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Ann Bronston

Eskimo Nights

Neither my sister nor I had many friends when we were children—or have friends now for that matter. In my sister’s case the reasons were obvious. She was extremely timid in public, her eyes rarely left the ground, and she smelled, not of body odor, but of gasoline. She was in love with cars. She didn’t love them the way boys love cars, for their design and mechanics. She loved them the way some girls love horses. She patted them as we walked past them on our way to school. She gently wiped their windshields and pressed her chest against the front passenger window and whispered, "Good Whistler," or "Digby," or "Red Fox," or whatever she had named them.

In the summer she would climb on the hood of Panther, our yellow Pontiac, spread her towel, and in her too-small turquoise two-piece, her ten-year-old stomach protruding more than any breasts might hope to, she sunbathed.

On occasional Saturdays, as other mothers took their daughters to dance classes or tennis lessons, my mother, in a rare gesture of parental attention and with self-satisfaction, drove my sister to the Mobil station. There she was allowed to "work" for a few hours. As the cars guzzled their gasoline, my sister’s shoes and socks, sweater and blouse cuffs became saturated with whatever dripped from the pump.

My own lack of friendships baffled me. At twelve, I bathed religiously and then splashed on Jean Naté cologne, my aromatic bridge to adulthood. I struggled against my own timidity and thought myself as different from my sister as anyone with the same nose and hair color could be. Yet nobody ever said, "Sit here," or "Do you want to be my partner?" or "Let’s go ice-skating Saturday" to me, though it seemed they often said those things to the person standing next to me.

 

By mid-October of my final year of elementary school, my friendless state left me vulnerable to a wave of new and uncomfortable feelings. Empty branches against a grainy gray sky or the smell of wood made me feel older than I wanted to be. As I walked home from school the changing afternoon light pulled at something inside myself. The three o’clock bell made me desperate for someone to say good-bye to or "I’ll call you" to—anything that would lessen the effect of walking home with my car-kissing sister, and the sun slanting west in an autumn sky.

Inside the school classroom we were multiplying and dividing fractions and putting the letter x in odd places. The more advanced students—I was not one—read Great Expectations. The less adept of us struggled through the sheer boredom of an abridged version of The Last of the Mohicans. And we studied Central America in social studies.

Each Central American country was assigned to groups of three or four students. I was assigned Nicaragua with Rhonda, Emily, and Nancy. Miss Manning, armed with new theories of education, required that we present our information on the industry, geography, and government of each country in a creative context. She recommended giving our reports while frying bananas on a hot plate or while dancing around a hat.

Rhonda decided we should do a skit for our report. She and Emily would be lost tourists and report on the geography. Nancy and I could be Nicaraguans who gave them directions, while simultaneously reporting on the industry and government of our country.

Rhonda was a short thin girl, with effortless straight blond hair, worn in a simple blunt cut. Never uneven or stringy, Rhonda’s hair, like Rhonda herself, seemed to attract and reflect light—hillside snow on a bright afternoon.

Recently, at that dread school lunch hour when the truths of friendships are revealed and the unwanted few are left like dazed-looking losers in musical chairs, I walked straight to Rhonda’s table. We had gym together. I had made a basket for our team and she said, "Nice shot." I thought it meant she noticed and liked me.

"Hi, Rhonda, can I sit here?"

It came out too energetic and eager.

Rhonda said nothing. She stared at me while three other girls held their breath and stole glances off each other, their lips tightening.

"We’re pretty crowded as is, maybe some other time. Okay?" she finally said.

As I walked away I heard someone say, "I don’t know. She’s so secretive, you know what I mean?"

I didn’t know what she meant, or what about me caused her to say that, though I rather liked being thought of as someone with secrets. I just didn’t know what those secrets could be.

 

My dad was the proverbial traveling salesman at a time when America believed her own innocence and was easily sold to. My father sold "paper goods"—industrial-strength toilet paper and paper towels—to large companies, schools, and building complexes. The traveling-salesman jokes were just jokes, we believed. Our lives seemed as solid as anyone else’s in suburbia: two parents, two kids, and a Pontiac for a pet.

When my dad wasn’t traveling he would sit in the living room armchair, his dark hair and wiry body like a shadow against the puffed pale yellow cushions. The Rochester Times lay across his lap. The headlines were unread as his dark eyes traveled past the picture window to a place a million miles away.

