Saturday, February 17, 2007


"You're not even a real person," I said to my father. We were on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco. It was summer vacation. "You're like an android or something. Designed by the government to make me think I'm a real person. We're in a lab probably. We're an experiment and I'm the variable and you're the control. You like being the control but I don't like being the variable and the variable could do anything so the control should be careful." I stepped into a cell and closed the iron gate. I pulled my face against the cold bars. "Take a picture of me in the cell," I said, "if you can handle it, not being real and all?"

"Sshhh," my father said. "I'm listening to the audio-tour. He adjusted his headphones.

"I am the audio-tour."

My father didn't respond.

"Help," I said. "Somebody help me."

"Sshhh," my father said. "You're bothering people."

"I am not."

I stepped out of the cell and moved along the row of cells dragging my fingers lightly along the bars. My father was far behind me, one hand on his headphones, his face very concentrated and smooth with round hard eyes and a bright sharp nose. My father was a short man with short legs and short arms and narrow, stooped shoulders and a wide, oversized head. I thought, 'There is nothing real in the real world,' as I touched an iron bar. I said aloud, "Taxidermy." I don't know why I said "taxidermy" but I said "taxidermy" and a man who had been inspecting a nearby wall moved quickly away, glancing wildly in my direction as he walked, and nearly tripped over a crawling toddler. I followed the man outside where the sun was a large red ball hung loosely in the sky from little thin clouds. The man stopped near a low fence on the edge of the hill overlooking San Francisco and the narrow bay. I moved near the man. "Taxidermy," I said.

"Don't say that." The man turned toward me.

"Why not?"

"I'm a taxidermist and it's terrible and hollow and fake."

"So what?" I hung my audio-tour headphones on the fence.

"I stuff pet cats and kittens and dogs and people put them on their walls and bookshelves and mantles and they look at their dead pets and cry. It's really terrible."

"You should stuff people," I said.


"You should kill people and stuff people and put people in life-like poses in their own homes. Like a serial killer. You could murder whole families and stuff whole families and arrange them carefully in their homes in boring family situations, like playing monopoly or eating a home-cooked meal or arguing about what TV show to watch. You could be famous. You could be the taxi-killer."

"Why would I want that?"

"Why does anyone want anything?"

I picked up a rock and held the rock high and with my arm carefully aimed and threw the rock at my audio-tour headphones and smashed my audio-tour headphones into little headphone pieces.

"Why'd you do that?"

"You ask too many questions and are boring," I said. "I should smash you with a rock. I thought taxidermists were interesting people, but you're really boring."

The taxidermist turned away from me and moved along the fence with little shuffling steps. I followed closely.

"I'll follow you somewhere and tell people you're a serial killer."

"Stop it."

"You're a terrible serial killer and you kill people with kitchen knives and carefully skin your victim's bodies and you take the victim-skin and stuff it with sawdust and garbage and sew it together and dress it up like real people and put them in your basement as pretend friends and lovers and stuff, and you eat their organs probably, you cook and eat their organs and open a restaurant and serve the organs and entrails and meat to unsuspecting customers with basil and parsley and chili oil to disguise the taste." The taxidermist had moved far away now. "You're disgusting," I shouted. "You're terrible and terribly terrible or something something."

I took a running step toward the taxidermist and stopped. I imagined the taxidermist stuffing my body with sawdust and using a scalpel to make slow incisions along my belly and then hanging me from a pulley system over a bathtub so that my body-liquids slowly drain into the bathtub and so my entrails and organs would slowly flop into the bathtub and dry.

My father touched my shoulder. "What are you doing out here?"

"There was a taxidermist," I said. I told my father about the pulley system and the incisions and stuffed families eating plastic dinners. My father watched a small square of my face, above and to the left of my left eye. He seemed to be slowly counting in his head. "Nothing," I said.

"You always lie and I can tell and I can't handle it anymore. You have to stop it and tell the truth or something terrible will happen. Something really terrible."

"That's not true."

My father shook his head slowly and I followed him down to the boat and we boarded the boat and stood on the deck and leaned against the gunwale until the boat began to vibrate and then move. My father hugged me for a moment and together we watched San Francisco grow larger as we slowly approached.

My father looked at me and said, "Everything is true all the time, huh? But I have to go to the bathroom." He moved past me toward the front of the boat.

