Posts Tagged 'childhood'

Sweet tooth

My father is a dentist and he loves you more than Jesus, because your father owns the candy store. The candy store is always between the cigar store and the liquor store, that’s what my cousin Lily Marie said when she was sixteen and went to the cigar store to buy cigarettes and ask old Ben Murphy, who was janitor at the City of Cocola Elementary School from 1954 til 1997, to buy her some Annie Greensprings Apple Wine. He died of sugar diabetes, old age, and pesticide accumulation, according to Lily Marie’s uncle Ed Loughlin, who was the only doctor in the City of Cocola.

I myself am glad your father owns the candy store, because it means that every kid in Cocola will eventually come into my father’s business, and I get to hand out the lollipops and the troll dolls that my dad the dentist gives out to any kid that doesn’t bite him or kick. There are a surprising number of kids who won’t bite or kick if they think they might get something for not doing it. My dad says that proves  they can control their heathen impulses and if it was up to him he’d beat every last one of them for their cowardly ways and it was just proof that the City of Cocola was founded by fools.

The City of Co-cola was founded in 1896 by Jebediah Wright, a candy and whisky maker who moved from Sioux City Iowa to Flagstaff just in time to not freeze to death that year and with enough provisions to make a good living for himself when he set up the next spring.


 (15 minutes, just a scrap of an idea)

Lina Jean

This is the true story of the spontaneous combustion of Lina Jean Morrow. She was the type of girl who was all legs and buck teeth at seven, all blonde glamour at thirteen, and all ashes and crispy burnt skin before she was 19.

Lina Jean Morrow’s life was short and bright and hard. There were few things Lina enjoyed more than sunning herself like a lizard in the spring air, which made the family laugh when she was their baby girl but made them mad and maddened as she grew into those teeth. She was a tall girl, a tall girl with a habit of looking over the shoulder of whoever she was talking to, causing many people to turn around and look behind themselves to see who she was addressing.  It was just Lina Jean’s way. The way she talked was slightly foreign, an accent that was not exactly refined or delicate, but satisfying and exotic, the way other people’s family dinners can be. Familiar but not family. That’s what Lina’s cousins said, when they talked about the conbustion.

Before she combusted, the cousins had a regular comedy routine of walking behind Lina, walking her runway walk, sticking out their teeth to imitate her bucktooth pouty lip ways. Most of the time, Lina ignored them, but once in a while one of them would pull on her hands, throw themselves at her feet and beg her to marry them, while the others punched each other, laughing til they fell down in the dirt. Lina kicked a cousin or two, and once announced, over her cousin Ned’s shoulder, that if he was her husband, she’d shoot his dick off, which should have been funny but instead caused a whole lot of cousins to stay away from her for a few weeks. Ned said he had dreams about that, the way she looked over his shoulder, like she was looking for the knife, he said.

One day, Lina was sunning herself like a lizard on a warm rock on a spring day and her baby toe caught on fire. A little trickle of smoke appeared and she looked at it, like she was admiring a pedicure or thinking about what color of polish to put on. The smoke turned to a bright red flame and traveled up the top of her foot and along her thin shin bones and from there spread suddenly, and the cousins said the heat could be felt two counties away. Ned, who was across the state line looking for work, turned his head and looked back over his shoulder. He could see the line of smoke turn oily and black, and he felt Lina Jean burn white hot, watched her skeleton soften and emit a fragile ghostly crunch. He has blisters on his face to this day to prove that he witnessed her last moments, and no one in Stitch County has ever doubted him.


I was alone for 15 years or so, alone the way we are when we are not children. How is alone now, what is the shape of alone, do you know? I shook a stick once at alone and it hissed back at me, a snake, a goose, a small cat with big green eyes. I have shaken my solitude so hard that all of its fruit fell to the ground and lay there fallow, lay there unseen for year after year. Little nuggets of solitude, little nuggets of loneliness, they lie there in an orchard, an orchard of past stories, stories from before the travels that took me away, away from hearth, from home.

I left in the winter of my 15th year, as is traditional. I rode a small horse with a fine Arabian head. Not the horse of the nobility, nonetheless a horse that suggested connections. I might be an important bastard, said the horse, I might be a well placed clerk in a prosperous, powerful and dangerous religion. Religion being, then as now, a dangerous and dishonest pursuit, was very appealing to second sons. I might have been a second son, that was generally agreed upon, or a bastard, again, that also was agreed upon. 

