The Summer of the Riotous Walls

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None of the Above

Dan came back sooner than anyone expected. He called Colin from Colorado at the beginning of August to say he’d never reached the coast. He had a change of plans along the way and ended up at a commune in Boulder. It was alright at first, but he was ready to thumb it home. The friendly hippies were getting too friendly, and his personal things were becoming communal property every time he turned around.

Nina collapsed into sexual confusion when she heard the news. In spite of her supposed distaste for male affection, you should have seen her while we waited for Dan to show up. She smiled and walked with a bounce, chattered nervously, giggled, and made jokes that she found very amusing. Watching her made me happy and sad at the same time.

Undaunted by Beth’s vehement rejection, Colin threw Dan a welcome-home party the night he arrived. He invited everyone to his parents’ house to eat, drink, and camp on the lawn. Of course we went, because we love Dan. Even Beth swallowed her pride, lured by the promise of free food. Colin’s mother prepared a Kenyan feast for us, which we devoured like lion cubs, and endless bottles of soda pop that we spiked with smuggled rum the minute the parents went to bed. Dan regaled us with tales of Ukrainian truck drivers, the night he spent by a freeway in Wyoming, and the hippy chick who took him to the Colorado commune instead of the coast. After that, it wasn’t much different from all the others in the summer’s long string of hot nights, cheap drink and discourse about the capitalist, racist, sexist evils of North America.

Rumbling air and flickering in the sky convinced us to ditch the tent for the safety of the basement sometime around midnight. We marched down the stairs like a boisterous caravan and arranged our blanket beds in a row on the floor. The last I remember, it was 2 AM and my headache was already beginning.

During the night, I had a disturbing dream in which I heard someone weeping quietly and inconsolably. I awakened in the blackness of the basement and realized I still heard it. I wasn’t dreaming. Over the steady tide of sleepers’ breath floated the sound of muffled crying. A sliver of yellow light came from under the bathroom door. I slipped away from Tom and stumbled toward the light. Why would someone be in the bathroom crying?

I tapped on the door.

“Hey,” I said.

“Who is it?” choked a little voice.

Nina. Who else?

“It’s Hannah,” I said.

For some reason, I was scared. As she opened the door, I braced myself for something awful. But she was all in one piece.

“Nina!” I wrapped both my arms around her. “What’s the matter?”

Her tiny body shook with sobs.

“I - I was - talking to...Dan and—“

She couldn’t speak.

“Shhhhh.” I stroked her spiny hair and patted her back like a baby. “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”

She dropped her head on my shoulder and collapsed on me, soaking my t-shirt with her wet face and snotty nose, but I didn’t care. I didn’t even notice until later. I held her to keep her from falling and rocked her carefully and told her things I never would have thought I’d hear myself say to her.

“You’re going to be okay, Nina.”

“You’re a strong, beautiful woman.”

“Yes you are.”

“We love you, Nina.”

“It’s going to be okay.”

“We love you and we’re proud of you.”

“I know this is hard.”

“We all love you and we want you to be happy.”

“You’re going to be okay.”

“Yes you are.”

“You can do this.”

“You can.”

“You can, because you’re strong and beautiful.”

“And we love you.”

“Shhhhh.”

Beth heard us, and came in.

Nina hiccupped to us an account of her conversation with Dan, who snored softly in sweet oblivion. They’d had a talk after everyone else fell asleep. He hugged her and kissed her on the cheek. She told him she missed him, and explained about her Pine View visit. He said he’d missed her too and he was glad to see her again. She told him she’d thought she might be gay after he left, but that now she recognized there was at least one man on earth who she was attracted to. He said he liked her, but he didn’t want to get involved right now. He met somebody in Colorado that he couldn’t get off his mind, even though he knew he would never see her again. He said he needed time.

He didn’t love her the way she loved him, and her whole being overflowed with sorrow. We listened and talked, sitting on the bathroom floor, until Nina was mopping her eyes and blowing her nose. She consented to lie down and rest a while beside Beth.

I went back to bed and shook Tom to wake him up. I whispered to him, in one big sentence, how Nina was in the bathroom crying her head off and how she said she feels so horrible and ugly that sometimes she wants to kill herself because Dan says he likes her but he isn’t in love with her. I had to tell someone.

Dan hasn’t got a mean bone in his body. He didn’t want to play with Nina’s feelings or break her heart. He wanted to be a friend. Poor Dan had no idea what to do about her.

I shut my eyes to sleep, but the sound of sobbing haunted me—a sound so hopeless, so lost—the sound of one lone survivor. It was the kind of sound that could have come from the ghost on our kitchen wall.

I thought about how you can love someone you don’t really like, just as you can like someone you don’t really love.

And how you can hurt someone you love and not even realize it.

And how, if you hurt someone you love and they don’t tell you, they may start to resent you for it and you won’t know why.

And how you can love someone and also love someone else.

And how, when you’ve been dishonest with someone you love and they’ve believed you, you love them a little less for it even though it’s your own fault.

And how you can love someone and not even realize how much until it is too late.

And how loving someone doesn’t always mean having happy feelings about them; it means not caring if they get snot on your shirt when they’re crying.

* * * * *


“Beth.”

“What?”

“Are you mad at me?”

“No. Why?”

Don’t you hate when people do that? She knew perfectly well why.

“I just feel weird since the other day. I’m sorry—”

“Oh. Yeah.” And then she didn’t say anything.

“I wondered—are we okay?”

“Yeah. I mean I think so.”

“I’m sorry I said that.” Then, like an idiot, I started crying again. Why do I always do that? It ruins everything. I’m such a baby.

“Well. Hannah, you’re my friend and I love you. But sometimes I don’t think you get it. You act like I’m just like you—I mean, you always have. And I’m not.”

She was trying to be nice, but a hard edge flashed in her voice like a knife. I’ve heard her angry a million times, but I don’t know what to do when she’s angry at me.

I wanted to say what do you mean, but I didn’t want to seem stupider than I already seemed, so I tried, “I know.”

“Sometimes I don’t think you do.”

I didn’t say anything.

“I’m as much black as I am white, in case you didn’t notice. And I care about things you don’t seem to care about.”

“Like what?”

“Like everything! You and Tom—it’s like you’re in your own little world. I mean, I like Tom and all. He’s a nice guy. But I’m not really cool with all the hippy stuff and peace and love and all.”

“I know.”

“I have other friends too, you know. And you don’t seem to care about them.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t pretend to be all surprised.”

I blew my nose.

