Thursday evening approached faster than I’d expected, and as I watch Rae drive away in her beat up old Volvo, I feel like a kid left at school for the first day.
When she dropped me off, she grinned and said, “It’s show time.”
She was going to have fun with our friends, and I was jealous because I had to do exactly the opposite. I’m still not sure how mother wrangled me into coming to this ridiculous event, but I know it will be the last one I do in a very long time. Standing in the doorway of Commander’s, I brace myself for the worst.
Yellow light softens all the hard edges in the room, and white tablecloths are topped with fancy dishes eaten by even fancier people. Bow-tied waiters glide around the room as if it is a video game, and then I see a long table filled with ladies wearing hats. Hats, for God’s sake.
The second I’m in the door, she spots me across the room, and of course, she looks perfectly polished—the picture of elegance. Her hair—bleached blonder than the last time I saw her—in a French twist, her dress, some god-awful pattern of beige on beige on cream. Her face looks, though, it looks different, maybe she’s had something done? I see that she is smiling at me—her fake smile—and can tell that she hates what I have on. Christ, I even made an effort. Wore my best black dress and black sweater. Not sure how you could go wrong with that. It may not have been the cleanest thing I owned, but still. Who was going to look that close? I even put lipstick on and took my damn stud out.
“Almost on time,” she says, kissing the air next to my cheek. “Can’t you pull the dress a little lower darling? It’s so short. And is that a backpack you’ve got there?”
“It’s my bag. Please don’t start already. I’m here, alright?”
Her smile gets bigger as she leads me to the table. “Everyone, everyone,” she waves her hand, “you all remember my daughter, Lydia?” Nods, smiles, waves, the usual, and I’m already searching for a waiter to bring me a cocktail.
She seats me next to my Aunt Stella, whom I adore, so maybe I can manage this after all.
“Here, hon,” she says in her gravelly voice, “have a sip.” Her martini has red lipstick around the rim and two olive pits in the bottom, but it’s just fine with me and I drink it down, spitting a pit back in the glass.
Laughing, I tell her, “Looks like you need a refill.”
“Refills, lovey. Get that gorgeous Colombian waiter over here. He’s my new boyfriend. His name is Luis.” Aunt Stella is about 75 and the waiter is 25 at best, and that makes me laugh some more. “What have you got in that sack of yours? A survival kit or something?” Stella asks.
“Kinda.” I pull my bag onto my lap, rummage through it, and start holding things out like it’s a show and tell. “All of the essentials, anyway. Money, i.d., cell phone, music book, about ten lipsticks, hand sanitizer, and,” I look around. “Condoms.”
She grins and holds out her hand, “That’s all a girl needs. Hand me one of them lipsticks, dollface.”
I grab one and hand it her. As she drags it over her old lips, I see that it is black. “Wait!”
But she waves me away. “Is fine,” she slurs. “Lemme see that music book. Why you got that?”
“It’s my gig book. Dunno. I just take it with me.”
She looks at it, her spotted hands flipping through it, and she reads, “Fake?”
“Yeah, fake. Like a cheat sheet for musicians,” I wink at her. “Plus, I just have lots of stuff written in there.” I whisper, “Some secrets, too.”
“That’s my girl.” She pats my cheek.
Later, as the waiters prepare bananas foster at the side of the table, I realize I’ve almost made it through this fucking meal unscathed. My mother has sent blistering looks my way but that’s been the worst of it. I’m feeling a little drunk, and I know that my old auntie is a lot drunk. But thank God she is here. She looks great with her blue-gray hair and my black lipstick. Mother clinks her glass with her knife and stands up.
“Ladies, I’d like to say a few words,” she ways, enunciating clearly.
“I’m gonna grab that waiter’s ass,” Stella tells me.
“Aunt Stella!” I say, shocked, but then, “Go for it.” And we start giggling like kids. When the waiter—Luis—comes over to ask us if we need anything, it only gets worse and then we are misbehaving in a way that is hard to ignore. It’s time for me to go, I decide, and so text Rae to come get me before this show goes down in flames. Meanwhile, I see the ladies around us purposefully keeping their eyes on mother, and before I know it, she comes walking over to me and grabs my arm—fingers digging into my skin just like when I was misbehaving in church.
“May I see you for a moment, darling?” Her teeth are clenched but still smiling and she glares at my aunt, who rolls her eyes. Lord, she’s going to be in trouble, too, I think.
When we are in the bathroom, she waits until it is empty before yelling, “What the bloody hell are you doing out there, Lydia?”