Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Love, Sex and Class: The Con Women in The Handmaiden

         Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930s, The Handmaiden, directed by Park Chan-Wook, provides a delicious mash up of culture, class and cons. Add to this a generous dollop of romance and drizzle throughout with lesbian sex, and you have 144 minutes of a twisting adventure.
            A young Korean pickpocket, Sook-hee, is hired by a master con artist who calls himself The Count to work as a handmaiden to Lady Hideko, a wealthy Japanese heiress. The Count is Korean but has successfully passed himself off as Japanese. His plan is to seduce and marry the solitary Lady Hideko and then have her confined to a mental institution where she will be murdered, and he will inherit her wealth. He needs the handmaiden to help win her trust.
            Told in three parts with a changing point-of-view, we see Sook-hee’s softer side as she empathizes with Hideko’s loneliness. Still, she made an agreement with The Count.
            Chapter 1: Lady Hideko is isolated from the world, practically incarcerated by her uncle, with only his vast library for escape. She and Sook-hee bond. Hideko appears to trust her handmaiden and considers the Count’s proposal, but she is unsure about the details of the marriage bed and asks Sook-hee to show her how to kiss. This leads to fondling and more. Sook-hee is an avid and engaged teacher.    
            Chapter 2: Hideko reveals her hardened side, learned as part of her survival under her Uncle’s control. From early childhood, he forced her to read erotica out loud to his club of avid listeners, all male. She took over this job from her depressed aunt who hung herself from a cherry tree in order to escape this singular literary enslavement. The Count reveals to Hideko his original plan to seduce and abandon her, but says he can still help her escape her uncle. But a few sacrifices will have to be made.
            Who is conning whom?
            Chapter 3. People suffer and die, but love persists.
            The connecting scenes between the chapters are the growing love and affection between the two women intermixed with graphic sex scenes straight out of the western pornographer’s handbook. A hilarious shot of Sook-hee peering at her lover’s vagina appears to be shot from the pov of the vagina. The director loved it so much he repeated the shot twice. Even so, the most sensual and tender scene between the two women involves a thimble and a tooth. This is when they first fall in love.
            We’ve been offered an upstairs-downstairs view of class distinction in British plays, television and movies for decades. Indeed, The Handmaiden is based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, set in Victorian England. By transporting the basic plot to Korea, Park Chan-Wook has made the story more interesting, while still providing plenty of twists and surprises.
            What about the sex? For me, the lesbian sex was geared to a male audience. There were lots of full-body shots of the women in various postures, all overlain with the sound of smacking lips. The most pornographic aspect of the story was Hideko reading to her uncle’s literary porn club of adult males. While they were mesmerized and turned on, the stories reminded me of The Pearl, a collection of Victorian erotica I bought in the student bookstore my freshman year in college. The purchase was a waste of my hard-earned work-study money as the plots invariably had to do with female subjugation at the hands of mature males who called it seduction.
            In The Handmaiden, the women prevail. The setting, the acting, and the plot twists make the film a must see. The official release date is October 21.                       

