Amber Dorko Stopper
The Skill Crane
I did not go to my grandmother's funeral because I had not spoken to
my parents in seven years, and I did not intend to start, not under circumstances
such as those. I got the details of the funeral from my brother, who did
go. I speak to him occasionally.
Apparently, little genuine emotion was displayed at my grandmother's
funeral. That is the mark of my family. My father had a large number of
brothers and sisters, who had spent their lives climbing over one another
in a failed attempt to get any attention at all, like a jar full of flies.
It dulled them to any emotional outburst, even to the death of their own
mother. My father did not, according to my brother, cry at the funeral,
and at the age of fifty-seven this still was a matter of some pride to
him. I cried for days.
My grandmother had not found me disgraceful for having a daughter out
of wedlock, for living the scrappy, incomplete life I was living. She
knew I occasionally lied and said my child was ill so I could pay the
rent late. She knew I bounced balances back and forth between credit cards,
and kited checks. These were things that people in my family just didn't
do, things that just weren't done. I did them.
I had mementos of my grandmother, and therefore of my family; photo albums
and silver baby cups and rings, brooches that I was instructed to wear
high on my left breast like the Queen, an evening bag and compact, a toy
airplane that had belonged to my father.
I remembered seeing my grandmother naked, or partially naked--I remember
the inside of her powder blue suitcase with the elasticized satin pocket
in which she carried her Prell shampoo and Tussy deodorant. I remember
watching her take her breast off--just the one, it came off with her bra.
I used to touch it, both on and off. It felt like her.
I didn't share these memories with my brother. I asked my brother if
he could track down an obituary from her local paper. He said that he
Bridget, my daughter, woke up with a cold. The daycare wouldn't take
a kid who showed up with a runny nose in the morning. I had to go into
I didn't see that it would be such a big deal to take her in with me
but she made noise, was whiny, dropped my stapler on the tile floor, asked
to go potty every ten minutes and emanated fever in an ostentatious way.
I absolutely cringed to see my colleagues walking past, inquiring politely
about her. It appeared, later, that each and every one of them had then
reported me to the office manager, who asked me to leave for the day.
He apologized, said he understood how it was when you had kids.
I had gotten in three hours of work. It was bitter cold, but I didn't
want to go home yet, knowing how long we would be there in the long run
of short dark days ahead.
We went to the theme restaurant where Bridget liked to go. It was awful,
with fluorescent lighting, blue and white checked floors, and blaring
novelty tunes like "Woolly Bully" and "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah." My
daughter was learning every one of those songs.
It was only eleven in the morning and too early for lunch for most civilized
people, but not for my daughter and me. I ordered her a grilled cheese
sandwich and French fries, picking at them both myself as she ate silently,
When the sandwich was eaten down to the brown crust, she said to me,
"I want to use the skill crane."
She had a finely developed sense of sentence structure, my daughter,
and never had said a first word, but in fact a whole sentence, to a cashier
at the Disney store: "Put this Grumpy in a bag." She could sing almost
entire songs: the "Put the lime in the coconut" song was one of her favorites,
and "The Bullfighter Was A Lady."
The skill crane was a machine at the far end of the restaurant, at the
end of the soda counter. It was an angry, archaic-looking prosthetic,
housed in a glass cube full of the cheapest and ugliest of toys. My daughter
was impressed by it, and I found that she would use it happily without
even putting any money in it to move the crane around; she didn't seem
to know the difference. I had told her it was called a skill crane once,
and she had remembered. She was the only child I had ever seen in the
restaurant calling it by that name.
We had begun a project at home together that I had purloined from one
of my daughter's picture books; a story about a Japanese girl who developed
leukemia from the Bomb, and who tried to make one thousand paper origami
cranes, because there was someone telling her that she'd get any wish
if she did it. The girl hoped to cure herself. She died before she got
I had purchased a package of pretty, pulpy origami paper, and had given
some of it to my daughter to crinkle. It was not difficult to learn the
crane fold; it was right on the package. I made thirty of them, thirty
good ones, from that first package of paper.
