Route 7 Review - Page 134

Beauty is a Short-Lived Tyranny By Matthew Lykins It’s possible you’ve seen the painting of Nina’s mother Sara.  It made quite a stir in its time: supine, knees parted and drawn up to her shoulders, her head supported on the paneled wall, staring at the patrons through the v-shaped gap of her legs rising from the bottom of the frame, the goods just out of sight, a cigarette lit and dangling from a surly, bored mouth.  The piece had gathered dust in a corner of The Met for thirty years.  Nina must have passed it twenty-five times.   Sara died on a Thursday, in January, not that anyone can tell in Phoenix.  She left three kids, but she’d really been gone for years. Nina’s sister Erin, bereft, would call Nina to discuss what she called “the death’s significance and provenance.”   Significance and provenance.   She never got over Dad’s death.  Arizona’s no place to live alone.  You know how vain she was.   Nina tried to be supportive.  Her mother had been old and sick.   Old, sick people died a lot. “I bet she was squirreling away pills,” said Erin one cold, dry February afternoon. “Why?”  Nina was wiping a mirror with Windex and waiting for Harlan and Maria to get off the bus.  She wondered what the weather was like in Ohio, where Erin lived.  She wondered how Erin had so much free time. “Because she was unhappy.” “She was old and sick.” “But, like, unhappy-unhappy.” “Which means?” Nina asked. “I think it was suicide.” “OK.” “That’s it?  OK?” “Aren’t you at work?” Nina asked.  Erin was a school psychologist. “I’ll call you this evening,” said Erin.   A month after the funeral, Nina received a check for twenty-five thousand dollars and a letter, still in the envelope, torn at one end and postmarked June 13th, 1975. Dear Sara,   You must know that these things happen, and have happened.  I hope it’s a girl.  Barbara will include a one-time payment I hope you will find overly generous.  This officially ends our correspondence. Best, J.K. Nina’s mother suffered several strokes before she died.  She refused to move into assisted living after the first, a massive jolt that melted the left side of her face and curled one arm into a claw.  After the second, smaller stroke turned her tongue into felt and blinded her left eye, Nina and her brother—Erin was too pregnant to fly--convinced her to move into a facility.  Sara’d said she would crawl into traffic if they made her leave Arizona. “I’m not leaving Phoenix, and I’m not leaving my friends,” her mother slurred.  Nina’s brother left the hospital room to make a phone call.  As far as he was concerned it was the best thing that could’ve happened.  Put the old bird out to pasture, sell the house and liquidate the assets, and divvy up the rest with his sisters.  Wait for her to die and rake it in again.   “Christmas Eve and Christmas morning,” he said to Nina, over General Tso’s the night before.  “And it’s only March!”   Nina leaned in when her brother was gone.  “Jackson and I would love to have you,” which was half true.   Her mother said nothing, didn’t react at all.   “The kids ask about you,” said Nina, which wasn’t true at all. “Bullshit,” said her mom, and rolled her eyes.  “Probably didn’t even tell them why y’all are out here in the desert.”