His life was apart from us, and we children knew little and cared less about it, just as it seemed he knew little of our lives. His physical presence mattered a great deal, though. It assured a certain order: our mother woke us at six-forty-five and we arrived at school on time. The house was cleaned, our beds were made, and fresh laundry was piled neatly on them when we came home at three. Dinner was at seven, and we all sat down together. And we never had an Eskimo night when my dad was home.

Eskimo nights were my mother’s invention. Though they always ended in the same sad muddle, the power of my mother’s imagination never failed to draw my sister and me into their tantalizing premise. We were to be like little Eskimos, safe and together, cozily trapped in our igloos, sheltered from the howling winds and subfreezing temperature of the desolate Arctic north.

"But what fun we could have," my mother would say, her eyes already glazed, "munching popcorn and watching TV, playing cards together and having snacks, eating TV dinners on the floor . . ."

That was the premise of an Eskimo night. The reality was that they were simply my mother’s excuse to hide in the house and eat. My sister and I were then left to fend for ourselves, which usually meant staying up all night, the stench of stale farts the only remnant of my mother’s presence. An Eskimo night could last days for my mother.

Like all true addicts, my mother believed her own lies. And like the alcoholic who says, "Let’s have a party!"—genuinely believing it will be fun for everyone—there was no thought of ulterior motives or unhappy endings in my mother’s invitation to an Eskimo night. She held fast her hope that in an Eskimo night there might be, for one brief moment, the filament that would produce the soft glow of family we would then carry in our hearts through all the ties that break. Thomas Edison tried thousands of different things before he discovered the right filament. My mother tried one thing a thousand times.

 

I began work on my Nicaraguan report a week before it was due. I lay on the floor of my room. My notebook, the encyclopedia, and the travel brochures the teacher recommended we send away for were spread out around me. The world downstairs disappeared as I imagined warm Pacific beaches, lush exotic forests and ancient volcanoes with gusts of sulfurous clouds still rising from their hidden furnaces. I read about extinct civilizations buried under the ground by earthquakes. I pictured happy brown peasants, and sometimes I pictured naked brown peasant boys, living in a prospering non-Communist country. I worked until Rochester, New York, called me back for dinner.

My father was home that night. He sat at the head of the oval mahogany table in the dining room. My sister and I were across from each other, and my mother, when she did sit, sat next to my sister. Most of the meal my mother spent serving, clearing, cleaning, replenishing and cooking whatever hadn’t been quite finished.

"Bonnie," my father called to the kitchen, "there’s no cheese on the table. You can’t have spaghetti without cheese, right, girls?"

My mother brought a bowl with Parmesan cheese and hurried back to the kitchen to check on the garlic bread.

The bowl of Parmesan had no serving spoon. I watched as my sister used her fork to bring heaps of cheese to her spaghetti, most of it spilling through the spaces of the fork.

"Jesus, what’s she doing?" my father said, angrily enough to bring my mother rushing back.

"Oh dear, sorry," my mother said as she wiped the cheese from the table into the cup of her hand. "I forgot a serving spoon."

"That’s not the point," he said. "These children have no manners. It’s disgusting . . . and wasteful. What do you do when I’m not here? Let them eat like pigs?"

My mother was silent the rest of the meal. Her anger, sullen and cold, went ignored or unnoticed by my father.

After dinner my father went to his chair, his newspaper folded on his lap—a ticket to places more intriguing.

 

The day before our Nicaraguan report was due, Rhonda, Nancy, Emily, and I gathered together at three o’clock to go over any last-minute changes and remind each other who was bringing what props. Emily suggested rehearsing at Nancy’s house. But before that was resolved, we began criticizing the previous reports.

"I know," I said in response to Rhonda’s mentioning that you couldn’t even hear Anita, and I added, "Can you believe Steven didn’t even know how to pronounce Guatemala?"

I had struck a chord of common contempt. Encouraged, I continued, "I mean really, and Louise forgot . . ."

Before I could finish, my sister, head bowed and sweater sleeves dangling, came up beside me. Even I noticed the gasoline odor. Had she been Rhonda’s sister or even Emily’s sister, the others would have laughed at her and sympathized with them. But my sister just reminded them that they didn’t like me. They walked away and, I suspect, rehearsed at Nancy’s house.

When we got home my sister and I knew we were in for an Eskimo night. Entering into the kitchen through the back door, we saw the breakfast dishes still on the table. Earlier they had reflected the chaos of the morning rush, as we raced to find or finish homework, dig through piles of clothes for matching socks, and eat without dripping too much on ourselves or our papers.

