MaryAnn Learns Who She Is

by Bob Brill


MaryAnn made a point of never dating a man that her mother would approve of. Her mother might hopefully inquire, “Did you say he’s a physician?”

“No, Mother, I said he’s a musician.”

Or, “Did you say he’s a doctor?”

“No, Mother, I said he’s a dock worker.”

Whatever the subject of her mother’s disapproval MaryAnn’s response would be to intensify the censured behavior. Finally, her mother noticed that her efforts were not having the desired effect and desisted. There fell between them an uncomfortable silence, but this, thought MaryAnn, was a great improvement over the constant bickering that came before.

Although MaryAnn believed that she had thereby gained independence from her mother, the truth was that her behavior was determined entirely by her mother. It was always the negative of what her mother wanted, never what she herself wanted. The cost of this policy was that she had one disastrous relationship after another.

The only person she ever opposed was her mother. She never defied any man, especially not her father, who had long since decamped, taking with him the bank accounts, the car, and the good silverware. He paid neither visits nor alimony.

Both mother and daughter worked as waitresses, the mother hoping to regain her financial security, MaryAnn longing for escape to a better and more romantic life, hence both of them scanning the horizon for salvation in the shape of a man.

MaryAnn was no beauty, but she might have been considered pretty had she walked upon the stage of life with more assurance. Her complexion was pale, her hair a washed-out blond, her shoulders rounded as though shrinking from a blow, her gaze timid but hopeful. She was not by nature adventurous, but had adventures thrust upon her to which she meekly acquiesced.

Her most outrageous boyfriend was Barnaby, who described himself as an illusionist. MaryAnn was at once fascinated and terrified by him, but she was not about to back off lest it appear to be a concession to her mother’s taste.

On their first date Barnaby took her to a Fourth of July celebration, not so unusual on the face of it, except that it was during a blizzard in the middle of January. They gathered in Central Park with more than a hundred other celebrants and built a huge bonfire which generated so much heat that they all stripped down to their underwear and danced around the fire. Outside the bonfire’s protective circle the snow was whirling down in a driving wind.

The fireworks were the most brilliant and dazzling MaryAnn had ever seen. The rockets stayed aloft for long minutes performing loops and spirals that alternately brought them zooming low over the heads of the dancers and twisting high up in the sky, all the while throwing off burst after burst of colored flame.

The participants were asked to light a match at a given signal. When the matches flared up MaryAnn gasped. All the matches were burning with bright green flames. Whether this was all the work of Barnaby, the illusionist, or whether he just ran with a really peculiar crowd, MaryAnn was unable to determine.

On their next date he took her to Coney Island. The boardwalk was covered with snow and all the concessions and rides were closed for the winter. Nevertheless he managed to install them in the front seat of the giant rollercoaster and start the machinery. Up they went slowly climbing to the structure’s pinnacle among the icy stars, and when they dipped over the top and plunged down, the rollercoaster turned to rubber. MaryAnn screamed and clung to Barnaby, witless with fear as they careened up, down, sideways and upside down through the stretching and folding of spacetime on soft melting tracks.

When Barnaby called MaryAnn for another date, she humbly begged him to provide something less frightening, something more romantic. He agreed. They took the Hummingbird Express to Flutesong Avenue, changing there to a rickshaw that conveyed them down Moonbeam Boulevard past the colorful stalls of flower vendors and rug weavers.

They alighted at the corner of Evening Star Lane, and sidestepping the fevered crowds of whirling night dancers, walked the last block up to the gates of the Green Crystal Ballroom. Here through the great glass panels they saw hundreds of couples waltzing in old-fashioned costumes among tall mirrors and gaslit chandeliers. They entered the gleaming silver gates.

An old wino was watching them. He reported this to no one since he had long ago ceased to trust his senses, but what he saw was a couple walking hand in hand through a vacant lot, picking their way through the weeds, broken bottles and trash. They stopped and peered ahead of them, as though at some enchanting spectacle, although there was nothing before them but the boarded-up remnant of an old tenement. Then they stepped forward and disappeared.

When they finally emerged from the Green Crystal Ballroom it was broad daylight. That in itself was no cause for alarm but for the fact that two days had passed and they were standing in a trashed-out vacant lot in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. MaryAnn noticed that she was wearing someone else’s dress and no panties.

“None of your business,” she screamed when her mother diffidently inquired where she had been so long. She went to her room, slammed the door and burst into tears. When Barnaby next called for a date, she said, “I don’t think so, Barnaby. I had a wonderful time, but this is proving to be too much of a strain for my mother.”

Perhaps it’s not so surprising that her next boyfriend was a medical student or that upon his graduation they married and moved for his internship to Normal, Illinois.


Copyright © 2008 by Bob Brill

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