Saturday, February 10, 2007

Seven







"You are not."

I've said the words but Aaron's not looking at me and Erik's not looking at me and together with my step-mother, Aaron and Erik are watching television commercials. 'Maybe everybody is somebody else,' I think.

"You're my step-mother," I say.

She sighs. "Maybe I am," she says. "But I'm your grandmother."

"If you're my grandmother then where's my grandfather?"

"Sshhh," Erik says. "I'm watching TV."

"I just want to know."

"Sshhh."

I step into the kitchen. Here the hardwood flooring continues, broken only by a wide island with a built-in double-sink. The countertops are marble. The refrigerator and the double-oven are a dull, lightless metal, probably stainless-steel, and perfectly clean. The cabinet-doors all have windows through which you can see the rows of clean plates and glass and saucers and serving dishes. I open the refrigerator. From the door, I remove mayonnaise and ranch dressing and mustard and soy sauce and white wine and nacho cheese and a tiny bottle of tiny pickles, and I place all these objects on the countertop in a row from shortest to tallest, and from within the refrigerator I remove lettuce and tomatoes and a banana, and I stack these objects upon the row of condiments. I get more from the refrigerator. I get milk and orange-juice and tofu. I get yogurt and marmalade. I get baking soda. I move these objects and construct from these objects a miniature castle on the countertop and I look at this castle and I am proud of this castle and I want suddenly, at this moment, to display this castle for my step-mother and my grandfather and to take a photo of the castle with me in front of the castle and with Aaron and Erik and everyone, so with my arm I sweep this castle violently to the floor. There is a noise and a mess.

"What the hell's going on?" my step-mother says.

"Nothing."

But she has come into the kitchen. Aaron has come into the kitchen. Erik has come into the kitchen. The kitchen is warm and hurried and the air is more precious here as each person breathes their share away.

"I'm sorry," I say. "I'll clean up."

"Don't worry about it," my step-mother says. "Somebody'll take care of it later."

Aaron pushes the mess around with his foot.

"Let me show you boys something," my step-mother says. "Meet me in the family-room." She walks away.

I follow Aaron and Erik into the family-room. "Don't listen to her," I say. "She's crazy. She married into my family for the money but she was in an insane asylum place because of manic episodes and a 'psychotic break' she suffered in college when she stole her roommate's car and crashed her roommate's car into her roommate, a young, thin girl named Darla who's spine was crushed until she became paraplegic. It was finals week and she failed all her finals."

Erik says, "This is a really nice television. Flat-screen. I want to get a flat-screen sometime. I wonder if it's a LCD or plasma."

"I don't know how they're different," I say.

Aaron is examining the sofa with his hands. "The fabric is really soft."

"LCD means liquid crystal display," Erik says. "I used to have a watch with a liquid crystal display. It's really amazing and clever the way humans can make things with crystals."

"Really, you guys, don't listen to her. She's crazy. We could steal everything and sell everything at a pawnshop and make money and go somewhere else. Help me tie her up when she comes back. We'll tie her up in the kitchen."

"I wonder where they got the sofa."

"We'll gag her and blind her and leave her starving alone."

Aaron begins to remove the cushions and to search the cracks of the sofa with his hands. "So nice," he says. Aaron's arms seem very long and active and Aaron's head is moving side to side quickly and the cushions are scattered on the floor. "Soft," Aaron says.

Erik looks at me. "This is a really nice house, really nice. How come you never took me here before? I wanted to meet your grandparents. Are you ashamed of me or something?"

"What do you mean?"

"I'm kidding."

My step-mother is returning. I can hear her steps on the hardwood floor. She's wearing a white flower-print dress now and her arms are holding a large brown scrapbook book. "Darla," I say. "You killed Darla and now you're going to show the dead Darla pictures to my lovers?" I move to my step-mother and reach for the scrapbook. "She took pictures of Darla after she killed her with her Polaroid camera. It's disgusting. Stop and give it. No dead Darla pictures. No dead Darla."

"Whatever are you talking about?"

Aaron has fixed the sofa and Aaron and Erik are sitting on the sofa and my step-mother steps down into the family room, cradling the scrapbook.

"Stop," I say.

My step-mother sits between Aaron and Erik and opens the scrapbook.

