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“The Assembly”

The Assembly

Yellow is hard. And Mina knows her colors. A good eye — the customers always said so. Twice she had her husband Marvin paint their old living room yellow. The first time, too gold; the second, too lemony — she lived with it.

But here, in these two rooms, well, they’ve gotten it perfect, her son and daughter-in-law. Even her old furniture seems relaxed. The mahogany sideboy under one dormer window. Her bookcase under another — all she needs. She’s begun to crochet again. And she has her dog. Her radio. But no television That she goes down stairs for. Sits with them — her son, his wife, her grandson.

And, of course, she’s with them for meals — her daughter-in-law takes such pains. It’s getting better. She can’t deny it. Not quite as awkward. She’s learning. If she looks down into the garden and sees Rose picking the last of the mums, she goes downstairs, watches her filling a vase, talks about the colors. Says how good the flowers look on the mantle. It isn’t much, but something: it’s only been three months.

The only one who took to it naturally is her grandson. “Grandma’s coming to live with us? Cool!” That’s what her son told her the boy had said. Jason, God bless his dark brows, like those of her sisters, and, of course, her brother . . . she’s never told anyone that’s what she sees in him. He stands, now, in the dormer window, luminous with youth-on-the-cusp. His eyes innocent that he’s committed the worst sort of betrayal: that done with purity of heart.

“Will you do it, Grandma?”


“Come to the assembly?”

“You told them I would?”

“I told them I’d ask.”

“What did your teacher say?”

“Mr. Fitzhugh is in charge of minority month. He teaches physics. I’m not into physics.”

Looking up at him, she knows he’s little more than a bundle of adolescent urges, but, still, he retains enough sweetness to break Mina’s heart. Her son and daughter-in-law have pinned such hopes on him — as if Mina, herself, weren’t reminder enough that the future has less substance than smoke.

Every six weeks a report comes from the private school with a Latin motto and serpentine walks. A gloom settles over the house, floats up to Mina’s yellow rooms. Her son Gary, the boy’s father, will make that clicking noise with his tongue, and her daughter-in-law’s face, cheerful at the dinner table, will collapse at the counter. The grades aren’t bad, but not good enough for the college the boy’s sister attends. The boy himself will shoot baskets off the garage until his father calls, saying the neighbors will complain.

“Well, what did this Mr. Fitzhugh say?”

“He said he understands.”

Mina thinks no one named Fitzhugh could ever understand. “When does he have to know?”

“I forgot to ask.”

She pushes herself up from her chair. All about are tokens of the life she lived as wife and mother: herself and Marvin on a cruise; the weddings of their daughters; Gary’s medical school graduation: Marvin, on one side, Rose, not Mina, on the other.

“Do you think the boys will want to hear?”

“Well, yeah . . . I mean it’s like they have to be there any way. It’s an assembly, you know.”

“An assembly for the Holocaust?”

“Well, . . yeah. They have one every year. It’s Minority Month.”

“Every year they have an assembly for the Holocaust?”

“Just about.”

“And someone comes to talk?”

“Well, sometimes. Sometimes they just show a movie or something.” She knows he doesn’t mean the flippancy of that “something.” But, still, these assaults at unguarded moments, none passes without exacting its toll.

“I better walk Romeo before it gets dark.” Her dyspeptic fluff of a dog lies on a princely pillow. Such a seductive lassitude has taken hold of her in these high yellow rooms she fears she’ll surrender her remaining time to watching clouds.

“Is it cold outside?’ From the folded stack in the right-hand corner of her top dresser drawer, she takes an olive and gold scarf. Before she steps out, she will need to reassure herself in the foyer mirror that its stripes echo the persimmon of her jacket.

“A little . . . maybe . . . I don’t know.” The boy is massaging the sweet spot behind the dog’s ears. Each of their her children had Marvin’s reddish hair and blue eyes, but in this boy, so caught in the long and painful birth of his manhood, she sees in his dark, sweeping brows the youthful beauty by which she survived.