Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
grandma says to sit still while i'm eating. she's been dead for a while now, but she still tells me these things. comb your hair. ten times on each side so you don't get knots. brush your teeth. smile when dad and mama argue about where to put the pumpkin pie and it falls on the floor. don't cry when mama talks silly at night and she spills on the couch. don't hide under the cushy red chair when she calls papa bastard. grandma says bastard doesn't mean anything, that its just one of mama's silly words. i don't believe her though because mama always spits a little when she says it. like it was caught in her throat and she had to get it out quick so it wouldn't go back down. sometimes she cries too. mama does. but i don't know why because i don't talk to her at night. grandma says i better not. so i look at my books and do puzzles and pretend not to hear and wait till i'm tired enough to go to sleep.
mama used to put me to bed and read me a story but now she says i'm too old and i can do it myself. i can, too. but sometimes i wish she would help me get the toothpaste down because papa always keeps it on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet and i can't reach. one time i asked mama to come from the living room a minute to help me, but when she reached up she knocked over papa's smelly lotion and i cut my finger trying to pick up the glass and she yelled at me even though it wasn't my fault. and papa asked mama why did she drop the bottle and told her not to holler at me because she did it not me. he laughed too. and mama said bastard and cried. so i don't ask her any more. and i can't ask papa because papa works hard all day and needs to rest and don't talk to him when the tv's on because he's watching it even if it looks like he's not. and don't change the channel even if his eyes are closed because he wasn't sleeping.
i get mad too sometimes, but i never yell at mama or papa. i break things. Not my toys or books or mama's red jewelry box, little things that no one will notice. like a popsicle stick from one of the pictures i made during art at school or the little branch i picked up on the playground and hid in my pocket so the teacher wouldn't see. pretzels are my favorite though, because they don't hurt as much and you don't get slivers and cry. especially the big ones that mama buys at the nature food store and puts in the cookie jar. i hold them in the middle of my hand and squeeze until it crunches and i can feel the dust on my palm. then i take the littler pieces and squeeze them until it's all gone. and then i gather up the dust and push it into the heating vent and nobody knows. but you can't do that when mama or papa are looking because they ask you why are you doing it and don't do it because there are starving kids and it clogs the heating vent. and mama's breath is stinky and hot and her words are spitty like bastard and they hurt when they hit your skin. and you cry. they tell you to go to bed right now and you try to brush your teeth first but the toothpaste is too high and you can't ask for help because they're fighting and the smelly lotion and you cry more because grandma told you always brush your teeth but you can't. so you go to bed but you're crying and the pillow gets wet and cold and you can't sleep and the shadows are scary. and you don't sleep but you wake up in the morning and papa says that that means you must have slept even though you don't remember falling asleep at all. and your eyes are puffy all day because you're tired and papa laughs at you and says come here sleepy babydoll and you feel stupid and little and he's mean even though he's trying to be nice.
mama's nice to me during the day though. sometimes she's kinda grumpy right when she gets up but she always brings me to school and tells me to have a nice day. we go in the blue car and sometimes she lets me press the button for the garage door. sometimes she asks about grandma. mama doesn't talk to grandma but sometimes she asks anyway. sometimes i think she wants to kiss me goodbye like all the other mothers but she never does and i wouldn't let her anyway. i don't let anyone kiss me. except grandma sometimes. or i used to. grandma took care of me when i was sick or when it snowed too much and mama still had to go to work. mama doesn't like grandma but grandma liked me and there wasn't anywhere else for me to go. grandma's house was too warm always and it smelled like onions and ginger. sometimes i used to tell mama i was sick so she would bring me to grandma's instead of school because grandma would make me tuna fish sandwiches and tomato soup and she never got mad at me except for once when i tried on her necklace with the white beads on it without asking when she was in the bathroom. and i didn't hear her coming and tried to take it off real quick but it broke and all the beads fell on the floor and we couldn't even find them all because they rolled. and i said sorry but that's not good enough sometimes and her mother gave her that necklace on her birthday and there was one bead for every year since she was born until the year her mama went to heaven. and i cried and felt really bad not like when i break pretzels and whenever i go to grandma's i look in the corners of her room to make sure there weren't any we missed.
