Blog Archive

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Temporary Farewell

My Dear Readers,

I want to thank you for taking the time to get to know the fictional world of Amelia Fluchter. Your feedback and continued interest in the story has been very rewarding.

My literary agent continues to pitch After the Rain to prospective publishers. It won't be long before the novel is available in book stores.

In the interim, I welcome any questions or comments you may have. And when the book is in print, I'll blog all about it!


Sheri Stewart

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Wizard of Oz "Dear Aunty Em" (My Grandmother is Em)

"The Jewish Waltons"

If I was fourteen this morning when Zelda brought Jack and me to the airport, I’m about six back home in Houston. I’d forgotten how much of a drill sergeant Grandma Ruth could be. Instead of hugging us like normal grandparents, Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Frank patted the top of our heads and grunted in lieu of smiles. “Well, you’re here,” Grandma said, hugging the straps of her black purse, instead of us. Jack and I knew better than to embrace either one of them. “If we did, they might break into a million shards of ice,” Jack joked on the plane ride over. Only it was probably true.

It is a given that Jack and I carry our own luggage—spear included. “What is this?” Grandpa asked on our way to their Buick.

When Jack told them it belonged to their son, Frank looked at Ruth who made a sound like a mouse caught in a trap, and stared straight ahead.

The ride to their house was filled with an awkwardness that reminded me of our trip to the airport with Zelda only a few hours before. But Zelda was quiet because she knew we weren’t on her side these days. Ruth and Frank were always tense and silent, an encyclopedia’s worth more since dad’s death.

When Grandma Ruth speaks to us it is either a command or a criticism. Sometimes I think my mother got it all wrong, that Grandma Ruth ran the Concentration Camps and was never a prisoner. Only there are those blue-black numbers tattooed to the inner flesh of her arm, the soft, vulnerable skin that kisses the wrist bone. Grandpa Frank has it too. If they never opened their mouths and covered their wrists, a person would think they’re the Jewish Waltons. Ruth wears housedresses that remind me of Aunty Em in The Wizard of Oz, all paisley with calico Peter-pan collars up to her thick neck. And Frank wears suspenders over button-down shirts with pleated pants every day, even during those dog days of summer, his starched shirt sticking to his back like human paper-Mache.

Unfortunately, they do open their mouths. I think of my father and Uncle David waking up to that German accent barking at them each day and wonder how they both grew up to be sweet after being raised in bitterness. Maybe Ruth and Frank showed them what not to do. Zelda wants mom to marry rich so she chooses men who are closer to poor. Mom tells me to lighten up but I need her to grow up. Maybe the Man Upstairs gives us family to teach us all what not to do.

I lay my head on the bed with the blue quilt stitched with colorful automobiles. It is my father’s bed from childhood. Jack and I flipped a coin to see who got dibs on his bedroom. I won. But it doesn’t feel like it, fingering the sewn cars on the bed, considering all the ignorant nights our boy of a father slept here, unaware of the end waiting for him in a vehicle not much different from the ones decorating the worn blanket.

When Ruth barks that this isn’t a hotel and that there is work to do, I am relieved. It is much better to keep busy than to sit in dad’s powder-blue room steeped to choking with memories.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"What to Wear on My Hair?" - Jew in the City --I Need to Get a Wig!

"Matters of the Heart"

I am thinking that my mother and Benjy knew we needed working papers all along. It was the secret smile, the grown-up joke they were both in on and weren’t sharing with Meeka and me. Christian tells us not to feel too bad, that we’re not missing out on much. “I had to wash the floor and clean toilets when I first got here. Then I got promoted to emptying merchandise and tagging all day like poor Mike over there. It’s a killer on your back,” he says to Meeka who is still sucking her teeth.

Christian doesn’t need to convince me. I still want to earn money but I am not in as much of a rush as Meeka is.

“Can I ask you something? Is that Bentley yours?” Christian juts his head in the direction of the parking lot.

“Yeah,” Meeka shrugs. “What’s your point?”

“So you don’t exactly need to work,” Christian says. But Meeka rolls her eyes and walks down one of the aisles. “Let me know when you’re ready,” she says to me, her new Doc Martens clomping away.

