The Edge of the Edge

My mother likes driving in the rain. Last year, when she was preparing me for my road test, we only went out on gray days. Days the sky hung so low it looked like we might drive right into it. Days that made morning feel like late afternoon. Days like today.

But today I am not in the driverís seat, and Iím not with my mother. Sheís at home, probably singing to her ficuses and steaming bright yellow squash until the kitchen smells like a vegetarian restaurant. Going about her usual routine without noticing Iíve been gone all morning. She always sings to the plants around lunchtime. A habit she picked up from her father. He used to run a burlesque theatre on the Lower East Side before retiring to Las Vegas. Now he teaches part time at the clown college out there. My grandfather is a clown.

It comes in handy, though. Before my grandmother died - breast cancer, but we werenít allowed to say it like that. We called it the edge. Anyway, after Grandma got the edge, my grandfather painted roses on her face every day for six months and wrote little skits for us to perform in her hospital room at Sister Mary Immaculate. He took out his ukulele and made up songs about getting his fingers inside the habits of the nuns who changed Grandmaís IV tubes. This is how it goes in my family. We can talk more easily about sex with nuns than about the edge.

I was trying to explain this to Raj on the way into the clinic. Raj is my boyfriend and driver today. Smart as a whip, my grandmother would have called him. Sheíd have liked him even though heís not Jewish. Heís going to Harvard next year. Iím not sure what Iím doing yet. My grades are kind of pathetic, but I play a killer oboe. In my wildest fantasies I form an all-girl oboe band. We wear sexy dresses with slits up the side, sunglasses, and always tell the press weíre bisexual so everyone wants to have sex with us. Not that Iím going to be having sex with anyone but Raj, but if I were Iíd know how to get it. Iíd use my oboe. Everybody wants to have sex with musicians. Iím telling you, you should have seen some of those nuns in Grandmaís hospital room when Grandpa picked up his ukulele.

I seduced Raj with my oboe, playing him Beach Boys songs. This was before he grew his hair to his shoulders, and I made him dye it blond, which is amazing for a guy from Bombay. He looks sort of like Jesus, if Jesus wore puka beads and called everyone dude. He, Raj not Jesus, was waiting for me when it was all over, giant white teeth shining against his beautiful brown skin. In one hand he held a box of lemon Girl Scout cookies, in the other a silver balloon that said ďHappy Birthday Hilda.Ē It was the only one they had in the store, he told me, since my name isnít Hilda, itís Amy. Iím named after my motherís best friend who was one of the original Rockettes. She died a week before I was born. A freak accident. In the middle of teaching ballet class she tripped over a pair of tights and cracked her head against the mirror. You canít make this up, right? Iím telling you, if I had a whole week, a month even, I couldnít explain why my mother still keeps Amyís ballet slippers zip-locked in plastic at the bottom of her closet, although itís easier to see how I got her name. My mother told me Jews always name babies after the newly dead. It has something to do with the old soul being re-born into the new body, which sounds more like Hinduism to me.

Raj must have had the box of cookies and balloon hidden in the back of his fatherís Jeep since the whole thing took less than an hour. When the doctor turned on the machine my throat swelled up. I couldnít breathe. Then I felt the scraping. My stomach bucked in cramps as bad as any period I can remember. The entire time I kept my jaw clenched and listened to my grandfatherís ukulele. I made up a song about Doctor Luden. The words went like this: Dr. Luden wears green hospital pants/But he ainít wearing any underpants. Before long, I was sipping grape juice from a paper cup as I stepped into my jeans.

The worst part is I canít have sex for a few weeks and I love having sex with Raj, especially those final moments before he loses it and he canít stop shouting, ďIím riding you, baby, Iím riding you!Ē Itís a total rush, like Iím controlling his words through his dick. But I cannot, I will not, think about his dick. Not for a few weeks, but whenever you try and not think about something itís always worse.

When Grandma was nearing the end, the edge of the edge, when she was nothing but plastic tubes and red dots on the respirator, my grandfather used to tell me not to think about the pink elephant. Every time I said, ďPink elephant? There is no such thing as a pink elephant.Ē But when I closed my eyes I saw packs of them dancing around the white hospital room.

Itís not pink elephants I see as Raj turns down my block. He sees it, too. In the driveway, my mother, my father, and my sister Sophie huddle together, their faces stern and sorrowful. That little bitch Sophie must have been listening to Raj and me on the telephone and told them everything. Iíd like to boot her off a Park Avenue terrace. That was how the singer she was named for bought it after being canned from a Sondheim musical - all the alcohol had ruined her award-winning soprano.

But thatís not important right now. Not with my entire family standing in the driveway, looking like theyíre ready to pounce. Raj turns on the radio, and I swear what comes out is Brian Wilson singing, Wouldnít it be nice if we were older? Wouldnít it be nice? He, Raj not Brian Wilson, is so corny sometimes, but maybe it would be nice if we were older and he wasnít going off to Harvard and we hadnít just crossed three different counties so I could get rid of his baby.

Above us the thunder cracks, pushing the sky a few inches lower. I canít help but wonder what old soul chose to be re-born into our babyís body. I look over at Raj tapping his palms against the steering wheel. He turns to me, his eyes hanging low as the clouds. I want to throw my arms around him, only my family is now planted in the middle of the street as if they were trying to construct a human wall.

Raj flashes me a sly smile, his sex smile, but I know heís not thinking sex. No, I know exactly what heís thinking. ďKick it, dude!Ē I say, and he guns his fatherís Jeep in reverse, skids into a turn, and then floors it. In the rearview mirror, I see my mother, my father, and my sister Sophie scramble towards the car, and Brian Wilson is eclipsed by my grandfatherís ukulele. Heís singing a song about Raj and me as we drive off into my motherís kind of sky.