Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Her Not Blessed by Barbara Maloutas

winner of the Not Blessed A Little Story Contest

HER NOT BLESSED

1

Grandmother was the supreme storyteller and I was her oldest grandchild. We were discussing changes to the story, simplifying it, not demanding so much. She agreed and was saving me a space for a story and title. There was some field or something that I had to get across and beyond to the lake with its beach. There always was. The field was sandy and then there was a dune. Then there was the question of who needed to be on the beach—I or my mother. She was still alive then and that was part of it—the mother had to sit on the beach and wait. It gave her an excuse to be there. I thought it was me, waiting for my daughter. Often I would step outside and onto the road beside my grandmother’s cottage to greet the shepherds returning with their sheep to the village hoping for a good meal. There were definite roles in the village. Grandmother’s was to be the number one most distinguished person in the village. Her cottage was as fine a cottage as any. Her stories that unfortunately were just outside the reach of most of the villagers who could neither read nor write seemed endless. I was of no help to them for I insisted on writing the stories down in order to keep them safe and sound. One day I strode along the road and may have wandered off too far even for a girl who was unafraid and used to wandering roads she did not know. I came across a policeman who did not recognize me, and especially because of my wild red hair. But I was my grandmother’s grandchild and I had lived in the village my whole life. I said this to the policeman and said, look at this red hair of mine, it is so like my grandmother’s. The question I should have asked was, who are you? Following my question, the policeman asked if he could take me home. I asked to see his badge. It seemed legit. At that point, he believed that I was lost but I believed it was he who had lost his way. I thought that I would never convince him. The road was near my grandmother’s cottage outside the village. I felt anger and indignation swell inside me. He took me for a girl and forgot that my grandmother was one of the finest people the village had ever known although her hair was no longer red. I got that from my father’s side. It was my father’s mother’s red hair. I had to remember my past if I were to excel today—to get beyond the things of my mother, her wardrobe and rituals. I was reminded of the famous story of the hunter who cut open the beast to pull out the grandmother who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes, he used the door to get in the house but upon return to his family after a long, long trip, it was always through the wide window that he strode right across the window sash or he sashayed through the strident window or did either of these to avoid the narrow door, so close to the eye of a needle.


2

There was a time when I was trying to restore the back of a building. It seemed to need painting. Was what I had painted good or not? Who was in charge? There were words on the walls that were beige, but the question was not what they said, but how did they look. Inside, the rooms were full of things I didn’t care about, and I was trying to get my mother to understand that I couldn’t let just anyone in, into the white bathroom. Everywhere I turned there were flounces and trim, things I didn’t like or need. Often I would step outside to greet the sheep returning with their shepherd to the village hoping for a good meal, the sheep that is and not that they hadn’t been grazing all day. There were definite roles in the village. The sheep were for fattening or shearing. At one point, my daughter, my sweet girl, slaughtered two lambs, both male, and then she stored them, butchered, in an ice locker that she didn’t own. On top of that the rooster that really had no breasts, she said, would be supper. She got someone to do-in the lambs and could see them from a kitchen window, strung up to bleed out. She didn’t say she watched. And I guess they weren’t pets—really. Grandmother’s house was as fine a house as any. One day I strode along the road and may have wandered off too far even for a girl who could have lambs slaughtered in clear view. Once on the same road that the lambs used on their way from pasture, I came across a policeman who did not recognize me and wondered after my two favorite lambs. But I am my grandmother’s grandchild and I have lived in the village my whole life, I told the policeman. The question I should have asked and did was, could you have done-in the lambs? Following my question, the policeman asked if he could take me home. I asked to see his badge. He believed that I was lost but I believed it was my daughter who had lost her way. I didn’t want to try to convince her to stay on the farm although the farm road was near her great grandmother’s cottage outside the village. I felt anger and indignation swell inside me as I imagined the feisty male lambs and a policeman who knew no better. The policeman was out of the loop and forgot that my grandmother was one of the finest people the village had ever known although she had allowed the slaughter. I had to remember that those lambs were not pets and would make a tender strew. With stories spinning at every turn, I was ever reminded of the famous story of the hunter who cut open the beast with a knife to bleed the beast out, to make it clean. Then I thought, it is yarns that spin and are spun.


