When My Mother Was Eartha Kitt

New England Review - - Investigations - Michelle Peñaloza

Along the bot­tom of a for­got­ten banker’s box: a pair of black patent stiletto boots, knee-length and, some­how, once my mother’s. The woman who bought these boots: twenty and nu­bile, she smokes Capris and throws back her head, laugh­ing at off-color men who broad­cast their bro­ken at­tempts to woo in lan­guages just as for­eign to her— kon­nichiwa, ni hao ma. She is im­per­vi­ous and breezy and says things like, “Now I bet you’d never try that with Julie New­mar!” Her world, ono­matopoeic: heels stac­cato upon Detroit’s salt-ground pave­ment; men drop their high­balls of bour­bon—bam! Pow! Ka­boom!—as her slight frame slinks past rows of wooden barstools. She purrs. When I found those boots in the sixth grade, I knew my own feet would never un­lock their magic. My own body mon­strous and lum­ber­ing com­pared to the pe­tite con­tours from which I came. I knew men would never whim­per to tongue my boots. Eartha Kitt mother, what would you say to the woman be­fore you to­day? Would you un­der­stand your daugh­ter’s self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cies? Her need for dis­tance, her pro­cliv­ity for the third per­son. Her in­tox­i­ca­tion with the power of a man she can­not name emp­ty­ing him­self in­side her, the hol­low­ness of his em­brace.

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