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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 …

the lost portrait


"Pop." E announces from her bed, after I nudge her shoulders and turn on the living room light.
"What, kiddo?" I whisper.
"I want to know why the clouds go through the moon." She says.
"Ok." I reply, sipping from my first cup of coffee, staring out at the black sky and wondering how cold it is today.
"Also, how come the earth would look red if you look at it from a star that is very very far away?" She adds.
"Are you sure it does that?" I ask her.
She nods once, staring at me as she pulls her tights on.
Then she nods again.
I pack her lunchbox in the dark kitchen, thinking to rip a strip of paper and write a note on it like I do sometimes but it is already getting late and she has not brushed her teeth yet.

We walk quietly with just the sound of her snow pants swishing against each other.
"What time did I go to bed last night?" She asks me at one point.
"About nine." I answer.
"And you?" E asks.
"Ah." I say after a moment. "I was working on some jobs so it was after two in the morning, but I am still messy from being in California so it is hard to go to sleep at the right time."
"Yeah." E says, half to herself as she squeezes my hand once. "It's always hard to go to bed at the right time."


Shoveling kasha and a boiled egg into my mouth, I pull a wool hat down over my ears. It is still black beyond the windows.

The empty bowl is brought to the kitchen table.

I pull one of E's blankets from her bed and wrap it around my shoulders, and then go to the bedroom. The rule I made is not to get under the sheets, but to stay in my clothes on top of them with E's red blanket. I can go back to sleep for about an hour then and still get back up. More than time than that, more blankets than that and I will not rise until noon.

Setting an alarm for ten I imagine E in school right now at her desk, deep in thought.


I dream that N comes home, her hair still wet from the shower and how she crawls under the blanket with me, resting her cheek on my shoulder. I can smell her shampoo.

The home phone rings.
I pull myself to it and it is the same old woman with the wrong number, who calls and calls and calls.

I go back to the bedroom. The sky is getting blue at the edges. I pull the hat down over my ears.

I am in a giant house. It is messy. I have a few cameras with me and I stack them in a corner, taking pictures of my sister with one of them. We all sit at a table and have a simple lunch. There are people there I have not seen in twenty years, some I know are dead.

N sits on one side of me, E on the other. I can feel N's knee against mine under the table. The lunch is very simple because more people are coming later for some kind of party. This is just to put something in our bellies until then.

I see outside that there is tall green grass, stacks of clouds in the sky and a low wind moving everything around. I tell E I want to go outside with her to take some pictures together, maybe a portrait of her. She tells me the kids are not allowed outside. I say of course, but if she is with me that is different. She goes to find her shoes.

My cameras are not in the corner of the room. Everything has been cleaned up, but there are still blobs of dust on the carpet. I yank open drawers, and stalk around the house looking for my cameras, especially a small white one.

People are beginning to arrive. I mistake a tall black man for my father and apologize to him. I go back to the corner of the room, staring at the empty space. My father is there now and my voice chokes in my throat as I try to explain what has happened. He shrugs his shoulders. He never saw my camera.

I am yelling, my hands waving and now. There was almost a full roll of pictures I shot in that camera.

E has come back with her shoes on and is ready to go outside. She looks so skinny in her jeans, waiting for me next to the door.





Comments

liv said…
Dreams are so enigmatic. That one seems particularly meaningful.

How innocent and fragile she looks laying there in slumber, with her profound little questions swirling in her dreaming world waiting to be asked. She wants to know everything. That's such a good sign.

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