3

Once and later and then are crucial to stories. So once she was busy trying to get rid of someone who was being kicked out, kicked off the farm. The color orange was a marker. She could see it across the field, across to where the parallel road was lying or laying, depending on what roads do. Hunters did not wear orange vests for small game, only for hunting in the woods where larger game was found. She was trying to keep it in mind by thinking of hunters who got in the way. Tension remained but she was getting help to get rid of someone by thinking she was someone else. How did she know? Living under the roof like refugees, they would clear out their stuff. She read “instep” when the phrase was out of step. Knowing this she didn't continue. She thought her life with grandmother was perfect without them, but in the end, grandmother gave the inheritance to her sons. All the dogs were not helping either since they were so content to lay around, or perhaps they were lying around, either in the garden or in the house or on the road. At the time the dogs stunk and no one wanted them around. If she had learned the language her grandmother spoke she might have had a chance with the dogs. Her grandmother often spoke to them and rubbed their feet with foot lotion. It was their pads that got cracked as they aged. She would have to pay extra attention to her grandmother. It was grandmother who had let the beast in. But she may have been remembering only half-heartedly. She did meet the policeman and the policeman took her by the hand and carried her all the way back to her grandmother’s cottage. Meanwhile the dogs barely stirred as he carried her over the threshold. They were dead to the world and used that excuse to be lazy.


4

In time there was a large map on a table. We were adding water to it with a kind of spongy roller device. Someone showed us a specific area to make sopping wet. It was close to the lake. Then someone who had lived in the town close to the lake, came by and we showed her that her area was really wet. At first she didn’t get it, but we knew eventually she’d be upset. There was a wild man with little black legs and a handlebar mustache who showed up and was an old friend who hunted on the mainland. It was as if his legs were singed. We were close to the village feast day, a day really important to grandmother and the village. But I agreed with grandmother that there were too many extraneous facts around. The important thing was that one day as I strode along the road I may have wandered off too far. It was the village feast day but that was no excuse as far as grandmother was concerned. There were gypsies all over the place, not a day or night to be out alone unless I didn’t mind being stolen by gypsies. They had set up their carts on a parallel road across from the road where grandmother’s house stood. They waved at me to come over and buy from their carts, but I was in no position to spend money on their plastic goods. Grandmother said, come back inside and do not even think of consorting with those gypsies. I looked for a way to get to their road and there was none. All I could do was wave to them from afar and wish them luck with their business. I was sure that the man with the mustache was one of them, but I couldn’t be sure from that distance. In a moment of weakness, I found myself sitting on the edge of the road looking forlorn. I was watching the lights from the gypsy carts and regretting my life when a policeman approached and asked if he could take me home. At that point, he believed that I was lost. The road ran in front of my grandmother’s cottage outside the village, and I was directly across the road. I felt anger and indignation swell inside me. My grandmother was one of the finest people the village had ever known. Unfortunately she understood nothing of gypsy life. I was hoping that as when the hunter finally returned home and stepped into the house through the big front window, I would do the same so that the gypsies could see my grand entrance back into my grandmother’s house.


5

Later there was a storage unit that had a certain way to remove things from it because there was a blue light inside it. The blue light was key. I was not worried that it slipped away easily. I no longer felt worried and I sensed that I was no longer searching and anxious about it. The search was mild. The blue light kept shining. Prior to this there was no mention of light, so I was not sure what to think. Was this a valid direction for the story? Where would it lead? Where would the road to the forest lead when it ran beyond the forest. Most of all, was there a road through it? And was it better after all to go around? Grandmother forbid me to enter the forest alone. It was one of her rules. Another was common to most grandmothers, vash de hands before meals. That was the closest to a mutual language that we got. Unless otherwise stated, a forest was owned by a nation, but that was too specific for all, much less the squatters. They did exist and were most likely what grandmother feared when she forbade me to go into the woods. A forest and the woods were equivalent in northerly climes. I could see the squatting take over the sides of hills and before I knew it there were owners of lands and farms, in areas that were formerly national forests. It took guts to operate in this manner, but it worked in some places. That was not how grandmother got her property. She was a long time resident of the area and loved by all. The squatters were disliked. When they began their squat I could barely see them. Then before I knew it, they were owners. One way to commence a squat was to set the forest on fire. Squatters rehabilitated the land they burned. Oops, I might have it in me to give them away, but not without a record of their takeover.


