For Momma the day was bad from the very beginning. Her mouth was tainted with the after taste of sleep. She slid her tongue along the gum trying to wash away the unpleasantness. Her tongue touched the empty sunken places where teeth had once been. So few left it was hard to believe. Favoring her arthritic leg with its swollen heel – now covered with a sock, its nightly protective sheath – she use her good leg to wind the sheet up so it wouldn’t drag on the floor.
She glanced over at the Big Ben on the mantelpiece. Seven. A rotten seven o’clock on a Sunday morning. When a person couldn’t sleep, what did time matter? She shuddered and closed her eyes so she wouldn’t have to see the cracked yellow walls, the water stained ceiling, the bare bulb hanging on its wire and trailing a dusty gray pull string. It was best not to notice these things; in that way only could a person live. Yawning, she sat up and adjusted her cotton slip so that she was completely covered. Then, cautiously, she lowered her feet over the side.
She was a broad-boned, heavy woman with a ravaged face. Her short hair once the color of coal was gray and ragged. Her nose was straight and decent-sized, her cheek bones high, and her sunken eyes an ordinary guileless brown. The lines of her nose and mouth were deep and cadaverous. Discontent had assisted age in sucking in the cheeks and mouth and lengthening the jaw. Her pale skin was rough and porous, hands, face and neck raw from too vigorous scrubbing and innocent of creams. The fingers of both hands were striated and flaky, pie crust texture. She slept in her slip so she had only to put on yesterday’s clothes, a gray cotton skirt and a gray print blouse on which clumps of lavender flowers were barely discernible. A quick trip to the toilet, a perfunctory washing up and she was ready.
She went into the dismal kitchenette in which she had spent her life, pulled the light-cord – only in the late afternoons did a patch of sunlight penetrate this cell — then began making his breakfast….
When I look in the mirror on my wall, I don’t expect to see Snow White, the fairest of them all. I know life is no fairy tale. But I always hope for more than I get. What I get is an okay face and in the middle of it s clunky nose. I can’t deal with myself as a girl with that kind of nose. I’m a size nine, nicely shaped, curvy. I shop in junior shops and that’s the way I like to think of myself – petite (maybe even cute some days) – but ever since I was twelve years old I’ve been aware of my nose.
Fats Russell first brought it to my attention. I was in sixth grade then. It was after three o’clock one school day and a bunch of us had stopped for pizza. We were crowed into a booth and I was asking silly question jokes. I loved to make them up. “What do baby mice rinse out with after they brush their teeth?” I asked, and then I waited. “Mouse wash.”
My friends cracked up. And then suddenly Fats was standing there looking at me mean and saying, “What’s so funny, Bump? Yeah, that’s what they should have named you with that nose. Bump!”
“Get off it, Fats,” my friends protested, Nobody invited you over here. ” But he didn’t go quickly. He just stood there laughing till he said, “So long, Bump,” and then I watched him go out the swinging door after he’d ruined my life….
Mr. Steinmetz’s jacket was a shapeless old brown tweed, bagging monstrously from the pockets and drooping from the round shoulders – that is – when he wore it at all. In this jacket he carried two sandwiches each day (wrapped in waxed paper), his pipe and tobacco, several grimy handkerchiefs, for his hay fever Life Savers, pens and pencils, bits of wire, string, glass, and old razor blades and other objects useful for his shap classes.
He was a talented craftsman whose classes were very popular. As an instructor he excelled. Both the bright and the retarded students loved his class. Physically Mr. Steinmetz was hopeless. At forty-three he was already pot-bellied and flabby. His pudgy face topped by thin red hair which was never brushed sat like a pudding atop the pyramidal shape. He wore black-rimmed glasses, but one day he had stepped on the rim of the glasses, so that now adhesive tape bandaged the broken arm. His shirts were not starched and his ties were never knotted properly. He did not fasten his collar button. Mr. Steinmetz was not in the least discomfited. He lived as he liked. He had five children because he liked children, a plump sloppy wife because he loved her and the teaching job because he loved teaching . . . .