Sharon is the only
one my mother ever names. Now you have seven sisters and brothers waiting
for you in heaven, she says. Chez Paree Florist sends one white rose and
the nurses leave it on my motherís pillow while she is in the bathroom
with her peri-care squeeze bottle. I am old enough, the doctors all say,
this will help her to finalize, my father says, so I hold Sharon and tickle
her feet, push on her chest with my one strong finger but she will not
breathe. The nurse brings in a shot to give my mother, the shot that stops
the milk, but mother tells her the women in our family don't have the type
of breasts that make milk. I don't believe this, but I won't say so, not
now, not with Sharon still so quiet in the room.
I make lives for these my brothers and sisters, all stillborn, not viable.
I name the oldest Stephen, born thirteen years before me. Stephen doesn't
like me because at the age of five I eat all the Minute Rice and he says
look at her, the little gook, why donít they send her to Vietnam instead
of me? He could be my father, he has one cornsilk spring on his chest at
twelve, and grows one, two, three until I'm born and can hold onto his
chest while the bottle warms. My mother spreads my fingers apart and drops
young chest hairs on the carpet and Stephen jumps on one leg saying damn
damn g-damn. He drops three quarters into the swear jar, then an extra
because he almost took the Lordís name in vain.
Me, Susie, the second S. Why Susie, I ask? Why not Suzanne, something
not so Texas? Suzanne Marie, come home please. Not Susie Mae, shake a leg,
shake a leg. If names make people then I should be afraid or a file clerk.
Here are my brother's and sister's names: Stephen and Sharon you know,
but Kimmy and Cecil and Rennee and two more I havenít named yet, these
are unknown. Between the eight of us we have fifteen arms and fourteen
legs, five penises, three vaginas and ten testicles, if you count the brother
I havenít named. His have not descended. He will take testosterone shots
and pose at the mirror, dreaming of bulk and women. Maybe he will be the
fourth S, counting Stephen my oldest brother who has no legs.
I want the sound of water in my ears, the flow of it through my nose
and mouth, warmth and pressure, darkness, a steady beat. These are things
I can never say. At least not to a lover. I need a life to fall on my head,
to slide out my throat, across my larynx. In some life my brothers and
sisters will send me into the house first when we break curfew, to try
the latest story on our mother, our father; to break ground. They will
teach me to lie. This I can tell my lover. And other lies, a multiplicity
I make a life for myself this time. In it I lose my virginity at fifteen
to a boy of sixteen named Johnson with a white Chevy van and I tell this
lie even when I do lose my virginity at twenty. At thirty I call all the
Johnsons in the book until I find a good one, Stephen Johnson, 3624 Jefferson.
He is single. He is modestly good-looking.
You mean moderately? I ask.
I turn heads at restaurants, he says. When I was sixteen young girls
took pictures of me at Carlsbad Caverns. I brought in fifty-seven fifty
at the Austin High football auction. I canít remember being a virgin. But
looks, he says, looks are genetic. Can I do long division? Can I do a backflip?
Do I love my mother? What really counts transcends genes, he says.
Meet me for lunch, I say. What Iím looking for is penance.
My mother has Sharonís white rose pressed in the 1955 Sears and Roebuck
catalogue, the Chez Paree rose. Chez Paree has an Eiffel Tower steeple
over the front door, Chez Paree sends white roses now and then to first
this hospital and that, starting the year before Sharon failed to breathe,
or maybe the year before that. For twenty years my mother buys all her
flowers at Chez Paree. During Vietnam she starts Operation Home Host at
the Mountain Crest Baptist Church. Boys in uniforms are bused in from Fort
Bliss and sent off with real families every Sunday. Mothers with soldier
boys wear yellow rose corsages once a month. The corsages my mother orders
from Chez Paree with a Mountain Crest Baptist purchase order and a tax-exempt
number. In one of my lives Stephen my brother is fighting the good fight
overseas, and my mother feeds boy after boy in his place at the table,
saying somewhere a mother is feeding Stephen. Saying you reap what you
sow. Saying don't tell your dreams before breakfast or they will come true.
Cecil and Rennee are twins, the luck of the draw. Cecil fills a hole
in the driveway with water and baptizes sticks. Rennee finds the sticks.
Beside the house there are two piles of sticks, those baptized and those
on deck. Cecil will not baptize the same stick twice. But what if, Rennee
says, what if this one stick made a profession of faith because the other
sticks had already done it and it felt left outside, alone, and it really
didn't understand what it was doing, and it was baptized, and later when
it did understand and made a real profession and was really saved, what
then? Raised to walk in newness of life, Cecil says to the sticks as he
lifts them from the water. What then?
When the twins are twelve they have been baptized four times: Cecil
once, Rennee three times. Cecil has Calvinist leanings; Rennee questions
his own sincerity. Rennee wants certainty of a different sort, but he can't
say what, and if he could, he wouldn't, at least not to Cecil, who fills
the driveway with water twice a week. Buried with Christ, raised to walk.
In my real life Stephen Johnson marries me on Kimmyís birthday, that
day I was too young to remember but my mother says she turned her head
away, saying take him away, no names. On this day I marry Stephen and oh
my, I say, who would think such a thing, a husband fresh from the white
pages! My mother comes and brings roses of the weakest pink for me to throw.
In his life Kimmy my brother has an affinity with cats. He trains two
kittens to straddle his forearms and one to ride on his shoulder. He names
them Hurricane, Sybil, Thor. In his life he comes to my wedding and brings
these cats and they yowl and begin to mate in the aisles. Stephen Johnson
puts a ring on my finger and my father clears his throat, wanting to give
something away, maybe, but not me.
