Wednesday, April 08, 2009

In the House

I sit in the living room with the grown-ups, my parents’ friends. I am surrounded by them. They are talking to each other, laugh laugh laughing, drinking their grown-up drinks.

We are in this house. I came here with my mother and father. There were workmen here for awhile. They sat down at lunch time at the bottom of the hill, outside, where we park our yellow car. They ate big thick sandwiches. My mother stood in the kitchen wiping white paste onto the walls with a wide metal knife. There were no guests then. Now there are.

My mother goes up the stairs. I can see her bare legs through the railings as she goes up. I can’t see her head, her face. Just her legs going up.

“Joan,” says one of the women near me, “your legs are so scratched! You must have been working outside!”

This makes my mother different from the other women here. Their legs will never be scratched like my mother’s. they don’t work outside like she does. They wear stockings and skirts. My mother is outside a lot. She likes the garden. I can tell that she is the ugly one here, the one the others do not like. My father is here with the guests. My mother is separate from them.

I can tell she is separate also because of how she is not smooth the way they are. Her face doesn’t really laugh or smile the way theirs do. Her laugh is not a real laugh. She looks like a kid in school who is pretending. She sits on the edge of the couch.

They call her Joan. Even her name is like a rock, weighing her down. It is as if the other grown-ups are standing on one side of a lake all together, close together, looking at her, laughing at her – not in a big obvious way but in their eyes. My father is with them.

I pull away from my mother. I don’t want to be like her, unable to protect herself.

It is the same house that we come back to many years later after living in England, but it has been made to look like a much more acceptable house, a house like ones that other people live in. I like it better. It isn’t the place with broken glass in the dirt all around it anymore. Beige wall to wall carpet covers the bare boards that used to put splinters in my feet.

It doesn’t have Hungarians in it anymore. Those bands of grown-ups don’t come anymore. Once or twice some couple from my father’s office comes, and he runs out that morning to shop for things my mother doesn’t think are necessary.

The people never come back a second time. I know my father always wants to impress them. He asks me to pull up all the grass that has grown up in the white stone path that leads to the front door, and after lunch he asks me to play the piano for everyone. I resist as nicely as I can, but my father always presses and presses and I have to play. My playing is laden with mistakes. Though I have good intentions, I never practice and dread the weekly lesson with the unfriendly English woman.

After the people leave – they drive back to the city – I do the dishes. My father goes to read. My mother goes to read. My sisters are each reading in their rooms. Sunday.

We gather in the evening in the living room to watch Masterpiece Theater. The TV is small enough to be moved from room to room, a black and white. We put it on the coffee table. My father sits on the couch with my mother and sisters. I sit on the floor, my back against the couch. The Brandenburg concerto pipes up as the show opens and Alistair Cook, a dapper Englishman welcomes us. My father is the one who speaks, who says something. He is happy to be watching the show. He likes Alistair. He would like to be Alistair with his nice English accent, dressed well, sitting amongst good furnishings. My mother doesn’t say much but she is smiling. I want to watch the story, but I want to stay far away from my parents, as far away as I can.

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