 Also at HuffPost

Friday, December 18, 2015

Joy, Happy Endings For the Holidays: A Review

Entrepreneurship imbued my childhood with its autonomous magic. Did I hear my father boast about being his own boss? Probably. In college, my lover was a much older man who taught me that people would buy anything for a buck, sight unseen. We'd play the spontaneous game "Business Opportunity" where one of us would have sudden inspiration on a need as yet unmet for the American public. 
I also have a soft spot for dysfunctional families. In novels and movies, the more dysfunctional the better: makes me and mine appear oh so normal. No wonder my heart raced for Joy Mangano, my hero, in the movie JOY, directed by David O. Russell, as she leapt the tallest building and overcame monsters to reach her goal. The tall building was the fact that she had no money. The monsters? Covered above in the word family. The movie also stars heart throb(s) Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. They never disappoint.
Joy had four generations of dysfunction to navigate, all living in the same house along with her ex-husband and their three children. She has a brilliant idea for a domestic convenience and as often happens with successful entrepreneurs: she's in the right place at the right time, and most important-she knows it. QVC is seguing into the Home Shopping Network and Joy not only believes in her invention but she refuses to be passive when confronted with the chicanery of the business world and the negativity of her own family, especially her dad's (Robert De Niro.)
Some of my friends wanted a romance to blossom between Neil (Cooper) and Joy (Lawrence). While there's an intense connection between the two, Joy didn't let that possibility distract her from her goal. You go, girl! 
The story has a happy ending, although it's not entirely bloodless. We don't get to see Joy battle her family for control of her business, but when we're told they tried, it doesn't come as a surprise. Joy doesn't let it happen. Do you have any idea what it takes to love your family, but not let their misinformed jealousy and bitterness control you?
The bloodletting is for another chapter. This is a story of a woman conquering her inner fears and becoming more. In It's a Wonderful Life James Stewart conquers his own inner demons and the movie became a Christmas classic. 
Christmas is a good time for happy endings. Joy, the movie is in theaters on December 25.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Childhood Influences: Where Ideas Are Born

Many of us remember movies from our childhood, their effect on us then and now. Sure, I saw all the Disney releases of my generation, but I was raised by a single mother and old movies shown on late night TV were my babysitters. 
Working girl heroines like Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Rosalind Russell, Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy and so many more surely contributed to my feminist leanings and sense of humor, even while the movie plots confused my understanding of sex: did they do it or not? The fade-to-black was too subtle for me at age eight.
I was eight when I first saw The Belle of New Orleans, originally released in 1933. The print was scratchy and the sound screechy, but even I knew that what I was seeing was something new: the plot involved prostitutes and friendship. The love between the women in the brothel redefined "family" and mixed races.
The camera focused on the maid, something I'd never before seen. I couldn't articulate it then, but the maid's primary role in this film, instead of just for comic relief, had a profound effect on me. My mom was a waitress, and I knew bowing and scraping were involved in her job. My dad was Anglo and my mother Mexican; that would qualify as mixed race for some.
We'd also lived in the South and mom had explained to me the nuances of mixed blood there-Mulatto, Quadroons, and Octoroons-only she didn't use the word nuance. Instead, she applied a nightly coating of bleaching cream to lighten my skin. I understood very early what "passing" meant.
Recently, I saw the play By the Way, Meet Vera Stark by playwright Lynn Nottage, which revived memories and revealed lessons from that old movie. It's a play within a movie wrapped in a mystery of Old Hollywood with a heartbreaking and humorous look at Black history in the cinema. Vera Stark was the actress who played the maid in The Belle of New Orleans.
That movie laid the seeds for my enduring interest in 1.) Brothels 2.) New Orleans 3.) Sisterhood 4.) Secrets 5.) Mixed races 6.) Black/White relations 7.) Anglo/New Mexican relations 8.) Mexican/Native American relations 9.) Historical Fiction, and, 10.) Azaleas. All of the above, except for the azaleas, can be found in The Sandoval Sisters' Secret of Old Blood. There's even a chapter in it called "Passing Good." 

More on Vera Stark here:
More on The Sandoval Sisters here:

Also at the Huffington Post, Latino Voices

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

As Luck Would Have It: How I Became Me and Not Her


     For someone who said she'd never marry nor have children, motherhood and marriage are recurrent themes in my writing. I remain married and have two sons and no one is more surprised than a few friends from my disco days. You read that right.
     Motherhood and family play strongly in The Sandoval Sisters' Secret of Old Blood. Even though only one sister bears a child in the story, family and the legacy left to future generations is important to the sisters. As it is to me.  The Sandoval sisters look back at preserved memories in the ancestral diaries in order to make sense of their present.  Nothing like that was left for me; I create my present from my interpretation of the past. 

     After my parents' divorce, I lost my mother to 10-hour waitress shifts, six nights per week. I became the de facto “second mother” to my younger brother, even though I was only eight. My mom said I was smart, which is why I was blamed when my brother was hit by a speeding car when I was ten and he was three-years-old.

