It’s here, in damp suburbia, where autumn leaves cover the sidewalks in golden-ruby layers, that I plod on, crushing netted veins, stems, and stipules.
I breathe in the smell of damp earth, tinged with last night’s rows and rows of chimney smoke, clouds of tar, oils and ash suspended.
I breathe deeper; it’s something piercing and rank. Dog shit. Only I’m standing in it, incessant and dismal. I’m standing in it and the school bus is here.
I enter slow and dumb, dumb as the doors that slap and jerk. I enter dumbly to a throng of pink-faced fiends; gangsters, “Eeeeewwwww; Rachel stepped in dog shit!”
Mark Laurenella is the loudest. He’s also the darling, the heartthrob, the button nose and cupid’s lips, and I’m the dog shit stinking up the entire bus.
“GET OUT!” they blast, becoming abnormally large with too many limbs, shoving me, claws for hands, bandy-legged, kicking the back of my thighs as they mow me down the aisle to the open jaws of the exit which snap shut behind me.
I’m back to the site of my betrayer, the golden-ruby, double-crossing pavement, every dog in the neighborhood my enemy now, frantically pushing down on the heels of my crap-laden All Stars, kicking like a deranged showgirl until they fly off, landing atop a Little Bluestem shrub, its reeds splitting open upon their impact and I’m howling, “I hate you! I hate everyone!”
I race home sweaty and angry, but mostly humiliated, raise my book bag over my head, then, as hard as I can, slam it against the front door, hoping to wake mother.
She’s still in bed, recuperating from the latest round of chemotherapy and radiation treatment which is poisoning her so she can be cured.
I charge inside and plant myself at her bedside “Mommy,” I hiss, “I’ve stepped in dog crap (-- I don’t say shit; it doesn’t feel right), and the kids kicked me off the bus.”
I want her to be outraged, to beckon me toward her, to hold me, but there’s nothing; she doesn’t-- or can’t move.
I try again, “Mommy,” only this time, I fling myself upon her and immediately the bed frame dislodges as the leaden mattress slides slow motion to the floor; half up, half down, a dire rectangle divided in two folds.
Mother flops in a crooked gray tangle. I pause, stupefied. “Go back to school, Rachel, “she moans, and it’s never been more essential to do what she tells me, to give her that control.
I crawl off the wreck of bifurcated metal springs, go to my room, contemplate my feet, then pull off my shredded socks and put on fresh white ones. I tell her good-by.
School’s unremarkable save for a few snickers and “P-U Rachels, which spiral about me as I drift shoeless through fifth and sixth period.
I’m four or five, the passenger in a dim brown Chrysler Valiant. The engine’s drone is soothing, and the pale beige seats lend a bland familiarity. The man driving might be my father.
We don’t speak. It doesn’t matter.
He fastidiously twists the ignition key from its lock cylinder, drops it into his pocket, steps out, and walks around to my side, where he settles against the door, his narrow back forming a mute placeholder.
Minutes pass; I don’t budge.
Maybe I fell asleep. I think he gave me drugs because he knew no other way to communicate with me.
Abruptly, in a rapid staccato, he beats at the window: rat-tat-tat-rat-tat-tat.
I eyeball him with supplication; the completeness of surrender. It feels right. Not right in the sense that it’s good, but that it’s customary.
He meets my eyes for a frozen second, then gestures with upturned chin for me to get out.
Colossal doors take shape. Above them are a sign: Banker’s Trust.
Inside are cataclysms of men, hordes of them, duplicates upon duplicates. Fathers.
He takes my hand. His grip is loose, tentative. Finally, he speaks. His tone is arrogant, pedantic, a stage voice meant for others to hear.
“The most fascinating thing about an escalator is that you remain perfectly still while moving, that’s because the chains are always active underneath.”
I don’t know what he’s talking about.
We ascend static and in motion.
About halfway up, I release my grip and take the hand of the father in front of us.
He receives it, squeezes my palm heartily and winks. I blush with quiet gratitude.
“I want to go home,” I say.
“I think you’ve got the wrong daddy, kid.”
The other one, the one who took me to the bank says, “Jolly bad luck” as he stares pallidly into oblivion.
That’s all I remember.
Of course, as an adult, this has infused a complete lack of confidence in my own judgment, along with a lingering shame—established by habit, of never getting it right.
Olivia Grayson creates prose and poetry that combine pop culture with autobiography in an effort to explore the often times startling experience of being part of the family of women—alternatively thrust into, or dumbly participating with a culture that sells the promise of absolute beauty, sparkling romance, and ideal interventions, and she finds herself writing from a tension that surrounds this system. She is the author of the chapbooks, Cat Lament and Being Female, and the upcoming Advice from Friends. Olivia teaches Developmental Reading and Writing at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and lives in Brooklyn, NY with her two cats, Molly-Molly, and Emily.