Initially, it had been Jackie’s idea to get pierced. She’d thought what the hell maybe this would make Zelda take notice. Besides, on December 26th nothing else was happening except department store sales promising to provide that ever-elusive gift the tree did not produce. The day after Christmas, besides being the biggest shopping day of the year, is also the official start of winter’s doldrums: all the shiny boxes, which had resided under the tree for weeks like bright, beckoning candies, were gone; everyone’s pockets were devoid of cash; and the blues, like a moth-eaten shawl, began to settle solidly around sobering celebrants’ shoulders. Jackie was experiencing the full gamut of these emotions and decided that a little adventure would be just the thing to salvage this holiday.
The idea to adorn her perfect “outee” with a ring might be just the thing, both daring and permanent, to help her make some kind of connection with Zelda, her birth mother. She had hoped that her idea would shock her mother a little, cause a spark of rebuttal whereby Jackie could show herself, prove that she, too, had an independent streak and a desire to flex her taut eighties’ muscle of masochistic style. But, it was she who had received the jolt when Zelda had squealed “Yes! Absolutely!” to the plan. She had hoped to rattle Zelda but there wasn’t even a hum, just a mischievous gleam in her blue eyes. Therefore, they both wound up, on the day when the average American desperately roots through clearance tables for next year’s holiday gifts, at Big Hal’s Tattoo Emporium in Lafayette, Georgia, waiting their turn under the needle in a room littered with pictures of Big Hal’s successes for the past two decades.
* * * * *
Zelda, named after a southern belle who became Fitzgerald’s errant wife, had found herself pregnant at age fifteen. Her parents feigned ignorance and refused to
acknowledge her swelling belly and telltale waddle; they played dumb for as long as possible, which now, 20 years later, Zelda chalked up to typical Freudian denial. Oddly, Zelda had liked her changing body and the man who’d placed her in her precarious situation, the high school football coach, who doubled as the gymnastics teacher for the cheerleading squad. He had always been there for her when difficult maneuvers occurred, like the splits, the hurkey or reaching the apogee of the squad’s renowned body pyramid; one day the lessons just advanced. After practice he’d asked her to stay, to practice her form and technique, and she had done just that. Ecstatic with her own performance, she was convinced that she would be next year’s Captain, she would be the “A” in the apex of the pyramid. However, fate had paved another route for her to traverse.
Zelda had planned to keep her child, spending afternoons dreaming of names to call it and clothes to dress it in; however, when her daughter arrived, red faced and squalling, the cord was cut and the sticky bundle was flashed quickly at Zelda, whose outstretched arms merely swatted empty air, and then whisked away. Someone had swaddled the girl, and the last Zelda saw was a nubbly, pink blanket being hurried through the doors by a nurse with raven hair who sported a brain-wrenching chignon. Zelda had called out for her baby, had wanted to protest, but all she could manage to shout was, “My daughter’s name is Jackie!” (Named for another woman who married well) before she collapsed with exhaustion. Back in her room, alone, Zelda had honestly cried and cried even harder when she discovered that distant relatives in the north would raise her innocent, southern suckling.
After the birth Zelda felt she would dry up and shrivel away, but her untapped milk ducts achieved this first. By then, she’d listened to her mother recite over two thousand reasons why this arrangement was for the best. Isolated, her young mind thoroughly cleansed, wrung and hung out to dry, she had finally agreed. She had begun to believe her mother’s lament: “Who’ll marry you now since you done laid with a man and bore his bastard!” This maxim, delivered daily for six months, was always accompanied by disgusted looks and downcast, damp-rimmed eyes. Zelda was forbidden to mention Jackie’s name, and after a while it just seemed so much easier to act as if she had never been a cheerleader and had never seen that warm, slippery flesh disappear from view.
After the “ordeal”, as her mama called it, Zelda gradually moved on, earned her diploma from a G.E.D course and then attended secretarial college, the tuition a gift of her parents. She believed as she was taught: wearing a smart suit with matching heels would satisfy her. Most women her age were working as secretaries and they looked happy, she’d mused. Everyone told her to work a little first, so she would meet a solid, financially stable husband (who should never, under any circumstances, learn of her past), marry him, quit her job, have children, then serve in a leadership position with the Junior League or PTA. Life, she was informed, had to move in this order to ensure her happiness and success. Her mama had corroborated this myth by promising that a well-organized and fashion-smart woman could find inevitable happiness … but only with a man as an accessory.