6

A friend and I were both in the hospital at the same time having babies. Hers was almost normal weight, but mine was a tiny, tiny person, like a mite. He was so tiny that he slipped through a small hole in the top of the cradle-board where I swaddled him in blankets. I got down on my hands and knees to search for him and there I found many insects and creatures with beautiful feathery bodies and legs moving over the carpet, but I couldn’t find him because he was so small. Grandmother accused me of not being careful. She said that all my time with her in her cottage had done no good. All the healthy walks were for nothing, based on the birth weight of my baby. I told her that a beautiful feathery body and legs were not to be scoffed at or taken lightly. Unfortunately that was exactly what became the undoing of my baby. One sneeze and he would be lost forever. I sneezed. You see said grandmother. I was thinking that she was not so nice after all. She was not there in my time of need. I could have used some help down there on the floor. The policeman she sent was no help whatsoever and actually contributed to the problem, stepping out of the woods with his dirty shoes and all. He stood there right where my baby had fallen. It was obvious he had never been a mother. He offered to carry me home and to comfort me in my loss but it was too late. He was careless and gross and knew nothing of loss and the prominence of my grandmother. The hunter on the other hand, being a father, although missing for a very long time, understood what I needed. He stepped over the area where my baby had fallen. He was winged and light-footed, a man after my own heart. He leapt inside his house through the big front window. He didn’t know how nor did he care to use the door.


7

At that time I was near a train station, to its side and front, in an outdoor restaurant on the edge of the village. I sat with a colleague who was pointing out the beautiful brick and ironwork on the building facade. Soon it was evening and all the waiters carried the tables individually over their heads down the stairs to a plaza below, where the evening meal was to be served. The tables were covered with white tablecloths and they bobbled above the heads of the waiters as they descended. I had always wanted to bring grandmother there and although she mostly preferred her own cooking, she was sometimes game to eat out. On the other side of the tracks the landscape was broken without almost any green. This was not the landscape of grandmother’s cottage where I grew and flourished so long ago. There was water aplenty then, enough to keep the forest green, a place I remember being forbidden to enter. Its lush growth was part of the problem. Stay out of the woods, she would say. Grandmother’s house was a fine house and across from it in the distance one could frequently see the smoke of a locomotive engine. She would point it out and make up a story about train travel. I suppose we could have called the railroad a parallel road since the smoke traveled along the horizon parallel to the road in front of grandmother’s house. In any case it was too far away to reach and thankfully, too far away to hear its rumble. The policeman who stepped out of the woods, and offered to see me home was near, but silent. He had learned to be quiet as he approached everyone, suspect or not. Unlike the hunter, he was always underfoot and silent. At first I was relieved and then I was angry that he was so underfoot and unaware of the prominence of my grandmother. At least he should have known she was prominent and well respected in the village. He should have known who I was. My grandmother, having lived in the area her whole life, was well respected in and around the village. People remembered her as they did the man who wrote stories by memory and about loss, stories that included trains and butterflies and butterfly nets.


8

Another time, she was sitting in pews among wealthy people and although it seemed to be a church, the orientation of all discussions and interests appeared to move laterally. Women were getting dressed to go out, perhaps to a wedding. The first sister came with shoulder pads to ask how they looked—in or out, she asked. They voted them in. Another woman changing her clothes seemed to need a coat, or something to finish an outfit off. Of course this would not have interested grandmother at all and barely interested grandmother’s granddaughter, but if she was ever to leave her grandmother and her grandmother’s village, she would have had to develop an interest in clothes. She was actually a tomboy and would have rather been on the road in front of her grandmother’s house than in a church, any day. Better yet, she’d rather have been at the lake or at the edge of the forest. At the lake or at the edge of the forest, shoulder pads would be meaningless. Of this she was certain. She was always grateful to her grandmother for allowing her to attend dances at the lake. There was a pavilion there for just such events. The grandmother asked a policeman to escort her granddaughter to the pavilion and to keep an eye on her. The granddaughter would sit on a blanket on the sand by the lake and watch the moon in the water while the policeman watched her. The lake was man-made but adequate for a reflection of the moon. The miniature golf course on the other hand needed an upgrade. She wondered if there was any hope for her or the village, since a large part of the population was made up of shepherds, hunters, policemen, churchgoers, golfers and women like her grandmother. Of course her grandmother was special and prominent and known by almost everyone near and far. Unfortunately, almost everyone near and far had heard the rumor that the granddaughter had a crush on the policeman who was her escort at the lake. This unforeseen situation created a problem that came to light by the light of the moon. Her grandmother had forbidden her to enter the forest alone. Although the lake was another story, the policeman could be punished if it were discovered he in any way acted like a hunter, i.e., stalked the girl with the intention of turning her head or carrying her through his big front window.


