Found: Fiction & Poetry Anthology


by Lucille Gang Shulklapper

  Fall 2012 Fiction & Poetry Anthology  |  Contents  |  Authors  |  |  The Inheritance by Lucille Gang Shulklapper


The day Rochelle moved out, I first thought: great. Miss Holier Than Thou is gone…for good! Wendy has her own bedroom, the other’s mine, though I had thought about sharing it with Rochelle. Now we’ll buy a new black leather sofa to fill the space where Rochelle’s cot stood in the living room. That lumpy pipe-legged cot with its sheets sticking out from the cover.

Two seconds later I wasn’t sure. I kept seeing skinny Rochelle leave the apartment in her torn jeans. Her knee stuck out of a big hole. Pointed jaw set. Moving, she called it…taking a toaster that never popped, one of three placemats, and her cot. She reminded me of Wilma, who wore an old, ill-fitting dress back when we were kids back in elementary school. Pale yellow with fading flowers and gray-green sprigs, it had a hole where the label had been cut.

I pulled open the kitchen drawer so hard it almost fell off its tracks and tilted toward me. Grabbed a soupspoon. Hesitated before taking the whole pint of butter pecan cream ice cream from the freezer…did that visualization exercise…saw myself as bones in a bikini…but I pushed open the lid, and dug into the cream until I finished it.

Then I leaned my elbows on the new butcher block table Mom said didn’t fit into her new kitchen. I held the spoon in mid-air and thought about Wilma. Wilma and her brother lived with an aunt in one of those attached houses in Queens. Her parents were dead. If you played with Wilma, and I did, at least sometimes, you’d know you couldn’t go into her house. Her aunt wouldn’t let you. Not even a cookie. Wilma told me her aunt didn’t have much money and she owed her life to her.

We were ten when we met in the fifth grade. We had to line up to go to gym or music class. “Stand up straight, shoulders back, tummies in,” Mrs. Darringer called from her desk chair. “You too,Wilma.”

new part

Rochelle’s another story. I thought it was a good idea at the time and asked her to move in with Wendy and me. A few months seem like a lifetime ago…June, graduation …all that stuff. “Make up your mind, Karen,” everyone said, so I straight out asked her.

“You really asked her? Why?” Wendy asked me in that snotty tone of hers. We were in our dorm room. She casually tossed her cap and gown into a corner. Mine still hung in the closet, mixed in with stuff from four years.

While she waited for my answer, she piled cashmere sweaters, designer suits, and ski jackets like they do in a department store. She patted them the way she patted Peaches, after the dog fetched and then sat facing her.

The sweaters reminded me of Wilma, who stood in front of me on line. Her shoulders drooped underneath a black wool cardigan she wore on winter days. Her only wool cardigan. All the girls laughed at her funny clothes, thick-soled shoes. They were heavy into the latest sneakers, thinking about blonde streaks. Wilma’s hair always looked dirty, hanging straight down from a middle part. Her nose was too long. Even her glasses, a real fashion item, were ugly. We wouldn’t be caught dead without the latest movie star fashion, but hers…ugh… fake tortoise shell harlequin frames. “Stand up straight, Wilma.” It made me uncomfortable when our teacher repeated it. “Please try, Wilma,” I whispered. I could see her shoulders trying.

“Why not?” I asked, before I started thinking about something else. Not about Wilma but the jackass in the Aesop fable. The part I remembered best was where the man and his son carried the jackass over the bridge, the rope came untied, and the jackass fell into the water. Mrs. Darringer made us say the moral in one sentence: something about pleasing everyone or maybe it was pleasing no one. I came home from school that afternoon and fed my fat face.

Wendy’s thin-edged voice brought me back. “I’ll ask you again. Tell me one, just one reason why you asked her?”

I blinked, conscious of my eyes watering over my new contacts. “You know why. Our parents agreed. Pay so much…” I started to mumble.

“Speak up,” Wendy said evenly. “I can’t understand you.”