I followed, hiding behind other passengers. I was very small then. I wanted to drink a soda. I wanted to ask my father for quarters for the soda-vending machine. My father was in front of me and his wide oversized head balanced strangely on his narrow neck and his little gray sweater hugged closely to his narrow body and the boat rocked a little with the waves and his legs and my legs absorbed the rocking and we moved weirdly, awkwardly forward as the boat moved smoothly, swiftly through the low waves, until, finally, my father's hands grasped the gunwale and pulled on the gunwale until my father's body was perched on the gunwale and my father's face looked for a moment at my face until my father's body shivered slowly over the gunwale and disappeared silently beneath the boat.

"What's a gunwale?" I ask.

"Part of a boat," my grandfather answers.

"Change the channel," Erik says. "I hate this show."

We're watching CHiPs. Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox are riding motorcycles through the foothills of the Siskiyous, side by side, pursuing a red Chevy Nova. There is cocaine in the Nova's ceiling panels. I think, 'Erik is Erik and Erik's on television and next to me.' I think, 'If Erik Estrada and Erik were the same Erik, would the TV implode?' I imagine Erik and the television imploding: Erik stands next to the television and Erik and the television expand suddenly, and then slowly contract into a central point between Erik and the television, pulling Erik and the televisions atoms individually and then in large atom-clumps until Erik and the television become the central point. My step-mother has set the photo-album aside.

"I want to see more photos," Aaron says.

"All of our photos were destroyed in a house-fire," I say. "Cameras too."

"They were not!" my step-mother says.

"She has Alzheimer's and senile dementia," I say. "Everything was destroyed. The fire killed two kittens and I can't look at kittens anymore."

My grandfather begins to chuckle. "And my leg burnt off and I have a wooden leg." He grabs his leg and shakes it. "See, lifeless. When the heat clicks on I can't stop crying."

Erik says, "Can I have the remote-control?"

"Anastasia started the fire. She was making Molotov cocktails in her bedroom. Anastasia's an anarchist, even in elementary school. She was terribly violent and devious. She made a shiv in metal-shop. She sliced my arms while I slept. She sliced my arms and drained the blood and into little glass bottles and saved the little glass bottles under her bed, each one labeled with withdrawal date and time. The little glass blood-bottles burned in the fire though, and then there was nothing."

"What?" says my step-mother.

My grandfather is laughing. "It's all true," he says.

Anastasia was hiding in her room, under the bed. Merna was at her boyfriend's house. I sat at the kitchen-table with my mother. We were drinking tall glasses of milk. My mother's hair was long and brown and soft and beautiful, and the hair was very thin and shiny and my mother had pulled it over her very slim shoulder and let it lay still on her chest. My mother looked at me with her eyes and her eyes were large green eye-shapes and her eyes blinked at a slower, stranger rate than mine, and we sat together at the kitchen table with our hands on glasses of milk and carefully tipping glasses of milk so that milk poured slowly into our mouths. I was little then, and chubby and my hair was very dirty and tangled.

"Where is your father?" my mother said.

"I don't know."

"Did he say where he was going or when he'd be back when he left?"

"I don't know. I think he went to work."

"Hah!" My mother finished her milk and slammed her milk-glass onto the tabletop.

"Are you taking me to school today?"

"I don't think you should go to school anymore, or I think your father should take you to school. I'll call him for you. Maybe…did he give you a phone-number to call him at?"

"I don't think so." I tried not to look at my mother's face because my mother's face was a little wrinkled oval with sad eye-shaped eyes blinking slowly while the eyeballs moved wildly from one object to another object to me.

"Let's go shopping," my mother said. "We'll go shopping and chat and be like friends, but I'm still your mother. Let's get dressed and go shopping. Get dressed and we'll go shopping? I'll take you, we'll go to the mall, we'll go shopping and we'll talk, and I'll buy you a soda and a piece of candy, no not candy, I'll buy you a soda and an ice-cream cone. We'll get fancy ice-cream cones and we'll go shopping, just the two of us, and we'll talk and it will be fun and touching and something to remember when I'm dead."

My mother was a brilliant behavioral psychologist, on vacation. She worked at a university research facility with people and mice and mazes and little white soundproof rooms. She often told me about the little white soundproof rooms. "I wish I had a room like that," she said. "I'd stay in the room at home, or I'd take you with me to the soundproof room and we could talk without other people talking and without sounds like creaking floorboards or outdoor birds or the dishwasher or refrigerator engines or automobiles. There are noises everywhere and you can't stop the noises because the noises make waves in the air and the air particles move with the airwaves and our ears interpret the airwaves as sounds so the thing to do is have a little white soundproof room and to stay there until all you can hear is your body-sounds, like your heart and lungs and stuff, or we'd go together and talk for a while and we'd make the waves in the air and the only waves in the air would be our airwaves."

