Spotlight for short story collection Alterations
Alterations is a collection of stories in which the author shifts from a group of domestic tales starting with a young girl to five linked stories that conclude the volume. The tales originally appeared in various literary magazines, stand alone, but as a collection come full circle to examine a common theme—the aching need for family. All 18 stories explore how characters are altered by their circumstances. Their livelihoods are as diverse as woodworking, the wholesale clothing business and the interior design industry, reflecting their various cultures, classes and ages.
Long before my mother was strapped to a wheelchair and fed on beige fluid that dripped into her stomach, she could stand and cook for twenty as easily as I toast a bagel. She is gone now and often when I think of her on the holidays, I think of all those steaming, braising, frying pots, but mostly I think brisket.
Sometimes it was splashed with a healthy dose of Manischevitz, or served with raisins a-swim in Hunt’s tomato sauce, with whole cranberries or walnuts. It was packed in brown sugar, and once in a pepper and lemon crust, so tart it make us choke.
But no matter its reception at my mother’s table, her affection for that salted, rinsed, and near bloodless koshered meat never waned. Now that she is gone, it is a particular brisket I remember, a Brooklyn brisket, of years and years ago.
I was maybe ten, eleven years old, walking with my mother in her mid-thirties, those prime years of her womanhood, when there was about her such health and verve, such an aliveness to the way she moved. It gleamed on her skin that day, and in her eyes, and in the reddish upsweep of her hair.
Right off the train from A & S on Fulton Street, we walked to our neighborhood butcher—she in one of her cotton printed dresses, gored skirt, self-belt, and short sleeves that showed the freckles on her arms, and me, sweating in the new wool of my light blue princess coat with the navy blue velvet collar.
With a handkerchief, my mother patted the swell of her breasts showing out of the sweetheart collar of her dress. “It must be ninety degrees,” she complained. “For the life of me I can’t understand why you’re wearing that coat.”
“Because…” I said, smoothing my collar, tapping each velvet button, “If they put it in the box it would get all wrinkled.”
Behind a wooden table in the butcher store, a man with black curls and a yarmulke on his head smiled right away at my mother, little dents appearing in his cheeks. He handed me a thick slice of salami. There on the sawdusted floor I slid, sucking the fat and salt out of the meat, looking down at my buttons, not up at the slanted-top display case, upon which parsleyed trays lay, filled with the meat and bones of animals.
Bloodied apron around his waist, a yarmulke on his curls, he sharpened his big knife on a silver rod, wrist swiveling, red lines of blood in his knuckles, all the time looking at my mother, who sometimes looked at him, and then looked away. His eyes shining, the dents in his cheeks deepened. I did not like his big shiny smile on my mother, so instead I watched the blade slice into the cape of fat atop the brisket’s hump.
“Lean,” my mother said, “make it nice and lean.”
His eyes at the top of her dress, “Fat,” he said. “You want a little fat on it, that’s where the taste is.”
About the Author:
Rita Plush is an author, teacher and interior designer. Her writing practice includes fiction and non-fiction. She is the author of the novel Lily Steps Out (Penumbra Publishing, May 2012), and is at work on a second novel that follows some of the characters in Lily Her short story collection Alterations was published by Penumbra in May 2013. She has lectured on the decorative arts at libraries throughout Long Island, at Hofstra University and CW Post-Hutton House and is Coordinator of the Interior Design & Decorating Certificate at Queensborough Community College where she teaches several courses in the program.
Rita, and the publication of Lily Steps Out was the feature article—“published and proud”—in Newsday’s Act II section in July, 2012, and “Rita Steps Out,” was featured in the Times Ledger August, 2012.
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