I am filling out the order form for my film roll but can feel Christian trying to make eye contact with me, wanting to know what makes a rich girl like Meeka want to work. I cannot tell him that she is an onion, just like the rest of us, with layers and layers of reasons for wanting things we ourselves don’t understand. So I just hand him the form with my film roll and shrug.

“Cowgirl, you ready yet?” Meeka calls from between the aisles.

My cheeks grow hot at hearing the affectionate appellation. I want this boy’s cool northeastern accent with the rough, compact sound at the ends of his words or Meeka’s sophisticated yet empowered West Indies accent. Anything but my awful twang that makes me think of Jeff Foxworthy and his embarrassing “You Might Be a Redneck” routine. So I decide to exaggerate my accent. It’s always better to make fun of yourself before anyone else gets the chance.

“Aw, I’m faster than green grass through a goose,” I say with forced bucked teeth.

Christian tilts his dark head to the side like he is seeing me for the first time. “I like you. You’re funny.”

He gives me a lazy grin and suddenly I’m fighting a storm of butterflies in my stomach.

“Thanks.” It is with great effort that I offer him a nervous smile.

When I tell Meeka that I’m leaving there’s an audible shake to my voice. My legs feel like wobbly logs of rubber as I make my way to the door.

“Hey, can I draw you sometime?” asks Christian.

I am leaning my Velcro head against the front door, waiting for Meeka to answer. But she doesn’t and nudges me instead. “What? You mean me?”

“Yeah, you,” he says and tilts his head again to the side. “I like your face. You’ve got great angles. Stop by sometime, okay?”

“What about work?” I ignore Meeka who is squeezing all the blood from my hand.

He picks up a sketchbook from behind the register’s counter and holds it up. “This is my work. As you can see, we’re very busy here,” he smiles and the butterflies inside me multiply.

“Maybe,” I say before Meeka and I solemnly exit the store. It is not until we are safely outside, far from Christian’s earshot that we let ourselves jump up and down and giggle. Only our hearts are dancing to different music: Meeka is thrilled that a boy seems to like me while I’m just giddy that a boy considers me funny. Annette mumbles, “Kids” and stamps out her umpteenth cigarette before trekking back inside.

“He’s adorable!” Meeka says as we practically skip our way to the Bentley.

“He’s okay,” I say, because Granny Pearl has already planted a seed in me; because I am tired of waiting to be liked; because I am wondering how adorable a boy can be if he prefers drawing me to Meeka; because it’s probable that I have the kind of face artists want to study for its weirdness, not its beauty; because I’m learning that when it comes to the heart, there are more opportunities for it to ache than to soar.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Office Interview

"The Job Market"

My scrapbook started out with a collection of family pictures from before because, at first, our family of four was the only thing that mattered. But now there is Vinny and my mother and I’m thinking that Jack is right, that there are new snapshots to take into our hearts. I’m eager to develop my first roll of film. There are pictures of Vinny with a spatula in his hand, and my mother crossing her eyes and holding Jack in her lap; pictures of Zelda licking chocolate ice-cream from her lips, of Jack standing proudly beside his spear; pictures of Seth playing video games; even pictures of our Meadowview apartment and Ms. Krantz shooing me away with a box of Chinese takeout in her hand. The photos have become a lifeline of their own, the past bleeding into the present, and back again.

“Please wait here, Benjy,” Meeka says and steps out of the Bentley.

“Of course, Miss Jones. Best of luck to you both,” he says and smiles the same cryptic smile my mother gave me last week.

“This is it,” Meeka says and squeezes my hand. I look up at the cursive sign of the Quick-n-Save and my heart starts racing. It is too soon to tell if this is a good or bad thing.

My mother returned from therapy last night and asked me to sit down. “I’ve given it a lot of thought, Amelia, and I don’t want to be a helicopter mom, always flying in to save you. You need to learn how to save yourself and fly on your own wings.” Her words were too Hallmark-y to be her own. They were, no doubt, coming from the man who made two-hundred and fifty bucks an hour. “So go get that job across the street!” She tousled my hair and yawned.

