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Archive for the ‘Flights of Distant Past’ Category

1974

Six thirteen year olds

held hands

boy girl boy

and waded barefoot

through ankle deep water

hunched over

through the sewer pipe

behind the abandoned house everyone thought was haunted

walking slowly

enjoying the touch

of  electricity

in close proximity

and anticipation

of reaching the clearing

underneath the giant buckeye tree

Several feet up

bright yellow dandelion heads

began to fall

from the  pinhole of light

in the center of the manhole cover

tossed in by Ann

just 6 years old

while singing “Ring  Around the Rosy”

Waiting quietly

for song’s end

without a word

said between us

We began as a low rumble

building to a loud moan

and listened as she ran

screaming

back to her house

as we ran

laughing

splashing loudly through the  concrete cavern

back to the field

that held cows

behind an electric fence

as the wind

carried our laughter

across every summer

thereafter

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A pewter clock with Roman Numerals hung on the brick wall above the console TV.  A  dark  stained pine couch  and love seat faced each other both with thick navy plaid cushions  leaving  just enough room between them for four small bodies to lay on their stomachs on the braided rug to watch Saturday cartoons, each girl with their own red or tan corduroy pillow to prop their arms on while our parents sat in chairs on either side of the room faces hidden behind the morning and then the evening paper.

Above the love seat was a metal map of the world as if its surface had been peeled like an orange and flattened in segments showing the continents how they were centuries ago. Within the frame atop the map, an illustration of a solar eclipse and on the bottom a lunar eclipse.  I would spend hours, mostly when sick, sipping orange juice looking at the eclipses wondering if I would ever see one in the sky without risk of blindness.   The love seat was the perfect place to look out the large bay window behind the couch into the back yard especially on rainy days or to watch the first flurries of winter float down to melt on the still warm ground, dreaming of laughter summer held in the above ground pool.

The braided rug rich in colors of autumn was also where my mother would lay on her stomach, head resting sideways on a pillow, shirt pulled up, bra strap undone. I would sit on her butt and ever so gently scratch her back, not to relieve an itch, but to create goosebumps with cursive movements in small waves, taking great pride when she said I did it best. I didn’t earn allowance for my chores, but this calming ritual for both of us was a way to earn a trip to the ice rink or maybe even the movies and is one of the few memories I have of her where we were at peace with each other.

Separating the kitchen and the family room was a desk and hutch in the same soft dark pine of the other furniture. No one ever sat there that I can remember or not sure there was even  a chair to which to sit.  On the three rows of shelves, hardcover books written mostly by Edgar Cayce and Ruth Montgomery. Intrigued by the cover, I did take Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus up to my room one night when I was was 13, and was careful to replace it fully read the next  morning to its proper slot before she would notice it gone.  The desk drawer on the right, underneath faded pieces of construction paper in colors no one used, dried up markers and pens without caps was the wooden toy paddle that one of us begged be purchased at the check out line. The one where we competed to see how many consecutive times the red rubber ball could be hit without missing.  The one my mother beat me with leaving welts on my skin after touching an egg the color of the sky in a nest she told me to stay away from. While there are no physical scars where the thin wood repeatedly stung my skin, the emotional scars of  the abandoned eggs lingered years later along with the terror and dread that surfaced every time that drawer was pulled open in anger.

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I can still see her

my mother

rocking in the fetal position

on avocado shag

uncontrollably sobbing

the day Elvis died

I wonder

if she felt that kind of pain

when she killed me

inside

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Fabricating sins

to a shadow behind a latticed screen

too ashamed of the real ones

wondering

the cost

for telling lies to God

Can forgiveness ever be granted

when the penance given

lies in the  prayer

that she forgot

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Gently

she tucked the stray strands of white hair

behind the ear

of the dying woman whose name she didn’t yet know

Holding her hand

silently praying

for her  breath

to ease

and three labored breaths later

the prayer answered

when it ceased

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The Basement…

The trepidation to descend into the basement began the moment my hand held the brass knob to open the hollow door leading down the staircase.   The wooden railing only on the right ended several steps before the bottom, precisely where the odor of mildew began, where  the 8th stair creaked and fear set in.  A dropped ceiling and fluorescent lighting made the already cramped space more claustrophobic.  At the base of the stairs to the left was a closet that in the winter held rows of  tomatoes my mother canned from her garden’s summer harvest.

