WHITE OLEANDER PDF
White Oleander follows Astrid through a a series of foster homes and her efforts to find a place for herself in the world. Each home is its own universe, with a new . Read Books White Oleander [PDF, ePub] by Janet Fitch Read Full Online "Click Visit button" to access full FREE ebook. Books Download White Oleander (PDF, ePub, Mobi) by Janet Fitch Free Complete eBooks. Discover ideas about White Oleander. Read Books White.
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dutytowarn.info 5/24/06 PM Page i Extraordinary acclaim for Janet Fitch’s WHITE OLEANDER. Extraordinary acclaim for Janet Fitch’s WHITE OLEANDER. For starters, Ingrid and Astrid Magnussen are one of the most intriguing mother-daughter duos in recent fiction. Oleander House Book Jacket Series: Bay City Paranormal Investigations  Rating: Tags: Detective, Mystery & Detective. first novel, White Oleander,become a national bestseller. But White. Oleander itself is no fairy tale. It's the story of Astrid Magnussen, daughter of the beautiful.
Everywhere hailed as a novel of rare beauty and power, White Oleander tells the unforgettable story of Ingrid, a brilliant poet imprisoned for murder, and her daughter, Astrid, whose odyssey through a series of Los Angeles foster homes-each its own universe, with its own laws, its own dangers, its own hard lessons to be learned-becomes a redeeming and surprising journey of self-discovery. New Feature: You can now embed Open Library books on your website! Learn More. Last edited by EdwardBot. January 26, History.
Want to Read. Are you sure you want to remove White oleander from your list? About the Book. White Oleander , Little, Brown and Company. White oleander: White oleander , Virago. History Created October 15, 13 revisions Download catalog record: Libraries near you: WorldCat Library.
White oleander , Virago in English. January 26, Edited by EdwardBot. November 4, October 25, My mother ignored her, but let the X-acto fall so it impaled the desktop like a javelin. Dyed to her own bituminous shade. I knew the only reason we were here was because of me. She would be half a planet away, floating in a turquoise sea, dancing by moonlight to flamenco guitar.
I felt my guilt like a brand. Three bolts fell back. He cleared a pile of dirty clothes and Variety from the couch so I could sit down. The apartment was very different from ours, crammed with furniture and souvenirs and movie posters, Variety and newspapers and empty wine bottles, tomato plants straggling on the windowsills, groping for a little light.
It was dark even in the daytime, because it faced north, but it had a spectacular view of the Hollywood sign, the reason he took it in the first place. She was a beautiful woman dragging a crippled foot and I was that foot. I was bricks sewn into the hem of her clothes, I was a steel dress. He had to do it under a pseudonym, Wolfram Malevich, because it was nonunion.
We could hear him every morning, very early, through the wall. It was full of notes and Post-its and underlines. I leafed through the book. She says anybody who ever read him knows why there had to be a revolution. That was where she belonged, in furs and palaces of rare treasures, fireplaces large enough to roast a reindeer, ships of Swedish maple.
My deepest fear was that someday she would find her way back there and never return. It was why I always waited up when she went out on nights like this, no matter how late she came home. I had to hear her key in the lock, smell her violet perfume again. And I tried not to make it worse by asking for things, pulling her down with my thoughts. I had seen girls clamor for new clothes and complain about what their mothers made for dinner. I was always mortified.
White Oleander - PDF Free Download
But how I envied the way their mothers sat on their beds and asked what they were thinking. My mother was not in the least bit curious about me. I often wondered what she thought I was, a dog she could tie in front of the store, a parrot on her shoulder? I never told her that I wished I had a father, that I wanted to go to camp in summertime, that sometimes she scared me.
Out the window, the glow of the Hollywood sign was slightly blurred with June fog, a soft wetness on the hills raising the smell of sage and chamise, moisture wiping the glass with dreams.
She came home at two when the bars closed, alone, her restlessness satisfied for the moment. I sat on her bed, watched her change clothes, adoring each gesture. Someday I would do this, the way she crossed her arms and pulled her dress over her head, kicked off her high heels.
I put them on, admiring them on my feet. They were almost the right size. In another year or so, they would fit. She sat down next to me, handed me her brush, and I brushed her pale hair smooth, painting the air with her violets.
