Saturday, November 20, 2010


When my mother came back from Russia for the third time, she decided to bring me a gift.  It wasn't like I expected it; she was there for business, after all, and asking for a gift was taboo, at least in my family.  I'm not sure, at times, when people decided to ask for gifts, or expect them, and I know that they don't do it explicitly, and much has been said about the ideal behind gift giving, sure, so I'll just leave it at that for now.  My hopes, what small mounds of fine grain sand they had been, were long ago spread across our snowy drive way to provide traction for my father's diesel mercedes, one that, I'll remind you and myself, achieved a 0-60 time of about 20 seconds, if you bothered counting, enough to light and smoke half a cigarette, and certainly enough to probe into the beginnings of a conversation, if one were so inclined, about school, the weather, art projects, or the recent goings on of neighborhood type folk. One thing about the car's performance, though, it stayed consistent, all the way up to 300,000 miles, and more, which made the real and professed reason for its purchase all the more congruent, and all the less concurrent with more modern enterprises, you might say. 

That morning is was cold enough for the driveway snow to have traction--and if you come from a colder climate you'll know what I mean about the snow, and the almost squeaky noise that it makes--and we had gone out to see Aunt Edna before noon.  Mom had been gone for over three weeks, and what little communication we had was stilted because we always knew that our phone conversations and letters had been pilfered, observed in advance, if you know what I mean, making it all the more difficult to procure something material and tangible for me, further diminishing childish hopes. Edna was a robust woman, who delighted in dying her hair red from a home-made recipe of beets and cranberries, lord bless her.  She had me scrub out the bath tub every saturday before sitting me down in front of mounds of coffee cake so creamy and delicious that I'd always eat enough to make me sick later, never paying attention to the gentle prompts from my father to stop.

We were on our way back to the house, a typical politeness about the air, when we came around the turn to see our lights on.  When I came inside she had somehow smelled fresher than the crisp air and more stale too, her eyes a sparkle of knowledge and barriers even to me, even then, before I could have formed strategic intent.  The two figurines stood on the kitchen table, shreds of paper from their packaging still strewn about. They had wooden faces, and hand stitched clothing, and their little arms moved in semi-circles with enough range to allow me to place them, as I would later over the mantle, in an embrace.  I liked the way they looked there, above the fire, and how the paint of their make-up made their faces animated in a way that froze them in time.  Sometimes I would imagine them talking, what they might say to one another, but I always kept it to myself.  I learned to do that more often as I got older, and to tell visitors that my Aunt Edna had gotten the dolls from her husband when he had served in the army. It rarely came up in conversation anyway.

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