To the right was a large open space with paneled walls and industrial deep green carpeting on the floors with little or no padding between it and the concrete.  A small dinette that consisted of a  bench that seated four comfortably and wrapped around a square table with a Formica  table top meant to look like  wood.  Next to the table was an old couch that used to be in the family room, but was demoted to the cellar after the more fashionable, but less comfortable set was bought.  The hum of a small dehumidifier could be heard at all times magically turning air into water. In my earlier years a ping pong table took up the main space.  A ball dented in anger over a hard loss, sat  dusty underneath the stereo that was situated directly below the only window often decorated with multiple spider webs.  In the back was a closet with louvered doors where board games rarely played were stored. In the dead of winter I would sit there in the dark, doors closed in the cave within the cave layered in darkness not fearful but comforted.  I would reminisce of  summer sitting in the neighbor’s apple tree  being held in it’s branches .  My sister caught me once coming out of the closet and asked why I was in there. I told her I shrunk to the size of a lady bug and crawled through the cracks in the walls to visit a land that exists only in the damp cold blocks of concrete. She demanded I take her there and when I refused she told my mother who punished me for lying. I wished I hadn’t made it up, because I found out that once you let someone in on your own private fantasy, it loses potency.

Once, when I was twelve, my step dad came down to the stairs, turned on his stereo. Dixieland Jazz came streaming from the speakers nearly as tall as I was. I watched him through the slats as he hitched his trousers before sitting into the deep couch, resting his head on the back cushion, smiling with his eyes closed and tapping his feet to the music. It was odd watching him, unaware he was being  seen. He was more relaxed, content and happier than I had ever seen him. It made me sad that he didn’t come down here more often. Perhaps if he did, he wouldn’t have taken a long nap every day after work or reach for a pill box every night after dinner. I found out years later those pills he took were Valium. A vacation from his mind packed in a miniature golden suitcase.

Our ping pong table was replaced with a pool table just after the neighbor’s was.  It was  large and white with red felt, not at all like their plain brown one “It isn’t even real wood” and the balls once cleared would roll to a holder on the sides, not sit in a basket underneath each pocket like theirs.  I didn’t play pool, but pretended to when I brought Jim DiIorio downstairs when I was sixteen to make  out, each of us taking turns taking our hands off of each other long enough to roll a ball into the others so my mother wouldn’t know. Thanks to the creaky eighth step, we may have had time enough to straighten our clothes, but not our faces when she appeared  four steps later with a basket full of laundry.

Behind saloon doors in the furthermost part of the cellar was the only part of the house free of decoration. The concrete walls were not covered or painted, a tattered rug covered the concrete floor. An old metal ironing board with a padded cover stood in the corner. The heavy iron balanced upright, its insulated cord wrapped neatly around it. The same iron that tipped while at its hottest setting onto my left hand. I don’t remember the pain, only the odor of my singed flesh, the dark smoke , my stomach turning as my skin bubbled and my mothers footsteps running down the stairs after my scream. My first pair of Levi’s would stay wrinkled that day.

Next to the washer and dryer was a  plastic utility sink stained with a deep red secret near the drain. I don’t know what caused it, but I assumed it must have something to do with blood since all my questions about it went unanswered.  The furnace, hot water heater and the dryer were all run on gas, the sound of their ignition always made me jump as the machinery running the house began to breathe with its ignition.

It was always hot in the summer and cold in the winter, always dark and scary especially if someone upstairs flipped the switch not knowing I was down there. I would scream once the lights went out, and hope the light was flipped back on or I ran to the switch at the base of the stairs before whatever lurked hidden in the damp room could come out and get me.  While the walk down to the basement was a slow one, I took the steps two at a time to leave it, careful not to knock over the dog biscuits stored on the second step

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1617 Holly Hill Drive

835-2396

I can recite the address and phone number as easily now as when I lived there 35 years ago. A four bedroom, two and one half bath Colonial on a dead end road in a planned development called Plantation Place where all the streets were named after plants and trees. I was relieved we didn’t live in Boxer Heights with roads names of  Dalmatian, Basset and Great Dane.  It was third house from the dead end and across the street from my best friends.  The house sheltered not only myself, but  my dreams, fears, and nightmares. Holding both the good and the bad memories within the walls. How effortlessly the ghosts of this old house continue to haunt the mind.

Hoping to free some  memories and hold onto others, I will be writing about this home room by room from the bottom up sharing the life of the house and the fabric of those who lived  its roof.

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