After a year at the Academy, Zelda graduated and landed a job. However, after two years answering phones, fetching coffee and having her fashionably-skirted ass grabbed by meaty-handed lawyers, she knew she desired more. Daily she asked herself, “Is this happiness? Is this my path to success?” and the definitive answer was always, “I don’t think so.” Something else had been growing inside her, as persistent and steady as the muffled memory of her disavowed child. A small red fist of anger had taken root and grown until it had to burst free. For her, there had never been a feeling more glorious or more powerful than being near the top of the human pyramid or being below her zealous coach. After all, Zelda was living in the Age of Aquarius and all life
had to offer was there for the tasting. Thus, at age 21, she began her quest for self-fulfillment. Jackie, who was celebrating her fifth birthday in the rolling northern hills, was not even a speed bump on her course.
* * * * *
While Zelda’s new life was unfolding amidst concerts, parties and jaunts on communes, Jackie was growing up tall and spindly on a farm in Delaware with Tizzy and Pop, her new parents. She had learned slowly about Zelda, having deciphered cryptic messages sent by her real grandparents and eavesdropping on the occasional phone call, but no one had fully explained her. In Jackie’s pre-pubescent mind Zelda soared to glamorous proportions, like Sophia Loren or Emma Peale, shadowy, mysterious figures who resided far beyond the Delaware horizon. Since she had never spoken to nor heard from Zelda, Jackie was not surprised by Pop’s smoldering confusion when she asked him one evening “What do you know about Zelda?” The meatloaf he’d been eating flew from his mouth, and he quickly finalized the conversation by draining his large glass of fresh milk and staring vacuously out the kitchen window. He had no idea how to answer his child, for how could he recount the wicked ways of Zelda, who had ripened into being the family’s rotten apple, flung far from the roots of the upright family tree?
Jackie’s childhood days were spent in a narcoleptic daze, shuffling between the farm and its chores – milking and coop-cleaning – and her dismal classes at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow school. At school Jackie had been diagnosed as “special” (which, to the lay person meant retarded) when she was six years old but, four years later, the report was corrected; the school officials told Tizzy that there had been a clerical error, a misreport of scores, and they hoped no long term damage had been done. Tizzy, reflecting on her forlorn and apathetic child, told the school board, “No harm that I ken see. Jackie is the same as she’s always been.”
Like most adolescents, Jackie spent her days listening to the disc jockeys who
spun pop tunes, secretly calling in to make requests or to try and win prizes when she could. Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls had pulled her through the doldrums of junior high. Uncertain as to whom she was or what talents she might possess, Jackie drifted through her teens, firm in her belief that life after high school, when she could escape the farm, Delaware and the conservative lifestyle of Tizzy and Pop, would bring her some answers. Until that day of ultimate freedom, Jackie decided to live in her room and to speak only when necessary.
One day during her junior year, a truck had pulled up to their dusty home in the valley, and Jackie had actually leaped into Pop’s arms when he reluctantly okayed the installation of a new beast called cable. Jackie quickly mastered the controls and was soon manipulating the channels like a pro. It was on the day when her remote landed on MTV that Jackie began to change. Glued to the Lay-Z-Boy, she’d watch bands perform all night long. She loved to see Devo, wearing funnels for hats and suits made of plastic, move jerkily across the screen, or Billy Idol gyrate across a set in a body-sculpting red leather jumpsuit. Finally, she thought, here’s the real world, rich and abundant with colorful people and funky action. No longer was she locked in the prison of Delaware for cable television had broadened her scope, and she began to have far grander visions.
She decided to shape her new image after her favorite artists. She shopped vintage clothing stores in town and hitched rides into the bigger boroughs in a never ending quest for outlandish clothing, leather and lace shirts. She began to wear heavy make-up, teased her hair high and adopted Madonna’s “Boy Toy” look, complete with meaningless crucifixes pilfered from Tizzy’s old jewelry case. At school her friend Tess had scolded her, “Have you gone absolutely mad? Everyone will think you’ve joined a cult … or that you’ve been drinking straight from the cow’s teat again.” Tizzy and Pop were just plain afraid of the goon that inhabited their Jackie’s body. “I got no
idears how to handle that young filly now,” many a person heard Pop say, but folks could tell there was real confusion and worry under his flippancy.
