With a pinch of Lavender

Thesis Segment Four

December 21, 2009
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Beatrix was born in the summer. My mother stayed at Pen Bay Medical center, where Chester and I were born. We weren’t allowed to visit because we had colds and babies can’t be around colds. In the cage a few pairs of eyes reflected from the motion activated outdoor lamp. My father had found the three raccoons living in the fake lighthouse near where he worked. The old rafters had become so brittle, and the raccoons made it in easy. Everyone could hear them in the building, not just beneath the hole in the ceiling. Chester squatted next to the cage, he wanted to keep them, I just wanted one, he could have the other two, and maybe they could have little raccoon babies. I liked their cooing purr noises, like a cat and a loon cross. My father was inside the house calling the vet, to see what to do with the raccoons. Chester was really close to the cage, the little raccoon hands were reaching out to him. I told him not to touch them, “They could be rabid,” I said “they eat garbage.” But Chester touched them, and they weren’t rabid, but we couldn’t let them go in our backyard, because then they would start living near our house. That was the summer my father kept the raccoons in the carriage house.

The carriage house was where my father kept all of his tools, car parts, and the attic had our camping gear and Christmas decorations. I liked being in the attic, the pink insulation had pictures of the pink panther on them, and it was always hot and dusty. There was a door that led to the outside, on the second story. My mother told me it was where the hay for the horses used to be kept, when it was a real carriage house. The big glass doors on the bottom level were supposed to show off the carriage that belonged to the people who lived in our house when Main Street wasn’t a side road. The carriage house when we owned it always smelled like oil and sawdust, like my father. He liked teaching us to build things. We made a new cooling rack for my mother every Christmas, even baby Beatrix got to hold the dowels when we were sanding them. My father called her his third son, and gave her tool sets for her birthday, along with handmade baby doll cribs. He was the only one who called her Trixie.

Beatrix was so tiny when we got the raccoons, that’s why my mother didn’t want them at the house. My father kept their cage in the garage part of the carriage house, and fed them when he got home from work. My mother was too busy that summer; she painted the house a blue-grey color. I remember when she was on the roof, painting the spaces under the eaves. I was supposed to stand outside with the phone in case she fell off. She was tied to the tractor, so if she did fall, she would just hang from the roof by her waist. She didn’t fall. I sat under the shadow that our house cast onto the lawn. My father had mowed the lawn the day before, the wet blades of grass stuck to my legs. I must have been about four or five.

My mother had turned the radio in the house all the way up with the windows opened so she could listen to music. My father had taken Beatrix and Chester to town with him. My mother wanted them out of the house so she could just paint.

“You know me and your godmother used to paint houses when we were in college,” she told me, stretching her arm above her head, her voice thin from the positioning. “We were staying at her parent’s house in New Hampshire. You know how laid back she is, and we got up on the ladders, singing, talking, having a great time. We weren’t paying too much attention, and before you know it, we had painted right over a wasp nest, but we didn’t see it because it was between panels. Those wasps came out really angry, and we both screamed and jumped into one of the open windows, because we were so far up on the ladders, we couldn’t run down them fast enough. There were guys painting the rooms inside, and we all chatted until the swarm calmed down. We had a pretty good time.” My mother laughed to herself, dipping the brush into the coffee can she filled with paint. My mother’s face, hair and clothes were dotted an ashy-blue. I caught a grasshopper when she was concentrating on the painting. Its leg was hurt, I didn’t hurt it. Yellowish green blood leaked out onto my hand. It smelled like a dead caterpillar. I wondered if grasshoppers ate caterpillars.

Chester was the only one in the family who could catch caterpillars and not have them curl into a ball in his hand. They just continued walking on his hand as if they didn’t notice that they’d been moved from their original location. When I picked up caterpillars they curled up and peed on my hand.

The summer that the caterpillars nested in the trees around the house and my father had to come from work to burn their nests I found out about the quarry. Chester and I slowly opened the door to the carriage house. The empty cage that used to hold the raccoons sat in the corner. It still smelled like them. We brought out our bikes. “Are you sure? Mom won’t get mad?” Chester asked.

“How is she going to find out?”

“I don’t know, but maybe she will.”

“As long as we don’t tell her, she won’t have to know.” I said, closing the door behind us. Chester started peddling down the gravel driveway on his bike, which used to be mine. It still had the sticker of the motorcycling mouse on it that I got from the dentist.

The street lamps were on, but it wasn’t dark yet. My father told me that they were on a timer, but had to be reset for daylight savings every year. I rode behind Chester, because I was bigger, and drivers could probably see me better than him. The late sun settled in vapor over the fields of the nearby houses as we rode past. We didn’t call them our neighbors because that would mean that we lived next door. The nearest house was across the street and down the creek a ways. We stopped at the stop sign, and I pulled my sweatshirt drawstring tighter around my neck, it was cold for June.  We saw no cars. On a Sunday evening, most cars were inside, like our mother’s was, picking Beatrix up from a friend’s house.

The tires on our bikes hugged the road, making a light buzzing sound, chorusing with the crickets. Chester was singing a song, and I had to remind him “watch the edge,” “don’t run over frogs,” “your shoelace is loose.” We rode finally to the patch of dirt in front of the woods where the rangers parked their cars. The quarry was closed to the public before we were born, but the fence was only a car barrier. We put our bikes behind the trees. The lightning bugs flew into our faces, the reflective tape from our bike helmets attracting them. Chester had never come to the quarry before, I had only been brought once before by a not-neighbor named Patrick.

“What if someone takes our bikes?”

“Who would take our bikes?”

“I don’t know, someone who needs bikes?” Chester kept a hand on the seat.

“Who would want our bikes? Yours is old and mine is a really old girl’s bike.” I outgrew mine and my mother’s bike fit me.

“They’re great bikes!” Chester said. He hadn’t taken off his red bike helmet.

“Our bikes are old, rusty, and the chains slip all of the time. They’re safe. Let’s go.” I removed my helmet and walked into the woods. Chester followed, but left his helmet on. I called him a goddamn pussy. It was a new word to me, but at twelve I felt grown up when I swore. He tried to hit my arm but missed. I pounded the top of his helmet, forcing the visor over his eyes. He pulled the helmet off his face and called me a jerk. I laughed. He walked ahead of me.

The trees stopped a few feet from the lip of the quarry. The water at the bottom was opaque and blue, like toilet bowl cleaner. At the bottom of the quarry was an old Ford truck from the 1940s. I could tell because my father showed me the differences between truck hoods and headlights. Chester knew too. Beatrix was only told that she was supposed to like Thunderbirds, but only the ones from 1956, because my father said that the fins were not overdone that year.

In the milky blue water the roots of trees stuck out. They were rotting in the air, their trunks covered in moss. There wasn’t much algae. My mother said that almost nothing can grow in an old quarry, it’s just old rocks. I walked up the side of a rock ledge, a stony bridge between the two sides of the quarry. I put Chester’s fingers into an old dynamite hole. “If this was a long time ago, you’d have no hand now. Pew!” I said, making exploding noises from a phlegmy place in the back of my throat. Chester laughed, and but kept his fingers in after I let go.

“How did the dynamite go off, but there’s still this tiny hole?” He prodded the outside with his thumb. The hole was about as large as a carrot.

“I guess it didn’t. Maybe they were going to blow this part up, but then that’s when the quarry got closed.” I picked up a dead stick.

“Or maybe it was a dud, like it didn’t go off when it was supposed to.” Chester stood up and laughed. I wondered what would have become of the dud. I wondered if it was at the bottom of the quarry, under all that water. I walked up between the two sides, giant blue pools of water held by granite. The edge was defined, as well as steep, going down maybe forty feet, maybe fifty. We couldn’t see the bottom. It could have gone down another fifty feet after that. The rock ledges patterned with dud-holes, sided by trees and moss. The rock came out of the ground, made it, defined it. The quarry was dotted with evergreens, complimenting the artificially blue water. My mother told me that the water was blue because of the sky, and the sky was blue because of the water.
Chester picked up a stick, a caterpillar at the end. He still called them “Callipiters” even at nine and a half, not on purpose, and mostly only at home. The setting sun gleamed off the water, making green sparkles all the way to the steep edge. There was only one part on the far right of the quarry that was shallow enough, another truck sat there, the bed sticking out of the water, the rest in a pool of watery rust.

I sat and watched the chickadees hop on the ground, poking for seeds. Chester put the caterpillar on a nearby stump. “Do you think they mind?”

“Who?”

“The callipiters. Do you think they mind getting picked up?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I’d hate it.” I threw a rock. The splash, too small for such height. I nudged the pebbles around my foot off the edge, watching the spider webbing ripples sink.

Chester picked up old glass pieces that he found. Beer bottle sections with brand name hollows, brown, green, blue, clear. Not as smooth as sea glass, dull in parts, but still sharp. He was like a crow looking for sparkly traces for his nest.

“Look at this one! It doesn’t have a date, but it looks really old!” He held up a squared bottle neck, covered in dirt. A car on the road passed by. Chester put the glass into his pocket and climbed back up the ridge to sit next to me on the moss. He picked at the small flowers that grew on the rock. They looked like miniature artichokes. The sun sunk below the trees, pushing their shadows over the water.

“That looks so pretty doesn’t it?” Chester smiled, tossing the flowers into the water.

“You’re such a goddamn girl.”

“Am not.”

“Yeah you are. Dad always said he wanted another girl. Why do you think mom put you in that damn ballet class?” I threw dirt on his helmet.

“Shut up!” Chester’s face was red as he pulled his helmet off and tried to wipe his hair clean. The twigs and moss stuck in his curls.

“Better clean your hair up before you get too dirty, girl.”

“Shut up Teddy!” He punched me in the leg. His face was deep red, freckles dark against it.

“You shut up Chesty!” I punched him in the leg. Hard. The contents of his pockets crunched. He screamed. No one called me Teddy. I punched his leg again so he wouldn’t forget. The second time I felt it hurt. My knuckles pinched. Chester kept screaming. I looked at my hand, shiny slices of glass stuck out. Chester held the inside of his thigh, crying.

“Stop crying.” I said, cradling my right fist against my chest. He didn’t stop crying. “How bad is it? Is it bleeding?”

“I don’t know! It hurts!” Chester looked at me and then squinched his eyes up tight. I pulled his hands off his legs, so they wouldn’t push the glass farther in. His jeans had a little blood on them, close to the inseam. I pulled some of the broken glass out of his pocket, mostly big shards. The smaller pieces were deeper in the pocket. The shadows from the trees darkened their red gleam. Chester was still crying but quieter.

“You have to take off your pants.”

“I want to go home.” Chester looked at me.

“I need to see how bad it is.” I brushed the glass off the rock into the water. He watched it fall. Chester’s drops of blood were in the quarry, like all the dead quarrymen, Johns, Georges and Stus. “Come on, maybe it’ll hurt less.” I said. Chester lay on his back and unzipped his jeans. Carefully trying to pull them off, he started screaming again.

“I can’t! It hurts too much!”

“I’m sorry Chester! I didn’t mean to! But we have to see how bad it is.” I tried not to look worried. He got his pants off, the fabric visibly pulled by the glass. Part of the brown bottle neck stuck out of his thigh, the rest sat in the inside of his pants. . I could see the dirt from the glass mixing with his blood. It was getting dark, and I tried to remember what I learned in boy scouts.  I remembered that I needed to apply pressure, but what if that made it worse? Chester started crying harder, seeing it. I pushed on his leg. More blood came out, pooling in the waistband of his pants. He screamed. The glass broke off in my hand. The shadows made it hard to see, but the blood was spilling over, the moss below absorbing it. The moss would have part of Chester in it like the quarry with the dead miners. Chester would make it grow.

Chester groaned. “Don’t look” “trust me”  “I did well on my emergency preparedness badge” “It’ll be fine.” My hands were covered. I couldn’t find the other piece of glass. I could feel it with my hands, I could touch it but I couldn’t find it. My hand was in Chester’s leg. I could feel his heart beating though his blood. Chester kept screaming. There was too much blood. I went back to applying pressure.  I would find it later. I would find it later and it would be fine. We would just get home before my mother and throw away our clothes and get the glass out and it would be fine. She wouldn’t have to know.  The blood would slow down and we would go home. I ripped a piece of my sweatshirt, wrapping it around his thin leg.

“Is it ok? Can we go home?” Chester asked.

“Yeah, just wait a couple minutes and we can go.” I pulled his pants up under his back. The shirt stayed. My hands and pants and sweatshirt were bloody. I peeled off my sweatshirt, turned it inside out and handed it to Chester. It wasn’t cold, but it seemed like something he might need. He pulled it on, the hem almost to his knees. I sometimes forgot how big I was compared to him. The liner of the sweatshirt was pilled and white, but all the blood was in the inside.

I pulled him up. Chester’s face was red and puffy, he tried not to cry. I picked up his helmet and put it on his head. “Can you walk on it?” He nodded. Chester took a few steps, and looked at me. I took his arm, supporting his small frame. I hoped he wouldn’t trip over the roots. It was dark under the trees. He made a noise when he stepped with his right leg. I was glad he was so skinny, his thighs didn’t touch each other when he walked. We got our bikes out, I snapped my helmet to my handlebars. Chester looked at his bike.

“How far is it back home?”

“I don’t know, probably more than a mile. What do you want to do?” I had my hand on the seat of my bike.

“I can walk.” Chester snapped his helmet on. He held the bar beneath the seat. I did the same and gave him my shoulder to lean on. We made our way to the road. We walked along the side of the road, the crunchy pebbles loud against the rubber of our tires and sneakers. Chester didn’t cry, just looked ahead. I walked slowly, trying not to make him hurry. We passed a field with lightning bugs floating in the tall grass that was still a couple of months away from haying.

“They’re pretty.” I said. Chester nodded. I saw blood making its way down his pants under the sweatshirt. His helmet bobbed, the reflective strips shining from the streetlamps. We were going to get home. We were going to put our bikes away and my mother wouldn’t know. We wouldn’t get in trouble. At stop signs we stood longer than we needed to. Chester’s face was puffy but back to pink. I hummed a song I liked from the radio. We were going to be fine. At the stop sign near our house Chester leaned over and threw up in the grass. I felt his little body shake. He nodded and we made our way up the driveway. My mother’s car wasn’t in the driveway. I was glad that she was friends with everyone’s moms and spent a long time talking during pick ups and drop offs.

We put our bikes and helmets in the carriage house, shutting the door tightly. I turned on the garden hose, and pulled the sweatshirt over Chester’s head. He pulled his pants off one leg at a time, I tugged at the ankles, keeping him up with my other arm. The handmade bandage had slipped almost to his knee, the blood ran down his leg, catching in it.  I asked “Are you ready?” “this is going to be cold,” “Are you sure?” Chester nodded and squinched his eyes closed. I held on to him, and sprayed his leg. It came out too hard and too fast. I almost dropped him. The tiny bits of glass came out, and the dirt and the dried blood. The cut looked clean, a tear in him less than a half inch wide. I knew it was deep, but it didn’t look bad without all the mess. I turned the hose off and held onto him and our clothes.

I pulled the toilet lid down and sat him on it. Chester looked tired. I climbed onto the washing machine and got the first aid kit off the shelf. I pulled out the industrial sized bottle of hydrogen peroxide that my mother used for cuts and ear infections. I climbed down and poured the cap full, spilling a little on my hand. Chester had started bleeding again; he tucked a wad of toilet paper under the cut leg. The hydrogen peroxide splashed over his leg, bubbling. “I’m sorry” “Sorry,” “almost done.” Chester didn’t react. The gauze from the first aid kit came with scissors, I cut it bigger than I needed, fitting it over the cut, plenty of room. The tape was thick and clung to the tiny white hairs on his leg. “Done.” I said. I pulled his shirt off and threw our clothes together. I didn’t know how to do laundry, so I stood in my underwear looking at a pile of bloody, dirty clothes.

“We could throw them out, under the trash, she wouldn’t know.” He said. I nodded, piled them and went to the kitchen, stuffing them under last night’s dinner scraps. I washed my hands, forgetting about the glass in my knuckles and the blood stains.  I washed them clean as I could and went to my room, and got dressed. I went into Chester’s drawers and got some clean pants.

“Here. I know you like my Hotwheels shirt. You can have it.” Chester smiled and dressed himself on the toilet. We heard the door close. I helped him into the kitchen and onto a stool. My mother brought in bags of groceries.

“Can I get some help bringing these in?” She asked. I looked at Chester and went outside. Beatrix was walking back from the car with an opened bag of banana chips.

“Mom’ll kill you if she sees you eating right before dinner.” I said. Beatrix stuck her tongue out at me but closed the bag. I got to the car, opened the trunk and sat down next to the groceries. He was fine, I did everything right, my mother wouldn’t know. I sat that way for a while until my mother came over.

“What’s taking so long? I need to get dinner started.” She said. I said I was sorry and picked up the gallon of milk. She grabbed my hand. “What’s this? Is this glass?’

“Sorry, I broke an orange juice glass. I wanted orange juice.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Yes.” I tried not to look at her.

“We’ll take care of it.” She hugged me and I pressed my face into her shirt. My breath made my face hot against the fabric. “Sweetie, are you ok?” “We can always buy more juice glasses,” “It’ll be fine, I promise.”


Thesis Segment Three

December 13, 2009
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We got up early in the late spring to pick berries in Lincolnville. My mother paid twenty dollars for a pallet of berry baskets. My mother told us that everybody eats about a bucket of dirt in their lifetime, so a little fertilized soil on the berries wasn’t going to hurt us. Beatrix was the littlest, so she got to ride in the backpack, her head covered by a flowery hat. My mother would hand her the smaller berries, so she wouldn’t choke. She would squeeze them before putting them in her mouth. My mother’s long hair would have seeds in it all day. Beatrix’s face was gummy and red. The raspberries were the best, when my mother found a farm that bred pricker-less ones, the berries grew fatter, and they squished in our fingers. The juice reached our elbows by the end of the morning. The farmers never charged us for the berries we ate, mostly because my mother would talk to them about what kind of tractors they used, and where they got their manure from. She used to be a farmer, she told us, after college, and before she married my father.  When we got home from berry picking, my mother made us all take off the clothes we were wearing. We would change and she would pour boiling water all over our clothes. She said it was the only thing to get berry stains out. It didn’t work for any other stains, like jam.

On the days my mother made jam, we weren’t allowed in the kitchen. There were too many things to burn ourselves on. She said that. One time I snuck in, keeping low below the counter. She was boiling the jars in one pan, and the cut up fruit and sugar in the other. I watched as she pulled the jars out of the boiling water with the barbecue tongs, and set them up on the old stained dish towels. Then she ladled the hot berry mush in, trying not to spill. I put my hand into the open bag of sugar. She didn’t see me, because she was trying not to burn herself through the oven mitt. I put the sugar in my mouth, but it was wriggling. Over my forearm crawled black ants. I must have made a noise, because my mother looked at me, the bag of sugar, and my arm sticking out of it. “Spit it out.”

I spat ants on the counter, and their brothers ran down my arm to meet them. My mother picked up the bag and threw it through the door. It landed in the sandbox. She brushed me off, and the counter. “Are you ok?” She asked while she pushed my hair back on my forehead like when I was sick. I nodded.

“I swallowed some.”

“I’m sorry sweetie.” She kissed the top of my head. “I’ve got to finish this before it burns. You sure you’re ok?” She turned the burners down to settle the jam. She called it a rolling boil, the kind where it hasn’t boiled over yet, but you can’t stir it, and it won’t stop unless you leave it alone for a long time. It can burn you easily if you aren’t careful.

My mother was careful. She finished the batch, screwed on the lids and flipped the jars to cool. When the ant bodies floated, she stirred them back in, called them seeds. “They’re full of protein.” “They’re good for you.” “You know, in a lot of cultures people eat bugs, because of the protein.”

Chester and I ate ants. We did experiments. The red ones were salty and spicy, and the black ones were sweet. We ate them like sunflower seeds; we bit their bodies and sucked out their insides, spitting the shells. We trapped ants from the hills in the yard, and the ones that came out from between the bricks of the kitchen door walkway. We caught them and took them to the tangled apple trees between the hill and the pond, far behind the house. It was shaded and a stream ran though the roots. We sat under the trees and ate the ants, and when we were done we poured vinegar on the hills, to keep them from telling their neighbors. We took our sandwiches under the trees on hot days when my mother said the sun would spoil mayonnaise. It was cool and covered, our fort, with our feet in the stream, the cold water freezing our toes even in August.

We were barefoot. Our feet were tough, our mother told us not to wear shoes when we could. When she and my father brought home baby Beatrix, they didn’t put shoes on her. Relatives always buy baby shoes, but babies don’t need shoes. My mother wanted our feet to be tough. She told us that she once walked over broken glass, and she didn’t feel it, it didn’t cut her. The beaches in Havret were made of rocks. The sand was hard, sharp, and grey. The beaches reached the woods, or the road, or the dirt. Flowers grew near beaches. The nicer ones had sand trucked in for the whiteness. It didn’t last, and every year a new truckload came, and filled the air with sandy dust. Out-of-staters didn’t know about the beaches. They brought towels and flip flops that did’t stand up to punctures. In the postcards that tourists sent their families, the beaches looked soft and warm. My mother said in the southern parts of the state, August was hot, and their sand was white. In midcoast, the wind came off the water, which was breezy until chilled and wet skin met it after a swim.

My mother used to be one of the tourists with the cut feet. She and her family summered. My grandmother lived in Connecticut. My mother drove us down, all eight hours, to see our grandmother, and to become more cultured. Once we got to go to New York to see a ballet.  We pulled into the driveway late. The car was hot, even with the windows open, and Charlie the dog panted wet breath on our necks. Chester was already asleep, and my mother had to carry him and Beatrix inside. My grandmother had fallen asleep on the sofa in the living room with the lights still on. When we came in through the front door, she straightened her hair and gave me a kiss. There were cookies on the kitchen table. I snuck one while my mother was putting Chester into a bed and my grandmother was looking for a spare toothbrush. We never remembered our toothbrushes. The cookies were old, and tiny brown moths flew out of the box when I opened it. My grandmother gave me a toothbrush, and my mother brought my bag into the room. I climbed into the tall twin bed, Chester sleeping with his mouth open a few feet away. The sheets were stiff and the tiny bb’s I felt near my feet were probably mouse poops. I went to sleep listening to my mother sing Beatrix to sleep in the pink room down the hall.

My mother was giving Chester a bath when I woke up. His sheets were wet, the little blue flowers on them shiny, piled up at the foot of the bed. I went to the kitchen, excited because my grandmother let us have more than seven grams of sugar per serving cereals. Chester liked the kind that was supposed to taste like waffles, I preferred the kind that were Rice Krispy Treats that you were supposed to eat like cereal. My grandmother had some left from the summer before, but they tasted good stale. I got one of the bowls that was shaped like a melon-half, and poured my cereal into it.
“I thought your mom got theatre tickets.” My grandmother got up to pour herself more coffee. “Your uncle said he got them for her.” She said as she stirred her coffee. I ate my breakfast while my grandmother made plans to tee off at noon. I asked what we should look for. “Look for bridges. Bridges can tell you a lot.” My grandmother lit a Now 100. “Bridges are built for the people, you know, your grandfather is an architect, that’s a lot like building bridges.” She opened the because my mother didn’t like it when she smoked in the house when we were around. “You know lots of men die when they build bridges? Lots of Irish men, your father is part Irish, any of his relatives build bridges?” I shook my head. “Well that’s good, I like the Irish. I suppose you look a bit Irish, with your freckles. Your sister, now she looks Irish, reddish hair and all. You’re one of those, what’s it called, black Irish? With those dark eyes and hair. Must be.”  My grandmother took a sip of her coffee. But you know that bridges, they’re important, you know they help people get places, you should go see the bridge, elephants have crossed the bridge and my own grandson has never been there jesus shit.” My grandmother plucked a dead leaf from one of the plants on the window sill.

“Why were elephants on the bridge?”

“Nobody told you that one?” I shook my head. “See, there was this woman, and she starts screaming on the bridge right? And everyone thinks she died or something, so they all start running. Well wouldn’t you know, they crushed a whole mess of people, and a bunch of them died. So nobody uses the bridge for a while, because they think it’s not safe anymore. Then there’s this man who owns the circus, and he decides, I’ve got elephants, why don’t I walk them across? So he does, all twenty one of them, nice as you please, just strolling over the bridge. Fantastic.  My grandmother got to see, that was before my mother was born you see. Just fantastic.”  My grandmother put out her cigarette, and I carried my bowl of milk to the sink. Chester walked over to my chair in a big pink bath towel. My mother brought in his clothes, leading a sleepy Beatrix still in her nightgown, my mother’s front wet and soapy. Chester sat at the low stool, his tangled brown hair dripping into his cereal. Beatrix wanted oatmeal, she was three, too little for much sugar, so she thought maple brown sugar oatmeal was sweet.

We got off the train at Grand Central. My mother told us to look at the ceiling, see the constellations. She took us by the hands, I held onto Chester, as we crossed the big floor, still looking at the painted sky. We walked to the theatre; my mother called it a matinee. She told us we were really lucky. “This is something you can tell your kids about. You got to go to the ballet and see famous ballerinas. This is special.” She squeezed our knees. We were early, and there weren’t too many filled seats. She made us dress up. She said that no one dressed up for theatre anymore, and that was too bad, because it’s so exceptional, and dressing nice meant we were respecting it. I hated it. I wanted to see the bridge, or go to the place with the tiny turtles. Chester and I had to wear ties, but Beatrix got to wear her old purple tutu. My mother said this was important for us all, just watch them.

When it was dark and the music started, I tried to pay attention. “Why aren’t they talking?” I asked. My blazer was hot.

“This is a ballet, they don’t talk, and their dancing says everything.” My mother whispered back. It didn’t. They danced, I thought a few times that a few would fall, which would make it much more interesting. I liked the parts when they ran in their ballet shoes. They looked like ducks. I just kept hoping one of them would trip over their shoes. My mother told me earlier that their shoes are full of wood. I wanted them to slap the stage, which they did, but there was no sound. Chester liked it. He kept asking if I saw the jumps. All the way back to my grandmother’s house, he talked about the jumps.

“He’s jumped so high! I bet I could jump that high!”

“I bet you could too sweetie! You’ve got my long legs.” My mother beamed. Chester was going to beat me at being ‘well rounded.’

“I’m going to show you, look how high I can jump!” Chester leaped off his chair, and continued leaping across the large dining room.

“Later Chester, we’re eating.” My grandmother said with her mouth full, a hand held up to shield her chewed steak. He sat down, eating his macaroni and cheese. At my grandmother’s house, the adults ate adult food, and the children ate children food. Beatrix had the orange cheese on her tutu, and her face, and in her strawberry blonde curls. She was mostly asleep, her hand clutching a fork, her wrist in the macaroni. Chester finished, and leaped his empty plate into the kitchen. He slipped, because my grandmother made him wear socks indoors. My mother took him upstairs to wipe the blood off his nose.

“Your uncle used to get the worst nosebleeds.” My grandmother said. Beatrix was asleep, her head rolling against the chair back.

“Which uncle?” I asked, my grandmother had two sons.

“Your uncle Gregory. He used to get the worst nose bleeds, and it wouldn’t stop. I hope your mother is holding his head back, that makes the blood go down the throat. That’s the best way.”

“Did you eat blood?” I asked Chester when we were in our beds.

“A lot.” He smiled.

“Was it gross?”

“It tasted like nose-run.”

“Nose-run?”

“And blood. There was a lot.” Chester still had a tissue in his nose. He told my mother that it might start again, he could feel it.

Beatrix was in the bath. She was screaming. Beatrix had a bad habit of getting messier when she was tired, and that was no time for a bath. Chester was fairly consistently messy, while I thought of myself as pretty clean. My mother didn’t agree. She didn’t like it when I kept dead fish in my pockets. I only kept minnows in my pockets. She said that was disgusting.

Beatrix was getting toweled off, her whimpering alternately muffled by my mother’s ruffling of her short, previously cheesy hair. Chester pulled the tissue out of his nostrils. “See, it’s still bleeding.” He reached the tissue towards my face in the dark.

“Ew.”

“I bet I can jump like that guy today.” Chester said as he stuffed the tissue back up his nose.

“Sure.”

“You think so?” Chester leaned his fluffy head towards me.

“Yeah, but then you’d have to be in a ballet class. They don’t have ballet for boys in Havret.”

“Says who?”

“Well, Beatrix’s friends moms are talking about sending their kids to the little kids ballet class. And mom made us take that modern movement class last summer.”

“That was fun, I liked the part where we painted the cardboard windows.”

“Yeah, me too. But you didn’t see any ballerina boys there did you?”

“No.”

“Plus, you don’t want them to cut off your penis do you?” My mother called it castration.

“Why would they do that?”

“You saw that man today, did you see his penis?”

“Mom said he was wearing a cup.” Chester said slowly.

“Yeah, they put a cup down your tights, like the kind you drink out of, but it’s cut in half, they think it looks better.”

“That’s not true. Mom said that man today had five kids.” Chester looked at the tissue again.

“Yeah, from before he was a ballerina. Before they cut his penis off.” It was the only thing that could possibly make sense. Then Chester called for my mother and she told him that no one was going to cut off his penis, so just go to sleep.


Thesis segment 1

November 1, 2009
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I was sticky. The breeze came off the water and across The Beach. My mother poured the sunscreen on my back and rubbed it in. I looked at the overcast sky as she covered my neck. My eyes closed as her greasy hand wiped over my face. Chester crashed his pink tugboat into the sand, the dog watching.

“You’re done,” my mother said, “play in the tidal pool until I finish slathering your brother.” I stood up as she pushed the hair off my forehead. Over the wet sand to the long rock that broke up the beach, I climbed over the barnacles and into the cratered center. Squatted in the warm water hunkering my bottom to the rock, my knees were almost equal to my shoulders. I splashed the warm water over myself, trying to warm my skin against the late spring air. Chester stood so my mother could cover his knees and shins. His bushy brown hair already had sand in it. The dog smelled his back. Chester waved at me. Water squirted between my hands in his direction. Chester laughed. My mother zipped his red life preserver and stood up, pulling her long hair over her shoulder. She walked to my tidal pool with Chester.

“Boys, since this is a tradition, I think I should say something.” She took Chester’s hand and mine, pulling me up. The air met the water on my skin, causing my teeth to chatter. My mother continued.  “I am just so happy that every year, June first, we, as a family, go swimming in the ocean. It means so much that this is something we can accomplish every year, so that every other swim we take for the rest of the summer is warm as a pool in comparison.” She smiled down at us. My lips were probably bordering on purple. Chester climbed the rock and picked up a piece of light green kelp, pulling back my mother’s swimsuit strap. “Don’t you dare.” she said, not turning around. Chester giggled, trying to balance himself on the barnacles, his feet soft from a winter of shoes. “Don’t you do it Chester Arthur Sillman.” Chester let the kelp and straps go, pinching the slimy green leaf to her skin with a snap. My mother grabbed Chester around the middle, running to the water. She threw him in ahead of her. Chester bobbed in the water, kicking and splashing. My mother shouted up to me as I stood with my ankles in the tidal pool, shivering, “Come in TR, it’s not so bad.”

I wished she’d thrown me in too. Spring ocean water hurt to the marrow. Wading meant stepping further in, knowing that the feet that hurt would be joined by shins, and then knees. Wading was bones and skin and blood screaming, the body pleading, until numbness. Waiting for my knees to stop screaming, I submerged my thighs. Wading took hours, days. Chester splashed the dog’s back. Numbness reached my waist so I went under. Cold water on the face and head makes the lungs try to gasp. My eyes stayed open, the greenish darkness fuzzy with bits of sand and seaweed floating in front of me. I stood up, my lungs gasping, cold salt in my mouth. Chester doggy paddled towards the beach. Dragging my numb legs through the water, up The Beach, I made it to my towel. I didn’t understand how they could stay in so long. Small waves rose beneath my mother and Chester, big waves didn’t make it through the harbor. The dog jumped through the bits of foam, biting crustaceans.

When I warmed up and my mother and brother came out of the water, I took a green bough from the apple tree and tied my leather string to both ends. Like Robin Hood, I notched the outside of the points, locking the string in place. Because the wood was green it didn’t break apart when pulled. I made arrows with my leatherman, sharpening the points, notching the ends. I felt like a man, like my father, who went hunting in the fall with my uncles and his friends. I felt like a warrior, and a brave. I was going to kill, and bring home what I had killed. Other boys wouldn’t be men until their parents told them so, but I was.

Chester sat in the tidal pool, pouring water from a bucket and onto his boat. My mother sat in her beach chair, sunglasses on, her long hair hanging wet over the back, sand stuck to the ends. Her head was hanging over the back of her chair, air noisily coming in and out of her open mouth. Past the apple tree that hung over the sand, tiny and undernourished crabapples underfoot I went. I crouched in the grasses behind the tree where my mother took the dog to poop. The seagulls circled over the harbor, the tree, and the harbor master building. I took out my first arrow, firing it between the branches. It came back down. The gulls flew low, trying to get the mussels, clams and crabs at the low tide, finding old apples easier to pick up off the ground. One tried to land between me and the tree. I fired. The arrow hit it, bounding off. I notched another arrow as the gull started flying away. My arrow hit the gull between the wing and ribs. I didn’t it would actually work.

It squawked, wings not beating together, one fast, and one not completing the flap. I watched it hit the ground, further hurting the left wing. Blood colored the white feathers. The gull cried. The right wing kept trying to fly, but the left hung around the arrow sticking out of its side. I grabbed the gull. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.” I kept saying it. “I’m sorry I’m sorry.”  I pulled the arrow out, the blood dripping off the feathers, onto my stomach. Blood came out of it’s beak, the gull opening its mouth all the way, its small tongue like a red worm. I held it to my body, it would get better, I would fix it. “I’m sorry I’m so sorry.” It screamed some more, as I hugged it tighter to me. I whispered my sorries to it like a chant. The right wing pushed against my chest. The gull’s head moved back and forth, crying and leaking. My mother called my name. I couldn’t stop sorrying. Chester ran up the path behind the tree.

“Is it ok?” he asked. He reached his hand out to touch it. I jerked away.

“I’m fixing it! You’ll ruin it!” I yelled. A couple of tears fell on the gull’s feathers. They would help, tears and sorries would help. It would be fine. It would be great. It would come home with us and live in my room. I would have a gull and name it Derek. The gull screamed again, this time panting. My stomach and swim trunks were red with bird blood, white and gray feathers sticking.  Chester reached his hand out again, and I screamed. The gull screamed with me. The blood was warm between the feathers and my stomach. Chester would break it. I needed to fix it. I was sorry. I squeezed harder, the pinned wing pushing against me. My mother stood at the bottom of the path. The dog sniffed the gull. “I’m Sorry!”

My mother asked me to let go. I couldn’t.

“I have to fix it.” I said. She had to understand.

“Sweetheart, let it go, it’s dying.” She put her hand on my shoulder. I had to save it. I had to get it clean, the blood was making it sick, there was too much blood. I walked down the path. Chester was crying and my mother picked him up. I walked down The Beach towards the water. It just had to be clean. The gull pushed its wing into my solar plexus. The cold water sunk itself into my skin, biting me. Blood and feathers mixed with the dark green. The gull would get better. It lived in the ocean, it needed the salt. We needed to go under, to be clean, for the salt to polish us bright. My mother came up behind me and lifted me around my middle. The gull drooped. It was warm against the water. My mother’s arms pulled me backwards towards The beach. Screaming. I wasn’t clean. I was bloodied and feathered. My mother dropped me on the sand. The gull’s eyes didn’t close when its head hit the rocky ground.


I Tree Safely Down

April 1, 2009
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My turtle was Polish. His name was Magnar Stanislaw; it said so in blue glitter on a sign over his tank. Magnar Stanislaw was a red eared turtle and on a Wednesday I left work early to get to Pet Planet before five thirty. I put the Turtle Bites canister into the eco-friendly mesh bag offered at the door, and stepped, probably very suspiciously, to the tank ornaments. I tried to look like I was not looking at tank accessories, or specifically the ceramic mermaid breasts. By facing the other way, I was staring into the face of an angry parakeet. The sign hanging below his swing said his name was Sturge. Of the decidedly aquatic themed knickknacks, the maritime selection was under stocked. I did not want to be the pet owner with a treasure chest in his turtle tank, so I picked a submarine that promised to float and sink depending on how much air was in the sub. The cashier was a high schooler, the kind that would say that animals were his friends. I walked the five blocks to my apartment with the submarine in my hand and the turtle food in my pocket. I wondered if passersby noticed the bulge.

Magnar Stanislaw paddled water when I closed the door. I took off my pants because it was hot, and walked over to Magnar Stanislaw’s tank to drop turtle food pellets in the water. I felt like saying something witty to him, like Rocky, but decided that talking to my pet turtle was too weird. Instead I pointed at him with both hands like old-timey cowboys. Magnar Stanislaw stared at me. The submarine was grey without any markings. I put it in the tank and Magnar Stanislaw pushed his neck out and tried to bite it. He kicked up the bottom of the tank scum, brushing the plastic propeller with where I imagined his nose to be. The sub bounced off the side of the tank, poking Magnar Stanislaw in the mouth. He blinked a few times and then involved his front feet in the fight against the ornament. I decided that the sub was German. I pictured the tank as the Atlantic, or the Baltic, whichever one was closer to Poland, with a fleet of subs coming to attack the country of Poland, represented by Magnar Stanislaw. I could see it perfectly; the u-boats surfacing off the coast of Magnar Stanislaw, preparing their torpedoes, the sailors running to their positions. I wondered what it would be like to man a torpedo, put it into place, alert others that it was ready to fire, receive the command, push the big red button, hear the whoosh of an object propelled through water, and the inevitable explosion that followed. Magnar Stanislaw’s red ears made me think of the ignition of the Polish fleet, the fire and smoke covering the beaches of the Baltic.

Thursday, Lane came over to watch NBC programming; I had the advantage of basic cable over her local news channels. I had found my model car paint in the shoebox at the bottom of my closet, and set them out on my desk. Lane walked into the living room holding the submarine.

“Why was this in your dish rack?” she grinned with one eyebrow raised.

“I’m going to paint it.” I gestured towards the paints.

“What are you going to paint on me?” She said in a high voice, bobbing the sub in front of her face. She taught first grade, and her energy level matched that of her students.

“It’s going to be German.”

“Ja, I am German! Vhat’s going to be painted on me?” She asked in a German accent, wiggling the sub.

“I’m going to do the Luftwaffe, because a swastika would be— bad.” I plucked the sub out of her fingers, and leaned over to kiss behind her ear.

“Do I have a captain?” Lane asked, still in accent.

“Ja, Kapitän Arnulf Schtockheimer.” I put the sub on my desk.

“Ja, dat’s goot.”

I painted the sub after she went home. Magnar Stanislaw was chewing his freeze dried shrimp and spitting them back into the water, only to chew them again. I figured that’s what cows would do, had they the opportunity to survive in water. I made a black cross with the widened ends on the grey sub, and outlined that with the white. I felt like a lonely fifteen year old– painting insignias with model paints at my desk for my turtle.

After I washed my hands, I turned on my new X box for some ‘Stripes of Glory’ WWI hand to hand combat. After dusting a few krauts, I felt a little bad for shooting at what were technically digital versions of my Great-Grandad Edsel’s countrymen. I wondered if there were any pro-German video games. Maybe in Germany, but they would possibly feel bad about promoting Nazism, so it would probably be Viking themed. It would be cool to play a Viking game, but, in my experience, games with shooting were a bit more satisfying. Lane was Swedish and English by ancestry, so only half of her would be offended if I were to play a pro-German game. I wanted to play that game, but no one had invented it yet. I decided to make it myself. I had no experience with programming, but I knew a lot of people who did. That was the advantage of working at Crunch Board Entertainment. I would ask on Monday or Tuesday how to go about making a proposal. It could be bigger than ‘Stripes of Glory’ or ‘Liberty Trenches’ or even ‘Patches of Honor: Pacific Theatre.’ I looked at the sub in the tank, gently dipping with the waves made by Magnar Stanislaw tapping the glass with his front legs, his unsteady feet shaking the water.


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