a Sarah Selecky prompt
Write a scene that uses the following words: skeleton, laminate, Montreal.
My father’s fourth wife was called Baby. Babette Horowitz. They met at the jazz club on St. Laurent, one night when she was dancing. My father liked to say that he picked Baby out of all the women in the room, but Baby always told the story differently.
Your father, he walked in that door, with his hair and that damned foolish hat, looking like Gregory Peck in the sunshine. All I had to do was jive a little faster, and that was that. You remember that, Annie. Your father, he likes to be the only man in the room. Just like the sun, thinking it’s the only damned star in the sky.
They married quick, which would have raised eyebrows except that Baby, by this point, was over forty. Another Old Maid of Montréal. They honeymooned in Gatineau and when they came back to the city, they split their time between my father’s house and Baby’s walk-up on Park Avenue. This did raise eyebrows, but only because Baby’s neighbours, who had tried for years to fix her up at the synagogue, couldn’t quite figure it out.
“I like my space,” she told me. “I move in with your father, that space disappears. You don’t let a man get too close, Annie. Try and keep an entire house between you, if you can.”
By this point, I was living with Luc. Our kitchen had shiny laminate floors and a thin line of mould round the base of the shower. Baby’s tiny flat, with its china knobs and bearskin rugs and beaded Tiffany lamps, was one-third the size of our house and smelled of Baby, always Baby, all the time. Cigarettes and talcum powder, lavender and honey.
The first time I visited her, she took me into her tiny second bedroom and showed me a gift from her very first crush – sparrow bones, nestled in a small violet box like a coffin.
“It fell out of a tree as we walked to the show,” she said, stroking the bones. “A baby, just learning to fly. Jed – that was his name, Jed Parker – was a taxidermist. Well, his father was a taxidermist. He took the bird home in his pocket. The next time we went out, he gave me this.”
“What happened to him?” I asked her.
“He moved to Ohio.” She slid a fingernail beneath the skull and pulled it out – Jed had strung the bones together on silver thread, so that the sparrow jingled like a puppet. “I heard he met a girl there, and got divorced.”
“Got married?” I said, not yet used to Baby’s way of life. “You mean he got married?”
“No. I mean he got divorced. He met the girl, and eventually they got divorced.” She put the bird back and laid the box on her dressing table. “Eventually it happens to everyone, Annie. Life divorces you in one way or another.”
They’re still married, though Baby spends most of her time in the walk up now. Every time I visit her she has another treasure, another hidden drawer. We do not talk about my father, though I know she brings stories to him, carries news of my life soft in her hands. I am the skeleton now, and Baby’s nails the gentle, calming puppeteer. My father waits beyond the curtain for the show that isn’t going to come.