Party With Mom

excerpt The children used to fill a long, silky, women's stocking with sand, they used to tie it up really tight, then they used to hang a thin, nylon thread to it. In the evening, they hid the stocking in the rose bush, opposite to the sidewalk, and then they waited for the night to come. The stocking was always hidden in the same place, next to a house, shaded by a tall chestnut tree, where two of the roguish children of the neighborhood used to live. The two children were brothers and their parents were only a bit older than them. Their father helped us more than once, to set the stocking in the best position. Their mother, always wearing lipstick and huge hair curlers, had long forgotten that she had two children to take care of. They could stay outside as long as their heart desired, even until dawn. Nobody shouted at them, nobody forced them to go to bed. In summer, during the holiday, we were also allowed to linger on and go home a bit later. After it got dark, the best entertainment was the one with the stocking. We hid it in the bushes, and when someone passed by, we pulled the nylon thread and dragged it gently, as if it were a snake. People screamed, jumped around, fell off their bicycles. Sometimes they smashed our stocking to pieces, they jumped on it, rode over it, they emptied out the sand, chased us cursing and calling us names. In time, they understood that it was better for them to avoid passing by there. Because this could only happen in that precise place – the children were hiding in the garden of the two brothers, pulling the stocking, along the sidewalk, through the fence. None of the other parents would have allowed such a thing to take place. I think the parents of the two brothers moved on to the Moon at night. We could giggle and chuckle and make as much noise as we wanted in their garden, and they didn't even look out of the window. Those who got tricked, and almost everyone walking by there did, and not only once, I suppose that they understood that there was no point in bothering about how to deal with us, and they always crossed the street to the other sidewalk. We went berserk, from behind the fence, seeing them. We used to think that it was mere chance that made them go on the other sidewalk, thus avoiding our trap. Only Patru-Cola's Mareta used to pass by there three or four times every night: we pulled the stocking, she screamed, collapsed, shook all over… and we laughed till we dropped. Patru-Cola's Mareta was old, very old, forever glum and sunk into thoughts, she lived alone in a shattered house, further on from our street; my mother used to say that she had no one and that she was terribly alone. People used to ask who would bury her when she died, as she had no income and was practically starving. Overwhelmed with care and isolation, she was never seen to smile. Children couldn't understand, even though they had a lot of fun, how come Patru-Cola's Mareta was so stupid so as to pass by there every night, and not only once, but even three or four times every night, to get so scared as to scream out loud "snake, snake" and fall over. She would have been the most entitled to avoid us and cross on to the other sidewalk. We were also very curious to find out where Mareta was going at night. She barely came out from her house in daytime, she was seldom seen at her gate, or walking on the street; we all knew that she had no relatives, and we really couldn't understand where she was going at night. Time passed and the children got bored of playing the same old trick on Mareta, even though she rewarded us by screaming and falling over each and every time. They came up with something else. They took one of those big pea tin cans, filled it with water, tied it with a string and hung it up in the chestnut tree's branches. Mareta was walking slowly, carefully watching down at her feet, from where the snake was supposed to pop out, and the children pulled the string and toppled over the water onto Mareta's head. The first time this happened, Mareta was dumbfounded, with her hands lifted up in the air, and water dripping down her face. That night she only passed by there one more time. She approached half-heartedly, stopped a couple of times before reaching the tree, then she plucked up courage and stepped on. The water can poured out over her again. She squeezed her eyelids, put her hand on her heart, water dripping from her headdress onto her clothes, and remained completely motionless, while we were screaming with laughter. Then we heard her shouting, sharper and more tired than usual: "People, there's water dripping from the sky! We did something to this chestnut… it is pouring water over me…" We were splitting with laughter; one could hear us from afar, but Mareta couldn't, being busy arguing with the chestnut tree. Starting with the next evening, she began to pass by there again, three or four times. She would go to the corner of the street and then she would come back. We barely had time to refill the tin can and put it back in the tree. Patru-Cola's Mareta kept us entertained all summer long. We could hardly wait for the night to fall! Our parents had found out about our stunt with the fake snake stocking from some of the neighbors who had got tricked only once. They made a huge racket on the street; they even came to our houses and told on us. Mareta got scared every night and she never told on us. All summer long we had a blast pouring water over the poor woman's head. We had completely given up the stocking trick, the spilling tin can was so much more spectacular. More than that, we could even see the pain imprinted on her face. She would go wherever she was going and then she would come back again. As time went by, many of us started to feel sorry about what we were doing. We began to cover our eyes with our hands when Mareta was about to trip over the thin nylon thread and topple over the tin can onto her own head. Many of us would have wanted to come out and hug her and wipe the water from her face. But we obviously never did it! I remember that, when night was approaching and children began to make preparations, I really felt sick. I am quite sure that almost everyone got sick, except maybe for the two brothers. Strained, we would wait for someone to pass by, we even began to pray with a shudder that Mareta would not turn up anymore, but she did, nonetheless. Only once did a neighbor pass by, who was a postman, the tin can fell onto his head: he cursed us, banged at the gate, screaming that he would kill us, but luckily for us the gates were big and well-fastened, and the owner of the house still absent, gone to the Moon. Then he broke all the strings and threads, all the branches of the chestnut that he could reach. We waited for a while, then, because we had to rebuild our trap, we carefully got out, looking everywhere so as not to be seen. We remained stunned when we saw Patru-Cola's Mareta, at the corner of the street, behind a street lamp, waiting there obediently. One of the brothers said:"Come on, quickly, Mareta is coming!"I don't even know why we continued to do that, it wasn't funny anymore… still, we did it again! And again, and again! One night, before reaching the tree, we heard Patru-Cola's Mareta speaking aloud to herself:"God, if only that snake wouldn't cross my path! I am so terribly scared of it!"Nobody had the guts to suggest the stocking trick again. I really don't know why. We were afraid of our feebleness, more than we feared our parents. We had become indifferent; we began shivering if only the wind would blow through the leaves; only the two brothers were livelier. As a matter of fact they were the only ones setting the trap. They even reproached our indifference to us. They used to say that they were left doing all the work, they even called us coward and lazy. If only I had been bold enough, if I hadn't been afraid of the dark I would have gone and tied Mareta's gate with string, so that she couldn't get out. I have no idea what Mareta was thinking when she was passing by there, like that, torturing us in that way… Mareta was as precise as a Swiss watch – before we were supposed to go to bed, she would again find herself drenched in the water from the tin can.Her efforts to entertain us broke our hearts. In the last ten days of the holidays I got sick. I really got sick this time. I was ceaselessly throwing up, I had a fever, and I would startle in my sleep. Other children got sick too. Our parents took us to the hospital but our blood tests came out just fine; we all thought that there had to be some germs in the brothers' garden. We got even sicker, which eventually confirmed our hunch. That turned out to be a good thing after all, because even when I passed by their house I would get sick. The holidays were finished and school started. Later that fall, Patru-Cola's Mareta died, alone, at night. On this occasion, we found out that Mareta never had children. A wacky neighbor kept urging us to follow the coffin, if she were to be buried. Finally, they didn't bury her, they took her to the crematorium. There was no one to bury her or to mourn her. The neighbors said that she had died from meningitis. I cried under my blanket nights on end. I believe that we killed Patru-Cola's Mareta! Polirom, 2004

by Veronica A. Cara (b. 1976)