I didn't have the money to continually buy pretty squares of origami
paper, not for such a big project. We were on a very tight budget, my
daughter and I. I didn't care how long it took me to do it. I was in no
I began to use pages from my one luxury in life, my three subscriptions
to glossy, upscale woman's magazines. I made cranes decorated with the
luxe interiors of Fifth Avenue apartments; a glossy, sepia close-up of
Sylvia Plath; details of rough foreign textiles; reprints of portraits
of Gertrude Vanderbilt from the private collection at the Whitney; black-and-white
fashion shoots. I used Chinese newspapers, an old Triple A map, the Philatelic
catalog that I had been getting addressed to me no matter where I lived
since I was an avid stamp-collector at age seven. I used the catalogs
that came to my box featuring linen throw pillows, twig vases, galvanized
porch furniture. I had always hated the ugly drop ceiling in our apartment,
but now I found a use for it.
At the time of my daughter's cold, that winter day, at the time of my
grandmothers death, I had two hundred and seventy-five cranes aloft in
my apartment. I hung them only in multiples of five, keeping track on
a slip of paper on the refrigerator. I hung them with clear fishing line
that I bought in a hardware shop. Sometimes, on the edge of a wing, would
be the image of a greatly enlarged diamond ring, or a shoe, or a window,
or a postage stamp featuring American dolls.
It became clear to me over time that my daughter had made a distinct
link between the cranes on our ceiling, and the skill crane at her restaurant.
She thought they were the same thing, one just an imitation of the other.
The word "skill" seemed to her to be an adjective with attributes of evil
to it. Our cranes at home were just soft paper, colored and light; the
skill crane was metal and cruel. The way she said "skill" sounded like
"steal," and "kill"; yet, she liked the thing, probably because it appeared
to be locked up safely in a box.
She played with the restaurant skill crane idly; she still seemed feverish
and sick to me. I took her home and she slept all afternoon, and I made
paper cranes. She woke up around five-thirty, hungry and grouchy. There
was no food in the house, so I took her to the diner on the corner, where
she ate a small dish of Harvard beets and a vanilla milkshake.
I missed being able to call my grandmother. I only called her once every
two weeks or so, but already, I missed it. I hoped for another call from
my brother, telling me he had found an obituary that I could keep, that
I could press into the white leather Bible that my grandmother had given
me on my last visit. The phone didn't ring. My daughter lay knocked out
from cold medicine in her tiny, apple green bedroom that I had painted
the June before.
On the cheap butcher's block table that I sometimes called my "desk,"
lay a postcard I had been meaning to send to a friend in England. It was
a print of an old French advertisement for some bottled aperitif called
"FRED-ZIZI," and featured a tiny bellboy in a red uniform. Atop this postcard
lay a Rider-Waite Tarot deck, bound with a hair elastic, THE WORLD face
up in front of me.
I had been looking at these two cards, a postcard and a tarot card, for
days now. I was thinking about planning a sweater for my daughter using
the colors of the two cards combined. That was how my grandmother had
taught me to knit, in relation to color. We would go to the art museum
together in Vancouver and I would find a painting that I liked. We would
then find a small reprint of the painting in the gift shop, perhaps on
a greeting card, and we would take it to the yarn store, matching the
colors as closely as we could. This was the way I created the striped
scarfs of my youth, which I gave as gifts, and later, the sweaters. I
wanted to make my daughter a tarot-colored, Fred-Zizi sweater now, but
knitting was an expensive hobby, and the Christmas money I usually counted
on from my grandmother was now not available to me. I would have to wait
on the sweater.
