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 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 never lived in New York. I don't 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 one day have a modest home on a rural country road. I make photographs. So does everyone else in the world. I don't read much, but instead find the greatest delight being read to or listening to radio voices coming from the next room. When I was little the mumbled sound of news radio drifted to the second floor where I slept. Grand Pop was listening as he made breakfast. By the time I came down he was tinkering in the basement smoking his cherry tobacco. His transistor radio followed him. The listening fills my head with words.
I used to climb a tree at the top of our street to escape my noisy house. Sometimes I slipped away to our garage. Playing there was hard work. I tried to put order to the chaos of uncomfortable stuff I found. There was a lawn mower and a hose and a demi lune table with a broken leg. There were boxes were filled with broken lamps and porcelain figurines dressed in costume from long ago. A trinket box, and a chipped candy dish, these my mother could not part with.
There was a large sideboard. In every drawer and behind every door were stacks of papers and envelops all bundled together with rubber bands. There were canceled checks, bank statements, unpaid bills and yellow slips. That sideboard was a coffin for the unhealthy evidence of our domestic economic situation.
I liked the smell of cut grass and gasoline that lingered. There was a football, a few bikes, one tennis racket, two baseball gloves, a set of golf clubs, and a pram. This pram was beautiful, remarkably solid and decades old. It was hand painted and shiny with chrome wire wheels and a handle bar with leather grips. It was not for real babies but for dollies and only just slightly smaller and an exact replica of its grown-up version.
It just showed up in the garage one day. It may have been intended for me, but I wasn’t sure. No one ever said, “Here, this is for you.” Maybe they 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. Rearranged the furniture till it became my playhouse. I attended to the baby in the carriage. That baby had chewed fingers and scraggly hair sticking out of plugs all over its head. She had the bluest eyes and the sweetest mouth and she smelled of plastic and that 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 the 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 housework. By the time the husband came home from work baby and I were bathed and dressed. We smelled of powder and perfume. Dinner was in the oven. All was as it should have been.
Now, 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 to do. Now I have degrees and decided finally 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. I 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...