“You don’t like Tabitha, and every time she comes over you run away. When I invited the people from the International Students club to our party, you left as soon as they started showing up. Every time we talk about anything I care about, you roll your eyes. Like you think it’s stupid.”

“I do not.”

“Oh please.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

She raised her eyebrows at me.

“I don’t know. I mean...”

I could tell that the more I talked, the less chance I had of saying what I meant.

“Your life is perfect and your family is normal. I’m glad for you, but that’s not me. I am not like you. When I was a kid everybody used to ask me if I was adopted. Because they would see my mom, and she’s white. You don’t know what it’s like. My grandfather in Kenya? I don’t even know him.”

I blew my nose again, because what was I supposed to say? Is it my fault for not knowing what she never told me? If my life was perfect, I would not be sitting here bawling. Hello.

“I’m just saying,” she went on. “It’s not because I’m mad or something. But I’m different than you. I want to spend time around different people. I want us to be friends, but I’m sick of pretending we’re the same. And I’m sick of you pretending we’re the same.”

She had me there. I wasn’t pretending we were the same. I thought we were: Plain and Cinnamon. What are we really, then? Apples and oranges?

“It’s confusing for me,” I tried to explain, but I was crying and my lips wouldn’t cooperate. “Because when I left for Costa Rica, everything was”—I caught myself—“it seemed like everything was fine. And now I come back and ... I’m all confused about everything. There’s Tom who always wants to be around me. And you’re...different, now. Nothing makes any sense. I’m having a hard time.”

“Okay. Well, me too.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Okay. Stop saying that.”

I almost said it again.

“It’s not that I don’t care. I just. I don’t know. You might not believe this, but I love you, and I want to be your friend. That’s all.”

“I love you too. You are my friend.”

That made me cry more. I nodded.

“You have to give me some space.”

I nodded again.

Please hit me on the head with something and wake me up when my life says it’s ready to make sense.

I made myself wrap my mind around what she said. It took some practice, but eventually I got it. Beth was right. I had always assumed she was like me, although, even in obvious ways, she wasn’t. I saw what she meant about how this boxed her in, made our friendship unfair. But I loved her. All I could do was love her. My heart exploded into a thousand self-loathing fragments.

She said we would be friends, and we were friends. When you love someone and they break your heart, nothing is ever quite the same, though. Even if you deserved it. Even if you both pretend to forget. Even if you live to be ninety five.

* * * * *


________

I know my papá Tito doesn’t understand why I cried so much the day he scolded me about climbing the tree; he only knows that I did. Even I can’t quite explain the flood of tears that wouldn’t stop. But he believes he caused it, which he didn’t, and now he wants to make it up to me.

“¿Le gustan los mangos?” he asks.

I love mangos.

“Vamos,” he says. “Vamos a los mangos.”

“Okay,” I say. I would rather be left alone right now, but I know I can’t say that.

“Vamos en moto,” he says. “Tome. Téngalo,” and hands me a burlap bag.

Wow. He wasn’t joking.

He kick starts the ancient dirt bike, lays a machete across his lap, and says, “Súbese.”

I swing onto the seat behind him and in a moment a cool breeze is blowing my hair back into impossible knots. We drive away from the town on a dirt road that goes through fields and dry creek beds. Then he leaves the road and we bounce into a grove where mango trees billow up like thunderheads, gathered.

“Llegamos,” he says, grinning as we get off the bike. “Mire cuantos mangos. ¿Está lista?”

“Sí,” I say. I lean over pick up a soft yellow fruit from the ground.

“No, no,” he says. He points up at the tree and explains something that I can’t understand, but I can tell he means that we are not getting our mangos from the ground.

He sees the surprise on my face and guesses that I think he means we are both going to climb the giants, and he laughs and says, “Espérese.” He scuffles around in the dry leaves until he finds a fallen branch which, with two swift slaps of the machete, he cuts in half.

“Dame la bolsa,” he instructs. He opens the bag I hand him, puts the two long sticks inside it, and holds them apart, stretching the bag tight between.

I wait to understand. I thought we brought the bag for the mangos. What is he doing?

It occurs to me that maybe I am foolish. I am lost somewhere in a mango grove with a man I barely know. He has a machete and a burlap bag. I have nothing. If he means to do me harm, there is no use I even scream.

But he smiles his wide boyish grin, now, and holds the bag out flat by the handles he has made, looking up and acting out the catching of things that are falling from the sky.

My face must be funny, because he laughs. Then I laugh. The more I learn, the more I see there is to know.

Then, as Semana Santa is over and he is safe from ancient curses, he scurries up the enormous mango like an ant, like the monkey which so recently terrified him, and disappears into deep shadows of green.

I discover I am smiling. It’s cool in the breezy mango shade that smells of sweet fruit. I listen to the wind ruffle the leaves of the grove and think of how the sound is like water. How did he find this place? Could hands have planted it? Or was it born like the dry creek bed?

I hear him call my name.

“¿Lista?” he asks me from above.

“Sí,” I say hoping it is true.

The fat yellow mango drops fast, and smacks into the bag with a force that causes me to stumble. Tito laughs in the tree and says something that must mean to be careful or to be strong.

I roll the fruit onto the ground, and from up in the branches he calls, “Otra.” This time I am ready for how fast it falls. I step to the left. I step to the right. Back behind you.

Giggles begin to bubble from my belly at this awkward mango dance. Everything around me is generous: the sun, the mangos, my papá Tito in the tree. They have all so freely forgiven my failures, that I am the only one who remembers them.

________


Mary Perry announced that she wanted to visit her brother in Ohio before the start of the new school year, so she asked me if I would stay overnight at her house. Her dog, Luther, doesn’t do well in the car, and she couldn’t bear to leave him alone. I couldn’t bear him at all, but she was going to pay me so of course I said yes. It was only two nights. She told me to help myself to whatever I found in the kitchen. Free food sounds exciting, but all I found was skim milk and canned soup. I had to walk Luther three times a day so he wouldn’t shit on her rug, so even though I could go home in between, it was kind of like living nowhere for the weekend.

The house has lots of bedrooms upstairs, which used to be filled with Mary’s brothers and parents. I would stay in her room, she said, because that’s where Luther was used to sleeping, and she didn’t want him to feel lonely or confused. I’m pretty sure he was both. I’m not the terrier kind of girl. I like a dog I can wrestle with in the yard without being afraid I’m going to squash it. Luther was alright for a small dog, but the dignity of cats is hard to reconcile with the lack of dignity of cat-sized dogs. And he snored.