Instead, I got out my violin. I had not touched it in years until recently,
but was hoping to impart some enthusiasm for music onto Bridget; I had
fantasies of her as an orchestral conductor, seeing her name in very 1950's
lettering on a black-and-white television screen, in front of a velvet
curtain: BRIDGET SORENSON AND THE LONDON SINFONIA, or something like that
(although I did not relish the idea of Bridget emigrating to London; Canada
it would have to be, if anything.) If I wanted Bridget to be an orchestral
conductor, I thought, I should at least muster the ability to play "Sontag"
on the violin again.
I had barely set the music stand upright when she appeared in the doorway.
She wore a t-shirt that dangled to her ankles with the Virginia Slims'
cigarette logo on it; I had gotten it with points from the boxes. The
sight of my daughter like this dashed my fantasies of being an artistic
knitter, a violinist, anything.
"Make me a grilled cheese," she said, in a zombieish tone. "And I don't
want the burnt one," she added, assuming, correctly as usual, that there
always would be a burnt one.
I had run away from home during a Christmas vacation from college. I
was only eighteen at the time.
I had gone home for the break like everybody else, hoping to see old
friends, have home cooked meals. In the twelve hours that I was home,
my mother had made me feel so horrible about myself--I had gained weight,
my skin looked bad, my clothes were a mess--that I simply went back to
school and let myself into the dorms.
It was not that this was unexpected treatment from my mother, but this
was the time when I was unable to stand it any longer, and I had a place
to go now, I thought.
The dorms were desolate, and though I had to hide myself twice from the
cleaning staff, I lived quietly for the next ten days, subsisting on candy
bars from the machines. I spent Christmas day reading in my own dorm room,
and, as a Christmas gift to myself, broke into some other rooms as well,
only looking, marveling at other girls' belongings, the Marimekko sheets
and half-eaten jars of peanut butter.
My parents either never looked for me or never guessed that I would have
gone back to the school. The silence seemed teasing, at first.
When all the other students came back from vacation a week and a half
later, I dropped out. I left the campus, determined to start out for myself.
I could not bear waiting around to see whether or not my parents' share
of my tuition was going to arrive or not. College was for girls with families,
or with jobs. I had neither.
I spent two months of my life that I will never again speak of in a Women's
Residence, only two or three cities away from my parents' home. I waitressed
for a few months, made enough money to get out of the women's home, and
got a bedroom of my own in a large house shared by graduate students.
I lived cheaply, but on my own, and with no one to tell me what a shame
it was what I had done with my life.
I was shocked when my grandmother told me that my parents had sold our
home and moved to New England without even trying to contact me, to look
for me. I guess part of me had expected some sort of reconciliation, at
least by the following Christmas. But it did not happen.
I worked. I worked the jobs that any college drop-out would have to.
I waitressed, typed, answered phones, did whatever I had to do for as
long as I was acceptable doing it, and lived poorly and anonymously, plotting
That was my intention, then: to return triumphantly to my family, to
show them what a success I had made of myself. Without the Ivy League
education that I had always believed to be my entitlement behind me--after
all, it was what my parents always assured me I would have, as a Sorenson--I
thought, rather romantically, that I could start at the bottom almost
anywhere and eventually run the place. A working girl.
I thought this in insurance offices where I typed letters, took minutes,
and answered telephones; I thought it in restaurants where I bussed tables
and took orders. In cocktail conversations in upscale bars after work,
where it seemed fortuitous to spend my little mad money, I referred to
any corporation or institution I worked for as "we" or "us" or "our."
Certainly, now I cringe at the immaturity I was exposing daily by behaving
in such a way. At the time, I believed I was doing what I had to do.
I had a series of jobs before I began waitressing at Gloria's. Gloria
was the six year-old daughter of the restaurants owner, Wayne. Wayne was
a giant of a man, tall, loud, and immensely fat. I found him repulsive
to speak to, even in my initial interview.
He liked me. During my shifts, he would brag to me about the other properties
he owned, holdings in nightclubs. He had an ex-wife to whom he paid a
great deal in alimony. It was a sum that looked luxurious to me at the
time. I asked him if the wife also had any parts in the businesses Wayne
owned. He said he had in fact given her a restaurant of her own to run.
