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‘Miss Aluminum,’ by Susanna Moore: An Excerpt | Press "Enter" to skip to content

‘Miss Aluminum,’ by Susanna Moore: An Excerpt

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My aunt was tall and slender. Her black hair, already turning gray, was kept in a neat bob that reached her chin. As she was from that mysterious place called the mainland, she wore short white kid gloves to Mass on Sunday. She used a dusting powder from Elizabeth Arden called “Blue Grass.” There was a prancing horse on the lid of its round box, and its scent mingled with the strong smell of her Chesterfield cigarettes. My mother had been spirited and funny, even mischievous, and I was surprised to discover that despite my aunt’s appreciation of wit, she was a bit prudish. She would turn away when I changed my clothes in her presence, which was fine with me, but not a gesture to which I was accustomed. I noticed, too, that she was a wary and fretful driver, refusing to make a left-hand turn in an intersection, a habit that added fifteen minutes to any drive, and which lasted for all of the years that I knew her.

[ Return to the review of “Miss Aluminum.” ]

There was immediate tension between my aunt and my father, evident in her expression when he appeared to take things too lightly, and in his refusal to acknowledge her disapproval. Her role as caretaker to her dead sister’s children was not clearly defined and must have at times caused her to feel like a servant, a role that held a certain shame, given her mother’s former employment. My aunt’s displeasure increased when my father soon began to behave as if he were a bachelor, content to leave his five children, the youngest only two years old, in her dutiful care. He went out to dinner most nights and sometimes returned late, which naturally offended my aunt, who, like me, must have been listening for him. His name was Richard Dixon Moore, a radiologist, forty years old, good-looking and charming, with the distinction and social position then conferred on doctors in small cities and towns. I knew that my father was fond of women, and his recent bereavement did not appear to have lessened his interest. That he had many children at home seemed not to bother anyone but Mary. A neighbor once hinted that my aunt was jealous, but my aunt was so unlike my father, who was pleasure-loving and weak, that even as a child I understood that something as seemingly simple as friendship between them was impossible. It is also likely she blamed him for my mother’s death.

He would sometimes take me to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on a Sunday night. I would order decorously, a little shyly, even when he encouraged me to try things unknown to me like chicken Kiev or peach melba. His own eating fascinated me. It seemed to me very old-fashioned, habits perhaps inherited from his Quaker ancestors—radishes with butter, cheddar cheese on apple pie, salt on cantaloupe.

In anticipation of these evenings, I found a tube of Tangee lipstick at Woolworth, soft orange wax in a flimsy metal tube, which I wore for a dinner concert given by the Kingston Trio at the Royal Hawaiian. It had a very cheap, sweet smell and I don’t know how my elegant father tolerated it, but he never said a word, certainly not the compliment I hoped I would receive. I wore one of my full-skirted, tight-waisted Lanz dresses, with a stiff crinoline that scratched pleasantly against my legs. My father’s attention, which had been amiable but distracted before my mother’s death, could not have come at a more precarious moment in my life, but I did not know that. There I was in my lovely dress, happy in my prettiness and eager to please my father, yet all the while thinking in a vague, flitting way, Be careful, don’t like this too much. You are here because your mother is dead.

After one of our Sunday night suppers at the Royal Hawaiian, my father gave me my mother’s pearls, and an amethyst ring, large and rectangular, set in gold, known, rather glamorously I thought, as a cocktail ring, with the admonition that I was not to wear it or the necklace until I was older. I once wore the pearls to bed, but I was so afraid that the strands would break that I couldn’t sleep, and I never did it again. I was able to wear the ring on my middle finger if I wrapped a Band-Aid around the back of it, but only in my room and at night, my hand heavy with the weight of it. The necklace and the ring were my only souvenirs of my mother, other than a shoebox of photographs that I had taken from my father’s desk and kept hidden under my bed. One day, however, as I left the house, I pushed the ring onto my finger, and then my hand into a pocket of my shorts so that no one would see it. I walked the mile to the bus stop at Lunalilo Home Road where Mr. Silva, the bus driver, stopped for me. We traveled past Kuli‘ou‘ou and Niu Valley and ‘Āina Haina before Mr. Silva handed me my paper transfer and I boarded the bus waiting at the roundabout at Star of the Sea church for the rest of the trip, through Kāhala, past Diamond Head and Kapi‘olani Park into Waikiki. The ride was a pleasant one, the bus plump and jolly like a bus in a cartoon, with open windows and leather seats. My hand was no longer in my pocket, but rested, somewhat awkwardly, wherever I thought someone might notice it, and admire it.

I left the bus at Kalākaua Avenue and crossed the street to the Outrigger Canoe Club for my weekly surfing lesson with the beach boy, Rabbit Kekai. I changed into my new white sharkskin two-piece bathing suit and went to meet Rabbit. As I was afraid that I would lose the ring in the water, I asked the man on duty at Beach Services if I could leave it with him. He handed me one of the small brown envelopes people used to hold their keys and money and wrist watches when they were on the beach, and I put the ring inside the envelope and sealed it and wrote my name on it.

Rabbit was waiting for me in the water, holding his long wood board with one hand to keep it from floating away. I lay at the front of the board on my stomach, my legs spread, my toes trailing in the water. Rabbit pushed off and slid onto the board behind me, his head just above my bottom, the customary position for students and their teachers. We paddled to the breaking surf, which was rarely very big at Waikiki, and he caught a wave easily, getting to his feet and then lifting me under my arms so that I stood in front of him on the board, seldom falling, until we came to the end of the little wave, when we would again assume our positions and paddle to the break.


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