Jackie, now sporting black leather and heavy black eyeliner to match, was dreaming of a career in the music or fashion industry. Unfortunately, her dreams were destined to be thwarted for she was tone deaf and, despite her constant efforts at style, her outfits hung from her lanky body and shouted, “Impostor!” Somehow, within all this pubescent turmoil, Jackie managed to receive her diploma, a coarse piece of paper which was promptly deposited in her jumbled closet, and two days after the ceremony she waved good-bye to Tizzy and Pop and left in search of her destiny. So, at eighteen, Jackie ventured to Pittsburgh, which she perceived to be a happening city, to look for her big break.
After two weeks of questing and hearing a cacophony of “No’s’”, Jackie lied her way into a receptionist position at Galaxy Records. Although she wasn’t singing, designing cutting-edge outfits or hanging out with bands YET, she was hopeful. At least her size 9 foot was in the door. For two years she did her job: suffered late hours, fetched coffee and fended off the occasional jerk that tried to cop a feel. These setbacks didn’t bother her too much, for she knew everyone had to pay her dues. No, what irked her was that no one seemed to like her. Other employees avoided her and called her “Little Madonna” in catty whispers. Their persistent smirks told her that all was not right in Kansas.
It was during this period of loneliness and fashion faux pas that Jackie began to really wonder about her past, about her birth mom. What was Zelda like? Who were her favorite bands? Would Zelda like her? Jackie constantly daydreamed over brown bag lunches and water cooler breaks. After weeks of contemplation and a slew of phone calls to distant relatives, she finally found Zelda’s number through 1-800-LOCATOR; one afternoon in early December she picked up the receiver and shakily
dialed her mom in Layfayette, GA, courtesy of Galaxy Records.
* * * * *
They talked two or three times, briefly, and Jackie finally convinced Zelda that a Christmas visit would be perfect. Zelda had said, “Listen, kid, you can come down here but don’t come expecting anything, ok?” Jackie, totally revved and with a new enthusiasm for the holidays, spent a week planning her outfits and another week packing them. She carefully coordinated each ensemble to dazzle her mom, the faceless voice on the other end of the line. “Yee Haw!” she sang on the bus as she headed for the airport, convinced that she was going to shake up that town – and her mom.
The flight to Georgia was swift and direct, but Jackie still had time to down a few beers before landing. Once her jangled nerves were calmed, she felt vibrant, radical, confident; yet when the plane touched down and she was walking toward baggage claim, fear and anger began to fester inside her. “Oh my gosh, what the hell have I done?” she queried herself insistently. Looking shaken and disoriented, two security guards tried to apprehend her, thinking that she might be one of those brainwashed Moonies they’d read so much about. But Jackie shooed them away, convincing the two morons that is was only motion sickness, and carried on to carousel two. When she spotted her mom (wearing purple as they’d decided) and the awkward perfunctory hug was past, Jackie felt like the butt of a joke. My God! she thought, Zelda looks so young, so hip. Zelda, petite, buxom and blonde, stunned Jackie, and she soon found that she was totally dumbstruck. All her pithy, witty conversation starters had fled her mind, nothing out of her mouth made sense, and she kept grinning at her beautiful mother like a post shock therapy victim.
“So, you’re Jackie,” Zelda drawled slowly while one hand toyed with a large, silver hoop earring. “Nice to finally meet cha’. I’ve heard odd and ends about you over
the years, but I never could really picture you.” She touched Jackie’s shoulder and hastily looked her over. “Say, are you in a band or somethin’? I dig the leather but, geez, are you gonna sweat your patooty off down here. And you need to put a few pounds on that frame of yours…you know, develop a few choice curves. Didn’t Tizzy and Pop feed ya?”
Jackie felt herself pull back from Zelda’s persistent gaze and she felt a trickle of sweat, as if on command by Zelda, roll down between her breasts. “Yeah. I’ve been waiting to meet you too. I guess I had you pictured real different in my head.. You know, maybe a little more mom-like.” She fiddled with her purse straps and then added, “Hey … do I look like I’m in a band? Awesome! Well, I’m not in one yet, but it’s my dream, ya know.”
“Oh, great. Excellent. Well, Harriet Nelson I’m not,” she chuckled. “Why don’t you just call me Zelda, I’ll call you Jackie and we’ll get along fine for the next five days. Remember, I only have 5 days off from work, so … well, you know, don’t go changin’ your ticket or nothin’.” With those words, she grabbed one of Jackie’s bags and sauntered toward the airport’s exit. It would be an hour drive to Lafayette and Jackie had no choice but to follow, dragging her big black suitcase full of suede and leather clothes.