This path to success, I admitted, was more circuitous than my Ivy League
education would have been, but hell, it was life, and that's what I was
about at that point in mine--experiencing life, which was my haughty rationale
for everything everyone else had the scruples not to do.
I became Wayne's girlfriend; his lithe, giggling, yet fiercely intelligent
nineteen-and-a-half year-old girlfriend. And as such did things that,
although they would really be considered the more pedestrian parts of
being someone's girlfriend, I will never talk about again in my life,
or think too hard about. They are as closed off to me as the months at
the women's residence were. Ultimately, they were as fruitless. I suffered
plenty, but really, I did not suffer long. Sexually, he was shy, and I
found that the more I postured and acted out sexually without even touching
him--outfits, innuendo--the more abashed he became. I used this to my
best advantage. I liked sitting at the table with Wayne when the restaurant
was closed, talking to our backers.
Gloria's closed within a year. Wayne went back to his wife. This was
an experience I had never had before; having been so appreciated for my
youth and willingness, and then driving the person who so appreciated
me back to someone he had described as old, brittle, bossy, and plastic.
I found other jobs; in the kitchen of a gay club, in the offices of a
YMCA. I was always at least marginally employed, and always with a plan.
I went to weekend employee picnics, had my picture taken with my arm
around middle management figures, both of us wearing company t-shirts,
me with my hand aloft, trying not to whack myself in the thigh with my
own cigarette. I went out on weekends and weeknights, to bars where other
working people went, and drank Amaretto and oranges in what I thought
were sexy-yet-sophisticated black lycra dresses. I changed jobs again;
Italian restaurant, bar back, hostess, and then some strange plan that
thankfully never materialized where I was going to drive all over the
tri-state area selling and maintaining cigarette machines, under the watchful
eye of a man named Spike. Always, somehow, I managed to get involved with
a man on the job. Always, I thought, it would lead to a business partnership,
a marriage, a penthouse on the park. Always, it took me too long to realize,
it led to termination of employment.
Years went by like this, and it is hard to say what I was learning during
this time. I had nothing yet to mail to my parents in the living-well-is-the-best-revenge
vein; no wedding announcement, no notice in the paper that I had just
been made vice-president of anything; nothing at all.
Even though my grandmother had eventually come up with my parents' New
England address for me, it simply lay folded on a piece of YMCA stationery
in the front of my address book. I had not been vindicated yet; but I
was still sure that I would at some point be.
I met the man who fathered Bridget around this time. I met him in a bar.
He was older than me, and ugly, which was generally a good start for me
in a relationship. Actually, he was so much both of these things that
I didn't even consider the possibility of having a relationship with him.
However, he did offer me a job. He said he was opening a nightclub in
town, and that I was just the kind of person he wanted to manage it.
As usual, I believed every word of it. All he had to do was to take me
to the site--a locked, closed, empty building near the restaurant district
that we stood outside of, as any two other people could have, and he pointed
inside the dusty windows and told me where things would go, where he was
going to purchase the new light fixtures from. To me, this was indelible
This relationship certainly marked one of the most unhealthy periods
of my life. Needless to say, it was no time at all before Shane and I
were functioning as a romantic couple. As courtship, he gifted me regularly
with cartons of Virginia Slims and Misty; we took Ecstasy together once,
at his behest, and I took this as a sign of commitment. As we became "engaged,"
he put not a ring on my finger, but did take me to the jeweler's where
the ring, a very ostentatious ring, sat in the window, and he pointed
it out to me. The jeweler inside looked at us both through the glass with
nothing like recognition.
Our nightclub had not yet opened and I was still temping at two different
offices. That Christmas together, I pooled all of his particular favorites
from the two small boxes of Godiva I had gotten from each of my temporary
bosses, creating a specialized, no-nuts mix for my soon-to-be-husband.
