Category: Memories

Christmas – A Snippet

Christmas

Footsteps creaking on the stairs wake me. It is dark outside. I am alone in the girl’s bedroom. I dress in robe and slippers and creep down to the living room. The woman sits in her big, tapestry chair. The other children are opening packages. I find a spot to sit.

“It’s Christmas!” Ames crows to me.

“This is for you.”

She pushes a large box towards me. I rip the paper away and open the box. Inside is a pile of folded clothes.

Marie is opening a box. She lifts a dress with a black top and striped skirt. A white tag is attached to one sleeve.

“What’s this?,” she asks.

Her eyes are shining. She reaches into a distended pocket and pulls out a small box.

“Open it,” the woman replies.

Her eyes are shining. A big smile lights her face. Marie opens the box.

“A watch!” she cries.

“You wanted one,” the woman says.

“Oh thank you, Mommy!” Marie jumps up and hugs the woman. “I love my Christmas presents.”

“You must thank your father too.”

“I will,” Marie says.

I rifle through the box of clothes. Is there a small box for me?

I shake out each garment: pants, two skirts, two sweaters, a dress, a jacket. Some have small mended areas. There are no tags. There is no small box.

Clothes, I tell my Friend.

“This is also for you.”

The woman hands me a small package and a filled stocking. Claire is removing a big silver bow from a pink hula hoop.

I tear away the paper. It is a red yoyo.

A kazoo, a small puzzle, and a small, white, leather covered New Testament fill the top of the stocking. Candy, an apple, and a clementine fill the rest of the stocking.

“Do you like your gifts,” the woman asks.

My head down, I say, “Yes.”

“You really needed clothes,” she says.“

I know.” My head stays bowed.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” the man booms as he descends the stairs.

The children run to him. “Thank you, Daddy!”

“Thank you Rev. O!”

They compete in displaying their Christmas gifts for him.

“Aren’t you going to thank your father?” the woman asks.

I walk over to him, He is sitting on one of the bottom of the steps.

“Thank you,” I say, my voice small.

“Eight Books!”

A small sign on the light wood desk reads “LIBRARIAN.”

“May I help you?” a curly haired woman asks.

The woman glances at my summer reading list which she keeps in her bag. “We’re looking for Pippi Long-Stocking,” she says. “What else would you like to read?” she asks.

“Can I have five?” I ask.

The librarian asks, “Do you have a library card?”

“Yes!” I say.

“Then, yes. You may take out five.”

My feet bounce me up and down.

“How old are you?” the curly haired woman asks.

I hold up five fingers.

The woman sighs. “She’s six.”

I’m five, I tell my Friend.

The librarian leads me to a bookcase.

“You should be able to read these books,” she says.

I pick up Good Night, Moon and sigh.

“That’s a good book,” she says.

“It’s a baby book,” I say. “Do you have Lion, Witch and Wardrobe?”

“That’s probably a little too advanced for you,” she says.

“I can read it,” I say. “I’ve read almost the whole Bible. Except he didn’t like it when I said the Woman clothed with the sun is Mary.”

The curly haired woman chuckles.

“But I did read it!” I say stamping my foot.

“I’m sure you did.” The chuckle remains in her eyes.

“The Narnia books are over here.“ She leads me to a tall bookshelf. “You’ll need the stool.”

Standing on a small stool, I reach for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Eight Books“Oh!” I cry. “There are one, two, three, four, five …six more!”

I pull the pastel books in their impervious cellophane covers down and carry them to the librarian’s desk.

“May I take three extra?” I ask.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I can only allow you to take five.”

I stand at the desk staring at each cover. Which can I leave behind?

The woman’s voice sounds behind me, “Did you find what you wanted?”

“Yes, but I can’t take them all out.” My mouth is upside down.

The woman tells the librarian, “You can put the extra books on my card.”

My smile pours itself into my eyes, sinks into my feet.

“Eight books!” I softly announce to my Friend. “Eight books!”

“I Wanna Bi-i-te You!” – A Snippet

Why are you in here alone?” the man asks from the door of the playroom. “Come read in the living room.”

I carry my book into the other room. Eve is playing the piano. The woman is embroidering and watching Claire sew two pieces of fabric together. I sit in the rocker. Under cover of my book, I suck my thumb.

