My father had just got home from his Sunday morning golf game for which he had had to get up at 5:45. His routine upon walking in the door was to grab the Times sports section and make a beeline for the bedroom. My mother would then slide into high gear, throwing our lunch dishes into the sink, whisking perishables right from under us and putting them into the refrigerator, and then, leaving the kitchen pretty much a mess, announce to us at large, her brood of four, that she and my father were “going in for a nap.” This particular Sunday, as soon as she was out of earshot, Tony, the oldest of us, a high school senior, said, “They’re going to fuck.” He turned on the Jets game on the TV.

Max, at eleven the youngest of us, replied, “You’re crazy. Who would want to have sex with Dad? His breath is unbelievable. Every time he tries to kiss me I give him the top of my head.”

“Yeah, well, Mom’s no bargain,” Joanna responded. “Did you see how the fat on her arms jiggles? If I were Dad, I’d puke.”

“What about my arms?” said Mom as she came striding back into the kitchen, dressed in the unflattering Japanese bathrobe which several years ago Allison had dubbed Mom’ love robe, because she hypothesized Mom wore it around the room to excite Dad. The four of us burst into laughter.

Mom stared at us. “What’s so funny?” she asked, her hands pugnaciously placed on her hips. But you could tell she really wasn’t interested because without waiting for an answer she told us we were making way too much noise for her and Dad to fall asleep and that we should, “Either take it outside or watch TV in the family room. We got you guys the biggest screen in the neighborhood, and nobody watches the damn thing.”

“It’s not a family room. It’s a fucking basement,” said Max.

“It’s yucky down there, Mom,” said Joanna. “There’s all these spiders and bugs.”

Family room was an exaggeration. The new TV was too big for any other room in the house, so my mother put it down the basement along with the kind of indestructible wall-to-wall carpeting meant for commercial office space.

“Alright, then go outside and play. It’s a beautiful day.” She clapped her hands. “Chop, chop, out of here.”

Hands still on hips, she waited in the doorway till, like a reluctant herd that realizes it has no alternative, we began migrating toward the steps to the basement. “Mom,” I said, “lose the bathrobe. It is so lame.”

“If you really want to know, this robe is pure Japanese silk and cost over $250 at Nordstrum’s,” she retorted. “Your father loves it.”

With that, she turned on her heel and scooted back toward her bedroom. “Oh, dad loves it,” said Joanna.

We turned on the new TV and Tony found the Jets game which only he and Max wanted to watch. Joanna and I leapt on Tony, trying to wrest the remote from him, but the conflict was suddenly made moot by an astonishing noise that came from the grate directly above our heads. For an instant it reminded me of the owl that roosted above the chimney at my grandparents’ house in Scottsdale, whose hoots would suddenly fill the living room with a sound so present, so intense, it was as if the owl were perched on the back of the sofa.

This sound started softly, “Oh, oh, oh…,” as if someone, a woman, were suffering. It subsided for a moment, then started again, a little louder, a little more intense. “Oh, Oh, Ohhh….”

“What the fuck is that?” said Sam.

We stopped scuffling over the remote and froze. Now the sound was gaining in speed, rhythm, pitch and decibels. “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!” It clearly was building to something, like the rumble of an earthquake; and the four of us, absolutely still and silent, waited for the climax of we knew not what. It, or should I say my mother, came with a long, startled shout – “Oh, oh, oh, ohhhhhh!” Then there was a delighted gale of laughter.

We stared at each other in silence, switching our glance from sibling to sibling as if therein might lie the answer to the mystery of what exactly we had just heard. Finally, Max said, “What was that?”

“Do you think Dad’s hurting her?” asked Joanna. “Maybe we should call the police.”

Tony chuckled scornfully. “That’s an orgasm, you idiots. That’s what a woman sounds like when she comes.”

“Women don’t have orgasms,” said Joanna.

“Yes, they do, I read it in Seventeen,” I said.

“Have you ever had one, Allie?” Max asked.

