Sukia and Lisa Lipkind Leibow




abridged novel excerpt, DOUBLE OUT AND BACK

by Lisa Lipkind Leibow

Amelia Schwartz’s sister Judith arrived for a special night out – just the two of them – but refused to tell Amelia where they were going.

As they started out, Judith said, “You know, they closed down the drive-in theater over in Chelsea a few years ago.”

“Oh I remember that place. Mom and Daddy used to put me in pajamas and let me sit on the roof of the car to watch the movie,” Amelia said, as she looked in the sun visor’s mirror. She admired her sophisticated bob, falling at her cheekbones, but grimaced at the zit marking her chin.
As Amelia searched inside her purse for concealer, Judith said, “They charged by the car, not per person. So I would pile, I don’t know, twelve or so girlfriends into Mom and Daddy’s car. It made me so sad when I read it was closing. Do you remember how Mom and Daddy joked that the family plot had a view of the drive-in?”

“Oh, that’s right. That stinks. They can’t watch movies anymore.”

It came back to Amelia in a flood of memories.

Back when she was ten, years before she had realized how lucky she was to be surrounded by family, alive and well, when her parents had been healthy enough to feel immortal, they had decided to get their affairs in order…

They’d sat around and jested. Perfect estate planning meant you spent every penny during your lifetime. The tricky part was synchronizing death with exhaustion of funds. Their planning had included purchasing a family burial plot.

Ten-year-old Amelia lay on her belly, working on a jigsaw of Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy. She sorted through the jigsaw pieces while eavesdropping on her parents’ conversation in the kitchen.

Papers from the funeral home lay spread across the kitchen table. Looking at a map of the cemetery, which was color-coded to indicate available plots, Mom said, “This spot over here is close to the entrance. The kids’ll have an easy time finding us.”

Daddy answered, “The ground is too low there. We’ll be waterlogged from March through June at least. Forget it if we have a rainy autumn. And any spring bulbs planted will get root rot.”

“What will we care?” Mom asked.

“Listen, I want a chance to push up daisies, you know? If the ground is too wet…Hmmm, I like this area here, up on the hill, on the south side of the cemetery.”

“Let me see. Here?”

Yes, My Love, nice high ground, and as an added bonus, we’ll have a great view of the drive-in movie screen,” Daddy replied, pointing to an area on the map just north of the cemetery.

Mom laughed. “Daisies and movies?”

“Sweetheart, I can’t think of a better way to spend eternity than watching double features with you – horror flicks to make you cling to me, love stories to put you in the mood, comedies to make us laugh our tushes off.”

Mom blushed and giggled. “I hope they play Mel Brooks. I love Mel Brooks…Eternity with you and Mel Brooks…That’s what I call heaven.” What Amelia remembered so well, even now, was looking up from the puzzle and noticing the happy tears in her mother’s eyes as she had laughed so easily at death.

Judith stopped the car. “Well, we’re here!”

They had arrived at the old drive-in site, now a vacant lot. The pavement was cracked, and random clumps of crabgrass had sprung through gaps in the blacktop. Nature had commenced reclamation of land with which man had interfered. The evenly-spaced posts still stood, though most of the speakers that used to hang from them were missing. Someone had scribbled graffiti across the old movie screen, a huge abandoned wall that loomed before them like an enormous billboard.

“Do you know why I wanted to bring you here?” Judith asked as she shifted the car into park and turned off the engine.

“To see the ruins of a bygone era?” Amelia mused that this ruin was as significant as the Coliseum was to Rome, or the Western Wall was to Jerusalem.

“Well, in a way,” Judith said.

She exited the car and removed from the trunk a bottle of Sambuca, a box from Mike’s Pastry in the North End, a laptop, and a projector. Amelia watched in amazement as Judith set up the projector.

Judith announced, “I have DVDs of Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein and “History of the World Part I.” I thought we could send you off with a few laughs while giving Mom and Daddy the first double feature they’ve had in years.” She flipped the power switches on the projector and DVD player. The old graffiti-covered screen lit up.

Choked up, Amelia said, “I can’t believe this. It’s incredible.”

The two sisters unfolded beach loungers over the grassy eruptions in the pavement and got comfortable. Judith opened the pastry box. It contained Amelia’s favorite cannolis.
Amelia sighed, “I am so lucky to have a sister like you.” Luck and superstition – her mother had taught her to believe in both.

“Remember our discussion about how Sam’s friend can’t hold down a job? How I told you that I had never been fired from anything?” she said abruptly now.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Judith asked.

“I forgot to knock on wood after I said it, and sure enough, three weeks later my job was gone,” Amelia answered.

“You put too much emphasis on those silly superstitions. How many times do I need to remind that your mirror had nothing to do with what happened to our family?” Judith said. Just like that, the mood of the discussion had soured. Mel Brooks’s actors and all their antics went ignored.
Amelia crossed her arms, instinctively feeling Judith’s disapproval. She said, “But the signs are so obvious. Did you know I found a penny on the sidewalk between my apartment building and Kelley’s Roast Beef, and the very next day I got the offer to work in San Francisco?”

“Who can argue with that?” Judith said. The sarcasm was clear. With their mother gone, sometimes Amelia relished Judith’s maternal advice and care, but this time her parental condescension hurt.

“If I end up taking this job, leaving you will be the hardest part,” Amelia said, unfolding her arms and taking her sister’s hand. With that touch, Amelia felt a comforting change in aura, marking an instant shift in Amelia’s fluid yearning for her sister’s love. Amelia felt like a child seeking assurance.

“I’m sure you’ll end up accepting the offer and moving away. I figure while you’re still living out here, the least we can do is give them an evening of Mel Brooks. Daddy will be laughing his tush off, and Mom will be in heaven. Just one night, you know, before I’m left alone,” Judith confided, pulled her hand away, and then fell conspicuously silent.

“You’re mad I’m leaving?” Amelia asked.

“It’s just so far away. But, you know, do what you want,” Judith answered.

“I have to go. I have no job here anymore.”

Amelia continued, “And you’re not alone. You have Sam and the kids.”

“Oh, the kids have lives of their own, and Sam isn’t ready to retire yet. And you’re leaving, and Mom and Daddy are up there on the hill. But you do what you want. You always do,” Judith said.

You planned such a beautiful evening. Don’t ruin it. I have to go. I’ll visit. I promise,” Amelia said.

“Will you be all right all by yourself out there? What are you going to do? How will you manage?” Judith asked.

“I don’t know. I’m scared, too. But I have to try. Why are you doing this to me?” Amelia answered.

They sat in silence until Amelia noticed Igor, Young Frankenstein’s assistant up on the big screen. His hunchback had conspicuously switched sides, and he walked with a convoluted gait as he urged his followers to “Walk this way,” in classic Mel Brooks fashion. She started to giggle. Judith, unable to control herself, released a loud snort through her nose as suppressed laughter escaped. Soon the two were guffawing – deep belly laughs – so hard they were crying.

Judith poured some Sambuca and threw three coffee beans into each glass. Amelia kissed her sister on the cheek. Judith had remembered the superstition that it was good luck to put three coffee beans into a glass of Sambuca. Amelia inhaled the fragrant mix of licorice and coffee and wished for her three beans to deliver love, marriage, and a baby. The sisters laughed through the rest of the double feature, sitting shoulder to shoulder on the hood of the car. Not another regret concerning the move to California was mentioned.

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