I had no money to do anything but that for him. And he in turn drove me
to a car dealership, to look, at a distance, at my new Christmas Lexus,
which I of course never saw again.
I moved in with him, switched some of his utilities and the balances
they carried to my own name. I sat around the house in a pilled-at-the-armpits
catsuit I had found in the basement in the boxes belonging to his ex-wife,
looking at the recipes in the coupon section of the paper, covered with
brown and grey hairs from Shane's two beastly, odiferous, displasiac German
Shepherds. I had every intention of becoming the best wife possible, even
when plans for the nightclub mysteriously folded and evolved briefly into
plans to run a trucking agency, then morphed again into a situation where
we would indeed be rich but we would both have to leave town immediately
for the Cayman Islands.
By this time, as I sat at home sewing business suits for myself in the
evenings, I began wondering what was wrong with patterns these days; the
size six Buttericks used to fit me fine. Now they seemed tight in odd
It never crossed my mind once that I could be pregnant; Shane, my lover,
business partner and fiance, had told me that he could not have children.
Anyway, he couldn't sustain an erection inside a condom. Upon finding
out that I was pregnant, we celebrated hugely for a few weeks, then he
left town, leaving me with his unusually large phone and electric bills.
I got a job as an administrative assistant at a college and began squirreling
away the money I would need to survive for six weeks after my child's
birth, which was as soon as any daycare, respectable or not, would take
That next Christmas I did have something to send my parents, although
I realize now it was saying more about my real life than what I wanted
it to. It was the year I began sending photo Christmas cards, to show
off the baby. I had that one taken by a friend. I was standing against
my kitchen wall, getting ready to go to another company Christmas party,
in an off-the-rack department store bargain dress and hair piled stiffly
on my head like a Texan oil heiress. Even in the somewhat distant, grainy
photo, the velveteen of my dress looks like the pile is shifting strangely,
cheaply; my daughter in my arms looks dazed and her lips are a blur of
rash. At the time I was trying to create a portrait of success; I only
keep a copy of the card now to punish myself.
Now, at twenty-eight, with a three year old daughter, I meet in the park
a twenty-five year old, with a six year old daughter. This woman is the
age I was when Bridget was born; yet, she has gone through it all, colic,
projectile vomiting, small, shabby Christmases, chipped teeth, choking
episodes, roseola outbreaks at cheap daycare centers, and even the purchase
of a small Catholic school uniform for kindergarten.
It seems remarkable to me that I still could have been so unprepared
for my child at an age when she mother looks so seasoned--she even has
a fresh new tattoo, a salon haircut, and the latest in sneakers (which
are ugly). Granted, she still lives at home with her parents. I wonder
where the other single mothers were when my child was born, because it
certainly felt like I was the only one in the entire city.
We share a bond of disdain for the men who fathered our children. We
don't talk about our part in it. "These men don't care what happens to
these poor kids," the young mother says to me, but she hiccups while she
says it, and it comes out "Poor orchids."
A woman in our building, interested in helping the single mother (me),
has an aunt who works in a textiles mill and is always giving her ends
of bolts. I am making a quilt from these scraps, for picnics in the parks.
It is patchwork and full of the most annoying novelty fabrics known to
man, including bananas, lobsters, Groucho Marx glasses and wind-up dentures,
cows with Santa hats on, pumpkins and candy corn, racing cars with the
Frosted Flakes logo on them, Sesame Street, stegosaurus bones, spaceships,
apples, ants, Marvin the Martian, cartoon dogs eating Chinese food out
of garbage cans, Power Rangers, Pinky and the Brain, popsicles, bowling
balls and pins, plaids, checks.
Bridget is utterly fascinated with it, which is sort of shocking, because
Bridget is almost completely colorblind. She has inherited this from her
father; it's possibly the one thing he ever told me about himself that
turned out to be true. I haven't taken her to the doctor yet. I'm afraid
of what a formal diagnosis will reflect when I have to get her into schools.
