She clearly remembered her mother’s bed in the old house on Avalon Drive. Not that she had ever been permitted to sleep in it. Barbie was certainly adamant about that. No matter that Juliet suffered from terrible nightmares about the death camps in Nazi Germany.
…And the irony of that was definitely not lost on Barbie, either, since her ex-husband was a self-loathing Jew who denied being Jewish. She remembered how he used to joke with her (only it was no joke) that he wanted to wear a pin which read “No, its a German name. I am not Jewish.” Which was laughable, considering his name. David Abraham Schwartz! Of course, upon meeting people he didn’t exactly announce his middle name or anything, and if nosy people pushed, he gifted himself with the middle name of Alexander. Having delusions of grandeur to begin with, the name Alexander and its connotations fit in quite nicely with all of his many contrivances.
Back to the bed, which is, after all, a big part of the story. The point is that Juliet would never have given it a second thought if not for something profound that had occured there, which she had only recently remembered. After all, we have already established that she had never slept in it, not the way most most little girls who had horrific nightmares would most assuredly have been permitted by their single moms. ( Allowing of course, that said little girls were loved by their mothers.) Juliet liked to lie in Barbie’s unmade bed after her mother had gone for the day, snuggling into the pillows that smelled of Shalimar and stale tobacco smoke. Barbie’s very distintive odor…The headboard of the bed was a bookcase, and Juliet still remembered some of the titles all those years later. “Is Paris Burning”, “Naked Came I” and of course, The Holy Bible. Juliet secretly called it “My Father’s Book”.
One day Juliet was lying in Barbie’s bed daydreaming, and all at once she had a very clear image in her mind of the woman she would someday be. Strangely, she felt betrayed by that woman, because she doubted very much that she would remember the acutely lonely and sad little girl who used to creep into her mother’s room and daydream in her bed. So she sent a message into the future: shot it like an arrow through time. “Remember the little girl you left behind. Don’t forget who you used to be.”
Oddly enough she had only just recently remembered the little girl and her message. She was happy that she had not betrayed herself and let the little girl she carried around inside her, (the little girl who was still in there too deep to ever dislodge) down. She started thinking really hard about the details. Mind, there was something unforgettable about her experience. She remembered one particular day, the aftermath of a truly horrifying nightmare she had the night before still clinging to her…she had gone into the room and sat on the bed, the dust motes dancing in the shafts of light streaking though the blinds. Remember, she had never known her father David, and had no idea he was Hebrew. For another, Barbie had no idea just what a focused and brilliant little girl she had. Juliet was a world her mother had never visited; she knew nothing about her own child’s sleeplesness…Very often Juliet would would not sleep for days at a time, so after Barbie left she would crawl into her mother’s bed, seeking comfort in her absense. She would hear the birds singing outside the window; she could smell the flowers that Barbie had planted in the garden that had just bloomed, and occasionally when it was very still, she could hear the bees buzzing around them…And all of these gifts from God would sometimes permit her to find the sleep that so often eluded her.
One day she was dreaming of a very old man with long white hair and a long white beard who was with a little boy. He said to her in the dream “This is my little boy. God gave him to my wife and I in our very old age. Did you know that you are my daughter too?” Juliet woke up with a start, still picturing the ancient bearded man who told her strange things. She picked up the Bible and began reading. She read all the way through Genesis, and all at once everything clicked in her mind. Abraham was the old man in the dream! And Juliet was surely one of those descendants that would have been more numerous than the sands of the sea or the stars in the sky…She knew that this was a life altering experience. For as long as she could remember she had spoken to God most intimately, and now she knew that her Father was affirming His reality to her. She knew she would never be the same, because her Father had spoken so clearly to her! For the longest time Juliet had thought that everyone was a child of God, and that everyone spoke to Him and loved Him. The first time she had asked Barbie to take her to church she was stunned by the response. “Juliet, you are Jewish, and Jewish girls do not go to church”. This was news to her. This was the first time there was any mention of being Jewish. In fact, when the children picked on her and called her ugly names she would tell them she was German, and that there were lots of German people with that name.
Juliet winced as Barbie lit one of her Pall Malls, twisting one into the cigaret holder that she always used. (Juliet loathed cigaret smoke and Barbie knew it. Very often she would light a cigaret to get her daughter to leave the room.) “Uh, mother? I have been thinking about what you said, and I have no idea why you never told me before that I am Jewish. But I would very much like to go to Temple.” Barbie dragged deeply on the cigaret, exhaling the the smoke in a steady stream right in her daughter’s face. She looked at her as though she were an insect under a microscope. “From where are you getting these bizarre notions? There is no God, and there will be no attendance of any religious institution by anyone in this house, rest assured. I mean, since God is a fantasy that weak-minded people made up, people, I might add, that can’t handle life, well that would make any kind of church or temple attendance awfully stupid wouldn’t it? Barbie turned away so that Juliet saw her profile. She marvelled that such a beautiful woman could be so vaccuous and cold. She could not recall having ever received any warmth or affection from this woman. She saw her mother as one to whom she owed respect…and she cried into her pillow night after night to muffle the sound of her sobs. She knew that if Barbie ever heard, she would either ignore it or come into her room to investigate. She also knew that if she were ever to give a name to her sobs, it would be met with denial and disdain by her mother. She knew clearly that Barbie did not love her, she knew that in fact she was barely tolerated. When her mother drank, which was all the time, she was brutally honest. She said terribly cruel things, at least that which was intelligable. In spite of her mother’s deliberate cruelty, Juliet longed for her love, ached for it, cried out to God for it. Barbie did not love her daughter, that much was clear. One night Juliet whispered into the darkness from her bed, in the middle of the night when she could not sleep “Father? How could I come from a family of people like this? Surely I don’t belong with these people?” God whispered back to her “You are not a member of this family. You are a member of my Family.
