The pattern on her skirt was red, yellow, and wistfully mauve leaves against a dark blue background. Her rolled up sleeves revealed veined hands. As Anna stirred the buckwheat porridge on the stove, the crumpled aluminum foil flesh of her veined hands was set acrackle by the puffs of steam from the pot. The butter on my rye bread was unevenly spread and ran up and down in hills and valleys. "Oh that's her again," Anna turned around to face a screen filled with a row of dancers lined up behind a singing sensation. "Why does she have to wear such short skirts and dance that way?" I too noticed the acrobatics of the young woman in question. Her body was caught in a wriggling motion. Hips, shoulders, and thighs were popping out and being drawn back in like those of an action figure that kids would play with. Bend the thighs to make that plastic guy sit, twist the shoulders to make him raise his hands in the air. All those toy motions that the backup dancers were putting into practice on the screen. Hands stretched vertically or horizontally, legs shaking back and forth.
I was quite absorbed by the acrobatics when Alissa, Anna's daughter, came into the room. Even before I saw her shadow sketched out on the white tablecloth, her arrival was preceded by her fragrance. It was an acrid, lemony smell that stung at the nose, although there was a note of melting candle wax to it that made it just a bit sweeter. Her dark purple lips opened up to intone the tv starlet's tune. I looked into her eyes and couldn't repress my smile. "You don't like it?" she chuckled. "Of course I do," I answered and broke her off a piece off my rye bread. The bread had already dried a bit and crunched as she chewed. But at least the butter had become warm and sticky and I could see some of it clinging to her purple lips like a paste. "Hey, when did you dye your hair blond?" I asked and was shocked by my own question. "Oh, me and my friend Alex were at a nightclub and she just looked at me one second under the strobe lights and said, 'You know, if you were blond, your hair would really shine while you are dancing. I thought she had a point.' '"
Anna approached Alissa from behind and ran her hands through her daughter's hair, resting them on her head . "I think your natural dark brown was so beautiful, Alissa, you just look.. so unfamiliar as a blonde." Alissa got up and looked her mother up and down. "I can really see the effect of the revitalizing lotion on your skin. Your face looks a lot smoother now. Also, I bought you a new eyeliner. It's one of those invisible types that's supposed to hide the fact that you are using an eyeliner altogether." Anna turned back to look at the stove. The pot lid was quaking under the simmering water that was pouring down the sides and sizzling as it hit the stove. "I'll go turn it off, mom," Alissa said. "Yes, thank you," replied her mother, wiping beads of sweat off her brow. Anna stared once again at the tv screen. The beat of the song was intense. Was there even a melody to this song to qualify it as music? The male singer, a dragon tattoo peeking out of his wife-beater, jumped off the platform onto the stage and screamed, "Let's get the party started." Anna looked over to her daughter, who was heaping out platefuls of buckwheat into a bowl and looked for a tattoo on her back. There were none.
Picking at the gritty buckwheat kernels stuck between her teeth, Alissa heard that familiar voice on the tv. The sounds were articulated with a stiff, unnaturally clear diction. Why so much emphasis on every sound, she thought. The speaker's forehead revealed signs of extreme exertion; the skin was taut and the veins were bulging. Anna meanwhile quickly breathed in and out about a dozen times. Alissa looked closely at her face and noticed that her mother's eyes were narrowed and the forehead tightened much like the man's on tv. She picked up a handkerchief and wiped the sweat off the tepidly warm wrinkles. "Not now Alyssa,'" Anna objected. 'It's just so incredible that Putin is saying that the emergency responders were slow to act when the fires broke out and that they abrogated their responsibilities.'" Sketching a slight smile on my face, I looked at Anna and uttered: "Remember when you stomped out the glowing embers on our spring fire and then gathered those ashy remnants of leaves and twigs?" "Oh yes," she replied, her puffed-up cheeks deflating as she exhaled, "Back then my back was strong and I could stoop down without pain."
Alissa's eyes wandered around the room before landing on my nose and then returning to her mother's face. I guess this wasn't a good time to mention that I also remembered how Anna's long glowing hair completely blocked the embers from my view when she was bent over them. Now it was closely cropped with patches of white peeking out from beneath carefully applied layers of brown. "Would you like water, mom?" Alissa said in a quiet cooing voice. "Shhh, I am listening now. This is a real catastrophe and you are talking to me about water!" Anna splurted out those words with incredible speed. The saliva on the right corner of Alissa's lower lip turned her purple lipstick pale pink; her eyelids blinked like creaking window shutters as she wiped the saliva off with her fingers. She probably didn't see me approach her but only felt my hands on her shoulders. ''Let's go into the living room," I said. Alissa followed me; in between the blinking, she steadily gazed at my plump shirt pocket. I reached into it and pulled out my digital camera. "No way, you aren't going to take any pictures," she insisted. And I wasn't either. As Alissa slunk down in the couch, I wasn't sure what to do with those images. Her forehead glittered in the darkness with a mirrory translucent white that reflected the blotches of pink and purple on her lips and the smudged mascara. It was a fashion disaster as Alissa herself might term it. I would just call it Sleeping Beauty.