Now the table seemed eerily calm. The half-eaten toast, bits of egg, and glops of jam dangling from the sides of the plates had vanished, as if someone had washed them and, not knowing where they belonged, put them back on the table exactly as they were—only clean.

But they weren’t clean—only licked. A thin film of ketchup left the plates sticky, patches of greasy butter lay waiting for someone’s unsuspecting sleeve, and flecks of orange pulp dotted the glasses.

The kitchen sink also warned of an Arctic storm. It was piled high with dishes slick with mayonnaise, spoons coated with peanut butter or chocolate syrup, and candy wrappers still wet with drool.

If either of us had had a friend’s house to go to, we would have left before the screen door whacked shut. Instead, we just waited as the noise from the screen door produced the scurrying of feet upstairs. We heard the sound of water running and then a few moments of silence. Next we heard footsteps descending the stairs and finally my mother herself entered the kitchen.

"Oh my," she said, as if surprised to see us, as though we were distant relatives dropping in unexpectedly instead of her children returning from school.

She hurriedly cleared the table as we stood by the door. That done, she said, "So," and the seeds of recognition could be read on her face. She sashayed over to kiss us, her rancid breath seeping through the faint odor of toothpaste. Her fresh Paris Nights lipstick branded my sister with a dark red stain above her left eye.

My mother was thirty-four. Her face, not delicate but thin, looked drawn and tired despite the fresh makeup. The shape of her body seemed to change with what she wore, though I never thought of her as "fat." Her hair was Monroe blonde, with an ever-widening line of dark roots. She never brushed her hair on Eskimo nights, but with nervous energy would puff it and push it towards her face with her fingers.

As my mother stepped back from kissing us, her eyes seemed particularly small and unfocused. But her lipstick and blue eyeshadow begged us to believe with her that the past six hours were just a minor lapse in good judgment.

We might have believed, if only her fingers would be still. Thoroughbreds at the gate, those long, delicate, perfectly manicured fingers could not be contained. They rolled over any object within their grasp, they tapped on counters, they clawed and drummed the air. They had been the only truly functioning part of my mother that morning, unwrapping candy bars, whipping ice cream into a cold soupy drink, spreading mayonnaise on toast, all with a frenzied energy that could not easily be called back.

"You dollfaces must be hungry."

She set about making us sundaes, throwing the used utensils in the sink, leaving the syrup and banana peels on the counter, her fingers in constant motion.

She ate nothing as she served us our snack. She stood by the sink as we ate, her fingers puffing and pulling at her hair. She never looked directly at us as she asked the usual questions, not registering any of our answers.

"How was school today?"

"I failed my spelling test, you need to sign it."

"Oh. Did you go on that field trip to the botanical garden?"

"Two months ago, Mom."

"Was it nice?"

All through my mother’s attempt at conversation, my sister, chocolate syrup dripping from her chin to her shirt, babbled nonsensically under her breath, imitating Donald Duck. The ice cream sundae sprayed from her mouth, and I shoved her shoulder in disgust.

My sister’s public timidity was, I’m sure, based on the fear that if she relaxed for even a moment her true self would be revealed. She pushed me back, hard enough to put me off balance. My head hit the table leg as I went over my chair.

Squealing with the thrill of assault and fear of retribution, my sister ran to my mother and buried her syrupy face into my mother’s belly. In her clean one-size-fits-all housecoat and fresh makeup, my mother had tried to hide her bloated stomach. Now all pretense began to crumble. Her nails dug into the flesh of my sister’s upper arm, and she pushed my sister from her body as if she were some ugly insect to be flung away.

Lying on the gray-and-yellow-swirl linoleum floor like a spent pinball, my sister silently built up the air supply she would need for the ensuing wail.

My mother was panicked and apologetic. The effort of trying to stem the tide of her eating was replaced by the relief of believing in the curative powers of an Eskimo night. Masterfully, she saw her opening.

"Oh, my babies," she said as she cradled and comforted my sister. "Oh sweeties, we all need to just relax. We need to do something fun tonight. I’m thinking"—she paused for effect—"Eskimo night." Then moving away from my sister, she began clearing the sundae plates into the sink.

Her joy as she spread the bright green and yellow floral sheet on the living room floor was almost infectious. But we had been trapped by the promise of fun before.