9

Sometimes her grandmother’s house was full of young people who were under the influence of a local street vendor. When she realized that he knew nothing that would be of help to them, she hustled him out and although he plead his case, she didn’t believe him. He took his ice cream cart and left as she watched through the window. One of the young men, a friend of her grandmother’s, showed her his delicate palms. They were decorated in henna patterns. One of his hands had a red eye in the middle of one finger. His hands appeared to be partially erased. He held them up for a long time and they seemed to be disintegrating as she stared at them. She was sure she was under the influence of one of the gypsy women she met on the road, the road that ran right beside her grandmother’s house. It was a lovely house on a slight hill, in the middle of the distance between the village and the forest. Some days it seemed far from both and some days it seemed closer to one or the other. She liked to walk the road with large strides like she owned it. She was happy to be growing up in her grandmother’s house and under her grandmother’s care, except when she wasn’t. She met the gypsy woman wearing a long skirt right after the turn of the year and took the plant the gypsy woman offered. The garden was right on the road. It was supposed to be a good luck plant, so she took it as a gift although it was plucked right out of her grandmother’s garden. It’s bulbous bottom was wrapped in tin foil. She was concerned that the gift might lose some value because she only had a few coins in her pocket to pay for it. She was the consumer. It was her habit to walk the road without a wallet, so she felt lucky to have the few coins. However, gypsies had their opinions. They were a good strong-willed people. Had she been cursed? What would the hunter do in this case? Could he walk her over the dark pool that the gypsy had created in front of her? Was there a window past bad luck or beyond it? He came out of the forest with a kill on his shoulder. Blood had been spilled. If nothing else, was this enough of a sacrifice, she wondered. As if in response to the whole situation of her tears and grief, the policeman gathered her in his arms and asked her name and where she had come from. Silly, she said, I live with my grandmother in that house right over there. You know it. She was however, scared that she was under the influence of a curse and buried her face in his shoulder. He had gathered her in his arms. She felt safe in his arms and pretended there was no talisman plant in her arms in the arms of a policeman, a plant that had grown in her grandmother’s own garden.


10

Since I felt so comfortable in the group, I offered my white coat that hung in the closet. When someone tried it on, it was much too long and therefore looked horrible on her. It was a designer white coat that I had barely worn since its purchase in a thrift shop. The closures were snaps that contributed to the sense that it was an old white blanket. In consolation I offered her a knit top-like a sweater that could not compare with the coat, but worked. The closet was the front closet in my grandmother’s house. From the door to the closet there were tiles so that hunters with boots or policemen with shoes could walk to the closet without tracking mud. It was something like an entryway. The forest was a place of mud and vegetation. All the long and healthful walks were walks on the road between the charming village and the deep dark forest. Both the forest and village were potential economic resources for the people of the village, but the people had been herding sheep far too long. I knew the village was economically sound, but it was more difficult to assess the value of the forest since grandmother forbade any entrance into it. I would have to get someone to assess its value that had the right and privilege to enter into it. The gypsies from the parallel road, the policeman and the hunter were the most likely candidates to visit and record the contents of the forest. Of course, how could I have forgotten, there was grandmother. She was thrifty and wise when it came to anything requiring a monetary investment. She had seen the squatters and knew their methods within the forest. She would be able to control their greed. The hunter spent many hours and months in the forest and could name the animals therein. Naming was crucial. The policeman spent his time on the edge of the forest, not necessarily venturing into its heart. All and all grandmother seemed the best candidate and would glean stories that her adventures in the forest would yield. She was not afraid of talking and I would write the stories down. Then I thought that for her to take the stance forbidding my entrance, she must have already experienced the woods. I’ve seen the policeman glance at her when he brought me home as he often did after a day on the road. It was a knowing glance of shared stories that only needed to be spoken, to be remembered in detail. What if I never could experience the forest, what then?


