Rachel Marie Patterson
For a week each summer, Sister and I lived
at Nana's house in a bedroom with textured wallpaper
and a porthole window and watched a cathode
television without a remote. We weren't allowed
to take baths with the door closed or come to the breakfast
table in our pajamas. Nana shuffled all day in her quilted
housecoat, her hands trembling at its frilly cuffs.
On Thursday afternoon, we drove to the salon
to get her permanent, and then we ate dinner
at a fast-food restaurant where she cut up
her hamburger with a fork and a knife. Her teeth
were spotted brown from Scarlet Fever. One night,
when Sister became inconsolable, Nana gave her
first a teaspoon of cough syrup, then a doll
that was so old its eyes had been rubbed off. Alone,
we put our ears to the doll's mouth and listened.
Mother's green budgie lived in a cage by the television.
Father said we could open the cage at night,
but not during dinner. All day the budgie
squeaked and flung seeds onto the carpet and pecked
the cuttlebone fastened to the bars
of the cage. When he started to pull out
his feathers, rocking on the perch,
Mother gave him my hand-mirror
without even asking. Sister and I
begged for a dog or a guinea pig or even a hamster.
Mother tried to teach us about the stripes
on the budgie's head, about his beak.
She sat up before bed with him settled at her collar.
One day I said I was too old to give her kisses
so she taught the budgie kisses.
For weeks one summer, there were dead rabbits in the yard.
Sister and I arranged them in the pachysandra at the edge of
the fence and sang to them, and when Mother found us there,
she panicked and scoured our hands with a Brill-o pad. After
dinner, she used to slice fruit into our cartoon lunch-boxes
and recite a poem from A Child's Garden of Verses, so kind
it could have killed you. When she leaned over, she smelled
of bar soap. Twenty years later, she tells me those rabbits
got what they deserved: poisoned for biting the crowns off
When he chases me across the damp
field before dark, weeds choking
the chain-link fence, it is still warm.
Dewy sweat clings to my stomach.
I know that this is what I have asked for:
I dreamt his stubbly chin scraping my breast.
I paraded in my periwinkle swimsuit,
perched with my elbows up on the edge
of the pool, while the other girls swam on,
clicking their tongues. I let him buy me ice
cream and pinch my legs under the picnic table.
In three days, my mother will holler at me
when she finds my good nightgown twisted
at the bottom of the suitcase, its back streaked
with grass and clay. I don't dare tell her about
the blank cookie of his face or the yank
of his fist around my hair.