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)

Image source

The Gingerbread Man

“Run, run, as fast as you can,” I read softly. “You can’t catch me! I’m the Gingerbread Man!” (1) Salty tears spilled down my cheeks blurring the words. I hugged the book to my chest and began to sing quietly to my Friend, “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.”

“What’s wrong?” Mrs. Runcie asked.

My heart leaped, Maybe I could tell her.

“Why don’t you try this one?” She held out The Golden Book ABC’s.

“That’s a baby book,” I said sniffing in the trickle from my nose.

“What about Goodnight Moon?” she asked.

“The pictures are pretty but there’s no story.”

She looked intently at me, “No story?”

“I like books that have a story,” I said in a small, high voice.

“Will you read the story to me?” she asked.

“I ran away from an old woman. I ran away from an old man. I ran away from a cow, and I can run away from you! I can!” (2)

“Try this,” she handed me another book.

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” (3)

With a puzzled smile she said, “You can read.”

(1)  The Gingerbread Man, http://www.storyit.com/Classics/Stories/gingerbreadman.htm

(2) ibid.

(3) Madeline, Ludwig Bemelman, New York : Simon and Schuster, 1939.

Image source

Save

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.

Save

Save

I’ll Give You Reason To Cry

“Sit up,” the man shouted at me.

I tried to lift my head from the table and winced as my bottom settled in the chair.

“She had vaccinations in both sides of her bottom,” the woman said.

“If she can’t sit straight, then send her to bed,” he said.

“The doctor said she’s too thin. She must eat more,” she said.

“I’ve been telling you to make her eat!” he said. “You let her leave food on her plate.”

“She throws up so easily,” the woman said, her voice shrill.

He pointed at the creamy, white liquid in my glass, “What’s she drinking?”

The woman jumped, then raised one shoulder. The shrill note still edged her voice, “Extra rich milk. Dr. DeBrun told me to get it. She needs the protein and calories.”

“Rene knows how many children I have to feed,” the man said in a resounding undertone

“Sit up and eat your food,” he said.

I put a piece of dry meat, chewed, and washed it down with a sip of milk.

“Your vegetables too,” he commanded.

I swallowed a forkful of the faded green leaves and gagged at the bitterness.

“You can’t let them waste food,” the man grumbled.

She and the other children finished their meals and left the table. The man sat in his seat at the far end watching me.

“Take your elbows off the table and eat!” he shouted when I propped one elbow on the table and rested my head on one hand.

“Why are you limping,” he demanded as I carried my empty plate to the kitchen.

“My bottom hurts,” I whimpered.

He followed me into the kitchen.

“Come here!” he commanded. “Hold the refrigerator handle.”

I held it with one hand.

“Use both hands!: He grabbed my other hand and pushed it onto the handle so that I faced the refrigerator. “Now bend your knee and lift your leg. Like this,” he bent one knee and raised his thigh to the height of his waist. I bent my knee and raised my thigh a few inches.

“It hurts!” I squeaked. Slimy salty liquid filled the back of my throat; it spilled from my eyes.

“I’ll give you reason to cry if you don’t stop that right now! Raise your leg!” he said.
I tried again but lifted it no higher.

The man pulled his belt from the loops on his trousers. “I’ll make you lift your leg!”

The belt smacked my bottom hitting one of the spots where the nurse had jabbed me. I screamed.

“Lift your leg!” he commanded again. Again, I tried and failed. Over and over he hit me until I was jumping to get away from the pain of his blows, mucus streaming from my nose, tears from my eyes.

“Now get to bed,” he finally said.

I limped away. At the kitchen doorway, my stomach heaved. A slimy green and brown pile of food and curdled milk lay on the floor.

Children’s Missal

From the doorway, I watched the woman sitting on her bed. She removed items from a round, red velvet box. I moved closer, saw lying next to her a small, cream coloured book with gold edged pages.

“What’s this?” I asked stroking the picture of the cup on the smooth cover.

“A children’s missal. My father gave it to me.”

I opened it. A man raised a cup and a small, white round above his head. I was suddenly very still inside. The woman gently took the book from my hands and returned it to the box.

“Go play, now,” she said.

At the door, I stopped and looked back at the red velvet box.

The door ajar, I sat inside the closet of the room I shared. A door closed. The woman walk down the stairs. After the sound of her steps died away, I tip toed into her room. The red, velvet box was no longer on her bed.

Her closet? I asked my Friend and opened the door.

The box sat on a shelf above my head. I climbed the lower shelves and lifted it down. The missal lay nestled between yellowing envelopes, photographs, and ticket stubs. I took it back to the room I shared and slowly read each page, drank in each picture.

On the page with the man holding the cup and the small, white round, I read: “Look, the priest is holding up Jesus so you can see him.” Something pulled at my heart. My chest heaved. “Cluh! Cluh! Cluh!” coughed out my throat. The well of tears gushed over. When the waters receded, I pushed the missal as far under my mattress as I could.

“Oh! You’re Here.” – Final Rewrite

I have reached the final rewrite stage. From time-to-time, I’ll post excerpts.

*******************

The light switch snapped me on as I stood in darkness. The cool air penetrated my pajamas and robe, chilled my slippered feet. I clasped an old, ragged bear with no eyes. People stood watching as smoke poured from the side of the house. With flashing lights and screeching sirens, giant red trucks pulled up. Men in yellow suits and big black boots sprayed water onto the house.

The woman held the hand of a little boy.