"Get dressed," my mother said. "We're going shopping."

I wore my pink dress which was part of my Halloween costume. My mother drove slowly to the shopping-mall. I turned off the radio. My mother parked and we ran to the shopping-mall entrance and entered the shopping-mall and stood inside the shopping-mall entrance and looked at the moving swarms of people and the rows of shop-facades and the many shop-signs with strange words and colors and images.

"Come on!" my mother said. "Let's go to JC Penney."

Inside the JC Penney fitting room, my mother stuffed packages of socks and t-shirts and chocolates into my pink dress. My mother folded skirts and blouses and shoved them beneath her shirt and blouse. "Come on!" she said. We ran out into the parking-lot and laughed a lot. My mother opened the car-trunk and placed the blouses and skirts inside the trunk and had me place the socks and shirts and chocolates inside the trunk. "Good job!" she said. My mother held my hand and we went back inside the mall. "Let's go to Sears!" my mother said. In the Sears dressing room, my mother hid wrenches, screwdrivers, and hammers beneath my pink dress, and then hid neck-ties, belts, and cumber-bunds beneath her skirt and blouse, and she held my hand and we ran swiftly outside into the parking-lot where the sky was a looming gray overcoat and where the black asphalt was wet with rain and dirty and dusty. She opened the car-trunk and we put the stuff in the trunk and she closed the trunk.

"Now for ice-cream!"

My mother took me to a table in the food-court and I sat at the table and the table was cold and plastic and blue.

"Wait here," my mother said. "I'll get the ice-cream."

She walked slowly among the moving people and I watched her until I couldn't see her anymore and I sat at the table and watched the people move and I thought, 'Each person is a person thinking different things.' I saw an old woman with and plastic rain-bonnet pulled tightly to her head. "Hello," I said. "What's that?" I pointed at the rain-bonnet.

"You should respect your elders," the old woman said.

"I do."

"You're an evil little thing aren't you?"

I looked at the old woman's eyes and the old woman's eyes were round and gray and motionless. "I am not," I said. "I am me," I said.

"You're a little bitch is what you are."

"My mother is here and I'll get my mother and she'll tell you," I said. My eyes looked for my mother.

The old woman moved her face close to my face and her face was very wrinkled and old and her mouth was a little black hole with no teeth and a gray shriveled tongue and the tongue wiggled strangely at me and I tried to move away but the old woman's hand was on my neck and the hand gripped my neck like a handle.

"You're a filthy murdering vile bitch," the old woman said. "If I were your mother, I'd drown you in the bathtub like a useless kitten and I feed your dead kitten-body to the monkeys at the zoo if the monkeys at the zoo would eat it, you useless child thing robot bitch."

The old woman pushed me and moved slowly away. I looked for my mother but couldn't find my mother so I went to the Burger King counter and said to the Burger King person behind the Burger King counter, "Have you seen my mother?"

"We're closed kid." The Burger King person turned away.

The mall-lights shut off and the shopping-mall was a dark, empty place. I ran to the door and out the door into the parking-lot and to the parking-space where my mother had parked her car but no car was there and no car was in the parking-lot and the parking-lot was an empty black thing with little empty lines and the sky was an empty black nothing and I couldn't see any person or any car so I walked out onto the highway and along the highway and the wind was cold and swift. My house was somewhere and I tried to walk toward it and when cars drove nearby, I hid in the grass and brush next to the highway. I imagined my mother's car as a great glowing beacon, very large and car-shaped sitting solidly on the horizon like a stone fortress, but mobile, and I imagined my little child-body approaching the beacon with little child-steps and maybe the beacon was on top of a hill and I climbed the hill for three months and then sat cross-legged in front of the beacon and gently slept next to the beacon with my little dirty head resting on the little dirty tire. But none of that happened and so I sat down and thought about it and wondered why.


MadisonGlass said...

You're so... pretty, Ofelia. So damned pretty.

Ofelia said...

Thank you.

amber said...

this is sad. even with me knowing she would be gone forever as soon as she left for ice cream, it is heartbreaking.

Ofelia said...

Thank you.