MARYLOU MAGNIFIQUE FANTASIZES OF SETTING HER VANITY ON FIRE
April 8, 2022
by Christine Naprava
You grow up with a face like Clint Eastwood’s for a father and a motor for a mother.
The face hangs long but cuts angular, the eyes are never not squinting, and at your high school graduation, The Face lays a bouquet of red roses and sunflowers in your arms and grazes your rouged cheek with a kiss. You’re sparkling−he tells you this. Not glowing, but sparkling.
Mother Motor is Italian from Jersey and dyes her chestnut yellow-blonde. The motor never stops. She doesn’t talk, she screams, and after the divorce, she goes from Young back to Bartoletti. Without polish, her nails match her hair. Sex isn’t sex−it’s fucking. Your little brother has been doing a lot of that lately: fucking. He’s only just began. Among his friends, he’s known as Hung Young. It’s a joke. His friends are all jokes, except when they’re obsessing over you. When they’re obsessing over you, you’re on air, you are air. You’re the air, the sky, the sun, and the moon. You’re sparkling. You’re Hung Young’s big sis. He’s Marylou Magnifique’s kid brother. Marylou Magnifique: your father’s mother’s pet name for you, only ever uttered over the phone. She never left France to get to know you.
Hung Young took a girl’s virginity on your bed (your teenage bed is a creaky brass bed frame, a turquoise comforter that matches your aura). He tells you this as you step down into the sunken living room with two pots of homemade chocolate mousse, one in each fist. This is years later, though, once you’re settled, once you’re all acceptance. You have made your bed and now you’re lying in it. You’re the first of your family to call New York City your bed.
You smoke cigarettes as long as your legs. You’ve come a long way, baby, but you’re only eighteen. You carry your Slims alongside your birth control in a denim sack handbag overwhelmed with buttons and iron-on appliques that boast what you only half believe in. At your peak, your toenails are never not painted an electric shade of tangerine.
Your brother mistakes Mother Motor’s uterus for her ovaries. This is years earlier when the three of you are still living under half a roof (after the divorce, your house is a half-double on stilts by the sea). Which one has gone bad? your brother asks you behind Mother Motor’s back, which is never fully turned. Only one. Women only get one uterus.
Mother Motor’s lone uterus is removed and so too is the cancer, every last bit of it. She’ll live for another hundred years. I’ll live for another hundred years, she threatens all of you, striking up a celebratory cigarette. The Face isn’t a widower, only an ex. His money doesn’t go to funeral arrangements; it goes to alimony and child support. You all dwell on what could’ve been.
Carmen Tonetta is not real. You meet in 1971 when he’s eighteen and you’re fifteen. You’re in The City for the summer, a camp of sorts for aspiring models. He’s holding up the wall of a crowded bar you have no business being in, but Ginny, the oldest of you at seventeen, has a boyfriend and her boyfriend is a bartender there. There’s no way you’re fifteen, so you’re seventeen, like Ginny.
By the summer’s end, four of you get scouted by New York City’s top modeling agencies. You get scouted, but not by the person who matters. You return home to North Carolina on air with the address to Carmen Tonetta’s Columbia dorm burning a hole in your pocket.
The only song Carmen Tonetta ever seems to listen to is “Hey Jude,” which you find terribly cliché, but what he lacks in musical depth, he makes up for in a configuration of facial features
so perfect, so easy on the eyes, you can’t breathe. He can’t breathe around you either, he tells you, blowing a stream of warm, minty air into your cupped palms. You’re in Times Square. It’s frigid out and you’re still fifteen. You came prepared with gloves, but you love his mouth on you.
At night in North Carolina, you cannot sleep. Carmen Tonetta has made you a fitful sleeper. In the morning, you wake with your bedsheets bunched in your fists. You open the day with a cigarette, close the day with two, both before you brush your teeth−you’re good about that. You smoke only when in North Carolina. In The City, he doesn’t tell you to stop, but in The City, you want to behave, so you take up biting your nails. When your brother visits and lights up a cigarette, you tell him you wish he’d stop killing himself.
You visit for weeks at a time in the summer and weekends that fall on or near holidays during the school year. Your mother allows this because the Tonettas have money and the Youngs, the lone Bartoletti, do not. You’re a student still, excelling. He’s the only strikingly attractive sibling, and there’s six of them total: Kay, Gayle, Carmen, Darrell, Gregory, and Little Stephanie. His roommate, Neal, treats you no differently than a girl of lesser looks. Quietly, you thank him for this. He makes you feel like a gift opened privately on Christmas morning, no showing off, only silent, deep appreciation.
You move in with him in July of 1974. No more roommate, just you and him. Your boyfriend works on Wall Street. You take a job as a secretary to appease The Face and Mother Motor. You only see the parts of The City worth seeing. He won’t let you see any of the others. On Valentine’s Day, he takes you to see Taxi Driver. That’s your city on the screen, but it doesn’t feel like your city. You duck out of the theater, form a fortress around your face with the chartreuse scarf he bought you that afternoon from Barneys. Everything of yours is his. You call home for the first time in weeks: no answer.
You marry in 1976 on the day preceding the country’s two-hundredth birthday. At your reception, there are fireworks everywhere you turn.
By 1979, there’s an apartment with a sunken living room and no baby. You’re fertile. You’re two scares in a year, and then, the next year, three. Don’t call them scares anymore. For once, the edge in his voice is aimed at you. You’ll make beautiful babies, the best, the most considerate, of your city friends assures you, when you’re ready, that is. She was his friend first.