     It’s true that I told him to cross the street. I remember the car being way down the block. I turned away because someone behind was calling me. The next thing I remember is the screech of tires.

     That accident changed all our lives. My brother was hospitalized for several months and my mother began to breastfeed him when she visited. She also arranged for me to go to work with her at Claude’s, the new jazz hotspot on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, where she worked a 5:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. shift. Claude’s was a step-up in Mom’s waitressing work. It was 1959 and she was paid only $15 per week (6 nights), but on a good night she could make $25-$75 in tips. Besides the jazz, Claude had live lobster flown in daily. They arrived in wooden crates packed with ice. There were no rubber bands around their claws and they defended themselves by grabbing the tongs with which I poked them.

     I had to stay in the kitchen and out of the way, but other than the lobsters, my entertainment was Claude’s beatnik girlfriend, replete with long, dark hair that fell in a straight line to her shoulders, bangs and big glasses, straight skirts and a turtle neck sweater. And flats. No one wore athletic shoes in those days. Women either wore heels, or they wore loafers like Claude. Did I mention that Claude was a woman? A crop-haired lesbian of the men’s shirt and khaki variety. But her girlfriends were feminine, pretty . . . and smart. They toted slim volumes of poetry and were kind to me.

On slow nights, I got to sit on a chair outside the kitchen and listen to the music and people watch. I learned quickly not to compliment the women. “A tightwad,” Mom would say, “women are the worst tippers,” or, I might get, “She’s cheating on her husband with the saxophone player.” This person was a classmate’s mom. Worse was when she told me that an attractive man at the bar was not only married, but had a male lover. There was no room for crippling romance in my mom's life.

     Yes, my childhood education was nontraditional, so please forgive my eccentricities.

    Three major events occurred which changed my life and which were somewhat maternal. At least that’s how I choose to view them. Claude and her beatnik girlfriend came to our house one day with a gift for me: a subscription to National Geographic. While many people, celebrities and others, choose Santa Fe as their personal nirvana, I learned from that yellow-trimmed glossy that there were other destinations in the world and other ways of thinking. 


 Later, a good-looking young man, a "friend" of mom's, stopped at our home to drop off some LP’s: Gershwin, Ravel, Mozart. Mom played honky-tonk love songs; this music was new and complex. He was on his way to Spain to study flamenco. 

     I never told my mother about the bullying I endured in school, but even with her grueling schedule it became clear to her that I was scared to go to the local junior high. Mrs. Garcia lived three doors down from us and taught at a parochial school. She was stern and distant and kept her daughters in the house while I played baseball and hide-n-seek outside with her son. If I stayed too late at their house in the summer, I’d get trapped into having to kneel on the hardwood floors and say an entire rosary around the furnace grate with all nine of her kids. Somehow Mom worked it out with St. Anthony’s and Mrs. Garcia for me to attend 7th grade at a reduced tuition. I’d commute in with her in the morning. We never spoke. She didn’t smile.

     It was the best school year of my life in Santa Fe.

     American physicist, Joseph Henry:  The seeds of great discoveries are constantly floating around us, but they only take root in minds well prepared to receive them. 

Pino Daeni, Serendipity

     Writers ask "what if?" Of all the magazines one might choose to give a child, why did Claude and her lover give me a subscription to National Geographic? Why did the flamenco dancer give me those three albums? Mom was the only divorced woman on the block (which meant she couldn't receive communion)-did Mrs. Garcia hope Catholic school would save me from a disastrous future?  

      Who is the her mentioned in the title of this piece?  

