Sunday, May 20, 2007

Seventeen








"I should feel sleepy," I say. I'm drinking coffee and the coffee's bitter and tepid. "I should be exhausted."

"Maybe," Merna says.

"Might be super-human with no-sleep power-mutations or something."

"Maybe." Merna yawns and leans in her chair until the chair creaks.

"In comic-books I'd wear a black and white crescent-moon uniform and I'd never sleep and my head would be very small and thin and maybe blank with a question-mark where my facial-features are." I imagine fleshy question-mark facial-features. "I could be called 'The Question' and I would interrogate super-villains non-stop, for days, without sleeping."

My step-mother's head's face-down on the kitchen-table and her fingers are interlaced over the head, softly holding the head against the kitchen-table.

"Ever think about Anastasia?" I ask my step-mother. "I've been dreaming about her lately. I wonder why I dream about things."

There's a silence.

"I'm pregnant" Merna says.

"What?" my step-mother says.

"You're almost a great-grandmother."

"Great-grand-step-mother-person," I say. I finish my coffee. "Anastasia," I say quietly and to no one in particular.

"Twins," Merna says. "Noah and I've been trying for almost a year but it happened finally and the ultrasound shows twins, probably a boy and a girl but we don't know what to name the twins and Noah says we shouldn't name them until they're born and completely and independently alive, which makes sense because people with names are different than people without names, maybe. I don't know. Names."
"Wonderful." My step-mother raises her head. She's crying.

"You should name them Anastasia. Anastasia's a good name."

"Twins?"

My step-mother's my grandmother. "Anastasia-One and Anastasia-Two. That's what I'd name them, even if they're boys."

Merna smiles a wide flat smile and cradles her stomach with both hands and her stomach suddenly seems strange and round, both larger and smaller than before, but rounder, and I want to rub her stomach and caress her stomach and feel her stomach through her stomach or maybe feel baby-feet or baby-hands or baby-heads, but I don't know what I'd feel or what I'd do when I feel it, whatever it is.

"Why don't we wake grandpa? I'm sure he'd want to hear about twins and probably has a thousand twin-names he's been thinking about. We could sneak into the bedroom and hide under the bed and shake the bed randomly like an earthquake or a ghost or something and we could bring whistles maybe and shake the bed and make whistle-sounds and control his dreams and when he wakes and puts his little foot on the floor, we could reach from beneath the bed and hold his ankle and blow our whistles for a while." I imagine my hand wrapped around my grandfather's ankle which I think must be bony and cold with tight bulging veins and wispy curled hairs. I think the words, 'Vein-y ankle-bone muscle-trap,' which is hilarious somehow, but I lock my laughter carefully away. In middle-school I once laughed aloud while Mrs. Gardener was lecturing. After class, Mrs. Gardener told me wait by her desk her desk, which was red and covered with tall, leaning paper-stacks, and, when we were alone, said, "Is laughing appropriate when I'm lecturing?" "I wasn't laughing at you," I answered. My history-teacher frowned. "I personally don't think ethnic-cleansing is funny, do you? How about rape and genocide, murder and death, class-struggle, immigrant-exploitation?" "No," I said. "You could be working in a bra-factory, sewing your little fingers into mass-produced push-up bras." I didn't answer. "Don't ever laugh at history." "I won't," I said. 'Don't laugh at history,' I think. 'Mrs. Gardener was very serious and her hands were large and red and angry and her face was flat and smooth and concerned only with history.' I imagine my grandfather laughing at history, heartily, with both hands on his broad stomach. "We could prank grandpa," I say.

"Stop it," Merna says.

My step-mother slowly stands and with her head lowered, turns from me and carefully steps into the family-room. Her bathrobe's thick and long and white, folded and shadowy, and I want the white bathrobe to be my white bathrobe and for my step-mother to be me so I might walk slowly into the family-room and silently sit on the family-couch. Or to be my grandfather and shuffle carefully down the stairs and into the family-room and to sit next to my step-mother who's head's lowered and who sits sadly on the family-couch and to then say, "I had the Martian-moon-dream with you and Anastasia and everyone and we had a gigantic mini-van in Montana with food and fire and tents and we opened a pimento jarring-factory and became rich selling pimentos to Canadians." Or maybe, "Let's go to Lisbon for the summer. We'll read books and live on hotel-buffets and maybe high-jack snack-food freight-trucks at night or something."

"Listen," Merna says.

I'm standing and walking.

"Come walk with me, outside, in the snow or something."

"No thanks," I say.

Merna grabs my arm. "Seriously. We should go to the grocery-store for something, or a soda maybe. I'll buy you a soda."

