I had started to inventory the bookshelves when I got a letter from Ted, a note actually, written hurriedly in ballpoint on his prescription notepad. “Sign 4x where indicated,” it read. And then in fountain-pen blue ink: “enc: check, to tide you over until settlement.” The note was clipped to our divorce papers, along with a check for ten thousand dollars, signed in the same fountain-pen blue in on the note. And instead of being grateful, I was hurt.
I looked out the window and saw the calla lilies had fallen and turned brown, the daisies had been crushed down by their own weight, the lettuce gone to seed. Runner weeds were growing between the flagstone walkways that wound between the planter boxes. The whole thing had grown wild from months of neglect. And seeing the garden in this forgotten condition reminded me of something I once read in a fortune cookie: When a husband stops paying attention to the garden, he’s thinking of pulling up roots.
Including my mother, father, and me, that made eleven people. But my mother had counted only ten, because to her way of thinking Shoshana was a child and didn’t count, at least not as far as crabs were concerned. She hadn’t considered that Waverly might not think the same way. When the platter of steaming crabs was passed around, Waverly was first and she picked the best crab, the brightest, the plumpest, and put it on her daughter’s plate. And then she picked out the next best for Rich and another good one for herself.
I was not too fond of crab, ever since I saw my birthday crab boiled alive, but I knew I could not refuse. That’s the way Chinese mothers show they love their children, not through hugs and kisses but with stern offerings of steamed dumplings, duck’s gizzards, and crab. I thought I was doing the right thing, taking the crab with the missing leg. But my mother cried, “No! No! Big one, you eat it. I cannot finish.”
I heard my mother saying to Waverly, “True, cannot teach style. June not sophisticate like you. Must be born this way.” I was surprised at myself, how humiliated I felt. I had been outsmarted by Waverly once again, and now betrayed by my own mother. I was smiling so hard my lower lip was twitching from the strain. I tried to find something else to concentrate on, and I remember picking up my plate, and . . . wondering why my mother didn’t use the new set I had bought her five years ago.