Most of the time, we were happy. We danced through the day wrapped in freedom, whirls of emotion and song. It was easy to be happy when the sun was up. It was after the sun went down that we returned to a kind of uneasy stasis, like a demolished building between the blast of dynamite and the cloud.
Mom used to shimmer like gold, but he was the tarnish. Not a Dad, but someone playing a part. Only he hadn’t practiced his lines, and they never came out smooth. They came out like he was chewing rocks. Spitting out broken teeth.
Jimmy. That’s what everyone called him. He never suggested we call him anything else, but we did. Behind his back, we called him all the ugly words we knew and hoped he never heard us. My older brother, Jeremy, would talk back to his face, but he was the first born, which made him closer to our mother in time and space.
The younger kids. Me and the twins. We just kept our heads down. Tried to sit like stone lions, the kind that live outside libraries. We guarded nothing and instilled no fear. We were decoration, an overly frosted cake. Our smiles turned stomachs.
The day he left, nobody cried. We crossed our fingers and tried not to jinx it.
The dock is old and weathered. Ancient boards with claws of old, twisted iron. Nails and hinges betray the history of the place, a place where old doors become docks where people fish and catch nothing.
To catch fish, you need a boat. But no one I know has a boat. We use the boat ramp for skate tricks and dodge the boat owners who look at us like old bait. We are inconvenience. We are a knock in their engine, fouled lines, old nets with holes.
The men with the boats laugh like gulls and grumble like earthquakes. They sit high in their trucks like God, the ones who can use the whole water. They feel superior to us, and we feel inferior to them.
There is a natural order to it.
Sometimes, the drunks who watch the boats will give advice. No one listens. They are focused on boat-having. Boat wanting.
Boats bob on the distant waves like driftwood, sun stabbing their chrome.
When I die, I would like to come back as a raven. One who watches the boats, but does not care. One who knows the score.
I am not one of those who throws pennies into fountains. I keep my pennies in a hole-free pocket. I stack them on the edge of my desk so they can grow into dollars. I do not carry crystals or consult the stars.
My hope lives in stacks of old, worn copper.
My grandfather was a great collector of coins and rubbish. He walked with his eyes on the ground like bloodhounds, scouting pennies, rubber bands, old bolts and pretty stones. He taught me to do the same. Made it a game. We were walking junk drawers on the hunt for treasure.
My sister would never play the game. She refused to keep her eyes down. She was the kind of sister who could talk to adults on their level. Not me. I was happy to have something to distract me.
Someday, I will teach my grandchildren to keep their heads raised high, but their eyes down. Not in humility.
In search of treasure.
She is the kind of woman who breathes sadness. She smells of sadness, and sadness fills the open spaces between her words. She jumps the steps when she gets home, but it is fear that drives her, not exuberance.
She is someone we can make up lies about. She can be whatever we want her to be, because, really, we know that there will never be a confrontation. She has enough on her plate; it is stacked high like a potluck plate before it falls and splatters. Before the crash and the shaking grandma heads.
People in the neighborhood call her Auntie, but she isn’t related to any of us. It is a sign of respect. We don’t understand the weight she’s carrying, but we respect it. There is a certain strength to her posture, her ability to stand when the world is pulling her down.
She is marble, ready to be carved.
To the uninformed observer, she is a much-maligned old woman, but we know things that we cannot express. There is truth, but there is also consequence, and they don’t always come together.
If she is marble. We are play-doh. We are young, and we wear our youth like chain mail. She lets our opinions bounce off the callus of her skin. The pigeons don’t care about any of this; they are involved in dramas all their own.