Kenny D'Ambrosio and his father owned D'Ambrosio Meats. In the big front window of their store Ida could see them cut ham with their large hands and pack it into neat, white paper. They smiled with one side of their mouths, as if there was a secret joke between them and their customers. The secret could be about cold cuts, but it hinted at something else.
Ida took the long way home from her father's shoe store where she worked, so she could pass by and watch Kenny. From outside she could see behind the counter where father and son moved smoothly around each other. They never looked at one another, just seemed to know where each other's bodies would move: who needed the slicer, who needed to take out the chicken breast.
Ida wanted a reason to go inside. She could get a sandwich. But the men scared her, and she was afraid they would know that she had come for something else, and she would have: Ida's new stepmother, Janet, had left Kenny for Ida's father. Ida had never been interested in the butcher — had never gone there except when she was small with her mother, until Janet. Suddenly Kenny D'Ambrosio was connected to her: still a whiff of him somewhere on her stepmother.
When Ida was twenty she still wasn't married. She had a beautiful older sister who was married and lived upstate. Ida lived at home with her parents and walked to work with her father every day.
Ida wore the most fashionable shoes for women. She would stand up tall next to her father, a man everyone liked. He wore a hat with a maroon ring around it, and everybody knew him and called him "Mr. Boots." In a town that did not have many Jews, this was better than Mr. Feinstein. "Mr. Boots" was like a funny character, and Ida was his frail, sad daughter who had none of her father's charms.
Still, she made sure the shop was clean and the books were correct while her father flirted with the customers out front. After Ida finished high school and was able to work full-time, her mother stopped coming to the store. Before she died, she preferred the couch in the living room more than the chair at the shop.
All day long Ida was silent in the back of her father's shoe store — speaking only to her father when she had to. She did the books and then left after some time in the bathroom where she looked in the mirror and picked at her face.
In the back of the shoe store, Ida organized the receipts, did the books and the orders, and looked in the shoe mirror, at her small ankles in her heeled, tie-up shoes. They were the most expensive shoes in the catalogues.
"I have perfect ankles," she thought.
Wouldn't she have been blessed if her whole body was as sleek and smooth as her ankles? Instead she had acne that her father took her to the doctor for. There, they flashed her face with radiation, a new technique that was supposed to help her skin. They turned off the lights and Ida squeezed her eyes shut while the doctor held the switch. She wished it hurt when the radiation was on, so that it would feel like something was happening. But it felt like nothing. And when the doctor turned the lights on again and she opened her eyes it was
At night, she rubbed her feet together and thought about the men she knew.
like she had been there for no reason. The doctor would always pat her back as she was leaving, reminding her to leave her face alone.
In the back of the store Ida lay on her stomach so that she could see her face in the shoe mirror. There she scratched the red spots on her cheeks. She pinched and squeezed until she became blotched. Then she went to the bathroom and splashed her face. She had pancake makeup that she scooped up to hide where she had picked. She sat on the toilet and waited until everything stopped bleeding.
Safe in the back, she continued with the books and wondered if it was like stashing chocolate, the way she hid what she did with her skin. She knew it was one of the reasons no one liked her in synagogue. If only, she thought, I could have perfect skin.
At twenty, the skin on Ida's belly was smooth and clear. At night she rubbed her feet together and thought about the men she knew. There was the rabbi who was still unmarried. There was something about him: the way he held the yad when reading from the Torah that made it look like the instrument was too fragile. It seemed far more fragile — it being metal — than it really was. But she also looked forward to seeing the Rabbi read. It felt good, in a way, to be disgusted by him. She did not want to be the Rabbi's wife.
Almost all of the other men were married to girls she had gone to high school with. She would see them with their children; if they had more than one they would dress their children alike.
In the pews she would imagine what she looked like to them. She understood: she would never want to marry herself.
Janet was the kind of woman you could see with anyone. She had two pairs of silk stockings, and the dresses she wore never let you forget her breasts. She had honey-colored hair and red lips that she painted into a small bow. She belted herself in at the waist so that you could see the way her hips went out in two bumps like a layer cake. Ever since Janet moved in, Ida ate in the den on the couch while Janet and her father ate in the kitchen. She refused to eat Janet's food (meatballs and thick spaghetti, chicken piccato, which Ida didn't like the sound of). Ida ate oatmeal for dinner each night. She sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on her oats, then made her way to the couch.