      Serendipity prepared me for a different life. I've always thought that if I'd remained in Santa Fe, I would have died young. No future was tangible in my meager surroundings. My mother's youthful hopes and dreams had been squashed and she did nothing to foster any in me. With age and experience, I know now that it's possible I would have just stepped into my mother's shoes, maybe not as a waitress, but as some other hard-working female who never got to live her dreams. This would have been what my mom called "life" but for me it would have been death.                                                                                                 

This blog also appears in Latino Voices at the Huffington Post

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


            The only good thing about going to her daddy’s funeral in Texas, besides the prospect of an inheritance, was that Lydia’s foot was in a cast as the result of having a bunion on her little toe removed. Texans, especially old ones, liked to talk about their operations. If her stepmother got aggressive, there might even be a sympathetic reaction–Shirley versus the bereaved, disabled daughter.
            “The funeral is in two days,” Shirley called to say.  When Lydia didn’t react fast enough, she added, “Don’t feel like you need to come.”
            Just hearing that her daddy was dead had shot Lydia down a tunnel of recollection she hadn’t anticipated. The scent of daddy-hunting in the East Texas night saturated her senses, and wet heat–heavy with honeysuckle and cigarette smoke–tickled her nose. She’d been her mom’s sidekick while they searched honky-tonk parking lots for his pickup. Parking lots? More like hard-packed dirt and weeds. When her mom spotted his truck, she’d send six-year-old Lydia into the bar to get him.
            He was always happy to see her. “Well, sweetheart, look at you,” he’d say, and sit her on top of the bar and hand her a bag of Fritos and a Dr Pepper. All the drunks would say how pretty she was, and she’d forget about her momma sitting outside in the car.
            Lydia heard the flick of a lighter on the other end of the telephone. “I’ll be there,” she said to her stepmother. “My daddy and I had some good times.” She hung up and called her brother in Arizona to coordinate their defenses.
            “She was sweet to me when she called,” Bill said, a barely concealed smile in his voice. “Said Daddy’d be real pleased I showed my respect if he wasn’t so dead and finally, thank the Lord above, beyond pleasure.” He laughed, his breath coming in hiccups. “She didn’t say that last part.”
            “Yeah, you folks with the penises always get on the good side of Southern belles,” Lydia said. “She told me once that she didn’t think you looked a bit like daddy.”
            “Ouch! At least she didn’t ask me for my blood type.” Bill laughed harder.
            Long before her father entered the lingering death phase of his decline, Lydia had visited the lake house where he’d retired. She and her dad and Shirley watched an episode of Law & Order where paternity was an issue. Afterward, not only had her stepmother asked for her blood type, but her father had piped up equally eager for the info. “Cause mine is AB negative and there’s only certain outcomes with that.”
            I’m not a daughter. I’m an outcome, Lydia thought.
            She’d answered that she didn’t know her blood type, but when Lydia returned home to New Mexico, she’d immediately called her mother and asked if there was any chance her daddy wasn’t really her daddy.
            There was silence on the line for a split second, and then her mom railed about what a cheating bastard her ex-husband had been.  “He tried to take me to bed every time he came out here to visit you kids!” She went on to say that she’d wanted to leave him a year earlier than she did, but he’d deliberately gotten her pregnant with Lydia’s brother.
            “So, Bill is for real his kid then?”
            A long sigh followed by her mom slamming down the phone was her answer.
            “Well, he’s finally dead,” Lydia now said to her brother. “All that AB negative has been drained from his desiccated body.”
            “Don’t go dark on me, Sis.” Bill had been barely one-year-old when their parents divorced; he’d never been close to their daddy.
            “Could you hear her face twitching over the telephone?” Lydia asked. They always bonded over Shirley caricatures.
            “She’s taking meds for that now, but there’ve been some side effects.”
            “Oh, goody.”
            “Try to keep a straight face when she starts.”
            “I plan on talking about my toe.”      
            They coordinated arrival times so sharing a taxi from the hotel to the funeral home would be cheaper, and agreed not to waste more than a night out there.  The countdown began, and two days later they were both in the air on their way to East Texas.