“Are you sure?” With no obstacle in my path, the idea of working at the Quick-n-Save didn’t seem as exciting. “I mean, it could be a lot of hours on my feet.”

She’d told me I was big and strong now, nearly fifteen. And now Meek and I are standing inside the Quick-n-Save but I’m feeling too young to consider spending my free time trapped inside this store.

But Meeka is leading us to the cash register and asking a boy with an, I’M CHRISTIAN, LET ME HELP YOU Quick-n-Save nametag who is in charge. He gestures to a large woman with colorful turkeys hanging from her ears. She looks like Mike Myers’ Linda Richmond character from SNL. Only she is barking at a skinny boy unloading boxes of hairspray and Linda Richmond would never do something mean like this.

Christian must see the look on our faces because he tells us that Annette’s bark is worse than her bite. He asks us what school we go to and when we tell him he smiles. “That’s cool, me too. Can you believe we graduate in like half a year? It’s crazy!”

Meeka and I look at each other. Without speaking, we know that the other is ecstatic to be mistaken for a senior in high school. Sometimes, being tall, and in my case, having old lady boobs, helps.

“I’ll tell you what’s crazy, Picasso. Me letting you keep this job when you aren’t doing a damn thing,” Annette says, slapping Christian on the back. But she winks at us when she says this and is out of breath from her walk over to us so I’m thinking that maybe her bark is all she’s got. “You helping these girls or just flirting?” She smiles and I see red lipstick smeared on her yellowed-front teeth.

Meeka explains that we are interested in working at her establishment in whatever capacity is needed and I’m wondering how long she’s been practicing this grown-up speech.

“Where the hell are you from?” Annette asks and removes a cigarette and lighter from her navy-blue work smock.

“Trinidad,” Meeka says, jutting her long neck forward.

She nods her head and pops the cigarette into the side of her mouth. I can tell by the way Annette squints that this is the first time she’s heard of Meeka’s country. “Do all you guys talk like that? All fancy and shit?”

Christian rolls his eyes and helps a customer check out. Meeka shakes her head, an uneasy smile on her face. In her ivory tower house on the beach, people do not talk this way and Quick-n-Save’s don’t exist.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m just joshin’ you,” she says, the cigarette bobbing up and down in her mouth. “You got your working papers?”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“You know those forms that say you’re legal to work.” She raises a manicured hand with palm trees painted on each long nail.

“I’m not an alien. I have dual-citizenship. Mother’s American,” Meeka says and sucks her teeth.

“Well, Christ, I didn’t even think about that one. No, I mean proof that you’re sixteen or older.” She is flicking the cigarette lighter and I am amazed that her nails aren’t catching on fire.

“I’m fifteen.” Meeka says this like that number should be close enough. I watch her shoulders hunch when Annette chuckles and says “no cigar” before breathlessly exiting the front door for her cigarette break.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


"Crazy in the Head"

Meeka does not stop asking me about the Quick-n-Save. I keep telling her that it isn’t a good time to be asking. But when she asks me why I just study the pink flowers etched on her quilt. I want to tell her the truth: that my mother isn’t well in the head. But there is this part of me that wants to protect her and Meeka is too bitter these days to show compassion. Besides, my mother is getting better each day. Her problem is in her head so it’s fixable. But Mrs. Jones cheating is a problem of the heart. And once that’s broken, there’s no pill she can take to get it working again.

And after a few sessions of therapy, after I notice that her fingernails are no longer chewed to a pulp, after I notice that she is no longer a dazed zombie and knows how to pair socks again, I ask her about my working with Meeka at the Quick-n-Save across the street.

She puts the last of the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and turns to face me. She smiles at me like there’s a big secret only she knows about. “Is this what you really want?”

I wait for her dark eyes to start darting all over the kitchen, but she keeps them steady on me. I feel like a bug under a microscope. It is an uncomfortable thing, seeing her calm and sober like this. “Of course,” I say. But her question, her confidence makes me wonder.

She tilts her head to the side, considering something past my shoulder. She swats a dish towel at me and says “It’s great that you want to work. Let me think about it.” She hangs the towel up on the drying rack and turns to me. “Come on. It’s a school night. Off to bed you go.”