I can see my step-grand-mother and my step-grand-mother's sitting quietly in the dark with her hands folded on her lap. "We should turn on a lamp," I say. I feel reckless. "We should break all the lamps and make a lamp-pile and light the lamp-pile on fire."

"Come on. Orange soda?"

"Lamp-fire's a dumb idea. You're right. That's a dumb idea."

"We could climb on the roof again."

"Let's sit in the family-room and watch television and find every lamp and turn on every lamp here and everywhere."

"Just leave grandma alone."

"Who wants to be alone?"

Merna's holding my arm and pulling my arm. "Come on."

"We could play Monopoly or something and I could be a real-estate power-broker. I could evict you. I could build Wal-Marts instead of hotels." My step-grand-mother stretches her body horizontally across the couch and closes here eyes. In the lamp-less family-room, she's very thin and dark and even sinister in a filmic way, like a sleepy assassin or a serial killer, and I think, 'She's very stern and quiet and still and maybe carefully deciding my human-fate or how to murder me and who to hire and what kind of death I should die or what kind of death every person should die when every person dies and then what to do with the dead bodies [burn them?] and how to dress the dead bodies before the burning, what kind of funerals to have and will there be eulogies and who will say the eulogies, then what to do after, when it's only her and bodies?'





"Who's saying the eulogy?" I asked.

"I am," my grandfather answered. "I wrote this thing about pimentos."

"What's a pimento?"

"I don't know."

We were sitting in my grandfather's Cadillac. There was sun. I was small and my toes were small and I watched my toes and wiggled my toes and felt the smallness of my toes which seemed like tiny independent ants or beetles, maybe, and I wondered, with the right pressure, if my toes would pop.

"Use your power-windows," my grandfather said. "Make the buzzing sound." He was laughing. "Buzz," he said.

I used the power-windows.

"Very good," he said.

"I'm a skilled employee."

"And I'm a skilled employer. We're a good team. I'll find the capital. You do the backbreaking labor."

"I'll steal a car or something and take the car to a chop-shop. We'll sell the car-pieces and open an illegal car-piece shop which will fund my gambling ring."

"Okay, very good."

My grandfather hunched over the steering-wheel and my grandfather's profile was very large and jagged against the bright sunlight. The Cadillac's interior was bright and filmy and everywhere the air was suffused with a bright sparkles or dust motes which slowly moved at angles and adjacent from everything. My grandfather's face was deep and wrinkled and his mouth was very serious and straight and even his teeth were serious and straight and calm and I knew suddenly that one day I too would have a serious calm mouth and one day a girl would look at my serious calm mouth and feel strange and knowledgeable and calm and would think to herself that one day she too would have this serious calm mouth.

"Listen," my grandfather said. "I have to be serious."

"Listen," I said.

"You'll stay with us. We've decided. I've made all necessary arrangements and we have plenty of room and there are good schools here. I want you and Merna here. We want you."

"I'll stay." I didn't know what to say, only that I was supposed to say something.

"You and Merna."

"Yes."

"We moved your stuff already and it'll be good and fun and we'll play monopoly forever, or chess, chutes and ladders, something. I know it's not, or can't be the same or similar anymore. You and your grandmother can decorate a little. We'll go to the zoo. You like the zoo? I like penguins. I like the giraffes because they're very tall. It can be similar or the same, maybe."

"Same."

"It can't be the same, but it can be okay."

"Okay," I said.

My grandfather nodded once. "Chutes and ladders," he said.

"Chutes and ladders," I said.





"Chutes."

It's morning. I'm on the front-porch, which is wide and white and cold. Merna stands next to me. Our breaths heat the air and steam the air and the steam's amorphous and fog-like until it disappears.

"Ladders," Merna says.

"Do you ever imagine the world or reality, like downtown or high school, or the hospital or whatever, based on a chutes and ladders system?"

"No."

"Like you're walking downtown and a ladder appears before you and you climb the ladder because when ladders appear you must climb them and you're walking again and there's a tall thin man in front of you and you're approaching the man and suddenly the man disappears. The man is there and not there. You approach. There's a chute. You stand in front of the chute and wonder if you should slide down the chute." I imagine the man standing on the front-porch with his head resting in a corner and his hands flat against the adjacent walls. The man is there.

"Listen, I have to tell you something."

"But it's a chute and the chute's very red and very deep and the red chute curves slightly and disappears but you've stopped in font of the chute so you must slide down the chute and there's nothing else to be done but close your eyes and slide." The man is not there.

"We used to play chutes and ladders."

"I usually cheated."

"It doesn't matter." Merna's watching my face.

"Cheating's the only way to win. That's why I cheat. I'm a cheater." The man is there, the chute is there.

"Listen, it's about grandpa."

"The chute's there and not there." I imagine the chute and the chute's there.

1 comment:

Amber said...

this chapter is sad...