Marlene Olin

Sometimes the Magic Works

The female octopus produces offspring once during her lifetime. She lays up to two hundred thousand eggs and, depending on the species, spends as long as four years brooding over her hatch. She does not feed while nesting. Her body becomes dull and slack.  When her eggs have matured and her progeny is no longer at risk, she gracefully succumbs to her death.
It was Cookie Steinkoff’s firm conviction that her mother would outlive them all. She had outlived each of her friends and now she had outlived Zeena. As much as Cookie dreaded going to a funeral, she dreaded seeing her mother more.
One by one she checked off her list. She asked the art gallery to delay her show.   She told her doorman to keep an eye out for packages, carried her aquarium over to her neighbor’s apartment, packed and re-packed her suitcase then checked the stove twice. She had moved to Manhattan right after college and now nearly two decades later it was time to go home. For a week tops. She checked the stove again. Her forearm itched. If only she could scratch it. If only she could take her fingernails and rake them slowly from her elbow to her wrist. She shuddered at the thought. Sex was not nearly as satisfying as watching her skin split and weep. She dug a nail into her forearm, closed her eyes, and counted to ten.
Visualize, said Dr. Weitz. Give the pain a head a body something you can stab at something you can confront. But just thinking of her mother erased years of therapy. Cookie visualized the remote control to her television and with her index finger moving in the air pressed a pretend button. PAUSE.  It was time to PAUSE. Breathe, Cookie, breathe.
Five hours later she was driving a rented convertible on the causeway with her hair blowing in the wind. To her right was the port of Miami. Vast cruise ships honked. Steel derricks with huge containers in their maws gaped and lunged. To her left, a series of man-made oases. She pushed down on the brake and pulled in front of the guardhouse. Palm Island was the former domicile of Al Capone and the assorted rich. Old rich. Newish rich. Christian rich. Jewish rich. Home.
The guard was multi-tasking. Watching a Spanish soap and the security cameras at the same time.
“I’m Cookie Steinkoff. 1009 Espanola Way. Cassandra and Kip’s daughter.”
The guard put down his sandwich, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and stared at Cookie’s breasts.
Yo soy Cookie Steinkoff. Llama a mis padres. Rapidamente.”
The words flew like birds. Cookie had the same facility for languages as her father. She only had to hear a conversation once to figure out the big picture. Twice and she understood the details. A third and she was holding up her end of an argument. Kip had been a Professor of Romance Languages for over thirty years.
But Cookie was never comfortable receiving gifts, especially from her parents. She turned down cash and tore up checks. A person with her talents could have toured the world. Translated novels. Perhaps worked at the UN. Instead Cookie berated lackeys in Spanish, cursed dullards in Italian, and fucked her lovers in French.
Vai a casa a tua moglie e i bambini, stronzo. Go home to your wife and kids, asshole.”  Then Cookie floored the gas.
The house looked remarkably the same. Terracotta roof, white walls, sprays of bougainvillea. A hacienda the size of a hotel. She knocked at the door and waited. Her mother always insisted that people wait.
The woman greeted her with a smile. “We were expecting.” Hispanic. Could have been forty. Dressed in a white polyester uniform with white canvas sneakers on her feet. “You have good trip?”
Three more doors opened and there was her mother. Cassandra stood under the portrait Kip had commissioned right after the honeymoon. Almost fifty years later, she had hardly changed. Fine blond hair swept back in a tasteful chignon. The suit a navy St. John’s knit. A single strand of pearls. She was pickled in a brine of venom, thought Cookie. Some people never age.
“Well, well, well,” said Cassandra. “Let’s take a look.”
She grabbed Cookie’s elbows and pecked first one cheek, then another, their arms locked in a cage. Cookie felt Cassandra’s eyes as they scanned the furrows on her forehead and the creases on her neck. Then in a flash, she reached toward Cookie’s scalp and plucked a hair. “Well, well, well,” said Cassandra. “Someone’s turning gray.