Cracked cement sidewalks, dusty, chiseled powder. I remember
when there was fresh gray mud, smoothed over by Dad’s tools
my hand pressed square into that cement, an impression to last.
It was a five-year-old turkey hand. Scribbling my name below with a stick,
a signature adjacent to a fatter, larger turkey hand of Derek. We ran on those
sidewalks, sprinkled with leaves and broken glass before Dad chastised us;
Stop! Go inside. See Grandma. We, reluctantly, followed him inside.
Inside. Inside. A great city house. Four stories tall. Four stairways
guiding me up and up. Me, floating, as if holding a balloon to eternity
The smell of old stuff, a treasure chest of goodies that would shine
if only I could get my little fingers to reach them and wipe off that
misty layer. And lots of it. A collection, a hoarding, of stuff.
Aged books from the 1940s and aromas of bubbling red gravy, the tomato and basil
and the stinging odor of baby garlic cloves. Meatballs. Curled Macaroni.
Pecorino Romano and mozzarella sometimes.
Grandma squeezes me, and I’m squirming like a flopping fish, pushing
towards Dad, pushing as I try to let go. Dad left. How much longer can
Derek and me play with these puzzles, Grandma? I want to go home. I’m
tired of drawing the same pictures. I’m tired of playing MASH and attempting to
predict my future as I stare out the window at the strange people walking below me. How
am I supposed to know whom I’m going to marry? The little boys I know wipe
their noses on their desks. I don’t like them. But would you know, Grandma?
I remember Grandma’s golden butterscotch candies, twinkling,
placed so delicately in a reflective glass bowl before the TV. I was scared
to take a candy; so pretty. It was before Michelangelo’s pieta stature on top of the TV,
a holy relic, glistening porcelain white. But Grandma might not like it.
I thought of Grandma’s spicy Italian pretzels that broke my teeth, like gnawing
into rock. But sometimes she poured us apple juice as we sat at the table with her.
I slept on Grandma’s couch at nighttime and I never could hear
her soft breathing in the room next over. Screaming sirens crying
into the night, the great big city outside those walls, they kept me
awake. They reminded me that I was safe, yet I was scared. That’s why Dad
didn’t let us run on those sidewalks. I shivered, cold, on that couch
wishing I had another blanket, but afraid to ask for one. Grandma was
asleep. I cried that time when she was disappointed in me, when I couldn’t do
what she asked. It didn’t make sense and I didn’t want to, but she told me I was
wrong. I was angry when I went home. Dad was angry at me. Grandma
told him I was a bad girl. But I wasn’t. Really. I resented that.