Category: Memories

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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White Mary Janes – A Rupture In History, Assignment 1

White Mary Janes“Where are you taking Marmar?” Grandpère laughs up at me. His hands at my waist hold me above his head. My white Mary Janes scissor kick the air.

“Shopping,” I crow.

“What will you buy me?”

“I don’t know-oh-oh,” I warble a song of syllables.

Heavy boots clomp along the hallway floor. Grandpère swings me to the floor near the bookcase. He steps behind his desk. The study door opens. Two khaki uniformed men enter. One wears a rigid cap, the other a soft cap with a bill. Marmar’s hand clasps mine.

“Sir,” the man in the rigid cap moves his lips. My ears hear a humming buzz. The air pulses against my skin.

“It need not be this way,” Grandpère’s voice echoes through the buzz.

Grandpère stretches out an arm towards Marmar. His hand motions, Back! Marmar’s hand clasps my shoulder.

The man in the rigid cap raises the corner of his lips. It is almost a smile. His lips move again. The humming buzz returns, the air pulses. The man in soft cap removes a gun from the holster at his side.

A loud, flat crack rends the humming buzz.

Grandpère slams against the wall behind his desk. He slides to the floor. Red blood bubbles from the front of his pale blue shirt.

One white Mary Jane steps toward Grandpère. Marmar pulls me back.

Three flat cracks sound in the hallway.

The man in the rigid cap moves his lips again. Marmar clasps my hand. Blood saturates Grandpère’s shirt.

“Walk,” she says.

I glance up at her. My white Mary Janes step in tandem beside her. Ti Eduardo lies in the hallway. Red blood plasters his dark hair to his head. I reach for him.

“Walk,” Marmar repeats.

I glance up at her again. My white Mary Janes tread the tile floor. The soldiers close us in the cool sitting room. Marmar sits amidst the red flowers of an upholstered chair. Her hands on my shoulder, she rests her head on mine. Loud sobs rend the humming buzz, undulate her back. Dark hair slips its pins, hides her face. Her tears strike my white Mary Janes.

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Constraint: Use present indicative to express the immediacy of memory. Keep sentences simple. Avoid use of the conjunction “and.”

O is for Opposite

o is for oppositeOpposite me, separated by the sealed window, her dark eyes and mine lock in a gaze. We share similar golden skin, dark hair but her dress is soiled, ripped. Dirt streaks her face. Her bare feet stand on piles of refuse amidst shanties made of cast off wood, plastic, corrugated aluminum.

“Huh. Huh,” I whimper leaning against the solid warmth of Papa’s hand. Traffic has halted our car. The scents of leather upholstery, air conditioning, aftershave, and pipe tobacco comfort me; the smell garbage heap on the opposite side of that pane of glass cannot intrude. Her face reaches in through the glass; I touch my smooth cheek, my cheek not hers.

“She is poor,” Papa tells me. “Her mother and father don’t have enough money to feed her. She is searching for food.”

I want to look at his face, to see in his eyes the meaning of his words. But I must not look away and lean farther back against his hand to feel his touch.

“Maybe we can find a way to help her,” Papa says and leans forward to speak to the driver, Pablo.

The car begins to move again. Our opposite pairs of eyes remain tied together for a few seconds more.

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F is for Faith Healer

“Eve, ride with your mother and the nurse in the ambulance,” the man said.

After the hospital bed bearing her mother had been loaded in, Eve climbed in and one of the drivers slammed the heavy door shut.

As the vehicle pulled away, I stood on the sidewalk hugging my coat in the chill night air.

“Get in this car, Mel,” the man shouted.

f is for faith healerI jumped and scrambled into the empty seat between between Claire and Gerrard. We drove a long way. The man sang Blessed Assurance to himself raising his voice during the chorus:

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

We rode huddled in silence. Finally, we arrived at an open field. The dark silhouette of a huge tent loomed in the night sky. We waited behind a long queue of cars that sought space among the parked rows filled by earlier arrivals.

The man hunched his shoulders, shook his head, and muttered, “Quel désordre!” He lowered his window and, waving a sheaf of tickets, called to a guard who wielded a flashlight, “I have a reservation. My wife’s ambulance should be here… That’s her,” he cried out pointing at the large, white shape as it moved into the yellow light near the tent entrance.

“Pull over here,” the guard directed. We parked in an area surrounded by red tape on which “reserved” had been printed in white.

Inside, we sat under the bluish light cast by bare, fluorescent bulbs. Giant space heaters sent warmth towards our shoulders but missed the chilly seats of the metal folding chairs. The woman lay under piles of blankets on her hospital bed.

“Who’s he?” Gerrard whispered to Charles.

“A faith healer,” Charles answered. Gerrard’s brow furrowed. “He’s going to try to heal mummy like the one last week.”

