a good bwoy.”

And then if you are anything like me, the aroma of those sweet gherkins will make you think of your friend Teddy Ackerman who was not so good at geometry but he could really play the piano. And how Mr. McGhouly would throw a piece of chalk at him and say, “Hey, piano boy, how many angles in an isosceles triangle?” And Teddy would say, ”Um, Isosceles?” and duck his head behind his three-ring binder.

And how after school we’d stop at Logue’s Deli and buy a small container of sweet gherkin pickles and then study geometry together on his back patio while his sister would be sitting on the low bench at their black piano with her straight back and her dark, dark brown hair pinned up in back with a small silver comb, and her long fingers on the keys and not look up when we came in the house.

She was a senior that year and she wore black skirts with nylons and white blouses with collars and buttons in front and everyone at school talked about how she made out with the music teacher so he could get her into Smith College and she’d be a famous opera singer one day.

Teddy’s house had three floors and a driveway that went from one street to another and his father had a big belly and smoked cigars and took the train into the city.

His mother stayed at home and fretted. She told us not to make a mess with the gherkins and she put tea towels on our laps and waited until we said, “Thank you, Mrs. Ackerman,” and when she opened the patio door we could hear Eleanor playing the piano and singing, and I’d think about how red her lips were and how she made them into an ‘O’ when she sang.

And I’d imagine old Mr. Deanto making out with her standing in the band room with the music stands and chairs all around them with the lights off and how it might feel to have my hand touch her back and feel the cotton of her blouse against her warm skin and the touch of her breasts against me like two round scoops of vanilla ice cream, and how she would make her lips into an ‘O’ and kiss me and how my mouth would feel with them on mine and smell her lipstick and how the muscles on my stomach would get tight and it would be hard to breathe and how my head would feel light and I would close my eyes and want to be nowhere else in the whole world but right there in the band room kissing Teddy’s sister and never get caught and no one would ever know and I would remember how it felt for the rest of my life.

And before you pick up one of those gherkins and put it in your mouth it all comes back to you and you can feel the glands in the way back of your mouth, under your tongue, squeezing like lemons and like from out of nowhere you remember studying geometry and the way Teddy’s sister playing piano in the other room would make you feel.

And then the woman with the voice like a song says to you, “Mr. Marty, you should eat your salmon before the gherkins because the salmon is good for your brains.”

And you say to her, “Philistine, please tell me, is there a girl here with ruby red lips, a little older than me, by the name of Eleanor?”

And she tells you, “Firs’, Mr. Marty, my name is Ernestine. Secon’ there is no one here older than you, and third, no, there is no one here name Eleanor. And fourth, you tell me dat same question ever’ time we have salmon wid gherkins for dinner. So now I tell you go and eat your salmon like I tol’ you to and forget about de girl wid dem red lips.”

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