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Love Like an Orange

        I have come here often, and will continue to do so until my memory fades. This is a place of heat and sand, cliffs that shimmer, and black waves that crash. Molly, the black dog who barks wildly, eventually just walking tiredly at my side. This is the beach across the road from Grandpa’s summer house. We came here often during my adolescence.
        I enjoyed the silence and smell of the carpet. I liked the way I could sleep between soft sheets all through the morning because the light was gentle, and the only sounds would be those of dad pottering around the kitchen and the soft hum of the radio. Robbie and I spent our days playing in the sand and small waves. We built sandcastles, and came back to the house with blistering sunburns on our shoulders. “Didn’t I tell you to put on sunblock?” Dad would growl, roughly smearing aloe on our searing skin.
        At that age, ten or eleven or so, Robbie and I were like extensions of one another. I knew precisely what he was thinking, without thinking. His mannerisms I knew by heart, his twitchy nose and distant gaze. He was less outwardly emotional than me. I was prone to crying, and often. But Robbie concealed his tears, and became a blank sheet of paper, and no one could reach him but me. Sometimes it was I who pushed him beyond that blank barrier. And then I couldn’t reach him. I couldn’t touch him, or find him, and I’d feel resentful and defiant and horrible until a few hours passed and he would rejoin me on the beach with his bucket and spade, acting as if nothing had happened.
        The summer that mum left us, dad took us up to the beach house early and left us with grandpa while he went back home to sort things out with a lawyer. Grandpa spent most of his time smoking his pipe and reading romance novels on the deck while Robbie and I, confused and trying to sort out what was going on, were left to mill around the house or play on the beach. Our playing felt strained, too pretended – though neither of us said anything about it. Sometimes we forgot we were uncomfortable and swam and laughed, but we always returned to the house to find Grandpa napping in a deckchair with his pipe drooping between his lips, an almost empty bottle of stinky spirits on the floor beside him, a reminder of what was really happening.
        I learned to heat up beans on the stove. I remembered how mum used to do it, and the only really difficult part was opening the tin, which I usually left to Robbie because somehow he’d gotten the hang of it. I always very conscientious of turning the stove off, and never stuck a knife into the toaster. I went about these tasks with a sense of pride. Robbie and I would each put aloe on each others’ back, and one of us would wash the dishes while the other dried them with a dishtowel. We took turns. No one had told us to. No one made us. We didn’t even come to blows over who got to do the washing and who the drying.
        Both the nights and days were endless, whereas before, the summer holidays had always whizzed by too quickly. Now I lay awake, crying as quietly as I could, while Robbie lay in the bed beside me. My life swelled up in my chest, overwhelming, and huge in my helplessness. I felt afraid of the chaos and storm that this time had become, and at the same time, unwilling to look to the future. I did not want to take the next steps. I did not want to be charged with that. I wanted to be held like the child that I was, though I could articulate none of this. Instead I let it seep out in tears and clear, ropey snot covering the pillow case in stains of shame that still haven’t been scrubbed away.
        The day that dad came back, endless weeks later, I decided to walk to the cliffs. Mum had told me the story about the time she had tried to make it all the way to the cliffs and was never able to. I missed her in a kind of angry misery and this was my revenge, my punishment, my only way to expel this screaming pain.
        I packed a cheese sandwich, some yogurt, a bottle of water, and some sunblock in an old pack I found on top of Grandpa’s wardrobe.
        “Where’re you going?” Robbie asked quietly from the window as I pulled on my shoes outside.
        “To the cliffs,” I replied.
        “But dad will be here soon.” He knew the words were pointless. He knew, and I could tell by the look on his face that he understood.
        ‘I’m taking Molly.’ I said, and turned down the driveway.
        Yes, it took so long, and yes, even just the walk down through the dunes and tussock grass felt endless. Molly yapped and pounded through the waves, as I felt my own heated footprints sink into the sand. The soles of my feet burned, but I didn’t want to wear my shoes. I kept my eye on the shimmering, glittering cliffs in the distance, on the horizon. Jagged, they were, and golden; my empty reward.
        I’d get to the top of them, I decided. I’d scramble if I had to. I realized I didn’t know what to do with Molly. Would she be able to scramble up rocks? I hoped so. Soon- it was just her shaking black body in my line of sight. Soon- our food was gone, and she was drinking seawater and shitting brown liquid, but I selfishly shoved one leg in front of the other, calling to a panting Molly to keep up, and forever faithful she followed.
        Yes, eventually we reached the signpost pointing the way across what sounded like a river. And even though the cliffs were close, the light was changing, and in the terror that being small in the hugeness which nature brings, I took Molly by the collar, and turned us around. All the landmarks were tiny, until they were behind us – and I sometimes slouched and dragged myself, exhausted – and I sometimes stood tall and strode quickly.
        It was late afternoon when Molly and I crossed the road to the house.
        “Where were you?” Grandpa growled low as I slipped past him. “Your father’s been worried sick!”
        I heaved Molly into the shower with me, and she lay on her side as the water pelted the sand and shit and salt off her glossy coat. ‘I’m sorry’ I whispered to her, terrified, and she looked at me with sad brown eyes and I knew she forgave me. She always would, and I felt like crying; that responsibility felt like far too much.
        When I stepped out, I was surprised to find a darker boy staring back at me in the mirror, and I examined him thoroughly: he was taller, his shoulders broader, and hair longer. I’d grown. And I looked, not like my mum, as Robbie did, but like dad.
        And yet, I had become separate. I had split. I was no longer the arm of my father, nor the child in my mother’s arms. I was no longer the expression of my brother – and neither was he of me. I had become a young man, an individual. I had, without realizing it, cut the cord. And in the process, I had become myself.
        “Where have you been?” Dad asked, sitting quietly at the kitchen table.
        “Nowhere,” I lied, because it was my secret, and I was done being swayed and clutched by the minutiae of emotion in the lines of his face. He didn’t look angry. He didn’t look disappointed, or preoccupied, or scary, like he usually did. He just looked sad. He lifted the glass of beer to his lips, and drank the early evening light and smells that lie still swirling in my memory.
        I knew then that as much as I was slowly unstitching the threads that held us close, I would always carry some part of him, and would always be unable, and sometimes unwilling to let him go.
        The next morning I awoke to him in the doorframe. I’d slept in, the exhaustion finally catching up with me. I could hear Robbie calling to Molly in the yard, and I knew grandpa would be smoking in one of the deck chairs, a vapid romance in large print whispering lusty come-ons to him.
        And dad, so familiar, providing feelings of simultaneous relief and revulsion, stood there leaning tentatively against the doorframe.
        “Hi.” I said.
        “I was watching you sleep,” he said. I felt invaded and uncomfortable.
        “I was just remembering when your mum was pregnant with your brother, and how afraid I was that I wouldn’t be able to love him as much I loved you. I told your Mum, and she laughed and told me to ‘see my love like an orange.’ And that way, when your brother was born I could take the orange, and slice it in two, and give one half to your brother, and the other half to you.”
        I’m not sure how or maybe even why, but I remember everything about this time; I return to it often. I haven’t spoken to dad in years. I no longer have the courage to pick up the phone, and face the way his voice pulls the seams of us close again. It is childish, and I know it. But he is still here– and even through my own denial I can sense him turning. Here he is– half of me in the mirror’s reflection.
        I have him in me–
              half his love, the fruit of it flowering,
                    bleeding when I don’t want it to–
                          inside my hidden heart.