The grinning Pan, cloven hooves peeping out from under his pants? When I saw us like this, I could almost remember fishing in cold deep seas, the smell of cod, the charcoal of our fires, our felt boots and our strange alphabet, runes like sticks, a language like the ploughing of fields. Can you imagine? She had drummed it into my head since I was small. What could she possibly be thinking? She saw him at a party in Silverlake. Wherever she went, she complained, there he was, the goat man.
I thought it was only coincidence, but one night at a performance space in Santa Monica where we went to watch one of her friends beating on Sparkletts bottles and ranting about the drought, I saw him too, four rows back. He spent the whole time trying to catch her eye. After it was over, I wanted to talk to him, but she dragged me out fast. When he turned up at the annual publication party for Cinema Scene, I had to agree that he was following her.
It was outside in the courtyard of an old hotel on the Strip. The heat of the day was beginning to dissipate. The women wore bare dresses, my mother like a moth in white silk. He saw me, and his eyes immediately swept the crowd for my mother. He started through the crowd toward her. I was close behind him. Her eyes flicked cruelly over his mustard-colored tie hanging to one side, his brown shirt pulling at the buttons over his stomach, his uneven teeth, the shrimp in his chubby fist.
He put his finger alongside his nose, winked at me, and walked on to another group of people, put his arm around a pretty girl, kissed her neck. My mother turned away. That kiss went against everything she believed.
In her universe, it simply would never happen. We went down to the apartment pool and swam slow quiet laps under the local stars, the Crab Claw, the Giant Shrimp.
My mother bent over her drafting table, cutting type without a ruler in long elegant strokes. A window onto grace. When I glanced up, he caught my eye and put his finger to his lips, crept up behind her and tapped her shoulder. Her knife went slicing through the type. She whirled around and I thought she was going to cut him, but he showed her something that stopped her, a small envelope he put on her table.
She opened it, removed two tickets, blue-and-white. Her silence as she examined them astonished me. She stared at them, then him, jabbing the sharp end of her X-acto into the rubbery surface of the desk, a dart that stuck there for a moment before she pulled it out.
It was a gamelan concert at the art museum. Now I knew why she accepted. I only wondered how he knew exactly the right thing to propose, the one thing she would never turn down. Had he hidden in the oleanders outside our apartment?
Interviewed her friends? Bribed somebody? The night crackled as my mother and I waited for him in the forecourt of the museum. Everything had turned to static electricity in the heat. I combed my hair to watch the sparks fly from the ends.
Forced to wait, my mother made small, jerky movements with her arms, her hands. How despicable. I should have known. Remind me never to make plans with quadrupeds. All around us, women in bright summer silks and a shifting bouquet of expensive perfumes eyed her critically. Men admired her, smiled, stared. She stared back, blue eyes burning, until they grew awkward and turned away. He grinned, flashing the gap between his teeth.
Only peons made excuses for themselves, she taught me. Never apologize, never explain. The gamelan orchestra was twenty small slim men kneeling before elaborately carved sets of chimes and gongs and drums.
The drum began, joined by one of the lower sets of chimes. Then more entered the growing mass of sound. Rhythms began to emerge, expand, complex as lianas. My mother said the gamelan created in the listener a brain wave beyond all alphas and betas and thetas, a brain wave that paralyzed the normal channels of thought and forced new ones to grow outside them, in the untouched regions of the mind, like parallel blood vessels that form to accommodate a damaged heart.
I closed my eyes to watch tiny dancers like jeweled birds cross the dark screen of my eyelids. They took me away, spoke to me in languages that had no words for strange mothers with ice-blue eyes and apartments with ugly sparkles on the front and dead leaves in the pool.
She sat in her chair, her eyes closed. She liked to be the last one to leave. It spoiled her mood. She was still in that other world, she would stay there as long as she possibly could, the parallel channels twining and tunneling through her cortex like coral. She raised her hand for him to be quiet.
He looked at me and I shrugged. I was used to it. We waited until the last sound had faded from the auditorium. Finally she opened her eyes. I was hungry, but once my mother took a position, she never wavered from it. We went home, where I ate tuna out of a can while she wrote a poem using the rhythms of the gamelan, about shadow puppets and the gods of chance.
The summer I was twelve, I liked to wander in the complex where the movie magazine had its offices.