On Friday morning before she left, I stopped by to receive my last-minute dog-sitting instructions

“Come. Let me show you my room where you’ll be staying,” she invited, and turned toward the stairway in the living room.

It would have been fine with me if she said, “The room at the top of the stairs,” and let me get on my way, but never mind. Old people have their own timetable which is run by its own set of gears. I followed her up the flight of somber stairs to a landing which must have resembled our own living room in its respectable former life. She walked straight across the polished wood floor and into a small, immaculate room. Then she turned and beamed at me. “The queen’s chamber!”

I smiled back and even managed an airy-sounding chuckle, as a stiffening kind of horror crept over me.

Oh Mary. Mother of God.

In the center of the room stood a tall, slim, meticulously-made single bed with a pale yellow bedspread—the kind covered with little balls, like the one on the bed I used to sleep in at grandma’s house. An enormous crocheted doily hung over the sides of the 3-leafed table that stood beside her bed. On the table sat a loudly ticking wind-up clock, a Bible and a radio that was old enough to get into bars. From the mirrored dresser smiled a photograph of a young, radiant Mary wearing cats-eye glasses. Beside it, stood another older photo of a somber-faced couple surrounded by several young boys and a little girl. The room was almost identical to my own bedroom in the Pennsylvania farmhouse: the tall windows, the single bed, the shade tree outside, the cross-stitched bureau scarf on the dresser. Only, Mary had never left.

“Now you be a good boy, and don’t keep poor Hannah awake with your snoring,” Mary lovingly instructed Luther, who wagged his tail at her in non-comprehension. “Be a good boy.”

I lay on the hard little bed that night staring at the ceiling. Where am I? Is this my life? No, this is Mary’s life. I had to take the clock downstairs and stuff it under the couch pillows so I wouldn’t hear every single second individually. Luther fell asleep and started snoring.

I thought about Tom. Up until right that minute, I would have sworn I never wanted to get married. But is this the alternative? No, it can’t be. Just because a woman isn’t married doesn’t mean she has to sleep in the stern single bed of her childhood with yellow family photographs on the dresser. Does it? Mary is a college professor. She could buy herself a king-sized bed with feather pillows if she wanted to. Although, is that any less depressing if you have the whole thing to yourself? Forever?

The idea of having a shared bedroom with his and hers sides of the closet like my parents mortified me beyond words. How predictable. How boring. But this is a different kind of awful—the disappointed kind. I lay there listening to Luther snore, trying to decide which one is worse.

I was never in my life so happy to see Mary Perry as when she got back from Ohio. I couldn’t wait to curl up on my mattress on the floor of my dirty disheveled house with mayhem on its walls and impatience in its heart. I couldn’t wait to pull the door shut behind me and Tom in The Pit of Sin, where a single bed is plenty big enough for two.

What happens if you don’t know anyone you want to be like when you grow up?

What if you want to pick, Both A and B?

What if you want to pick, None of the Above?

* * * * *


The picture is crystal clear in my mind. I’m something like seven years old and I’m sitting on a brown folding chair in the basement of Erbs Mennonite church. Scotty and I have the same new shoes on, which means either he picked girl shoes or I picked boy shoes. I think it was him and he thinks it was me.

We were in “Children’s Church.” Usually, after Sunday School, we had to go upstairs to sit with our parents through the boring sermon that never ends, but on Children’s Church days, we got to stay in the basement. Each Sunday School class sat in a row with our teachers. We sang kids’ songs like “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” and, “Running Over,” and then Alma Bomberger told us a Bible story. I loved Children’s Church because Alma always used the felt board for her stories. The felt board is an easel covered with felt, and she could make pictures on it by sticking felt figures to it. She made Abraham and Sara going across the desert with their camel. They passed things like pyramids on the way. When they got to the Promised Land, she put up palm trees that came in two pieces—the brown trunk and the green top.

I remember sitting there between Sharon and Scotty. The rows were arranged according to age, so there were little kids in front of me and big kids in the back. I was thinking about my life, as Abraham and Sarah laughed at God, and baby Isaac appeared in a blue felt blanket. Next year I would be eight, and then I would be in second grade. I counted up to figure out that by the time I got to sit in the back row with the big kids, I would be twelve.

And then?

After that I would be a teenager. When you’re a teenager, you go to high school. I couldn’t imagine being that big, but I guessed if I was lucky enough not to get terribly sick or die in an accident, I would. And then after that, I would be big enough to get married.

I knew that after you’re done going to school, there are two things you can do—one is go to college, if you’re smart, and the other one is get married. I was pretty sure I was smart enough for college and of course I was going to get married. I didn’t really know how it works about going to college and getting married—like, which one you should do first—but people, I already knew, get married when they’re twenty. Yes, that sounded about right. I would get married when I was twenty. God would send me a husband, and we would get married. Later, when I was twenty-two or twenty-three, I would have children.

And then, well, that’s all. That’s what you do when you grow up.

Then Children’s Church was over, so we said a prayer and we got to stand up and sing “Father Abraham” because that’s what the story was about.

* * * * *


________

We walk hand in hand down the middle of the dusty road.

“¡Camine! ¿Por qué corre?” he says, and pulls on my hand to make me walk slower.

“No estoy corriendo,” I say. Running is something else.

The palms make moonlight puddles that ripple over our toes in the night wind. Neighbors call out hello. He pulls my hand again. “Despacito.”

Even slower? You call this walking?

I am thinking about how this is ridiculous. He said let’s walk, and we are walking, sort of. I asked him where we would go and he looked at me strangely and shrugged. Like he wanted to say what do you mean, but instead he just said it again: a caminar.

Past Dona Delfina’s house. Past Chino’s little store. Along a live jocote fence hanging with small purple fruit. Past a dark house where no one lives, and he says we could get married and live there.

I laugh.

"¿Adónde va?” He asks me, pulling me back again.

“No sé,” I tell him. I always walk fast. You walk because you’re going somewhere. I walk fast to get where I’m going.

“Aquí solo caminamos,” he says. He puts my arm around his waist with one hand and pulls my head onto his shoulder with the other so that we are walking hip to hip.

I feel it. It’s like a dance. The slowest dance. Stepping forward to a rhythm that is like breathing.

We aren’t going anywhere. We’re walking. Cicadas shrill in the trees. An owl asks a riddle.

I learn to walk. How to go nowhere.

In my country, going nowhere is bad. Tonight, going nowhere is being where you are.

