Friday, July 27, 2012

Family Fiction: Part 2 — "Making Steam"

I recently visited a country house that had old fashioned radiators and seeing them led me right into this fictionalized memory.

that's a big old
radiator over there
and if you didn't recognize it 
you could read the words right on the side:
American Radiator Co.

haven't seen one of these in years
but here it is
in this quiet room
in a big beautiful country house
high up in the hills

on Friday the 13th
2 o'clock in the afternoon
in the middle of summer
and the year is 2012

but then

it's not

it's late afternoon, getting darker, at
621 Elsemere Place in the Bronx
my grandma's apartment

I smell a chicken roasting in the oven
so now I know it's Friday here

winter isn't far off
the windows are closed against the 
dusky chill
grandma goes into every room
making sure the radiators are turned on

I lie on my back
on the floor
close to the couch
but not on the couch

I don't go on the couch because
it is itchy

Dad calls it the horsehair sofa
and when he says that Mom says 
"sha Morty
don't put ideas into her head"

but it's too late
the ideas are already in my head
I am not going on that couch
made from a horse

that's why
I lie on the floor

and when no one is looking
I scrooch myself over
until my head is
under the couch

it smells good here
not like a horse

I don't know what a horse smells like
you can't smell a horse through the TV

but under the couch 
it smells
like wood
and lemon
and flannel

and the pale pink
of a bubble bath
with not too many bubbles
just enough

with my head under the couch
I am anywhere and nowhere
and also

I am invisible

with my head under the couch
and my eyes closed 
I can't see anyone and that means
no one can see me

even if they walk right over my legs
sticking out in the middle of the
living room floor

so what?

they wouldn't know for sure it was me
they might think it was but
they wouldn't know
for sure

because if you don't see a face
how do you know who it is?

you don't know

and that's how I like it

I don't want anyone to know I'm here
I don't want anyone to talk to me
I don't want anyone to ask me any questions

mamela, do you want some juice?
do you need a pillow?
how about a blanket?
did you just sneeze?
does your throat feel scratchy?
are you sure you don't want some juice?
a cookie maybe?

it's okay to be asked because
sometimes I do want juice
sometimes a cookie is nice

but not on this Friday afternoon
when I am still 8 years old

not on this day
when the radiators are turned on
all through the apartment
in every room
even in the bathroom

even in the back room
where there might or might not be a ghost
who is sometimes sleeping and sometimes laughing 

on this day
in the soft grey afternoon light

I wait to hear it

the first sad whistling whispery sigh
of the radiator

making steam

(or maybe
it is the ghost
in the back room