For my mother –
“You’ve been at that sub shop again, haven’t you?” My mother already knew the answer but would often ask the question the minute I got home.
The older kids frequented a sandwich shop after school. It had a reputation of being a “hangout” and was forbidden territory for me. On the few occasions I tested the water and dared to drop in for just a few minutes, she always found out. When I asked who told her, she’d say, “I have spies everywhere.”
I was a good student, got decent grades, never skipped school and came home at the appointed time. I never got into trouble. I did foolish little things like trying to pass for eleven years old when I was twelve or thirteen so I could get into the movies for a quarter. When I wanted to see a movie for “eighteen and over,” I made myself look older. I went to see The World of Suzie Wong at the Strand Theater with my Aunt Norma when I was fourteen. I dressed up, wore high heels, plenty of lipstick and black sunglasses. I draped a long silk scarf over my head and wrapped it around my neck. This was to make me look like Audrey Hepburn.
Like most teenage girls, I loved the telephone. I could talk on the phone for hours and still manage to get my homework done. We didn’t have call waiting in those days. No one got a call through when I was home.
Once in a while, I tried to get away with something. It was never worth the effort. I always got caught. I wasn’t good at being sneaky and my mother was like a female Dick Tracy. I used to think she had her own detective agency. Somehow, the woman knew every move I made. Every day in the winter, she would tell me to keep my coat buttoned when I went out.
“And don’t unbutton it after you leave the house.”
When I got home, she would look at me and say, “You unbuttoned your coat, didn’t you?”
Of course, I did. It wasn’t cool to walk around with your coat buttoned at the neck and a scarf wrapped around you. But, I never forgot to button it back up before I rounded the corner. How did she know this? Who told her every little thing I did?
I wasted many precious hours of my youth trying to figure out who her spies were. My mother didn’t know many people outside of our immediate neighborhood. She hardly got out of the house. Looking for the rat became an obsession with me.
I imagined neighbors watching me as I passed their houses on the way to school. I thought they sat by their windows peeking at me through lace curtains gathering information. I wondered if someone she knew drove by and saw me at the sandwich shop or trudging through the snow with my coat open. I suspected the mothers of my friends and some of my teachers.
I didn’t figure it out until I had kids of my own. There was not rat. She didn’t get her information from anyone in the neighborhood or from my teachers. Mothers have a special kind of radar. They were young once themselves. She knew I would undo the coat the minute I walked out of the house. No one had to tell her. No one had to inform her of my whereabouts after school either. She could smell the mixture of grease and cigarette smoke on my clothes as soon as I entered the kitchen.
I wonder how much time my kids spent trying to find my spies. I, too, had them everywhere.
© 2016, Lina Rehal. All rights reserved.
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