Palo Alto Weekly 15th Annual Short Story Contest
3rd Place - Young Adults 15-17 year olds
Mother Russia Wears Read
by Lisa Bozman
| About Lisa Bozman
Lisa Bozman's "Mother Russia Wears Red," explores the relationship
between mother and son in an immigrant family. Using the voice
of a 14-year-old who lives in Dallas, her language has a ring
of Holden Caulfield-like cynicism and is apparently meant
to convey boyish rebelliousness.
in the ending, Lisa secretly substitutes love and forgiveness
for misunderstanding and intolerance. "I just thought mother
and son have a relationship way deeper, and more dramatic,
than that of mother and daughter," she said.
A senior at Gunn High School, Lisa first
wrote this short story for a writing assignment when she was
a sophomore. "It's the first fiction I wrote," she said. At
that time, she was reading Orwell's "1984" and Camus's "The
Stranger," which she used to advance the plot in her story.
"We are all cast in different roles by other people's
perception," she said. "I wanted to use a boy's voice to express
this (psychological) experience."
Lisa, 17, loves
photography and has taken extensive classes on picture-taking
and developing. She's also a photo editor at school's newspaper.
Her favorite novel is Nabokov's "Lolita."
is so expressive and so lucid you just can't help imitate
him," she said.
My life is hell. I know a lot of people say that, but in my case
it's true. Some complain because their parents won't let them stay
up past ten or they have to do their homework before dinner. That's
not suffering; suffering is my life. Imagine being a fourteen-years-old,
the son of Russian immigrants, living in a Dallas, Texas suburb.
Still not convinced? Okay, imagine that you are also an extremely
intelligent boy who though blessed with genius lacks a certain athletic
aptitude. In Dallas that's considered to be the eighth mortal sin.
To top it all off imagine living with a mother like mine. A mother
who believes she's not a good parent unless she does everything
in her power to embarrass you. A mother whose real purpose in life
is not to raise a conscientious and responsible child, but to drive
that child slowly but surely insane. She has yet to admit it, but
there can be no other explanation for the never ending nagging.
Day or night, it doesn't really matter. She never stops. That, ladies
and gentlemen, is real hell.
"Max, why aren't you eating your soup?" One minute into dinner
and already it had started. This must be a new record for her.
"If you never eat, you'll never become strong. You'll stay weakling
all your life."
It always amazes me how she slips in a jab.
"I'm not that hungry, Ma."
"Who cares if you're not hungry? You're lucky there's food. If
we were in Russia you wouldn't have such nice food. Boris, tell
him what Russia's like." That's another thing about my Mother, she
constantly brings up "the old country". At times I swear she thinks
she's still living there. I don't see how she could though; our
house looks nothing like anything you'd see there. It's a giant
salmon pink Stucco Spanish ranch house, the same breed as the others
in my neighborhood. Inside, the place is overflowing with pseudo-cowboy-western
stuff - cacti and Mexican bark paintings everywhere. In the dining
room there is a big lasso and cattle quirt on the wall. Every night
I stare at it while I pretend to eat. It's so weird. On the opposite
wall on top of the credenza is a giant brass Samovar that my mother
took from Russia. It looks awful in there. The contrast is ridiculous.
Here is this house that looks like it was decorated with the spoils
from a pillaged Mexican village and in one room there is this shrine
to the motherland. All brass and curved with embellished handles.
It gets me every time.
"Natasha, we don't need to tell him. If he's not hungry, he's not
hungry. He won't starve." My father was the sensible one. Somehow
he has managed to stay sane in the twenty-two years they've been
"If you say so, what do I know? I'm just his mother." She went
back to slurping her soup. Every once in awhile she'd peer at me
as she sucked up a spoonful. I'd play with my spoon when she did
that, just so she'd think I was eating. I hate soup. Every time
she makes it I tell her "Ma, I hate soup" then she says, "No you
don't." As if she knows better than I do. Dinner most every night
goes like this: My mother comments on what I was, or wasn't eating.
She goes off about starving kids in Russia and bread lines. My father
tells her to stop, and then we finish dinner in silence only to
do it all again the next night.
My parents' names are Boris and Natasha, like the villains in "Rocky
and Bullwinkle". I learned this in third grade when kids sang "Moose
and squirrel! Moose and squirrel!" every time they saw me. They
thought it was the funniest thing ever. What's the big deal? I know
lots of people named Boris and Natasha. Not to mention Dimitri and
Yvgenia and Ilya. But that's a different story.
"So, honey, what did you do at school today?" asked my mother.
"Nothing really." I usually try to downplay events of my day.
"What you mean, 'nothing really'? You mean you do nothing? Why
do we pay so much for school if you do nothing?" For reasons mostly
unknown by me, and hopefully known to them, my parents sent me to
parochial school. This happened after my mother heard from our very
Catholic neighbor that the public schools were going to hell. She
failed to mention whether that was for lack of Jesus and the Virgin
Mary, or for inadequate education. My parents took it to mean the
later and decided to treat their only child to a $15,000 a year
education. We're not even Catholic.
"Well if nothing happened, maybe I shouldn't ask." She gave me
a weird look. I just shrugged. My parents then started talking about
my grandmother so I decided it was time to make my exit.
"May I be excused?"
