via Daily Prompt: Scorched
I remember pictures. That burning child in Vietnam 1972. All the scorched things in this earth on her little child face. My front lawn 1995, just back from Ukraine but elated, thinking maybe the war was won. A hundred mosquito bites on our bodies. They had no screens and no one ever opened the windows in the summertime. Such a simple thing to prevent the little vampires from getting you in bed.
I remember the big jars of peaches fermenting underneath the beds, the screeching whine of those things in the night, and getting up thinking there would be one lone mosquito helicoptering around our heads, but there were dozens and dozens and they kept multiplying and attacking us like giant bugs in a sci fi flick, and we whacked them mercilessly with the ragged Kievan towels… while our hosts were sleeping peacefully next door in the stifling heat… we swatted until the early morning light, and the walls were streaked with red and we woke up frightened at the walls but then we laughed.
The burning front lawn seemed to bother me more than anything that year. I remember the sun and how it would not go away. My third floor walk up like the Sahara desert. The sky so blue, baby bedroom blue… bluer than those dreamy water silk drapes that pooled to the floor, that mom wanted so badly. And I didn’t give them to her, but to the condominium buyer instead, because I wanted to make a few dollars more… I still see her sad and hurt little face, pining for that bit of blue to dream in.
I opened the door to my condo, you were shocked to see me, and there were birds and feathers flying. Surprised faces and tired, exhausted bodies sighing… tears and slamming doors and I picked up bird feathers for days. The ensuing cruelty of being tired and sick, wasted from stale airports and people and air, the stained floors, the anxiety of my refuge taken from me, and the horror of lashing out at someone in need. Twenty years later I’m still embarrased. I was very tired, but it turned into mean, then just sad like the smell of cauliflower when I was twenty one. Leaving home forever, and mother shouting after me and then crying at the top of the stairs as I was leaving…And now, so many decades later the smell of cauliflower haunts me still, her crying face like a sudden summer storm, the weird scary ones that leave golf balls of hail in the garden. You open the back door, it was just summer a few seconds ago, but now you see the Ice Age coming….
I came home to burnt lawns and feathers, my own disgrace. 1995 and summers have come and gone, come and gone, but lawns no matter how burnt how scorched they always came back again, sometimes greener than before. Not this year or next. The lawns are full of slithering snakes and jumping worms with fat white stripes like maggot waists.
I sit here at my table skimming recipes from “Saveur”, and “Bon Apetite”, old “Gourmet Magazines”, ah, when America was still dreaming again! I even looked up recipes on the food network and got lost in the 133 best side dishes for Thanksgiving, some gluten free.
Just had a fatty delicious breakfast of eggs, toast, and bacon, greedily wiping up every last streak of the yellow yolks with warm toasted bread …slathered with butter and jelly made from the fruit of the vine….It felt good for approximately sixty-two seconds.
Chemical burns in Aleppo now, the barrels were flying out of planes like new Beaujolais, ancient monuments smashed in Iraq and Syria, earthquakes in Churchtown and even in Oklahoma. It’s just the earth saying “Hi it’s me, are you still there?”
Shall it be beets, rutabaga or carrots, green beans, broccoli or parsnips, steamed, scalloped or sautéed, pumpkin pie or apple or pear, crumbles or pandowdies, or maybe Middle Eastern fare… throw in a little Russian, Chinese, or maybe German, like from Pennsylvania dutch country, or a simple Shaker thing to get your saving graces going…..that bitter Shaker lemon pie was a hit last year…..
Chutney, relish, or red pepper jelly, maybe slather the turkey in Mayo or give them pimento cheese!
I have piles and piles of magazines scattered on the table, still in a daze in my robe, unwashed, uncombed, uninspired, wondering how to do it all. There is a cello concert today at the library, a musician from Ukraine and pianist from Russia,… or I can go to that political meeting in town with concerned citizens afraid of the future— of muskets, spears, and bombs, men in white caps…
The sun is peering into the window, a cold, white, icy light. I am so tired already, and have so many forests, bogs, and orchards of cranberries, mushrooms, and apples to reap…There are two long tapering candles from last month’s dinner party on the dining room table, and I want to light them and let them burn, and scorch maybe, everything in this place, this little cape coddy house with the blue- green shutters that has been telling me for years now, please just go.
I want the fire to take me back to the old rivers, old towns, when a pile of burning leaves was just a pile of burning leaves, stoked by old-fashioned fathers of long ago.
A James Agee town, with James Agee in it, and that little boy and his good father, mother, aunt and uncle, who spread out their blankets on summer evenings and looked up at the stars…..maybe Delaware or Maryland, Virginia, or good old Plymouth Rock, where fire was only fire to keep warm, to keep safe, to welcome your family and friends, not this fire burning everything down to ash, scorching the great plains of my heart and soul and face.. think long and hard when you are at the table, before the glasses are raised and clinked in meaningless toasts, be careful how you sip the wine…
“Be of good cheer”, someone once said to me a long time ago, when after shopping, cleaning, polishing, and washing, chopping, grating, sautéing, steaming and baking, and then lighting fifty candles on every table, counter, sink, and buffet, bookcase and mantel, I suddenly realized that I forgot to pray, get down on my knees and pray hard, fast, and deep, to steady these trembling hands these scathing, chapped, scarred and bleeding hands to try to lead them somewhere cool, calm and clean, before the raging fire that is now inching closer and closer, almost to my aching feet, the tiny bones can hardly make it anymore to the water, the bank of the river, by the curling grasses sighing in the watery breeze, come closer closer closer yet and plunge into me with your hands and feet and body,to the neck dear, yes to the very neck of you, just in time just in time to save your scorching eyes and mouth and face.