I left in the winter of my 15th year, leaving my lady and my lord in disguise, to travel and claim a kingdom for my own in lands far away. Once taken, I would return to tell the king and queen, my mother and father, about my acquisition, and then they would name me heir and bond me and mine forever to them, in spite of my bastard status, in spite of my feminine nature, in spite of my brother, the king’s first son, who was more of a bastard than I was ever likely to be. In spite of his mother and father’s marital status.

I left in the winter of my 15th year, as is traditional, riding my horse with my man to the edge of the sea, where I left both and boarded a ship with an uncle, who agreed to allow me on board as long as the secret was kept, but who could not guarantee my safety if ever all was discovered. This uncle was a first cousin to my mother, a man named Thomas Wilcomb, and he let me onboard at some personal risk. I came aboard as first boy, and looked after his parrot, kept his books, and ran away as soon as ever  I could, so that I might seek my own fortune, and not simply add to his.


I remember your twin brother and how he had a dimple on the left side of his smile. You didn’t have any dimples, and when I was seven I was suspicious that you and he were not really twins after all. But still the two of you always had perfect synchronization, rebuilding carburetors, installing the new clutch cables, draining and replacing the transmission fluid. It was a twin ballet, the two of you so different, one with dimple and one without, Jake with his dirty jeans and his flat boy butt, you with your sweats and the tank top that showed a little bit of girl belly. I remember that Jake lied more often than you did, at least I noticed him lying, and when he left, he went to France, or so he said. But when he came back, he didn’t seem to have picked up any French at all. Meanwhile, you and I had been studying up in school so that when we graduated we could go to France together and the three of us have a French movie adventure, something with beaches and candlelight and that was romantic, wasn’t it?

I remember when my dad came home from work one morning. We were making breakfast; there was a tower of toast and the bacon was in the frying pan, spitting hot grease over the white stove top. He came in and sat down without saying anything, not even “mmm, bacon” and he did not pour himself a cup of coffee like he usually did, just took off his gun belt, hung it over the back of the chair and pressed his hands together like they hurt or something. Mom turned away from the bacon, yelped a little at the hot grease as it caught her on the wrist. She wet a dishcloth with cold water and put it on her wrist, and sat down across the table from dad. He kept his hands pressed together, and after a moment, she reached out and put her hand, dishcloth and all, over his, and there was silence, and grease popping, and the toaster shot out two slices of bread.

“Kids, go on out and feed the dogs,” she said. “We’ll have breakfast ready in about 15 minutes.”  I started to protest, but Jerry kicked me and pushed me out the kitchen door.


I come from the island country of Concatenation. The commonwealth of Concatenation was named by the state poets and accountants who were held responsible for balancing the books, booking the best artists, poets and musicians; and the doctors, who raised the technology of health care to a single point of light. Every citizen of Concatenation was entitled to unlimited hair removal, dermabrasion and cold laser therapy. They were uniformly smooth, soft and silky to the touch, but unfortunately utterly unable to tolerate touch of any kind, and so the pedestal was actually invented in the commonwealth of Concatenation, a little known fact that has nonetheless shaped the past and future of the Catenates who first migrated to the island in 1846 from a small atoll on a deep current that passes Concatenation during times of climate change.

There was a heavy wind that day, I remember distinctly, with a sunset that was mango colored and shot with clouds. There was a ringing in my head, and a sense of warning, as of shipwreck, the shipwreck that is in the bones of all natives of Concatenation, the one that brought us here, and threw us away, stranded, on foreign soil.

Standing on the prow of a sailing ship is a young boy, or a young girl, no one ever knows in these stories, but whoever or whatever he is, he stands tall and looks far as the ship tosses. Only the very young can be tossed like this without severing an artery or rupturing a disc, and so we know that the young boy or girl is rubbery and ripe for the hard action of adventure. The slim bare feet are dirty, the kerchief ties the tangled brown hair back and away from the face, which is both brown and mischievous. This child, regardless of age, stature or gender, has been traveling like Pan on the seven seas, and here has come to the island of Concatenation, where the adventure changes suddenly from swashbuckling and overt to spicy, mysterious, and internal. I saw the child there, hanging onto the ropes, nearly falling into the wash, and I saw my future. Pulling against my mother’s skirts, I tugged away, away from her brush and her braiding, away from the skin, hair and nail care that made up my predicted path, and ran into the foaming waters at the edge of the sea on the island of concatenation, where I heard the sea birds ringing in the changing of the season, tintinabulating, sang the birds. And so what, you may ask? That was the first day of my life as a pirate, is what I say back to you, the me who is little and wild and still hairy as might be. Saved.

