Max Westler

I liked having a pair of lovebirds snug
in the furnished bungalow Mother let out
to respectable persons only. Minnie
and Barney, I drew their names in smoke
swirling above a red chimney, but Mother insisted
it wouldn't last. He was too old for her, too set in his ways.
Besides, Minnie was in it for the short haul. That woman had
a wandering eye, Mother could tell at once. But still I paid
close attention when they came over for supper. The way
he paused and blushed when he told us how they met

that first time. Yes, he could hardly believe his luck
that in all that crowded coffee shop, the only empty seat
was the one right beside her. So what could he do, but sit
himself down, and out of the blue, ask if she was seeing anybody. Who didn't say, "What business is that of yours?" But smiled to hear him talking so romantically. And here they are together--if it's all just a dream, please don't bother to wake him up.

Minnie sunbathing in the back yard, rubbing
baby oil until her body glowed. Minnie in a housedress
pinning white underthings to a windy line. Then I'm standing in
the hallway listening to her and mother have their heart
to heart. Because Minnie needs somebody to talk to.
And it's the little things that can really get to you.
Like Barney carving an entire steak into bloody
pieces before he even took a bite. Or grinding
his teeth for at least an hour or two every night until
it was driving her crazy. The little golden scissors
squeaking as he clipped his monstrous nose-hairs.

Then one morning Barney was sobbing, sobbing
in our breakfast nook as Mother poured him a strong cup
of black coffee. Shirtless, barefooted. I'd never seen a grown man
looking so disheveled. Minnie had left him for another man, up
and left, just like that. She didn't take one thing of his, not even
the ring. But Mother told him not to worry. Minnie was
no dummy and would soon come to her senses, realize
her mistake. But not so quick to take her back would be
Mother's sound advice. But for once she was wrong.
Minnie didn't come back. Every saturday morning
he would mow the grass in that silk bathrobe she bought him
for their honeymoon, but still she didn't come back.
Soon he was gone too, without even collecting his deposit.

And that was just as well, for by then I had pocketed
the spare key, could come and go as I pleased.
This was happiness; the entire house now belonged
to me. Searching the empty rooms for clues,
shoe boxes piled in the closet, a copy of Photoplay
with lovely June Allyson on the cover, a balled Kleenex
under the bed, and the housedress I kept
as a trophy, because it smelled of baby oil.