The mail comes slithering through the door just as I am putting on my sunglasses and groping for my keys. “C’mon, Phoebs, we’ve got to go.”
Phoebe advances on me carrying a pair of pink leather slippers. “I will wear these,” she says. “I am a princess ballerina.”
“That is true,” I agree, dashing past her to retrieve a pair of miniature loafers from the closet floor. “But we have to wear proper shoes in the world.”
“Aw,” she complains good-naturedly, holding out a foot. “Violet is a princess ballerina also. When can we go to ballet?” Last winter the two of them took ballet “lessons” which consisted of prancing about in adorable costumes at whopping expense.
“Don’t know,” I say, “I’ll have to check my diary.”
“What’s that?” Phoebe asks with disgust, holding out her other foot.
“It’s a little book where you write down what you’re going to do each day,” I say briskly, picking up the pile of mail from beneath the front door and quickly piling the bills on my desk and pitching out the junk. Catalogs usually go straight into the bin. My feeling is that custody of the eyes does not apply solely to men of the cloth, and I am safest when I do not ogle the offerings of the mail-order crowd. It leads to trouble when I do. Out go the first four catalogs, and I’m just about to pitch the fifth, a new one, when something makes me slip it into my handbag instead.
“Eeew,” Phoebe says firmly. “A diarrheey.”
“Not diarr–” I laugh, “Diary.”
The school doors are still closed when we arrive, so while Phoebe sings softly in the backseat to Moosie and Cowie, her stuffed moose and cow, I flip through the new catalog. It turns out that I am holding a document that speaks to my darkest desires and gets an answer from them before I even know what is happening.
On each page is burnished this or polished that; sconces from the Occident, silks from the Orient; nowhere the deadening phrase, “some assembly required.”
“Antique Portuguese brocades inspired this jacquard, which is woven in cotton and linen for superior texture and drape“
Oh! It is superior! Just look…
“–Natural warp yarns enhance its surface. The bolsters (not shown) include inserts filled with the finest-quality blend of–”
Bolsters not shown! The modesty overwhelms me even as a small voice within warns that ’natural warp yarns enhance…” is code for “unironable and already worn-looking…” Catalogs never show the rivets or the hinges; they make particleboard look like solid oak, the voice reminds me.
I disregard the voice and move on to the next item.
“Deep, curvaceous wings and sumptuous padding give this bed its enveloping comfort–“
Forget ripply chested exotic dancers with long wavy hair; this is what Woman really wants:
“Supported by a kiln-dried hardwood frame–”
In a flash it comes to me that this is how Dan Rather must have felt when his eyes first ran across those tantalizing memos. His darkest desires gratified, the prospect of a Bush-free Washington, no visible rivets or hinges…
Dan, I understand! I know that this story is true. Sitting in my car in the school parking lot, eyes spiraling, I believe that this document is authentic. The jacquard does have superior drape; the hardwood frame must be kiln-dried. The more important question of how I got this catalog, which is where those who don’t like madcap household expenditure like to put the emphasis, the more important question is, just how curvaceous are those wings and just how coy are those bolsters (not shown), which I told you about earlier?
There is a commotion at the school doors, and children begin pouring out. Three of them climb into our car, and then jump out again, squabbling over who sits in which seat. Pretty young teachers smile tolerantly as we play Chinese fire drill in the carpool line. Finally all the doors slam and off we go.
“Ow, Paris! That feels like a shark–”
“Sorry, Molly,” her brother says, pulling the sandpapery top of his new skateboard away from her bare arm. She rubs it resentfully, then, in a friendly voice, asks, “Do you want to play secret agents when we get home?”
“Aw, yeah!” says he.
“Do dogs eat cats?” Violet wants to know, as we pull out of the parking lot.
She thinks for a moment. “Well, I don’t eat cats, because I am not a dog.” There is another pause, and she asks, “Can God hear what you say if you are whispering? Even if it’s a secret?”
“Yes,” I say for the millionth time. “He knows what’s in your heart.”
“Ow, Paris!” says Phoebe.
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Even at the back?” It is Violet again.
“The back of what?”
“The back of your heart.”
“You’re so cute Violet,” Paris says, squeezing her.
“He’s just trying to be affectionate–”
“What’s that, Mummy?” Molly asks as we pull up in front of our house. There is a large cardboard box on the doorstep, which has obviously just been delivered.
“Oh dear,” I say guiltily. “It’s from that catalog–”
The trouble is, having jars of jam on the breakfast table with their commercial labels and sticky rims, well, it just looks so messy and unappealing and–
“I thought Daddy said–”
“Never mind what Daddy said,” I reply defensively, not happy about what Daddy will say, which will be something along the lines of, “Pewter what? We don’t need–”
As I say, having jars of jam on the breakfast table with their labels and sticky rims, well, it’s so unappealing, and there, in one of the catalogs I thankfully happened not to have thrown out, there just happened to be a dear little set of jam pots with berries and oranges on their lids to indicate jam or marmalade, and matching pewter spoons, and, and….
Dan, I understand.