From the kitchen you enter
the front room, which is a small living room with space for a table and chairs at one end. My mother’s cherrywood stereo is our hearth. Before bedtime, the stereo simmers Nancy Wilson and the old lamp warms up the thirdhand furniture. A doll lies exhausted from the day on Daddy’s recliner. Daddy tickles me, and when I squirm away, giggling, he rolls me on the planked floor, where we play wrestle. When I tickle him, he belly-shake laughs. When I don’t want to go to bed until it’s black outside, his joy dissolves fast and leaves an unpleasantness that charges into anger. I watch for the inside of his tanned arms. When I see the flash of their snake-white underbellies, I try to run. One of them catches me, usually by the back of my shirt. The other one pulls up my skirt and down my panties. Dad raises that arm up above us before he steers it down on my bottom. Slap slap slap on my bare skin which smarts like kindling lit. The little cloth Red Riding Hood can be turned upside down. When you pull her skirt over her head, Granny’s head pops up, and when you slide off her cap and turn her around, the Wolf’s face is on the reverse of Granny’s. I am not surprised that Granny and the Wolf turn out to be the same person.
Fluffy gray kittens
pounce on balls of yarn against a Pepto-Bismol background. My Chicago grandmother sewed these curtains for my bedroom window. I’m drawn to their playfulness; otherwise, I stare at the plaster swirls in the gray walls and search for the purple I know is hidden inside the paint. This time it’s German measles. My rash keeps me in bed so I don’t infect grownups. Last time it was regular measles, and before that, I had pink eye. Mommy marches in and out of my room with her tray. She’s starched stiff, and smug about the starch, just like the nuns who watched me when I had my adenoids out. Mommy would have made a good nun nurse, but we’re not Catholic like Grandma. She is not a lap mother anyway. I think I have no memories of her lap. But if I press against my recollection, repressed realization rises. Mommy, stiff and awkward, pulling me into her lap. She might shatter if I move, so I sit tight until I can slide down. My mother sets a glass of ginger ale on my nightstand, but I can’t drink it until after she takes my temperature with the round bulb thermometer. I’m too big a girl for the one in my bottom and wonder why I can’t have the thin bulb thermometer in my mouth. I try to time it until my mother comes back: pulling out a Bobbsey Twins from the cache of books, coloring books, and crayons I’ve hidden under the covers. I’ll read for two chapters and then hide it before she comes back. Popeye has his can of spinach. I have my hiding superpower.
From my locked bedroom,
I peer through the crack between the bottom edge of the roll-up shade and the window sash. My birthday party, a Bruegel the Elder scene, unfolds on the lawn. The picnic table presses into the grass from the weight of the salad bowls and casseroles, which ring my half-eaten birthday cake. Two of the original six blue candles pasted in the thick icing lean toward each other. My mother baked it this morning, fretting when it fell on one side. When she let me spread the frosting, some of the cake crumbled and mixed with the icing. Mommy added another layer on top. I was too excited to eat when she served it. Now I can almost taste the sugar. Outside, July has elongated the evening, deepening the green of the grass and holding off the darkness that erases identity. With their crispy clothes and shiny faces, children ornament the backyard, the swing set, the lawn chairs. Mark from next door plays with another boy in my sandbox with my yellow cement mixer. Usually, I handle my truck—which has a loose wheel—and he drives his dump truck. But now what’s mine is unprotected. Daddy punts the volleyball over the net that I helped him put up not eight hours before. Mommy’s teen cousin bams it back to him. I hear my father’s aggressive laugh through the pane, see the boy grin with all his big teeth. I kneel on my bed at the window, behind the shade, mingling with shadows. The walls of my room are the gray inside a shoebox. Monsters begin to gather under the bed. When I had refused to leave my party to get ready for bed, Daddy had picked me up and hauled me off to my bedroom. I tried to wiggle out of his grasp, but he was a cement block. As I scrambled after him to reach the door, he pushed it shut. I heard the click of the lock. Hidden in the small dark room, I don’t cry. Watching is what ghosts do. I decide to be a ghost.
Kin Types (Finishing Line Press), a chapbook of poetry and flash nonfiction, was a finalist for the 2018 Eric Hoffer Award. Her first collection of poetry, Doll God, winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, was published by Aldrich Press. Her Pushcart- and Best of the Net-nominated poetry and prose have appeared in Copper Nickel, American Journal of Poetry, Pleiades, River Teeth, TAB, Verse Daily, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Broad Street, and other journals.
She has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside, and she studied English and Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside (PhD); Western Michigan University (MFA); and Stanford University. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a bobcat and her kittens.
An avid blogger, Luanne can be found at: www.luannecastle.com