The old man stands above me leaning on his loaded cart talking at me. I happily answer his questions even though I'm sure I' m not supposed to be.
Under the current circumstances it seems pointless to put up any sort of fake social plaster. He asks for my name and once he has it he used it.
"Misty, you have a bike?"
I tell him I don't that I'm on foot knowing there is no need to define the lack of a car: the backpack has already done that for me.
As I place the large wet bundle of celery between the grapes and a container of soy milk I see a man dressed in mechanic blues with clear blue eyes to match pauses inside the breezeway to watch us.
I don't have to stare at him to know why he and the young boy beside him have stopped.
He is a father and despite that we might be the same age he sees me as someone in need of oversight.
Clearly, he doesn't like what he is seeing. The old man makes him nervous and he might think I don't know enough to be afraid, or at least more cautious.
What he doesn't know is I am always afraid. Always watching the shadows along the trail. Today is no different.
The old man is creepy but harmless even only if that is because I can out run him.
Really he doesn't phase me because I am a mom on a mission, car-less but in need of cucumbers- it's funny and it's not.
The food isn't really even for me. I could survive on spoons full of peanut butter but the girls need something better and I have 2 hours to make that happen for them.
I stand up, smile at the watching man, and walk out into the parking heading to the street for the slow walk home.
Halfway I realize it is already July and I am passing the very spot on 9th west where my mind resets time to before I knew my sister was dead.
The last moment I was ever truly full myself. "And then I was driving. Driving with the windows down..." ... AND then I realize I also forgot to buy noodles, damn.
taming venus, part one: the order of things
(Friday, July 28, 2006)
People die. Wendi died on “A” day. I guess that isn’t really true, she died in the dim blank space before that. Her bloated naked body slumped across the bathroom floor. Her swollen feet tangled around the base of the toilet. Her badly bludgeoned forehead smashed against the door jam. In her apparent fall, her arm laid trapped beneath her, the weight of her decomposing body splitting and shedding the skin.
A bathtub of stagnating water to her left, on her right a pool of dark rancid fluid created by brown chunks of her hair, thick layers of rotting flesh, old blood, and vomit.
In the first few hours her once olive toned skin had taken on a stark jaundice, as time past a shade of ashy purple. It is death purple and you will not find it in a box of crayons. You must know raw death to know this color. And once you know it you can’t “un-know” it.
In the 6 x 9 foot front room a fan jammed in an open window did little to cool the stale summer heat, nothing to dissipate the smell.
And then there was something said about the flies.
It was the smell that exposed her. Of course initially, my information was all second or third hand. I was told a tenant in her building called the landlord complaining of a noxious odor. The landlord found her body. He called the police and they called my parents. I suppose that is our parents, after all, she was my sister.
Do I tell you now who we were, about our perfect childhood about raspberry patches and the distant sound of lawn mowers on Saturday mornings? About the squeak the swing set made, about tiny drops of condensation in the corner of our bedroom window, or the blistering warmth of the back deck on an August afternoon.
Would it matter that I was the little sister separated by three years, she was the middle and there was one three years older than her? That we were raised as Mormons on tree lined streets with lush green manicured lawns with manicured lives to fit.
That the home of my beloved soccer coach smelled of fresh coffee and cloves foreign aromas forever imprinted on my soul. Along with the fields of early freedom under his watchful eye covered by dew soaked blades of freshly cut grass that stick to your legs and arms like glitter.
No, I don’t think it matters. I could tell you but unless you lived it you would never come to really understand how ideal our life was. A world created through pick gingham and station wagon windows. Peace and isolation like that exists only in the purest of childhood and the loneliest of snow globes; I find I am a collector of both.
The police phoned my sixty-something-year-old father to tell him there had been a disturbance at his daughter’s apartment and would he please come down. My father, with his dark eyes, eyes he gave to us, told the officer there was always a disturbance at his daughter’s insisting the need to know exactly what it was before deciding whether or not to come.
The officer persisted; he should come to the apartment to talk. My dad, his dark hair peppered gray, thick strong hands and arms turning to fat, told him that he and my beautiful sweet mother had dinner plans with another couple so unless he was told what the trouble was he wouldn’t come. The police had to tell him over the phone.
My parents called me. When it was about Wendi I was always called- but I didn’t get that phone call. I was at the grocery store buying green beans, a tiny seedless water watermelon with dirt still caked on one side, and unbleached flour. All for the petite towheaded toddler sitting in the shopping cart basket clutching a package of goldfish crackers in one hand, pudding in the other, and singing a very bad rendition of twinkle-twinkle little star.
It was “A” day, the start of 26 days of learning the alphabet one letter one day at a time. It was a simple idea a friend gave me. I have come to understand even simple ideas can rely on very precarious assumptions.
I could drive myself mad picturing what I was doing while she died but it wouldn’t do any good. She had been dead for so long. We don’t know how long so I can’t find the moment to hate myself for. All I know is what I was doing when my parents climbed the stairs to her apartment. Where I was when the M.E. told them not to go in, that no parent should see their child that way.
The phone calls, the police, the smell, I was there in the store like I said, shopping for dinner, for green beans, flour, and watermelon. And then I was driving. Driving with the windows down in the red VW van mostly because of the lack of a working air conditioner but you can’t overlook the fact that the driver side window was broken and I could not have rolled it up even if I wanted to.
There in the heat of a July evening, in the part of the day when the air rises like fat ribbons off the pavement, between the rush of 5 o’clock traffic, my little girl safely strapped in her car seat talking away to no one. Domestic chores of everyday life floating off into dryness of the
desert, the only worry was a fall semester, which looked like a bear of
calculus and bio-chem. Utah
It is slow and silent now. I can see us driving, eternally preserved as if we never came home. We become a mosaic of filtered colors and sunlight dancing across the tiny proteins of memory, stored next to dust fairies and thick green shag carpet.
But I did come home...