11

The best way to prevent mold in a closet was to leave the light on. The matriarch of the family insisted that there was a tiny hole in the back near the top. The weave was so fine there was no possibility for repair. I insisted there was no hole but to no avail. I did notice that there were clothes in my closet that I had never worn and I made a mental note of it. Many of them were not natural fibers. Some day I might live with my sister who recommended leaving the light on. My sister barely knew our grandmother. She was born in our parents’ middle age and was young when I was spending summers with our grandmother. If she had been there I would have taken her hand and walked with her all along the road in front of grandmother’s house. She would have been an excellent companion, for sure. She would have contributed to the income of the family, to its wealth. She was a breadwinner compared to my hit and miss contributions. She would have walked as far as the forest with no thought of going against our grandmother’s wishes, into the forest regions. She preferred gardens to woods and did well with her house and garden and her discretionary spending for its upkeep. She would have updated all the old plumbing for sure. My sister would have offered to sit with me on the beach. She was patient and knew waiting. She wouldn’t have cared about the parallel road or the gypsy camps. She would figure you get what you ask for. She was sensible, so much so, I could have favorably compared her to grandmother. The woods were dark and dense. My sister understood grandmother’s prohibition. We would walk the road from the house of grandmother to the village, ignoring the parallel road, speaking only briefly with the hunter and not needing the policeman since we would have each other. Not that she intended to be short with anyone because she knew how to act. When we made our walks along the road in front of grandmother’s house, we would definitely take the dogs. She always had at least one. In snowy weather, when the forest was bare and almost visible to its other end, we dressed the dogs in sweaters. The smallest ones looked cute beyond belief. They would slip and slide on the icy road, and my sister would fall and break her leg as she tried to show me a skating move, backwards. It would take all year long to get her leg back into shape with lots of walking on the road and on the sand by lake. That was the doctor’s orders after the accident and after the cast was removed. Of course, it would have been a white plaster cast that did the job. If she got tired on the way back, we would stop and possibly run into the hunter who was on his own way home after a long time away from his family. My sister would understand. And when the policeman suddenly appeared from the edge of the forest and offered to take us home, we would both be happy that he could lift her in his arms and carry her along that well-traveled road back to the comfort of grandmother’s house.


12

Later as I sat on a bench and little girls and boys arrived when their children’s service in the other room had finished, I would take note that they were very confident and noisy children. They spoke their opinions openly and loudly, although they were children’s opinions about children’s subjects. One little girl with strawberry hair snuggled up to me and leaned into me. Her hair smelled wonderful. I had begun to notice the hair of little girls and compared their hair to my own hair as a child in my grandmother’s place. It was a house of houses with lots of space for children. I was amazed how short my hair was always kept in that house. My mother’s hair was long, so I really didn’t get it unless it was grandmother’s influence. Her hair was short and wavy, not what I would call feminine. My hair was short and curly. My head was full of curls. It might have been that I was under the influence of my two maiden aunts, athletes and all around good sports. That was when they were young. One excelled in archery and might have befriended the hunter whose hair was long and had its measure of curls and waves. It suited his leather clothes and feathered cap. There existed photos of that aunt as an archer with a feathered cap as well. Her clothes were not genuine but only resembled the hunter’s and were made of felt. Both aunts played basketball and could leap like the hunter if called upon to enter a house through a window. Since they were athletes and all around good sports, with the policeman they would have had less in common except for the uniform. They did love uniforms. It was he who would have come under the sway of their curly heads, shampooed each day and smelling wonderful as they leaned their heads into his shoulders on their way back to grandmother’s house.


13

After a little while of just sitting we saw an area where kittens and cats were playing with large inflated balls of many colors. They said that this scene represented the universe and the way it worked. That idea didn’t bother me at all and actually seemed reasonable and satisfying. The balls shifted as the kittens pounced and knocked them around. It was a theory that was new and seemed to work if you didn’t mind the activity of animals. When the male lambs had been a problem, they were dispatched with alacrity. The dogs used the doggy door and only needed to be controlled when the chickens were pecking free range in the yard. The dogs far outnumbered the cats in any case. There were the two of my daughter and my two, the one of my sister and the one of my son. Grandmother had Sandy and that was his color. Mentioning my son’s dog might have been a problem, since that was the first mention of a son. I didn’t love the idea of the son living with the pigs and not being able to keep what he owned in any order. Truth is stranger than fiction, they said. He was most likely the boy of the story who walked the road and looked for a way to the parallel road that he never found. His great grandmother would have told him of the time when he started to come out, not quite a quick pop out, but almost. The mother was sitting on cardboard boxes, stuffing brochures from those boxes into envelopes, her wide belly carrying him, somewhat in the way. Everything was done in the house, business and living. She set her knees wide to get the baby out of the way. Then the water broke as it happened sometimes when a woman was active. A few brochures got wet. How disgusting was that? She said, not really. They told the neighbor as they backed out the drive that her water had broken. They felt sure everyone would know in no time. And sure enough the policeman did and was ready to tell the grandmother and offer a hand on the edge of the forest. The neighbor happened to be the hunter. That hunter was watering zucchini in a backyard garden that they shared. Women carrying babies were like gardens, but it was not her he watered, it was the vegetable garden. Oh, sure he said, women all say that their water just broke. But wishing her no harm he waved back good luck. Once she got to a hospital ward giving birth was easy. It took only a couple of hours. She nursed her son right away and for the next nine months. Nine months in and nine months out was her reasoning. She had to stop nursing the older girl child when he came along and she was surprised that the nursing had not prevented another pregnancy. She wondered where she had gotten that idea that didn’t really work. She decided not to mention it to the hunter unless he asked.


