It was a dark, cold, grey, January day in Manhattan. The city’s holiday shine had long faded away. Gone from the modern contemporary office lobbies across New York County were the trees, lights, and holiday decorations that made them sparkle. Now, they were more like a rich man’s trophy wife or girlfriend, beautiful to behold, but soulless and cold. At least that’s what went through fifty-three-year-old Clarissa Berman’s mind as she walked through the lobby of her office building on Lexington Avenue.
At 5’8, Clarissa was too tall to be considered petite, but tall enough to be above average. A very curvy African American woman, she had big boobs, a generous butt, a smallish waist with a little more tummy than she’d like. Her long, curly, thick hair was a custom mix of Clairol light reddish and cedar red-brown, which played nicely off of the red undertones of her lightly brown complexion. To say Clarissa was a convert to the natural hair movement, was a bit of a stretch. She’d done so at the suggestion of Mary Ann, otherwise known as her mothership. A woman used to having her will be done, she now suggested things to her adult daughters who’d long been onto her act. Her mothership’s suggestions were the equivalent of mutton dressed as lamb, but it was still mutton.
From the moment Clarissa and younger sister Elena were able to understand their roles in the family, her mothership Mary Anne Stevenson made it clear that even when they became queens of their own domains, they’d always be the ladies in waiting to her. Growing up, the ‘I am the mother argument’ was the overriding element for almost everything. Everyone from her husband, friends, and most particularly, her daughters, were subject to her opinions, will, and advice.
Eventually, divorce freed their dad. The years hadn’t softened her mothership’s edges, but she appeared as a kinder, gentler person in her church. The congregation saw the well-kept silver-haired seventy-six-year-old woman as a kind grandmotherly type, with the exception of one who was both a congregation member and her friend.
Clarissa’s text notifications chimed as she got to the front entrance. She looked down. It’s mom.
I just picked Ingrid up from JFK. She went to North Carolina to see her grandchildren. Jimmy has the kids, but that ex-wife of his told Ingrid some sob story about being sick and Ingrid gave her $2,000. The girl wasn’t sick, she needed it for a boob job. Can you imagine that? I told Ingrid she’s too soft. A boob job at her age. Tiffany is damn near sixty and still dresses like she’s getting ready to climb a pole, any pole.
Ingrid and her mothership had been friends for nearly forty-plus years. Ingrid’s ex-husband had an office in the same building as the magazine her mothership worked for and they became friends.
Clarissa shook her head. That’s not nice Mom. She typed.
It’s not meant to be nice. Jimmy’s mad at her and I don’t blame him. I told her not to give that girl any money. The money she got from selling her house isn’t going to last forever.
Okay, Mom. So, you dropped her off at home?
No. We’re going to dinner.
Before or after your church meeting?
No meeting tonight. I’m going to talk some sense into this woman. She needs to be careful with her money. It’s foolishness.
Okay, so you’re not going to the meeting. Wait. Ingrid’s in the car with you. You have Bluetooth in the car. It’s reading your texts aloud, right?
Yeah. I don’t talk behind anyone’s back. I believe in being direct.
You’re telling me? I’m not exactly new to this Mom. Clarissa rubbed her forehead. I can’t stay on too long. I’m waiting for my uber.
So, you’re not taking the subway. Good. I don’t know how you do it nowadays. I took the subway back in the sixties, it was kinda nice then.
I am fully aware you haven’t taken the subway since 1971.
Are you running home to post food?
No, Mother, I’m going home to make dinner for my husband.
After which she would definitely post pictures and the recipe. Clarissa found it easier not to engage with anything her mothership didn’t understand. It was best to shut her down before it turned into a sermon, or worse, an abject lesson.
Good. Posting pictures of food for attention. Everyone wants to be a bigshot. Look what I made. It’s all such…
Foolishness. I’ve heard it before, Mom. Clarissa sighed sharply. Okay, Mom I’ve got to run now. Tell Ingrid I said hi. Better yet, hi Ingrid.
Enjoy dinner ladies. Try not to be too hard on Ingrid. Goodnight Mom.