I move to the stairs and up the stairs and I watch the three of them as I move up the stairs until the angles are wrong. I'm in a hallway with seven white doors. I open the door that opens to my bedroom. There is a narrow, made bed with gray sheets and a dark blue patchwork quilt in the corner next to a dark, three-drawer nightstand. When I was young, I kept my knife in the nightstand, in the back corner of the top drawer behind my panties taped beneath a knife-sized strip of cardboard. I was ten years old when I stole the knife. I slept over at my classmate's house. My classmate's name was Mallory and her hair was dark and curly and brown and she once said to me, "How come your hair isn't curly or brown and pretty like my hair is?" and I came to love her. I imagined killing her with a knife and with a baseball bat and I imagined tying a noose and hanging her little gray kitten from her low porch, and I knew I loved her then and I watched her in class and sat next to her on the playground at recess and touched her brown and curly and beautiful hair with my little imperfect hands. The knife was a kitchen knife with a round black handle and a long curved blade and I found it in Mallory's kitchen in a drawer that had many knifes and many slots for many knives. I thought, 'Nobody wants this knife because there are too many knives and even knives the same size and shape as this one, and this knife is probably sad and neglected and unused,' and I felt terrible that the knife was unused and I took it and hid it in my jacket.

'It's not always evil to kill a person,' I think.

I lay on my bed and look at the little plastic stars glued to my ceiling.

"Stars," I say aloud. "Evil."

There is a knock at the door. My grandfather steps into the room. My grandfather is very tall and gaunt and stooped and his red flannel shirt is baggy and tucked into his jeans which are loose and held up by a tight leather belt. "You're here," he says. My grandfather moves to the chair and falls to the chair with a little soundless sigh and his face becomes a round thing with wrinkles that run parallel like lines of latitude on a globe. His mouth is big toothless hole and from his big toothless hole come the words, "I'll die soon."

"You always say that," I say, but I don't know if that's true. I try to remember my grandfather saying those same words before.

"I went to my doctor and my doctor said I'm dying. I have cancer. He said I'm a 'cancer-garden' but that's okay. I'm ready. All my friends are pretty much dead. My tree died, you know. The maple my father planted. Rotted through the middle. Had to have it chopped down before it fell on the house. House is old and dying too. Every week it's a new repair man. Replace the insulation. Replace the refrigerator. Replace the drywall. Dry-rot. Only thing that's living well is the insects because the insects eat dead things. There are probably insects inside me eating my insides like I'm already dead and buried in the ground. Like preparation. I don't know anything. Maybe god knows about death and stuff. My doctor kind of knows. I eat twenty different pills every day. And I go to the pharmacy once a week and I go to the doctor once a week. It's really rather boring."

"I'm dying too."

"Don't be ridiculous. You're too young to be dying."

"Life is a long dying probably. I just thought that in my head and then said it and it sounds true. I probably read it somewhere."

"That's stupid." My grandfather begins to cough. "You teenagers are all stupid and melodramatic from watching television and television-dramas. You probably want life to be a drama with a silly plot and crying."

"I'm not a teenager."

"Do you remember your sixteenth birthday party?"

I try to remember. I think the words, 'Birthday caterpillar sandwich.' I think other words. "No," I say. "I don't think I had a party."

"We drove to Canada, stayed in hotel? Invited your high-school friends, that girl Mallory?"

"I don't remember."

"Doesn't matter anyway." My grandfather's hand reaches toward me. "Here," he says, "help me up."

I grab my grandfather's hand and arm and pull my grandfather to his feet, and his hand and arm are very cold, even through the flannel, and his flesh is soft and malleable, and he groans as he stands, and he seems very lightweight and frail and I think that I could easily lift him and carry him on my back. When I was very young my grandfather carried me around and picked me up and tossed me into the air. Sometimes he caught me. Sometimes he let me fall. He said, "You have to learn that people sometimes drop people and it hurts like fuck." My grandfather had black hair then, combed into a delicate pompadour, and his face was lined and rigid like a metal grating.

He shuffles out of the room. "Come downstairs," he says. My grandfather is hunched and can't see me. "We'll have coffee together."

"In a minute," I say. "I'll be down in a minute."

I open my nightstand's top drawer and reach to the back and loosen the cardboard and remove the knife. I hold the knife in my hand. It seems pale and flimsy now, a dollar-store kitchen knife with little dents and nicks in the blade. I put the knife in my purse.