14

At another moment, I was kneeling in a pew between my son and a friend. They were squeezing me to make me feel a part of them. There was no fear but there was some sort of light antagonism between us. On the envelopes in the pew there was writing that was stamped and indicated a time. Then the thing that stood out was all the anxiety of waiting for the equipment to be free. To be squeezed was pleasant and I knew the mother of the woman who played the part in the movie of the woman who moved the cows and probably sheep. Her house was on the same road as grandmother’s house was. It was a road that both grandchildren knew by heart. They walked to and from the village almost daily for their health as well as to run errands. They often met the policeman on the edge of the forest along the road. Every time he asked who they were and offered to take them home. Both their hearts would beat angrily since he neither recognized who they were nor acknowledged their relationship to their grandmother. He frequently misread them and put out his hands to walk them wherever home might be. They usually took hold and lead him back to their grandmother’s house. They took the opportunity to let him know who they were but he continually forgot and introduced himself to their grandmother over again and again. They nurtured a connection to the distant land of their father but there was so much in between, like grandmother’s working as hard as any man and a very great distance. Still a visit was required before the grandmother got too old and while the children were still small and easy to handle. They were not spoiled at all and she let them skip to town with coins in their pockets, avoiding the forest although they were tempted to take the shortcut through that very forest. The hunter had disappeared deep in the forest for a very long time and would often step out of the forest just as they passed causing the boy to dirty his pants. The boy tried to keep himself clean, but the sight of the hunter and his gun freaked him out every time. Survival had left the hunter disheveled and thin. He was not a pretty sight. Once they got over the initial fright they invited him to travel with them to their grandmother’s house situated along the road between the forest and the village. After two years and some months, the boy got his curls chopped off in a village barbershop. It was too long a time to keep him in curls even for the sake of a grandmother. He had the habit of speaking with strangers and spoke openly and easily with the hunter. Are you a stranger, he asked the hunter who sat down next to him on the curb of the road. I’m not to talk to strangers at all, he said. Good boy, the hunter answered and eventually told the boy’s grandmother of this conversation.


15

Once again we noted that the envelopes indicated the time that someone could make use of the equipment. Scheduling and the appreciation of the time was something she got. That meant, understood. Things didn’t correlate completely but why make more work than was necessary, she thought. Whenever she complimented a particular woman who was older than she was, the woman who made the problem got upset. She said out loud that the way the woman was wearing her hair was very youthful, and she, the other woman, wanted everyone to stop making such comments. It seemed to the woman that she was wasting her time and might have had an ulterior motive or two. She might not have known what she was talking about, but she did know for sure. Often, as a child she wouldn’t follow the house rules, those about the forest and the village, about taking long bike rides, about bike rides along the street in front of the house, about dashing a bike into the street without even looking. There was a photo made that year of a grump in a hole in the sand. That would be the boy on the beach by the lake. Who knew why and that was not a question anyone asked for fear of spoiling the child. Both girls and boys were like that, they said. But she’s got spirit they said. Why she’s won an award in summer camp races. Her long legs were as long as the hunters even when she was young. Sure the hunter could walk into his house right through the front window, but it was something that mattered not an iota to her. It was in her grandmother’s house that she learned to toss a boomerang when she was not riding her bike or picking wild raspberries. She would put directly in her pockets. This seemed to be a family habit that ruined summer shorts. When she could she would watch the shimmering water of the lake. She had to figure out when it was forbidden to enter the lake on her own without a buddy. The forest accommodated no one in its dark green regions. On the other hand with the policeman as her buddy she could enter the lake, but at what cost. It would be better for her to consider the hunter as a buddy. She understood his relation to animals and found it more pure.