It was called Crossroads of the World, a s courtyard with a streamlinemoderne ocean liner in the middle occupied by an ad agency. Along the outside ring of the brick-paved courtyard, fantasy bungalows built in styles from Brothers Grimm to Don Quixote were rented by photo studios, casting agents, typesetting shops. I sketched a laughing Carmen lounging under the hanging basket of red geraniums in the Sevillian doorway of the modeling agency, and a demure braided Gretel sweeping the Germanic steps of the photo studio with a twig broom.
While I drew, I watched the tall beautiful girls coming in and out of these doors, passing from the agency to the studio and back, where they bled a bit more of their hard-earned money from waitressing and temp jobs to further their careers. It was a scam, my mother said, and I wanted to tell them so, but their beauty seemed a charm. What ill could befall girls like that, longlegged in their hip-hugger pants and diaphanous summer dresses, with their clear eyes and sculpted faces?
The heat of the day never touched them, they were living in another climate. Instead, I followed her around the corner, and there, leaning on an old gold Lincoln with suicide doors, stood Barry Kolker. He was wearing a bright plaid jacket.
My mother took one look at him and closed her eyes. Did you steal it from a dead man? I was astonished. And now he was holding open the back door of the Lincoln for me. We picked up the freeway on Cahuenga, drove north out of Hollywood into the Valley, then east toward Pasadena. The heat lay on the city like a lid. Santa Anita sat at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, a sheer blue granite wall like a tidal wave.
Bright banks of flowers and perfect green lawns breathed out a heavy perfume in the smoggy air. The horses shied at children at the rail, at flags, all nerves and heat. The jockeys had trouble getting them into the starting gates, but when the gates opened, the horses pounded the brown of the track in a unit. My mother laughed and hugged me, hugged Barry.
Barry had bet twenty dollars for her, and handed her the money, one hundred dollars. Yes, I prayed. Please say yes. After all, how could she refuse him now? My mother just had a glass of white wine. That was Ingrid Magnussen. During the meal Barry told us of his travels in the Orient, where we had never been. The time he ordered magic mushrooms off the menu at a beachside shack in Bali and ended up wandering the turquoise shore hallucinating Paradise.
His week spent in the floating brothels of Bangkok. He had forgotten me entirely, was too absorbed in hypnotizing my mother. His voice was cloves and nightingales, it took us to spice markets in the Celebes, we drifted with him on a houseboat beyond the Coral Sea.
We were like cobras following a reed flute. On the way home, she let him touch her waist as she got into the car. I hungered for Barry, I thought he might be the one, someone who could feed us and hold us and make us real. She spent an hour trying on clothes, white Indian pajamas, the blue gauze dress, the pineapples and hula girls.
It had a low neck and the blue was exactly the color of her eyes. No one could resist her in her blue dress. She chose the Indian pajamas, which covered every inch of her golden skin. I lay on her bed after she was gone and imagined them together, their deep voices a duet in the dusk over the rijsttafel. I floated on my back and looked up at the stars, the Goat, the Swan, and hoped my mother was falling in love.
Marlene answered the phone, covered the receiver with her hand. That evening, in the long summer twilight, people came out of their apartments, walked their dogs, drank blender drinks down by the pool, their feet in the water. The moon rose, squatting in the strained blue.
I wished I could shut it in a locket to wear around my neck. I wished a thousand-year sleep would find us, at this absolute second, like the sleep over the castle of Sleeping Beauty.
There was a knock on the door, wrecking the peace. Nobody ever came to our door.
My mother put down her pen and grabbed the folding knife she kept in the jar with the pencils, its dark carbon blade sharp enough to shave a cat. She unfolded it against her thigh and put her finger to her lips. She clutched her white kimono, her skin bare underneath. It was Barry, calling her. Barry was wearing a wrinkled Hawaiian shirt and carrying a bottle of wine and a bag that smelled of something wonderful. She invited him in, closing the knife against her leg. He looked around at our big room, elegantly bare.
We had lived there over a year.
The sun was hot through the screens when I woke up, illuminating the milky stagnant air wrapped like a towel around the morning. I could hear a man singing, the shower pipes clanking as he turned the water off.
Barry had stayed the night. I stared at her as she dressed for work, waiting for an explanation, but she just smiled. After that night, the change was startling. My mother, for whom a meal was a carton of yogurt or a can of sardines and soda crackers. She could eat peanut butter for weeks on end without even noticing. I watched as she bypassed stands full of her favorite white flowers, lilies and chrysanthemums, and instead filled her arms with giant red poppies with black stains in the centers.