________

Don’t wait for me to tell you any more about the boy. In case you’re wondering, I’m not going to. I don’t want to talk about it. I couldn’t then, because I had no words, and I won’t now, because the particulars aren’t important. I would rather say nothing than risk sounding trite. Nothing was trite. Everything was elemental. From the first kiss that seared my conscience to the last one of disbelief, and how he fell asleep in my lap like a baby on the way home from the beach and I wished that one hour would take the rest of life.

Does it matter? He taught me to walk. What else do you need to know?

I’ll tell you what you need to know: I didn’t know I loved him until it was too late. I believed it was impossible, therefore it was. And even so it shaped me in its crucible of fire, taking away what I was and making me into what I previously was not. That is all you need to know. You get the picture.

Imagine the story, if you like. Make up how it happened, what we said, where we walked. Make sure we laugh, and then we cry. Some of it will be right and some of it will be wrong. It doesn’t really matter. The details are beside the point.

* * * * *


When I moved out of the dorm to go to Costa Rica, I had no intention of moving back to campus, ever. I wouldn’t have to—I was going to turn twenty-one in the fall. The college has a rule that says all full-time students have to live on campus during normal semesters until they are twenty-one. This is so we wouldn’t drink—a faulty strategy which was a complete and spectacular failure. But if you want to finish your education, you have to obey the rules no matter how dumb they are. I liked the dorm well enough, but living off-campus in your own apartment with no Resident Advisors (meaning spies) and no Open Hours (meaning no guys in your room after 10 PM) is way more awesome.

Beth, Nina and Sheila would have to go back to the dorms before September and there was nothing they could do about it. They wouldn’t be twenty-one until next semester or next year. I was practically six by the time I went to kindergarten, which was a huge bummer then but was working out well for me now. I called Barb at her office to ask if I could stay. I kind of loved that dirty, rickety place. She said yes, but we still had to clean up the walls at the end of the summer. And she warned me that in the winter, the electric bill would be a lot higher.

It wasn’t hard so sell my parents on the plan because the apartment cost less than the dorm, provided that I found at least two new people to live with. Also, I would have a kitchen, so I didn’t need the full meal plan at the cafeteria. And nobody loves a bargain like a Mennonite does.

What can I say? The thought of new housemates brought delicious relief. Which did I want more: for Beth to leave, or for her to never go away? I didn’t care either way about losing Sheila, and couldn’t wait to lose Nina—I’d been dreaming of that day since she came back from Pine View. New housemates bring new problems, but sometimes new problems are more appealing than old ones. New problems sounded fantastic.

I thought even my new problems were solved when Matthew’s sister Claudia said she would move in with me, and then Tom’s friend Jason needed a place, too. But Claudia balked when she heard about Jason taking the other room. She said she wasn’t sharing a bedroom; she needed her own. The rent was too expensive for Claudia and me by ourselves, and I didn’t want to throw Jason out. The thought of a male housemate at the top of the stairs on the outskirts of town made me feel safer. I couldn’t quite see sharing a room with him, though.

I toyed with the idea. Of course, we would sleep in our own beds… But, no matter how I arranged it in my mind, it was just too weird. Tom would have a conniption. That, and my schooling would be done. At a whiff of something they disapprove of, my parents stuff their wallets back into their pockets, and sleeping near boys is the top taboo. Not an option.

Claudia caved when she saw I wasn’t going to. She agreed to share the big room with me, as long as we put up an enormous black dividing wall that weighed a bloody ton and would have crushed the life out of us if it had fallen. It’s not that she didn’t like me. She wanted privacy for when her boyfriend came over. To that end, the wall was entirely useless, let me tell you. We might as well have all three been in one bed, none of us getting any sleep.

My parents still pitched a fit about Jason. They said they were not going to pay for me to live together with a man outside of holy matrimony. I had to beg and even cry, and perform all sorts of excruciating mental contortions to make them see how desperately ridiculous they were being. Even though Jason has his own room. Even though I’m sharing my room with Claudia. Even though I have my own boyfriend—a different boyfriend—who couldn’t care less if a man lives in the house. Even though having a big strapping guy in the house makes it safer.

Safer. Ah, yes. This, they couldn’t deny. Thank goodness I thought to say that before it was too late. Due to safety concerns, and without any lightness that could be mistaken for approval, they agreed to pay the rent for me to live under the same roof as a man I wasn’t married to.

Under one condition: Do not tell Grandma. Or any cousins who might tell Aunt Judy, who would for sure tell Grandma.

So you see? Selective truth telling is not something I invented myself. Perfected, maybe, but who’s going to throw the first stone?

* * * * *


I don’t know whether Neil realized that Sheila was crazy about him, or if he assumed he’d found an unusually devoted friend. He probably figured it out on the Monday morning he told her the big news: over the weekend he popped the question, and Katie said yes. Sheila suffered a sudden wave of nausea and said she had to go home. If he didn’t get it then, he must have the next day when Sheila came back to work and couldn’t look at him anymore. She would have quit her job to avoid him if Beth hadn’t stayed up all night talking her out of it.

Sheila has the heart of an angel but she sometimes reminded me of a balloon with the air pouring out of it—so much enthusiasm, so little coordination. What she wanted more than anything else in the world was to be a mommy. Sheila has had baby fever from the time she was eight. She loves children to the point of distraction, to the point of wanting to teach kindergarten five days a week, nine months out of the year.

I would shoot myself. I’m serious. I like kids and all, but large collections of small children in enclosed spaces make me as crazy as Sheila already is. I cannot imagine how this will work when she graduates. I can’t imagine how anything will work when we graduate.

She didn’t want to have babies immediately, but she wanted to find their daddy. Each possibility that slipped from her radar into the abyss beyond produced floods of tragic tears. She was right about Neil. For as boring as he is, he would be a great dad. And let’s not even digress among the beautiful babies that Rajesh will someday make. The ghost of childlessness laughed at her from inside the closet, and behind the bed.

I couldn’t really relate. I’ve never been sure if I even want to have kids. Why is that so hard for me to imagine? But I can’t imagine being one of those people with no kids, either. Which seems more preposterous: me with a diaper bag and a stroller, or me as one of those dried up old ladies who nobody visits? Heads or tails?

Beth said she definitely wanted to have kids someday. Nina said expected she would adopt, especially if she decided to be with a woman. Harriet was about to have babies whether she wanted them or not. She couldn’t wash her own back anymore. She couldn’t even move.

