I have scraped all of the white
pieces into a neat pile. They are not entirely white, but specked with
the edges and streaks of other shapes. They will make the border. I
have to play the music this loud because I will be scared if it's
quiet; I can hear the speakers straining against the volume. I press
the face of a dog beneath an empty beret, clicking the glossy pieces
into one another. I hate the feel of exposed cardboard on the back so
I try to slide each piece against the floor, guiding it over the hardwood
tiles, until it is as close as possible to its match. It's supposed
to be ironic how the dogs in berets are looking at sculptures of bones
but it turns out, according to the shiny box-top promise, to be the
kind of thing you might get for someone who likes dogs. The ones that
I have finished are strewn like postcards all over the apartment. I
step over them to change the songs, or sometimes to hit 'repeat'
on the stereo but only if my brother is not home. When it starts to
get dark I run around pressing and turning anything that will make light,
even in the rooms where I am not apt to be found - my parents' bedroom,
the linen closet. Each room glows with varying wattage and some buzz
in the fluorescent way that the hospital buzzes but I can't hear it
because of the music. I shake more pieces out of the box.
She stole these pants once,
the ones that I'm wearing. We don't call it stealing because we
shared a room, but in any case she had them and hid them from me when
they were mine. Palazzo pants is what they're really called, and I
got them right before my birthday along with the terry-cloth t-shirt
that I am also wearing that makes it look like I have breasts. The pants
are navy with white stripes and I press my fingers into the stripes
to see how much my thigh will give. This, of course, is all happening
under the table. If I tilt my head a little I can see her shoe which
is a navy clog with brass studs around it. My mother has brought oatmeal
cookies and matzoh brie in big Tupperware containers but no one eats
anything except for Mickey who has one cookie and then snaps the lid
shut. When she stole my pants I found them in the drawer under her bed
that is no longer in the room we shared. There were two drawers side
by side and I found them stuffed into the one on the left side behind
pajama tops and bathing suits yet to be worn. There was a little tear
on the leg of the pants, along one of the stripes, where they had dragged
under her shoe because she is shorter than I am. I reach down and feel
that spot, now, on the back of my calf that would have been her ankle
and where, plastic cup of tequila in hand, my mother sewed the chopped
hole shut. There is a nurse standing in the corner of the room and she
doesn't look up or say anything. The thin chain around her neck is
stuck to the tiny hairs on her neck, or maybe to her stiff hospital
collar. I feel like fixing it or telling her. It seems like we should
all be letting it all out, since we're here.
Lying like this for too long
will make my ribs hurt terribly. I will have imprints, later, on the
semi-soft covering of those bones that is becoming more complicated
now that I am twelve. I lean to the left on one arm and use the other
to spread the pieces around the floor. This one is too easy and is finished
very quickly to reveal one-hundred-and-fifty pieces joined into two
small dogs in a flower patch. I am the only one at home and all of the
lights are on and it is seven-thirty in the evening. I shake the contents
of another glossy-covered cardboard box on which a gymnasium is pictured.
I stand and the ache is there in my ribs from the floor and I rub them
and press 'repeat' on the stereo. The phone rings and I can only
see that it is ringing because the light on it flashes, I cannot hear
anything over the music. I do not answer. I try to begin each of the
puzzles in a fresh patch of honey hardwood so that the border stays
in line with the planks. There are ridges, though, and warps in the
wood that make lumps in the finished pictures. On the answering tape
my mother is on her way home.
There hasn't been much crying,
all things considered. I haven't stayed home from school except for
on that first day and even then it wasn't as though anything were
out of place except for the visiting parts. I talked on the phone and
Mickey said that I shouldn't tell people what happened but I told
Becky because she's my best friend and we tell each other almost everything.
The Hebrew tutor still came in the afternoon and he taught me her part
because she wouldn't be home in time for the Seder and someone has
to sing it and I'm the next youngest. I already knew most of it and
I find tutoring terribly boring most of the time and normally she would
have been there to joke and conspire with in a torturous fashion, I'm
sure, according to the tutor. He was trying not to seem relieved that
she wouldn't be joining us. I drew tree branches all over my notebook.
