Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Nothing in our house leaks except for me.

Even these occasional effusions are only improvisations. I only admit to leakage publicly because there are actual photographs of me leaking and I feel that it is best to get these things all out in the open so as to forestall any scandal.

In one pornographic sequence of stills—safely sealed behind a sticky plastic sheet in the otherwise innocent pages of our family album—my mother catches me smiling. She sneaks up on me while she is holding a thin silver Kodak 110 instamatic with a flashcube situated on the top of a rotating black pillar like a lamp on a lighthouse.

I am a ship in distress. I am in a corner of the dining room trying not to make a nuisance of myself, as is my habit even today at parties. I stand in front of a long-necked orange glass vase that I desperately hope will be voluminous enough to contain the bubbly contents of my bursting bladder.

We are having another in that endless series of birthday celebrations for Kyle, it seems. The upstairs and downstairs bathrooms are both occupied by elderly relatives—who shall remain nameless, if not blameless.

These are the thoughts swimming through my head as I lie on our old olive carpet with my mouth turned toward the common wall, conversing with my grandmother on the other side.

My body trails down the stairs toward an oak and glass door, through its 12 panes, down a step, across the pink and maroon brick pattern linoleum lining the foyer, past an identical oak door in the open position, through a flimsy white aluminum nothing with a screen, down two cement stairs, past a penny on the walk, out the gate, and on into Eternity: the trunk of a golden Chevy Chevelle where my father is presently stowing 3 blue suitcases that ordinarily nest inside each other like a family of matryoshka dolls.

We are about to take an exciting trip to Letourneau Christian Camp on Canandaigua Lake—where I will almost drown.

My grandmother kneels in her dungarees dusting the baseboards with a chamois that I glimpse as a swirling shadow as it passes across her vent.

“Have you packed your bathing suit?”



Burst of lemons.

“Did you pack Dolly?”


Dolly will not be coming. Dolly is a small red monstrosity with an indestructible duck bill smile. She pretends she loves Spaghetti Os. I suspect she secretly shares mom’s belief that they smell like puke, but she is too polite to complain.

Dolly’s stomach was originally stuffed with shredded rags by a pair of small hands in South Korea. She has recently received a transfusion of synthetic cotton from my mother’s sewing basket. A triangular iron-on medical plaster (patch) covers her chest.

Dolly—like Vladimir Nabokov’s little heroine—has a few holes in her, where love has rubbed her raw. She would sink instantaneously if she tried to swim in Lake Canandaigua. She would be completely useless at a Christian Camp as a lifeguard. She is staying at home to guard the house.

My grandmother dissolves into her favorite hymn (‘We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the...’) when she moves off to scrub and disinfect the commode.

As much as I enjoy art and music for their own sake, if they do not attempt to communicate something beyond the walls of a concert hall or a museum, I see no point in the continued existence either one. Even at 5, I am sure that I felt the same way about writers.

I turn away from the vent, listening to her fading refrain.

Evidently she has closed the bathroom door.

I can barely make out ‘We shall come rejoicing…’ let alone the misty whisk of her toilet brush. I study the blankness of our ceiling for a moment, as if it were the Sistine Chapel redone with a fluffy peach colored roller soaked in mid-20th century gloom by Mark Rothko.

Luckily, I am disturbed in my contemplative reverie by the cheerful sound of a distinctly muted but full-throated flush. The door is opened. The singing resumes. Though at a greater distance than ever.

She must be in the bedroom, checking on Kyle.

With nobody to talk to, I refuse to defy gravity any longer and I slide down the stairs—bumpety-bumpety-bumpety, bump—stand up—and jump into a pair of my father’s favorite church shoes—white loafers—with little ornamental brass buckles set off to one side.

Is he still out there, I wonder?

Clomp, clomp, clomp.


He seems to be finished packing the car.


Clomp, clomp, clomp.

“Fine, a penny: stick it up.”

When I squat for that lost coin, I eclipse an ant war that is bleeding into the grass.

A million soldiers look up. The insects cannot help but notice I am wearing a pair of cut off jeans—hot pants, really—with a happy Choo-Choo chugging to the right across the left cheek of my caboose.

The Generals shake their antenna and conclude that I am an ant, too, but I am out of uniform and I am too big to be shot. I will only get bigger, too. It is best not to make an enemy of one so young.

Fighting resumes when I stand and the sun returns to the sky.

At the curb, dad extracts a steel, vinyl and foam cage designed for the use of children by a committee of concerned sadists.

“Why are you taking out the car seat?”

“Your brother isn’t coming to camp with us, babe. He’s too little.”

“I get the whole back to myself?”

Visions of oriental luxury. The Nile. Camels crawling along the distant ridge of a dune. Pillows stuffed with flamingo eiderdown. I step back and look at our Chevelle again. Cleopatra’s barge.

“No. You have to share the back seat.”

A German torpedo strikes the Lusitania.

“Who with?”

Tense violins.

“The new lifeguard. Brad.”

Brad, it turns out, is the man who saves me from drowning. He goes to another church, dad says. Lutheran. He is not a Baptist. He is a dirty blond.

Brad grabs my ankle. He throws his long arm around my chest, lifting me out of the lake. I am coughing and choking. The smooth stones I had been collecting with care all afternoon pour out of my pockets.

I had been so absorbed in looking for more purplish ones—the granite ones that turn chalky red when dry—I had walked out too far and fallen off a submerged ledge—into a sort of ditch—like the poet Dante.

Dante is dead, I am afraid. He may be in Heaven. He may be in Hell. I do not care where he is. There is no salvation for me or for anyone in Dante. Dante is useless as Dolly in these situations. The difference between Dante and Dolly is that she knows this—she knows her limitations. That is why I set her up with a shotgun to guard the house.

So much for poetry. So much for art.

What do we have left?

Well, Brad is here, certainly. And I am glad my dad is here, shaking a bit, paler than Brad, who seems to be a man made of ageless bronze. The water is a little shallower where my father shivers, but it is still deep enough to swim in. Dad couldn’t quite make it. Brad hands me over to him.

Mom is also here—somewhere.

She seems to be playing hide-and-seek along the horizon, behind all of those faces.

I am getting closer to her though.

I can hear her cry.

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