She bends over and kisses the top of my head. It is a good thing I am sitting because I am too shocked to stand. I can’t remember the last time my mother, well, mothered me. I tell her fine like I am a typical teenager and she is a typical mother, like the last thing I want is to be told what to do. But the truth is that I’m craving the woman who turns off the kitchen light, taps me on the butt and reminds me to brush my teeth.

Funny, how I didn’t know to miss her until she was back.

Monday, January 31, 2011

"Is Birth Control Kosher For Orthodox Jews?" Season 2, Episode 2

"You Know Someone Loves You When"

Mr. McGee is paying for mom’s therapy. I know because I’ve seen the receipts jammed inside her open purse. Each session is paid with a credit card that says Vincent C. McGee in the amount of two-hundred and fifty dollars! He doesn’t have this kind of cash. Anyone who lives at Meadowview does not have this kind of money. I can’t know this without wanting to hug him.

Mom is in the bedroom with Jack, giggling over some bedtime story. Mr. McGee is almost out the door, heading home to Seth. He smiles at me and winks.

“Vinny,” I say. It sounds foreign to my ears, like someone else is saying it.

He turns his freckled head to the side. “What did you just call me, Shorty?”

“Vinny?” I am on a tight rope, terrified of falling.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought you said.” He strokes his pale chin and says “Well, it’s about time.” He grins so wide his puppy dog eyes become narrow slits. All that’s missing is a wagging tail. “Did you want something?”

“Just…thanks,” I say and jut a thumb in the direction of my bedroom. “She’s like the way she used to be.”

“Well, that makes two of us, Shorty,” he winks and starts to leave.

But this time, I stop him with a hug meant for reunions and farewells. I am making up for all the times I’ve kept the hug to myself.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wayne Dyer Inspirational quotes

"Medication and Therapy"

“So tell me, is your mother still a nut?” Zelda asks us and crosses her eyes at us.

We are sitting in a booth at Friendly’s. It is our favorite restaurant, but it has nothing to do with the food and everything to do with the ice-cream at the end of the meal. Poor Zelda must really love us because she tells us that she’d rather have a triple root-canal than come to this dump. On her first visit here she wouldn’t even touch the menu, and said that plastic was for bank cards and not bill of fare. But this is her third time with us at Friendly’s and now she is holding the menu in her buttery hands and trying to decide between the Forbidden Fudge Brownie and the Watermelon Roll. But there is nothing to debate. I know that she will get the brownie sundae just like I know she’d give anything for our mother not to be a nut.

“She’s getting better. I can already tell. She’s not as jumpy, not as jumpy at all,” Jack says, twirling the wrapper from his straw into a paper snake.

It’s true. Our mother is much calmer these days. The doctor put her on some kind of medication. The first two kinds made her eyes look like there needed to be a VACANCY sign stuck to her forehead. One of them left her so disoriented that she asked me to help her with the laundry, said she couldn’t remember which socks went together. On that one, little flecks of dried saliva stuck to the corners of her mouth and she constantly drank and complained of being thirsty; on that one, she reminded me of those kindergarten glue-eaters, all spacey and strange.

But this other medicine seems to be working. She still complains of cotton mouth and being sleepy all the time, but she’s more like the mom from Before. When it starts to thunder or even rain, she doesn’t flinch to see it, only looks and continues whatever she’s doing.

“Yeah, she’s definitely better,” I say. I do not tell Zelda about mom’s medication. She’s already told us that shrinks are nothing more than crazy people playing G-d with our minds. But if this were true, our mother wouldn’t be getting better. She’d still be on all fours with a toothbrush, popping sleeping pills every night.

The waitress comes to take our plates away and we give our ice-cream orders. Zelda exhales sharply and says, “I’ll have the low-cal watermelon roll,” like she is asking to eat Styrofoam and not sherbet.

“Why don’t you just get what you want? Why are you mean like that to yourself?” Jack asks, dropping water onto his paper snake. It unravels, like it always does, twisting and turning on his paper placemat.

Zelda smiles from the corner of her dark eyes and says “Darling, one does not get to look this good without work.”

“Like your boob job?” Jack asks.