I think about my sixteenth birthday in Canada. Mallory was there and beautiful in a flower-print dress and with bouncy curly brown hair cut into a bob. We stayed at the Hyatt and shared a room and outside our window was a tall fountain with five stone fish spitting water. I sat next to the window. Mallory lay on the bed.

"This is Canada," I said. "I don't feel different."

"It's ugly here," Mallory said. "But it's ugly everywhere, so I don't blame the Canadians."

"Do you think we can have wine with dinner?"

"It's your grandfather."

We drank wine with dinner and became very drunk and Mallory and I stumbled outside near the fountain with our arms laced together. There were bright white lights lighted from beneath the pooled water and the fish were wet and gleaming and spitting water and we sat next to the fountain and leaned against each other.

"You know what?" Mallory said.

"This fountain is a fountain fountain," I said, laughing.

"I fucked the math teacher in the math classroom."

"Oh?"

"On the math desk."

"Really?"

Mallory didn't answer. She stepped into the fountain. "There's money down here," she said. She dove under the water and grabbed all the money she could grab and put the money down the front of her dress. "Help me get the money," Mallory said.

"Stop. People will look at us."

"So fucking what?"

"I don't want people looking at me," I said.

Mallory shook her head and dove under the water again, her hands searching the fountain-bottom for change.

I went back to our hotel room and sat by the window. I could see Mallory and hear Mallory as she dove into the water and grabbed money and then surfaced and laughed at her good fortune in finding so much money. I wondered if anybody was watching Mallory and if anybody was watching me as I watched Mallory or if anybody was watching anybody with video-cameras or satellite-cameras or even with human eyes. I was watching Mallory so somebody was watching Mallory and Mallory was watching only money. I thought about this and leaned my head against the window and half-closed my eyes so that everything but Mallory was a little gray blur. Then, Mallory slipped and fell forward and hit her head on the fountain's concrete edge and little red drips of blood dripped on the fountain's concrete edge and Mallory slid slowly, drunkenly into the fountain-water and her little head and beautiful curly hair bobbed up and down with the fountain-water and the fountain-water turned dark with little bubbles of red like sprayed ink and Mallory's head bobbed faster and then slower until, finally, all movement stopped.






"This is from the elementary school pageant. See, Cleopatra," my step-mother says.

I am on the stairs, against the wall. I can't see Aaron or Erik or my step-mother or my grandfather, but I hear my grandfather cough hoarsely and apologize. I hear the slow turning of pages and the sound of old fingers and old paper. At my feet, a heating vent forces warm air onto my ankles and up my dress in a pleasant way and I crouch and lean back to maximize the warm airflow into my dress, holding my dress around me to hold the warm air in.

"This is the home-coming dance when she was fifteen. The dress is so pretty. We made it together, kind of, and sewed it and designed it, and her little date is so handsome in his little suit, don't you think?" My stepmother sighs a little sigh. "Look at this."

Aaron says, "Do you have photos of her parents?"

There is a pause.

"Well…"

I run down the stairs. I leap the last six and land with a solid thump. "I'm back," I say. "What's everyone doing? Let's play Monopoly, except I hate Monopoly, so let's watch TV and sit together on the couch or something." I rush into the family-room. My step-mother and grandfather sit across from Aaron and Erik, the coffee table between them. "This is so family-like, like we're a family, just step-mother, grandfather, and lover Erik and lover Aaron. We should take a family picture for the family scrapbook so we can have family memories and stuff." I squish myself between Aaron and Erik and feel Aaron and Erik's bodies against my body, holding me in the slim space, and we generate body warmth and pass body warmth through each other in a circuit.

"I'm your grandmother, not your stepmother."

"My name is Todd."

I don’t answer. I turn on the television with the television remote-control. "We should watch a murder mystery," I say. "Something where the cop beats the truth out of the criminal in the interrogation room. I like interrogation rooms." I imagine an interrogation room with a wide table and three chairs and a bright, hot light, or a bare one-hundred twenty-five watt light-bulb hanging from a black cord. There is a window with one-way glass. There is Aaron and Erik. Aaron is sitting at the table, leaning lazily in his chair, his slim little head flopping around. Erik is pacing in front of the one-way window. The criminal is me and I sit in the far chair, clutching a bottle of water. "You don't fucking know what you're talking about," I say. "I'm not even a real person."

3 comments:

adam said...

This was long, but funny and mean, like that part of life's supposed to be, so I like it.

Ofelia said...

Thank you.

amber said...

it's all so very sad.