You don’t have a baby, so you can go to nightclubs every Saturday night with your husband. You can dance to “You Dropped A Bomb on Me,” “Cars,” “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” You can be the sexy couple. You are the sexy couple. You wear a dress of faux red leather. You wear heels. In heels, you tower over him. In bed, he tells you to leave them on.
In 1983, there’s Becky, the first and last to your knowledge. A hiccup, but hiccups remind you of babies. You threaten to throw yourself off the balcony. By this time, your brother is two daughters deep into a marriage and also wanting to throw himself off a balcony he can’t afford.
Charlotte Galey is the devil in sheep’s clothing (he’s never gotten his phrases right). You ask him if he would’ve been better off with Connie Owens, the half Portuguese. Of course not. He would’ve been better off giving into that one guy in the Copacabana bathroom.
It’s Christmastime 1984 and you’re having an affair, your first. Your brother is visiting from out of town and he’s brought along a friend, a married-with-child friend who used to idolize you with the rest of them. You have sex with him on the bed you share with your husband, a silent dig. You never pull back the comforter. Your brother leaves and takes his friend with him. You never talk to the friend again.
Nearly thirteen years to the day you married, a daughter, Gabriella. It feels so good to have resisted. At thirty-three, you’re a mother to this girl. You like it so much that you decide to have another: Grace, three years later. Is it wrong to think of having children as sneaking into the kitchen for another slice of cake?
You get greedy and want a son. Carm won’t live forever, so you want a version of Carm to live on, not a junior, not a second, but a continuation. Uncle Greg has leukemia. You’ll name the son Greg no matter the outcome, but no son and now no more Greg.
Mother Motor does not live for another hundred years. At fifty-six, she dies of lung cancer, and two years later, the same cancer nearly claims The Face too. He goes about the next six years of his life with part of one lung missing and then dies of pneumonia five days after your forty-third birthday. Your niece, Hung Young’s second eldest daughter, Britney, dies en route to her senior prom in a car crash by no fault of her own. Your brother divorces, remarries a woman from Japan. On New Year’s Eve 2006, in the throes of menopause, you cry to this woman. Although she does not understand you, you thank her for being a wife to your brother.
You really began to unravel in 1982, but you tell people you began to unravel in 1993. Your daughters are too pretty, too perfect. They suck everything out of you, all of the bad but some of the good too. They’re born blonde, the blonde dirties, but the blonde never leaves all the way. You have two daughters and Hung Young has three, no, two. The daughters get your height, but if anyone asks, it’s our height. You and Carm have always been equal: five-nine, both of you. Gabriella and Grace are mistaken for twins from childhood all the way to adulthood. You see differences no one ever cares to notice. Grace’s features are smaller, more you. Gabriella’s features are fuller, more Carm. Grace’s hair is as straight as a pin. Gabriella’s hair has body, Gabriella’s hair has wave.
In your bedroom, there’s a vanity. The vanity was a marriage gift from Carm, a Victorian vanity, your first antique. You didn’t know you were supposed to give your husband a gift for your wedding; you thought you were the gift. To make the vanity yours, you got a cushion made for the bench it came with. The cushion wasn’t enough to make it yours. You used to sit yourself in front of the vanity’s mirror, brush your hair forty strokes back when your hair was still a horse’s tail.
Sex and the City on select Sunday nights at 9:00 p.m. for six years of your life. Samantha is your favorite because she’s a whore and you never got to be a whore. You love the word whore. It doesn’t carry all the dirty-ugly that it carries for everyone else. One day, you take the word for a spin in front of your daughters. I’m a whore for this chocolate cake. Your one daughter rolls her eyes. Your other daughter laughs. So, you’re not cool. You are not a whore for this chocolate cake. You are not a whore.
You’ve aged like Cristina Ferrare. People look at you now and can see exactly who you were twenty years ago and then forty. But forty isn’t far back enough. Forty is only 1982. Forty is only twenty-six. You want eighteen. You want graduation, red roses and sunflowers, rouged cheeks and salutatorian.
Both of your daughters are married but neither of them is pregnant. Gabi never wants to be pregnant. Gracie is trying to be pregnant. Gabi wants a divorce. Gracie took prenatal vitamins before she was ever married. Gabi contracted syphilis at the age of fifteen; her first boyfriend was twenty-seven and bad, bad, bad. She blames the syphilis for everything. She tells you that because of the syphilis, she probably wouldn’t be able to conceive or carry, anyway. Carry, like a concealed weapon. Carry, like Carrie Bradshaw.
You watch the series premiere of And Just Like That… alone in the living room in Victoria’s Secret satin pajamas. Mr. Big dies in the first episode, but you don’t cry. You tense up for a second, but you don’t cry. This is before all the scandal surrounding Chris Noth. Your husband has a thousand friends and every last one of them is Chris Noth.
You turn off the TV and wander into the bedroom with the vanity and your husband on the bed. He’s scrolling through his favorite news app, his finger swiping the screen in quick, upward motions. He glances at you over top of his reading glasses. He smiles. How was your show? he asks. You don’t answer. If you were to cup your palms right now, if he was to blow a stream of warm, minty air into them, you’d be in Times Square, you’d know exactly who he is.
You avert your gaze to the vanity. At once, it’s engulfed in flames, and just as quickly, the flames are extinguished, the flames never existed. You want to ruin the vanity, but you don’t want to ruin everything around it. You want to char the walls, the ceiling, and the rug underneath.
All you want to do is scare him a little. All you want to do is scare yourself a little too, you suppose.
Christine Naprava is a writer from South Jersey. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Contrary Magazine, Kissing Dynamite, The Friday Poem, Drunk Monkeys, Outcast Press, and A Thin Slice of Anxiety, among others. She tweets @CNaprava and Instagrams @cnaprava