I had trouble choosing gifts for myself. I lacked a clear identity that I wished to highlight and wanted to diminish my obvious trademarks, such as thick hair that couldn’t hold a ponytail or thick glasses that hid my almond eyes and emphasized my wide nose. My sister, on the other hand, reveled in choosing trinkets. Clips for her smooth hair, sparkly sunglasses, earrings of every length, lip glosses, chunky bracelets. While she chose glittery items at the souvenir shops, I examined maps and travel books. She learned how to enhance her beauty. I learned about the beauty around us.
Her step had an extra pep. Fridays had that effect. But this particular Friday offered more than just a step, it was more like a spring board. She tried to contain the giddiness that oozed from every pore. After all, it’s taboo to revel in other’s misfortune. But the nasty boil at the head of the nation had festered long enough. At long last, Humpty Trumpty’s posse had started to fall. One by one. It was just a matter of time before the head popped, draining the putridness that festered within. At last, the stars had aligned on her birthday.
Heat forces us to shut windows tight blocking the sounds of summer nights, such as my husband’s gentle snore, cats yowling, nightingales’ songs, raccoons rustle, lively music from passing cars, and the distant toot from a crawling train. These sounds reassure me that life goes on as I drift off to sleep. Windows shut, on the other hand, heighten mechanical sounds, such as the rhythmic ceiling fan with blades that dip ever so slightly every 100th spin, or the compressor sucking in stale air and pushing through cooled air. In the artificial silence, unfortunately, my husband’s snores jolt me awake.
A month zipped by with barely a trace of sweat. And now it is August. We pack so much expectation into long summer days by revealing our covered bodies, shielding our hair from the unforgiving humidity, and promising ourselves to maximize every minute. The humidity thickens with each passing day and it rains. Days, evenings. When at work, when at home. Our beach excursions are curtailed, our park plans rained on, and our daily routines continue. Before we know it, summer did not change the behavior we are accustomed to. Another summer slips through our days in a shimmery haze.
Too many options: white, stainless steel, stackable, gas, electric, top loaders, front loaders, gadgets galore. I remember when Mom first got a wringer washer: a circular miracle with an attached roller to wring the laundry. Before that, she soaked dirty diapers in the bathtub for hours and removed stains with a washboard. As laborious as it was, she preferred to wash laundry by hand in the privacy of her home than to carry a load downhill to the river as she did as a child. Once she got that first washer, laundry became Mom’s favorite task. She still launders daily.
Mom gave me Dad’s handkerchief to cover my mouth and nose. She fanned out my long hair on the bed then sprayed it with Black Flag. Yes, the very Black Flag used to kill insects. Then she wrapped it tight in a white towel. “That’ll suffocate those sons-of-bitches.”
She instructed me to remain still on the bed. I wondered why she used Black Flag on my head and not Alberto VO5.
She returned to the room. “Honey! Honey!” she called out to Dad. “Look!”
A long trail of straggling lice exited slowly from the toxic gases trapped in my head.
Bella stretched the elasticized material and shoved in her right leg. Then her left, much like her grandmother squeezed ground meat into casings during the high holidays. She pulled and tugged and rearranged the bulges in the midsection of her body. It’d be easier, she huffed, if she exercised and watched what she ate rather than fight the Spanx war, but the battle was not food related. Age had brought on undesirable flabs.
She smoothed her dress, satisfied everything was held tightly in place. Her eyes fixed on her neck. No amount of Spanx could stretch or hide those lines.
A mosquito net surrounds the four-poster bed and traps the still air. The tiniest movement multiplies the dense heat. My sweat dampens the bed sheets.
It’s a moonless night. I lay with eyes wide open in the dark room listening to the night creatures. Grasshoppers and crickets chirp all night. Cats meow. An occasional dog lets out a howl. Coquis croak their love song.
A dove begins a mournful coo. Soon the whole flock joins the night’s cacophony. I cover myself head to toes with the damp sheets. According to legend, doves coo at night only when they see ghosts.
“It beats me black and blue,” wails Rihanna followed by unprintable words then “must be love on the brain.”
Those words stick in my brain conjuring negative scenarios. When is it acceptable for violence to equate love? Are these allusions to the antiquated notions of bad boy overpowers helpless damsel? Or savage lovemaking between two people that cannot keep away from each other despite destructive behavior? The only image that surfaces is of a broken down Rihanna beaten to a pulp by her then boyfriend. The lyrics do not heal in this me-too generation. They perpetuate twisted interpretations of love.
Brown leaves danced and twirled before their graceful landing. One by one and in pairs they piled beneath the tree. It had been years since Ellen had witnessed the beauty of fall. Leaves in the islands fell from trees when the unforgiving sun scorched them or if the tree were dying. In Brooklyn, they turned from greens to yellows and reds. After their final descent, they lay fallow protecting roots from the inevitable winter.
Ellen inhaled deeply expecting freshly cut green grass. Alas summer had passed. Instead, musty air filled her lungs, a by-product from the accumulation of dead leaves.