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Shelley Hunt 



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 of lies.  ________

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. 

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