Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Formica Dinette by Nelly Reifler

OBJECTFormica Dinette


There is a definite trend toward making Mother a member of the family again.

With the use of lovely Formica colors and beautiful wood grains there is every reason to plan an open kitchen that is part of the dining room-living room.  A licensed Formica fabricator will aid you in matching the wood grain of your new counter-tops with the sheets of plywood covering your windows, and the metal cabinet fixtures–knobs, hinges, etcetera–will be custom picked to match the spikes affixing the plywood to your window frames.

If you indeed decide to begin including Mother in your everyday doings, your licensed Formica fabricator will assist you with the transition.  We at Formica always have grace and efficiency in mind, and we recommend timing the reintroduction of Mother to coincide with your kitchen renovations.

Family members, such as Mother, who live in basements for extended periods of time may develop unsightly and bothersome problems.  If you haven’t been supplementing her spaghettios and pinto beans with Vitamin D in tablet or capsule form, Mother may have acquired osteomalacia, a disorder of the long bones which hurts and can cause grumpiness.  She may have a serotonin imbalance, a condition that can easily be cured by prayer.  Renal malfunction, intestinal annoyances, and thinning hair are other possible maintenance issues that may occur with Mother.

Mother may be disoriented, mentally and spatially.  This possibility is just one more reason why we suggest timing Mother’s emergence with the kitchen redo.  We at Formica are sure you agree that it’s easier than having to deal with Mother being disoriented once now, and then again later.  Your Formica fabricator will be on call in the event that this is the case.  Your Formica fabricator is quite a mouthful, isn’t it?  Let’s call your Formica fabricator Trent.

As Mother will have been in the basement for such a long while, she’ll need some updating, too, just like your kitchen.  Trent is specially trained and certified to outline the facts about the world from which you have so lovingly protected her these past several or many years.  Trent will explain to mother, with great patience, about the coming revolution.  He’ll soothe her maternal worries by reassuring her that in these final days, good folk like Mother and her sons can survive with wiles and armaments until a greater power takes over.  If she furrows her brow, Trent will press his gentle hand to her hand and inform her that the house, the four point two acres upon which it sits, and the air that she breathes have been inspected and declared one hundred percent demon-free.  After all, he’ll point out, what’s the good of redoing a kitchen in a home that’s corrupted by evil?

“Look,” Trent will say to Mother.  “Here are your sons, your good sons.  David, there by the front door.  You named him for a king.  And doesn’t he look quite the king with his rifle at the ready?”  Trent will coaxingly turn Mother’s chin toward what used to be the laundry room.  “And there, see John, the youngest?  He’s grown up to be the handy one.  Isn’t it nifty how he fireproofed that chamber?  Aren’t those just about the nicest handmade grenades you’ve ever seen?”  If Mother can speak and Mother asks why John is dressed that way, Trent will explain about the lawless radicals plotting ill deeds in the woods, and the heathen county government, and the possessed schoolteachers drinking and contaminating children’s blood with that virus, and the encroaching foreigners and the infiltrating foreign-borns with the computer chips under the skin of their left forearms and the painted preteen sex robots planted in our midst by the Chinese, and Trent will remind Mother about Sodom and Gomorrah and assure her that our good God gave us camo for a reason.  “John’s a brave boy, too, Mother,” Trent will say to Mother.  “Every dawn and evening he patrols this parcel that was your father’s and your grandfather’s.  He’s silent as an angel, never rustles a leaf nor snaps a twig.  And you have young John to thank for the buried gas line encircling the land.  It will really come in handy when the final battle starts to rage in earnest!”

Then Trent will open his case and show mother the sample chips of Formica and let her decide whether she likes a solid color or something with an agate or granite look.

Mother may be distracted, though.  She may not be able to pull her gaze away from John in the former laundry room, John with the green and black greasepaint on his cheeks.  If she can speak she may say, “My boy.”  Or she may just shake for some moments.  If either of these things happens, Trent will beckon to John, and John will put down the fuse he was measuring.  John will wipe his hands on his pants and walk into the dining room-living room.  He will lower himself slowly–those boots aren’t made to bend at the ankle–and kneel before Mother’s chair.  “Welcome back, Mom,” he’ll say.  “We need you now.  And we need this open kitchen plan to fight for our family’s survival.”

“Where’s Peter?” Mother might ask at this point if she can speak.  Trent will look at John, John will look at Trent; they both will look at David, who will break his watch out the front-door peep-hole for just a second or two.  David will shake his head.  “I’ll explain,” Trent will say, or maybe, “I’ll take this one, fellas.”  Then Trent will tell mother, “Peter is no longer here.”

There’s only the remotest of chances that Mother will inquire, why have you brought me back upstairs now? She’ll be wondering in some abstract way, of course, but it’s unlikely that her mind will be able to engage in the sort of complex inquiry that would lead to this deceptively simple question.  Surgeries now exist to correct lifelong blindness in some people; the funny thing is that many of these people still can’t see afterward.  It’s not because anything is wrong with them, but because their brains and their eyes don’t know how to communicate.  Their brains have no idea how to interpret the visual signals that come streaming in all of a sudden.  We at Formica offer this as a metaphor for the sort of experience Mother will be having, and we suggest that you accept her bewilderment as a positive trait.  These past years she has lived in an internal theater where her fantasies rolled out, and where sleep and waking were indistinguishable, where she relived your births and cradled the phantoms of your infant selves.  You are the fat babies, the toddlers in the dandelions, the little boys on Bambi sheets, the tetherball-players with down on your upper lips.  And we at Formica doubt that Mother will let herself begin to ask why this or why that.

If she does, however, ask why now? Let Trent say that her help is needed with the remodel, that you miss her cooking, that her boys are finally big enough, strong enough and well-armed enough to protect her in the event of a siege.  If she does ask Why now? we highly discourage you from mentioning Deanna.  And take it from us, Mother will never ask what happened to the slim, pale girl who used to materialize out of shadows and deliver the spaghettios and pinto beans.  Mother will not leave the house to investigate the patch of newly turned-over earth next to the blackberry brambles.  It won’t be worth recounting the whole story of how you discovered Deanna was a traitor—and mother won’t understand how you sometimes must do something that makes you very sad and very sorry, something that makes you see pretty flashes like Tinkerbell accusing you from your bedroom ceiling, because a traitor is a traitor and you have to look out for your own.

Formica is unharmed by boiling water, alcohol, mild acids and alkalies.  Its smooth surface is pleasant to touch and wipes clean with only a damp cloth.  It can’t rot and never needs painting or refinishing.  Trent will recite these comforting facts to Mother.  John will remain kneeling on the floor, bowed as if he were proposing.  But David might take his eyes away from the scope once more and interrupt Trent’s speech.  “Mom,” he’ll say in the tone with which he’d address a doe.  “This is real life.  It’s all coming down.  Any day now, any hour.  They’re coming for us.  It’s a race between them and God.  We need to hold them off until the fires come.  Or the rains.  It’s going to be fire or flood.  We’ll go somewhere better, but these earthly things: they end up ashes, or they end up under water.

Nelly Reifler is the author of See Through and the recent novel Elect H. Mouse State Judge. Her work has been published in magazines and journals including McSweeney’s, Post Road, and Nerve. She lives in Saugerties.