she didn't stay mad forever, though, and sometimes if i asked nice and said please grandma would let me play in her closet and try on her necklaces too if i was careful. i would put on her blue skirt and red shirt even though she said it didn't match and her shoes sometimes but it was hard to walk with them. and i tried on her glasses but only once and it was all blurry and i laughed because the floor was so close to my hand. she told me not to wear them anymore because then my eyes would get used to them and i would have to wear thick glasses with brown on the edges like hers even though i was only little.
we played cards sometimes too. our cards at home were green and didn't have the king of hearts anymore because when i was little i liked to look at the red heart and the whiskers on the mans face so i took it to my room and hid it in the little bookshelf by my window. i used to take it out and look at it when i was bored. i would wonder who the man was and wonder why he looked so sad. sometimes i would draw it too but never on the card because that would ruin it. but grandma had all the cards. and hers were special because they were from Hungary when she was little and you had to be careful with them because she had them since when she was a little girl. they didn't look like our cards at home. grandma's were smaller and white on the outside and all the pictures were different. some had hearts on them, but they weren't my favorite. i liked the ones with the acorns the best because ours at home didn't have acorns and because they reminded me of squirrels. i know how to play lots of card games but grandma and i usually played war because that was the easiest and she could ask me questions while we were playing.
usually she asked me silly questions like who did i eat lunch with at school and where would i go if i could go wherever i wanted. but sometimes she asked me about mama and what did she cook for dinner and did she still play tennis at the y on wednesday nights when i had ballet. and she asked me if papa still slept on the couch sometimes and if mama talked silly a lot. and i told her about the pie on the floor and the smelly lotion. but don't laugh because that's not funny just don't say anything and don't tell anyone at school and go to bed. that's what grandma said. i don't know why grandma couldn't ask mama herself but it was probably because mama didn't like grandma and grandma didn't like papa too much 'cause he didn't take care of me and mama. and laughed at us too much. sometimes i didn't want to talk about mama and answer the questions but i always did anyway because grandma was nice to me and never yelled and took care of me when i was sick. that's why i let her hug me and kiss me sometimes too. and because she let me sit on her lap when i was sad and didn't call me babydoll.
and because she gave me ice cream. not the icky kind mama bought that wasn't real chocolate and was the nature kind. grandma had the real kind that you have to buy from a different store because it is so special. Once she even had the chocolate kind with little bits of brownie inside it. grandma scooped me out a big bowl and put it on the table right in front of me and told me eat and there was a big piece of brownie right on the top and i wanted to eat it right away but don't because it's rude and you have to wait for everyone to sit down always. but she forgot to give me a napkin and had to go to the hallway closet to get one because there weren't any more in the kitchen and she had to do everything herself. wait wait wait don't eat don't eat. but she was so slow and i wanted to taste it just a little. so i used my hand. not the spoon because it would get ice cream on it and she would know. i picked up the piece of brownie right on top and put in my mouth and licked the sticky crumbs off my fingers. it tasted like birthday parties and creamy and happy. and i ran my tongue over the little brownie and didn't want to swallow because then i would stop tasting it even though i still had the whole bowl left. grandma came back and i was scared she would see that the brownie on top was gone and that my mouth was closed tight because i hadn't swallowed the brownie yet. and she would know and get mad. she handed me the napkin and i smiled without opening my mouth and my cheeks felt warm and i knew they were red and blushy and i kept my hand under the table because what if i didn't lick off all the crumbs and it was sticky. but she didn't see the brownie or my hand. and she ate all her ice cream and i ate all of mine and licked brown soup from the bowl. it was the yummiest ice cream ever and my belly felt full. but the first bite tasted the best. and the brownie. i told grandma thank you and she told me wash my hand. not because she knew because she always told me wash my hands after i ate and use soap. i went in the bathroom because she was using the sink to clean our bowls but and i looked at the sink and the pink soap that smelled like mamas white powder. but i didn't want to wash my hand because it still smelled like the brownie. but i had to wash it because grandma said so and what if she smelled my hands after to make sure i had washed them. so i turned on the water and touched the soap only with one hand so if she checked she would smell soap and wouldn't know.