Goodnight. Be careful. It’s dark.
Gotcha. Clarissa sighed softly as she stared out the car window. Good night. It’s a wonder Ingrid still talks to her mothership. She’s nearly brought the woman to tears, but she keeps doing things with her. I suppose that’s real friendship or Stockholm syndrome. Might be a little bit of both. Clarissa softly snickered. Her mothership is supposed to be a part of the Silent Generation. What a misnomer. Lord knows the woman is anything but silent.
Her mothership was born Mary Anne Stevenson in the early 1940s. She was a pretty girl who loved hair, fashion, and makeup in a small town in South Carolina. In addition to having deaf parents, Mary Anne had a blue and a brown eye, it made her look exotic, which was almost as misunderstood as her parent’s deafness.
It was the bad old days when deaf was often followed by two other adjectives, dumb, and mute. So, she and older brother Charles became their parents, or more specifically, their father, Landy’s protectors. Their mother’s family had the money to send her to the School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg. Not only did an education put Annette in good stead, it made her confident and self-assured enough to stand up for herself. If she wanted to make her displeasure known, she’d turn, stick her posterior out and blow a kiss. It meant kiss my ass in any language.
Dad Landy was a different story. A kind and gentle man with a trusting nature that made him a mark for passing gypsies and some of the less than scrupulous town residents. She and brother Charles would go toe-to -toe with anyone who’d duped him to get his hard-earned money back, and they defended his dignity fiercely.
These were the experiences that shaped her mothership and gave her the impetus to leave South Carolina after high school. She headed due east to Baltimore to stay with cousins. The move changed her life once she met Ernest Cannon, a native New Yorker and student at Morgan State College. They dated, got married after his graduation, and then settled on Long Island near Ernest’s mother Geneva. Her mothership used her innate sense of style to land an entry-level position at a women’s service magazine. It wasn’t Vogue, but she made the most of it.
Clarissa and Elena became her mothership’s models. She kept them in Martins, A & S, and Macy’s. Weekends were devoted to hair, hot combs, barrettes, and ribbons. The girls appearance was micromanaged from head to toe. It went swimmingly until her daughters went from girls to women with growing assets. At the age of twelve Clarissa realized her body imperfections were as much about how her mothership saw herself, as it was about the way the world saw her and Elena.
Whether it was in spite of or because of her mothership, Clarissa and Elena turned out to be attractive, shapely, and intelligent women. Both became mothers to sons. Everything was mostly quiet on the mothership front, until she decided to implement a new tactic. When Clarissa turned 40, her mother issued some sort of weird executive order about shorts worn by women forty. It was a don’t. No exceptions. Even J-Lo’s ageless shape didn’t get a pass. To her mothership, La Lopez needed to cover it up and put a pair of slacks on.
At fifty she decided that both daughters needed to let their hair go natural. It didn’t matter that she started the whole hair relaxer thing. Elena shut it down. Clarissa decided to go natural, but the hair color stayed. Clarissa wouldn’t go grey gracefully, but she also hadn’t worn a pair of shorts in fourteen years.
Clarissa kept watch for her Uber. A black Navigator pulled in front of the building. That’s it. Clarissa walked out and into the waiting car’s backseat.
“Good evening, Ma’am.”
“Good evening.” She closed the door, buckled up, and unconsciously twirled her hair when she saw her reflection. Again with the mirror. At least they have products to keep it looking shiny and like hair. I used to look like I had the tentacles of a Portuguese Man O War on my head. I suppose that’s progress.
Her cell rang. It was Clarissa’s best friend of over forty years, Melanie Vargas Hopkins. Their birthdays were separated by a mere few days. They graduated from the same high school and went onto Skidmore College together. The curvaceous Latina with lush brunette locks was divorced and dating a guy Clarissa set her up with a year earlier. But first, she had to give the driver her customary explanation for the use of the speakerphone. She was partially deaf.