She wrote tiny haiku that she slipped into his pockets. I fished them out whenever I got a chance, to see what she had written. It made me blush to read them: Poppies bleed petals of sheer excess. You and I, this sweet battleground. They both looked bombed. I never imagined it was something that could happen to her. They went out and she told me about it afterward, laughing. Where have you been? He is with me now. I am the only one he wants. I watched her close her eyes, I could feel the waves of her passion like perfume across the teacups.
In the mornings, he lay with her on the wide white mattress when I crossed the room on the way to the toilet.
They would even talk to me, her head cradled on his arm, the room full of the scent of their lovemaking, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. It made me want to laugh out loud. I had only questioned her once on the subject, I must have been in kindergarten. We were back in the States that year, living in Hollywood. A hot, smoggy day, and my mother was in a bad mood. She picked me up late from day care, we had to go to the market. We were driving in an old Datsun she had then, I still remember the hot waffled seat and how I could see the street through a hole in the floorboards.
School had just started, and our young teacher, Mrs. They had jobs like lawyers or drummers or installing car window glass. She downshifted irritably, throwing me against the seat belt. I had one, I know. Just forget it. I began to watch fathers, in the stores, on the playgrounds, pushing their daughters on swings. I liked how they seemed to know what to do. They seemed like a dock, firmly attached to the world, you could be safe then, not always drifting like us.
I prayed Barry Kolker would be that man. Their murmured words of love were my lullabies, my hope chest. I was stacking in linens, summer camp, new shoes, Christmas. I was laying up sit-down dinners, a room of my own, a bicycle, parent-teacher nights. A year like the one before it, and the next like that, one after another, a bridge, and a thousand things more subtle and nameless that girls without fathers know.
We ate hot dogs and they drank beer from paper cups and he explained baseball to her like it was philosophy, the key to the American character. Barry threw money to the peanut vendor and caught the bag the man threw back. We littered the ground with peanut shells. I hardly recognized us in our peaked blue caps. We were like a family. I pretended we were just Mom, Dad, and the kid. We did the wave, and they kissed through the whole seventh inning, while I drew faces on the peanuts. The fireworks set off every car alarm in the parking lot.
I was violently seasick on the ferry, and Barry held a cold handkerchief to my forehead and got me some mints to suck. I tried not to hang around with them too much once we got there, hoping he would ask her while they strolled among the sailboats, eating shrimp from a paper cone.
Something happened. All I remember is that the winds had started. The skeleton rattlings of wind in the palms. My mother played her Peruvian flute tape to soothe her nerves, Irish harp music, Bulgarian singers, but nothing worked. The calming, chiming tones ill suited her temper. Her gestures were anxious and unfinished. He canceled their dates. I waited in the car.
She knocked on the door and he answered wearing a seersucker bathrobe. She wore her blue gauze dress, the hot wind ruffling her hem, the sun at her back, turning it transparent. He stood in his doorway, blocking it, and she held her head to one side, moving closer, touching her hair.
I felt a rubber band stretching in my brain, tighter and tighter, until they disappeared into his house. I played the radio, classical music. I imagined my own ice-blue eyes looking at some man, telling him to go away, that I was busy. A half hour later she reappeared, stumbling out to the car, tripping over a sprinkler, as if she were blind. She got in and sat behind the steering wheel and rocked back and forth, her mouth open in a square, but there was no sound.
My mother was crying. It was the final impossibility. Because he has a date. I understood why she held to them so hard. Once you broke the first one, they all broke, one by one, like firecrackers exploding in your face in a parking lot on the Fourth of July. I was afraid to let her drive like this, with her eyes wild, seeing nothing. She sat there, staring through the windshield, rocking herself, holding herself around her waist.
A few minutes later, a car pulled up in the driveway, a newmodel sports car, the top down, a blond girl driving. She was very young and wore a short skirt. She leaned over to get her bag out of the backseat. At lunchtime, my mother told me to take everything I wanted, art supplies, stationery. She lay on her bed, or stared at herself in the mirror.
It was time for me to go back to school. She might not be there when I returned. So we stayed in, eating all the canned food in the apartment, then we were eating rice and oatmeal.