but she didn't check because after the ice cream and washing hands we sat in grandma's kitchen with my coat on and my backpack on the table. mama was usually late a little bit but i think it was on purpose so i'd be ready when she came because otherwise she would have to come inside and then she would have to talk to grandma and she didn't want to. grandma's table was brown and wood and had a circle on top that was kinda separate and you could spin it if the person wanted the butter and you didn't want to get up to pass it. grandma says its called a lazy susan but that she called it lazy lily-ann because that was the name of my mamas sister and she always used it because she was the laziest. grandma told me about lily-ann sometimes because she was my aunt and a good girl and i should know about her and get the story right. because mama would never tell me. i never met lily-ann just like i never met my grandpa because they both died in a car crash when i was born. they were going to the hospital to see me and a big truck hit their car and they got hurt and not the truck because the truck was bigger. and the ambulance brought them to the hospital and they stayed there too while i was there but they never saw me and they didn't go home when i did because they died. but grandma says its not my fault even though they were coming to see me and its not mama's fault even though mama thinks it is sometimes. that's why mama hates me. and because i kinda look like lily-o which was mama's nickname for her sister.
mama wasn't late when she picked me up from grandma's on the ice cream night, but i was ready anyway and she didn't have to come in. grandma kissed me bye even though i didn't really want her to and i ran to the car so mama wouldn't have to wait and because the bushes along the walkway scared me. mama was always tired at night from working and it was a better idea if i didn't talk to her or ask her too many questions. grandma said so, unless mama talked to me first. she usually didn't, but sometimes she did and we would usually say the same things.
"Why do you always run like that?"
"well, you shouldn't run. you'll fall"
i told her "no i won't. i'm a good runner." lily-o used to run fast like me too.
"someday you will fall if you run like that. and you'll probably cry for help. but there won't always be someone to pick you up, mel. so be careful."
i didn't say anything because she would just get mad and you don't argue with adults specially not mama but i knew i wouldn't get hurt because grandma said i was a strong, big girl and knew how to take care of myself even if i was in elementary school. so i lay down across the back seat and didn't talk and looked out the window. i like to lie down and look out the window because then you can only see the treetops and streetlights and it feels like you're on pluto. or not pluto because my teacher says its too cold or hot to live there i can't remember. but far away. and i couldn't tell where i was because the trees looked silly and i was upside down. and they scratched the sky and always looked cold and silvery like wintertime even if it was warm out. sometimes while i watched the trees i would pretend that i wasn't lying in mamas car but in the ambulance like lily-o and grandpa. and grandma too when they took her to the hospital even though she was already dead. and i pretended i was dead too and with grandma and i didn't move because dead people don't move anymore. and mama would laugh and think i was a baby because she thought i was sleeping even though i wasn't. i was dead. until we got home and mama pressed the button for the garage door and it was loud bright and i couldn't see the trees anymore. and mama would say get up melly, even though i hate that name, we're home. and i had to get up and carry my backpack upstairs like a big girl and i had to pretend that i wasn't dead anymore.
and it was late, mel and grandma gave you dinner so wash your face and go to bed and turn out the light even though i wasn't tired. and i always put my hand next to my nose and pretended i could still smell the chocolate ice cream like the night when there were brownies in it and i didn't wash my hands all the way.
and this morning when i woke up my hand wasn't near my nose anymore and there was banging. i went to see why and it was mama because it was thanksgiving didn't i know anything? and she had to make the goddamn turnips again even though she hated making them and hated eating them too because aunt emily said that's her job. and the banging was because the turnips are hard and they're hard to cut and papa was supposed to do it but he's off getting breakfast somewhere with his buddies. even though its thanksgiving and my teacher said thanksgiving was supposed to be family time. and mama was in a bad mood already even though it was still morning. and now i was in a sad mood because she was and also because it was thanksgiving and a time for family and we were still going to aunt emily's but grandma was still dead. and i knew that we would still have to drive past grandma's on the way. not because of grandma. because lily used to live there too and thanksgiving was her favorite holiday. mama liked to look at the path and think how lily-o used to run on it like i do now. and after grandma's we'll go to aunt emily's who lives with uncle dan and my cousins who don't like me 'cause i'm younger and don't like to play dolls. and i sit with grandma all the time because they don't like me but be quiet mel they're your family and you have to like them anyway.