Clarissa was born a healthy baby girl, but at three months old, her Grandma Cannon noticed that she turned her head to the right when spoken to. When she mentioned it to her son, it ticked her mothership off. No one pushed the issue again until a routine hearing test in elementary school led the audiologist to confirm she was deaf in her left ear. Fortunately, Clarissa’s right ear was at 99.1% and she read lips, However, conversations on the busy, noisy streets of Manhattan were another story.
Clarissa looked at her phone for the driver’s name. “Excuse me, Bernie?”
“I’d like to answer this call, but I have to put it on speaker. I’m partially deaf. If it bothers you, I’ll send her a text and call her back.”
“No, that’s not a problem. Thanks for asking.”
“No. Thank you. I appreciate your understanding.” She hit answer. “Hey, Girlie. How was Fiji?”
“It was fantastic. So beautiful, warm, sunny, and lovely all the time.”
“Aww, that sounds nice. Then you flew back to grey and cold reality. What a bummer.”
“Don’t I know it? I figured I’d buzz you before you went underground to get home.”
“I am ubering home now. I didn’t feel like descending into the arteries of the city today. The whole city is shrouded in a post-holiday funk, and it’s contagious.”
“You’re not kidding.”
“When do you have to get back to the hospital?”
“I’ve got another week or so off. I have a ton of accumulated time. I’m taking some of it. No need to rush. I have to give my body a little time to re-acclimate.”
“Good for you. Where’s Jordan?”
“He went to his place, but he’s coming back.”
Fifty-eight-year-old graphic art designer Jordan Chan was always in Clarissa’s orbit as an editor and an agent. Jordan was blissfully married for many years until a drunk driver ended his happy world. Clarissa knew that people who truly loved before were likely to find love again, it was always a matter of timing. Melanie’s marriage to Troy began as a dream but devolved into a nightmare after the kids were born. Troy was a serial cheater and lazy to boot. Melanie had the role of breadwinner for their twin daughters and son. After their divorce, relationships weren’t on her radar for a long time with good reason.
It all changed during the holidays year before when Jordan finally decided to attend Clarissa’s legendary Christmas holiday buffet. Melanie met Jordan, and the sparks flew. They were a bonafide couple in no time.
“My goodness, Girlie. All of this togetherness. Why don’t you two just move in together?”
“We were just laughing about that. It’s too soon.”
“On who’s watch? I’m not saying we’re old, but our even our shadows are shrinking.”
She laughed. You’re right about that.” Melanie paused. “Before it slips my mind, my esthetician can’t take me for a few days, and I need a little manicuring.”
“You need manicuring? How wild has it gotten?”
“It’s not wild. It’s grey as hell.”
“Oh, I understand that. Can you hold for a tick?”
“Um, excuse me Bernie.”
“Yes?” He looked into the rearview mirror.
“I’m still talking to my friend, and it might get a little bawdy. I don’t want to offend you.”
“Oh, please. You don’t know the stuff I’ve heard.” He laughed. “That’s not an issue. Go ahead.”
“Cool. Thanks. Okay, Melanie, I’m back. Isn’t it a bitch when south of the equator is greying faster than the hair on your head? Since, I don’t need a rug to match the drapes, the bare floor works for me.”
“Right? At least everything is still smooth down below.”
“Amen, girl. Knock on wood.”
“I love Jordan so much, but it’s a lot keeping up with all the stuff it takes to remain a soft and pretty woman. I was never bothered about it before we met, but you were a different story. You kept on it before you and Miles met.”
“I put dating and men on the shelf for so long, I was practically a reconstituted virgin. Nobody was on the streets of Brazil, but I was always ready if Carnivale came to town. The Boy Scouts didn’t corner the market on being prepared.”
Bernie began to howl with laughter. “I’m sorry. That was a good one.”
“Thanks.” Clarissa grinned.
“You’re talking like this in an uber?”
“I cleared it with Bernie. He’s cool with it. But getting back to you and Jordan, when are you two going to jump the broom? Seriously, have you checked our sundial lately? We have no business waiting around in this section of the pool. The water is receding. There’s no time to waste.”
“You make a good point.”