* * * * *


I was rolling onto our mattress bed where Beth lay reading The Color Purple one late-summer night, when Harriet came waddling over to us. This was peculiar. Harriet sometimes decided to accept small amounts of affection, but she never offered it herself. Purring loudly, she stepped up on the bed and insisted on lying snuggled up against me.

Beth’s book sank to her lap, and her mouth dropped open.

“She’s going to have her babies,” I said.

“There?!”

“Eww! No!” I removed Harriet to the rug on the floor.

She lumbered back onto the bed.

I pushed her down to the rug again, but it was useless. Harriet had made up her mind: she was getting in bed with me. I imagined she must be scared, seeing as these were her first kittens, so I let her stay. I would be petrified if I was her. That whole thing about labor and birth? That is the single most terrifying thought in the universe, if you ask me. It shouldn’t be possible and it isn’t fair.

A few hours later, I woke up to something fuzzy and wet poking my face. Harriet had maneuvered half of her giant self onto my pillow and was butting me with her wet, whiskery nose. She was purring even louder than before. By the streetlight through the window, I could see there were no kittens yet, but that’s when I noticed the bubble. A ping-pong-ball-sized bubble stuck out of Harriet’s back end. She remained perfectly calm, even as her giant vibrating belly seized with convulsions. I sat up and petted her.

“Hey. Harriet,” I murmured. “You okay?”

She meowed back.

Then I saw the giant wet spot—yes, in the bed—right beside my pillow.

“Cat-water! Gross!” I meant to be quiet, but Beth rolled over and opened her eyes. She sat up.

“Is she okay?”

“Well. Her water broke in our bed.”

“Ugh!” Beth scooted as far away from us as she could.

“Look at this. She has a bubble.”

“Oh. Is that bad?”

“I don’t know.”

“Gross.”

“Yeah. But she seems okay.”

She did. She acted like she thought she was Queen Elizabeth.

I remembered the other time I saw a cat give birth. My mom and sisters and I were sitting on lawn chairs in the yard husking a mountain of sweet corn when Cinnamon walked up to us and laid down under Michelle’s chair.

“Hey girls,” Mom said, “watch that cat.”

We all looked at Cinnamon. She wiggled and writhed for a moment, meowed once, and out slipped a tiny gooey kitten.

Cinnamon never had a bubble.

What if Harriet was in trouble? Was she in terrible pain? What if she died? What if her babies were dying inside her at this very moment? It’s not that we wanted kittens—half the time we weren’t even sure we wanted Harriet. But to die in childbirth? How can one woman let that happen to another?

“Harriet? Are you alright?” I asked, petting her.

She purred up at me with half-shut loving eyes.

I turned on the light and found the phone book. There are a lot of vets in the yellow pages, and even some serious animal-lovers with 24-hour phone numbers. I woke one of them up at 2:30 AM to tell him my laboring cat had a bubble.

“She should be okay,” he said. “If she hasn’t had kittens by morning, call me back.”

We put Harriet into a giant cardboard box out of which she was too fat to jump, put a towel over the wet spot in the bed, and went back to sleep.

I opened my eyes to the watery light of early summer dawn. The clock said 5:07. I stumbled to the living room to check the box. Harriet gazed up at me and began to purr again. Her belly bulged big as ever. I waited, holding my breath, but there were no more contractions.

“Shit. Oh shit.”

I woke Beth who said the same thing and I dialed the vet again.

“Well,” he said, “you have two choices. We can give her an injection to re-initiate labor, or she can have a cesarean section.”

“How much does that cost?”

“The injection is twenty dollars and the cesarean is fifty. The danger with the shot is that her uterus is tired. If it tears, then we have to do a cesarean too.”

I said we would call him back in a few minutes.

“That damn cat.”

“What?”

I repeated the bad news.

“Shit,” Beth said.

“Why don’t we just tell him to put her to sleep? It has to be cheaper. I mean, we don’t even want these kittens.”

“Hannah, we can’t. Nina will die.”

“Shit.”

She was right. Nina didn’t necessarily want kittens either, or love Harriet more than the rest of us, but that would have put her over the edge.

“If we kill Harriet, Nina will kill herself.”

“You’re right,” I had to admit. “She will.”

“She will go stark raving mad.”

“I know. I know,” said. “But I will go stark raving mad if we have to pay seventy dollars for a cat to have kittens! God!”

“Well, what should we do?”

“Wake up Sheila and Nina. They have to help decide. Because if they aren’t going to pay, I am going to have her put to sleep. And if I have to take Nina and drop her off at Pine View on the way, I will.”

We decided to try the injection.

I biked to Tom’s house, woke him up, and made him understand that I needed his car keys now, that Harriet was having her babies and her contractions stopped and I hadn’t slept all night and Nina is going to lose it again and we have to take her—Harriet—to the vet right now. So, HURRY!

The vet called us back at 7:30 AM to tell us we could pick up our cat. The shot worked, and Harriet was nursing six healthy kittens.

Six. Healthy.

Dr. White told us that Harriet has a “very small pelvis” and an “unusually tiny birth canal.” It cost forty dollars when he rang it up—twenty for the shot and twenty for the emergency visit at 5:30 in the morning. We divided the bill and each paid twice our weekly food allowance for our cat and her six squeaking babies. They were born huge, with their eyes already opening. All six of them were indeed healthy as horses and not one of them died.

From then on, Harriet has been my cat and we love each other. She chose me and I helped her in her moment of need. At least that’s what she thinks. It was Nina who saved her life, but I let her believe what she wants. I am the one, though, who scratched together the money to have her fixed so that her “small pelvis” and “unusually tiny birth canal” would not cost us immense amounts of money and suffering three times a year for the rest of her amazingly long life.

* * * * *


I decided to cut off my hair. Not for the Sinead look like Nina, but because I always suspected I would be crazy-cute with an Amish-boy bowl cut. This might be a fine place to digress and ask if anyone except Amish boys should even attempt an Amish-boy bowl cut, but here’s the problem: I was curious. I can’t stand being curious. Eventually, I cave. Always.

“I’m going to give myself a haircut,” I announced to the household in general.

“You’re so brave,” Sheila said.

“If I need help, will you help me?” I asked.

“Me! Oh no! I, um— You should ask Beth!”

Beth was painting mean-looking birds above the couch with her Walkman on so she didn’t hear me.

I went over and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Yeah?”

“I’m going to give myself a haircut. If I get stuck, will you help me?”

“Sure,” she said, and turned back to the wall. I was starting to worry about how we to get all that mess off, and there she was, still painting.