“Oh!” Gerard’s voice rose.

The man snapped his head in our direction, “Hush! Show some respect.” He leaned over to the large woman next to him, “I’ve got to be father and mother to them.” She nodded. “But I know God will heal my wife and give them back their mother.”

“Amen!” she replied.

“What is your name?” the faith healer lay his hand atop the pile of blankets.

“Roberta,” the woman’s voice was a whisper.

“Roberta,” the man spoke clearly.

“Roberta,” the faith healer’s drawled. “Do you believe God can heal you?”

“Yes,” the woman whispered.

“Then in the name of Jesus, be healed!”

He lifted her off the bed holding her under her arms. Spasms of pain tore across her face. She hung from his hands, a limp rag doll; her toes, in black, leather slippers, barely touched the floor.

“Walk Roberta,” the man urged.

The woman hung suspended from the faith healer’s hands. The nurse stepped forward. She and the man lifted the woman back onto the hospital bed.

“You” have to fast and pray,” the faith healer told the man. “But if you believe,” his voice boomed out through the microphone, “God will heal you.”

“I’ll fast for forty days and forty nights,” the man declared shaking the faith healer’s hand. “Just like Jesus.”

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D is for D’Abby

“God knows your name,” the minister’s bright, authoritative voice asked through the radio speaker. “But do you know His?”

I yawned and stretched, “Morning, Lord.”

“See,” I told the radio. “I know His name.”

The voice continued, “We give those we love special names. When I was a boy…”

D is for D'AbbyHe continued his story while I wrapped myself in my navy, terrycloth robe and padded off to the bathroom. On my return, the minister inquired, “Do you love God so much, you have a name that only the two of you share? Are you that close to Him?” I tuned to a classical station and listened to Haydn as I dressed for church.

Huh? I silently queried my Friend. The lector’s voice continued to ring in my ear after he had returned to his seat. I glanced back down at the service leaflet:

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'”*

Abba? That’s You?

But do you call me that? The words formed themselves in my mind and resounded like the peal of one of the bells in the church tower.

My forehead furrowed, That’s what Paul calls You.

I reread the passage from Romans again. The words, “we cry” held my attention. Hmm, I mused. I haven’t included myself in “we.” I tried to focus on the homily but my eyes returned to the leaflet. My lips pushed themselves together in a small moue. Abba doesn’t mean much to me. It just doesn’t.

The creed and prayers of the faithful brought me to my feet and captured my attention but at the announcements, I found my eyes drawn back to Romans 8. So do You want me to give You a personal name? I mutely asked. Something other than Lord, or God, or Friend? The word “Father” caught my eye. Something that means Father? A warm tingle of a divine hug suffused my arms and back. “Okay,” I whispered as I stood for the consecration.

After communion, I knelt, my forehead resting on my folded hands, whispering, “D’Abby, thank You for feeding me…” My head snapped up. “What did I just say?” I whispered. “D’Abby? What’s that?” I rested my head on my clasped hands and pleaded, “What’s D’Abby?” The warm tingle held me close. “It’s not Daddy. I wouldn’t call You that. It’s not Papa. He was my father. And it’s not Abba either.” I gazed up at the crucifix and then lowered my head again. “Gee!” I whispered. “Gee!”

*Romans 8:15

C is for Calm and Comfort

“Shall we get flowers for Marmar?” Papa’s big, warm hand clasped mine. Icy blue eyes gazed into my brown ones. My legs beneath my navy coat raised and lowered my black leather Mary Janes in a prancing dance.

C is for ComfortI vigourously nodded. A small smile lifted the corners of my mouth as we entered the shop. I pressed my nose and lips against the counter’s glass front as a blond woman in a blue overall spoke with Papa. A pink and gold bow congratulated me: “It’s a girl!”

“What of peonies, Lysse?” he asked holding one fluffy pink stem.

I breathed in its soft, powdery fragrance then looked up at him with a wide smile and nodded again. As Papa turned away, my eyes collided with the attendant hazel gaze.

“What a lovely little miss,” she said.

I pressed against Papa’s leg reaching for his hand and caught hold of the hem of his tweed jacket, “Huh… Huh…” I whimpered. Tears stung my eyes, “Huh… Huh…” I buried my face in his grey flannel trousers, clutched the soft fabric in my small fingers. “Huh… Huh…”

Papa lifted and held me so that our faces were about a foot apart. “Calm yourself,” he said in his Lysse-does-not-behave-this-way voice. The whimpers petered out as he repeated, “Calm yourself.” A hot tear fell onto his lapel. He gathered me close in his arms against his shoulder. My tears ceased.

“She’s tired,” Papa told the attendant then completed ordering. Mouth serious, eyes wide, I peered over his shoulder at her smiling face as he carried me from the shop.

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