pretend. that's what grandma says. you can't make yourself like them but you have to pretend to because they're your family. and grandma let me sit with her all night because she knew they were mean to me and because i didn't want uncle rob to kiss me because his breath was smelly like burning or aunt maria because she always wore pink lipstick that left spots on my cheeks. and because they always said the same things and asked me all the same questions and they never remembered that i didn't like turkey and i didn't eat apple juice with bubbles even though it was a special treat and there wasn't any alcohol and they bought it every year. and at dinner someone had to say grace which was usually me because i was the littlest and they would smile and drink the wine like the kind that mama drinks and after dinner they would all dance and act silly. and i would sit next to grandma because i felt stupid and i was the littlest and didn't like to dance. and they always tried to make me dance but i never did because i didn't know how and my legs didn't move that way. so i would sit next to grandma and let her put her arm on my shoulder until it was time to go because grandma liked me and didn't make me try to dance. but this year we aren't going to pick grandma up at her house and she isn't going to come in the car with us because she's dead and she isn't going to come and she can't even if she still talks to you sometimes.
so i went to my room and did puzzles and pretended not to hear mama and papa fighting about how he wasn't helping her and how there wasn't any room for the pie in the fridge and how we were going to be late like always. and i got dressed by myself and didn't come out except to go to the bathroom once to get a snack while mama was in the shower and papa was putting stuff in the car. and i was ready when mama wanted to leave and all dressed but she didn't even say good girl because she was always nervous when we were going to aunt emily's and put makeup on her face even though she never did usually. and we went in the car and drove by grandma's like i knew we were going to and i tried to lay down and look up at the trees but i couldn't because there wasn't enough room and the turnips were on the seat next to me. and i tried but the sun was in my eyes and it hurt and i didn't want to go and i wanted grandma but she was dead and i couldn't cry because mama didn't want to hear it and i wanted a pretzel or a stick but there wasn't anything. so i squeeze my hands real tight and it hurt but not enough so i put my hand next to my face and it didn't smell like ice cream brownies so i bit it. not hard so there was blood but until there was a mark and it was blue like the blood wanted to get out but i didn't bite hard enough and it couldn't.
and when we got to aunt emily's i didn't want to get out of the car but you have to mel and you're not sick you were fine all morning just stop it and go inside with your cousins. and i wanted to be sick so i could go to grandma's but i couldn't because she was dead and i wasn't sick and i had to go inside. and i went but i didn't want to play dolls and i didn't want them to kiss me but they did anyway. and i wanted a pretzel to make dust but there wasn't any and no grandma. so i went in the living room, the fancy one where only the old people sit sometimes and hid behind the couch. i traced the pattern of the couch with my hand and waited like i used to do only this time there wasn't grandma and i was alone. and she didn't tell me to do anything even though i really wanted her to. until it was dinner and i was supposed to say grace but no one was sitting in my seat and where's mel? and they found me and i had to go even though it wasn't my turn. and i ate even though uncle rob put turkey on my plate and i don't like it. and i went in the living room after because mama told me to and she was spitty and i didn't want to make her mad and i couldn't go in my room and to bed because we weren't in my house. and they started dancing and uncle dan with the slippery black hair and scratchy hands asked me to dance and tried to make me but i had to go to the bathroom but i didn't go to the bathroom. i went to the kitchen and opened the door with the blurry window that you can't see out of. even though we were in a city and be careful and don't go outside by yourself. i didn't want to go alone but there was nobody else and i didn't want to stay there any more because they didn't like me and bad breath and i don't want them they're not my family grandma was and lipstick and i don't like turkey.