At the beginning of the summer of 2000, Alice took me to meet her mother, Delia, who had just retired to Emeryville. Delia was no taller than Alice, but her short gray hair rose from her head as if it were electrified. She met us on the landing of her condominium and asked us to take off our shoes. Delia was making a new space for herself, she said, as she showed us into a living room that might have appeared in an Ikea catalog. Everything was white or nearly so, except a red plastic suitcase by the bedroom door and a gold-framed photograph of a distinguished-looking black man, which hung in the center of an otherwise undecorated wall. “I had to get rid of a lot of stuff,” Delia said. “The energy wasn’t right for it here. This place is going to be about transformation.” Alice pursed her lips and said nothing.
For dinner, Delia cooked us specialties from her native Oklahoma: fried chicken and okra and sweet potatoes, cornbread and peas. I ate prodigiously and came to like her very much. Delia told us that she was having trouble with her minister, Dr. Will, whose photograph hung on the wall. Dr. Will had partnered her with an angel named Waliel, who was, she said, a real angelic goon, who knew nothing about everyday life, and was always urging her to do stupid things, for example, to leave her car in the handicapped parking space when she didn’t have a handicapped sticker, or to buy Tang, or, more troublingly, to run up behind Dr. Will and pull his pants down. She had talked to the doctor, Dr. Will, understand, she didn’t hold with medical doctors, about Waliel, and he told her that there was sometimes a kind of breaking-in period between angels and humans, and that she should try to read between the lines of what Waliel was telling her to discern its true, angelic intentions, but really, she said, what was there between the lines but Dr. Will’s ass? “Which,” she concluded, “doesn’t interest me. I’m too old for that now.” She brought out a pecan pie and a cut-glass decanter of plum wine. “I have a weakness for the sweet,” she said, cutting thick slices from the pie.
Over dessert, Delia admitted that she had been in love with men since the age of twelve; she told us in hagiographic detail about her first boyfriend, an Ojibwa football player named Clyde who had an ass like a brick wall, a real beefcake, Delia said, setting her fork delicately on the rim of her plate. Alice stared through the glass doors that let onto the balcony, beyond which hard sunlight fell on the yellow stucco face of another condominium. “More wine?”
Delia poured plum wine by the thimbleful, and doled out, in equally small installments, the history of her young heart, which was no less sweet than the wine, and no less golden than the light outdoors. The good men of Oklahoma came and went, and the not-so-good men, and the ne’er-do-wells, and the alcoholic, Alice’s father. “I don’t know what it was about them,” Delia said. “I was just crazy for them all.”
Over coffee she told us that she wanted to read our auras.
“No, mom,” Alice said, as though this were a conversation they’d had many times before. “No auras.”
“I won’t do a whole reading,” Delia said. “I just want to try out a new technique.”
She slid her chair closer to us, so that her knees pressed against the edge of the coffee table. “Alice, close your eyes.” Delia put her hands on Alice’s head, and moved them to and fro as though she were looking for something, a secret lever, a hidden catch. “You’re very blue,” she said. “Is everything all right?”
“No, mom, it’s not all right,” Alice said. “You’re embarrassing me in front of my boyfriend.”
“Is this about your job? About losing your job? Alice has always been very determined,” Delia said to me. “Did she tell you about when she did model U.N.?”
“OK, we’re going,” Alice said.
“Hold on,” said Delia. “I haven’t done your boyfriend yet.”
Alice half-sat up, then she settled back on the sofa, compelled by the solemnity of Delia’s gestures, or just by curiosity as to what atrocious thing her mother would come up with next. Delia reached across the coffee table and caressed the air over my head. “Oh, my goodness,” she said. “Wow.”
“What is it, mom?”
“Honey, just hold on.” Delia reached forward to touch my forehead, and knocked over the decanter of plum wine, which splashed the sofa cushions and my legs. “Shit!” Delia said. She shot up from her chair and ran to the kitchen; she was back a second later with a wet sponge and a saltshaker, attacking the sofa. “This is not a good sign.”
It’s stupid, but I had been hoping for some real truth. If Alice’s mother had pronounced my destiny then and there, I would have believed her, and maybe what she said would have become the truth, at least for a while. Instead my pants were streaked with sticky purple wine; I went to the bathroom and tried to clean them but only succeeded in making the stains worse.
“I’m sorry I made you go,” Alice said on the train home. “Delia really wanted to meet you.”
“I didn’t mind at all,” I said, and Alice rolled her eyes. “Be honest.” She wouldn’t believe me when I told her that I was being honest.
In retrospect I think that Alice introduced me to her mother because she wanted to get rid of me. I even wondered if Alice had been the one who knocked over the decanter of plum wine, as a way of telling me that, so far as she was concerned, I had no future at all.