16

So then it was getting late when the two guys seemed to be done with some of the printing equipment. She started fingering it and asking them questions. She was probably trying to weasel her way in ahead of me. Her questions revealed that she knew something about the process, so we started talking about it and the classes we had taken. One of these was math, one of the classes that is. I was never that great at math, but I learned to be competent and realized that the only possible way to learn the times tables was to memorize its singsong sound. For some it never worked, nor did flash cards. And for some, homework was always a matter of waiting for help. Take care of the sense my grandmother said and the sound will take care of itself or was it the other way around. Around that time grandmother told me that there were mice in the woodpile behind her house, but she marched right back in the house with her arms full of wood. The task was accomplished. She believed that everything had a moral if only she could find it. One of the biggest lessons was the parallel road, and my inability to reach it. The girl who fingered the equipment was on a parallel road for sure. I knew it because I could not reach her on any level beyond her need to print. I searched for a way over to her and her road but found it impossible. Evidently there was no means to reach her although there should have been.

If the policeman knew the route, he wasn’t saying although I frequently saw him on the side of the road. The hunter was an innocent and wouldn’t know a thing about parallel roads. I asked him if he was at all familiar with grandmother and her house and he promptly tried to leap through the front window. I felt like calling it a parallel door in to grandmother’s cottage, one wide and one tall and open, I think. I realized soon enough that I had forgotten the hollowed out log. It was my favorite spot for meeting the policeman. With my chin in my hands I would wait for hours for the appearance of the policeman and not just any, it had to be my man.


17

At that time the equipment was a shiny, lightweight metal with an aluminum channel. They started talking with one another, with their bodies only a few inches apart. Someone in uniform sometimes gets away with that. She was reminded that the famous ghost story of the hunter, was a story her grandmother told. It was a hunter, who returned home after having been missing for some significant length of time, just in time to save the grandmother who had a cottage along the road and really sore feet. There was a great front window that opened directly to the living room of the family house, and when the hunter finally returned home, he stepped into the house through the big front window one foot at a time. At grandmother’s he used the door. In a moment of weakness, I found myself sitting on the edge of the road forlorn. I was watching the lights from the gypsy carts and regretting my life when a policeman approached and asked if he could take me home. At that point, he believed that I was lost. The road ran in front of my grandmother’s cottage outside the village, so I was directly across the road. I felt anger and indignation swell inside me. My grandmother was one of the finest people the village had ever known. Unfortunately she understood nothing of gypsy life. I was hoping that as when the hunter finally returned home and stepped into the house through the big front window, I would do the same so that the gypsies saw my grand entrance back into my grandmother’s house.


18

At some point in time I realized that we picked up each other’s dust that way, standing so close. Then we went for a drive with my husband and he showed us the places along the street where people made trouble and quickly reported any questionable activity to the cops, especially parking violations. The houses were brick row homes. Mostly, I feared the man, the policeman who stepped out of the woods without making a sound, like a hunter, and looked like he might have acted irresponsibly, a body slung over his shoulders. The same policeman could grab my hand and carry me all the way back to my grandmother’s cottage if I let him. I was reminded of the famous ghost story of the hunter, I believe it was a hunter, who returned home after having been missing for some significant length of time. Then I realized how foolish it was to allow one story to impede the progress of another. One story could not be a train in the presence of another. Yes, I’m referring to the railroad. When the hunter finally returned home, he stepped into the house through the big front window with such ease one could swear his feet had wings, but this was myth. Everything made me think of the hunter. So I immediately thought of the hunter who was not always reliable but just the same, lovable. I had to dwell on both side of him. On the other hand he was ready to carry the baby over his shoulder and leap through the window like he could, although grandmother wouldn’t allow it. And the policeman wouldn’t allow it. The hunter, tamed by his neighbors and others, walked through the door. Everyone was proud of his new-found affection for family. Naturally the hunter was someone’s son, however prodigal he had been. How to remain faithful to the hunter was the question, when the hunter had probably not remained faithful to his family or the idea of one.