For Jackie, the days leading up to Christmas felt like the passing of a quarter-sized kidney stone. Her stomach ached, her head swam and she never felt like she stood on solid ground. The surface below her feet remained moist and slippery, reminding her of a fraternity house keg party she’d once attended where she’d forced too many beers too quickly and, to her mortal embarrassment, had woken up propped against the empty keg surrounded by a puddle of warm, sticky liquid she quickly (and happily) decided was alcohol. Just like the fun she’d hoped to have at that party, something about Zelda was evasive too.
Of course, Zelda was nice to her, but it was the kind of nice reserved for strangers or houseguests one takes in as a favor. Her mom, constantly in motion floating about the kitchen, aerobicizing in front of the television or chatting frequently on the phone to unexplained callers, remained just out of reach, polite yet squirmy when Jackie began conversations. She never fully answered questions and preferred to keep her past and her present life enshrouded in mercurial fog. When Jackie asked about her “real” family, Zelda curtly replied, “Tizzy and Pop are your real family. What do you mean? That sure sounds ungrateful ‘cause I know they’re good people,” or when Jackie queried about Zelda’s job, she received only bits and crumbs of information, barely enough to pique the appetite of even a starving wren. “I’m what some call a ‘patron of the arts’ and, actually, I’m sort of an artisan myself,” Zelda finally confessed. “But we all know how artists get paid,” she added, “so I wait tables five shifts a week at a diner.” She continued, in a sudden spurt of talkativeness, “My job, chickadee, is to help those around me … it’s regarded by many to be highly therapeutic, stress relieving and rejuvenating to the body, ya’ know? Yep, I’m considered a professional round here and I gotta say that I enjoy my work.” She flashed a smile and crooned, “But hey, enough about me. Let’s say we go see a flick or go down to the pub for a holiday rum runner?” Jackie soon learned that Zelda insisted on privacy and was adept at changing the subject. Thus, gleaning everything from her mom’s cryptic replies, Jackie deduced that Zelda was some kind of yogi or therapist, perhaps one of those altruistic devotees at a geriatric home or an aide for the physically challenged.
Mystified and enthralled, Jackie noticed everything about her mom; from the trinkets that cluttered her compact apartment to the spices tucked away deep in the dusty kitchen cabinets, Jackie searched for clues. As her sketchy portrait of Zelda began to take shape and form, while the small corners of total darkness began to allude to shades of gray, she grew more and more perplexed by her birth mom, both
the real one who kept evading her and the image she was creating in her wishful mind.
On Christmas Eve, after a dinner of egg drop soup and Kung-Pao chicken (Zelda claimed to hate traditional cooking and the mess that came with it), they had returned to the apartment early since all the shops, restaurants, movie theaters and clubs had closed. Armed with two bottles of Cabernet, a spindly, table-top tree from the drug store and an old box of Christmas lights and ornament that Zelda had pulled from the recesses of an over-stuffed closet, Jackie and Zelda, forced into close proximity and lulled by the false sincerity of the carols aired on the local radio stations, began to dress the tree.
“Gee, Zelda, you really are artistic!” Jackie announced as she stared at the tiny
tinsel-dressed tree. “Everything sort of feels like a holiday now. The tree, the cold weather, the music. Do you always spend Christmas here?”
“Me?” she looked at Jackie as if she’d spat out her chicken, “Hell no. Usually I travel, you know, with a date or someone. Last year I went to Savannah and the one before that I saw the bright lights of Memphis!” She threw another thread of red tinsel on the choking tree and continued. “I only stayed here this year ‘cause of you. Don’t get me wrong … I think it’s good we met and all, but I love getting beyond the walls of this town. It reminds me of when I was younger.”
Jumping at the opening, Jackie popped her question. “Zelda, can you tell me about when you were young? Like maybe when I was born or what you did when you were my age? Did you work? Have favorite bands? Lots of boyfriends?” Jackie stared at her mom hopefully, holding her breath and shifting a bright green ornament between her excited hands. Silence greeted her as Zelda stared at the table. “Pleeze!” Jackie begged.
