Very Good In Black and White
...and also in camel.
Aside from my husband, my mother-in-law and I didn't have much in common. Anne loved astrology and often mentioned that we were both Leos, which meant almost nothing to me. She shopped for the sport of it and loved a good bargain. I shopped when I had time and bought impulsively. I was mortified at offending people and tried too hard to be nice. She had no such fears.
One afternoon, when my husband Philip, our twins and I were with her at her condominium's pool, I noticed a couple standing at the end of our row of lounges. They were clearly looking at us.
"Oh my God, Anne!" I whispered. "The towels on our chairs - I think they belonged to them!" I began to scurry into my flip flops and told the kids to do the same when Anne glanced over calmly and said, "They can't just leave towels and walk off for half an hour...I've lived here 23 years and that's not how it works."
"Yeah, I know, but...you know, we can just find another spot," I said as the kids looked increasingly confused. "So can they," Anne answered, with a shrug and a little laugh. "But..." I said, knowing we weren't moving anywhere. "I really think they want to sit here..."
"That's just too-toozy bad!" she said, with a lack of concern that I felt equally shocked by and jealous of. My husband returned from the snack bar with big cups of ice water. I was quiet as I drank mine. Reflecting on Anne's chutzpah and the lack of my own put me into a sour mood. Anne had balls. I had, at best, significant ovaries. I wondered if she was as conflicted about what happened as I was. She took a long, slow sip of water.
"Philip," she said, "this is much too cold. You have to put less ice in next time." Clearly not conflicted.
We swam, using the neon-colored pool noodles Anne loved and she emerged from the water with her impeccably-teased hair and Chanel-red lipstick intact. I scrunched my wet curls as she wrapped a giant towel around Ava and Ben, who giggled as she shimmied them dry.
Philip took the kids for ice cream while Anne and I went up to her apartment. I told them to hurry so we wouldn’t hit traffic, but it was really because I had never been alone with her and wasn’t exactly comfortable. I went into her bedroom to dress and she entered as I reached into my tote and said "shit."
"What? Why shit?" she asked.
"Oh... It's nothing. I just forgot to pack underwear. It's ok. I can just wear my bathing suit bottoms."
"Oy! You've been running around in them all day!" she said, as If I'd been loading trucks. "Here. You can borrow these." She held a pair of big white bloomers in the air and told me to put them on. I put them on.
"Well," she said, her eyes glinting. "What should I wear to dinner tonight?" My eyes lit up too, because dressing for dinner was something I loved almost as much as she did. She flung her closet doors open with a flair that would have made Vanna White jealous. "Hmm..." I said, studying our options. "I love that black and white geometric top. Maybe that? With your white palazzo pants?"
"I happen to look very good in black and white," she said with a level of assurance I envied. "I've had this top for years," she said, her voice muffled, as she pulled it over her head. "I got It at Saks. Half off and I got 15% on top of that," Her face emerged through the neckline, beaming proudly. She pulled the slacks on and and put her hands on her hips, modeling.
"You do look good in black and white!" I said.
"Very good," she said. "You know what else I look good in? Camel. Not everyone can wear camel." I said I loved camel, not sure If I was in the "can wear" category or not. She put her back to me, rifling through her closet. Minutes later, she waltzed back, having paired her camel slacks with a black turtleneck and silk leopard scarf.
"Have I ever told you that when I was younger people said I looked like Jackie O?"
"Really?" I answered, nonetheless. "I can see that from your pictures!"
"Same hair, same style, same sunglasses... I mean, I don't like to brag, but when I walked down the street...." She smiled at the memory and for a minute, I saw her, on Fifth Avenue, her arm dripping with bags from Saks and Lord & Taylor, cognizant of the heads she was turning. Anne's life had taken a less glamorous turn as she'd gotten older. She stayed in a difficult marriage. With widowhood came old age and while she still looked good - very good - in black and white, not to mention camel - her life was a lot smaller than the version of herself she was remembering.
"I’m dying to see what else you have in that closet of yours," I said, and she immediately rose to the challenge.
"Have you seen my Pucci?" she asked. I had seen it many times, but only in pictures. She'd worn it to Philip's Bar Mitzvah and looked ravishing - by far, the star of the photo album. She rummaged toward the back of the rack, grunting a bit, and emerged with a hanger wrapped in dry-cleaner's tissue paper and plastic.
She opened it carefully. It was even more fabulous in person. She held it in front of her, angling her body this way and that. I touched the fabric tentatively.
"Do you want to try it on?" she asked. I said I couldn't. She said I must. Of course, she won. I slipped it over my head. It was perfection. Well, it would have been if Anne's giant white bloomers weren't bunched up beneath it.
"Look at me! I'm you, from head to toe!" I said. She didn't answer and I realized I'd gone too far. "I mean, not as good as you, of course...."
"I had a lot of fun in that dress," she said, more to herself than me. I said I was sure she'd been the belle of the ball. "I was," she answered softly. I turned so she could unzip me and we smiled at each other in the mirror above her dresser. Philip and the kids spilled back in as we packed the Pucci into its paper and hung it up.
Anne had to finish getting ready for dinner (Italian with Lou and Barbara at a place that was "fair," which was Anne's way of saying very good.). We got onto the elevator and Ava realized she'd left her swim goggles. I wedged my arm so the doors wouldn't close, and as if on cue, Anne appeared, but it wasn't the strap of the goggles she had draped over her index finger.
"I want you to have it," she said, thrusting the paper-covered hanger into the elevator. I tried to protest, but she waved me off. Our eyes met, mine filled with gratitude, hers with generosity. She stood, smiling, and as the doors closed, yelled "don't let it drag on the ground."
I've never been able to wear it. Partly because it requires a heavier-duty Spanx than I want to admit, but mainly, because while I might be able to fill Anne's Pucci, I can't fill those beautifully-made, half-off (plus another 20 percent, can you believe it?) - shoes of hers.
No one can.
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