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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

(pictures of) an Exile on Main Street

I have been to this place many times, but always when I am away. In my imagination the island is expanded, twisted into impossible locations and structures that are all too real to me. Somewhere around 125th street, there is a great rise, a spaghetti tangle of rusting train tracks. I can ride all the way down Broadway on a single car, sparks flying, shrieking wheels calling out for some axle grease. From this great height I can see all the way to the tip of land that juts into the ocean, the dark water sloshing against the pier. I know full well I am dreaming. I know this is not New York, but some parallel one I have fabricated. I know there is no roller coaster that brings you through the vein of Broadway. The dream is in Kodachrome. The skin of my hands is bright red. The shadows dark blue and green. The orange rust flakes on my jeans are glowing in the midday sun. The clouds are motionless behind Grand Central Terminal. I smell burning salt from pretzel stands. I smell pizza by the slice.

The train car idles to a messy stop in a swamp somewhere below Canal street. No one is here. The ground is soft and foul. There are clusters of old buildings crumbling behind some willow trees. I know this empty spot will give way to Wall Street if I follow my nose. There is just a dirt road here, no signs. The sky has grown dark. I think to curl up in a shed, and stay the night here with the stars staring down at me. 

I resurface, in a cloud of steam on Chambers Street. I am hungry.



I wake up late in the morning. N's arm is draped across my forehead. The moon is still out, stuck in the grey Moscow sky. I make coffee, try to be quiet. I watch her sleeping for a little while. 

Later, after breakfast she takes over the kitchen to make cookies for a birthday party. I put The Rolling Stones on, Exile on Main Street. She jokes around, saying I never take her picture any more. I tell her she is too private, and that I am not supposed to write anything about her, not even show a picture of her foot. 

I do get the camera, standing on the chairs as I look, and see her long fingers, her strong shoulders, her earrings swinging around she as rolls out the dough. She reads from a red notebook, the recipe handwritten in precise letters, like a bit of school homework. Her face is serious, concentrating on teaspoons and how cold the butter is, on asking me to take down the big mixing bowl from the top of the cabinet.



She leaves after they have cooled, and packed carefully. I am waiting for E to be dropped off. I wander the rooms, restless. The sky is dark already.

She has left two cookies on the kitchen table. They sit on a plate, one of her perfect and simple gestures. A message to me that I am loved, that I am understood.

I make a cup of black tea, chew on them slowly - the sugar, the ground walnuts and chewy raisins turning around in my mouth.

I think of the protests in the streets. I smell the air of change, but do not want to be seduced by it. I need something real to hold on to.





Comments

liv said…
My fingers are crossed for change.

That gorgeous N looks about as real as it gets.

I want a cookie. Can you send me the recipe?
Omgrrrl said…
Been meaning to talk to you about the undercurrent of change.

Rolling Stones back atcha:

Ooh, see the fire is sweepin'
Our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet
Mad bull lost its way

War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
Banker Chick said…
It would seem that you are dreaming of where you would rather be.

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