“Uncle Mikey, explain it to me again. Explain it to me like I was five,” Bridget said. She got up from the rocking chair and began pacing around her old bedroom. Michael scrubbed his face and sat on the pink and purple polka dotted bedspread. “Listen, honey, you made an investment in a special kind of insurance and it’s not quite working out like it should.” Bridget pounded the wall, ripping her R.E.M. poster. “You promised my settlement would be safe as houses, safe as mother’s milk. But insurance is a safe investment, right?” “Usually, but these policies are viaticals. That’s when a really really sick person, like terminal about to die sick, sells his life insurance policy for a lump sum of cash to a viatical investment company. And that brokerage firm sells that policy to an unrelated third party like you. When The sick guy dies you collect, see. That’s how it is supposed to work.” “Wait I’m making money off dead people,” Bridget said. She grabbed Amelia Renee, her beloved Cabbage Patch doll, and muffled her scream in its squishy yarn covered head. “What have I done. What did you do! Is this even legal, Uncle Mikey?” “Of course sweetheart. It’s all perfectly legit, see. These are AIDS patients and they get money to help their last days. It’s a good thing really. But it is not quite as regulated as I thought. Doctors are supposed to determine prognosis and everything.” “Where’s my money? Where’s all my money?” Bridget was squeezing Amelia Renee’s narrow neck. “Well that’s the funny thing. Not funny but okay have you heard of protease inhibitors? Me neither ! But these miracle AIDS drugs are saving lives, extending lifetimes, honey,” Michael said. He looked everywhere but at his niece. Bridget’s door opened. “The turkey’s on the table. We have to say Grace before Danny and Denny started fighting again,” Christina said. Reading the tension, she looked between her brother and her daughter. “What’s the conspiracy? Do I have to get my bat and crack heads.” Nervously Michael chuckled. “No worries here Big Sis. Everything’s copacetic.” “Yeah no worries Mom. I was just talking to Uncle Mikey about a special Christmas gift I wanted to get for a certain person. Unc always knows the best deals. He’s just promised to do right by me?” Bridget playfully tossed her dolly to her uncle. She headed towards her bedroom door. “Right, Uncle Mikey?” Michael noticed the doll’s head was almost torn off its floppy body. Arms folded and eyes steeled, Christina and Bridget both waited for his response. “Of course honey. I will do right by you.”
I wasn’t sorry when Evi left home. I mean I was ,but I wasn’t going to let her know it. I don’t remember Mama; she went away with baby Ferenc after the spring rains. But Evi left school to care for Papa and me. She was a little mother. Papa was angry at first. He was angry at the whole world for takng his baby boy. He used to shout and throw things. When his blood was up, Papa would take the strap to us. I am his favorite. I made him laugh with my funny songs and dances, but Evi only made Papa angry. Evi would make that face, all sad and teary, and it would upset Papa so much. I told her to be nice and to not make a fuss. But she wouldn’t make happy and Papa couldn’t help himself. When the troubles came, Papa started planning Evi’s marriage. I remember when Papa told Evi her husband was Bela Bussink, the old clockmaker. We were at the dining table with good mutton stew and appelkuchen for dessert. Cinnamon, warm and sweet, was heavy in the air and I pleaded with Evi with my eyes to be nice. I saw her eyes grow wide and I held my breath. All she said was, “Thank you, Papa.” Her voice was a pebble in a shoe. Then she smiled. I was so happy the night wouldn’t be spoiled. I was cross the next day when I realized I would have to take over the cooking, washing, and mending. I would have to be the little mother while Evi got to live with old Bela. He was no prize sure. At school, we threw rotten apples at his door and called him Old Mandrake because he was so gnarled. But old man Bela had a bigger house than ours and all of his children were grown and gone except for his youngest son, Erik. But Erik was a few years older than Evi and would be married off soon enough. Stupid Evi, I thought, she gets everything first. I didn’t see much of Evi after her wedding. I had to wear hard shoes that day and a silly dress Evi made for me. When I did see her it was the same old Evi, more pale maybe and that same awful teary face. I had to cook and clean for Papa and had worries of my own. One day Evi came back home to help with the canning. She was different. I can’t explain it she was just different. Eating her pickled beets a few nights later, I thought about my big sister. I knew she had a secret, a secret from me. Papa would be cross if Evi was keeping secrets. Next day, quick as a flash