“Face all over,” her mother would have said if she saw her wearing the skimpy dress. “Face all over,” was something she had never said to Paula while alive, for back then Paula could never have worn a store-bought dress, let alone a black designer model with sequins.
“Be mother’s good girl, now,” she’d always say. But Paula wasn’t mother’s good girl any more. She wasn’t anybody’s good girl. She lit a cigarette. She poured herself another drink. She looked at the admirable thinness she’d achieved and flaunted in lacy underwear when the man was right.
“Eat everything on your plate.” That was another maxim she didn’t practice. She loved to order a fancy dessert and leave $2.50 worth of it on the little plate. That would have killed her mother whose most hated sin was waste.
“Waste not, want not,” she’d said. Before it was fashionable she had recycled and composted, made over and left-overed until Paula felt if she didn’t have something brand new, she’d scream.
Well, she could have screamed to death for all the good it would have done. The rooted trailer house hadn’t had its toilet hooked up to a septic tank until her sophomore year in high school. She supposed she was the only girl in her class who had never had her hair cut at a beauty shop, gone to Pocatello and bought clothes, nor asked any friend to her home ever because it was so horrible and her mother monstrously fat.
So fat that Paula had to do any chore that required much motion or any bending. Mother could cook and do some hoeing. She sewed for Paula—always from remnants and bolt ends, never from fabric chosen because it was pretty. Paula had to come right home from school to scrub floors, dust, weed and harvest the garden, help hang out the wash, and cut what there was of scrubby lawn in front.
Paula knew her mother was doing the best she could. She was an artist come down in the world. She sewed old fashioned lace-and-velvet Victorian clothing for expensive, porcelain-faced dolls and curled their luxuriant wigs. It eked out the monthly check, but the dolls were dressed far better than Paula had ever been.
Now she had mirrors all over her apartment. She changed her stockings for a snag, not waiting for a run. She paid the cleaners to sew on a button and had a housekeeper every week. She looked down at the city lights outside her window. Now she was free of poverty, of the past, of Mother.