It was a cold Valentine’s and I clutched my brown bag full of paper and sugar valentines close, walking home backwards, my back to the wind, while the metal pylons hummed above me, wires slung like bending trees, thick as a corpse and stretched thinly through the snow like piano wire on a perfect white throat, through and through and always going farther, through the pain and the denim and Kraft brown paper. My knees hurt when I fell on the ice but at least the snow helped break my fall. I never imagined then what would come of me. It would have probably depressed me. I was already depressed.
I made my paper valentines one by one and drew my favorite pictures with their names. In return I was given Garfield valentines. I loved Garfield valentines. I took a heart-shaped lollipop with a white raised sugar outline out of its plastic film and held it in my mouth, under my tongue against my cheek, until it dissolved into syrup and dripped down my throat. Visions of cupids knocked noisily against the outside glass in the gale, and I watched the gray sun disappear behind pale white clouds and I smelled the sharp cold emanate through the window. I closed my eyes and inhaled the gust and did not look forward to walking home. I looked forward to being home, watching television.
Ten long years in eternal pale and my mother sewed my clothes by hand from salvaged patterns. I liked it there, but life was strange there, and the woods were equally daunting, and the roads hopelessly reaching, through a midnight country, ancient as it always had been, and I felt comfortable. No vacancies on the island so we took our pizza to the river’s edge and ate it there, sleeping with our backs together under the salted lights. The story of my life was a mystery then. I did not know what I was going to do. I walked backwards and looked directly into the snow. I was aware of Emily Dickinson. I had been to Connecticut. Nobody slept late. Television was a luxury. The snakes in the garden were called garden snakes and I didn’t like them. One slid over my foot as I stood in the doorway and I screamed. I told my mother what had happened, and my mother told my grandmother that I saw a wasp. “I didn’t see a wasp,” I said, but mother told me to lie, because my grandmother was afraid of snakes. Grandmother thought I was being stupid.
One night her beloved long-haired orange cat delivered a dead snake to grandmother’s bed, curled up on the unused pillow to greet her when she woke up. If it were me, I would have screamed and died.
In the Chinese zodiac, I am a snake, and the snake stole its place by hitching a ride on the heel of the horse and then scaring the poor brute into sixth place. The snake is a wicked sort. I am the worst snake, the earth snake, I am practically hermaphrodite. We are said to slither out of our holes around 10 a.m. and bask in the heat of the warm early sun.
Carving stones – flesh and blood, stream in the filling – buy tools – starlight, twinkle, wish I might…