            Lydia had to change planes at Love Field in Dallas. She’d done this countless times when visiting her father for summer vacation. The switch to a prop plane meant a trek across an airport that had been designed by people with no land or space constraints. Spread out and take what God delivers is how a Texan thought.
            She was able to play the disabled card and hitch a ride on an electric airport cart with some old ladies, all of whom wanted to know what happened to her foot. They tsk-tsked with delight when Lydia embellished the story, saying she’d been helping her husband in his tool shed when a power tool got away from her and lopped off her toe.
            “Almost got my whole foot!”
            When she told them she was on her way to her daddy’s funeral, one plump lady with glasses that magnified her eyes like an owl’s in moonlight patted her hand and said, “You poor thing. Well, funerals can run a person ragged. You just take it easy now.”
            Bill was already in the hotel bar when Lydia arrived, and they had time for a quick drink before the viewing.  He called a taxi while she changed into a suit and redid her lipstick. At the funeral home, people milled around telling stories on her daddy. Lydia didn’t see her stepmother, but recognized Shirley’s braying laugh from somewhere in the middle of the group.
            A skinny old man reeking of Eau de Lifetime Smoker cornered Lydia with a story about her daddy. “After Mel’s last stroke, he decided to take up golf. I don’t think he liked the game so much as driving that golf cart all over kingdom come.” People standing around them leaned in to hear.  One even cupped his ear.
            “ He drove that golf cart to the trash bins,” a man said. He paused to take a wheezy breath.  “And to the liquor store.” Laughter and nods.
             “Let me finish my story,” the skinny man said. “One morning I was late for our game and they told me in the pro shop that he’d already gone out.” The room grew quiet. “Sure nuff, I saw his cart but Mel was nowheres in sight. I walked around it, and there he was layin on the ground, lookin at me like he didn’t have a care in the world. He’d fell down and couldn’t get up. ‘Watcha doin there, Mel?’ I asked. ‘Takin a suntan,’ he said.”
            Everyone laughed, shaking their heads like they couldn’t believe how clever her daddy was, and then like the pop of a tick with a bellyful of blood, Shirley yelled across the room, “That golf cart is for sale if anyone’s interested.”
            The skinny man laughed hard and his face turned the color of scalded flesh. Lydia’s daddy had been red-skinned, too, and had a hooknose like a nickel-Indian, but his eyes were a flirty turquoise. He could also tell a good story on himself.
            After he’d had a series of strokes they’d hired a male nurse who wore a badly fitted wig. He’d bathe her daddy and massage his twisted muscles. He was a comforting addition to their lives until Shirley discovered that the man was gay.
            “She up and fired him,” Mel said when he told the story to Lydia.
            “He was a pervert!” Shirley said.  “He might have molested you.”
            Mel winked at Lydia. “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
            Now that was funny. And anyone who really knew the depth of her daddy’s hedonism couldn’t deny it. Lydia chose not to repeat the story, but remembering it made her smile, which the old folk took as permission to tell more of their PG tales. You can bet they knew more than they were saying in this mixed crowd. Shirley was his third wife, and no telling how many mistresses he’d had. He’d even gotten a vasectomy because of a paternity lawsuit.
            The preacher came up and introduced himself. “I want you to know that your daddy found Jesus before he went over,” Reverend Fuller said.
            “He prayed?” Lydia asked.
            A solemn nod. “He asked for forgiveness.”
            “Did he say for what? Specifically?”
            The preacher blinked hard. “For all his trespasses.” His lips formed a tight smile.
            “Did he mention his children, me or Bill?”
            Another blink. “No. He didn’t.”
            Lydia set her mouth in the exasperated line she’d learned from Shirley, one corner curled down. “Figures. Well, I want to take some pictures so I’m going in now.”
            “Oh, yes. Casket shots are a family tradition. Daddy had some good ones of his own daddy and of his granddaddy.” She tapped her cheek, eyes turned upward. “Come to think of it, when his granddaddy died they posed him sitting in a chair holding his favorite mutt. They couldn’t get the dog to sit still so they killed it and had it stuffed to make the sweetest photo you ever saw.”