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Politico

        Irregular but oddly satisfying crunches prick the misted air. The fingers roll, spin, and squeeze the seasoned leaf in a poetic flourish as a brown rain engulfs the solitary figure in a fall aura. The hand-tailored Valentino suit fits the man like a glove, expertly drawing attention to his lean figure. Impeccably slit cuffs do not fail to bring an on-looker’s attention to the slender fingers that are, at the moment, busy. What is left of the dead leaf falls between the cracks of his impressionable fingers. Seconds pass slowly and in a sudden collision and flicker of hands, the moment ends; a moment infused with so many emotions, yet, void of all and only left with intentions. Reflection, pause, attempted empathy, but in the end, the result is a torn and crumpled pile of grim ambition. The thudding of imported footwear against wet pavement resounds off the still morning as the figure makes its way up the courthouse steps.

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High School Crush

        In my senior year of high school I worked as a teacher’s assistant for the Japanese Language Department. I was Shoji Sensei’s third period TA. She had at least one TA for every period so there was hardly ever any work to do, and besides that, I had known Sensei since Japanese school as a kid. She liked me and our families were close. So even when there was work, I was never the one to do it. All Sensei asked was that I check in with her at the start of the period and then I was free to go—the rest of the hour was mine. I had a daily routine. I never deviated: first it was off to the snack shop to buy a Coke and a bag of Tim’s jalapeno chips, then it was off to the computer lab to be with Amy Morgan.
        Amy Morgan was the fat girl that worked in the computer lab third period. She was Mrs. Conrad’s only TA. Mrs. Conrad was the computer science teacher, and she didn’t have any class third period so Amy and I had the room to ourselves. It was a big room full of square tables. There were four computers to a table and we sat at the same table everyday, the one at the back of the room and closest to Mrs. Conrad’s office. It was always a good time because with Amy I could talk about anything, and she was always willing to listen. Not that we only ever talked about serious stuff, or that I came to her with a bleeding heart, just that I could talk to Amy the same as I could talk to any one of my guy friends, only she was a girl, and while I wasn’t attracted I could still feel that difference, and for it, with her, I felt free to say even more.
        “So I’ve been thinking about my dick a lot lately,” I said to her one day.
        “What about it?” she said. She was grading a stack of papers; she didn’t even bother to stop and look up.
        “Well, I’ve been thinking about how it looks,” I said.
        “Size-wise?”
        “No, although I wonder about that, too. Can I tell you something?”
        “If you must.”
        “But you have to promise not to say anything.”
        “Oh, you know me,” Amy said. “The whole school’s gonna know by tomorrow.”
        “Serious.”
        “I am.”
        “Yeah?”
        “Yeah. Tomorrow. You’ll hear it over the morning announcements.”
        “Alright, so get this,” I said, settling forward. “I’ve got this mole on my dick, right? And it’s pretty big, like, an actual bump, and it’s been there for all my life so I know it’s just a mole, but see, it has me worried, because how it looks, well, it looks like a genital wart.”
        “Jesus, Sam!” And now she looked up.
        “What?”
        “Too much!” she said.
        “Yeah?”
        “Way too much.”
        “But do you see my problem?”
        “Not the problem you’re talking about.”
        “Okay, so what do I do?”
        She dropped her head in her hands.
        “Do I get it frozen off or removed or whatever they do with moles? Or do I leave it?”
        She shook her head. She was laughing. I fought it at first but then I was laughing too.
        “Come on,” I said. “I need your help on this one. If you were a girl going down on a guy, and you saw a thing like that—”
        “First of all, mister, let’s get one thing straight,” she said. “I am a girl.”
        “Yeah, but you know how I mean it.”
        “So what? Would it stop me?”
        “Right.”
        “Depends,” she said. “How big is it?”
