I have a full well-shaped mouth and if I wear a certain shade of lipstick the average person passing me on the street might mistake me for being an attractive woman. A fortuneteller once told me that I have lived many lives and I have always had the same eyes, that I was a popular model in Italy during the Renaissance, and that someday while strolling through a museum I may come face to face with myself. This is preposterous of course, but the idea has lingered with me for some time now and it gives me comfort.
I have never lived in New York. I do not claim to be a great success at anything I’ve done. I live in a third-rate city thinking all my life that I might have had a modest home on a rural country lane. I make photographs. So does everyone else in the world. I do not read very much, but instead find the greatest delight in being read to or spoken to by voices from the radio. When I was little the mumbled sounds of news radio drifted to the second floor where I slept when. Grand Pop listened while making his breakfast. By the time I came down he was smoking his cherry tobacco tinkering in the basement where the radio followed him. It’s the listening that fills my head with words.
I used to climb a tree at the top of our street to find some quiet. Sometimes I slipped away to our garage. Playing was hard work. I tried to put some kind order to the array of uncomfortable stuff. Playing was hard work. There was a lawn mower and a hose. There were boxes stacked on a demi lune side table with a cracked leg. The boxes were filled with broken lamps, porcelain figurines dressed in elegant costumes from a long ago age, trinket boxes, and a chipped press glass candy dish. These my mother could not part with. There was a very large sideboard. In every drawer and behind every door were stacks of papers and envelops. Bundled together with rubber bands were cancelled checks, bank statements, paid bills and yellow slips. It was a coffin for the unhealthy evidence of our domestic economic situation.
There was a football, a few bikes, one tennis racket, two baseball gloves, a set of golf clubs, and a pram. This pram had hand painted red scrolls decorating its perfect shiny grey body. It was trimmed in cream with chrome wire wheels, brake levers, and a handle bar with leather grips. It took some figuring and fiddling but the body could be transformed from a carriage where baby laid in tufted silk to a stroller with a footrest for a toddler. It was beautiful, remarkably solid and from another era. It was not for real babies but for dollies and only just slightly smaller than a real grown-up pram. It just showed up in the garage one day. It may have been intended for me to play with, but I wasn’t sure. No one ever said, “Here, this is for you.” They might have just forgot to give it to me. I still don’t know how to think about that.
I swept and dusted and hosed down the garage. I rearranged the furniture till it became my play house. And I attended to the baby in the carriage. That baby had chewed fingers and scraggly hair pointing out of plugs above the bluest eyes and the sweetest mouth. She smelled of plastic which reminded me of Christmas.
I draped old bed sheets over the boxes, set a table and served from the sideboard. On sunny days I placed the pram in the sun just outside the open garage door so that baby could nap in the sunshine. I was sure this would contribute to the health and well being of the child. She always napped while I did my house work. She was bathed and dressed, as was I, by the time the husband came home from work. Dinner was waiting for him. All was as it should have been.
I don’t have any children. I was thirty-two when I went to college. My parents forgot to ask me when I graduated from high school if that was something I wanted. Now I have degrees and have finally decided to have a husband and I am too old to have babies and we bought a house. It’s a fixer upper and the construction debris never ends. It piles up and I sweep and dust and cover garage-sale furniture with bits of dime store calico. I tell myself this is all temporary. And as it turns out so was the husband.
AFTER THINGS (part two) could follow some time soon...