I opened a drawer of The Desk and took out our scissors.

Everyone who left for the summer was trickling back into town and I needed to look different. I couldn’t stand the idea of seeming like the same girl I was last year, because I didn’t feel like the same one. So what if I couldn’t explain what changed? I just needed to be new, somehow, and that’s all. Since I couldn’t lose twenty pounds by the weekend or afford a new wardrobe, I went into the kitchen to fish around for the right bowl.

It might be called a “bowl cut,” but I can tell you it is not produced by tracing an actual bowl. No matter how I placed the bowl, if it covered the back of my head, it didn’t leave me any bangs at all. I stood giggling at myself in front of the bathroom mirror wearing the biggest bowl I found, but I could see this was not going to produce a look that was remotely cute. So I ditched the literal bowl and kept the bowl idea, cutting around my face, across my ears, and hacking off a foot of light brown locks in the back.

The front wasn’t that hard to get straight but the sides didn’t want to be the same. I worked and worked to make them even, but every time I got it right, I shook my head and they were wrong again. There was hair everywhere, and I could not see at all what I was doing to the back of my head. Cutting blind made me nervous because the long colorful hair wrap from the Grateful Dead show was back there and I did not want to amputate it.

I learned something new about myself that day: my hair is curly when it’s short. I’d gotten my hair cut before, but not like this. My parents would never have permitted a girl to have a boy’s haircut. The Apostle Paul nixed that possibility about 2000 years ago in a letter that my kind of Mennonites take as a fashion mandate. I couldn’t believe my eyes as boisterous brown curls flipped every which way around my ears. Cutting your own hair is hard enough even if it doesn’t turn out to be curly. If it turns out curly, it’s impossible.

I stuck my hacked-up head out of the bathroom and called for Beth.

She let out a hoot of laughter when she saw me, said something like, “Oh honey,” and snatched the scissors.

I was right. I am kind of cute with an Amish-boy bowl cut. Anyway, I looked different, alright. Tom tried to smile supportively, but the best he could do was raise his eyebrows and mumble, “I liked you long hair.”
Right. So did I. But I always wanted an Amish-boy bowl cut, and you don’t know until you try.

* * * * *


We waited all summer for those pears. The first time we mowed the yard, I noticed little green balls hanging from the trees as I circled around them. I assumed they must be apples. They looked a little like mutants though, and for a while I worried they might be crab apples. I bit into a crab apple once when I was about ten years old. It’s one of those things, like bowl cuts, that very curious people do. I thought the little crab apple couldn’t be all that bad—but it was all that bad and worse. I hoped to God we didn’t have two giant crab apple trees. Imagine the irony—four hungry girls with two trees of inedible fruit. All we need is a talking snake.

Fortunately as the summer matured, the crab apples turned into pears. We waited forever for them to yellow. Beth painted a tree with giant yellow fruit on the wall facing the window, hoping the lazy trees would peek in and get the idea. Nina went into the yard to put her hands on them and bless them. Beth saved our coffee grounds and carried full cans outside to dump over their roots. I made each one a bead necklace for her trunk.

I knew pears ripen in August because I remember how my mother would “do pears” right before the misery of summer ended and I was released back into the joy of school. “Doing pears” meant canning them: coring, peeling and cutting them, then boiling them in glass Mason jars full of sugar syrup so we could eat them during the rest of the year when pears weren’t in season. As a child, I didn’t realize that “canned fruit” meant it could come in an actual can.

When the pears finally came, they came at once—two trees hanging with ripe juicy yellow pears on the tail end of a summer devoid of fruit. We couldn’t reach them where they grew high up in the branches, so we had to wait until they dropped to the ground like sweet, fat rain. Then we had to figure out what to do about the bees.

“Oh my God! Bees!” Sheila screamed, and ran away waving her arms. “I’m allergic to bees!”

Beth turned tail and ran, too. So did I.

They were not lazy honey bees, either. By the time the ripe pears hit the ground, they were riddled with little holes made by hungry birds, and commandeered by furious yellow jackets. But we were every bit as hungry as the birds and just as furious as the yellow jackets that were filling up the yard. We couldn’t even mow the grass for all the mushy, buzzing, rotting fruit.

“I know what we can do,” I told Beth.

“What?”

“Let’s wake up early tomorrow.”

“Why?”

“Because yellow jackets can’t fly around when it’s cold.”

“They can’t?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. No bees can. And it’s wet. Their wings stick to them.”

That made her laugh.

“Want to?”

“Sure. Like how early?”

“I don’t know. Five thirty?”

“Damn, girl.” But the way she said it meant, yes.

I woke up in the chilly dawn that didn’t feel like summer anymore, and reached over to shake Beth. She mumbled, scowled at me, remembered the pears, and sat up.

The wet grass was cold on our bare feet, and as I predicted, only the bravest and most desperate yellow jackets were hopping sluggishly around. First we gorged ourselves, standing there giggling in the hazy slanted sunlight, pear juice dripping from our lips, our fists, our elbows. We devoured pear after pear, still cool from the fresh night, free and ridiculously sweet. Then Beth collected the best ones into plastic bags to take inside for later. I picked up the broken ones, the rotten ones, the ones full of holes, and lobbed them into Nina’s abandoned garden where the yellow jackets could feast without posing any serious risk to Sheila.

If I could have canned them like my mom, we would have had pears until Christmas. Instead, we ate them as fast as they fell, racing the spreading brown spots that threatened to devour them first. We didn’t stop until not a pear was left anywhere and the refrigerator hummed empty again.

* * * * *


Nina and Beth went out for a Talk—the kind with a capital T—about Dan and everything, leaving Sheila and me in an unusually quiet house. I took my notebook and climbed out the kitchen window onto the porch roof to write a letter in Spanish. In my mind, I was so far away that I didn’t see Sheila stick her head out the window beside me.

“Hey,” she said.

It scared me so bad I almost screamed. I jumped and dropped my pen, which rolled down the roof into the rain gutter. I know Sheila doesn’t understand Spanish, but I have a paranoia about people looking over my shoulder when I write. It freaks me out. Even when I’m not writing something secret, like I was at that moment.

“Oh! I’m sorry!” she said.

“You scared me,” I tried to laugh, and hoped I looked casual about flipping my notebook shut.

“I’m so sorry, Hannah!”

“No, it’s okay. What?”

“You lost your pen.”

“It doesn’t matter. I have a hundred.”

“Um. Never mind.”

“What?”

“I didn’t know you were busy.”