Flowering citrus

Flowering citrus – 1

Orange squirt, a soda, a fruit, elicits a sudden unexpected response from the back of my mouth, a wet ripe reaction to the smell of orange, the sudden demanding spray of lemon. The underside of a lemon tree provides a parasol of leaves, of warm lemon scent in lightly heated shade. Pick. This lemon is plump, skin thick and shiny under a thin dusty topcoat. I roll the lemon down the front of my jeans, roll off the light dust. Bring it back to my face. Smell. The smell of lemon is umbilical, so unlike furniture polish or dishwashing lemon that I hold it against my face – lemon peel pressed against my nose, my lips, my chin, and inhale as if it were vapor. Cut. The juices burn the many small wounds on my rough 10-year-old hands, rough from digging, and climbing, and jumping out of trees into a world of wood and dirt and citrus smells, rough from being out of range, from living wild in cultivated orange and lemon groves, near a small farmhouse, a fruit stand, an old brown dog with a limp, a piece of fruit, a pile of polished rocks. Rolling the lemon against my face, there it is, like magic. I wipe my hands on my worn cotton shirt, so that I might smell it again later, when I undress tonight. 


Flowering citrus – 2

“Lemon meringue pie?” she asks, eyebrows up, pen in hand.

“Nah. I don’t like meringue much. What else you got?” I can’t help being distracted, worrying about the car, motor running, out in the parking lot.

“Has to be lemon?” she says, good humor intact.

“Has to be lemon,” I agree, forcing my eyes to stay on her face. Car’s still there; that’s an article of faith.

“We got lemon sherbet?” she suggests.

“Rather have lemon tarts, got any of those?” I counter. I see Michael out the corner of my eye, walking casually across the gift shop and to the cash register, where the camera stares at the bill of his baseball cap.

“Usually we do, but we’re out. They’re not very good anyway,” she says, confidentially. I laugh.

“Okay. How’s about those lemon wafer cookies, you got those, right?”

“Probably. You’ll have to go to the gift shop, over by the candy section. We don’t have them in the diner. You want a coffee to go with that?” She’s relaxed, no fears, no early warning signs. My confidence is up.

“How about lemon drops, I like them. Got those?” I’m starting to stare, I can tell, and her eyes come up to mine all of a sudden like she’s just heard me speaking a foreign language.

“Sure. Yeah, we got lemon drops. In the candy section, kinda by where the lemon wafer cookies are.” I can see her strain through this. Her pen is still up, but hanging funny, like a question mark. She pockets her order book and says “I’ll get that coffee. Be right back.” The back of her uniform, walking away from me, looks uncertain, wrinkles highlighted by the fluorescent lights. Stains on the right side of her butt, where she’s been wiping her hand without thinking about it, through many uneventful shifts. Until now.

Clear cut

Mable Carmine had hair the color of fresh blood and it was natural too. Skin white like the flesh of new potatoes. Creamy. She taught me how to shave my legs. My clueless, knobby freckled itching legs. Mable Carmine grew up to study botany after first pledging her troth to a number of different religions, but nothing is more spiritual in the end than the sexy damp earth of gardening, the hummus, the mulch, the first tender moments unfolding. Mable. I’ve had a soft spot for that name since seventh grade.

We went on a field trip once, on a fishing boat, a trawler I suppose it was, and we were both seasick, me as white as she was for once, and we holed up together in the hold and heaved intimately, unhappily, throughout the entire trip. We never really spoke again after that.

The secrecy of gardening has been with me since childhood, since it was all an unfamiliar mystery. It is still a mystery, but a familiar one, like how the taste of milk slightly warmed is always a surprise, the sweetness, the kiss of nutmeg touching the lips spicy, new, every time. There are daffodils, of course, and hyacinth, and tulips and irises. Bearded, I hope, this year – we thinned out the old bed not long ago. We thinned out the old bed and shook the sheets free of dust and memories, freshened the rooms and hung everything out in the thin cold sun. We are early for renewal this year, earlier than usual, and this is a kind of climate change, too, a need for light before light has really arrived.

Mable Carmine went on, past the religious convictions, through the formality of European botany, to the fresh scraped story of botany in the rain forest, in the thick wet lands of Machu Pichu, in the heavy mosquito air, and there she disappeared into undergrowth so tangled that she was not found until much later, until the herbalists, the brujas and the curanderas had given way to a clear cut shaving, leaving stubble behind, no vines, no freckled skin, no mysteries, no rich, oozing earth.


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May 2020