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Echoby Francesca Lia Block
My Mother, The Angel
My father calls her The Angel. I am never sure how to live up to such a mother. She is almost six feet tall. The planes of her face are like carved ivory. The long neck and smooth eyelids and high cheekbones of Nefertiti's famous bust. Strawberry hair cascading to her hips like Botticelli's Venus. Pretty impossible to compete with when you are just under five feet with faded brown hair and the face of an elf.
My mother can make flowers bloom with the slightest touch of her hand. Her garden burgeons — irises glitter as if embedded with silver, roses turn colors no one can match. Rose breeders come to find out her secrets but she only smiles mysteriously. They try to analyze the clippings she gives them but it is useless — the magic ingredient is her touch. Her birds of paradise are almost as tall as she is, her ranunculus look like peonies, her fruit trees bear lemons that taste like oranges and oranges the size of grapefruits. She can grow star-gazer lilies whose pollen is as thick soft hot pink powdered as expensive blush, and abundant peonies that people say only bloom in cooler climates. No jasmine ever smelled so sweet, bathing the insides of my nostrils and mouth with its twinkling white-and-lavender fragrance. My mother wanders around the garden in the hills of Hollywood putting her ear to the cup of the petals or to the ground and, smiling mysteriously, proceeds to trim or water or fertilize each plant according to its own personal instructions. Sometimes I wake in the night and I swear I can hear the flowers in the garden singing my mother's name through the open window.
These things prove that my mother is not of this world. Don't they?
If there is any doubt, it would be quelled by contact with my mother's healing powers. When my father or I have any kind of cold, headache or muscular pain, she touches us in such a way that the discomfort vanishes. A strange breath of rose and mint fills the room and then everything is better.
Unfortunately for me, my mother's healing powers do not extend to transforming a plain girl into a girl so beautiful that it would not have surprised anyone to learn that this girl's mother was a celestial being. She does not have potions to make one's limbs long and one's skin glow. She doesn't believe in coloring your hair or wearing makeup. Why should she? Her eyes seem naturally kohl-lined. Her hair naturally hennaed. She is not particularly into fashion. She only needs a few gauzy dresses that she makes herself and some bare Grecian sandals that lace up her long amber legs. High-priced fashion would be a waste on her; it would be extraneous. Therefore, she rarely took me shopping when I was growing up. She told me I was beautiful without lip gloss or mascara. But, then, angels see beneath the surface of things.
How else is my mother like one?
"Her cooking!" my father says. "Her cooking is the cooking of a seraphim!"
She makes tamale pies, spinach lasagnas, Indian saffron curries, coconut and mint Thai noodles, grilled salmon tacos with mango salsa, persimmon bread puddings and lemon-raspberry pies, each one in minutes and without ever glancing at a recipe. She can never duplicate a dish twice since she doesn't write anything down and is always too excited about what she will make next, so my father and I are sometimes left pining for a reenactment of the almond enchiladas or the garlic-tomato tart. But we always have something else to look forward to. And my mother's food has almost narcotic effects — no matter how depressed or agitated we feel before dinner, we always relax afterwards into a dreamy stupor.
Also, my mother never gets angry. No matter what happens she always has a placid smile on her glowing Egyptian-artifact face. Sometimes I secretly wish that she would lose her temper and perhaps I even taunt her a little, to test her, but nothing works. My mother is unruffleable. She is like the da Vinci Madonna with a crescent moon hung on her mouth.
How wonderful, everyone thinks, to have a mother who is an angel, who never loses her temper, who can make birthday cakes even when it isn't your birthday — cakes so delectable as to be almost hallucinogenic — a mother who can take away the itch of insect bites with a whisk of cool fingers over your skin.
People envy me my mother. A few children, encouraged by their parents, tried to befriend me just so they could come over and get clippings from my mother's garden and leftovers from her refrigerator. But no one realizes the difficulties of having an angel for a mother. It can make you feel rather insignificant, especially when boys ask you out just so they can catch a glimpse of her, waving good-bye, braless and in gauze, from the front porch. Especially when your father forgets to pick you up from school because he is out buying new lingerie for her again (even though she will forget to wear it) or when you ask him a question at dinner about your homework and he takes fifteen minutes to answer because he is gazing into the illuminated peony of her face.
The above is excerpted from Echo by Francesca Lia Block. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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