19

Earlier there were two babies of different sizes. They might have been twins or siblings. They weren’t like identical pieces of candy. One of them, the one with blond hair, relaxed enough to sleep on my chest. I was lying down, holding the tinier baby and stroking its head to relax it. It did relax and the baby’s hair was soft under my chin. The lady who was a problem was also around. The lady who was older than me, but looked younger, was around. None of this happened on the road, the one outside grandmother’s house. No amount of walking on the road or avoiding the forest or swimming in the lake with permission or searching for a parallel road could compare with time spent inside grandmother’s house. The time in the house sharing stories and such, was most similar to the time sitting in the hollow log. Logs get hollow for many reasons including but not limited to the axe of the hunter, the activity of bugs and the weight of a policeman’s body. A log is no longer alive and it obvious cells evidently breaks down. Not that it is reflective, it is actually a place to hold things like notes and bodies and dolls.


20

Once there was a story that grandmother told about a meadow. Up there in this alpine meadow—the first frolic was at those heights. We were all so light up there she said. We skipped like calves. We were close to peaks, so close they looked low and one of the boys in the party (he could hardly be called a man) was missing an arm. He still skipped flapping one arm and did well. He was Indian and tried to get close. We were both foreigners. He flirted and she made him tell her how he had lost his arm. The party ran its course. It was in a conveyor belt, he said. When all the others went to sleep, she hid from him in the barn, her upper arm for a pillow. It had nothing to do with his missing arm. In the morning a sow walked into the barn not far away from where grandmother slept. All morning as the sun peaked over the ridges she could hear the cowbells. The alpine experience was genuine and fleeting, somehow comparable to living in grandmother’s house.


21

As I grew older my hair was shiny, less curly and very much like silk. When I pulled it to one side or the other it changed me, made me even more like my mother whose hair fell against the natural tendency to lie flat. Some places and sections were called cowlicks after the wet influence of bovines. It was difficult making the shift to long hair. It became much more about playing with distorted head shapes through various hair-dos. Fifty percent of the time the policeman wore a cap and one hundred percent of the time the hunter wore his cap of leather with a feather in it. When grandmother took therapy, she lost all her hair, or it became so thin it was better gone.


22

The origin of narratives is related to time but the origin of stories is a mystery. There was a time when grandmother became religious so that daily I got a dose of the lives of the saints. She wanted me to feel as personally connected to the saints as she was. Although she gave me his medal, Saint Christopher had been abandoned. All his medals had no value. Someone said that he never did do what he was supposed to have done. He didn’t cross the river. He didn’t actually carry a child on his shoulder, one that got heavier by the step. Poor grandmother, I wondered who could she pray to now, when she would come upon treacherous waters.


23

Grandmother’s house was a prominent one in the village. She believed that houses were protected by Saint Joseph. A homeowner could bury Joseph’s statue in the backyard and sell his house within a week. Grandmother would never sell her house, as long as she lived. It was too important in the village and for the financial stability of the village. If I were to inherit it, I certainly wouldn’t sell it. St. Joseph based on many neighbors’ experiences however, doesn't do well with floods or snowy conditions. It seems his guarantees cover things other than acts of God and are frequently simply monetary. That suited grandmother perfectly.


24

Agnes was a name rarely given to girls in grandmother’s day, and a good thing because the saint with that name was either raped by a cousin or had her breasts cut off and put into her own hands. This was called mutilation in either case. There was a time when such stories would put grandmother to sleep before she finished them. I always wondered why this was so. Did the policeman or the hunter who touched her life in so many ways seem more real and was it the wisdom of the aging brain that put her to sleep when the story was unbearable? I wondered about those who defended such stories, not their telling, but their very existence.


25

Saint Barbara had such a hard time with her father that she became the patron of artillery. It seemed that she had to go through suffering to get her reputation. Athena on the other hand was born directly from the mind of Zeus. She represented the civilized and intellectual side of war. I questioned grandmother about whether or not that means that through suffering we arrive at the wisdom of war? The policeman in the face of evil would forget who I was. The hunter tried to forget in the forest and achieved a spiritual side by playing with the animals and growing wings. Grandmother was naturally spiritual and would not support war. She kept a secret that she only revealed to me and that was that she was Quaker. She quaked in her spiritual experience and taught me that although I kept it secret.


26

With all the saints in their sights, grandmother and mother died quite a number of years ago.


27

The hunter remains beautiful and although missing, a good catch as a husband.


28

Very unfortunately, she married the policeman. Fortunately, he has forgotten his profession and come to know where they live.


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