Excerpt: Selma remembers her mother

by DRM

Her mother was so precise, so exact in her manners and her words. There were stories, Selma remembered, of Rebecca washing out the family’s meager clothing by the ship’s rail, while her two little daughters sat quietly back against the smokestack. They were some yards away from their mother, who had ordered them not to shift an inch. She spoke in brusk, direct Yiddish: Selma, just four, understood that her mother was a serious woman. She could see her standing at the rail. She twisted a light smock between her fists. The droplets of water dissolved in the wind. Some bright flecks, crystals of water, hung on the wool of her sweater. Her back was stiff, the line of her shoulders square and sturdy.

The quiet memory was swept away by a clatter of voices as a group of young girls came racing down the gangplank, chased by two young men with blankets thrown over their arms. Selma paused and looked into the air. Her nostrils flared. She cocked her head slightly, listening past the lilting laughter and raucous jibes, to nothing, a stillness. She was elegant. She held her pose. The gang raced away. The gangplank was empty, the dock quiet. Selma felt the vigor go out of her, her shoulders cave down and the curve of her spine press in on herself, as if she were hollow.

Selma is on the Bermuda Princess. It is 1932. The roaring 20’s have come to a close. Ted Kaplan has married. Selma is feckless, unsettled, restless. This is her first cruise, but the excitement has gone. The ocean trip brings back dim memories of her mother.