Summer brings with it a certain set of rites and rituals – and each is personal and unique. For our a week ode to the season, T invited writers to share theirs. Here, Mona awad describes the simple pleasures of eating frozen cherries while watching Alfred Hitchcock movies.
A few summers ago I had to have hip surgery. “It could be a long recovery,” my surgeon warned. What about its success? “We’ll see.” Four to six weeks of crutches followed by three to six months of physiotherapy. Analgesics and ice cream. It would be my summer of uncertainty. It would be my summer of suspense and rest. It would be my summer of Hitchcock and cold cherries.
It was a hot summer, even in the evening. I remember it as windless. My world has become very small, reduced to a half-dark room. I lay down in the blue shade, a bowl of frozen cherries sweating against my scarred hip like an ice pack. There was the hum of the oscillating fan, the blinds that cast the evening light across my face, my crutches leaning against the nearby dresser for easy access. On my laptop screen, Jimmy Stewart sat slumped in a wheelchair, his broken leg in a cast as he waited for Grace Kelly in “Rear Window.” She would show up soon, a mirage in an Edith Head dress, as the world beyond roared with life and love, sex and death – and later, it would turn out, murder.
I ate a cold cherry from the bowl to my thigh: an icy, candied sweetness with depth and bite. It tasted as vivid as Technicolor on my screen. Cherries were my bridge, my passport to this other world. The walls around me have collapsed, or I have forgotten them. I forgot about my frozen and still sore hip. I forgot my fear of the real world: would I be able to walk or sit without pain? Instead, another more delicious fear set in. I leaned over it, my metaphorical crutch.
It was an old ritual, which I had enjoyed with my mother when I was a child: the two of us sitting at either end of the pink and white striped sofa, a bowl of cold cherries between us. This is how she liked them best. My mother worked as a hotel dining room manager, and summers, like all vacations, were a time of increased work, not rest. Longer shifts, demanding guests. The old night movies were her vacation. She loved the glamor – and she loved the mystery. I was 13 when we spent our first summer together watching Hitchcock, his favorite. “It’s Jimmy,” my mother was saying, pointing to the screen. “It’s Tippi. It’s Cary. Oh, it’s Grace. She spoke of the stars as if they were her personal friends.
My mother relished the suspense in these films, but for me the tension was often unbearable. It was almost impossible, for example, to see Grace Kelly being framed in “Dial M for Murder”.
“What’s going to happen to Grace?” I would ask my mother.
“That gray dress she’s wearing is so elegant, isn’t it?” Such a style.
“Mom”, I pressed, “what the …”
“I don’t know,” my mother used to say, lying. Then she smiled, lit a cigarette and took a cherry from the bowl, her fingernails painted the same deep shade. “Just watch.”
AND SO NOT FOR the first time in my life, it became my evening ritual in the summer of my surgery, offering another spellbinding journey every night. Another icy blonde in a devastating dress, another man in a suit with pomaded hair. The disturbing swell of Bernard Herrmann’s scores, the jingling of a martini, the immersive and transporting shots that blur the border between our world and theirs.
I watched Ray Milland grin maniacally as he blackmailed a man into killing his wife in “Dial M for Murder.“ I watched Cary Grant and Grace Kelly speed through the south of France in a sky blue convertible in “To Catch a Thief”. I watched the indomitable Tippi Hedren crumble at the sight of red in “Marnie”. Mesmerized, I watched the hallucinatory verdant splendor of “Vertigo” – Kim Novak in her green dress with her mysterious white rabbit pin. Spiky hair, I watched John Dall smoke a cigarette in brown leather gloves after strangling a man in the middle of the day at “Corde. “” It’s the darkness that depresses you, “he said to his accomplice a few seconds after the act.” Too bad we couldn’t do it with the curtains open, in direct sunlight. “J shuddered.
Yet the movie I returned to over and over again was “Back Window”. It was the open celebration of voyeurism – how it infused a stagnant summer of possibility, sophistication, and intrigue. Stewart’s character, Jeffries, was in my place: wounded and confined to a room in the stifling heat, observing the world through the windows. And what a world it was. Miss Torso doing her dance, juggling her wolves. Miss Lonelyhearts and her increasingly dark passion for romance. And of course, the monstrous Thorwald, who kills his wife, played by Raymond Burr, whose horrific acts of violence are captured in tantalizing shards. Tart and sweet. Icy, like cold cherries.
Years later, after my mother’s death, after my summer of recovery, the ritual persists. I come back to those Hitchcock nights and cold cherries for nostalgia, for escape. A way to mother myself in difficult times. Summer or winter, I will lie on my bed in the half-light, the cherries cooling my thigh where the scars from the incision have now disappeared. I’ll turn on the whirring fan and one of my favorites. So what? I will only dissolve in eyes, a look, following Hitchcock’s. It’s suspense every time. Will everything be fine at the end?
My mom would never tell me, even if she knew it. “Just watch.”
Mona Awad is the author of the novels “13 Ways to Look at a Fat Girl” (2016), “Bunny” (2019) and the upcoming “All’s Well”, which will be released in August by Simon & Schuster.