Summer vacation


wooden crate

I lived for a time in a solid wooden box. Not cardboard, you can’t live in cardboard for long; first rain takes you out, puts you back in shelter.

I believe in shelter. I believe in shelter like I never believed in some other things. Once, when I was little, I lived in a doll house behind a big old palace, or mansion I guess it might have been. In Texas. The folks who lived in that mansion were almost never there; they lived in Connecticut most of the time is what I heard from Elba, who washed their clothes and put food out for the stray cats in the neighborhood (pretty good food, it was, and with cloth napkins, sometimes). I slept in that doll house, belonged to these folks little girls, only like I said they were never there anyway and I guess the people who kept the place up while they were gone didn’t much mind me for a certain length of time. I stayed there one entire summer. It was small for a real house, but real big for a doll house. There was a kitchen that actually worked, only it was short, like for kids about 7 years old or so, with a sink and a little fridge. No stove, but I did find cigarettes and matches in the little bitty roll-top desk in the living room. There was a velvet sofa in there, too, almost big enough for me at the beginning of the summer but I had a growing spell and had to switch to the little bedroom with the two twin beds. I had one big summer of pretend. I pretended I was Goldilocks. I pretended I lived in the Magic Kingdom. I pretended I was a fireman. I pretended I was flying through space in a rocket ship. I found a telescope one evening in the gardens near the house and looked through it on a clear night and I saw shooting stars and I imagined myself up there in the constellations riding a horse with magnificent wings. This was maybe my best summer ever in my entire growing up years. There was a little bitty library in that small house, too, and since I like to read I found myself curled up on that velvet sofa or stretched out on those twin beds with the chenille bedspreads reading all night.

In the daytime, when there were people around, I headed on into town and went to the full size library, where they didn’t have snacks lying around or anything like a little privacy, but they did have air conditioning, which was new in Texas at that time and most welcome by just about everyone. Back then all the older ladies still carried their fans with them everyway, and every one of them smelled like lavendar sachet and talcum. Old ladies always made me sneeze, and I can barely think of them even now without the end of my nose twitching reflexively. In those days, librarians were strict about silence, and about not folding the pages of the book back. I knew how to follow the rules, even back then, and how to break them without getting too lost from my own sense of what was right and what was wrong.

At the end of the summer, I came home to the doll house one evening and found that it had been visited. There were piles of toys stacked against the wall in the little living room, most of them with their price tags still on. There was this one toy donkey, about 3 foot high, almost big enough to ride on, and if you pulled his tail and let go, he made a big hee-haw sound and his ears wiggled. That was one expensive donkey. I looked around – didn’t seem like anyone had noticed my stuff, it wasn’t touched at all. So I gathered it up and put it back in the pillow case I’d been carrying it in before I stopped here, and I left. I found a bag out by the back porch where the cats eat, with peanut butter sandwiches, some fritos, and a few apples, and I took those with me. Cats don’t really like peanut butter, anyway, I said to myself.

stuffed donkey

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