I stood up from the table and pushed my chair in and walked towards
the door. I was about to go out when my mother yelled to me,
"Don't forget to wash your face. It's getting splotchy."
"Right Ma. Goodnight."
The only peace I get is in my room or at school. Usually when I'm
in my room I do homework, which is related to school. I like school
a lot. My favorite class is Math. I was doing my math homework at
the moment. It's easy for me; the other kids are less advanced,
so they're not much competition. I always made sure my Math homework
was done. I put my Math homework into my binder and took out the
book we were reading in English and opened it to chapter 14. It
was Orwell's 1984. I read this in fourth grade. On my own I've been
reading L'Etranger by Camus. A real book. The main character Meursault
says that life is ridiculous. At first I didn't know what that meant.
But I got it at dinner when I looked at the Samovar in the dining
room surrounded by all the Mexican kitsch.
Some things are just so bizarre it's funny. Like today in English
we were discussing fascism and other political systems as they relate
to 1984, when all of sudden the teacher asked me if I could tell
the class about communism. I couldn't believe it. I felt like Meursault
after his mother dies and his boss asked him how old she was and
he says he doesn't know. I told her I didn't know anything about
communism, but she could ask my parents. She said she might. That
made me regret saying anything.
My mother drives me to school everyday. Last month she begged my
dad for a new car. She settled on a Mercedes E430 in bright red.
For awhile she waffled on the car but when her friend Julia got
a champagne C280, my mother decided she had to out do her. So she
got the bigger Benz.
From the old grandmother act she plays all day long you'd expect
her to be tubby and dressed in dirty peasant clothing with a scarf
on her head. But my mother looks more like some Upper East Side
lady who fell from the sky and landed in Texas. Her real hair color
is brown but for some years now she's been dying it blonde. Just
like every other housewife in Dallas. She wears red all the time.
She claims it's her color. Her nails, lips, clothes, everything.
She even has a genuine Chanel bag in red which she totes everywhere
and boasts to all her friends. She likes to show them her identification
card for the bag to prove that it's authentic, not some knockoff.
"Maryann next door told me that Johnny is on the football team.
How come you didn't try out?" She looked at me briefly then turned
back to the road.
"Ma, I don't like football."
"You've never tried. How can you be sure."
"Well, I can be sure that I'd get killed playing." I watched her
drive. She gripped the steering wheel loosely with her long, red-nailed
"That Johnny is not much bigger than you. You could play."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Don't say hell."
"Okay, what the heck are you talking about. Little Johnny is three
times my size; he's a monster. He's like the smallest on the team.
The rest of those guys are 5 times my size. Why do you care about
football anyway?" I hated it when she meddled like that.
"I just think that young boy like you should be active. Not always
reading in his room." I hated it when she acted like she wasn't
trying to make me do something. As if I wouldn't notice.
"I like to read. I like my room. So it strikes me that reading
in my room is perfectly logical. You don't care about me exercising
anyway. You just want to tell those ridiculous housefraus that your
boy plays ball too. Who cares if he reads? Football and God, that's
what it's all about, right?"
"What? Who are these housefraus?"
"Your friends, ma, your freakin' friends. Stop trying to keep up
with the Joneses."
"We don't know any Joneses." I had to laugh. She didn't even get
it. I looked out the window and studied the sky. It looked like
it might rain. We drove for about two more minutes before finally
reaching school. She pulled in and waved to another mother who was
"What time should I pick you up?" she said shifting in her seat
to look at me through oversized sunglasses.
"I don't care." I didn't like how she was just going on like she
hadn't done anything.
"No, tell me what time."
"Whenever the hell you feel like it."
"Nice boys don't say hell." She said it so cheerfully I didn't
know what to say.
"Bye." I slammed the door. She knew just how to get in the last
Later in English we were still discussing 1984. The teacher brought
up communism again. Then the kid in front of me said that fascist
societies breed disobedience and that's why the main character acts
out and has the affair with Julia.
"Max, have your parents ever told you about feeling rebellious
under fascist communism" How dumb. She didn't even know what she
was talking about.
"Actually, communism isn't fascism, it's really socialism."
"Come on, Max, certainly you can't believe that communism wasn't
fascist after all your parents must have told you." She smiled like
she thought she was being really smart.
"Maybe in practice communism is oppressive, but it's defined as
socialism. You want to talk about fascism talk about Mussolini or
Hitler. If you want to talk about fascism in Russia the closest
thing was czarist rule. The Bolshevik Revolution was a product of
that oppression. As far as I know my parents aren't old enough to
have been alive then, so no, they haven't told me anything about
being rebellious." I just stared at her, and she decided to move
on. The bell rang ten minutes later, and I left to go wait for my
By this time it had started to rain, so I decided to wait under
the overhang. Usually my mother was already there after school,
but I didn't see her. I paced back and forth for awhile and watched
the parking lot clear out. I looked at my watch again; it was four
o'clock. Where could she be? Just then I saw a flash of fire engine
red in the distance; it got closer and eventually pulled into the
school. My mother stopped the car in front of me. I opened the door
and deposited my backpack on the floor.
"What do you mean? You said I could come whenever the hell I felt
like it." I had to laugh at that. Sometimes my mother was just too
funny for words.