Saturday, January 03, 2009

Forward and back, January 3, 2009

The name January comes from the Roman god Janus, the god of doorways and gates, who had a face in front and one behind; he could see forward and backward at the same time.

Prompt: Write a letter to 2008 and one to 2009.

Or imagine that you, or a character you're writing about, is approaching a doorway . . . or a gate.


Jill said...

Coming Home

It’s locked. Michele tugs once on the knob, then steps back, waits. Knocks four times, softly, in case someone is sleeping. Folks turn in early in West Virginia.

Michele grips the handrail for balance. Cold metal with a thick layer of midnight paint, chipping and peeling. She pulls off a curl of black when she jerks hand away. Someone’s coming.

Footsteps that seem to go on for days. But the foyer’s not that long, as Michele recalls. Just three strides to the main hallway, right to the bedrooms, left to the living room and kitchen. The steps stop. Michele can feel his presence behind the door, only a couple of feet away, separated by three inches of familiar wood. The door survived, but Michele’s twin sister Tamika was not so fortunate. Daddy painted over the blood.

Creeeeeak. The door slowly cracks open. It’s him.

“Well would you lookee here. Look what the cat dragged in. Marge, would you get a look at this? Look who stopped by for a visit.”

Michele vaguely remembers her father’s girlfriend Marge, her puffy blond hair that didn’t move, enormous belly that jumped and jangled and popped out from underneath her dirty tee shirt.

“Well who is it?” Marge screams without making any motion towards the door. Still lazy, Michele sees. But it was Tamika that had to serve, bring Marge glasses of ice tea in summer since the woman wouldn’t budge from the recliner, often got stuck in the recline position if the handle jammed. It seems so wrong, so tragic, that it was Tamika that got caught, not Michele. But really if you want to trace the events back to their original source, you would have to blame Daddy. He’s what you call the prime mover. The trigger that set off an litany of shots.

And here he stands leaning against the door like he’s something special, smelling of Jim Beam and bad ideas.

“Whatcha want girl? What brought you alls the way back to this neck of the woods?”

Michele had this whole speech planned, rehearsed in the car, did her mindful breathing to calm her anxiety so she wouldn’t lose her nerve when she got here, so she wouldn’t forget. And now, her tongue seizes in her mouth, bangs against her teeth like a rat scrambling around its cage, desperate for a way out.

“Cat got your tongue? Huh, girl? What is it?”

“You…” Michele manages one word, her speech unfurling in her head, then right away, furling back up into a ball. She can’t remember, came all this way, and all she can get out to the father she hasn’t seen in fifteen years, the man who tore her family asunder: “You need a haircut, daddy.”

Carol Henderson said...

I love the closing line. After all her preparation, all Michele can say is that her dad needs a haircut. i think of that french line, "l'esprit de l'escalier," the things you think of to say on your way down the stairs, when it's too late. What will Michele tell herself after leaving?

Isabel said...

When I was little we lived in a fantastic place. Two and a half acres of land, dead end road, and back through the neighbor’s yard at the dead end, was the most terrific place.

We called it “The Back Road”, which, as I repeat it now, having not thought about it in FOREVER, has none of the appeal and magic that it had for us kids.

It was as if we alone had discovered it, and since we never saw another human on it, our theory stood. The road was chipped and potholed and spooky. Dark leaves swirled in slight breezes from under the canopy of ancient maples, with their leathery, wrinkled and flakey bark. The road was a straightaway, with a slight hill, perfect for little kids with bikes, and the potholes kept us alert and interested.

But the best part of all was the cemetery. A little off the old road, through tall dead and dried weeds and thickets abundant with poison ivy, we discovered tombstones that were very old. I’m sure, thinking back, that we must have run or rode directly home, after making this discovery, to get our older sisters to help us read them. My two brothers and I did everything together, but reading and making sense of these tombstones was quite beyond us.

Some of the tombstones dated from the early 18th century, and even at my youthful age, I could appreciate the significance of what I was reading. We were particularly fascinated with the girl who died “Swallowing her tongue.” Or the many people who died from journeys from places like Maryland. I knew that from Maryland to Connecticut really wasn’t that far away. It was so intriguing. I’ve always hated history and tried my best to survive any history course with a passing grade, and then block the experience out of my mind, and usually have had great success. I took it in college, a requirement to graduate, and even if put on a witness stand, I couldn’t tell you anything about the professor or the students, or the material. But this cemetery and the things we read had such a deep impression on me. When we walked through that small graveyard, pushing aside leaves and bending down to scrape away the lichen to read the stone face, that had leaned forward almost to the ground, as if in sorry lament that no one cared anymore, we were hushed and respectful. Even our steps were carefully placed, not knowing what or whom we might be stepping on.

But I haven’t even gotten to the gate. The gate was on the other side of this great property. This was the home place of the former owner who had originally owned all the land that was now broken up into streets and neighborhoods. But this magnificent house and a part of its large piece of property still stood. To go to the gate we had to risk going quite close to the house, so we didn’t do it that often. But we loved to visit Dianna. We wouldn’t have known it was Dianna if I hadn’t brought my girl friend from down the street, who actually listened to the teacher in history class, my mind and eyes were always out the window, and learned about Dianna, the goddess of war. If my teacher had taken us to a statute like the one we found through this gate, of this magnificent woman and her dog, holding back this dog as if it were about to terrorize the world, and holding a spear in her other hand, well, I’d have been the best in the class. The teacher would have had to use the strength of Dianna to hold me back from blurting out all the right answers.

We had to go through a large cast iron, elaborately decorated with a million curlicues, gate. I never could remember how to unlock it, so if it did unlock I was surprised. That gave it an element of another force, out of my hands, that helped decide if I could enter. I went up to the gate and pushed and pulled, lifted and twisted, and sometimes it would then open. I’d silently look at my brothers, my co-conspirators, and then walk through. I know at times I even dared to go there by myself. It was the most peaceful, magical place ever. After passing through the gate, we walked down the grassy path straight to some old stone stairs. Up the stairs, and into the gazebo I’d step, with the large Dianne holding back her dog in the center. At the back was a wicker bench swing and I’d sit and visit with Dianna. Her presence was comforting and befriending, There was something so powerful and strong, she was so powerful and strong, that I gave myself to her and lost myself too. Our time together was transporting and other worldly. Maybe it was like what nuns get when they sit in their sacred gardens and pray to statues of Mary or Jesus or St. Francis. But I got it with Dianna. She would prevail! She was so solid, never-changing, never troubling nor troubled. She asked no questions, but only confirmed what I knew deep inside me.

That it was all okay.

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