My grandmother has spread her progeny over a number of years. As a result, several of my aunts and uncles are closer to me in age than they are to my mother. While I was in my teens, they were in their twenties. They were young enough that I considered them my peerage but old enough to have all the trappings of adulthood with what seemed like none of the responsibilities. They had their own cars and apartments. They had cool jobs and lived in interesting places. Family politics and geography limited the quantity of time I could spend with them but to me this was not necessarily a bad thing. The limited contact was just enough to create an aura of mystery. They seemed larger than life, like old time Hollywood stars and starlets.
The two youngest of my aunts had taken an apartment together in the town where they had been born. It was located in a part of the town that had once been a busy central business district but the years had passed it by. All that remained from that time were 1950’s red brick row buildings with crumbling facades and dingy plate glass windows that housed a variety of pawnshops, restaurants and small boutiques. Access to the apartment was gained through a small wooden door recessed into one of those buildings. The door was half covered in peeling paint that faced a street that was still called Main Street but was in fact nothing close to main anymore.
A narrow staircase, poorly lit, led up to the apartment door. After the darkness of the staircase, the apartment was bright and cheerful. The focal point of the room was a large aquarium that housed an absolutely huge goldfish that went by the name of Cheddar. Evidently Cheddar came by his name for his mimicry of the sharp hue associated with the grilled sandwich staple. Cheddar was older than any goldfish I’d ever known. Any forays I’d ever made into the world of marine husbandry usually ending within weeks in a swirl of porcelain funerary rites. Cheddar was far beyond the feeder fish stage; he must have been around 1 1/2 pounds. That’s not a bad size if you’re catching small mouth bass but a little odd for a pet goldfish. Cheddar liked to throw his weight around and as a result a large brick weighed down the lid of his aquarium. Without it Cheddar had been known to kamikaze out of the tank to lie flopping on the area rug.
The aunts in residence where trendy and cool. Their clothes were vintage shop funky. Their jewelry was costume and chunky and they wore their hair short and trendy. Their father had forbid his youngest girls to cut their hair until they were 16 and they did their best to make up for lost time.
I was 16 and living on my own when I received a golden party invitation from the aunts. It was Halloween and the party was sure to be a good one. A ride was arranged and off I went in my blond wig, cat’s ears and cat body suit. At 16 and a hundred pounds soaking wet I didn’t have the figure to fill it out but it was all I had to wear and 16 doesn’t care.
The party was at full throttle when I got there with all the exotic flavours of Rick’s Cafe Americain . The smoke filled air writhed an accompaniment to the loud music. Stars and starlets with various sycophants filled the small apartment, glamour clad in a fantastic glitter. I was one of the chosen few, a starlet by right of birth and the pet of the party due to my tender years. Under the mothering eyes of my aunts I tippled a bit and schmoozed away. There was a small discussion off to the side which I tried to ignore regarding my status, whether it was advisable for party members to indulge in something a little illegal with me being several years under the age of majority. I suppose the fact that I had an illegal (for me) drink in my hand tipped the scales in favour of their indulgence.
Small as I was, the big blond wig with cat’s eye liner and whiskers must have given me an élan beyond my years as I found myself with an admirer. Drink must have blinded him, as he didn’t seem to notice that I was a good ten years younger than him and built like a boy to boot. Halfway through the night I had become conscious of his regard. He leaned towards me as he talked, touching my shoulder and repeatedly put his arm around the narrow expanse I called a waist. Very flattering I supposed but nothing I would take seriously.
The night had been fabulous and I felt well pleased that I had been allowed this little glimpse into a world that seemed so much more sophisticated than mine. I was in the kitchen waiting for my ride when my "Romeo" came looking for me. I had discarded my wig with cat’s ears and my face was washed clean. A month or so before (just like my aunts) I had cut my waist length hair and now sported what was known as a Chelsea girl cut (let’s just say VERY short). Hollywood cat woman glamour gone with no make up and cropped hair, I must have looked like a 12-year-old boy. The realization that this was who he had been hitting on for most of the evening must have shocked him sober. He mumbled a good night and was gone. Sixteen is so cruel. I did laugh then, I wouldn’t do that now.
The ride home seemed much shorter as we left Hollywood and the Cafe Americain behind with its lionized stars and starlets. The silence of the car only amplified the ringing memory of music in my ears. The night was already fading to black and white, nostalgia of a brief shining Camelot above a taco shop on a street that time had already forgotten. I could look at it now with different eyes if I wanted but I choose not to. Some things are better left alone; Like a long forgotten blossom pressed between the pages of a musty book, newly discovered. Lift that delicate memory from those pages and dust is all that would remain.