My mother gathered all the pillows from the beds and the couch and the armchair and spread them around the sheet. She placed a large bowl in the center and instructed me to make the popcorn while she ordered the Chinese food—"We’ll get extra, that way we won’t have to cook tomorrow either."

She brought the playing cards, an animal bingo game that we’d had since I was seven, and the television section of the evening paper to our island in the living room.

If I had said to her that I needed to do homework and maybe I would join her in an Eskimo night some other time, thanks for the offer, she would be genuinely crushed.

"Oh sweetie," she would say. "We can’t really have an Eskimo night without you. It’s been so long since we’ve had a fun time, just the three of us. I’ll write a note to your teacher. Sometimes being with your family is more important than doing other things."

I stood by the stove. I was full from the sundae and the smell of oil and popcorn made me nauseous. I remembered how excited I used to be when my mother made popcorn with us. My sister and I were amazed (and my mother pretended to be) by the magical and musical transformation of little hard kernels into big, puffy, tasty balls.

My mother ordered the Chinese food and came back into the kitchen.

"Oh God, we haven’t had fun like this in a long time."

When the popcorn was finished, my mother poured it into the big bowl in the center of the sheet. My sister and I went off to change into our nightgowns.

"Why do we always have to wear nightgowns?" my sister asked.

"I don’t know" was all I wanted to answer.

"Are we supposed to pretend we’re sick? It always makes me feel like I’m sick."

"You are sick," I said and shut the door to my room.

Of all the illicit behaviors involved in Eskimo nights—overeating, staying up late, not doing homework, etc.—wearing nightgowns in the afternoon felt the most deviant to me.

When I returned to the living room, my sister was snuggling into my mother as they sat on the sheet. "This is so cozy," my mother said, and she put her arms around my sister and bent her head toward my sister’s face. "Oh gosh, you need a bath, don’t you?"

My sister grunted her displeasure.

"Well, maybe we’ll get up early and have one in the morning. But sweetie, could you move a little. I need some room."

My sister grunted again and barely moved.

I sat on the de-pillowed couch behind the floral sheet.

"What? You can’t sit up there," my mother said. "Come here, pumpkin, I want to give you a hug."

"It’s too smelly down there."

"Stop it. It’s not that bad and you know it. Please don’t be like that. Just come on and sit with us."

I wanted to stay on the couch, if only to find out if it was possible to say "no" out loud. But I could only mutter a small "I don’t want to."

And even that lacked conviction, because the truth was, I did want to, and would always want to sit beside my mother, lean into her shoulder and imagine I felt safe as her arms enclosed me.

I grudgingly slid down off the couch.

My mother held me tight, her fingers hot and pulsing against my back.

"Thank you, darling," she said, and her chest heaved a sigh. Her breath smelled like thick dough gone moldy. "We’ll have fun, you’ll see."

I reached for some popcorn in an attempt to move away from her.

"Well, what shall we three do while we wait for the Chinese food?"

"Bingo," my sister said.

"That’s a good idea, maybe we can have a game a little later. Let’s just see if there’s anything on TV now." She picked up the television section of the paper.

My mother was thrilled that the movie The Lady Vanishes was scheduled. We turned the TV on in anticipation. "Oh girls, this is perfect. It’s a great movie, you kids will love it."

It was British and black and white. My sister and I, confused and losing interest, turned to the popcorn. My mother frequently dipped her hands in the popcorn bowl, as if trying to cool burning fingers. Often she stirred the popcorn around or took a few kernels out of the bowl. These she rolled around or pulled apart with her fingers—she didn’t eat any at first. By the time the Chinese food arrived, my mother had the popcorn bowl on her lap and was trying to chew the unpopped seeds.

The night wore on, the movie ended, other shows played. My sister and I stopped eating, our faces glistening with grease, and our bellies stretched to the point of pain.

My mother never stopped eating. Her breathing was loud and quick. Her eyelids were puffy and heavy. Her fingers worked like efficient pincers, and her mouth kept a steady rhythm.

Late into the night she said, "Girls, I need to lay down for a bit." Without explanation, she put any cartons that still had food in them on a plate and took them to her room.

We heard her door shut. My sister lay crumbled in a heap on the floral sheet, her pudgy body like a pile of dirty laundry. Her right arm stretched away from her body and her fingers draped over the edge of a plate. Her eyes were closing. Her mouth, like a small moon, emitted quiet, breathy grunts. The television’s light set her aglow. A pretty woman sang, "Better coffee than a millionaire’s money can buy," and my sister drifted to sleep.

