Circa 1980, back from college on break, I took my 53 year old mother to the midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show in my hometown. In the car she flashed me her lacy bra peeking from her unbuttoned plus size floral tunic, shimmying her bosom and smirking at the look on my face before buttoning up again.
The Channel 7 news team was at the theater, and Mom intoned, mock-voice-over, “Fans of all ages flocked to the contemporary cult classic…” But no one else there looked over 25; the generations didn’t mix it up as much back then. Gray perm and shelf hips notwithstanding—even back in grade school kids always thought she was my grandmother– she was the perfect audience, probably the only one who understood all the allusions. After all, Lily St. Cyr was born way back in 1918.
Neither of us jumped into the aisle to do the Time Warp, but I could tell she wanted to. She had a way of laughing that was like how some people cry—with her whole body. Everyone always smiled when my mother laughed, which was a lot of the time.
As we walked to the car she took umbrage with the critics who dismissed one young Susan Sarandon’s performance. “Her eyes are very expressive. She’s gonna go places.”
She went on to compare the male characters with guys I liked in high school. The many Brads, the one Frank and two Rockies were obvious. We clashed over Eddie—I said there were no Eddies in my history; she said there were at least three. “I heard Ninja Star Nun-chuks is in jail right now,” she said. “And Skateboard Steve definitely shoplifted you that mood ring. And Pig-Pen…”– who had once left indelible dusty handprints all over my white French cut T-shirt–“…wasn’t he busted for …”
“Why must you remind me?” I was newly engaged, and smug. I thought only, and constantly, about my perfect fiancé, how much in love I was, how perfectly he smoothed over my ruffled past.
“Just trying to keep you humble,” she said.
I scratched my nose—she always made it itch when she annoyed me.
She caught me. “Aha—I see I still have the power.”
I deflected. “Well, what about the criminologist-narrator? I never dated him.” Ha-ha: he was old and irrelevant. As I said it I realized that he, the foil, a disembodied, judgmental scientific explainer, reminded me of someone…my father-in-law-to-be. Then I realized he also reminded me, just the tiniest bit, of my father-in law’s son, my own fiancé.
I held my breath, discreetly dragging my hand across my nose.
She paused. “He was quite the know-it-all,” she finally said.
I suddenly remembered her saying of one of the Eddies, (Skateboard Steve?) that one day I needed to match up with someone (even) smarter than I was. I’d said she’d sounded sexist and she’d said no, her advice was specific to me.
As I exhaled, she added, “How ‘bout them guns on that Rocky?”
And then she laughed and I smiled.
Julie Benesh has been published in Tin House Magazine, Bestial Noise: A Tin House Fiction Reader, Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Gulf Stream, Berkeley Fiction Review, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Bridge, Green Briar Review, and other places. Her work has earned an Illinois Arts Council Grant and a Pushcart nomination. Julie has an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson College, lives in Chicago with two cats and a lot of books, and works a day job as a professor and at a school of psychology.