I hadn’t, but before I had a chance to answer, Mom started again. “Oh…oh…oh…”

“Jesus, here she goes again,” said Tony.

“I’m getting out of here.” Joanna got up and headed toward the stairs.

“Wait,” said Max, “don’t go.” He sounded pained, unhappy, as if he didn’t want to be left alone. Joanna, just twenty months older, has always played mother hen to Max. She turned around and sat on the chair next to him. And the four of us sat there for what seemed like forever and listened to my mother go through what must have been half a dozen climaxes.

The next Sunday afternoon found us once again down in the family room watching the Jets game, Max and Tony because they wanted to and Joanna and I because Tony’s friends, the good-looking Lewin brothers, were over. Somehow we had rather quickly – I guess kids are able to do that – put the sounds of our parents’ having sex behind us; so we were taken quite by surprise when we heard the first of my mother’s “Ohs.”

Tony and I looked at each other. I was horrified that the Lewin brothers would be aural witnesses to my mother’s wanton sexuality. Tony shrugged, as if to say, nothing we can do. Joanna jumped up. “I hate this stupid game. Who wants chocolate chip ice cream.” She made for the stairs, but Robby Lewin said, “Wait, what the hell was that?” His head was cocked like a hunting dog’s. The sound came again, louder, more urgent. “Oh! Oh!”

“It’s my parents having sex,” said Max.

“Holy shit,” said Jason Lewin. “What a whore!”

“Fuck you, Lewin,” said Tony. “I’m sure your mother does the same thing.”

“Our parents don’t even sleep in the same room anymore,” said Robby.

“Come on, it’s almost half time. Let’s go up and throw around the football,” said Tony. He started up the stairs, Joanna following. They stopped when the rest of us didn’t move.

“I’m not going anywhere,” said Robby. “This is fucking amazing.”

Word spread, not among my, Joanna’s or Max’s friends. But Tony was eighteen, at an age when he and all the other high school seniors discussed each other’s mothers in the most graphic sexual terms. Our mother, which was beyond me, was considered, despite her jiggly arms, a primo M.I.L.F., mother I’d like to fuck. And so the next Sunday afternoon, carload after carload of post-pubescent teenaged males dropped by the house.

At first, Tony tried to stem the tide, but his friends arrived two and three at a time, each with a six-pack of beer. “Come on, Halpern,” they’d say, “You got the best TV in Tenafly.” Or, “You let the Lewins in.” Or, “I showed you my mother’s vibrator collection.”

This time when the first of my mother’s “Ohs,” made its way through the grate, everyone was already listening. All chatter instantly faded away. I looked over at Tony and his eyes were closed, as if he simply couldn’t bear what was going on, as if he were betraying his own mother. I went over and sat next to him and slung my arm over his shoulder. “It’s okay,” I said. “Next weekend we’ll just go over to Aunt Ellen’s and hang out.” He nodded as if this were a good idea.

By this time, my mother was about mid-way through her string of half a dozen orgasms and the goat-boys (that’s what I called teen-aged boys back then, because to me their rooms always smelled vaguely of goat) had gathered directly below the grate, tittering and guffawing. Looking back at it, I am certain that several of them had erections. One of the largest, roughest-looking of the boys, a friend of a friend of Tony’s whom I had never seen before, was reaching up as if trying somehow to take off the grate. Tony stood up and came toward him.

“Alright, Zig, cut it the fuck out,” he said. I was scared because the boy was so much bigger and sturdier-looking than Tony. Suddenly, there was a small explosion, a sharp snapping sound, and I realized that Zig, or whatever the hell his name was, had pushed a lit firecracker up into the grate. With that there was a sudden cascade of stomping across my parents’ bedroom, then a door being yanked open, and then the angry sound of my father’s voice preceding his appearance at the top of the stairs. “What the hell is going on down there!”

I can only imagine what it was like looking down at the dozen or so of us gathered in the basement below, a mangy collection of pimply, orthodented, shaggy-haired teens, caught in the act, frozen. What a painting it would make, something in the style of a Steen or a Vermeer.