“Manhattan’s a fortune. We don’t have jobs. Rochelle already has a good one. She’ll share expenses.”

“You’re hedging again, “Wendy told me, folding and stroking her black velvet pants as she spoke. “Giving me half the story. The half you can live with. Come on, Karen, get it all out.”

She struck a familiar pose. I was a little jealous. I imagined myself wearing her black velvet pants, leaning against that old grand piano in the frat house, a femme fatale. I could be if I could lose some weight. Lord knows I had enough stuff of my own. Never wore it.

I reached into my jeans pocket, found a crushed tissue with a lipstick smear, and dabbed at my tears. “O.K, I’ll tell you. It was right after a phone call from my mother. Don’t I know how lucky I am and all that. Why do I keep putting everything off…interviews, packing, finding a roommate?”

Wendy wasn’t even listening. I know her. She was thinking about clothes and the new closets she’d fill. What she’d get rid of.

“Soooo,” she said to me, “You couldn’t stand up to your mother, and Rochelle walked into our dorm room at that moment. Wish I’d been there.”

I hung my head. Why was I so obvious? “Yes. Rochelle walked in to borrow a sweater. That’s when I asked her.”

Silence fell between us. I knew Wendy would forgive me. We were old friends. My mother was always right and Wendy was too.

Why did I ask Rochelle? She made me feel uncomfortable. I saw her like some character actress. I almost wanted to laugh when she tripped into our dorm looking like a Yugoslavian immigrant: blonde hairs straggling from under her black-tied babushka, a shapeless, faded tee shirt underneath the frayed black sweater, and those torn jeans. Then, I hated myself for thinking about her appearance when she didn’t own much more.

She walked in just as I was hanging up the phone. “Oh,” she said, in that finishing school voice she tried to cultivate,” I do hope you didn’t hang up because of me.”

“Just talking to my mother.” I tried to sound casual. “She offered to pay the moving service to pack for me, too.”

“Mo ther.” Rochelle dragged the word into a sentence.. “Wish I had one. Never did. Just this woman who gave birth to me and left. A lemming.”

“Lemming? I didn’t understand. Where’d she go?”

“Followed my father, the great naturalist, always about to write the great book. I’m not even a word in it. You’re on your own after college, daughter, he told me. Lucky you got a scholarship so you can go at all.” She bent down to tie the long black shoelaces escaping from her high-topped sneaker.

I’m glad I couldn’t see her face. I didn’t want to feel sorry for her. And that affected speech. “But what about your mother?”

Oh, her…Rochelle’s finishing school voice changed to her southern drawl. “Ah told you. Followed mah father around. A lemmin. One of those small, ahctic rodents she and mah father studied . Hawdes of them mahgratin from the mountains to the sea.”

Then she paused and waited for my reaction. I saw my mother in four words through her eyes: independent, money, spend, me.

“You know what happens to lemmings?” Rochelle answered herself in that finishing school voice, as if she were quoting her father. Overly dramatic. “They destroy all vegetation in their path, swimming when they fall into the water, until they die from exhaustion. The birds eat their floating bodies.”

I didn’t understand why at that very moment I ask her to room with us. Maybe she was like vegetation. You know, mowed down, or something. Anyway, I thought she’d make a perfect roommate, willing to sleep on a cot in the living room, and pay enough for Wendy and me to afford this great apartment our parents found for us.

When we moved into the apartment a few months later, Rochelle told us she couldn’t afford to share phone expenses or grocery staples. She ate her main meal at lunch, and kept a can of tuna fish or a bag of apples in a separate kitchen cabinet for her dinner. Night after night, she sat on that dumb cot in the living room while the smell of broiled fish or my special lasagna assailed her nostrils. I wondered about her great job, how much she was paid, or saved. She began to buy more costly clothes.

new part

When the phone rang, Rochelle turned up the volume on the TV. It was never for her except when her boyfriend, Gary, phoned. Wendy had met him at the trendy bar he frequented. She said Rochelle hooked up with him when she went there, too. Wendy knew him as one of her old school friends. She said he was a “player,” wealthy, and good-looking. Lived on Park Avenue.

