Margaret Lane drew a finger along the edges of her daughter’s eye, where the blood from her wound had settled in contour-line rings of purple, blue and black.
“Daughter, if I didn’t know better, I would have that young man of yours carted away. Are you sure you’re not trying a little too hard to prove your devotion?”
“I didn’t do it on purpose, Mother. My assignment was simply to participate. And it was fun.”
“And maybe a little dangerous?”
Margaret kissed the skin above her daughter’s wound and smiled. “Bless you, Jewel. You’re learning how to live.”
“Yes. But it saves on eye shadow. Shall we return to the men?”
“If they can stand the sight of me.” She lifted her fingers like claws and made a horror-movie expression.
“A little wound can be an exotic thing,” said Margaret. “I have occasionally received appreciative comments about my C-section scar. Shows I’ve lived. You never know what will arouse the male libido.”
“Just about anything, is my guess.” And that was how they made their entrance, letting out cirrus clouds of female laughter. Scootie and Rico, who had been talking shop (they were both in marketing, after all), turned their attentions to the doorway.
“How are the men doing?” asked Margaret.
“Conspiring to sell CD-ROMs of Gelatinous Bubba at Lane’s Cupertino,” reported Rico. Rico possessed a double package of charm: a hyper-romantic exterior (cleft chin, big gray moustache) and an Oxford-educated diction, approaching Shakespearean. “And what have you women been discussing?”
“The women,” said Margaret, “have been discussing the surprising beauty of wounds. Have you ever seen a purple more lovely than the one over my daughter’s eye?”
“Once,” said Rico. “In an Edward Hopper nightscape. Off in the corner, almost indistinguishable from the black.”
Juliana was beginning to feel like an actor in a play, in which no lines had been written for her. Scootie, on the other hand, was perfectly happy to study their host and hostess. He was certain that this had gone beyond the genial friendship previously advertised. As if on cue, the two of them exchanged a pair of glances and smiles, then Margaret clapped her hands together.
“Before dinner, Rico and I have a little entertainment for you. Come along.”
She led them upstairs to a room Juliana remembered as a playroom. Ping-pong table, bumper pool, pinball machine – that kind of thing. Margaret stood in front of the door and said, simply, “Rico and I have been very busy.” And let them in.
Juliana’s eyes landed on the art-deco candlestick of the Chrysler Building, and she knew immediately what was up: the Empire State, the sharp green rectangle of Central Park, the snaky ribbon of Broadway. Covering the room, except for a three-foot walkway on all sides, her mother and Rico had constructed a scale replica of Manhattan.
Scootie had nothing much more to say than, “Hachiwawa!”
“God, Mother. Did you spend my inheritance?”
“Not even close, hon. Rico had superb connections with a New York souvenir company. Check out the bottom of the Empire State.”
Juliana leaned over 34th Street like King Kong and read the words, “Made in Taiwan.”
“We had to throw off actual scale here and there,” said Rico. “Most of the smaller buildings are just generic skyscrapers from a hobby shop.”
“Stew-pendous,” said Scootie. He walked down what would have been the Hudson River and studied Wall Street. “But I thought you were into trains, Rico.”
“Now, now,” said Rico. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” He rolled the shades over the French doors as Margaret flipped a switch behind Yankee Stadium. Stripes of faint blue light descended the length of the city, revealing the tracks and trains beneath the streets.
“Subways!” Juliana shouted. Margaret took a transformer and started the 1/9 from Washington Heights toward Times Square. Rico pressed a switch along the East River, sending an army of yellow taxis scattering like cockroaches, then used another to start a horse and carriage through the Park. Scootie found another transformer and revved up the A Train, whistling the appropriate jazz accompaniment as he tooled into Greenwich Village. Then Rico headed for the Brooklyn Bridge and, grinning broadly, switched on the grand finale: a hornet’s nest of miniature Christmas lights, wired into each of the city’s prize buildings.
“Margaret,” said Scootie. “I’m glad someone like you gets all the money, because you sure know how to enjoy it!”
Margaret let out an “Amen, brother!” as she pulled into Battery Park and slid into reverse for the climb back uptown. Juliana took the Flushing Local past the Public Library, noting that the giant screen of One Times Square featured an ad for Lane’s Stationery.