The TV news showed fires burning on the Angeles Crest. Michael shook his head, at me, at the line of firemen straddling the hillside. I hoped Barry died a slow lingering death for what he was doing to my mother. It was the season of fire, and we were trapped in the heart of the burning landscape. Ashes floated in the pool. We sat on the roof in the burnt wind. She doubled over, pressing her forearms against her chest, pressing the air out of herself.
I hate him. This is harder, cold and clean. I wrap myself around this new jewel, cradle it within me. She took a shower, went to the market. And I thought things were going to be better now.
She called Marlene and asked if she could come back to work. It was shipping week and they needed her desperately. She dropped me at school, to start the eighth grade at Le Conte Junior High. As if nothing had ever happened. And I thought it was over. It was not over. She began to follow Barry, as he had followed her in the beginning. She went everywhere he might be, hunting him so that she could polish her hatred on the sight of him. She took Marlene to lunch at his favorite restaurant, where they found him eating at the bar, and she smiled at him.
We shopped at his market, driving miles out of our way to meet him over the cantaloupes. We browsed at his favorite music store.
We went to book signings for books written by his friends. She came home one night after three. Michael was passed out on the couch. The hot winds tested the windows like burglars looking for a way in. She sat on the edge of the bed and took off her shoes. We crossed paths by the diving board. He got up and grabbed me by the arm. I could have cut his throat right there.
I know every move you make. I smiled. I hated the way she watched his house, her calm that was not even sane, like a patient hawk on top of a lightning-struck tree. But there was no point in trying to convince her to go home.
She no longer spoke the language I did. I broke a carob pod under my nose and smelled the musky scent and pretended I was waiting for my father, a plumber inspecting some pipes in this small brick house with its dandelion-dotted lawn, its leaded picture window with a lamp in it. Then Barry came out, wearing Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt that said Local Motion, funky little John Lennon sunglasses, his hair in its ponytail.
He got in the old gold Lincoln and drove away. She put on a pair of white cotton gloves, the kind the photo editor used when he handled stills, and threw me a pair. We walked up the path to his house as if we belonged there, and my mother reached into the Balinese spirit house he kept on the porch and pulled out a key. Inside, I was seized again by the sadness of what had happened, the finality. Once I had thought I might even live there, with the big wayang kulit puppets, batik pillows, and dragon kites hanging from the ceiling.
But now I hated them. My mother turned on his computer at the great carved desk. The machine whirred. She typed something in and all the things on the screen disappeared. I understood why she did it. It was only natural to want to destroy something you could never have. Then she tucked a white oleander into a buttonhole. Someone was pounding on our door. She looked up from a new poem she was writing.
She wrote all the time now. Maybe a collection of essays due at the publisher this fall? If he got in, she was dead. In fact, the harder he pounded, the happier she looked, pink-cheeked, bright-eyed. She had brought him back to her. She got out the folding knife from her pencil can and unfolded it against her thigh.
We could hear him screaming, crying, his velvet voice rubbed threadbare. My mother listened, holding the knife open against the white silk of her robe. Suddenly he was on the other side of the apartment, pounding on the windows, we could see him, his face distorted with rage, huge and terrifying in the oleanders.
I shrank back against the wall, but my mother just stood in the center of the room, gleaming, like a grassfire. She crossed the room faster than I could have believed possible, lifted her arm and stabbed him in the hand. The knife struck home.
She had to jerk it out, and his arm raced back through the hole in the window. This was how love and passion ended. The lights were going on in the next building. He changed his locks. We had to use a metal pasteup ruler to open a window. This time she put a sprig of oleander in his milk, another in his oyster sauce, in his cottage cheese. She stuck one in his toothpaste. She made an arrangement of white oleanders in a handblown vase on his coffee table, and scattered blooms on his bed.
I was torn. He deserved to be punished, but now she had crossed over some line. How lovingly she arranged the dark leaves, the white blooms. A police officer showed up at our apartment. The officer, Inspector Ramirez, informed her that Barry was accusing her of breaking and entering and of trying to poison him. She was completely calm. He even tried to break into this apartment.
This is my daughter, Astrid, she can tell you what happened. It was going way too far. My mother kept going without missing a comma. You must have a record of it. I could see it, the jewel, it was sapphire, it was the cold lakes of Norway. After he left, how she laughed. The next time we saw Barry was at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, where he liked to shop for ugly gag gifts for his friends.