But I know it for a fact; she's colorblind, except for green.
I have tested this again and again, giving her an entire bag of multi-colored
Swedish fish. I wait fifteen minutes and check the bag again, and all
the green ones have been eaten. Obviously, they look special to her. I
painted her bedroom green. In a way I am glad she can't see the colors
of the quilt because the thing really is awfully garish and I fear that
if she knew, she might eventually think that it was acceptable to dress
Bridget and I wake up together around ten the next morning.
"A morning," she says, sounded duped. Apparently, all my "Good Mornings"
have been mistaken for this. Just like each slightly misheard/overheard
conversation on the telephone this past Christmas, the parts about Santa
that she was meant to hear and the parts about where I was hiding gifts
that she wasn't, have produced a new entity for the ages: Santa Closet.
That is what my daughter believes in; Santa Closet.
I am not expected at work. Bridget seems droopy but not particularly
unwell, and there is a thaw outside; a post-Christmas thaw that seems
balmy, although it is merely wet. I sit on the toilet, and Bridget comes
and stands in the doorway. Sighing luxuriously, looking up towards the
cabinet, she asks, "Mom. What medicine can I have?" like a woman with
a wine list.
I tell her she is not getting more medicine. "We are going to go for
a walk in the park," I say, "to get you some fresh air. Then we'll come
back and have a quiet rest of the morning, and a lunch, and a quiet afternoon."
I am hoping that the other single mother, the one with the six year old,
the one who said "poor orchids," will be in the park as well. I could
use a gripe session; I am still angry about having to leave the office
yesterday. I am still ashamed.
That single mother, the one with the tattoo and Sketchers, is an L.P.N.
She is probably at work, her own mother watching her child, the child
having a comfortable winter morning with her own grandmother, safe at
My child spends a good part of her quality time with me watching me smoke
(conscientiously turning my head away from her when I exhale) and making
paper birds. Do I need to say that this was never the life I thought I
was going to live?
"Is our picnic blanket ready to eat on yet?" Bridget wants to know.
"Not quite," I tell her. "And it's too cold."
I look at the pieces of the blanket. Because of the true randomness with
which I have been patching it together, as opposed to a planned, faux-randomness,
I have made sections of the blanket that are overwhelmingly blue, or sections
with three of the same patterned square all touching each other. There
were different quantities of each of the fabrics; now I get a panicky
feeling looking at the square with the smiling tomato on it, realizing
it's the only one like that. What am I going to do if something gets on
it, if it tears, or gets a cigarette burn?
As we are leaving the house, my brother calls. It is clear that he expected
to have the machine pick up, and he is uncomfortable at having to speak
to me. "I was just going to leave a message to let you know I got the
obit," he says. "It's in the mail."
"Great," I say, sounding more lighthearted than I have in days. I am
faking. "It's Uncle Edward," I trill to Bridget, whom I have taught to
pick up on the excitement of these types of phone calls. I can hear my
brother coughing nervously. "Would you like to speak to Uncle Edward?"
I ask. Bridget grabs at the receiver. "Here she is," I say to Edward.
I can tell, even from hearing only Bridget's end, that the conversation
is wooden at best. She expects more. My grandmother was very good at talking
to Bridget, and always knew that when she was done that it was necessary
to ask Bridge to hand back the phone to Mommy. Apparently Edward hasn't
thought of this and I stare as he and Bridget sit silently on the phone.
I take the receiver back.
"I suppose you got our Christmas card this year?" I ask him.
"Oh, yes," he says.
"Did you see our parents?" I ask. I feel my voice getting tighter.
"A short visit," he says. I know he does not want to be the middleman.
There is no gap to bridge between my parents and me, in my opinion. It's
simply become a matter of the right social contacts. My brother is a hard
one to cultivate.
