In the Good Light
Donna D. Vitucci

Where we lived, No playmates allowed in. If we huddled with our jacks at the bottom of the long staircase leading to our second floor in the two-family, our mother swept us off the step, saying, “You have the whole outdoors.” The broom straw scratched our bare midriffs. Her vigor did not wane when she met us. Our friends were a little afraid of her. She called me and Denise home for supper with a Cap’n Crunch whistle. Everyone on our road knew it was time to eat when we raised our heads into the wind like dogs. The countless times we asked, we begged her, Mother barked, No! Were we out of our minds? We couldn’t have a piano or a puppy.

When I whipped my want into a tantrum, Denise skirted my edges because whatever I fought for, she wanted piece of. I flailed from couch to floor-length draperies in my sulk until Mother wrenched me from the window, predicting disaster: “You’re going to yank the whole thing down.” I was stick-thin, slightly anemic, easily manhandled. Denise, one year younger, stood in the next window, opening and closing the draperies, to hide and reveal herself, playing elevator.

“Going up, please. Going down, please.”

Our mother swiveled from me to Denise and back so fast she could have had two faces. She hissed, “Don’t stomp. The people downstairs will hear.”

Of course they would hear; we heard them, heard their doors slam with their coming and going. Hurts and accusations mumbled up through our floors from Mary and Gene, husband and wife in shrewish argument or wedded bliss. From the moment they moved in we observed them; they were our summer project.

Gene, home late from work, several beers under his belt, an open one in hand, doused the coals with lighter fluid, still to grill their supper way after dark. He and the lightning bugs out there, foraging and looking for companionship. The match he lit set off a small roar below us while Mary played noisy with pots in their kitchen. We heard it all and we took note.

Denise and I pushed our foreheads against the window screens to see Gene from where we lay on our stomachs at the foot of our shared bed. Our spying eyes turned down that way induced headaches. He’d set up the grill close to the house so he wouldn’t need to walk more steps than necessary. We decided maybe he was “onto us;” this was probably his way of crimping our observations. We should have been asleep. It was after ten o’clock.

We wore baby doll pajamas Mother sewed on the Singer. We never had store-bought if a Simplicity pattern could be had. Shopping meant trips where we wished out loud at storefront windows, and Mother said, “Let’s wait for a sale.” We knew the way to the ladies’ lounge in each store’s bargain basement.

On August nights our whole family slept on the living room rug where mother had snapped open a white sheet. This was the best place to catch a breeze on our stuffy second floor. With all windows lifted high, we couldn’t help but hear the car doors slam, the shoes scuff the porch, the sounds of Gene and Mary stumbling home. Married, and they still dated! They argued or they loved and we were privy to it all. Our parents pretended sleep. Perhaps they were asleep during the racket while Denise and I linked fingers, thrilled with knowing more than anyone else about those downstairs two.

Our surveillance notes for late summer read: Mary is pregnant! We were over the moon at the prospect of a baby downstairs. We loved all small, infantile things— puppies, kittens, lambs, chipmunks, Beatrix Potter books about woodland creatures that we borrowed from the library, books miniature as a deck of cards. We imagined babysitting as a team, “two for the price of one,” we’d tell Mary.

Mother would have noted, “What a bargain.”

For a whole week the set-up Singer shoved our suppers to one side of the kitchen table. Mother was sewing our back-to-school outfits– short-sleeved white dresses with a blue pattern and matching blue corduroy jackets, sleeves to the elbows. We weren’t twins, though we often dressed that way.

We took turns standing on a chair our mother dragged into the bathroom so she could pin up the hems in “the good light.” She was a menace, the way she spoke through the straight pins held between her lips. While she directed me to spin slowly, to pause every two inches, I admired myself from waist up, what I could see in the medicine chest mirror. The blue pattern in the white was not flowers, no bouquets, no forget-me-nots. In poses sleep and sit and beg, the mirror showed me the puppies we pined for.

When Mary lost the baby that winter, we were bereft, as if our very own brother or sister had been stolen from us, another good thing gone. No money for new Easter outfits, not even for material at the Fabric Circle, so we donned our doggy dresses again. “You’re going to get your wear out of these before you grow out of them,” Mother said. She bleached our white cotton gloves in Clorox.

We brought our hands to our faces during Easter Mass. When Mary Magdalene found the rock moved, when John outran Peter, when we spied Gene and Mary standing, isolated from each other in two different pews behind us, I whispered to Denise that their separation was because of the over-flow crowd. She nodded, solemn in the face of the holy day or the truth we preferred turning from. As the priest called us to bow our heads and renew our baptismal promises, we again brought our noses to the seams of our gloves. They smelled like disinfectant, and overcome, our eyes watered.

Donna D. Vitucci is pleased to celebrate Corium’s first anniversary with the beloved editors, publishers and writers involved therein. She has stories galore here and there– some finished, some in their infancies, many in their snarky teenage-hood. They mock her, those teenagers. As for “In the Good Light,” Easter is once more in the offing; now if she could just lay her fingers on her church-going gloves …