 

The next morning my mother woke us late. In her one-size-fits-all (now wrinkled), with her face puffy and red, she looked confused and somewhat put-out. I imagined her thinking, "Why do they keep sending another day? I told them to put a hold on my order, but every morning it’s here. I just can’t keep up."

"Just get your clothes on, girls, there’s no time for breakfast. I’ll bring some bread in the car. Hurry, it’s really late. We’ll go to bed early tonight."

I forgot the sombrero I was going to wear for my knowledgeable-about-government Nicaraguan peasant. I also forgot the map of Nicaragua I had promised to make for Rhonda. Without the map our skit got off to a shaky start. When the tourists came to ask me, a sleeping peasant, for directions, I surprised them, and myself, by answering in a Spanish accent that sounded a lot like Topo Gigio, the Italian mouse on the Ed Sullivan show. The class was hysterical with laughter. Never before or since have I been so funny. I even managed to include the required six facts about the government, without losing a laugh.

Despite my exceptional performance in social studies, I received a demerit for not having done my science homework. It was my third demerit for homework. A note went home informing my mother I would be sent to detention the next afternoon.

My mother, her face now chalky and her fingers shaking with exhaustion, was devastated and apologetic. She could still write the note she pleaded, and I wouldn’t have to go to detention.

I had not done detention that year and I secretly looked forward to it. It was the closest I had come to being included in an after-school activity.

 

Detention was held in the remedial reading room, which was similar to a regular classroom but smaller. There were two chairs to every desk. The desks filled up in an orderly fashion, as students from different grades staggered into the room.

Kevin, also a sixth grader, and I arrived together. Rhonda—who had written the answers to a math test on her wrist and was caught when she raised her hand to answer "La Paz" as the capital of Bolivia—was alone at a table. I may have been unpopular, but Kevin was a boy . . .

Rhonda pssted at me and waved me to the seat next to her.

I had no illusions about what purpose I served for Rhonda, but that in no way diminished the rush of excitement I felt at having been beckoned, invited, chosen to sit with her.

"Oh God, I was afraid Kevin was gonna sit here. Excuse me while I gag. Just thinking about it . . . ugh."

"Yeah," I answered. Then there was silence. There seemed to be nothing more to say. I expected Rhonda to turn away from me, open her books, and start to do her homework. But she didn’t.

"You were really funny in social studies."

"Thanks."

"You sounded just like the mouse on Ed Sullivan. You know, Topo Gigio. He’s so cute, isn’t he?"

"Yeah, except he’s Italian. It would have been better if I sounded like that Mexican guy, Jose Jimenez."

"Oh. Well, it was probably funnier, you know, sounding Italian. Edd da deeeee kissa mee. I don’t think that Mexican guy’s so funny anyway."

The teacher gave us a sharp look. It seemed to delight Rhonda. She pulled her mouth into an exaggerated frown. Then, with a conspiratorial glint in her eye, she looked at me and smiled.

We continued our conversation with notes, whispers, and muffled giggles. Rhonda loved television as much as my mother did. She recounted favorite programs, mostly Ed Sullivan shows. I usually limited my written responses to yeah, yeah!! or didn’t see it. But often Rhonda could make me laugh. Rhonda, it turned out, had as cynical an eye as I did. But she had the wit to make use of it. Cynicism without wit is a depressing talent.

 

The next day, I joined my mother on the couch. I began to appreciate her ability to give herself over to the television, to relinquish expectations of the programs, of herself. I saw in my mother what I thought of as patience and trust. Watching television for me was not that easy. I often felt confused and frustrated, unsure how I was supposed to react to situations that seemed preposterous. But I watched nonetheless. And it became the thread of my friendship with Rhonda.

A few weeks into my television regime, the day came when the people standing next to me were making plans to go to the movies on Saturday. Rhonda asked if I wanted to come. I tried to sound nonchalant and said, "Well, okay."

We were to meet at the movie theater, then go next door to a new cafeteria-style restaurant for some food.

The movie theater was not more than five miles from my house, and I took the bus to it. The Ten Commandments was playing. Throughout the movie Rhonda would ad lib for one of the characters, throwing in a lot of oys. Her irreverence almost got us kicked out of the theater, we were laughing so loudly.

