It’s all happening at the mall!

Posted: 2011 in Post 4.8
Tags: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, March 27, 4:32 p.m.

I take Lucy, the motherless child, bra-shopping out of guilt.

Catholic guilt? She’s Catholic, but I’m not.

Parental guilt? I’m not her parent.

Professional guilt? Well…

I disrupted the status quo of her home life when I interviewed her dad. I feel I owe her a bra or two. Besides, my newspaper went to press today and there’s no better way to celebrate than shopping.

We agree to meet at Northgate Mall in Seattle, located midway between her lutefisk-loving neighborhood of Ballard and the no-man’s-land of my suburb. I knock off work an hour early, since there’s nothing more I can do once the final draft of the newspaper is sent out of reach of my obsessive, copy-editing red pen. We convene in the food court. I buy Lucy a soft pretzel with impossibly orange cheddar cheese dipping sauce. She tells me her bus ride north was uneventful. She doesn’t mention any staring nurses or other alarming specters.

“So, how come your teddy bears all have barbed wire on their heads?” I ask, dispensing with the small talk. I’ve been dying to ask, ever since I saw them lined up on her pink canopied bed like a creepy Marilyn Manson album cover. Behold my subtle interviewing technique!

She rolls her eyes as she gnaws on the pretzel.

“They’re crowns of thorns. I made them from the blackberry bush growing out in the alley.”

“Why?”

“It’s Lent.”

I hadn’t realized. I used to give up cursing for Lent. In recent years, I’ve found it futile.

“Do you always do that? Decorate your stuffed animals for the holidays?” I say.

She glares at me scornfully and licks gobs of cheese off her fingers.

“It’s a penance. They poke in the night. See?”

She used her cleanly lapped fingers to tug down the modest white turtleneck of her school uniform. I wince. Her collarbones are raw with scratches.

“Wow. Okay. Jeez. Um…”

“I also read at least three pages from the Lives of the Saints each night. And I got this copy of the Biblical Apocrypha from a yard sale. I’ve gotten through 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, and the Additions to Esther.”

“Wow. Okay…” I stammer.

“There’s only five days left till Easter. I’m way behind because they keep giving us too much geometry homework and I suck at geometry.”

“Um. Time flies,” I say.

“What do you do for Lent?” she demands.

“Ah, look, the lingerie department,” I announce in the most expository manner ever. “Let’s find you a bra.”

I steer us into the J.C. Penny, the site of her preteen humiliation. I chose to stage her undergarment redemption here, not for a therapeutic reason, but because it’s cheap and I get a discount if I use my store credit card.

“So, Career Day at your school,” I say, as we enter a forest of metal stalks sprouting lace and elastic. “Did it give you any new thoughts about what you want to be when you grow up? Besides a nun, I mean.”

I really want to ask her about her meltdown over her raped classmate, but I chicken out. Her dad ought to do it. I’m not wise to her unbalanced ways.

“I want to be martyr. Or a saint. But I’m not sure how. Christopher’s trying to help me. He’s practically in seminary already. I think he might do better as a monk, though. They’re more saintly, coz they aren’t worldly.”

“How about a friar? He could be a friar—a monk that goes out in the community and does stuff. You know, like Friar Tuck,” I suggest.

She glares at me derisively and crams the last of her pretzel into her mouth.

“Okay, here we are,” I say, to fill the void. “Discount rack. Let’s load you up with a bunch of sizes and styles, and you can figure out what works.”

“Nothing slutty,” she says through a mouthful of pretzel.

In her dumpy white turtleneck topped with a heavy navy blue sweater vest, oversized plaid skirt that reaches past her knees, and knee socks as thick as soccer shin guards, she’s the farthest thing from a slutty schoolgirl I’ve ever seen. I doubt any bra on the planet could change that.

“Don’t worry, no one will see it, and if no one sees it, it’s not slutty,” I say, with a logic that makes sense to me, sort of.

“Sluttiness is evil because sex is evil,” she says. “Those who indulge in it are evil. I want something that isn’t sexy or slutty.”

“Fine, fine, whatever. Did you happen to get any counseling after your mom died?”

“God is the divine counselor. Jesus and Holy Mary and the saints are the only confidants any of us need. Shrinks are the devil’s lawyers.”

I’m not sure if that’s a yes or a no. I grab an unobjectionable mom bra off a rack.

“Hey, half-price! And not slutty, in my opinion.”

“It’s got lace.”

“The lace is structural,” I lie. “It keeps the garment from sluttily revealing too much.”

I’m not sure if “sluttily” is a word. I’m sure Lucy will be using it for the rest of the week, however.

“All sex is evil, though a martyr can be touched by evil, yet be made more holy by it. No lace.”

“Okay, okay, fine. Here, no lace. It’s blue. Nothing slutty about blue. Mary wore blue,” I say.

Lucy grudgingly eyes what I secretly consider a much sluttier bra made of electric blue satin.

“Sex is evil. You should remember that,” she says significantly. Too significantly.

“You do understand that I’m not your dad’s girlfriend? Right?” I say.

She shrugs.

“Has there been anyone since your mom?”

She shakes her head.

Great.

That means in her sheltered, sex-fearing, Catholic school attending mind, I must be her dad’s girlfriend.

Let me take this opportunity to vigorously reiterate that I am happily married, with my own life and my own daughter! And because I have my own daughter, I have an inconvenient soft spot for ill-tended daughters who are teetering on the brink of becoming either crazy virgin cat ladies or serial killer victims.

“Just try it on for size,” I say, pointing at the dressing room. “I’ll wait out here.”

I may be spending time with Jack’s daughter in the lingerie department of the J.C. Penny, I may be bearing witness to her creepy theories about rape and martyrdom and the evils of sex, but there is one line I will not cross, and it is helping her try on a bra. That would be too slutty for my bones. For all the de-Puritanizing aftereffects of my hippie college, I still cannot accept the communal nudity most women shrug at—namely gym showers, video taped childbirth, and underwear shopping with a pal.

Nope. I’ll wait out here and let her figure it out herself, as I did in my youth.

“Fine,” she snots, rolling her eyes. She holds out her hand for the bra.

“Hey, what happened to your hand?” I say.

Her palm has an angry red welt in the center, which I expect and at least a dozen smaller pricks, which alarm me.

She ought to snatch her hand back and hide it.

She ought to snap that it’s none of my business.

She ought to hastily change the subject.

Instead, she looks smug, stands up straighter, and holds her hand out with the fingers spread like a statue of Holy Mary offering a blessing.

Statue of the Virgin Mary

“Christopher came over last night,” she says. “He was supposed to stay, but he left early. I tried to tell him about Mandy Schirmer, the whore, but he kept going on and on about that stupid roommate of his. He left because he bought beer and a new rock CD and was gonna try to convert his roommate.”

Lucy gives a snort that indicates the sort of lie she believes this to be: far beyond white, almost at the level of courtroom perjury.

“He really left to drink beer and listen to rock music with his pot smoking pagan roommate,” she continues. “He isn’t so pure of heart, after all. He’s as bad as Dad. I’ll never drink anything ever!”

She doesn’t stomp her sensibly-shod foot, but I think she wants to.

“So I did this,” she says. “I was working my cross stitch. I had nine needles threaded with different colors. I pushed one into my hand. Then the rest, one by one. It was like Christ’s blessed blood in a painting, flowing in a rainbow from my hand. And then the rainbow mingled with my blood. It was very holy.”

“Where was your dad during all this?”

“Talking on his cell phone,” she says.

To me.

Great. Now I have this psychotic shit to feel guilty about, too. I don’t think an electric blue bra is going to absolve me.

 

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