Our father is outside building a fence around the backyard’s poison tree and
we're inside eating our breakfast; our Mother finds time to cook her own as
we sit in slothly morning silence.
Outside, Father’s hammer strikes for punctuation when
I look at my mother, who is looking out the window, over played-with eggs.
Uncle Joe is in the room next room smoking cigarettes and he looks at his book.
My brother sits across from me. He is looking at uncle Joe.
My sister coos with restless wiggles over an untouched plate and she looks at everything.
She was born three years ago, when I use to play with plastic soldiers.
And when I had slept, their rifles had held a tight perimeter.
I had loved my sister for a year, and then she cooked my colonel on the stove.
And it’s just as it always is, that even though the sun is crawling in, the house smells like breakfast, and we’re all quite contented with life, our thoughts drift upstairs towards Great Grandma Pearl and her dark bedroom. We know that She’s in there, politely rotting.
GREAT GRANDMOTHER PEARL
Great grandma Pearl is a bedtime creature and she doesn’t eat eggs with us anymore and
she doesn’t eat breakfast anymore. Or lunch, or dinner anymore.
I sort of run every time i pass her bedroom door at night.
Sometimes I sit in my room with my eyes closed, holding my ears, and pretending she isn’t there.
Sometimes I cry because I think She’s dead.
Other times lay in bed all frozen up, knowing that she’s breathing.
My mother tells me stories about Great Grandma Pearl.
Alot about how she used to be a younger.
She tells me that she used to sing for people in sold out music halls and grand rotundas and sawdust bars and living rooms of friends, and to babies in cradles that grow up to cook eggs for boys that are scared of bedtime creatures.
She also told how she used to walk around and dance all the time.
At night I try to picture her with the covers drawn up over colored feathers and clipped wings, chirping jokes to me asking are you still up? I'm not tired.
But the wings always rot down into wet black bone and her beak turns bloodstained and I have to beg for my dreams.
I hope some day that I am not so scared of Great Grandma Pearl.
My brother and I have finished our plates and are now devolving into restless monkeys, flicking crumbs and joking at each other’s expense while our mother quietly builds strength to calm us. She could lift a school bus when a misfired potato lands in her blouse. She is well aware that we are glad to get what we wanted when we’re banished from the table. We quickly realize the stunning hand we’re holding and the fact that it would be best to collect our winnings and vacate the area before we’re dealt some idle chore in it’s place. We move like jewelry store bandits for the sink and rinse our plates like sweet little boys. Our tact and stealth pay off when the screen door slams behind us. For a moment we are statues in the sun, with waves crashing in our heads, sinking slowly into the intoxication of two boys with the world unfolding before our little outlaw eyes. My brother breaks holy silence when he calls for me to follow.
With his reason being only to run, and mine to follow, we make a mad dash across the garden, making casualties of several roses and putting the fear of god into field mice. Making it out past our two acres of wheat now; I am wearing shorts so the furry blades tickle me to death. We arrive at the low embankment of winewater creek, where our father says that the pioneers would bathe and wash their clothing. I never believed him. The bank is steep and soft slick with mud. My brother is already balancing on rocks in the creek and calling me slow. I’m starting to grow tired and shiny with sweat but my brother trudges on commanding me to follow. As we continue down the creek my brother is telling me to hold on to my hat, and stay ready for some gargantuan surprise. He gets to smiling and being coy when I poke and prod for clues. I collapse into a pile of battered bones and heavy breathing when he says okie doke boyo this is it. I ask him to come off it and what you goin show me out here. He tells me that I am not allowed to ask him where He got this thing from, that I am not allowed to come out here and look at it without him, and then if I tell mom and dad he’s gonna kill me twice. I say ya ya ya. He still makes me pinky swear with the spit on it even though I told him I promise. He took me over to a giant oak tree with the kind of rock you sit on wedged right up against the trunk. The way it looked made me think of a place that Huckleberry Finn would take a catnap with his hat over his eyes. He reached into a hole in the tree and pulled out a soggy old pile of paper and made a face like he was looking at his dinner. He lifted me up on to the rock and I sat next to him. He looked at me and said what ya thinka that right there? He handed me one of the soggy pages while his eyes gobbled up the rest that he held in his hands. I held a picture of a naked woman bending over a bed with a man who was also naked falling asleep on her back. I looked at it for a minute and then I told him that I didn’t understand.