        “Not so big,” I said. “I mean, it’s gone unnoticed before.”
        “Then why worry about it? Besides, if a girl does notice it, and she has a problem, then forget her. You know? I mean, if you explain the situation to her, and she doesn’t believe you, then that means she doesn’t trust you, in which case you shouldn’t be with her anyway.”
        I said sure, I guess so; okay, I see what you mean. But still, I had my doubts.
        “And besides,” Amy said, “just think about Cindy Crawford.”
        “What about her?”
        “Her mole,” she said. “You know,” and she tapped at the side of her lip, “the one that makes her, her.”
        I thought about it. I even did a search on the Internet and pulled up a bunch of pictures of Cindy Crawford. She had a mole, alright. Only difference was that hers looked good and sexy and mine, well, last I checked, sexy didn’t look like venereal disease. “I don’t know,” I said.
        “Forget about it,” said Amy.
        “I’ve gotta think this one over.”
        “Okay. Then think about this: think about how much you’ll have to pay to have some doctor mangle your dick with a scalpel just to have it removed.”
        I laughed. “Jesus,” I said.
        “Right?”
        “Well, when you put it like that.”
        Amy gave me a knowing look. “Now then,” she said, “are we done talking about your dick?”
        “Yes, ma’am.”
        “Good, because I’ve got papers to grade.”
        “And I’ve got homework to do,” I said.
        “Let me guess, you didn’t do last night’s reading.”
        “You be quiet,” I said. “Here I am trying to be studious—how am I supposed to get any work done with you over there distracting me.”
        “Oh, I’m distracting you?”
        “That’s right.”
        “You sir, need to get your story straight and your shit together.”
        I hushed her. She threw her pen at me. We worked until the bell. At least, Amy worked. I tried, but in the end I gave in and just talked. Then it was fourth period English, which we had together as well. Only in English, we sat at opposite ends of the room so there was never any opportunity for talking. Sometimes, though, I would catch her looking at me, eyes squinted, shaking her head and smiling. Then, when the teacher wasn’t looking, I would make faces back—pucker mine up or stick out my tongue—just to try and get her to laugh.
        One day toward the end of the year, I came into the computer lab from the snack shop to find that our table at the back of the room was empty. Amy was one of those girls who prided herself on perfect attendance, so that struck me as odd until Mrs. Conrad came out of her office.
        “Where’s Amy?” I asked.
        “I sent her out to run some errands for me,” said Mrs. Conrad. “She’ll be back at the end of the period. You’re welcome to stay, though.”
        “That’s fine. I’ve got work I can do,” I took a seat at our usual table and booted up a computer. Mrs. Conrad came over and pulled up a chair.
        “Sam,” she said. “Do you have a minute?”
        “Sure.”
        “I just wanted to talk to you about something.”
        Whenever a teacher said that to me, it usually meant I had done something wrong, so I snapped into a nervous tick—I started swiveling back and forth in my chair.
        “Well, Amy isn’t here right now,” Mrs. Conrad said, and then she leaned forward and put a hand flat on the table and looked at me with eyes wide and white and sparkling—“But you know something,” she went on. “Amy, she really likes you.”
        I stopped swiveling.
        “Sam, she really likes you.”
        “Does she?”
        “Oh, of course she does, Sam! What? You honestly don’t know?”
        “Well, I mean, I know she likes me as a friend.”
        “Oh, come on, now. Sam, she likes you! Don’t tell me you didn’t know. Heck, I can tell it just watching you two.”
        I shrugged. “Maybe,” I said. “I mean, I guess so.”
        “Well, she does,” Mrs. Conrad said. “You take my word for it. But listen, the reason I mention it is that senior prom is coming up.” I felt a weight suddenly drop from my chest to the pit of my stomach. “Sam,” Mrs. Conrad said. “Do you have a date?”
        I shook my head. “No. Not yet.”
        “Well, you know what I think? I think you should ask Amy. She doesn’t have a date either, and you know, I think she’s expecting you to ask her.”
        “I don’t know about that,” I said.
        “Well, why not? You don’t have a girlfriend, do you?”
        “No.”