I slipped from school and followed Evi. I was an undercover agent like in the comics. I laid in the shadows of the bush watching her house. Finally Evi came out with a large willow basket. I could tell she was only pretending to shop. Soon Evi meandered to Zsusana’s back door, the midwife’s back door. Everyone even Papa feared the midwife. Maybe it was her loud voice. Or the bold way she had about her. The menfolk would whisper about Zsusana and grow silent when she was around. Church or no, midwives can bring babies into the world or stop them. I knew Evi was going to have a baby. I pressed my head to that door. The two talked of angels makers. The two talked of freedom. Through the thick wood I could not make out many words. Some I couldn’t understand. But I knew evil when I heard it. I followed her back to Bela’s house. I lost her in Little Wolf woods then she came up behind me. Something stone hard flickered across her face and then she was my sister again. “Evi, I heard everything. Don’t do the bad thing. Don’t kill,” I implored my sister. “Oh ZuZu, such big ears you have,” Evi said. She kissed my forehead to quiet my racing heart. Wrapping her arm round my shoulder, Evi pulled me close. “You have things all mixed up. Come home with me. I am making gruel for my husband. He’s under the weather. Let us talk over hot chocolate like when Mama was alive.” I don’t remember Mama. Sweet, velvety chocolate, the thought of the steamy mug filled my head as we walked through the forest.
The car door slams. A headache sizzles at my temples. One hand drums angrily on the steering wheels. One child is whining while the other’s long thin legs pound the passenger seat’s back. I’m forgetting something, something important. Loading the trunk I unpack my brain. Traveling with children is like decamping a circus, I think running back to the house one last time. Our tattered caravan backs out of the driveway and the children begin hitting each other in the backseat. Already exasperated, we exchange looks. We exchange a look. He navigates our narrow street. I fish for my phone and trying to remember what I’m missing. I don’t think about surviving strokes or where my kids are. I don’t know about variants or probation or planning a funeral. Driving through orange flame oak leaves we head for the highway on the way to grandma’s house. I’m hoping my ginger cranberry sauce doesn’t leak. He puts his hand on my thigh and tells me that story again. I still giggle. We pick up speed. The boys start singing Ring of Fire. Loudly. Soon we are all singing Maybe Baby. Loudly. The apple pie cools on our kitchen counter and I remember.
A poem where each line ends with a word made from the letters of the single word title
A weight barely bearable of being a parent Heavier than pushing a pram Harder than standing betwixt the world and my teen Lift, lift each day on repeat My love is a tender tether mistaken for a trap As what was my family spins apart Shattering like a window pane Some day it will be me that splinters like a storm soaked tree Letting go, sinking down, split and rent
I don’t remember when I first saw her Probably in the hallways Maybe in the cafeteria One pretty girl amongst pretty girls Pretty much the same I remember when she saw me In the library, study hall, second period
Her eyes a little too big for her elfin face threw wide A cloud sailed away from the sun; I burned from her light She asked me to be her lab partner Cracking the sternum Dissecting the four ventricles
I wasn’t shy just deep quiet She, awkward effervescence of the perpetual new girl Soon we were Sleepovers, secrets Braiding hair Falling asleep on the phone We found a home in each other’s pocket
Then her dad got another job in another state And she was gone Like that In a flurry of boxes and cardboard promises to visit
There were other friends and boyfriends College then work Then a husband and children Some days still Every once in a while It rains while the sun is shining When that sliver of light carves cumulus I feel her little too big eyes on the back of my neck I turn and look for her looking at me
Sun faded sage cover Brushed velvet from fingers after bedtime Opened under a pastel petal comforter Lit by a flashlight and the promise Of a walled garden blaring Bellflower and lilac purple Magenta primroses with saffron throats Among a hush of lamb’s ears like the edges of well-thumbed pages
Resting on a crowded shelf in my flowered wallpapered bedroom in my dorm room In my first apartment In my son’s nursery lingering The way the memory of a brushed geranium clings to your fingertips
Alone on my own little bit of earth Electric lime coleuses and violet etched fern fronds, punctuated with scarlet begonias What is left of your gold letters is burnished calligraphy lady’s mantle on my shoulders I sit in the shade peaceful as a closed book