She laughs and looks down at the cleavage popping out from her tight red blouse. “Exactly, like my boob job.” She pats them and I think of poodles in a plush carrier. “Now enough about me, I have something for the birthday girl.” She raises her dark eyebrows at me and removes a silver package from her purse.

“My birthday’s not until next month,” I say but grab the ribbon-strewn box anyway.

“Details, details,” she says and winks at Jack who is already jumping up and down in his seat.

I rip open the box. Inside is a black camera. It is the kind professionals use on photo shoots for models, at Sears where they do your family portrait—like we used to when we were still a family of four.

“Now you can keep working on that secret project of yours. It’s a Nikon—top of the line. I got you a tripod too. It’s back in the car. I didn’t want to schlep it into this dump,” Zelda says, loud enough for the family behind us to turn around.

I jump up from the other side of the table and run to Zelda. “Thank you, Zelda. Thank you.” I give Jack a look that makes his bug eyes dilate.

“What? I didn’t tell mom,” Jack says and adds, “You were doing just the past, Amelia. You need to add pictures of today too.”

“Yes, like us.” Zelda reaches her hands across the table at Jack. “Come on, scoot out and take a picture of us in this lovely dive.”

“Ooh, and Vinny and mom too—lots and lots of them!” Jack says and prances to her side of the booth.

I tell them to say cheese, but Jack is the only one who cooperates. Zelda is pouting, a bitter taste in her mouth from what Jack has just said. “Please, that landlord is the reason your mother is at the shrink in the first place.”

Jack pushes himself away from Zelda’s embrace and backs out from the booth, bumping into me. The waitress is carrying all three of our desserts, but isn’t prepared for the traffic of us in the aisle. She loses her balance and two of our dishes go flying. One of them is Jack’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Sundae; the other one is Zelda’s low-cal sherbet.

Zelda tells the waitress not to worry. “I’ll have the Forbidden Fudge Brownie, instead.”

We do not point out Zelda’s hypocrisy. Jack is too steeped in anger to speak and I am too busy trying to figure out how I am no longer on Zelda’s side. For all my love of the Finer Things, I’d rather have Mr. McGee with our mother any day over all the rich suitors in the world. I am thinking that maybe Zelda is wrong, that love is not like a light switch we can turn on and off whenever we like. It is more like the sun, a force that nourishes the deepest parts of us. And there is no control really because without it, we die.

“Jesus, what bug crawled up your ass?” she asks Jack and fingers the diamond Jewish star pendant around her neck.

Jack’s voice is wobbly when he says that Mr. McGee is a gift from G-d for our mother, that dad sent him to her. He is half-barking, half-squeaking when he tells Zelda that our mother was suffering for a long time and that this shrink is not a shrink at all but a psychiatrist, an MD who is trained to help people suffering from post-traumatic stress. He says he’s researched mom’s condition at the library and knows more about it than Zelda does. He adds that it’s serious and needs to be treated and Mr. McGee is sweet and kind enough to see this and at least do something about it instead of ignorantly judging between boob jobs and face lifts.

“Look smarty pants, I’m on your team. I want the same thing as you. I want her to be happy too,” Zelda says this like we are discussing the weather, like it is no big deal. But her eyes are filled with unshed tears. She looks at me and says “I’m a mother. I worry. That’s my job. Things could happen, and then what? Where would she be?”

“What things?” I ask.

“Female things,” she whispers to me. Jack throws his tiny hands against his face. “You know? I mean, I haven’t seen any birth control around those drawers, have you?” She juts her scrawny neck my way. “What if she, G-d forbid, gets a bun in the oven?” She winks a heavily-shadowed eye at me. “Is the landlord thinking of that?”

The waitress arrives with Jack and Zelda’s sundaes.

“You don’t need to worry about that. Vinny uses condoms,” Jack says before digging into his ice-cream.

The waitress turns a fresh shade of pink before turning away with a painful grin.

Zelda and I stare at Jack and then at each other. I raise my eyebrows and shake my head. I do not know how my midget of a brother knows so much about Mr. McGee’s privates and I’d like to keep it this way. Zelda turns her attention to her sundae. Clearly, she’d prefer not to know either.