We didn’t run on our way back home and it took us twice as long. We didn’t speak and my brother smoked a cigarette.
When we got back our mother was in the kitchen making lunch for Uncle Joe and my little sister: A sandwich with roast beef and mayonnaise for uncle Joe. My sister barely has teeth so she got applesauce with cinnamon. My brother took it upon himself to make a run for it upstairs and go directly to his room, shutting the door behind him. I walked into the kitchen to fix a glass of milk so I could take it to my room and read my comics. My mother must have known because she told me right away that she had to go hang up some laundry, and that my uncle is in his room feeling somewhat under the weather, so I had to watch my sister for little while. I dragged my feet to the table where my sister sat and plopped down next to her high chair. My mother forgot to thank me when she left. My sister can’t rightly talk or anything so she just sat there and got applesauce all over her pajamas. My eyes hit the stove in boredom and settled on a green stain where a hero stood his last ground. I didn’t clean my sister’s mouth off or get her any milk when I discovered that she was thirsty.
My mother returned from doing laundry soon enough I guess. As soon as she stepped foot in the kitchen I went to the sink and poured out my milk which had grown a skin. It was so I could show her what she had done to my milk; the sight of my sisters applesauce face put me off the desire to drink it entirely. My mother didn’t apologize or thank me when she came back. Instead she asked me why I don’t go help my father with the fence. I wanted to punch her in the stomach for saying such a thing. I said nothing to this and instead decided to check on Uncle Joe in his room. I walked up the stairs skipping two each time. Last year I could only do one. I tried the doorknob on my brothers door but it was locked. Uncle Joes room is right across the hall from mine so I take one big step when I get to the creatures door. It was open a crack so I closed it then shivered. I knocked on Uncle Joe’s door softly and he answered in a weak voice for my mother not to worry herself, and that he will be in better shape tomorrow. He boomed and told me to come on in after I told him it was Me. I told him how I thought he was sick as I walked across the room looking at the books on his walls and the paintings on the other walls. He said kid I love your mom and she is my sister, but she just won’t stop asking me to do things, and well when you’re my age you might understand, that you just don’t have the time, simply not enough time. He was drinking whiskey and I never understood what he meant when he did. I sat in his rocking chair for a while as he drank whiskey and read a book. I guess I fell asleep for a while because I woke up and it was dark outside the windows. I sort of thought it was funny because Uncle Joe had ended up getting sick after all when I tried to wake him up for dinner.
After I left Uncle Joe’s room I went downstairs to ask my mother about dinner. She spoke from the sink, telling me while she faced the window that she was going to make some steaks. She asked me how’s Uncle Joe and I told her he was sick as a dog, but that he’ll feel okay tomorrow. She told me that dinner will be ready in an hour or so, and to get your brother out of his room and help his father with that confounded fence. You kids are the reason that fence is going up to begin with y’know. That damned thing could poison one of you and then that’s it. God knows why your father doesn’t just cut the thing down, god knows I’ve been beggin him for years now. Though it does turn nicely in autumn. It’s just about as beautiful as roses in autumn.
I told my mother okay and went upstairs to get my brother so I didn’t have to help with the fence. He answered the door by making fun of how short I was and then told me to get lost. He was busy listening to the radio, it was a murder mystery, and just getting to the good part he said so buzz off and get me for dinner. I walked downstairs and said nothing to mother. I headed out back towards my Father and the poison tree. He was still working hard and hammering just as loud but the fence was just the same as morning. I told him hey dad the fence is looking good, really looking good dad. He looked up with nails in his mouth and a heavy sweat on his brow. He looked at me for a little and then asked me what my mother was fixing for dinner. I told him steaks. He told me would be at least another hour out here, so much to do, I gotta saw these down and nail this son of a bitch down, then I gotta measure the door out right cause I really fouled that up there. Hey listen im just gonna be a few more hours alright kid? Now get out of here this is too dangerous for you.
I really want you boys to be able to enjoy this tree okay? So repeat after me, I will never climb this tree.