In the beginning there were white see-through curtains that the light shone through. They were in the living room and I didn’t know what was on the other side. It was something big, too big for me to go into by myself. It had no boundaries, a place my father stepped into every morning in a trenchcoat, with a briefcase, going, I knew, to a train somewhere, somewhere down below, and returning from that big open space at night.
And from the bright room was an interior with no windows, a place with refrigerator and counter on one side where my mother stood in shadows, and on the other side a table with chairs where my father sits in the morning with a cup of coffee. I sit next to him and I can take a spoon of sugar, I can put it in his coffee and stir it for him, and he laughs. He is happy. I am happy too.
And lastly there is my room. Just a small narrow room with my crib opposite the door, my father’s grey filing cabinet, maybe a table.
I can see out the window from my wooden crib. Sometimes an old man walks by and taps to me on the window. This is a very good thing.
And then there is another house, an old white house that needs fixing and there are bits of broken glass in the dirt around it all the time, as if already many things have happened here. My mother stands in the kitchen patching holes in the walls and paints them white. The jacket I wear is black and white checks.
And then there is school where I wear a red plaid pleated skirt with straps that cross in the back and come down the front to fasten at the waist with buttons. I have a rug – each kid has a rug – at school that we lie on at naptime. Mine is a dark red color, one of the colors my mother likes. She and my father call it wine-colored. She also likes navy for clothes and she likes dark green for shutters that need to be on a white house.
And both my parents talk about the houses we pass when we drive. I hear them say, “It’s nice, but it’s too close to the road.” My father says this. My mother says this – the same way they say to each other, “Did you see the joke in the New Yorker?” or the way they always say about the mail, “Just bills.”
I have a sister now, a baby. My mother puts her on the double bed in her room. “Watch she doesn’t roll,” my mother says in a sing-song voice as she leaves the room with the dirty diaper, and I watch to make sure the baby doesn’t fall off the bed, but she never does, she never rolls, she lies on her back.
It started the day my father helped me get dressed in the living room. Everything was different. He put my yellow ankle socks onto my feet and took me to the Kaisers. The Kaisers were two old people in a small white house. I visited them sometimes by myself because I could walk there. Mr. and Mrs. Kaiser had a kitchen with a table, everything a bit dark in there, but they were nice to me and gave me cups of Kaiser tea, milky and sweet.
I slept upstairs in their house that night, up in the attic. I had never done that before. Mrs. Kaiser called something up the stairs about not letting bed bugs bite.
After that I had a sister.
The car is yellow. The seats are green, a plastic weave. My parents call it The Rambler.
My mother hangs a swing for me from a huge tree.
One morning I watch her and my grandmother carry our dog across the patch of grass. My grandmother in her housedress holds the front paws, my mother holds the back paws, and Casey, the German Shepherd, hangs dead in between.
I tried once to sit the way Casey sat. I came down beside him on the porch. He had his back legs propped one on either side with his body stretched out between them. I wanted to copy him. I sat, bent my knees, feet flat on the bare boards of the porch that looked down the slope to the road. But my body would not stretch forward and flatten itself the way Casey’s did.
And in the background is a party. The grown-ups. My mother’s brown hair is pinned up. There are plates of salami and green pepper. My father is playing records -- Mozart and Beethoven -- on the record player, loud so that the music comes out across the grass where people stand and talk as it gets dark, and in the morning he tells me how he waltzed a lady all the way down the driveway. He tells me with cheer and with pride.