By Ursule Molinaro
Mrs. Feathergill is watching Mrs. Moreno destroy herself. It has become a one-hour slot in Mrs. Feathergill's mornings. From eleven to noon.
It's not that she wishes Mrs. Moreno ill. She barely knows the woman, except for an occasional Good Afternoon, when they happen to check their mailboxes at the same time. A Hello, How are you? if they happen to pass carts in the supermarket.
Nor is Mrs. Feathergill trying to redeem her own marriage by comparison with what is bound to happen to Mrs. Moreno. ___Any day now: You don't have to be a mathematician to add 2+2 together.___ But watching a soap progress in your neighbor's living room, across eight feet of gravel yard & a low wire fence, is more involving than watching the same thing in your own living room on your TV. ___With a less unexpected cast, or the sponsor would throw the show off the air.___ It makes Mrs. Feathergill feel that she could change the script, if she wanted to. That she could stop the story just before the climax, & save her reckless neighbor for future mailbox/supermarket encounters.
Which Mrs. Feathergill has no intention of doing. She believes that Mrs. Moreno anybody has the right to self-destruct. Although she has never formulated her belief. To herself, or to others.
Were she to formulate it ___tonight, at the dinner table, for instance___ her husband Horace Feathergill, a prominent professor of mathematics at the local college, might not be able to swallow the spear of asparagus vinaigrette he has just brought to his mouth. & her fourteen-year-old daughter Heather, a computer genius at the local highschool, would seek her father's near-sighted, faded-blue eyes, to exchange their glassed-in look of tolerance: two near-sighted, Nordic intellectuals, humoring this plump, dark-haired little woman who feeds them, & buys their clothes, & keeps them comfortable. Their wife & mother, whom they expect to believe mostly in what they can eat, & wear, & live in.
Most of the time Mrs. Feathergill doesn't mind being one of a kind in a household of three. A Hispanic living between two Nordics. Who tower above her also on the map. At least in the Western hemisphere where they happen to be living. On Chinese maps North is at the bottom.
Most of the time Mrs. Feathergill organizes the lives of the other two without thinking about their or her otherness.
Without thinking about a time ___a different time, before the birth of Heather, before Prof. Dr. Feathergill became a professor, after becoming a doctor; when she was still the appliance buyer for the local department store, supporting a graduate-student husband who awed her with his brilliance.
Who used to press her dark, wild-haired head against his heart ___its location coinciding with the top of her head___ telling her how wonderful she was. How efficient. Brilliant in her own dark little ways. What good taste she had. (Also in the choice of her mate?) Before her awe subsided. & his heart retreated behind the prominent round stomach that made him look like a pregnant telephone pole.
These thoughts of otherness & different times have begun to occur to Mrs Feathergill only since she began watching Mrs. Moreno self-destruct.
After she had the revelation that the Law of Opposites was ruling her household & the Morenos. Who suddenly appeared to her like a mirror image of her own group of three. The exact reverse.
First of all, the two wives & mothers don't look like the name they married. Mrs. Moreno is as tall for a woman as Horace Feathergill is for a man. She, too, is a telephone pole, although not a pregnant one. At least not yet. Her self-destruction may not reach that point. & she, too, has faded, almost lashless blue eyes behind thick glasses, & mist-colored hair. To which she seemed to pay little attention, until recently.
Prof. Dr. Feathergill & Mrs. Moreno could easily be taken for brother & sister.
They would definitely be taken for the plausible couple, at a faculty party. To which the Morenos happened to have been invited because Mrs. Moreno used to teach mathematics at the local highschool. ___Which still sends her students in need of tutoring.
& Mrs. Feathergill & Mr. Moreno would be taken for the other plausible couple. ___Looking out of place in a room guest-filled with PHDs. Mr. Moreno owns a hardware store downtown.
The Morenos' fourteen-year-old son is tall & mist-blond, like his mother. ___With whom he may also trade looks of dinnertable tolerance for the dark uneducated other in their group of three, his doctorate-less hardware store-owning father.
If the faculty party included children as faculty parties often do the Moreno son would probably be taken for Heather's brother. ___They're usually taken for brother & sister by the schoolbus drivers who pick both of them up at the end of their street.
Mrs. Feathergill wonders if the distribution of light & dark, tall & stocky, education & taste in her own household will be affected by what is happening in the mirror household next door.
Which she started watching one mid-morning in January, when she happened to look out her kitchen window to check the weather against the report on the radio she keeps in her kitchen, & happened to see Mrs. Moreno sitting on the couch in her living room next to a teenage boy with his face in a schoolbook.
The Morenos have no curtains at their living room windows, & there was a standing lamp lit beside the boy. Who must be one of the needy students the local highschool keeps sending to Mrs. Moreno for tutoring. A boy of fourteen, or maybe fifteen, with a Hispanic complexion.