“I’m not! Plus I lost my pen.”

“Oh, okay. Well, um. Want me to teach you to belly dance?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “You know how?!”

“Well, no. I mean, kind of. I mean like, I know how you’re supposed to do it, but I’m not very good.”

“I have the belly, but I’m not very coordinated,” I said squinting up at her in the window.”

“Shut up.”

“But, yeah! Show me.”

I climbed back through the window into the house with Sheila and put the letter under my mattress for later.

“Okay,” Sheila began, after we closed the curtains to avoid entertaining the neighbors. “Put your hands like this.” She poked her elbows out to the sides and put one hand on top of the other under her bust.

We were standing in front of Nina’s full-length mirror in our underwear. Sheila insists that’s how you have to start. In this pose, we looked more like two naked nuns than belly dancers. She says her mom used to practice with her when she was little, but the instructions stopped when her mom went on a Christianity kick. Sheila’s mom’s kicks have added a lot of variety to her life.

“You move everything below your arms—like your legs and your hips—while you keep everything above your arms still. Like this.”

She began stepping her feet and twitching her hips to some silent, magical rhythm that made her pink panty-clad belly swing and tremble. Above it, her head and shoulders were almost perfectly still.

“No way!” I marveled. “Sheila!” She’s the last person on earth I suspected of having so much control.

As soon as she remembered herself, the music stopped and she collapsed into giggles.

“Shut up! I’m not very good! I’m so embarrassed.”

Belly dancing didn’t go so well for me. Try moving the lower half of your body while the upper half stays stock still. I’d say it couldn’t be done if Sheila hadn’t just demonstrated.

Not only is dividing yourself in half nearly impossible, this was the first attention I’d ever paid to my hips. I’d noticed their usefulness for carrying things like heavy books or baby cousins, but I had never considered them as separate from the trunk of my body like you do with a leg or an arm. It’s not in my genes. In my four hundred years of somber Mennonite ancestry, there has been as little hip-swaying as possible.

“This is hard!” I gasped. We were both sweating and my abs hurt.

“I know. You have to concentrate.”

“But it looks easy when you do it.”

“Loosen your hips. Try to—”

“I’m trying. I can’t—”

“Bend your knees a little more, and... Yeah! See? That’s better!”

My blue-clad belly wasn’t cooperating as well as her pink one, and my shoulders kept tilting back and forth.

“Aaggh!” I crumbled to the floor clutching my ribs. “No more! Sheila, you’re killing me!”

My instructor dropped down beside me. Lying on the floor was an adventure in nastiness after an entire summer of not having a vacuum cleaner. But at least we had a shower.

“Thanks.”

“Oh. Yeah. You’re welcome,” Sheila said, remembering to be self-conscious.

“Man. I should have learned this before I went to Costa Rica. You have to dance that Spanish music with your hips, too.”

“Can you teach me that?”

“Ha! No! I can’t even do it myself.”

We lay there in the grime, tingly and tired.

“Have you ever been to India?” I asked her.

“No.”

“Do you think you’ll ever go?”

“I hope. Sometime. My mom wants to go. Maybe I’ll go with her. I don’t want to go by myself.”

“Why?”

“Because. I don’t know anybody. I have all these uncles and aunts and cousins that I don’t know. I can’t even talk to them. I don’t know where they live or anything. If I go by myself, I’ll be totally lost.”

“Oh.”

“Do you think you’ll ever go back to Costa Rica?”

I thought for a minute. “I don’t know.”

“Why not? You seem like you loved it there. You should.”

“Yeah. I know. Maybe I will.”

Then I told her a secret that even I didn’t know until I heard myself say it. “But if I go there again, I’m never coming back.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean if I ever go there again, I’m not coming back. I left once. I don’t think I could do it again.”

“Oh. Wow.”

“Yeah.”

* * * * *


________

I vomit on the bus. I stumble forward, grab the trash can, and vomit. The mango comes tumbling out of me, the disgusted bus driver eyeing me in his rear view mirror.

I make myself breathe.

I stepped onto the bus in the perfect sun of this suffocating April morning. The door closed behind me. Chicharras screamed from the trees.

Every minute, I am getting farther and farther away. Everything is done. Everything that was going to happen has happened. Nothing is left now. Nothing. But pictures in my notebook and stories with no words.

I am on the bus. I am nowhere.

We enter the cold dark capital city where my life is waiting to take me back. I am split wide open, broken like the mango I tore with my teeth. All that is left is the seed.

________

There is no reason why that shower couldn’t actually have been brown. The toilet and the sink were white porcelain from a previous historical period, so it’s no surprise the fiberglass shower wedged into the corner didn’t match. Brown isn’t quite the right word. It was more like tan—a graded shade of tan that started as eggshell white at the top and darkened to a rich earth tone on the floor. I appreciated how forward-thinking it was of the owners to choose a brown shower for a rental apartment.

I wasn’t even mad on the day I decided to clean the bathroom—it just seemed like the decent thing to do before my new housemates arrived. Obviously, either I would do it, or nobody would. I’m the one who was staying, so that kind of thing was my problem.

I dumped some bleach into the toilet bowl and swished the water around with the flyswatter since we didn’t have a toilet brush. I’m sure the flyswatter benefited from that as much as the potty. Then I poured bleach into the sink and wiped it with a rag. It wasn’t a bad job at all, once you get started. I should have done this months ago.

I turned the shower on for a moment to wet it and slung a generous splash of bleach onto the floor. With my brand new scrub brush in hand, I knelt down and stuck my head into the fumes that the bottle so grimly cautions against inhaling. I was not at all prepared for what happened when the water, the bleach and my stiff new brush met with the tan of that shower floor. A pale smudge began to emerge.

“Crap,” I said out loud. I knew I shouldn’t have used bleach on something brown. Way to go.

Then it dawned on me. A multicolored fiberglass shower? In shades of tan? White at the top, brown at the bottom? White around the outside, brown on the inside? Holy God, you have got to be kidding me.

I scrubbed some more, and watched another patch of eggshell white emerge.

No. Way. I swear I felt bugs crawling on me.

I stood up and tried scrubbing at shoulder height where the white began its fade to tan. To say it came right off would be untrue, but when I pushed hard, the tan layer yielded to my brush.

Now I had a choice to make between two dreadful options: either I spend the rest of the afternoon scrubbing the horrible brown shower to whiteness, or I screw the lid back onto the bleach and see if I can convince everyone else of my original thought—that I had ruined a tan fiberglass finish with bleach. I might be able to pull it off. Who would really care, anyway?