“Take your thumb out of your mouth!” the man says.

I pull my thumb out and continue reading.

“Your legs are so tender and delicious, I’ll just have to eat them all up.” The man is sitting on the floor with Ames nibbling his calves.

Ames gushes, “Do it again, daddy! Do it again!”

The man nips his legs again.

He looks up and sees me watching, “Come here. Let me see your legs.”

I hesitate. He lunges forward, grabs my arm, and pulls me onto the floor. He pushes up the leg of my jeans and bites me.

“No!” I cry. “You’re hurting me!”

I push at him, struggle to escape. He puts one leg over my body. I continue to struggle.
He smacks my thigh, “That didn’t hurt you! Ne fais pas le bébé!”

He bites again and again. Finally he releases me. My legs are covered with angry, red welts.

I see his leg between his sock and trouser. I lunge and sink my teeth into him. He jumps. Sobbing, I say, “I wanna bi-i-te you! I wanna bi-i-te you!”

The man hold me at arms length, laughs, mimics me, I wanna bi-i-te you!” Then, “Bébé! I didn’t hurt you!” He smacks my bottom. “Go change for bed.”

The woman’s voice stalks me as I limp from the room, “I wanna bi-i-te you!”

I Want To Sing Like That

New people fill the pews. I stare at the big, empty table inscribed with ‘This Do In Remembrance Of Me.’

Do what?

People in long blue robes march in singing “I am on the battlefield for my Lord, I’m on the battlefield for my Lord; And I promised Him that I would serve Him till I die. I am on the battlefield for my Lord.” A bald man, punching the air in time to the music, precedes them.

My feet itch to prance in the aisle. I prance in my heart where only my Friend sees. Some of the new people clap and sway.

One voice rises up, “Ay-I took the Master-er’s hand, A-and I joined the Christian band, Ay-’m on the battlefield fo-or-or my-ay-ay-ay-ay Lord.” Her voice wrenches my heart.

I want to sing like that.

Sewing Machine – Another Snippet

There is a humming sound downstairs. I dress myself in robe and slippers and tip toe down the steps. The woman has removed the embroidered cloth from a small table. She leans over it working at a white machine.

“What is that?” I ask drawing close.

The woman jumps. “Oh! You’re awake!,” she said. “Can’t you sleep?”

I’m always awake, I think. I ask aloud, “What is that?”

“My sewing machine,” she says. “I’m making you a dress for your first day of school.”

She lifts a cornflower blue dress and a cream coloured cotton pinafore printed with yellow flowers and liver-spotted cocker spaniel puppies.

“Do you like it?” she asks. “I dyed Claire’s old yellow dress but there are still spots so I added the pinafore to cover them.” I stoke one of the spaniels. “Do you like the pockets?” she asks.

“Oh yes,” I say and blink away a tear. I glance at the television. “There’s no colour? Is it broken?”

“That’s an old movie. Old movies aren’t in colour.” She smooths the pinafore fabric then tilts her head and asks, “Are you hungry? Would you like some ice cream?”
I nod.

She goes to the kitchen and returns with two bowls of vanilla ice cream.

We eat and watch in silence. When I finish, the woman takes my bowl and says, “Back to bed with you. But first wash your face and hands and brush your teeth.”

I Want My Marmar

I waited outside my classroom in the damp chill for Claire and Gerrard. The other children had all left but no one came for me.

“I can walk,” I told my Friend. “I know the way.”

Two blocks past the school four big boys jumped from behind a thick hedge. Gerard and Charles quarreled with them after school.

“That’s Gerard’s sister,” one of them called out.

“Let’s get her,” another boy said.

Suddenly I was lying prone on the ground. Their fists pommeled my back. A sneaker crashed into my side.

“Let’s go,” a boy said. “Old man Marcus’ll see us.”

Pain throbbed in my arm and back as I pulled myself to my feet. My knees ached. My book and lunch pail were in a puddle. I picked them up and limped home stunned and sobbing.

“I want my Marmar,” I begged my Friend. “I want my Marmar.”

The woman met me at the door, blocked my entrance.

Her fist on her hip, she asked, “Where have you been?!”

“They forgot me so I walked by myself but some big boys beat me up,” I wailed.