Once I shouted “Ro che el” real loud. Embarrassing…because Rochelle expected that call and it was quiet for a long time, while they chatted. Wendy had a fit whenever Rochelle got a phone call. “Someone could be trying to reach us,” she told me, staring at her watch, and flicking her wrist every few seconds.

One night we were sitting in the living room watching a movie on TV, when Rochelle uncurled herself from her cot and disappeared. When a commercial came on, Wendy wanted a snack. She moved quickly into the dark kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, and gasped when she saw Rochelle in the shadows, whispering into the phone.

“I didn’t hear the phone ring,” Wendy said.

“Can’t you even wait ‘til I get off?” Rochelle hissed, covering the receiver, then, she changed her tone to say good-bye. She slammed the phone down and changed her tone again. “I’m sick of phoning my parents from the corner deli.”

Wendy smiled sarcastically. “I suppose you’re calling them in the Amazon.”

“I’m surprised you’ve even heard of it. I thought you wouldn’t recognize the Amazon unless it was the setting for a fashion show.”

Rochelle’s right …about Wendy…and clothes and money, but it’s not Wendy’s fault if her parents give her everything.

Rochelle moved in with Gary about a week later. A few months of living with her was enough for Wendy, but the break upset me. Rochelle threw her clothing into a sheet and tied up the corners. Two weeks later, I found a can of tuna fish hidden in the corner cabinet. I wanted to cry.

The hidden can brought Wilma to mind. Perhaps because I was the only one in class who spoke to her or because I stood behind her in line…she told me about …having diabetes, giving herself injections, and how her back hurt.

I didn’t even miss Wilma when she was absent for a week. I enjoyed returning to the “in” group again, talking about boys and clothes.

It was a shock when her little brother handed Mrs. Darringer the half-filled cardboard box everyone else filled weeks ago with money they collected door-to-door for UNICEF. I could tell it wasn’t full because the coins jangled. “Wilma would want you to have this,” he told her. “I’m the only one who knows where she hid it.”

Mrs. Darringer said “passed away.” I didn’t eat cookies for weeks.

new part

“Daydreaming, again?” Wendy asked. She danced into the kitchen in red-flowered leggings and a short, swingy skirt. “Good riddance!” she sang. “We’re both working. Let’s enjoy life. Do more for ourselves.”

new part

Another month goes by and I’ve got this great date. I’m getting all dressed up, jewelry and all. Feeling excited. It doesn’t last long. I start slamming drawers, spilling things.

In the middle of it all, Wendy comes in. “What’s the matter?” she asks.

“I can’t find my gold and diamond chain. The one my grandmother gave me for graduation. It’s real old. It was hers.”

“Rochelle took it.” Wendy says.

“She wouldn’t do that. She’d never steal.”

Wendy gives me one of those superior looks, “Of course, she would. You think she’s so hard-working and content with what she has but I know she’s jealous. Wants everything we have. She’s not Miss Sweet and Innocent.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’ve found things missing before. A couple of Freebies I left on the hall table. Subway tokens. She even drinks our vanilla cream diet soda.”

“How would you know that?”

“Sometimes the bottle’s almost empty when I know I just opened it and you weren’t home. So, one night before you and I went out together, I took a pen and made a line. Checked it when we got back.”

“I don’t believe you did that.”

“Why not?” We’re paying for it. Remember the night I caught her making a call from our telephone? Hey, it’s your money, too.”

“Yes, but…”

“No buts…once I even found my black cashmere sweater rolled up in my sweater drawer. And you know how I fold everything. Well, a week before, Rochelle asked if she could borrow that sweater, and I said, ‘no.’ She must have taken it, anyway.”

“And then, from the back of my head, I see Wilma…her shoulders drooping, her wool cardigan hiking to the middle of her back. She turns around and smiles at me before she disappears.