Kimmy and the female unnamed one run away from home together because
they believe they are adopted and mother and father are keeping the truth
from them. They pack cold fried chicken and underwear into the typewriter
case and walk all the way to Travis Elementary when the unnamed female
remembers she has forgotten her collectorís edition Barbie, the one with
the plaid shirtdress and the bouffant hair. They argue. Kimmy has left
the kittens and is for making a clean break. The other wants a feeling
of continuity, even if that feeling is false. My mother finds them on Byron
Avenue debating metaphysics, and brings them home. Look in the mirror,
she says. Look at your father. You have the jaw.
On Motherís Day at Mountain Crest Baptist every woman who is a mother
gets a red rose. Those whose mothers are dead also get a white rose. Those
who have lost children also hold roses, white and sometimes of the palest
pink, and stand for a moment of silence right before the Acknowledgement
of Visitors. My father hands my mother six pale roses and I see her mouth
moving, wanting to say seven, g-damn, g-damn, seven. She
has forgotten the one rose pressed flat at home. The Chez Paree van driver
joins the Mountain Crest Baptist Church and is baptized again, because
his parents had him baptized as a child and infant baptisms are untenable.
God has no grandchildren, the pastor says.
Sharon is the redhead. Sharon Mae, the only one my mother ever named,
whose name is half mine. Carrot, Stephen calls her. He doesnít yell at
her for eating rice. Be my carrot legs, he says. Walk down to circle K
and buy me a beer. They let little carrot girls buy beer now, donít they?
My red red Rose of Sharon my father sings when he shaves.
Stephen Johnson, the fifty-seven fifty quarterback and now my husband,
has chest hair only around his nipples, not like Stephen my brother who
is a hairy, legless man.
Oh Susie Q he sings, I like the way you talk.
Stephen my husband is an electricianís apprentice. The scar on his back:
20,000 volts kicked him across a room and onto a light switch at the copper
refinery. This was before he was Stephen my husband, the fourth or fifth
S, but not before Stephen was my brother, or I held these lives, like things
frozen, tight against my belly, nights when it was still over one hundred
degrees and almost midnight and I knew my hair would never be that burning
red and father said, open a window, turn off that fan, do you want to cool
the whole of Texas?
Kimmy loses an arm to cat scratch fever, a sweet red line wandering
from his elbow to his shoulder.
God doesnít have grandchildren, Cecil says.
What did they do with the arm? Rennee asks.
Cecil gives the baptized sticks to father to use as kindling in the
new round fireplace because they are ready to die. Rennee finds Cecil bigger
and bigger sticks, sticks that border on logs, sticks that won't fit in
the driveway hole. Rennee digs a new baptismal in the back backyard beside
the alley and Cecil baptizes until itís too dark to see the sticks float
to the top.
Kimmy gives Sybil to the unnamed girl because he has no arm for her
to lie on.
The unnamed boy is always that, a boy, until he gets a paper route to
pay for his testosterone shots and soon develops secondary and one or two
primary sex characteristics. These are the days when medical insurance
pays for lost arms, not undescended testicles. Things you can see. Stephen's
legs were free, the army picked up the tab. Stephen and Kimmy watch Cecil
baptize from the dining room window. Sharon pours drinks for both of them
even though Stephen has arms. Her hair darkens every year; she is titian
now, not carrot. The unnamed boy climbs up on the roof and throws papers
into the baptismal, x+y=z, he says, examine your zipper, Cecil hopping
and screaming about the pits of hell, the gates of heaven, while Rennee,
in spite, laughs and laughs.
My husband is an only child. He says this, apologetically, misty-eyed,
to those who stare at my belly, wondering. He wants a quiver full of children,
each one a year and a half older than the other, stair step children ensampled
with his face, my eyes, Sharonís hair. Only? My motherís cervix is drawstringed
inside me and I will grow fat, I will. I sink down in the bathtub until
my ears fill with water and my heartbeat. My mother will not send a Chez
Paree rose to put on my pillow and my own peri-care bottle. Will. Not.
The unnamed young man dreams and has a wet dream. The unnamed young
woman doesn't dream at all. All she has ever done is run away and drape
Sybil on her tired arm. In my life I will have two Stephens now, three
if you count my brother, and they have four legs between them. Maybe six.
Maybe Stephen has asthma, or flat feet, and found his legs. Maybe he doesnít
care how much rice I eat.
I dream of being a virgin. I remember the virtues of water and Sharon,
the only name.
Rennee wants to baptize his own sticks. The back backyard erupts. Cecil
doesn't know where to find sticks for himself. All the local sticks have
been baptized. Rennee won't tell where he finds new sticks unless he can
baptize as well. Cecil knows the new sticks are far away because Rennee
is gone for hours when he is stick hunting. Cecil decides rocks will do
just as well, even better, because they donít burn, and Rennee will have
to stop his anti-Calvinist muttering at the dinner table.
Does the tree lie where it falls? Cecil says. Is God your grandfather?
Rennee becomes apostate and a Quaker. Cecil has nightmares of unrepentant
arms and legs. He wakes and drops quarters in the swear jar, one two three
four five six seven and a pinch to grow an inch.
Stephen my husband can trace the scar on his back with his left hand,
feeling sometimes a letter, a number, a formula. Over my head he says,
give her something, but I tell him the only head I fear between my legs
is the one that wears a surgeonís mask.
Put it in a jar, I might say. Float it in these my everlasting hands.
In this my life I listen to the chink of glass and metal, the gentle
suck of things alive or dead; I listen and try to think, I listen for names,
I do, but no names come; listen--there is nothing left here to name.
Copyright © 1997 Blip Magazine Archive