Mrs. Feathergill would have gone back to doing whatever she'd been about to do. She has busy mornings, & is not a nosy person. What stopped her was a gesture the boy made: Without lifting his face from his schoolbook he slowly reached for one of Mrs. Moreno's hands & placed it between his thighs.
Rooting Mrs. Feathergill behind the red-&-white-checkered curtains in her kitchen.
For what felt like several minutes she stared at Mrs. Moreno's Nordic wrist protruding from the boy's thighs. Until the hand finally pulled itself upward in a lazy motion. & free. & pointed to something in the book.
Which the boy quickly closed, again trapping her hand. He was smiling up into her inclined face.
There followed what looked like an animated conversation. With smiles & headshakes, & nodded frowns, which ended in a butterfly kiss on the top of the boy's head.
Both straightened up on the couch. Mrs. Moreno was now holding the book to the boy's face. He seemed to repeat what she was saying to him. But after a while his head slowly travelled toward hers. Followed by his cheek slowly travelling toward her cheek. Followed by his thigh. The length of his leg.
For the next thirty minutes Mrs. Feathergill watched Mrs. Moreno & the Hispanic-looking boy sit melted into each other on the couch, staring into the book. & she never saw them turn a page.
Then the lesson must have been over. Mrs. Moreno abruptly stood up, & reluctantly the boy did also. They left the living room.
A few minutes later Mrs. Moreno reappeared. She lay down on her couch, with her head at the spot where the boy had sat. She was smiling up at the ceiling, stretching her legs.
It is Mrs. Moreno's smile that assures Mrs. Feathergill that she is watching a scenario of imminent self-destruction.
Some mornings she wonders if Mrs. Moreno & her Hispanic-looking student feel watched. ___By her Nordic conscience. By the Great God Pan. By a group of highschool friends comparing Spanish flies.___ Highlighted as they are, like a professional stage set, by the standing lamp at the end of the couch. But perhaps their individual needs are exclusive of the rest of the world. Perhaps even of each other: Mrs. Moreno wishing to stretch the boy's desire, & he wishing to get rid of it.
Some mornings Mrs. Moreno wears a housegown to teach her lesson. Of deep-blue Oriental silk, with a slit up one leg. She is barefoot, & plays a lot with her toes.
On other mornings she wears a strict black suit, better cut than anything Mrs. Feathergill has seen her wear to the mailbox or the supermarket. She wears it with glittering black-&-silver spike-heel pumps. Even her misty hair has been recut. Revitalized.
Mrs. Feathergill thinks of her dying mother how good her mother had looked, suddenly, the week before she died as she watches Mrs. Moreno teach her Hispanic-looking student.
When his nose is in his book, her Nordic hands alight on random parts of his clothes like absent-minded butterflies. When he reaches for them, she gently but firmly holds the book to his face.
Any day now; any day.
Unless Mrs. Feathergill is watching the secret of Mrs. Moreno's successful tutoring method. Which keeps the local highschool sending her a continuous flow of needy students. Perhaps this is how she leads her students on to their graduation.
Perhaps the stage set, the professional lighting, the melting of bodies on the couch have been going on for years of mornings, & Mrs. Feathergill never happened to look into her neighbor's uncurtained living room window before that mid-morning in mid-January, when she happened to check on the weather.
A winter storm dramatic weather of any season often precipitates intimacy: two startled bodies seeking shelter in each other. On her living room couch Mrs. Moreno's bunched-up kimono rises & falls like a silken sea above her drowning Hispanic student.
A winter storm is also a reason for closing schools. Which is being announced over Mrs. Feathergill's kitchen radio.
The announcement that the local highschool is sending its students home at eleven am vaguely penetrates her consciousness as she stands watching the thickening of the plot.
She vaguely thinks that the closing of the highschool means that her daughter Heather will be coming home any minute.
& will want lunch.
She vaguely thinks that the left-over London broil in the icebox will make a good sandwich.
The thought of Heather storming into the kitchen abruptly dissipates her vagueness. If Heather sees what she is watching-
Which the home-coming Moreno son will walk in on, after Heather & he get off the bus.
There may be time to stop the tide of the silken sea with a neighborly phone call. To rewrite the script at the last minute & give her private morning soap an inconclusive impunitively immoral ending. To save it, perhaps, for a few more immoral sequels. But she stands glued, watching the sublime concentration of her two actors cued by their fate.
Sounds of her daughter stomping the snow off her boots at the door send her flying to the phone in the bedroom. It takes a couple of fast breaths to find the Morenos' number. Hardware store: no-residence. She dials, & listens to several rings. Finally, Mr. Moreno's voice comes on, taped, urging the caller to leave name, number, & a brief message. She hangs up.
Hurrying to the foyer to steer her daughter clear of the kitchen, she thinks that Mr. Moreno has a forceful voice.