We pierced the apples with sticks, catapulted them at each other. These were the most efficient weapons we could manufacture, better than the bow and arrow sets my brothers received for Christmas, less likely than stones to leave a mark. Summer was a thrum we ran through like a sprinkler, pond-green, a place to wait in the shadows, to king-of-the-hill topple each other, to bring each other down. Our mother just wanted us out of the house. She gave us tablespoons, told us to dig. We emptied a grave of ourselves, filled beach buckets, poured the dirt over our heads until we were dark ghosts. She locked us out of the house but we climbed in the windows, slipped into our sheets. She damned us when she fell into our hole but we were already asleep by then, flat on our backs, still as the dead.
* * *
She was stretched out in the recliner the night she became a meteorite. She felt it, her body hardening and everything turning into lights, bouncing. She could feel the cavities form from her descent through the atmosphere and the weave of her shirt stretched tight over her body which had become a field, a field of rocks and cactus, and then the ambulance came and they strapped her on for scientific study. Her skull was hatched with a latch at the place where her bangs used to hang and inside the rig they opened it and she felt herself breaking into pieces, congealing and drifting in the air the way liquids do in outer space, the way since childhood she had watched astronauts squirt Tang into capsules and shuttles and then open their mouths to drink what looked solid. Thats how she felt, liquid-solid, and then she closed her eyes as the plastic mask was held to her open mouth and she took a deep breath of space, which wasnt black at all, but fluorescent, and tasted like Lucky Charms.
* * *
There are no flowers in the ICU, not even balloons on the brain unit. There are cards at home, my husband explains. We didnt expect you to wake up today. But on the bedside table: construction paper traced cutouts, blooms of my five-year-olds hands, explode from the make-shift vase of a cafeteria paper cup, each palm scotch-taped to one of the neon bendy straws we keep in a drawer under the coffee pot. That I remember, where we keep the straws.
My husband tells me where I am every time he comes in the room. I have forgotten the swallowing test, the walk down the hall, his other visits, the morning everything happened, but suddenly, I remember waking up, being ordered to cough just like on television, as the tube was pulled out like a plumbers snake down a drain: cough, as my husbands arm braced my back, his arm cupped my shoulder, now breathe.
* * *
Take two aspirin and call me following extubation.
* * *
The transvestites like scarves although none of the women in the shop wear them, not anymore. The transvestites are slippers-in, after closing. They�re incognito in the back room and emerge sweaty flowers. It is hot work, being beautiful, but they are willing to make the concessions, to pay cash so their wives cannot track their other lives. They try on the wigs gathering dust on the top shelves, the ones the beauty-shop ladies spurn. It is just them and us although they would like nothing more than to mingle under the dryers, to nibble donuts and discuss the Enquirer. My mother applies their make-up. I feign sleep in the shampoo chair, sneaking a peak at the finished products: unwinged angels with five oclock shadow, tottering in circles between the dryers and the styling chairs, trying in that small space to learn how to fly.
* * *
The girl is slender as the rain. She tells us shes serious. She talks about her feelings. She likes the rustle of skirts. She makes her own bologna sandwiches, using a cookie cutter to shape them into hearts. She draws pictures of the dog. When we ask why he only has one eye she explains its because the dogs eyes are not on the front of his face, looks at us like were stupid. She draws me with long hair although my hair is short. When I point this out, she draws in scissors so I can cut it. We try to penetrate her brain. We never know when she will cuddle up with her head on a lap or suddenly run away crying. We fear puberty although we have years to wait.
* * *
On Growing Up Down the Street from a Baby-Rapist
He was generic in his Woolworth Halloween costume: Batman or Robin or Yogi or Boo Boo. He was just another blond kid in glasses on the school bus. He was the same age as my youngest brother and my brothers were the ones destined for trouble, everyone knew it: when Michael peered up the babysitters skirt, and Bobby bit a classmate, his teacher, the principal; when Michael showed a kindergartener a condom and Bobby threw a cat off the chicken coop roof; when Michael ate rocks on the playground and Bobby set the basement on fire. Johnny Landers was so bland I couldnt picture him when the APB came out. I figured there had to be another John Landers of Akron and Cleveland and California, someone elses computer seized, but then the photo montage on Americas Most Wanted, the way his hair fell in his face, the jut of his chin, and I remembered the kid in the skeleton costume, facemask on his head, glasses fogged, snotty nosed on a cold October night.
* * *
The others reproached me in the eggshell halls. I wasnt crazy enough, knew too many
Jeopardy answers. I felt sorry for the husband of the woman with the hash marks down the insides of her wrists as if she were counting off something, enemy aircraft stamped on the airfoil.
He was waiting for her to come back, a person only he could recognize. It seems misguided, but it didnt occur to me to feel anything for her; that would have been too much like understanding myself. On the tenth day, when the locked doors opened, the world expanded beyond the small squares of chicken wire embedded in the doors glass eyes. I found I could see things in color for the first time, and the way the grass grows down into the earth and not the other way around.
* * *
Letter to My Love
Since you left, my ziplock bags have lost their seal, the sound of consonants
makes my teeth ache. I used to think the sulfur smell after your showers was proof
of some evil nature, but now I realize it was just your dandruff shampoo.
I use whats left in the bottle when I want to feel possessed.
The neighbors have started to signal each other, my comings and goings, flicking
their porch lights. They keep stealing my 100-watt bulbs. Even when Im on the toilet, the dog checks on me, slouches in like a teenager, licks my hand and leaves
eye peeled to the evil tub.
My shrink has started screening his messages, suggests I smoke pot. I know you told Adam and Trish that Im out of town. Maybe its the way the clouds are bunched up at the corners, but the fluorescent sky seems endless. I need the answer to seventeen across.