Gazing at ninety-five percent of herself in the very top of the bathroom mirror, I ♥ NY for Her resisted the trouble of kicking off her heels. She considered the advantages of being able to tease the top of her hair while actually looking at it. Knowing she could do it blindly, she savored the challenge. Just like Dad, she thought to herself. Just do it.
She paused for a moment to look at her reflection critically. She had her father’s warm, dark eyes and impressive height. What about her cheekbones? Were they his? She looked out into the hallway to compare herself to his picture, hanging over the staircase. Unable to see it, she finally kicked off her shoes, losing 3.5 inches of height and gaining several times as much on the opposing wall.
She looked back at the mirror. She could see him. Beneath the dusting of classy rouge and the glossy pink lipstick, she could see the muscles that used to flex over his cheekbones when the calls came in. She tightened her lips, the way his used to tighten before he turned away. She almost retreated from a thought – that what she saw in the mirror was exactly the same thing that made men lose their smiles when her tone turned serious. If it was, she knew that it was too deep a part of her to ever be parted with.
Her thoughts were interrupted as her kid sister, Celine Barel’s Graffiti, barged into the bathroom. I ♥ NY for Her tried not to show her displeasure on her face, but it was too late. Her stomach clenched, waiting for the dominoes to start falling.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“So – is mind-reading included in the ‘artistic personality’ now?”
I ♥ NY for Her immediately regretted saying it. Thoughts of apology swirled, but they couldn’t form into words in time.
“Hey – you don’t have to be a mind-reader to know that being a bitch ALWAYS comes with the… commercial… personality.”
Graffiti double-quoted “commercial” with two fingers on each hand. I ♥ NY for Her felt the delinquent fingernails dig in like daggers with the word “whore” inscribed in their blades.
“Why don’t you just go back down to Wall Street and sleep with your little friends?”
“Yeah. Well I’d rather be sleeping ON Wall Street than sleeping WITH Wall Street.”
I ♥ NY for Her wasn’t sure if she meant her old lover Wall Street, or her new beau, New York Oud, who merely worked there. It didn’t matter. She answered for both.
“You don’t even know him. What gives you the right to judge him?”
She waited for the response. Her sister smoldered. And then she erupted. Like a rifle.
“What do you think Dad would have to say about your new squeeze? I mean, after he checked the terror watch list.”
I ♥ NY for Her was done dancing around.
“You little bitch. I can’t believe it. You pal around with all your liberal friends, and then you cut on my boyfriend because of race? God – I have NEVER met such a hypocritical…”
“Oh yeah? Who are you calling hypocrite?”
They both turned and looked into the hallway at the exact same moment. The way their heads moved identically almost seemed to belie their grievances. I ♥ NY for Him looked at them seriously. He tried to use his gaze and uniform to make them stop fighting, the way their father seemed to have done.
He couldn’t quite pull off the old man. The new cool of the rookie cop wasn’t quite the same as the old warmth of the veteran firefighter. I ♥ NY for Her tried to help him out.
“Sorry. Just girl talk.”
Graffiti said nothing. But something smoldered within her. She couldn’t help herself.
“So what do you think of her new ‘boyfriend’?”
He tried not to fall for it. He let his uniform do half the talking.
“It’s not my place to judge him.”
“What? Does he have too much money to say what you really think? ‘Cause I know what you really think.”
I ♥ NY for Him gave up.
“You know – if you can’t get along with the rest of civilized society, why don’t you just do like your sister says and go sleep it off on Wall Street?”
“Great. Mr. Normal to the rescue. You’re just like all the rest of the blue meanies. Some brother you are. You can’t even be honest with yourself.”
A response boiled up within him, but it disappeared like a vapor with the tap of a finger on his shoulder.
Their mother, Bond no.9 Signature Perfume, was standing behind him. Once he realized it, he backed away as if he was preparing to salute.
She didn’t have to say anything. She was dressed to go out to her fundraiser. Her gold, shiny dress made her seem brittle in her beauty, but the gathering over one shoulder and the taut muscles in her legs and arms gave her the look of an ancient warrior. With calm precision, she began sorting through her purse.
“I ran into Mrs. Swarovski again today.”
She let that sink in. They all knew. Their father had saved Mr. Swarovski from the South Tower. It was in all likelihood the last rescue he ever made. Having lost all her family in World War II, his final act for the old lady had almost seemed like an act of God.
“It’s weird. I’m always running into her. Sometimes I think she’s stalking me.”
She paused – then she looked at her eldest daughter.
“Anyway, she congratulated me on my new son-in-law. You know how she is – always the joker. But I’m pretty sure she wasn’t joking when she called him a ‘class act’.”
You could have heard a pin drop.
“I don’t think that woman has ever had an unkind word for anybody. It’s funny. She always says your father was her angel, but sometimes I think it’s the other way around.”
Nobody said a thing. The mother of them all looked at the wall over the staircase. The black-framed portrait of I ♥ NY for All owned the house.
With that, she closed her purse, kissed her son on the cheek, and left. The girls knew why he, and he alone, got a kiss every time she left.
They stood like statues as the door closed behind her. Nobody dared to break the holy silence.
At last, I ♥ NY for Her turned to the mirror and began applying her pink lipstick. Grafitti stood next to her and looked at herself. For a moment the younger woman tried to stand up straight – a wilder, unkempt version of her big sister. As she brushed her hair back, behind the collar of her jean jacket, a streak of garish pink paint was revealed on her ear. All three children looked at the younger one’s right hand, as she held it up in front of her face. The knuckles of her spraying fingers were covered in gaudy globs of congealed pink paint.
I ♥ NY for Her laughed and put her hand on her sister’s shoulder. Her little sister posed comically in the mirror, showing off the day-glow streak of paint like she was modeling a designer earring.
The older one then took her lipstick and drew a big heart on the mirror, surrounding both of their reflections. I ♥ NY for Him shook his head, grinned, and walked away.
The girls looked at each other in the mirror and smiled at the exact same moment. The shade of the older one’s lipstick and the younger one’s paint matched perfectly.
“You know,” the elder said to the younger, “I think we may have found our colors.”
People have asked me to tell them if any of the nine IFF art fragrances I smelled ever makes it to market.
Not sure if Celine Barel’s Graffiti will ever make it to the big time, but her sister sure did.
And maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.