Summer brings with it a certain set of rites and rituals — and everyone’s are personal and unique. For our weeklong ode to the season, T has invited writers to share their own. Here, Mona Awad describes the simple pleasures of eating frozen cherries while watching films by Alfred Hitchcock.
A few summers ago, I had to have hip surgery. “Might be a long recovery,” my surgeon warned. And as for its success? “We’ll see.” Four to six weeks of crutches followed by three to six months of physical therapy. Pain killers and ice. This would be my summer of uncertainty. This would be my summer of suspense and lying still. This would be my summer of Hitchcock and cold cherries.
It was a hot summer, even in the evenings. I remember it as windless. My world became very small, reduced to a half-darkened room. I would lie in the blue shade, a chilled bowl of cherries sweating against my scarred hip like an ice pack. There was the whir of the oscillating fan, the blinds that made the evening light stripe across my face, my crutches leaning against the nearby dresser for easy access. On my laptop screen, Jimmy Stewart sat slouched 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, while 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 at my thigh: an icy, candied sweetness with depth and bite. It tasted as vivid as the Technicolor on my screen. The cherries were my bridge, my passport to that other world. The walls around me fell away, or I forgot them. Forgot my frozen, still aching hip. Forgot my real-world dread — would I be able to walk or sit without pain? Instead, another, more delightful dread took hold. I leaned into it, my metaphorical crutch.
This was an old ritual, one I’d enjoyed with my mother as a child: the two of us sitting on either end of the pink-and-white striped couch, a bowl of cold cherries between us. She loved them best that way. My mother worked as a hotel dining-room manager, and summers, like all holidays, were a time of increased work, not rest. Longer shifts, demanding guests. Old movies at night were her vacation. She loved glamour — and she loved mystery. I was 13 when we spent our first summer together watching Hitchcock, her favorite. “That’s Jimmy,” my mother would say, pointing to the screen. “That’s Tippi. That’s Cary. Oh, that’s Grace.” She spoke about the stars like they were her personal friends.
My mother savored the suspense in these films, but for me, the tension was often unbearable. It was almost impossible, for instance, to watch Grace Kelly get framed in “Dial M for Murder.”
“What’s going to happen to Grace?” I’d ask my mother.
“That gray dress she’s wearing is so sharp, isn’t it? Such style.”
“Mom,” I’d press, “what’s — ”
“I don’t know,” my mother would say, lying. Then she’d smile, light a cigarette and grab a cherry from the bowl, her nails painted the same deep shade. “Just watch.”
AND SO, NOT FOR the first time in my life, this became my evening ritual the summer of my surgery, each night offering another spellbinding journey. Another icy blonde in a devastating dress, another suited man with pomaded hair. The eerie swell of Bernard Herrmann’s scores, the clinking stir of a martini, the immersive, transportive shots that blurred the boundary between our world and theirs.
I watched Ray Milland smile 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 unravel at the sight of red in “Marnie.” Mesmerized, I watched the hallucinatory verdant splendor of “Vertigo” — Kim Novak in her green dress with its mysterious white rabbit pin. Hair on end, I watched John Dall smoke a cigarette in brown leather gloves after strangling a man in the middle of the day in “Rope.” “It’s the darkness that’s got you down,” he tells his accomplice seconds after the act. “Pity we couldn’t have done it with the curtains open, in the bright sunlight.” I shivered.
Yet the film I came back to again and again was “Rear Window.” It was the open celebration of voyeurism — how it infused a summer of stagnation with possibility, sophistication and intrigue. Stewart’s character, Jeffries, was in my position: injured and confined to one room in the sweltering heat, observing the world through windows. And what a world it was. Miss Torso doing her dance, juggling her wolves. Miss Lonelyhearts and her increasingly dark reaches for romance. And of course, the monstrous, wife-murdering Thorwald, played by Raymond Burr, whose acts of horrific violence we catch in tantalizing fragments. Tart and sweet. Icy, as cold cherries.
Years later, after my mother’s death, after my summer of recovery, the ritual persists. I return to these Hitchcock and cold cherry nights for nostalgia, for escape. A way of mothering myself in difficult times. Summer or winter, I’ll lie on my bed in the half-dark, the cherries cooling my thigh where the incision scars have now faded. I’ll turn on the whirring fan and one of my favorites. And then? I’ll dissolve into nothing but eyes, a gaze, following Hitchcock’s. It’s suspenseful every time. Will all be well in the end?
My mother would never tell me, even though she knew. “Just watch.”
Mona Awad is the author of the novels “13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl” (2016), “Bunny” (2019) and the forthcoming “All’s Well,” which will be published in August by Simon & Schuster.