From my point of view, there was something both comical and sad about my dad. Not realizing there were kids in the house other than his own, he had barged out of his bedroom with nothing but a pillow held in front of his crotch. “All of you, out! Right now!” He singled out Tony with his glance and shook his back and forth with grave disappointment.

Poor Tony. He said, “Alright, guys, you gotta go.” His friends trooped up the stairs past my father, who stared pointedly at each and every one of them, which caused them all to avert their faces, all, that is, except Zig, the last one up the steps. Zig stared back at my father, stopping right next to him and looking him up and down. He was at least a half a foot taller than my 5’ 7” father, broad-shouldered and powerfully built. “Nice outfit,” he mumbled, then shuffled toward the front door with an insolent, unhurried gait.

My father turned, slipping the pillow from in front of his crotch to cover his behind as he headed back into the bedroom. A short time later he came out dressed neatly in khakis and a golf sweater, his hair wet from the shower and parted at the side. The set of his face was tense, serious. “Tony,” he called out, “Can I see you in the den right now.” There wasn’t the usual irony in his voice at having occasionally to act like a traditional parent meting out discipline.

There wasn’t any hollering or yelling coming from the den, just every now and then a loud, muffled phrase or two coming from my father, nothing from Tony. After about a half hour or so, Tony came trudging out, his head slumped, his eyes cast toward the floor. He closed the door behind him. My father didn’t appear again till dinner time, at which point he and my mother immediately left for Sunday night buffet at the golf club. We the children were not, as we almost always were, invited to join them.

I followed Tony to his room and hung around in the doorway while he picked up the phone and dialed a number. “Allie, get out of here,” he shouted over his shoulder. “And close the door.” I pushed the door till it was an inch or two from being shut, then retreated about a yard down the hallway.

“Hey, Robby,” I heard him say. Robby must have said something like I’m sorry because Tony suddenly shouted, “You should be fucking sorry. That Zig is a fucking asshole! My father’s going to call the police and tell ‘em the guy’s got fireworks in his car.” I heard him slam down the phone then start to cry, big convulsive sobs. “Fucking, cock-sucking asshole.”

I tiptoed back into the doorway and just stood there, listening to my big brother weep. It was more upsetting than seeing my mother cry, which she did from time to time when talking about her deceased parents.

For several days after, my parents were silent and grim during mealtime. They seemed only to speak to us if we addressed them first, or if they were ordering us to take our coat out of the kitchen, or put out the garbage. But my Thursday things began to ease a bit, and Friday my mother drove Max and Joanna and me and two of our friends to the 12-plex out on the highway. My mother seemed her old self again, changing stations on the radio every time a new song came on and asking us how we could stand listening to that crap. Still, I had the feeling that we somehow had not properly atoned for the Sunday afternoon incident and that it would come back to haunt us. And I was right.

Mom picked us up at the 12-plex after the movie. As we reached the crest of the little rise just before we came to our driveway, we were greeted by the flashing red light of a police car. It was parked on the wrong side of the street, right in front of our house. “Jesus,” my mother said, sucking in her breath as we pulled into the driveway.

Two policemen were talking to my father on the front stoop. “Tony’s in the hospital,” he announced as we approached. “He was in a fight.”

My mother ordered us into the house with our friends, and the policemen drove my parents to Valley Hospital. It was agony trying to keep calm among my younger siblings and their friends. Joanna wouldn’t stop crying. She was shaking and her face was pale. She went upstairs and got her blanket, which she had pretty much abandoned two years ago, and held the corner of it to her mouth. She kept on asking, “Is he going to be okay, Allie? What if he’s dead?”

“Shut up!” I yelled at her, much too loudly, much too meanly. But her fear was contagious and I couldn’t stand not knowing what was going on with my brother.



At 4:49 PM, Blogger Jimmie Lynne said...

I stumbled upon this blog by accident and was sucked in. I can't wait to read the conclusion of this story.


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