My mother and I sit side by side in spa chairs, automatic kneaders patrolling our spines just as jerkily as the roller coaster cars at J’s Amusement in Guerneville used to waddle up the track when I was a kid—you weren’t so much frightened by the ride as you were in terror of the aging trestles collapsing. Either way, you’d have whiplash by the ride’s end and a little brother to talk out of another go.
Mom’s never had a manicure or pedicure in her life. My brother, from the city, researched and paid for this double Mother’s Day special for us. Within five minutes, the race car treatment begins—only we are not cars--Mom and I on our brown Naugahyde thrones--and the crew is 100% female, speaking Vietnamese, showing us photos of their children on their cell-phones. When the beautiful, heavy-set blonde client across from us chimes in, I have to look anywhere but towards her, her mini skirt absolutely not doing its job as I wonder...if she realizes how many people will be kneeling at her feet in the course of the next hour as they prepare her toes.
Showgirls, in hot pink kimonos, traipse across the TV monitor, all carrying white fans twice their size. The male lead singer, wearing camouflage, bursts through to encircle the waist of his female crooner. Next come the airplanes, black and white footage: out of their tails dropping what I thought were bombs until they bloom into parachutes. Someone massages lotion into my calves while another attendant sands down my heels; I start to nod off, as the kids had set the alarm for 5 a.m.
I confess, I kissed the kids and put a pillow over my head and drifted in and out of sleep until they shook me awake again at 7a.m. I did my best to down a lukewarm, murky cup of tea (was it butter? floating on its surface?) and a chocolate chip cookie, which I set in the blue glitter party hat they brought me for later, as my husband had up his sleeve breakfast at Howard’s, where the boys fought over the corner chair, the jelly tower, and the camouflage airplane (red flashing lights and sound-barrier explosion recording making us barely tolerable despite sitting in the back room).
The man next to us caring for three kids by himself gave my husband a smug look when I got up to go the bathroom and someone at a neighboring table told my husband, “Hey, you’re supposed to take the kids out and let the wife go do her own thing, like this guy here.”
But I wouldn’t change any of it—-the butter tea, breakfast out, and Mom and I with fingers and toes splayed out under the double-decker table of violet light waiting for the polish to dry, Mom hiding behind the floral arrangement. She’s saying silly things under her breath like, “It can’t be healthy for these girls to work around all these chemicals all the time can it...” and “Look—they’re using a mask now—why didn’t they wear one to protect themselves from you and your toe gunk when they worked on you?!” Before we’d even left the parking lot, we had to run into The Beauty Store and More like a couple of teenagers to buy nail polish to fix her botched big toe (since she had neglected to wear sandals).
On the way home, I stop to see great grandpa (recovering from his recent fall) and give him two purple chocolate hearts, one for him, and one for his mother (who I am coming to know little by little... as I type in excerpts from her diary that great grandpa has taken pains to translate from the original Finnish). By 10 p.m., house full of snorers, I sneak downstairs to work on a few more pages. A perfect close to the day: spending time with a young Finnish girl, daughter of a shoemaker. Ilmi--in this chapter making whisks of birch tree branches to sell--cares so much about learning to read and write that she’ll ski kilometers through the woods alone to go to school. We leave her here, skiing also towards a future in which she’ll become a mother and in giving birth to my husband's grandfather, bestow the gift of my husband and my eventual children to me.