        Mrs. Conrad gasped. “Oh, Sam,” she said. “You’re not planning to ask a girl from another school, are you? A lot of guys are doing that this year, and let me tell you, it’s got so many of our girls upset. Oh Sam, please tell me you’re not planning to ask a girl from another school.”
        I shrugged. Before I had time to say anything, though, Mrs. Conrad went on: “Oh Sam, you’ve got to ask her! You’ve just got to!”
        “I don’t know,” I said. “We’ll see.”
        “Well, you think about it, mister. You think about it.” Mrs. Conrad stood up. “She wants you to ask her, Sam.” Then she went to her office. Before going in, though, she turned back to me and said with a smile once more, “I just know it. Sam, she wants you to ask her.”
        I felt my arms flop at my sides. I thought about my friends and the dates they had. I thought about riding in a limo with a bunch of hot and dolled-up eighteen-year-old girls, and next to them, smiling and oblivious in a dress with the straps sunken into the fat on her shoulders, my date, Amy Morgan. I dipped out of the lab before the end of the period, skipped English and instead went to lunch.
        The next day she was back. I came into the computer lab with my Coke and my bag of Tim’s jalapeno chips and went to our table at the back of the room. Mrs. Conrad was there talking to Amy. When she saw me come in, though, she stood up and gave me a smile and a wink and then disappeared into her office. I took a seat next to Amy.
        “Hey there, mister,” she said.
        I booted up the computer, kept my eyes at the screen. “What’s up?”
        “I didn’t see you in English yesterday.”
        “I know, I wasn’t feeling it.”
        “Sick?”
        “No, just not feeling class.”
        Amy nodded. “Well, you didn’t miss much.”
        “Right?” I said. “Same shit different day with that one.”
        “Always.”
        Then I turned in my chair and looked at Amy. She was leaned forward with one hand to her cheek, smiling, tapping her foot, and for the briefest moment she appeared hopeful with candlelight flames in her eyes. But it was only for a moment, and in the next those flames flickered and shrank and then vanished in smoke, and she looked away and her smile was gone and I looked down and saw that now her foot had stopped tapping too. We were quiet.
        “Anyway,” I said, and turned back to the screen.
        I opened apps on the computer, closed and reopened them, ran a hand over my hair and down my neck and then sighed aloud and said, “I had actually better be getting back to class.”
        “Yeah?”
        “I’ve got a lot reading to do to catch up, and Sensei, she said she’s got work for me, too, if you can believe it.”
        “Really?” Amy said. “Sensei has work for you? That’s unheard of.”
        “I know, right?”
        “She’s finally cracking the whip.”
        “I know. And so close to the end of the year.”
        “So close to the end of senior year.”
        “Right?” I said. “I’m gonna have to have a talk with her.”
        “You should.”
        “I will.”
        “You tell her what’s up.”
        “Anyway,” I said. “I should probably be going.”
        “Definitely. I mean, if you have work to do.”
        “I do,” I said, and pushed out of my chair, grabbed my pack off the floor and stood up.
        “Me too, actually,” Amy said. “I forgot to do the reading last night. Got some catching up to do myself.”
        “Say what now?” I said. “What’s this? You forgot to do the reading? Amy Morgan forgot to do her homework? See, now that is truly unheard of.”
        She laughed. “It’s the book, is all. I can’t get into it.”
        I shook my head.
        “What? You like it?”
        “It’s interesting,” I said.
        “Nerd.”
        “Look who’s talking. Anyway, it’s a classic.”
        Amy rolled her eyes.
        “Frankenstein!” I said, and wiggled my fingers and made a frightened face.
        She smiled. “Well, that may be, but still, I don’t like it,” she said. “It’s a sad book.”
        “I’m not that far along, yet.”
        “It is. It’s a sad book. Anyway, you’ll get there and see.”
        “Well, I had better be going then.”
        “When there’s work to be done.
        “I’ll see you next period?”
        “See you then.”
        I waved and smiled and went for the door. Mrs. Conrad came out of her office. I heard her say something to Amy as the door closed behind me. Then I was walking with nowhere to go.