            Satisfied with the preacher’s stunned silence, Lydia limped into the chapel dragging her cast in an exaggerated way while she circled the casket. She was disappointed that no one had mentioned her injury. She studied her father’s corpse and touched his crossed hands. She stroked his cheek.
            He still had some hair, but he was emaciated. Shirley must have starved him. His skin was mottled with liver spots and the mortician hadn’t captured his high ruddy flush. Powder and lipstick had been artlessly applied.
            Lydia focused her camera and took a dozen pictures from all angles. When she looked up the pews were filled with an assortment of country folk who stared at her with uncomfortable expressions. She took her time getting to her seat next to her brother and stepmother, making sure to scrape the carpet with her cast. Reverend Fuller stepped up to the podium.
            She didn’t hear him, or any of the others who spoke. Lydia stared at her father’s drugstore Indian profile trying to connect this strange stillness with her real daddy. During her parents’ marriage he’d treated her like a princess and she’d adored him. She became an afterthought when they split, but he’d promised her she could come live with him anytime. In the ninth grade, she took him up on the offer, much to Shirley’s dismay.
            “He told me I’d never have to be bothered with his children,” Shirley said one day in the bathroom. She’d caught Lydia using her sacred bubble bath. While she scolded her, Shirley’s facial tics rearranged her freckled skin in a Jekyll-to-Hyde time lapse, sweet country girl to evil queen.
            The rest of that school year had been marked by her daddy’s absences. When he was home the tension in the house rose. He drank more, and had even taught Lydia how to make his bourbon and water. But mostly he stayed away. The worst event happened one night when she’d been up late.  His car pulled into the driveway. Lydia switched off the light, but he’d seen it and came into her room.
            “Just reading,” she said when he checked on her. He felt her sweaty forehead and then bent down to kiss her goodnight. All normal stuff until he stuck his pointed tongue in her mouth. It was just a split-second, but Lydia tasted the bourbon. He looked ashamed of himself when he rushed out the door. He never apologized for his behavior. For Lydia, his shame was a sign of love.
            The speeches celebrating her maybe father ended, and her stepmother stood up and announced that his boat and all his guns were for sale.
            Bill and Lydia accepted condolences and said goodbye to people they didn’t know and would never see again. At the end of it there was only the three of them. Shirley hustled over to her Cadillac without looking back.  Before she could get in, Bill asked her for a ride to the hotel.
            “Well, I’m kind of in a hurry. There’s potluck and pound cake waiting for me back at the lake house.”
            There was no hint in her voice that they were invited. Lydia’s foot throbbed. No one had asked about it. An official-looking man came up and expressed his sorrow over their loss again. He handed Lydia a card, which announced that he was Ned Byrnes, Funeral Director.          
            “This was the best funeral I’ve ever been to, Ned,” Lydia said, “I hope you’ll do the same for Shirley when her time comes.”
            Ned blushed. Bill’s lips parted. Shirley's Adam’s apple bobbed three times.
            “I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve been on my feet, foot, and it really hurts. We’ll call a taxi.” Lydia dug through her purse for her cell, and was surprised to see a tear plop down on the back of her hand. She hadn’t planned on crying. “My toe is gone,” she said to no one in particular. “It was just no good, but I loved it, y’know?”
            “It didn’t do much for you, but you were attached to it,” Bill said. He didn’t smile.
            “Yeah, now there’s just an empty space. No more possibilities.”
            “Meg in the choir lost her whole foot,” Shirley said. “Her voice has never been the same.” The corner of her mouth twitched once, twice and then just kept going so fast that Lydia lost count.
            Ned offered to give them a lift, but all of a sudden it was as if Shirley was on fire for them to get in the car. “We’ll manage just fine,” she said, her facial calisthenics so pronounced that poor Ned averted his eyes and scurried off.
            Lydia took a deep breath and tried to open the front passenger door. It was locked. “Oh,” Shirley said, and clicked a button at the same moment Lydia tried to open the door again, thereby nullifying the unlock command. The two women continued a furious volley and return of electronic bad timing. Shirley’s mouth-twitches progressed to neck spasms. It was probably time for her medication.
            “No one move,” Bill said. He stepped over to the car door and reached through the open window to manually unlock it and then got in the backseat.