“You should have gone back to school and reported them to the principal,” she told me.

The sky was growing dark. Big rain drops had begun to fall.

She pointed towards the school, “Go and report them to the principal.” She stepped back inside, closed the door, and watched me through the glass panes.

As twilight fell, I limped back in the rain with scraped hands, bloody knees, wet shoes and clothes. More tears leaked out when I discovered a rip in my navy, corduroy skirt; my chest hurt.

“It wasn’t her!” I sobbed at my Friend. “It wasn’t her! It was that woman!”

Something dark made me jump. I peered closer, pouted at the shadow of a shrub. “They’re waiting for me,” I said.

The principal, Mr. Evans, gave me a puzzled look as I entered his office, “Did they forget you?”

Tears became heh-huh hiccups as I choked out the story.

When I was quiet, Mr. Evans lifted me into an armchair and dried my tears. His hands shook as he emptied the contents of a packet into a styrofoam cup and added water from an electric kettle. With a smile, he handed me the cup of cocoa. “Let’s see if we can do something about those cuts,” he said. “This will sting.” He cleaned and bandaged my wounds, then drove me back to the house and walked me to the door.

The woman let me in, “Go change into something dry.”

Mr. Evans smiled at me from the porch. As I began to turn away, anger replaced his smile. He didn’t come in but kept the woman at the door for a long time.

Next morning, the pain in my knees woke me. The bandages had slipped; my pajama bottoms had stuck to my scraped knees.

“Stop!” I screamed when the man ripped the fabric from my wounds.

“Gros bébé,” he sneered and smacked my thigh.

 

Janet and Mark

“Let’s welcome Mel. She’s joining our class,” Mrs. Lawson said.

In unison, the boys and girls said, “Welcome, Mel.”

“You may sit with Ellie,” Mrs. Lawson said directing me to a table in the first row.

The last hour of the day, eight of us sat around a low, round table in the reading corner. Mrs. Lawson gave me a thin, book, “Janet and Mark.” (1)

“Janet,” I read on the first page and then from the second, “Mark.”

When the bell rang, Mrs. Lawson said, “Take your books home and practice reading the first two pages again.”

At the dining room table, I read aloud, “Janet. Mark.” I itched to turn the page but Mrs. Lawson had not given me permission so I closed the book.

The woman was peeling potatoes in the kitchen. “May I read the big Bible,” I asked her.

She scrubbed my hands and set the book before me. I read of Joseph’s death in Exodus.

(1) Mabel O’Donnell, Janet and Mark, Harper & Row (1966)

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A Humming Machine

In the night quiet, I heard humming downstairs. I dressed myself in robe and slippers and tip toed down the steps. The woman sat at a small table that was usually covered with an embroidered cloth leaning over a white humming machine.

“What’s that?” I asked drawing close to the machine.

The woman jumped. “Oh! You’re awake!,” she said. “Can’t you sleep?”

I wanted to say, “I’m always awake.” I asked again, “What is that?”

“My sewing machine,” she replied. “I’m making you a dress for your first day of school.”
She lifted a blue dress and a cream coloured cotton pinafore printed with yellow flowers and cocker spaniels puppies.

“Do you like it?” she asked. “I had to dye Claire’s old yellow dress but I added the pinafore so the stains won’t show.” I touched the crisp fabric of the pinafore. “Do you like the pockets?” she asked.

“Oh yes,” I said suddenly needing to blink. I glanced at the television. “Why isn’t there any colour? Is it broken?”

“That’s an old movie. Old movies aren’t in colour.” She smoothed the pinafore fabric then tilted her head peering at me, “Are you hungry? Would you like some ice cream?”
I nodded.

She went to the kitchen and returned with two bowls of vanilla ice cream. “Now eat that,” she said. “Then you’ll have to get back in bed.”

We ate and watched in silence. When I finished, the woman took my bowl and said, “Back to bed with you but first wash your face and hands and brush your teeth.

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I Sing Because I’m Free — Assignment 5

80s teen bra 2Under my fingers, the smooth, evenly spaced ridges of embroidered pale pink roses tickled my fingertips as I made tiny stitches in the smooth, pale pink fabric. The minister’s face had had blotches that ranged from pale pink to darker purples and reds when he had said in a hushed, breathless voice, “Your mother is dead.”