After a merry half an hour of playing Transit Authority, Scootie and Juliana slipped out to the balcony as Margaret and Rico went off to prepare dinner. Scootie wrapped his arms around her as they watched the traffic on University Avenue, Silicon Valley commuters headed for the woodsy neighborhoods of Palo Alto.
“It was fun going to New York. We’ll have to do it for real sometime. I’ll take you to Washington Square and propose to you under the arch.”
“Scootie, hush! We’re not there yet.”
“That place where we get to make plans together. We’re closer, thanks to that teenage thug and his elbow, but...”
Juliana clamped a hand over Scootie’s mouth and squeezed his cheeks together. “Don’t you dare apologize! You want me to lose points?”
Scootie peeled her hand from his lips, laughing. “Okay, okay. I’m glad for your internal bleeding. In fact, I hope it gives you a headache, and blurs your vision. Ha-hah-hah-hah-hah!”
Their moment was interrupted by the sudden rip of a motorcycle. Scootie watched it go, a brightly striped Japanese comet.
“So what do we call this place?” he asked.
“Let’s call it Square One,” she said.
“So how do we know when we get there?”
“I think you’re the one who will know first.”
“Why?” asked Scootie.
“You’re entitled. And you’re the one with the Spiderman senses.”
“Young Peter Parker, exposed to a radioactive dose of John Cage music...”
“Yes, and maybe the fact that you pay attention to life instead of covering it up.”
Scootie was puzzled. “Could you... say that again?”
Juliana unfolded Scootie’s arms and leaned against the railing, facing him.
“My mother and I reacted to my father’s death in very different ways. My mother took that stab of mortality and ran with it, throwing herself at obstacles and leading the kind of life my father would have admired.
“But it’s not good for a child to know death at such an early age. I followed every safe path I could find, working like a little brain-on-wheels to get the good grades, go to the right school, get the perfect husband. You see where that got me.”
“It doesn’t matter how you get there,” said Scootie. “As long as you get there.”
“Yes. But I guess what I’m saying is that Square One really is Square One. Once we come down from the adrenaline of romance and adultery, and return to the everyday decisions – your concerts, my board meetings, who to have over for dinner on Saturday – there will be times when I will return to that person. Maybe I did such a good job of playing Tracy Lord because I am Tracy Lord, a sheltered society girl who needs a few bottles of champagne before she’ll go skinny-dipping with Jimmy Stewart. Oh, what the hell am I getting at?”
Scootie took her hands and pulled her back his way. “Let’s get to Square One first, and then we’ll talk about it.”
“Okay.” She settled in for a long, damp kiss, but was interrupted by her mother, rapping on the glass.
“Hey, you horndogs! Dinner’s ready, whenever you’re finished cleaning each other’s teeth!”
Margaret laughed and disappeared, leaving Scootie with a wide smile.
“What are you grinning about, Tin Man?”
“I think I like your mother very much.”
“You know, of course, that that mini-Manhattan is just another sneaky ploy.”
“After Dad’s death, Mother and I used to escape the dread holiday void by spending our Christmases in New York. We stayed with friends on the Upper East Side and took taxis to all the sights: the stores along Fifth Avenue, ice skating in Rockefeller Center – the usual culprits. Well, one day, inspired by some liberal urge to mingle with the masses, Mother took me on the subway. I loved it! To a kid from California, the idea of walking underground at Eighty-Sixth Street and popping back up in the East Village was pure jelly-bean magic. And so much hustle and stimulus – so many types and colors of people, carrying packages, briefcases, bouquets from the florist. Old black men playing saxophone for tips. With all that distraction, I was able to drop the orphan act and enjoy myself. And I gabbed and gabbed, to anyone who would listen. And they did, because I was a very cute little girl.”
“After that, it was nothing but the subway for us.”
“I think I like your mother even more,” said Scootie. He opened the door to their private Gotham. Juliana aimed her raccoon eye along Broadway, to the big theater marquees: Cats, Miss Saigon, Late Night with David Letterman. “Scootie? Instead of Square One, let’s call it Times Square.”
“Nah-ah,” said Scootie. “Too obvious. Let’s call it... Herald Square.”
“Okay. But that’s where Macy’s is, you know, and I love to shop.”
“Uh-oh. By the way, your mom’s got the hots for Rico.”
“No! You think so?”
Photo by MJV