Monday, January 16, 2012


Lying in bed alone at night, my parents somewhere downstairs, it is black night and my eyes are closed. Whether my eyes are open or closed I can see tiny particles dancing, as if sand is pouring down on me but never arriving, and I wish the screen would go blank, but there is no way to erase these tiny particles pouring and moving like a universe of stars that will not go away. And I can’t ask my parents what to do because I cannot describe it.

I take a nap on the same bed in the afternoon, a single bed along a wall under the slanted roof of the attic. My mother takes her nap downstairs. I look through a book that my grandmother has sent. I can’t read, but I look at the pictures and tell myself the story as if I were reading the words.

My father says that on Saturday mornings I must clean my room. I dread this time. I don’t know what to do, I don’t see what is wrong with the room that needs correcting. My father’s rules weighs on me like stone. Every day of the week has a different color. Mondays are blue. Tuesdays are yellow. But Saturday is brown.

There is one time when my mother is sick. She is in her nightgown and robe and it is Saturday and she offers to help me clean up my room. It is sweetness, this offer, a cool breeze that lifts the stone.

Like the time I come home from school. My mother is in the kitchen. She shows me how she has written my name in icing on a piece of wax paper. She puts the paper on the kitchen table so I can see it. This has never happened before, something unexpected, sweet, easy, for me.

In the kitchen my father cooks one time. He cooks the dinner because my mother is sick, sitting in the living room in nightgown and robe. She is never sick, but it happens this one time and makes everything different. My father is in the kitchen, laughing, pouring red wine over beef and adding shiny green peas. I am with my father in the kitchen, watching, knowing this will be the best meal I have ever eaten, my father laughing a if cooking is fun.

My mother doesn’t laugh like that. She pulls a leaf off a tree or plants we are passing and chews on it. She talks about the plants as we pass – this is an oak, see? you can tell by the leaf -- oh, look at the skunk cabbage! Sometimes she takes me walking in places where the signs say No Trespassing, and I am afraid. These are always scary woods or old orchards. She says everything is fine and I must keep walking, but I am afraid. Sometimes she stops the car to go into some old abandoned church or old-fashioned school. Sometimes there are old-fashioned books left behind on the floor and my mother picks them up and looks at them. I am afraid we will be caught in this place where it is clear we are not supposed to be, an abandoned old place where the people have left. Sometimes my mother digs up a plant she likes. She see it while we are driving. She pulls over, digs it up, something from the side of the road, and puts it in the car for her garden.

This is what my mother and my home are like. Something is rougher than I see in other places.

My father though does not have this roughness. I know when he takes me somewhere it will work out. We will not get lost. Nothing will go wrong. We will dress up. And when we walk it will be on paths, or even actual roads. And he will have his walking stick to swing and point with.

Sometimes he shows me how when he was in the Hungarian boy scouts they were told to put a stick behind them, held in the crooks of their elbows and to march like that, with their backs straight.

My father wants my back straight. He wants me to use a handkerchief and not sniff. He wants me to shine his shoes and has bought me a kit of polish and brushes and rags. He wants me to correct the words I mispronounce, to color inside the lines and to paste the postcards my grandmother sends from Budapest into a special book with black paper pages.

He sits me on his lap in the kitchen after dinner and points to his eye, his ear, his nose and I try to remember the Hungarian word. Don’t ever be a bubblegum person, he warns, and I know what he means, not in words but because I can see what he sees. Don’t be ordinary, he is saying, like the people in the supermarket and the hardware store. Be like the people in the concert hall. If you are not careful, you will become the wrong kind of person.


Heather Marsten said...

Interesting contrast between your father and mother. She sounds more bohemian and him more proper. I wonder what aspects of the two you incorporate in your lifestyle. I like the image of the bubblegum person. Have a blessed day.

Marta Szabo said...

Thank you for reading, Heather. I reach for things as I write, interested in what you and others see, not planning, wondering what the writing will reveal. Thank you again.