I never thought I’d see the day when I heard myself say this, but I did. I cared. For all the crud in the kitchen, all the filth on the floor, the lack of sanitary measures in The Pit of Sin and the chaos on the walls, the idea of standing buck naked that close to the grime and dead skin cells of everybody else who had ever stood naked in there? I couldn’t do it. Not now, anyway. I guess I have a little dignity after all. I thought of mamá Hilda in Los Rios, tossing bleach at the rough cement of the shower and scraping it with her broom. I thought that shower was mildly gross because of the damp smell and the cobwebs in the corners. But it was a thousand times cleaner than this.

Beth walked in because she had to pee. “Are you crazy?” she asked me. There was sweat dripping from my nose, and bleach water everywhere.

“Probably,” I said. “But look.”

“Oh my God!”

“I know.”

“It’s white!”

“Can you believe this?”

“Ewww!” she yowled in disgust. “Gross!”

Nina appeared in the doorway to see what was so nasty.

“I cannot believe you’re touching that,” Beth grimaced.

Nina put her hand to her mouth and didn’t say anything.

“It’s too awful,” I said. “I wish I didn’t care. But I do.”

The brown shower crossed the line. I didn’t even know I had a line regarding dirt, but I guess I do. You don’t always anticipate, ahead of time, what is going to be too much, but never fear—when it stares you in the face, you recognize it.

* * * * *


I’m not kidding. I went straight to the Registrar’s office to unload my English minor as soon as the CLOSED sign flipped to OPEN. I swapped it out for Women’s Studies. With a Theatre major and Women’s Studies minor, I would graduate fully prepared for absolutely nothing that I could think of and I didn’t care. Life is short. I didn’t come to college to read books I hate.

In classes like Liberation Theology, and Women in Text and Image I would be safe from Camus, Sartre and the dripping Bog People. Give me Erika Jong, or give me death. No more drawing symbolism from sludge. Forget picking apart the seven levels of hell. Stop the contrived comparisons.

I wanted to read books that kept me up at night, not that put me to sleep. I wanted to write stories that are so true, they frighten me. And poems that grab you and shake you and speak to your internal organs. Maybe I’d try writing a play. Ever since I read “The Night of the Iguana,” I’d been thinking about it. If I could just get enough quiet around me to hear myself think, maybe I could figure out what I was trying to say. I don’t think there’s a minor for that, although Women’s Studies has to be a step in the right direction.

* * * * *


Since we used water colors on the walls, we all assumed that soap and water would clean everything off. Wrong. Not water, not soapy water, not soapy water with bleach. Not Ajax, not Heavy Duty Mr. Clean, and Drain-O took off the paint underneath as well. I called Barb to let her know we hit a glitch, praying she wouldn’t come over to see.

She didn’t. Barb, still patient, agreed to buy multiple gallons of white paint and use our free labor to do some home improvement. I felt sadder than I expected about covering up the craziness like that. I mean, it was awful, but it was ours. It told a story, if you knew how to read it—like a totem pole, but flat and without the chronology of vertical design.

Everybody had to paint one room. I took the living room, Beth painted our bedroom, Sheila painted hers, and Nina had to do the kitchen. I, for one, was not about to paint over that creature and neither were Beth nor Sheila. We all volunteered so quickly to paint a different room that she got the kitchen by default. The kitchen was a big job for little Nina, but she didn’t make us try to explain.

We left the whole apartment looking lots better than we found it, especially the puke-yellow kitchen. The place felt as strange as a foreign country when we finished, all white and innocent. I swear it was quieter. The air seemed easier to breathe without that living mural growing on its walls like moss.

“Lucky you. I wish I was staying too,” Sheila said.

“Come visit any time,” I told her. But I knew she wouldn’t.

I wrote down Beth’s new dorm room number and the phone extension so I could stop by when I went to campus. She volunteered to take the extra-tiny room at the end of the hall because in that one, you didn’t have to have a roommate if you didn’t want one. She didn’t. Even I was still going to have a roommate.

“It smells like paint in here,” is what Jason said when he walked in with his gaggle of backpacks and his guitar.

“Yeah,” I told him. “We painted all over the walls and then we couldn’t get it off. So we had to re-do everything.”

“You should have left it,” he said.

“Naaah,” I answered. “It was kind of a lot.”

Both Jason and Claudia had been to Costa Rica too, so finally I could talk about it without having to say everything. I played my Juan Luis Guerra tape until it was threadbare and nobody begged for Paula Abdul. They’d both been to more Grateful Dead shows than I had, so no one rolled their eyes at me or made comments about people who deal with issues by not dealing with them. I could be lost sometimes, and they didn’t accuse me of not caring.

Classes started again. Harriet weaned her giant babies. I put an empty Tampax box in my closet to hide the letters that kept coming.

From outside in the night sky, Chino’s silent moon looked through the window at me under the quilts in my chilly bed like it was trying to tell me something. It seemed if I could figure out what it was saying, I would know how to be okay.

* * * * *


I don’t exactly live nearby, but a girl gets to her alma mater once in a while if she tries. Down shady 8th street, across the railroad tracks, past some sort of industrial monstrosity that didn’t used to be there, and then—sure enough. There’s our house. Mostly, I just see it in my dreams, but it is real.

If you scraped away enough paint upstairs, you could see everything I’ve told you about for yourself. Our watercolors must still be there under other layers.

I heard a family lives in the house now. Not our kind of family—the kind with parents and children. Maybe the owners of the house got tired of the constant coming and going of penniless students who never clean. Maybe the complaining neighbors wore them down. Anyway, the house is just a regular house again, instead of apartments, so I guess our kitchen isn’t a kitchen anymore. The living room isn’t a living room. Somebody’s husband’s Sunday sports coats are probably hanging above a row of shoes in The Pit of Sin.

I wonder if the kids don’t ever lie on their beds when the evening sun is at a slant and pretend to see pictures on the walls.

“I see a flower.”

“I see a cow.”

“I see a whole bunch of triangles going like this...”

“Over there it says shit.”

“I’m telling mom you said a bad word!”

I wonder if the mother didn’t buy a big mirrored dresser to place in front of that unnerving expanse of wall in the sunny south-facing bedroom, because somehow it seemed to be staring at her.

The siding is new and the edges are crisper, otherwise the house is the same. Except that our door has turned back into a window and the little porch is gone, along with all sign of our precious, wobbly steps.

* * * * *

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