“Alright, but just a bit, ok?” Zelda answered as she sat on the edge of the sofa. “But first, pour me another wine, would ya?” She took a swallow and looked at a spot
on the wall just above Jackie’s right ear. “I don’t think dredging up the past does anybody any good, Jackie, so I’m gonna keep this short.” Jackie nodded, folded her lanky frame upon the carpet and stared at her toes, terrified that if she looked at her mom, she’d break the spell and Zelda would revert into silence. “I can honestly tell you that I don’t remember too much about those early years. I got pregnant with you, had you and all I ken really remember is that you had jet black hair.”
“What?” Jackie questioned. “In all the pictures of me that I’ve seen, I have blond hair … almost white. It’s only dark now ‘cause I dye it.”
Zelda looked confused then said, “Oh, maybe you’re right. But I do recall dark hair. Wait!” she paused to scratch her head. “I think the nurse had black hair. That must be it. See, I only saw you for a second and I was shot full of drugs and such,” she opened her hands, palms up, and shrugged her shoulders. “And then my moma told me you were with relatives, in a good home. Which was the best place for you. What could I have done with a baby? Hell, I was jest a kid myself.” She stopped and took another gulp of Cabernet. “I wasn’t sorry that I had you, Jackie, it’s just that being fifteen, in the South, so young, well you know how folks are. I really thought it was all for the best. I mean everyone said so and then, well, I came to that conclusion, too.”
Jackie sat quietly and dared to look her mom. Her lips were tinted purple from the wine and Jackie noticed a faint nervous tick beneath Zelda’s left eye. Spinning the bracelet on her wrist, she recklessly plunged ahead, “And then?”
“Well, your real granny, my mom, had done a number on my head. She’d convinced me that I should forget about my ‘ordeal’, um…you, and follow the traditional role for a southern girl. And you know what, I bought it all. Yep, I swallowed a load of crap before I set my head on straight.” Zelda sighed heavily and shook her head.
“You know, the years passed so fast, Jackie. And believe me, it’s hard to keep it all straight. I was a secretary once … kind of like you except my job sucked. We didn’t
have any rules about sexual harassment then and the pay wasn’t enough to live on. Sometime in my early twenties I traveled with a friend across the States, lived on an ashram in California. Man were those two years a trip! So many wild people dropping in and out of our community. But, you know, people got tired of planting the crops and I sure got sick of working in the mess hall; one day folks just started trailin’ off, so I packed up and left, too.” Laughing, she picked a few wayward strands of tinsel from her leggings. “I tended bar somewhere in Texas, no make that Arkansas, dated a New York stock guy who ended up sellin’ me some bogus bonds, waited tables, well only God can remember where, modeled for a car dealership … I mean the list goes on. Nothin’ too glamorous or unique, but I’ve been around and, boy, have I had some good times.
“I got friends all around this country. Why you should meet … Oh, never mind. Yep, I’ve experienced life and I’m glad of every minute. I wasn’t meant to be tied down or married off to some boring old Southern heifer.” Jackie made a choking sound in the back of her throat, which Zelda took as a laugh. “Now here I am. Back in Georgia and I’ll stay as long as I got good work and fun friends.” Finished with her confession, Zelda yawned then stretched and the warm room filled with silence except for the efforts of Bing’s “White Christmas.”
Jackie pulled her head up once more and responded. Her face was open and her make-up free eyes burned when she spoke. “Wow, Zelda, you really have had adventures, haven’t you? And done lots of cool things. Things I think I’d like to do, but how did you know it what right for you? How did decide to just take off and make yourself at home in so many places? And marriage? Why didn’t you want it? And … and me. What made you decide to…to give me, no, to let Tizzy and Pop raise me?” Finally daring to look straight at Zelda, Jackie turned her face saw Zelda studying the back of a new CD she’d bought that day. “Zelda? Zelda, you gonna answer?”
“Hum … What’s that? You say somethin’, Jackie? I swear, sometimes I just blitz out, kind like a TV with poor reception.” She smiled wanly and looked deep into Jackie’s questioning eyes. “Look at this. Do you see how many percussion instruments are in this song? Man, that’s impressive. Wanna hear it?”
“No.” Jackie stood up. Her face composed, her eyes flat, she drained her wineglass and headed for the pallet she’d made outside the kitchen door. “I’m tired now and I want to sleep,” she said as she sat down, shoulders drooping, and proceeded to curl up with her pillow.
“Okey dokes. Suit yourself. I guess I can crash too. Tomorrow is the big day
and then you go back home. What a bummer to get such a short vacation. Well, good-night.”
