“You’re a woman,” she declared both stiffly and sternly. “You’re a woman now,” she said while rebuking her interlocutress — her own hands akimbo, her own brows knitted belligerently — and while wagging her finger, as if it were the tail of a fierce dog blocking some entrance or other.
“You’re no longer a small and adorable child. You’re no longer that cherubic little toddler, young lady. Do you understand it? Do you even realize it?” she went on. “And so, you’d better listen to it, and remember it, and be proud of it,” she said. “For you’re a woman now.”
She turned her attention to a loose strand of hair; she studied that strand of hair intruding insolently on the forehead of her interlocutress, like a miniature toy pendulum that doesn’t know when impish games end and seriousness begins.
She brushed it away; she removed it in a fit of maternal carefulness — if not irresistible tenderness — while striving to disguise it as ordinary perfectionism. Revealing her parental feelings while delivering an admonition like this was the last thing she wanted; it was the last thing she really needed now: an indisputable sign of weakness; a glaring weak spot; an abysmal hole in the hull; a visible crack in her armor—at the time when she should have been presenting herself as implacable and aloof, like a garden sprinkler is to an ant colony.
“It’s about time, or rather, it’s high time, considering your no longer childish height.” She started again: “It’s about time that you learned your responsibilities, that you got to know the obstacles on your path and the ways to overcome them, and familiarized yourself with the very real dangers waiting ahead. You should do that. You should absolutely do that, young lady.”
She frowned again, but only to make sure that her knitted brows hadn’t unknitted in the meantime, like an unraveling scarf.
“You should certainly do that, for such challenges accompany us for our entire lives. They even grow up along with us, did you know that? Did you even realize that? And then they stretch, they enlarge, like the turtleneck collar of a sweater that one has received as a small child and wears it well into her adulthood while sticking through it her no longer tiny head. They do that. They really do,” she paused as if to reassure herself that her words had sunk in. “They accommodate. They adapt. They change — just as we all do; we all do change.”
Then she smiled; then she smiled unwillingly, but she quickly obliterated the vestiges of that expression from her face with a cold and forced frown, as if it were a sponge applied to the blackboard in a clamorous classroom.
“You’re now entering the adult phase of your life,” she went on again, “and it is, no matter how unbelievable or even downright preposterous it may sound, similar to rebirth. It is. It really is. But without all the congratulations being heaped and lavished on your parents — this time you’re on your own; this time all the difficulties are awaiting you, you only, and not them.”
She silenced, sensing that the reserves of her coldness and strictness were nearly over, that she was running out of them, that they were running thin, like the last dark cloud dissolving on a sunny day. She knew that when deprived of them — of this peculiar fuel — she wouldn’t be able to go on in this vein for long without the more and more frequent flashes of her real self showing through the veneer of her maternal posturing.
So then, finally, she gave up trying.
“Would you care for more tea to your breakfast, Miss Tootsy?” she asked her interlocutress kindly, as her own cherubic face abandoned that hitherto stern expression, and as it acquired a far mellower and more genial one.
Then, not waiting for an answer, she hastily poured a few drops of invisible tea into the plastic cup with a clearly chipped rim that was dangling from the hand of her favorite doll.