Normal: Chapter 1| December 14, 2021
Mimi grabs a basket. The brown bag, a set of notebooks, matching binders. Neat and sleek and most importantly, totally, utterly, blessedly normal
Twenty. Forty. Sixty. Eighty.
Mimi thumbs through the bills in her pocketbook. How much does she have on her? One hundred, two hundred. Four hundred. Enough for…
Ahead of her, Tzippy and Ella browse the display of knapsacks with twin grimaces. “They’re okay, but nothing special,” Ella says decisively. “Like, for ninth grade it could work. Maaaaybe tenth. Not for us.”
“Yeah, let’s get outta here,” Tzippy says.
They turn to leave. Mimi hesitates when she spots a brown suede bag with small gold zippers. Smart. Plain. Almost… sensible.
It could work.
“Go ahead without me,” she blurts.
Tzippy looks surprised. “We can wait for you, no problem,” she offers.
Mimi feels the heat rise in her face. Desperation makes her mouth a short, hard line. With effort, she forces it into an arc and says with strained nonchalance, “No, no, I’ll be a few minutes. Go ahead, I’ll meet you — where? Next door?”
Tzippy and Ella look at each other, then nod.
“Great.” They’re looking for chic. Hunters, Herschel, Lululemon. She can’t afford two designer bags. And besides… why splurge on a designer for someone who couldn’t care less?
Imitations are made for a reason.
Mimi grabs a basket. The brown bag, a set of notebooks, matching binders. Neat and sleek and most importantly, totally, utterly, blessedly normal.
The saleslady rings up the bill. “You’re the fastest one I’ve seen all day.”
Mimi tries to smile.
“Someone’s been busy,” Ella greets her, eyeing the bulging bags.
Mimi shrugs. “Yeah, whatever. It’s for my… mother. She asked me to pick some stuff up while we’re here.”
It isn’t a total lie. Ma had asked her to do whatever it takes to help Kayla integrate.
“It won’t be easy, you know,” Ma had said. “She’s coming from a completely different environment, and this is a big change. So if there’s anything you can do to help smoothe the transition…”
Well. Making sure Kayla wouldn’t mortify either of them with that dumb attaché case — a million compartments, unattractive water-repellent fabric — is definitely a start.
Tzippy holds up a Lululemon knapsack. “Like?” she asks Mimi.
“Ooooh. Nice,” Mimi says. She surveys the wall of knapsacks, then discreetly glances at a price tag and winces.
Ella’s comparing colors: teal vs. coral.
“That bag is really small,” Mimi points out. “How’re you gonna fit your stuff inside?”
Ella shrugs. “If you like something enough you manage.” She holds the coral bag over her shoulder, poses sweetly in the mirror, then switches to the teal and assumes the same airy pose. Tzippy laughs.
Mimi tries to focus, but her head hurts. Too much shopping. Too much stuff.
She sighs, then jumps a foot in the air when a voice at her elbow simpers, “Can I help you, dearie?”
“I — no, I’m just looking,” Mimi stammers. She fingers the tassel of a dark brown leather-look knapsack, but uh, brown, no, she’s not buying anything that will add to the connection between them, nothing to make anyone think they’re matching. Or similar. Or have anything in common at all.
The saleslady notices the bulging shopping bag swinging from her left hand, and her plum-colored lips purse. “Well, you can let me know if you need anything,” she says brusquely, and backs off.
Mimi turns back to the large mirror where her friends were bantering moments ago. They’re not there.
“Mimi!” Ella waves from the checkout counter, brandishing the teal bag.
Mimi waves back, calls, “Wait up guys.” She traipses back to the Lululemon section and picks out the same bag in coral. It’s expensive, it’s chic — but heaven knows she deserves it with the kind of year coming up — and best of all, if she goes with Ella’s choice, she doesn’t even have to think.
They leave with cardboard designer bags holding their compact little fancy excuses for a school bag. They stop to buy Slurpees for the bus ride home.
At the bus stop, Tzippy twirls her straw. “You know something weird? Mrs. Tobias called us yesterday, me and Aliza. We were doing the welcome packs, you know, the ones chesed heads always give out for the first day of school ? Anyway, she asked us to make an extra pack…”
“Maybe Mrs. Langer wants one?” Ella suggests idly.
“I don’t know. It sounded like there’s gonna be a new girl or something. Joining in 11th? Ya think?”
Mimi looks down into the fluorescent-blue of her drink, avoiding eye-contact, focusing on drinking, drinking, like this fakey-fun Slurpee will last forever. Or long enough to fend off the inevitable.
“What’s up with you, Mimi?” Ella says to her lowered head.
And then beautifully, blessedly, the bus roars up. They clamor to their feet, and she has to swallow her huge sigh of relief.
Kayla’s room is monochromatic. She is sitting bolt upright at the white square desk, writing. She turns around very fast at the sound of the door opening. Mimi walks in, avoiding her sister’s eyes, and dumps the large bag on the bed. She scrapes the words from her throat.
“This is for you. A — a welcome gift. For your first day of school.”
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 890)
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