A man came out the back door holding a girl’s hand, “Can you believe it! Eve locked herself in the bathroom. Quelle stupide!”

The man and woman called names. Children responded, “I’m here.”

After the fire was out, I reentered the house. The woman looked down at me, “Oh!” her eyes widened. “You’re here.”

The Bracelet – Giving the Gift

bracelet

The Bracelet – Giving the Gift

“When she saw the bracelet she cried out, ‘Now I know you’ve really forgiven me,'” I said shaking my head. “She flew at me, knocked over napkins, banged into chairs to hug me.” My head continued to shake from side-to-side, “The bracelet doesn’t mean what she thinks.”

“I still don’t know why you gave it to her,” Jenna replied.

“It was her birthday,” I shrugged. “She wanted real jewelry. It was on clearance, less than I’d budgeted, I knew she’d love it, so I got it for her.”

“But why would you give Caroline such a great present after she abandoned you?” Jenna demanded. “I just don’t get it.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that,” I shrugged. “The bracelet was so wonderful and I was so happy that’s she’d love it,”

“She didn’t deserve it,” Jenna pouted.

“Maybe not. But can you imagine looking for a gift based on what someone deserves?” I shuddered.

“Yes,” Jenna said.

“What a lot of wasted energy,” I said. “I’d rather not give any gift.”

“Why go to her party?”

“Her sister invited me; the girls wanted me there,” I raised one shoulder in a shrug. “I thought it would be okay since there were other people.” I shook my head again, “I just wish she understood.”

“That you don’t trust her?”

“Yeah. NO. I do trust her.She’ll do the same thing again.”

“Of course she will,” Jenna said.

“She hasn’t changed. It’s all about her. She feels safe around me now she knows I don’t have cancer. She doesn’t even imagine how I feel.”

“So you shouldn’t have given her the bracelet.”

“I couldn’t go without giving her a gift. Why would I give her something she didn’t want? That would be no gift at all.”

“Why go to the party?” Jenna asked.

“I can’t just abandon Farrah and Adhita.”

“I guess not,” Jenna mused. She shuddered, “But you’ll be around Caroline.”

“Maybe I’ll learn to forgive her,” I said.

“She doesn’t deserve it,” Jenna replied.

One corner of my mouth lifted in a half smile, “Probably not. Who does?”

Image source

Worth Something – Assignment 6

our-lady-of-sorrows-1

Even the painful things are worth something

“He used to say, ‘I’m doing the best I can,'” I said staring at the icon of Our Lady of Sorrows above Dr. Vogwall’s head.

“Was he?”

“I never thought so before,” I sighed looking down. “But now…” My eyes returned to the icon.

“Yes?”

“His best was deficient, but it would still be his best.” I longed to press my face into the folds of Mary’s blue mantle.

“It would,” Dr. Vogwall said.

Mary’s eyes encouraged me to say more.

“If it was his best,” a tear threatened to spill onto my face. I sniffed it away. “If he did his best,” I sniffed again, “no matter how deficient, it’s worth something. Don’t you think?”

“What do you think?”

I took in a deep breath, “I think it must have some value.”

“What does that look like?”

“I don’t know.” I scratched my head and glanced up again at Mary, “Must I be able to quantify it in some way? Isn’t it enough to know there was value even if I can’t delineate it?”

“We’ve talked about the problems with abstractions,” he sighed.

“Yes. I need to be able to see reality.” A tear ran down my cheek, splashed onto my charcoal grey skirt leaving a tiny damp spot that slowly disappeared in the knitted wool. “He saved my life.”

“Tell me about that.”

“He interfered.  When I kept trying to kill myself, he distracted me.”

“Brutally,” Dr. Vogwall said.

I nodded my head, “I was taking more and more pills. Eventually, I’d have succeeded,” I sighed. “I was so busy fighting him, I forgot about killing myself.”

“You weren’t willing to let him do the job?”

“Precisely!” I sat up straight in the chair. “I could kill myself but I’d be damned if I let him destroy me.” My eyes sought the tears on Mary’s face, “He engaged my stubbornness subroutine,” I said in a small voice. “That’s worth something.” More tears tracked down my cheek. I lowered my eyes to Dr. Vogwall’s, “Fighting him, I learned to fight myself. That’s worth a lot.”

“You think that came as a result of him doing his best?”

“I think his best was absolutely crazy and exactly what I needed.”

“But he didn’t know,” Dr. Vogwall replied.

“So?” I asked. “I get credit for so many things I do thoughtlessly or instinctively. Everyone does. Shouldn’t he?”

“Should he?”

“Yes,” my head nodded in agreement. “If I get credit, he should too.”

“So the cruelty doesn’t matter?”

“Of course it matters. It was horrible. But things can be horrible and necessary at the same time.

“Dr. Vogwall, I would be dead if not for him. He saved my life and,” my face crumpled, tears flowed, “I’m grateful to him for that.” My hand flew up, covered my mouth but the words had already escaped. “I never thought I’d say that.”

“Do you think he wanted to save your life?”

“No, he wanted to control me, to own me. But it’s like Joseph’s brothers — the minister meant it for evil but God meant it for good — my good.” I sniffed and wiped away tears. “I wish he had taken it for his good too.”

**************************************

Assignment: In words and/or images, compose a piece grounded in the possibility, distant as it may be, of hope and reconciliation.

Save

Save

Save

Save

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…

*************************************************

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”

Image source

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.

************************************************

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.

Image source

Save

Save

Save

%d bloggers like this: