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.”

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