Clomping home through a heavy slush, most of my friends scattered in different directions when we reached my street. Murky trails of feet scattered through the soft pearl skin ladled across the sidewalks. In a weak attempt to save his new shoes, Joey doddered on ahead across slick mounds of old snow. His legs punctured the piles and soaked him from his bony legs down through his new shoes. His mother waited at the window with a folded tartan shawl to protect him from the bitterness.
Grey and wet, the day was intrusive to everyone and everything. Slowing down through a hardening and slick slush, the biting wind gnawed my left ear. I tucked my ear against my shoulder and kept moving.
Before leaving school, I overstuffed my coat pockets with candy: mallow cups, sugar daddies, sugar babies, bite-sized chocolate bars, and small boxes of gumdrops. I bought some, while others were given to me. Nevertheless, I knew my mom would never allow the candy. She already handcuffed me with a never-ending cycle of strict diets which started from when I was young.
I used to climb on the kitchen counters to sneak a cookie out of an intentionally hard-to-reach jar. She'd tell the baby-sitters to watch out for that.
Thinking quickly on my front steps, because I did not hatch a plan ahead of time, I took all of the candy out of my pockets and stuffed them into my knit hat. Tucking the hat inside my jacket, I thought I could quick scoot into the house and right up the steps, make the right into my room, and secretly stash away the treats.
My jacket conspicuously buckled out with all of the illegal candy.
A slow rain returned and heavy drops popped the holes in the winter mess colder and grayer by the minute.
Normally, candy would not be a problem. My mom worked several jobs and I often shuffled home to an empty house. Today, however, my grandmother was ill. Gravely ill. She slept upstairs; I wasn't allowed to see her or disturb her from her rest. I knew the house would be busy with company. I thought I could slip through everyone.
I settled on putting the knit hat back on my head with the candy inside.
Climbing the outside steps, I glanced several nodding heads in the living room near the window. Already preoccupied with their cups of tea and biscottis, I could do this.
As the door popped open from my shoulder shove, all of their sussuration halted and heads looked at me, and continued looking at me. The steady silence was louder than their conversations. The unusual aspect that family and friends gathered in my house in mid-afternoon of a weekday slowly sunk in as my exchange with my mother played out.
From across the room, my mother smiled in white, "What do you have under your hat?"
"Nothing." I started for the stairs.
She returned her small slice of cake to the table, spoke softly through a loving smile and walked closer, "Show me what you have under your hat."
Quickly, I muttered, "It's nothing. I don't know. I have to go to the bathroom."
And I bounded up the steps.
Mom placed her hand at the railing at the foot of the stairs, "Come down here."
"Take off your hat."
I scooted around her and made a slow break for the kitchen, "No!"
Other soft chuckles and murmurs padded behind me throughout the house like cats. My mom followed me. I upended a thick glass bowl of candied almonds.
I stood on one side of the kitchen table, my mother stood on the other. We squared off and stared at each other. She smiled, I panicked. Now sitting in a kitchen chair, she said, "Take off the hat."
I did. My candy cascaded down my shoulders, chest, and belly. It clattered on the table and some slid off to the floor in a THWAP-THWAP-TACK-TACK-TICK.
We gathered it up. It went into a drawer.
A few extended family members poked their noses into the kitchen to see what was under my hat. My mother’s soft laugh continued, "Why were you hiding it?"
I said it, but I couldn’t believe I said it, "Because you think I'm fat."
My grandmother, my mother's mother, passed away gently a few days later. I never saw her sick. Mom temporarily moved me down the block to my split-lipped aunt's house for a couple of nights. Without the candy.
My grandmother's body remained upstairs and mom didn't want me to see her in that way.
For the funeral and service, I remained trapped at my split-lipped aunt's house with a baby-sitter. Too young to see my first dead body, I wandered and paced around the uncomfortable living room, wondering where they were, what was happening, who was there, why was I here, and I repeatedly pressed my face against the bay window to look across and down the street at my darkened house.
The cold and frost dissipated over the past few days. The roads remained wet. My mom wrapped me in her arms for a long time before leaving with the others. Everyone turned. Everyone in black.
As the sun set, I sat in the bay window. I ignored the television, my transported toys, my art supplies, and even the stray old man in an overcoat smoking a cigarette alone across the street. Nothing tasted good when dinner was placed in front of me. I didn't eat that night; I remained in the window and watched my house.
The sky darkened and the street lamps hummed. Many houses remained dark, including my own. I watched it not knowing when funerals end.
I wanted impatiently for the light of my house. I wanted my mom.
I wanted to go home.
As a new rain pattered on the glass, the babysitter slept on the couch. It rained harder and I felt afraid and cold and wept by myself against the window. Enough to drain the ocean dry.
|Lars Lerin (watercolor)|