No one had told me, yet, that it had been on purpose. I sang softly
and well and the tutor was proud.
She is rubbing the table with
one finger pressed into an impossible bend because she is double-jointed.
The finger looks broken but isn't. She is much darker than I am, and
olive. I am pink, mostly, and light. I pull at my pants. There are doctors
every so often and they ask us questions and my mother seems annoyed
with everyone and defensive and maybe angry. My father shakes his head
a lot and talks about god. Mickey shrugs. Take those headphones off,
my mother spits at me in the waiting room when we are too early for
visiting hours. I know that I should be thinking sad or important things
but I am not. I am thinking about the bus ride and how Scott said my
music is stupid and that if I don't listen to Nirvana I'm pretty
much the dumbest person ever. His long hair looks terrible and we are
not really friends. I wear my headphones pretty much all the time, now,
except for in class and so I only talk to Becky and even then mostly
on paper. I have a collection of notes we've passed stashed in my
backpack and they make me laugh. When the visiting hours begin we shuffle
into the room with the tables and the nurse and there are other families,
too. Toni seems like maybe the oldest kid in the place but she was too
young for the adult ward and my mom said thank god because that
floor smelled like urine and the grown ups were more frightening than
the children. None of us talk in this room except for my dad who asks
a lot of questions and says things like are you feeling better
and my sister says I guess so.
The whole family won't come
this year because my mom is not up to it and it wouldn't be the same
because of everything. It is just me and Mickey and our parents at the
table and only four Hagadahs and four bowls of soup and we don't really
even eat it. I am trying not to eat at all, right now, and it is alright
that no one tells me I have to. When I sing my mother cries and she
is very drunk. My father says shhh and he pats her hand and she
crosses her arms. The pills were only aspirins and a few anti-histimines
that she pilfered from my parents' cabinet. There are posters of dogs
all over the ceiling of the room that she and I had shared until now;
they are building a wall in the living room to make her a little bedroom
of her own. The carpenter steps over my puzzles in the morning and Mickey
says you should pick those up but I don't want to. When I finish
the song we all turn the page and my father reads to us and I think
about what kind of shoes I should wear to my Bat Mitzvah and how I should
wear my hair. I collect the plates and pile them into the sink and my
dad says your brother's not done in a mean kind of voice so
I sit back down and no one talks. I play with a cork on the table.
Someone told her teacher when
she came back from the bathroom. I know this because I heard my dad
telling the rabbi over the phone. They had an assembly at the elementary
school after the ambulance came and a lot of parents called our house
and left messages. No one called them back and my mother slams the phone
onto the hook, now, when it rings. She pours tequila into plastic cups
and says do you know why they call it tequila?
When she has too much there is crying and she says why doesn't
she love me enough to want to live and I go to my room and listen
to my headphones.
When I started middle school
we stopped dressing alike and had different hair. Mine got curlier,
hers stayed the same dark waves. One week before the summer ended I
asked Mickey what the kids wear at private school. Khakis and buttoned
shirts, he told me. I borrowed khaki pants from his closet and a
thin white polo from my mother. I wore this ensemble for the first day
of class and looked exactly like all of the boys. I can't remember,
exactly, what the jokes were. The girls were pitiless and beautiful
in frayed denim skirts and tiny tees. It didn't help that I knew all
of the answers to all of the questions my teachers posed in the opening
days of what has become a daily routine of torture. I have learned to
keep as quiet as possible, and to let them copy my homework. I am a
favorite at finals time, otherwise shunned. I try to crack my gum and
catch the notes that are thrown across the room, folded into the impossibly
tiny squares known to the fingers of such girls. Their hair is straight.
At the Roxy deli in Times Square
I am squeezing the outsides of my thighs with both hands so that they
are pressed tightly together. My family, minus Toni, disappears behind
enormous menus and I am alone and flesh and pale skin. We have never
been here before. It is the kind of group activity loathed by most of
my peers, given that it is Saturday afternoon. I quit testing the distance
from skin to bone and take to drawing on my napkin with an inky pen.
The waiter comes and goes and the food comes, eventually, and there
is not much to talk about. I count the number of bites they are taking.
It takes my father nine bites to finish a half of his turkey sandwich.