"Well, let me let you go, we're off to the park," I say. I want to know
what image this creates in his mind. Does he see us in mother-daughter
outfits and hats, going off to an English garden where we are met by other
friends? Does he picture us alone, in last season's coats, sloughing off
to a tiny urban playground with a geodesic dome and modern-sculpture sliding
board, dry fountain full of dirty pennies? It drives me nearly mad that
I can do so little to control this image.
"Take care," my brother says to me.
The park is nearly empty. The other single mother, the one with the girl
older than Bridget, is not there. Why would she be?
I sit watching Bridget play in the slush, and fantasize about cultivating
that friendship. Maybe we could move in together, into a bigger, nicer
apartment; share cooking duties, and picking up the girls at school. Bridget
could grow up with a big sister. Things wouldn't be so lonely. But I know
it will not be me who suggests such a thing, it will have to be her.
I have a little dignity left, and this is how I show it, by not asking.
Like my father, not crying at his own mother's funeral. I will not ask
for the help I require, but I will loiter as nearby as possible, for as
long as possible, hoping against hope that she will think of it herself,
and I merely have to agree with her.
I do not know for sure that I will ever see her again, or if she will
remember me if I do.
Sitting in the park, smoking, watching Bridget, I remember a day a good
ten or even twelve years before when I had been babysitting on New Year's
Eve; from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon with one family,
and then again at another home at six. It had seemed advantageous, at
the time, to plan to stay in town for the four hours between jobs; after
all, it was New Year's Eve.
I remember those four hours between two and six being the most depressing
of my life. I was freezing cold, I absolutely could not think of anywhere
to go, and I ended up sitting in an International House Of Pancakes for
two hours and forty five minutes. The world gets very lonely right after
rush hour on New Year's Eve. I hadn't known this.
All I had to look forward to was the warm house of some strangers whom
I knew would come home later than they promised, and I would have to stay
awake, eating their Velveeta, watching cable TV, which wasn't all that
much in those days. Looking through their photo albums and boxes of old
love letters. And that's if I was lucky.
I sat in the pancake house, watching people rush home from work, and,
in time, seeing them come back out in evening clothes. When this happened,
I knew it was time to go to my next babysitting gig.
I plodded there miserably, rang the doorbell, and, when parents opened
the door, burst into tears.
They took me inside and tried to talk to me; they sent the children to
their bedrooms. After an hour, they took me to the emergency room. They
canceled their plans for the evening. The mother stayed home alone on
New Year's Eve with her children. The father sat with me in the ER. I
was given a sedative and taken home.
Eventually, I thanked the family for their kindness. They sort of took
me under their wing. Eventually, I set out to seduce the husband, but
it never did work. I still send that family a Christmas card. They still
send me one back.
That evening was the worst of my life, and I hold every other experience
in my life up against it. To this day, as much as I dislike Christmas,
I dislike New Year's even more.
As I sit in the park, knowing how little I have to look forward to for
the rest of the winter except my grandmother's obituary arriving in the
mail, I tell myself; it's not like that New Year's. Look, in fact, how
far you've come.
My ruddy, runny-nosed child dances in what is left of the snow. The magical
things in her life are not the things I had hoped they would be, like
a pony or and old-fashioned hoop toy, but a rented apartment full of paper
birds, a hideous and incomplete blanket, and a grappling metal hand that
she will eventually learn to ask money to use.
She is the truth of the matter. She wants to hear "Ahab the Arab."
"The sheep of the burning sand," she says. And I walk with her to the
diner, as plain and pure and blinding white as someone else's blanket.
A long-time Philadelphian, Amber Dorko Stopper has been a Fiction
Fellow of the PA Council on the Arts (1993), and has been nominated for
three Pushcart Prizes. Her stories have appeared in Alaska Quarterly
Review, American Writing, Northwest Review, CrossConnect,
and in the anthology The Whole Story: Editors on Writers (Ed. Warren
Slesinger, Bench Press).