My life is filled with the constant anxiety that I’m forgetting something, so all day long I write lists. My Bulgarian mother mocks the Americanness of having to have absolutely all I need at any given moment. She enjoys reminding me that when we didn’t have toothpaste, we used soap, and also had the option of using baking soda. This is if we didn’t feel like going to the park and getting a few green walnuts and using the green shell to clean our teeth and darken our lips in the process. It gave us the irresistible 1920s sexy look.
In the thirties, when my grandma didn’t have lipstick, she used hot peppers to make her lips and cheeks desirable. A few drops of vanilla behind the ears sufficed for perfume. Every morning she drew a vertical line with an eyeliner pencil on the back of her bare legs, all the way up. She also had this routine with her friend, where one of them would ask what time it was and the other would answer, “Oh, I forgot my watch on the piano!” All watches, piano, and stockings being fictional.
So when we didn’t have shampoo my mother gave us dishwashing liquid to wash our hair. You also had the option of using an egg, to make your hair stronger, but if the water was even slightly warm, the egg boiled and left egg white pieces all over your head. A third option was using vinegar, if you didn’t mind smelling like dirty feet. And finally, if you weren’t too tired, you could go to the park again and get some walnut leaves and boil them. You wash your hair with that water, you wouldn’t have to worry about it for a few days.
No toilet paper, no problem-my mother was a reporter and she’d bring home tons of newspapers, and so we’d crumple and rub them together as if they were laundry, to make them softer. We also used newspaper to wrap eggs, level furniture, and wash windows. No hair spray, no problem, my mother used lemonade instead. And when we were out of lemonade, my mother mixed a spoonful of plum preserves with water. (Where did we get the bitter green plums? From the park. They grew on trees nicknamed “she-savages,” because their fruit was so bitter.) And so on: the list is long.
So in New York, my lists go something like this:
. Bottled water
. Light bulbs.
But no matter how hard I try, something major is always omitted. For example, I’ve covered it all,
. but the garlic,
. or the bread,
. or the eggs, and so forth.
Okay, to look on the bright side, we are out of bread but we have pasta. We are out of toothpaste, but we are really good on toilet paper. We are actually great on toilet paper. If we did one thing right in this life, it’s we nailed the toilet paper, thirty-six rolls for $10.99, how about that, we are good until Christmas, no, Valentine’s day.
And so our life goes on, one more day of demand and supply, because that’s what it comes down to. It is no longer a question of do we have the money, thank God. We more or less do. We are the first generation in our family to officially have a first-world status. The question is, are we organized enough to cover all the bases and get all that is needed? Even at eleven pm. That’s where it gets tricky, because after dark, the laws in Brooklyn are more or less the same as in the wild.
In a first-world situation, you have to think about the purse-snatcher, who waits in the dark. The good news is, you have a purse that someone is interested in snatching. The bad news is, if they snatch it, what are you going to do? She elbows, snatches, and runs. How do I know? I know, because she has snatched from us before. You can’t really fight, because the thief may have a poisoned arrow, a knife, or a gun, and you definitely want to avoid pain and, God help you, murder. I would advise that if you see her, be polite and just offer your purse. As a matter of fact, just go ahead and volunteer it to several of the women you meet in the dark, because you never know who the snatcher is. She might not have a scarf covering her face that day, because she had to leave the house quickly, or forgot it in the washer. Or she may have forgotten to buy one, the same way you always forget to buy that one thing. Just go ahead and offer your purse.
Even if you are short on a few items the next day, like a credit card or eyeliner, the good news is you have your toilet paper and that’s what matters. And what is she going to steal, a bunch of lists and a few dollars? That’s all you have in this purse, plus the purse itself, but it was on sale when you got it, and you grew bored of it and you were ready for a new one anyway. So she robbed you of the guilt of buying a new purse, and how is that a bad thing?
Sofi Stambo won first prize in fiction in the SLS-DISQUIET Literary Contest and was a finalist in the American Short Fiction Contest. She has a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, Bulgaria, and was a graduate student in literature at City College New York. Stambo’s work has appeared in Guernica, Promethean, Ep;phany, Plamuk, The Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. She lives in New York City. (updated 10/2015)