My face ached from happiness. No one had tried to time her entrance into the row of seats in order to avoid sitting next to me. When Nancy came back from the concession stand she passed out candies to everyone, including me. Emily offered me a sip of her Coke when I started to get up to get a drink for myself.

By the time the movie was over, the afternoon had turned crisp. We ran next door to the restaurant without putting our coats on, shivering and laughing with preadolescent smugness.

The restaurant was fairly crowded, cafeteria-style being a novel idea in the neighborhood. We threw our coats, gloves, and purses if we had them over the chairs surrounding our table, and made our way through the line.

There was an enormous variety of food. The choices made it hard for us to limit ourselves. We all tried to outdo each other, piling our trays with pudding and banana cream pie and a brownie and . . . and . . .

When we reached the cashier, we didn’t have enough money to pay for it all. This predicament seemed even funnier than the piling of the trays with food. Quickly and carelessly, often purposely bumping into one another, we put the foods back. Our trays finally matched our appetites and money supply.

As we walked back to the table, Rhonda and Emily, who were trailing behind Nancy and me, noticed something which delayed them.

Nancy and I had already removed our trays and begun to eat when Rhonda and Emily, leaning over trays held midriff high, came scurrying over. In an excited whisper they said, "Look at that woman in the brown coat." We had to look over our shoulders to see her, but there she was. Her one-size-fits-all peeked out from under a shapeless brown overcoat. Her face was without makeup and pale. Her hair was unbrushed and the black roots shone under the cafeteria lights. But what had caught Rhonda and Emily’s attention was that her tray resembled our original trays, and then some.

She was hunched over it, her face not more than three inches from the table. She looked like a giant brown cockroach, her delicate fingers like antennae, busily picking at her food. My mother (with what struck me as great irony) always ate as if she were on a diet. She would scoop the inside of a piece of pie out and eat it first, hoping to avoid the fattening crust. Then invariably she would pick at the crust with rapid fingers until it was gone. She would take the cheese off a pizza intending not to eat the crust. But soon, bit by bit, the pizza crust would disappear. She would take the top bun off a burger, lay it aside, divide the bottom bun in half and place one half on top of the burger. Then, before you could even breathe, it would all be gone.

"Oh, gross," the girls said in unison.

"Now girls, that could be us if we didn’t have to put all that food back," Rhonda said.

"Very funny," answered Emily. "Not in my worst nightmare would I eat like that."

I heard those words, but it was as if they had to travel a great distance to reach me. I was frozen still. And yet at the same time I was convinced my body was visibly trembling. I had to fight with all my concentration to keep myself from swirling down the dark hollow tunnel of my stomach.

For what seemed like a long time, I kept my eyes on the salt shaker. A few particles of white salt lay precariously balanced on the top of the shaker, just outside the holes. Finally I was able to say I had to go to the bathroom.

I stayed in the bathroom. I put the toilet seat cover down and sat staring at the pink cupids on the wall, my eyes wide and my breath shallow. Eventually a customer knocked and I had to leave.

As I returned to my seat, I saw my mother leaving the restaurant. A bag with a doggie’s tail painted on it was under her arm. She was eating a cookie as she walked. Her departure was not unnoticed. The comments began anew.

I knew I was obligated to say something. Following Emily’s "What a cow," I added, "Yeah really, what a cow."

I knew I had crossed a line. And I knew I would have said or done anything to keep hold of that spider-leg-thin thread of acceptance.

Soon the other mothers, with heavy perfume and clicking heels, came to pick up their daughters. They each offered to drive me home. I explained that my own mother was on her way. When I was sure everyone was safely gone, not returning for any forgotten glove or dropped ring, I walked to the bus stop.

The late afternoon sky was beginning to darken. The air was cold and I was shivering as I waited for the bus. I had found out my secrets—and they were kept hidden, this time. Now the day was over.

In this gloaming hour I saw the evening star, which I knew was really the planet Venus, and I was going home—to safety, which in the end was all I wanted—to be safe.

As the bus rode through the neighborhood, it passed the Mobil station where my sister liked to spend time. I envied my sister her cars. I envied the way she could caress them and share her secrets safely, sunbathing on their hoods. I leaned back in my seat and stared out the window. I thought of Eskimos, real Eskimos. I wondered if they got into pajamas at night, and if they did where did they change in a one-room igloo? I wondered if Eskimos living in an igloo could ever really get warm.

Soon the bus rattled through streets with houses on both sides. I watched as one by one kitchen lights were turned on—soft yellow windows.

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