We waited for the phone to ring, for money to plump itself up and walk through our door. Plenty of moments passed with yarn and crochet hooks. I made hats that never fit and were put away in a trunk with the old games we didnt have the energy to play. I twirled my hair like twine. She sat alone on Saturday, her only day off, yelled at Nixon on television.
That year even fat boys made me blush. I had crushes on boys that walked briskly as though they were hundred dollar bills. I dreamed about kissing the bubble-cheeked boys that ran around the field.
Mom never dated. My friends asked if she liked men. Of course, Id say, but I wondered. She didnt look at them.
I did the looking for her, for us both. In grocery stores, dog parks, fast food restaurants. The men who eyed her were gray, slim shouldered and pale. I imagined them the kind of men that would explain life to a kid by drawing a neat diagram with steps. He would say something like, Just one little step at a time. I would pin it to my bulletin board.
* * *
To Do List
Wake adolescent with softest mom voice, tell her its time to get up and ready for school. She hates to be late, even 10 seconds, because she hates to be noticed. Cereal and orange juice are ready, you say. Cut puzzle pieces of parboiled meat for sick cat, microwave low, re-animate, sprinkle cat vitamins, serve on cat tree. Measure out dog food, mix with pumpkin and green beans for dog diet. Use kitty voice. Isolate other cat in bathroom with stars of kibble. Put on function face, lip color, deflate hair with waterforgive it. Prepare for drive to school by finding keys and sunglasses in purse despite the stain remover stick, planet stickers, half-eaten food bar, lavender hand sanitizer. Hiding like thieves, keys often play this game forever. Talk to dog about losing things all the time. He is the most well-adjusted creature in the house. Offer volume discount for this service itemized as dog love (note to selfalways talk to dog). Calm the screaming adolescent who used to be a loving child. Reheat coffee. Unwrap and reassemble self.
* * *
On the Sand
We lie on striped towels at Hendrys Beach. Our bellies love the heat so much we talk about everything.
She still looks like a kid, though her voice is deep. Her skinny legs remind me of a boys. Breasts have recently sprouted, as if defying some long, internal fight.
She talks about her dad, how he thinks shes shit now that shes not a track star. How her track coach wont believe she can still win so she cant.
Her eyes settle on my almost naked body. I do this to hermake her face hungry, so I run toward the ocean.
* * *
Im seventeen in the hotel with my father in the suite and the TV on, his wine not chilled as he likes, eyelids already droopy and unforgiving. He wants to play Scrabble with me, its the thing we do at night, but I want the man sitting alone in the lobby whod looked at me with crackling eyes as though he were an eel. When my father finally falls asleep in his bathrobe and shorts I slide out to the red velvet lobby where he is waiting for me. He may be caught between bell boys shifting on their legs, business men loosening their ties; if hes not there, I will find him, sliced in many skinny little fragments of sashimi. I can wait all night long in a red lobby full of geeks, listening to elevator bells. I can sit dreaming about taking everything away from my father.
* * *
The wood board that bridges the creek does not look stable. I smile apologetically.
Cross the moat, Mom!
Last week the doctor said I had the kind of petite exotic feet you see in old paintings of royalty. Im sorry, he said, flicking the needle between metatarsals. Inside my seamless sock, the foot has a special nail. Liz polished it Temptress Red.
Liz glowering on the other side of the creekbed, a sixteenth-century landscape. Cows. Crows. A Princess.
She stretches her hand out toward me. Never latched as an infant, would only drink soy from a bottle. I plant a foot on the board, right before she screams.
* * *
I Recognize His Frames
I love the way he looks, and wish I had never gotten abundant. In the waiting room he never looks up, is always reading Bark, Yoga Journal, or Self magazine.
Earlier today I decided Id like to lose at least 60 pounds before New Years. Thats just two months away, so I feel nervous when I wake up in the morning with balled fists�my sex dream about Neptune ruined by global climate disruption.
Theres a distinct look about his plaid-framed glasses I recognize, as if I know those frames because Ive held them. Maybe we fucked when I was between marriages and loped through bars but now I dont recognize him with the heart-shaped bald spot. Perhaps he doesnt recognize me with my fleshy face, friendly chins.
This comes up in my psychotherapy sessions often, the easy anonymity of fat. Nobody recognizes me right away, not even my niecesand I like that. There is some positive.
I have a wireless connection to food, can feel myself picking up someones signal while washing celery, making salad dressing with lemon juice, a Google map to the pizza place, a photo of Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink, deep dish style.
* * *
I wake at dawn when he chants, bangs his mini-gong. His mouth is wide, lips so flexible they could swallow a rabbit. Im afraid to jinx anything, climbing out of his low futon, dont try for conversation.
Talk is breaking many rules, but listening is holy, he said last night when he sawed me in half but didnt.
I listen to him listening.
The city smells salty, orange light sneaks around his shower-curtained window, cabs call like geese, or mothers of missing children.
Break a leg tonight, he says, kisses my mouth.
* * *
What He Was Like
When he was younger, he wanted to be a dentist. His squint was because he was going to be rich. He had a millionaires mind, he said, cutting my toenails with the cuticle scissors, collecting my nails in a cup. He promised me that when I grew up my grin would be even. Nobody would call me vampire. I didnt think he was smart enough to know, but I hid that from him. My wrists were tiny as a dolls, he said, and sometimes Id hear him slam his door just to get my mother to come downstairs, to get out of bed and use her feet. In a falsetto hed sing, Theres no business like show business, and I wondered if he were gay. I noticed boys and their thick legs that summer, how theyd gather like elk. Sometimes their smell was audible, you could hear in their voices what they tasted like. I tried not to furrow. They loved convertible cars, things that changed. My brother had a rude gesture that he only used when one of them would call and ask for me. The climate is changing, he said one night, crying, so I squirted him with my water gun.
* * *
(142 words )
I smooth my hair, lean my cheek against the wall to chill. He wrote a note next to the emergency numbers, used the clown magnet, stuck it on the fridge. It said for crying out loud, hes letting me live here cheap, letting me use his car, his CD player, his lotions. Its time. Says hes falling for me, even though Im a walking disaster. Those words.
I walk out of the bedroom I rent from him. I pay on time. Hes lying on the sofa, bare feet hinged over the arm. A dish of cocaine and guest spoons dainty on the coffee table near the fruit bowl. I bend down to tie my shoes, say, Hey, turn on the Jacuzzi, Ill just run out for cigarettes.
He slices a sleepy-bear smile my way, my mouth stretches sideways and upward like a circus trick.
* * *
Theres a hum of electricity before the ringmimics birds, cheap clocks, Buddhist meetings. Its summer. Im sleepwalking, hold his phone number like a straight or flush.
The thought like a slap, hes really leaving this time, tells me and his secretary, Jen, in a whisper with scallion and coffee breath near the empty creamer. Jens lazy eye wanders toward me and away.
I cradle the phone, finger his odd numbers, the seven, the fiveas if my forefinger could do this and I would not have to watch.