Zelda meandered into her bedroom and shut the door. Jackie could hear her pick up the receiver and begin to talk in whispers. Alone on her makeshift bed, she thought about all she had learned from her mother. Despite all her efforts to connect, she was always left hungry, her empty hand vainly searching the bottom of a cookie jar she knew held no treat. Before this visit ends, she swore to herself as the darkness closed in, I’m gonna make her notice me, no matter what it takes.
Christmas day past without event. The exchange of presents was swift; Jackie received several pairs of warm socks and underwear, a pair of earrings and two new CDs while Zelda exclaimed happily over her Galaxy records sweatshirt, a framed picture of Jackie (her senior year portrait) and a pair of slippers. This event was followed by a quick and effective clean-up, rum-laced eggnog and several more private phone calls, which kept Zelda, holed up in her bedroom for the better part of the day. Jackie sifted through her suitcases in search of the right thing to wear and forced herself to watch the various parades on television. Unfortunately, a perpetual string of shining, red-cheeked faces was not brightening her day, so she switched to reading through stacks of back-issue magazines she’d brought from the Galaxy waiting room. While slowly flipping through a back issue of Rolling Stone, Jackie suddenly spotted it.
A little tingle coursed through her as she scrutinized the advertisement for a new line of motorcycle clothing. There, perched saucily atop a huge low-rider, Jackie saw the company’s model that wore a blazing diamond stud right in the center of her navel. The ad beckoned her and the woman’s belly button winked enticingly. “That’s it!” she shouted to the forlorn walls. “This is cutting edge… this is bold, daring … and permanent.” Elated by her find, she swiftly found the yellow pages and waited to get her hands on the phone. So, that’s how mother and daughter found themselves at Big Hal’s the morning after Christmas, just ten hours prior to Jackie’s flight back north.
* * * * *
“So, you two tadpoles wanna get pierced?” Hal asked as they sat down at his scarred table inside the shop. He was cleaning his tools and smoking a cigarette butt with tar-stained fingers. “I gots to say that the piercing is a good move. You know, lots less work than a tattoo and it don’t take no time to heal.” They nodded at Hal, obviously glad to hear that news. “And, little ladies, you mark my words. These here belly rings, well, hell, all kinds of piercin’, from noses to nipples to tongues … well, you’ll see. These things are gonna be big, and there you’ll both be. Ahead of the pack. Yep, real trend-setters you’ll be,” he crooned, a lascivious curve on his fleshy lips.
Jackie almost leaped out of her chair. She couldn’t wait to return to Galaxy with her new body jewelry. A tingle swept through her and she looked at Zelda to see if she was excited too, but Zelda was lost in thought, studying the tattoo wands and perusing the design sheets behind Big Hal’s desk. “C’mon, Zelda!” she urged as she began to follow Hal to his brightly-lit workstation. She positioned herself as he instructed and he swabbed her virgin button with alcohol as he studied it.
“Oh, yeah. You got a sweet little ‘outee.’ Nothin’ better for piercing. Ya ready,
Lassie?” Jackie nodded and looked at Zelda who stood nearby. Zelda was staring at Jackie’s stomach, mesmerized by the perfect curve and the sharpness of the needle.
“Alright. Do it,” Jackie confirmed as she scrunched her eyes tightly shut. She felt a stabbing pain, intense and fleeting, but not all together repulsive. Within five minutes she was standing by the table witnessing Zelda’s impalement as she hesitantly peeked at the shiny silver ring that jutted proudly from her red-ringed middle. The thrill she had felt upon Hal’s initial incision had waned as the electrifying jolt of adrenaline faded to mere heat lightening, and her belly button, the very core of herself, ached with throbbing, insistent pressure. Swollen and bloody, she was forced to clasp a surgical tissue over Hal’s exemplary work.
“Wow! What a rush! And look at those results,” Zelda sang as she hopped off the table and rushed toward a mirror to see her pert navel. “My goodness, there’s hardly even a trace of trauma. No redness at all, “ she whooped. “Hal, you’re a genius, you’ve changed me! I just love this! What did you say about noses and tongues?” She peered at her reflection in the glass and practiced a few gyrations with her taut tummy. “Jackie, girl, where do you get your ideas!” She punched Jackie in the upper arm and the two left the shop after paying Hal. Elated, Zelda opened her coat and tied up her shirt just so the small hoop would show; she practically skipped back to the car. “Oooh! Just wait ‘til folks get a sight of this. This will be big, Jackie. I can just feel it.” She glanced back at Jackie who was walking behind her, her hands clasped around her smarting stomach. “What’s up? Don’t feel so good? Don’t worry. It’ll pass.” And with that Zelda threw herself in the car and revved the engine impatiently as she waited for Jackie to climb in.