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Loving and Beloved

Here is my mother. She sits, one leg crossed over the other, in a kitchen. She is bare. Her body is brown. You don’t know this, but if you touch her skin it does not represent the heat of her color. Her skin is cool, smooth, and damp – like a fish.
 
My fish. My mum.
 
        Her hair is electrically charged black thread.
        It hangs around her shoulders and frames her
        face so that from our angle, we are shown the
        gentle, leonine slope of her forehead, nose, chin.
 
Eyes closed, or open staring at nothing. This is mine. She’s mine.
 
From a mother to a sister in my wicker bed; underfed beneath pale covers. She might be asleep, or simply have her eyes closed, waiting for me to shut up.
 
        She lies here – and draped over her body –
        the skies and ground of the Irish hills –
        like a lover sleeping on a rock – and the earth that smells of her (apples and spinach, eggs
        once a week).
 
And when she runs – swift and with ease – she is the air that brushes over the grain.
 
She is porcelain, my sister. She is ether, rainwater, quiet and dry – in dreams –
 
She is mine.

She is the tears that build and form behind a mask that holds me still, though I may be screaming behind it.
 
        I am neither the cool night that is my mother,
        nor the bright bleak afternoon that my sister
        contains.
 
I’m just the stitches between them. Early evening in my sighs – eyes scanning a sky that is empty.
        This is loss. This is my loss. This – here – is me.
        Olive, tall, and neither small and round like my mother, nor the slender wisp that is my
        sister.

This is me. This is mine.

I’ve been these streets – these pavements – been cities that never quite feel right.

Because they are not here, buried in streams from streetlamps or traffic lights changing hue. Not in the wide waters, or in ripples outward.

They are not in the soles of my shoes. Not in the scrape of the denim on my legs. Not in these fibers, or these fabrics, in these textiles or prints.

        In my feet – skin of them.
        In my legs – blood of them.
        Arms – fine down on them.
        Hair – light, or copper, or electric black thread.

My mother and sister and me.
A head and two shoulders.
Holy three, my only three – these loves of mine. –

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