My mother wore a hat that dappled her face with light. He saw her and turned away quickly, fear plain as billboards, but then he thought again, turned back, smiled at us. She was holding my hand, squeezing it too tight, but her face was smiling and relaxed.
He tucked Oscar under his arm. I thought we could bury the hatchet. Of course my agent had a preliminary draft, thank God, but even so. She was waiting for him to do something, say something. Well, why not. He looked a little suspicious but relieved as he went back to his bargain hunting.
We showed up at his house that night. He had bars on all the windows now. She stroked his new security door with the pads of her fingers like it was fur. It tastes just like champagne. Cold and crisp and absolutely without sweetness.
He opened the inner door, gazed at us through the security mesh. Smiled uncertainly. She smiled, slid her finger down one of the bars, flirting. My mother floated on her back, humming to herself. Love is temperamental. It makes demands. Love uses you. Changes its mind. Beads of water decorated her face, and her hair spread out from her head like jellyfish tendrils.
Love humiliates you, but hatred cradles you. I feel infinitely better now. We drove down to Tijuana. She kept looking at a scrap of paper in her hand as we wandered around the side streets past the burros painted like zebras and the tiny Indian women begging with their children. I gave them my change until it was all gone, and chewed the stale gum they gave me.
She paid no attention. A friend of mine told me you carry it. She chose the big one. What could be worth eighty dollars, that we drove down to Tijuana to buy? Drive to Jalisco. San Miguel de Allende. We could close our accounts, have the money wired to the American Express, and just keep going.
She knew where all the gas stations were from here to Panama, the cheap grand hotels with high ceilings and carved wooden headboards just off the main plazas. In three days we could put a thousand miles between us and this bottle of disaster. You never wanted to come back to the States. I knew she was remembering the years we had spent down there, her lovers, the color of the sea.
Barry and the blond, Barry and the redhead, Barry in a seersucker bathrobe. She pulled out her wallet, counted four twenties onto the counter. At night she began cooking things in the kitchen, things too strange to mention. She steeped oleander in boiling water, and the roots of a vine with white trumpet flowers that glowed like faces.
Then she cooked the water down; the whole kitchen smelled like green and rotting leaves. She sat on the roof and talked to the moon. All the witches and stuff. You were supposed to call it the Scottish play. He raised his glass and examined the amber liquor, then sipped slowly, his eyes closing in satisfaction.
You put it on and the DMSO lets it get through your skin into the bloodstream.
Marvelous stuff. I remember when they used to worry that hippies would mix it with LSD and paint the doorknobs of public buildings.
I waited up for her. She came back late, with a handsome young man whose dark curls trailed halfway down his back. She held his hand. My daughter, Astrid. She looked beautiful again, no circles under her eyes, hair like falling water. I lay down in my bed and she covered me with a sheet, stroked my face. She kissed me and stroked my hair with her cool hand, always cool, despite the heat, despite the wind and the fires, and then she was gone.
Then he came on the line. The way she rocked, the square of her mouth. He was already suspicious of her. If I told him, they might arrest her, and I would not hurt my mother, not for Barry Kolker and his screwing Shivas. He deserved it. He had it coming.
We sat on the roof and watched the moon, red and huge in the ash-laden air, hovering over the city laid out like a Ouija board. We go into battle without armor for the flush and the blood of it. The hot wind blew and blew and would not stop. Then came a time I can hardly describe, a season underground. A bird trapped in a sewer, wings beating against the ceiling in that dark wet place, while the city rumbled on overhead.
Her name was Lost. In my dreams, my mother walked through a city of bricks and rubble, a city after war, and she was blind, her eyes empty and white as stones. There were tall apartments all around her, with triangles over windows, all bricked up and burning.
Blind windows, and her blind eyes, and yet still she came toward me, inevitable and insane. I saw that her face was melted and horribly pliable. There were hollows in the tops of her cheeks, under her eyes, as if someone had pressed into soft clay with their thumbs. Those heavy days, how heavy the low gray sky, my wings were so heavy, so heavy my panicked flight under the ground. So many faces, so many lips, wanting me to tell, it made me tired, I fell asleep as they spoke.
