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The Deflowering of Rhona Lipshitz


big laugh of hers, oblivious to the fact the frank had slid under the table. She took a hefty bite and rolled her
eyes in what looked to me like sheer ecstasy, breaking her reverie only to brush breadcrumbs from her
enormous bosoms. I watched as she chewed in slow motion, wiping her lips with the back of her hand, her
mouth open and filled with roll and mustard, the meat on the floor hidden beneath Gertie’s chair. I was riveted.
And I became painfully aware, right then and there, that a whole world existed of which I knew nothing about,
where people were different from the ones who surrounded me at the bingo table. There were people who
stayed in school beyond the ninth grade, unlike my father. People who aspired to more than assistant manager
of the Expressway Lock and Key Shop. People who had actually traveled west of the five boroughs, who woke
up eager to greet the day, who had questions they wanted answered. I thought about my boyfriend Stuie up at
the schoolyard with his slothful friends, cupping a smoldering Marlboro and taking a long, deep drag. I had a
feeling he wasn’t my destiny, but I wasn’t quite sure how to change it.
The week after high school graduation Stuie and I chose Sunday, August twenty-second as our wedding
date. Stuie didn’t give much thought to what our lives would be like after the wedding. He wasn’t fond of
discussions about the future, and he certainly didn’t want to hear about any dreams I might have for a better life.
As far as he was concerned, this was the life we were born into whether it satisfied us or not. Changing its
course didn’t exist in his lexicon; nobody in his entire family had asked for more than they’d been given and
Stuie was certainly not about to play the pioneer.
He didn’t question who we were or what we might expect from life. He wanted to know how the Mets
would hold up this season, or should we get one slice of Sicilian or two, or what’s wrong with the TV and how
come everyone’s face looks so green? Those were questions whose answers came in black and white, not in
shades of gray. The harder questions, the ones like, do you believe in miracles?, he left for minds far more
curious than his own.
At least that’s what Stuie would have said had he ever allowed himself to think in the abstract, which of
course he never did. So rather than annoy my fiancée with talk of leaving Walnut someday in search of a richer,
more satisfying life, I chose to busy myself instead with plans for the upcoming wedding, finding just the right
dress in the clearance rack of Alexander’s department store, choosing an affordable dinner menu with my
mother, crossing names of second cousins off the guest list because they’d insulted my parents years ago,
although nobody could remember the actual circumstances. In my family it was common practice to hold a
grudge for twenty or thirty years. My father hadn’t spoken to his brother George or his sister Bessie since the
nineteen forties, before I was even born. A few years back my father saw a familiar-looking man walking along
Eighth Avenue. ‘Excuse me,’ my father said. ‘Aren’t you my brother?’ They shook hands and exchanged a few
rounds of small talk, then they both continued on their way, never to speak again. It was pretty safe to assume
that George Lipshitz and his children, none of whom I’d ever met, would definitely not be invited to my
wedding.
In April, on my eighteenth birthday, I was presented with a half-carat diamond ring that Sam Weiner had
been keeping in a safe deposit box down at the bank. It was the third piece of jewelry Stuie had ever given to
me. The first was a silver-plated ID bracelet with his name engraved in block letters along the front. At age
twelve, this signified that we were officially going steady. Eventually the ID found its way to the back of my
drawer, to be replaced by a delicate ankle bracelet with two initialed hearts surrounded by tiny pearls for my
Sweet Sixteen. But this, too, ended up in the drawer, as the pointy hearts caused the skin on my ankle to chafe
and bleed. The third piece of jewelry was different. It was an important family heirloom, one that would stay on
my finger forever. As the story went, Sam had cut the ring off some dead German woman whose body he had
encountered while stationed overseas during the war. Sam was proud of the ring and the fact that it made him
feel like a war hero, as if he’d single-handedly conquered the Germans and shown them who was boss. The ring
was his prize, the medal he couldn’t have otherwise received, and over the years it took on mythic proportions.
Stuie handed it to me with great pride, telling me I’d better be a good wife or his father would have to cut it off
my finger, too. I laughed and said very funny, and then Sam raised his glass and we all drank a toast to my
becoming Mrs. Stuart Martin Weiner.
The ring was given to me in front of both Stuie’s parents, and Sam kissed me so hard on my left cheek that I
developed a canker sore and wasn’t able to eat anything spicy for almost two weeks. Selma, on the other hand,
simply nodded with tight lips as if it were her duty but certainly not her pleasure to acknowledge me as her
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