“I do believe in God, mother. It would not be pointless for me to attend church or temple.” Barbie leaned over to tap the ash of her cigaret. “You really don’t know what you believe, do you? How could you, after all, at your age? For one thing, Jews reject Christ. You didn’t even know that, did you? Hmmmm?”
Juliet blushed, lowered her eyes and smoothed her dress. “Well how could I mother? Most of the other children’s parents allow them religious instruction I have never received any. So naturally I don’t know any theology!” Barbie’s eyes widened. She threw her head back and laughed raucously. “Now that…” She could barely speak, she was laughing so hard. “Theology? That sounds absurd coming from a…how old are you?” Barbie’s laughter trailed off and finally stopped. She examined her little girl, raising an eyebrow. Juliet was stung. She fought back her tears. “I am almost five, mother.”
“Well what a solemn little thing you are! At your age, you shouldn’t even be thinking about God. And most kids would be singing hosannas that they didn’t have to be made to suffer through a church service or a bible study. You really are very strange, Juliet. Have you any idea how weird you are?” Barbie crushed out her cigaret, flipping her long platinum blonde hair behind her shoulders.
Juliet cringed. Not again! Being called strange and odd and weird by all of the other children was bad enough, but being so called by her own mother was unbearable! Wide eyed, she looked at her mother. Barbie had a faraway look in her eyes and was obviously thinking about something else. “Yes, mother. I have a pretty good idea just how strange I am. Like mother, like daughter.” Her daughter’s words didn’t penetrate her at first. Juliet could hear the ticking of the clock on the wall. All at once, Barbie jerked and and her eyes narrowed to slits. She studied her daughter for a moment. She practically spat out the words “Oh no you don’t. I was popular. When I was in high school I was not only the Class president but the Prom Queen as well! Don’t you dare ever compare your odd little self to me! You don’t fit in anywhere! The other kids don’t like you.” She leaned in closer to Juliet…”Now why do you suppose that is?” Barbie snatched her Pall Malls off the table, and screwing one into the black enamel holder with the gold trim, she gave Juliet a a self-satisfied smile. “Hmmm?” She lit the cigaret with a slim gold lighter, inhaled deeply, and settled back into the sofa.
“Mom, you can say what you like. But there are plenty of ways to be weird. Trying to make something as gross as smoking look elegant is weird. Rejecting your own daughter isn’t exactly the norm either, is it? But weirder than that is that you are so smug and self-satisfied and…well, arrogant!” Juliet bit her lower lip. “Because you can’t even keep a man, Barbara!” She emphasised her mother’s name, saying it as though it were a dirty word.
Barbie’s hand shot out and slapped her daughter so quickly that Juliet didn’t see it coming. She reached up and felt her cheek, red and stinging wher Barbie’s handprint was still visible on her face. Juliet got up from the floor, where she had been sitting at her mother’s feet. While she was fumbling to get up, Barbie grabbed a handful of Juliet’s hair and jerked her head back, so that her face was just inches above hers. “Go and make your mother a drink”, she hissed from between clenched teeth. She let go of her hair and shoved her head so it hit the coffee table, opening a gash in her forehead. Blood ran down her face, dripping on the coffee table and the white shag rug. “Beautiful, Juliet. See what you made me do? I’ll make my own drink and you…you clean up this mess! If that rug is stained you’re going to be meeting that precious ‘God’ of yours a lot sooner than you had planned! Barbie stood up, smoothing her powder blue cashmere sweater over her hips. She muttered under her breath “That God-damned girl is good for nothing!” She went to the bar and made herself a vodka and tonic, which she called because she splashed tonic water over vodka. She drank it down in one gulp and made herself another one. She noticed that Juliet appeared to be frozen. Barbie pointed at her with the ice tongs “If you think I am angry now, Just let that blood settle in and stain the rug. Go and get the hydrogen peroxide!” (Apparently getting blood stains out of things was old hat for her.) Juliet still had fresh blood pouring down her face. “And little girl, if I have to take you for stitches you are going to wish you were never born!”
Juliet took a mental snapshot of her mother. She was standing at the bar, ice tongs in hand, pointing them at her. Barbie, with her long blonde hair, perfectly made up and beautiful face, powder blue turtle-neck sweater, (just tight enough to show off her gorgeous figure), white mini skirt and go go boots…she looked like a model with her long legs and perfect body. Juliet thought to herself that her mother was quite possibly the ugliest woman she had ever seen.