Just tell us what happened. What could I tell? When I opened my mouth, a stone fell out. Her poor white eyeballs. Just where I hoped to find mercy. I dreamed of white milk in the street, white milk and glass. Milk down the gutter, milk like tears. I kept her kimono against my face, her scent of violets and ash. I rubbed the silk between my fingers. Music like a train wreck, arguing, crying, the ceaseless TV. The heavy smell of cooking, thin sickly urine, pine cleaner. The woman who ran it made me get out of bed at regular intervals, sit at the table with the others before platters of beans and greens, meat.
I dutifully came out, sat, ate, then returned to the cocoon of bed and sleep, plastic sheet crinkling under me. I woke up soaked to the armpits more nights than not. The girl in the other bed had seizures. I counted roses. Diagonal rows of forty, ninety-two across. The woman who ran the home, Mrs. Campbell, thin and raisinish, dusted with a yellow T-shirt. The horses all lined up, straining at the barrier. That was a day with a trapdoor, and we all fell through.
I ran the belt of her kimono over my mouth, over and over, all day long, the taste of what had been lost. The day of her arrest returned in my dreams, they were tunnels that kept coming around to the same place. The knock on the door. It had been very early, still dark. Another knock, and then voices, pounding.
I ran into her room as the cops, cops in uniform, not in uniform, burst in. The manager stood in the doorway, his head in a shower cap. They pulled my mother out of bed, voices like snapping dogs. She yelled at them in German, calling them Nazis, calling them blackshirts. Someone had cut out these policemen and stuck them on our apartment. They kept looking at her, a dirty magazine. Her body like moonlight. She said. She said she would, but she never did. When they came to get me, they gave me fifteen minutes to make up my mind what to take from our apartment.
We never had many things. I took her four books, a box of her journals, the white kimono, her tarot cards, and her folding knife. But you know how it is. How it was that the earth could open up under you and swallow you whole, close above you as if you never were.
Like Persephone snatched by the god. The ground opened up and out he came, sweeping her into the black chariot. Then down they plunged, under the ground, into the darkness, and the earth closed over her head, and she was gone, as if she had never been.
So I came to live underground, in the house of sleep, in the house of plastic sheets and crying babies and brown roses in drifts, forty down, ninety-two across. Three thousand six hundred and eighty brown roses.
Once they brought me to see her behind glass. Her eyes were all clouded over.
I saw her there in my dreams, again and again, her blind eyes. It was a year of mouths, opening and closing, asking the same questions, saying the same things. Tell us what we want to know. In the courtroom she wore a white shirt. I saw that shirt when I was awake and I saw it when I slept. I saw her back in that white shirt walking away.
Thirtyfive to life, someone said. I came home and counted roses, and slept. When I was awake, I tried to remember the things she taught me. We were the wands. We hung our gods from trees. Never let a man stay the night. I was the disability girl, stones in my mouth, lost on the battlefield, plastic sheets on the bed.
I was the laundry monitor, I helped the niece take the laundry to the Laundromat. I watched the laundry go around. I liked the smell of it, it made me feel safe. I slept until sleep seemed like waking and waking like sleep. Sometimes I lay on my bed in the room with the roses and watched the girl in the other bed make scar tattoos on her ashy dark skin with a safety pin, a diaper pin with a yellow duck. She opened her skin in lines and loops.
It healed over into pink pillowy tissue. She opened them again. It took me a while, but finally I understood. She wanted it to show. I dreamed my mother was hunting me in the burnt-out city, blind, relentless.
The whole truth and nothing but the truth. I wanted to lie, but the words deserted me. She was the one who always spoke for us. She was the goddess who threw out the golden apples. I had nothing to protect her with, to cover her naked body. I had condemned her by my silence, condemned us both. One day I woke to find the girl from the other bed going through my drawer in the dresser.
Looking at a book, flicking through the pages. My slender, naked mother, alone among the blackshirts. The girl looked up at me, startled. She broke out in a grin. Grabbed a page, crumpled it and tore it out of the book, watching me. What would I do. What would I do, what would I do. She took another page, tore it out and stuffed it in her mouth, the pieces hanging from her blistered lips, grinning.
I fell on her, knocked her down. A song in the blood. I wanted to cut her. I could feel the tip of the knife in her, slipping into her neck, the indentation at the base of her skull like a well. She lay very still, waiting to see what came next. She nodded.
I let her up. I put the knife in my pocket and picked up the crumpled page, the torn pieces. In the kitchen, the niece and her boyfriend were sitting at the table, drinking Colt 45, listening to the radio. Having an argument.