“Oh no!” Claire had burst out.

The others had wailed, “Mommy! Mommy!”

Then the minister had cried out, “Oh Roberta!” as he caught up the smiling photograph of her that had been taken less than two years before. I jumped at the sound of his voice.

Five faces, so much like hers, so much unlike mine, crumpled, eyes poured forth tears, noses ran. The reds and purples overran the paler pink tones on the minister’s face. I watched them, eyes wide, eyes dry. Darkness plugged my heart. Across that dark screen played the image of the minister’s hand slapping a dark red mark against his wife’s creamy, pale cheek as he screamed, “You’re crazy!”

I had gone to retrieve my books and coat.

“You’ll be staying out of school for a while,” he had told me when I stopped to say I was going to school.

Now, behind the dining room window seat draperies, I sang softly to myself, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me…” as I stitched pleats into the cups of one of Claire’s cast off bras.

“It’s nearly new,” I told my Friend. “If I can just make the cups small enough, I’ll finally have a bra.” I winced at the memory of my chest pulling when I ran or even walked quickly. Hunched over, I held my face close to the embroidered roses.

“They were done with a machine,” I whispered. “Little lines, not even satin stitches.” I shook my head at it; I could do a much better job.

I popped a tiny, spicy, red heart into my mouth, and sucked it as I continued to stitch. “I’ll miss Valentine’s day,” I whispered, then shrugged, “I wouldn’t get many Valentines anyway.” I pressed my nose against the window and let the bra slip into my lap.

The day was sunny, mild. How do bad things happen on beautiful days? I mutely asked. And why do I feel happy? Shouldn’t I be sad? Shouldn’t I cry for her?

I popped another spicy red candy into my mouth and took up the bra. My heart sang as I continued to take tiny stitches in the soft fabric, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me…

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Assignment: In words and/or images, compose a piece in response to a memory of conflict, war, loss, or trauma that includes two or three central sensations: perhaps a sound that corresponds to or contrasts with a sight, perhaps the feel, noise, and smell of a place.

Taken from “H Is For Happy Once”

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He Kissed My Neck! – Assignment 4

He kissed my neck!“Did you get Jason’s number?” Linda asked.

I shook my head.

“It’s because he’s short, isn’t it?” she insisted.

“No,” I shook my head again. “I just don’t like him.”

“Because he’s short,” Linda said.

“Because I don’t like him,” I responded before turning to the mirror to freshen my lipstick.

“Why don’t you just admit it. He’s short and you don’t like him,” Linda said.

“He kissed my neck!” I shrieked, my voice becoming shriller as the sentence ended.

“So?” Linda asked. “It’s New Year’s Eve. People kiss.”

My hands flew up, splayed out, twitching to ward off the images that rushed towards my interior vision.

Margaret giggled, “You look like a baby given solid food for the first time. Your face is all puckered!”

I glared at her, “He kissed my neck! I hate having my neck touched.”

“What about Cade?” Linda asked. “You lived with him. He must have kissed your neck.”

I flinched. Margaret giggled again. “I’d push him away,” I said.

“You wouldn’t let your boyfriend kiss your neck?”

“No.” My breathing was ragged, wheezy. My shoulders hunched closer to my ears protecting my neck from lips and tongues and fingers. “I hate it!”

“The iron-faced woman,” Sinead said.

“Whaa–?” I asked. I closed my eyes, tried to ease the furrows in my forehead.

“She choked you,” Sinead said.

“How…?” I asked

“You didn’t like your dress so your mother had her change it. It had a sailor collar and when she pulled the tie…”

My splayed hands twitched, unsuccessfully warding heavy, muscular hands that clutched and pulled the bright red cotton tie. I shook my head to clear it away. A tear flew from one eye. My lips curled.

“I forgot I’d told you,” I sniffed.

Margaret handed me a tissue.

“How old were you?” Linda asked.

“Three? Four?”

“More than twenty years ago? You can’t still be bothered by that.”

“Some things don’t get better,” Sinead told her.

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Assignment: What losses or absences do you or do we continue to sense from things that are no longer present? In words or images, compose a piece that explores the “phantom limbs” of a trauma or traumas.

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