What happened? Jackie thought. Getting pierced, exposing their flesh to the cathartic sting of the needle should have made them feel like united partners, warriors against conformance and defined social norms. Yet she felt no doorways opening;
nothing mystical had occurred. It was just another part of her visit to Lafayette, a short, yet daring journey into the underbelly of city to be pierced by a big man in a small shop who wielded a sharp and, hopefully, clean needle. Yes, she’d gone with Zelda but in essence she’d been alone. After the act, she experienced only pain, and the connection between her and her birth mother was still as shaky and useless as a baby’s legs.
That evening they returned to the airport. Zelda wore a cropped sweater and a sarong to accentuate her ring, which nestled perfectly in her belly button. Her face glowed and her body smoldered with intensity. Jackie, dressed in a loose wool tunic and skirt (after all, it would be cold in Pittsburgh), had taped an antibiotic-soaked bandage over the morning’s adventure. At the gate Zelda hugged her good-bye. “Well, it was great to meet you, kid. We had some fun, didn’t we?”
“Sure, Zelda, sure we did,” Jackie answered. “Thanks for having me and I promise to send you those sample CDs I got, okay?” She stepped forward and gave Zelda a quick hug, her body looming large above Zelda’s slight frame.
“Great, you do that. Hey, and don’t let that job bring you down. Sometimes you just gotta push for what you want. And if it don’t happen, well, you may want to set your sights elsewhere, ya’ know?” Zelda looked fully into Jackie’s face and softly squeezed her hand. “Sometimes things don’t turn out as we’d like ‘em too, and you got to be flexible enough to change direction, ya know? Now, you get on that plane and go take Pittsburgh by storm. Show ‘em all your daring new jewelry!” Zelda waved as Jackie trooped down the jet way. At the door, Jackie turned to see Zelda one last time. She called good-bye but couldn’t be sure whether Zelda heard or not for she did not reply. On the flight, Jackie blinked hard to hold back the tears that threatened to burst from her eyes and permanently ruin her mascara. She thought about her days with
Zelda and continued to battle the tears although she wasn’t quite sure why she felt like letting the floodgates loose.
* * * * *
For three weeks Jackie waited for Zelda’s call. She thought that, maybe, their relationship would develop slowly, like Whitney Houston’s career. But the phone never rang except on Galaxy Records business. To complicate matters, she’d developed an infection in her belly ring. Severe itching and swelling had matured into an angry cyst, complete with oozing blood, so her doctor had lanced it, insisting that she lose the earring and that he suture the hole. The infection, he’d told her, was probably caused by unhealthy conditions in the shop, and besides, he’d added, why in the world would you want a hole there? The whole piercing experience ended up costing her over $300.00, which, when calculated, equated to 287 times answering the goddamn phone lines at Galaxy.
Zelda, however, had almost completely forgotten about Jackie’s visit by week three. One day she’d found some old magazines left by Jackie and she’d thought about calling, but when she went to look for the number – written, she’d thought, inside a book of matches – she couldn’t locate it. Since it was recycling day for the trash department, Zelda had neatly tied the bundle of periodicals and tossed them out onto the curb. I’ll try to find that number later, she’d said to herself as she left for work that afternoon. On Saturday nights she worked at the Castaway Club and was billed as the “Artist in Motion” since she was famous for expressing her emotions using multiple poles set about the stage. As she leapt into the spotlight for her set, the patrons at the club, a roughneck gaggle of truckers and mechanics, were thrilled to see Zelda’s newly enhanced body. The stage lighting danced off her diamond studded belly ring and sent rainbow flashes about the bar. Those close enough to the stage were also mesmerized by a new addition to her perky right breast. The warm skin that shone inches above her nipple was highlighted by a new tattoo. An American eagle, bald and shimmering, wings outstretched, flew regally and as she rode each post, clamoring
upward, toward the post’s apex, and then languidly sliding back down again, the bird bounced on her ample chest as if it were soaring high above a field of milky heather.