We were sent out of doors to play because our mothers were busy cooking and cleaning, stopping now and then to talk amongst themselves through the low hanging telephone wires connecting one apartment building to the other, this time of summer for themselves when they would move freely from room to room, their bodies loose under their slips, the windows open to the fresh air and the sounds of our play. Our mothers would use a special language to communicate with each other, bits of Greek, Italian and Polish mixed together with the scripted words of television, the soap opera, where to my mind, and when I'd press my nose to the rounded glass of the Zenith, the women of As The World Turns smelled of Ivory soap and freshly washed panties hanging dangerously high from the rod of the shower curtain. 

When the tinker's bell came clanging around the corner, demanding our mothers drop their chores, hang up their telephones, check their complexions in the mirror by dragging fingers down cheeks, slapping for that extra rosiness until their cheeks were like plump tomatoes, we children stood perfectly still, the game of hide and seek becoming a game of Lost in Space, no oxygen, just our hearts thumping madly in our ears. 

“Look at my skin,” my mother had asked of me once, red streaks like Geronimo's war paint coming down from her eyes, finger marks slipping past the collar of her robe to the parts of her I could only imagine. “Does it look right?” She was doing that now, checking her complexion, as the tinker's bell sounded through the kitchen window, rushing her heart beat, mine, so she had to check her skin with one hand and fix her hair with the other, a bobby pin pinched between her lips. Clang! Clang! Clang! 

The tinker's truck was more rusted than the last time, darker than I remembered, though it had always been a shineless black, the panel bottoms loose and flapping. Fumes and heat rose in waves from the cab as if it were an oven and he was roasting inside, his face smeared with finger marks just like our mothers when they were unhappy with their skin, only his was streaked in the dirty black grime of the thousands of scissors and knives he'd pressed up against his grinder wheel.


There was an understanding between us children: we'd stop playing for our mothers, so after they'd finished ransacking the kitchen drawers searching for the dull scissors to roll up in their aprons and they were ready to show themselves to the tinker, paper money poking out from between their fingers, they might feel special seeing us lining the sidewalks. 

Our beautiful mothers would parade. The tinker was slow-rolling through our neighborhood.

She would say my hair was too thick to trim without causing me pain. “My scissors are dull, sweetheart. You'll get your hair cut after the tinker has come and gone.”

“Then I'll wait with you, momma,” I'd tell her, my fist caught up in my hair.  

She came out in nicer clothes than she'd been wearing all morning, her scissors rolled up in the apron she'd used to pat my bacon dry, her cheeks like powdered bubble gum. I could see the outline of her legs through the flimsy material of her summer dress. She would use those thighs to keep me from getting restless when she was cutting my hair. “Don't move,” she'd say, the hem of one of her everyday dresses nearly up at her hips as she would press my knees together with her own knees, her scissors smelling of kerosene. 
Her legs snipped at the sidewalk as she hurried along to keep up with the other women. 

The tinker's truck finally came to a stop - the last clang of his bell followed by the crickety sounds of his undercarriage, our restless mothers smoothing down the fronts of their dresses, tucking the loose strands of hair behind their ears, the chomp of scissors wrapped in aprons slipping from their armpits as they dragged their fingers down their cheeks one last time, a slapping, and then the shudder of that man's grinder wheel whirring to life, as the world turned, a scent like my mother's panties in my nose.


The Tinker - Antonios Maltezos (c)


Copyright 2009