It’s going to be over a hundred here this weekend so roaches have started coming up from under the slab. Great big ones of the outdoor variety looking for water and morsels of dog food.
It gives me nightmares of Oklahoma, of poverty, of you leaving empty syruped peach cans on the floor, open cereal boxes on the counter, making coffee anyway in a machine the water container of which was infested with molting nymphs.
You called them albino roaches, Fucker, and laughed and said I was your freakshow baby.
The base note has something to do with sunscreen—a fair haired girl’s most important piece of camping gear next to bug spray which is the sharp second layer of the scent. The whiff of stiff, chlorinated towels, unwashed and hot from the top of the waist-high chain link fence they were draped over to dry completes the first perfumer’s chord.
For nuance, a drop of happy sweat from happy children come to wash their hands and faces with pink powdered soap from lime green metal dispensers hung over shabby sinks on which daddy long legs perch each rolling their eight dull eyes at the rush and frivolity of the new generation.
It’s like we live a great distance apart and come to visit sometimes, but usually when the other is away. We walk around, touch the dust kindly, see we’ve both been busy breaking and stacking colored glass in the windowsills— methodical about hue and striation. This one is like a bear and this one a bird. This one is like a wave and this one a glacier. This one is sunlight. This one is also sunlight.
How are you? I’m embarrassed it’s been so long. I know there has been so much and I care very much. I hope you know.
When my grandmother knew she was dying she picked out an opal for me, had a ring designed and sized it, for the short time being, for her own hand. I was an infant then, recently diagnosed lifelong colorless and could-be blind.
My grandmother was a force— a farm girl who took beatings for sneaking away to read, a young woman who left her family to work among foul mouthed boys at the Pentagon during WWII, a single mother, a stone wall, razor tongue, acid wit, first female management at the FAA.
She held me at the hospital in a hallway while the final diagnosis was pronounced to my parents in a tiny, sterile room. Her breast was warm, though the breathing behind it was labored. Her embrace was soothing though her hands were not soft from folding crust-cut sandwiches in wax paper for her children or grandchildren’s outings of uncomplicated youth.
She explored my hot face and closed eyelids with her wise yet diminishing fingers, the opal slipping forward and upside down under her nearly exposed knuckle, resting against my forehead, cooling a spot just above my eyes. She leaned forward and blessed me, “My dear little Michelle-y, I do hope you can see.”
One sanatorium in particular, given back to time and riveted to an island at the seaward head of a canal in an ancient city, became like a Galapagos of spooks where all manner and species of good ghosts were left coughing blood and lovers’ names into collapsing hallways.
I dreamed of a very short person, flailing, asking me if I knew Brutus. Yes, I said, yes, yes I knew Brutus. Et tu Brute, and all that, chewed forever in the second mouth of Satan. Yes, yes, I did. Brutus and I were familiar. The short person, neither man nor woman, older than young but not old, dark haired, flailed wilder and screamed, No, no. No. You do not know Brutus. Not that Brutus. You do not know.
Now, of course, waking, I worry about twenty-three stab wounds on the Senate steps. I worry about most of them finding mark in my spine. I worry about not being hero enough for my bloody back to be counted a travesty. I worry about cruel gravity pulling me into the arms of a son or daughter metaphorical who I failed to acknowledge in real life, and trading betrayal for betrayal with my child by each other’s sticky, dilating eyes.