Within a week, Wendy has a plan to get my necklace back. I don’t know if I can go through with it.

She says Rochelle hangs out in one of those trendy bars on Madison Avenue. One of those places with green hanging plants and a piano player. Wendy goes there a lot. Come to think of it, she thinks she saw Rochelle wearing my necklace. One just like it.

“We’ll go to the bar, Karen. Then, when Rochelle goes to the ladies’ room…she always goes there and comes out with her hair just perfect…you’ll follow her in and see if she’s wearing your chain.”

“I don’t know if I can do that.”

“What!” she exclaims. “You owe it to yourself to get back what’s yours.”

There’s that word again: ‘owe.’ What do people owe one another? Themselves? Wilma said she owed her life to her aunt. Wendy says I owe it to myself. Wendy’s a really good friend. I’m not sure if the plan will work but I’ll give it a try. I want my necklace back.

“Thanks,” I tell her, wishing I could tell her more. Like thanks for standing by me, for encouraging me to want what’s mine. But before I can tell her, she’s out of the room.

It’s two in the morning and I just had this weird dream. Rochelle’s mother and I are lemmings running over rocks toward the sea. I stop to lick the blood off my tiny paws. I bend down to get a better look, and I’m amazed to see I’m not a lemming but a mole. I dart behind a bush and burrow into an opening in the ground. I lie awake and remember moles are slow-moving and can only see in the dark.

new part

Tonight’s the big night. Wendy and I leave for the café. The weather’s so beautiful we decide to walk in the still, crisp, cold air. Manhattan dazzles. Darkness covers the cracked sidewalks. Skyscrapers blaze.

We go into the bar. It’s a large, crowded, noisy place. I don’t know why they have a piano player. You can hardly hear him. “Let’s leave. I can’t stay another minute,” I mutter after sipping two diet cokes. I start to get up.

Wendy’s arm shoots out and pushes me back. “Stop fussing. We have to stay a bit longer. She’s here. I’m telling you…she’s here. Oh my God”…Wendy put her hand against her breast… “she is! I see her coming toward us. She’s going to use the ladies’ room.”

“What if we’re making a terrible mista…,” I start to say but then I see Rochelle, walking quickly, looking straight in front of her. She doesn’t see us.

“If she’s not wearing it,” Wendy whispers, “ you can ask her if she’s seen it. She knows you sometimes leave valuable things lying around.”

Just then Rochelle walks quickly past us. All I see is this gorgeous blonde hair piled on top of her head: I can’t tell if she’s wearing the necklace. Her body’s poured into a tight black dress…very short… and she’s holding a costly lizard purse six feet in front of her so you can’t miss it.

“She looks great, like a model, so sophisticated.. Must have gotten contacts. Wonder where she got the money, if Gary…” I think. Then, I look down at my jeans as though I’m seeing them for the first time. Rub my sweaty palms over my fat thighs and make a few resolutions.

I wait a few minutes before I follow her into the ladies’ room. The door flies open at my touch. Rochelle’s standing at the sink. I move toward her. She drops the soap when she sees me. A steady stream of water pours from the open faucet. For a moment, her hands hang in the air, then move toward her neck to cover the chain. The small diamonds glitter through her fingers.

Not a word passes between us. Her stare is frozen as I walk backward and put my full weight against the door. No one can enter and I’m blocking Rochelle from leaving.

“Karen” she starts to say something more and stops. Her fingers unfasten the necklace. She’s holding it loosely in her hand, moving toward me.

We’re like actors in a silent film. I offer my cupped palm and feel the weight of the necklace in my hand. I step aside; she does a little dance around me, opens the door, and leaves.

As soon as the door closes behind her, I walk toward a large pier glass: one of those old oval mirrors they used long ago, but this one’s a new version with little lights all around it. I look into it, smile, and put my necklace on. Then, I comb my hair and rummage through my purse for my lipstick. When I uncap it, it makes a popping sound like the cork on a champagne bottle.

end of story

© 2012, Lucille Shulklapper. The Inheritance