My mother eats soup with a big, flat spoon in twenty three bites and
leaves a tepid pool of it in the bowl. My father is quick to blame for
recent events, and is expounding on what, in his opinion, was clearly
a mal-practiced spinal tap on my sister upon her birth. How this leads
to the pills, I cannot be sure, but he continues in an angry hush for
a few minutes and my mother cries a bit and Mickey folds his hands under
the table. No one mentions that I haven't eaten and I am glad, in
a way, though it might have been nice to be told to so that I could
have had some of it. The waiter takes everything away and I am glad
that we are leaving here.
I am jealous because I think
that Toni has lost weight in here. My hands are piecing together the
tiny shreds of the napkin, which I have mutilated without really noticing.
It is hard to tell which pieces fit together because the fibers are
all pulled out and every bit looks the same. I am not really trying,
though. She is definitely thinner in the hospital clothes, and her hair
is gloomy and shiny. My mother strokes at it a little which is stupid
because Toni hates to be touched. There are snacks lined up in the middle
of the table and they are more expensive than the snacks that are on
other tables in the room. Some families have fast food containers and
starbursts and I am embarrassed for my mother for having brought treats
from the bakery to a place like this. I press my toes against the insides
of my shoes.
There isn't much to them,
once they are finished. I can run my palms over the flatness, the hardly
noticeable faults, sharp corners. The pictures are not pleasing or even
interesting. I am bored before the final piece is pressed into place.
The music goes on at the same numbing volume and when Mickey comes home
I am startled by him. We have nothing to say and so I slide my fingers
along the edges where the sky curls blue into white behind mountains.
The boxes are stacked against the walls and the pictures are the same
on the sides and the tops. Mickey makes the music stop and then it is
just the sound of the glass doors closing on the wall unit and then
his feet crossing the living room floor crossing into his room over
the boards. I am afraid of the dark.
It is late and the cars slide
bright light pictures across the ceiling. Headlights chase quick colorless
white across the paint, the same as always. There is a lingering time,
bare footed and cold against the hardwood hallway, between my room and
the room where I will find my parents sleeping. This is a familiar place.
In my room the lights run north and dip into the windows before disappearing.
The avenue is quiet in the hallway, where there are no windows. There
were games that we played against these sounds, against the light, before
all of this. There were heavy plastic flashlights that shot balls of
yellow. When the room was ours, instead of mine, we passed thin hardback
books to each other from our separate beds. I taught her to read in
those dim precious hours when no one waited for her to speak aloud.
A velvet alphabet circled us in baby pinks and blues, never mocked her
in the dark. I climb from this place where she is not. My toes press
cold against the floor.
I am on the phone, which is
usual, and I am staring out the window facing south where Third Avenue
becomes two directional. All of the taxis turn right on this street,
do not signal. I am on the phone and it is pressed between my shoulder
and ear and I am staring into the street and there is a beep which means
that someone else is calling. I tell Becky to hold on because I do not
know who is calling. It is four fifteen and I am home and Mickey is
home and Toni is somewhere else. It is my mother calling, and my father,
and they are not at work. I can hear traffic in the background, and
voices, and other busy sounds, but I do not think about these things.
We only have a dozen or so
puzzles in the cabinet, beneath the bookshelves, and I have nearly exhausted
the supply. I know that I cannot stop until they are laid flat, each
of them, along the hallways. Mickey says you'd better stop
but I cannot hear him anymore. I shake the boxes. I am in a hurry to
have them finished, all of a sudden, before our parents start to notice.
One or two of the puzzles are box-less, self-contained by wooden backing.
These puzzles are maps of the world or else the Hebrew alphabet, and
are meant to be educational. I do not remove them from the closet, as
they are already completed where they are.
She looked Mexican, when she
was a kid. She is still dark, but not so differently. We dressed identically
and wore our different hair in the same ways. There were words between
us that were secret words and had no meaning to others. We pretended
to draw these from the picture dictionary on our shelf, but the words
were not real English words. Everyone said she was 'intense' but
they were stupid not to know that she laughed louder than us all and
her big white teeth were brighter and how her head shook solemn side
to side when we were asked, over again, 'twins?'