            A truck pulled up alongside the Caddy. Inside were three ladies from Shirley’s church. “We’ll see you two out at the lake house, I hope?”
            The corner of Shirley’s mouth tugged down and stayed there, strangely still. “They’re headed back to their hotel, Ida Mae.”
            “You come on out to Shirley’s and try my apple pie now. I’ll give you a lift back to the hotel later.”
            A ghastly, and yet satisfying, array of facial tics hop-scotched across her stepmother’s face. “Of course, they’ll come. See ya there!”
            She lit a cigarette as soon as the windows were up and the a/c on. No one spoke. Once they turned off the main highway, the road was mostly one-lane, winding and unpaved. The lake house was small, but the yard in front of it was huge and packed with cars. The sound of laughter and the smell of cigarette smoke and barbeque greeted them. An American flag flew at half-mast outside.
            The crowd greeted the three of them as if they were a family.
            Everything inside looked the same. Same olive-green appliances, same vinyl couch. Lydia eased her way down the hall toward the bathroom, but got sidetracked by a small group gathered in the guest bedroom.            
            “You must have been very proud of your father!” a man said. There was no trace of irony in his eyes.  “Have you seen the memorial Shirley set up?  She’s been working on it for years.”
            A table was pushed against the wall and in the middle of it was a triangular box with a glass front.  Inside, another flag was folded military fashion.  A photo of her daddy in full dress uniform smiled out at her, his turquoise eyes sparkling. He was handsome. He was happy. He was a heartbreaker.  A picture of a youthful Shirley sat next to his.  She posed like a movie queen with her head tilted to the side and her hair falling in waves. She’d been pretty.
            The man pointed to another case with lots of ribbons and medals. “Two purple hearts.”  He looked at the others.  “C’mon folks, let’s leave the child to her memories.”
            “My daddy was a cook in the Marines,” Lydia said as they left the room.  She’d seen his war album. There were pictures of dead men in the Philippine jungle and of naked girls bathing in mud holes. All the pictures of her daddy showed him peeling potatoes or stirring a huge pot. A cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth was a permanent fixture.
            Her daddy was no hero.
            “Oh, there you are,” Shirley said. She came in and stood officiously by the table, as if she were a tour guide. “Your daddy lost or misplaced most of these medals during his roving days.” Her neck muscles spasmed with disapproval.  Lydia knew that by roving her stepmother meant the early years of her parents’ marriage, when they’d traveled the South together and lived in a silver Airstream trailer.  Bill came into the room. 
            “Did you know Daddy was a war hero?”
            “Why no!” he said, pleasant as he could be. “This is a surprise.”
            “Well, he most certainly was!” Shirley’s eyes were dry and bitter. She looked away from them and at the pictures of her young self and her young future husband. Her expression softened. “It took me a long time to get all this together,” she said, the stridency gone from her voice, her twitches quiet.
            Lydia felt a rising panic. It was urgent that the lying stop. “He didn’t–”
            “Friends warned me about him . . . about the women.” Shirley looked in their direction, but it wasn’t them she was seeing. A quiver started at the corner of her mouth. “I loved him and that’s the end to it.” The tremble stopped and she walked out of the room.
            Lydia and Bill stared quietly at the memorial.  Over the noise of the wake, they heard Shirley get back to business.  “Maybe someone can tell me what these fishing rods are worth,” she shouted.  “Mel said they were like magic wands that drew the fish to the hook.”
            “You okay, Sis?”
            “Those rods were good.”
            “They had magic,” Bill said.
            “No. It was him. He was the magician. Look at the turnout he got.”
            Bill pointed with his chin at the medals. “They’re probably Chinese knockoffs.”
            “He lied to her.”
            “Maybe he did you a favor by staying out of your life?” Bill watched Lydia with soft eyes. “It’s okay to love him. He’s your dad.”
            “Is he? Really?”
            “He’s what you got.”
 “You think Shirley would let me have one of the medals?”  
 “That Purple Heart would look good on a jean jacket.”
Lydia punched Bill on the shoulder and then leaned against him. He wrapped an arm around he. She focused on the photo of her father and his young smiling face, all his sins in an unplanned future.
“My Hero,” she whispered. She loved her daddy and that was the end to it.

Appeared in the Bacopa Literary Review, 2015