"I think they're melted diamonds," I heard Kendra say. "I bet that you glow and sparkle every time you take a sip."
She pressed her face against the cold, hard mahogany of the bar and let out a long sigh. She swirled the cherries around in her martini glass of Sprite, occasionally (and overseductively) plucking one out and laying it against her tongue. Although Kendra did not resemble her, she had Mother's mannerisms. A tall, cool blond, my mother's presence behind the bar singlehandedly increased the popularity of Le Plaisir almost overnight.
Le Plaisir was an imitation of a fine french restaurant. It sat just across from the bridge to our town and was adorned by gilded lions who, through years of acid rain and constant grafitti, now resembled slightly amber bums. In fact, quite a few customers, tipsy from Martinis, had been startled by them on their way out the door. The food, and I use that term loosely, was inedible. The owner and chef insisted upon buying the least expensive meats and produce, overcooking them, and slathering them in a lumpy gray-pink goo which he referred to as "peasant sauce". However, what he lacked as a chef, Gerald Blumquist made up in charm. He was a smart businessman and was quick to offer a smile and a complimentary taste of the house white. He hired only the most attractive wait staff and dressed them in skimpy yet expensive uniforms. Although he had his delusions, he knew his clientele: factory workers in a small Appalacian town.
Kendra loved those uniforms and she often begged Mr. Blumquist to order one for her, but he never would. She and I worked as dishwashers after school while my mother arched her back to pour "melted diamonds" into inverse triangular glasses. It evoked my gag reflex to see her drop in the olives with that deliberate bounce and giggle. Those dusty pink lips of hers would pout the words "Dirty Martini" and her tip jar would overflow. People might try the restaurant once for the food, but if they came back, it was usually to see my mother.
In my Junior year of high school, I would often stand by the football fields and watch the mothers of the cheerleaders as they scrambled to haul coolers out of their minivans. They wore smart little sweater sets and pencil skirts, modest and charming. I loved the way their hair seemed to wrap smoothly around their heads until it formed a perfect cylinder at the back of their heads. I imagined that they would go home and cook wholesome dinners, all food groups in correct proportion, and none of it covered in peasant sauce. They probably made their children comfortable rooms, decorated with knickknacks and photos in silver frames. If I stood there and stared too long, I would feel an almost unquenchable thirst to climb into the back of a minivan.
In heavy contrast, my mother wore low cut sweaters and short skirts in all seasons. Her heels looked like they could be used to stab a mugger in a pinch, and her blonde hair was always just messy enough to give the impression that she had just crawled out of a bed she hadn't slept in. She seldom cooked since she worked in a restaurant, but if she did, there was sure to be a can opener and a microwave involved. My room, if it can be called a room, was a pull out couch in the living room of our crowded apartment. Kendra shared my mother's room. "We are kindred spirits. I knew it the first time I laid eyes on you," my mother was fond of saying to Kendra. But my mother and I were no kindred spirits. In fact, I'm fairly certain that the mere thought of one another was enough to make either of us wrinkle our noses.
That day, I watched Kendra as she practiced sliding her thighs on and off a bar stool, each time with a bit more emphasis on pouting her lips and jutting her hips out to one side. The restaurant was full of people who, as usual, were not eating much, but were drinking plenty.
"VONNA!" My mother's voice was sharp and startled me out of my dream state. "Stop slouching over the bar and would it kill you to buy a smaller shirt? People come here for beauty in this shit-pit town. Now go bus some tables. I'm running out of highball glasses."
My hands shook ans I filled a tray with glasses. Beauty? People came here for beauty? This was the ugliest place I had ever seen. The dingy fleur de lis carpet was stained by Bloody Mary's. The heavy drapes were faded and the tableclothes were all spotted with peasant sauce. The waitresses were ugly. All of them were nothing more than lumps of fat in strategic places. And my mother. My mother was the worst of all. She HAD beauty and she ruined it every day. She painted over her gorgeousness every day with that dusty pink lipstick and the black mascara and the push-up bra.
My mother suddenly resembled the gilded lions outside the doors. Mr. Blumquist made me spraypaint them last summer after a few of the neighborhood ruffians had drawn lifelike representations of engorged penises on them. With a brand new coat of spray paint, the lions looked even worse and more pathetic than before. At least with the penises drawn on them, they halfway resembled their surroundings. They were honest. Honesty, I decided, was what enabled true beauty.
I tried to steady my hands and watched Kendra practice pin-up poses in one of the vacant booths. My mother looked at her, smiling, encouraging, proud. Kendra shook her dark hair and laughed a tipsy sounding laugh better suited to a woman rather than a girl of 13.
"That one is going to grow up to be a beauty," remarked one of the factory workers at the bar. Chimes of agreement rang throughout the restaurant and my sister pointed her toes, sat back on her hips and drank them in like melted diamonds.
My hands slipped off of a Martini glass, letting it shatter on the table. Among the shards was a large crescent shaped piece of glass, sharp on all sides. I felt my hand reach for it. My feet eased their way over to Kendra's booth; my mind was vacant. I saw my hand with the crescent glass dart across my sister's face. Once, twice, a third time. I didn't return to my head until three of the factory workers tackled me amid my mother's shrill screams. I fell limp and exhausted onto the gritty carpet. I had won the battle. Kendra wouldn't lose her beauty.