Posted on August 19, 2015August 19, 2015 by Patricia Ann McNair8.19.2015 Journal Prompt Photo by Mary Ellen Mark August 19, 2015: We pretended not to notice. Like this:Like Loading... Related
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Mrs Darking asked us to draw a picture. She said it was to be a picture of a house and maybe it could be our own house – if we wanted. And I looked at the blank and beautiful white of the paper laid flat and perfect on my desk and I stared at it and it was like looking at clouds and if you look hard enough at clouds you can see what aint there.
Pa does that with me sometimes. We just lay back on the warming grass and we lay close enough I can feel his arm touching mine, and he asks me what I see. And he laughs when I tell him and he says something ‘bout what he sees. Rabbits with overlong ears sometimes, or dogs without tails and running so fast their legs is a blur, or a old man smiling and then not smiling and then not a old man.
And pa knows from the shape and the blow of the clouds what sort of night it will be and from his calc’lations he plans where we’ll sleep for the night and he says we got the whole wide world to choose from and he makes it sound like a adventure not to be sleeping in no bed.
Mrs Darking puts a crayon in my hand and she says something nice and encouraging to get me started and she smiles as bright as the sun. I like Mrs Darking and I sometimes wish she was my mom. I hold the pencil like she told me to do and I go to make a mark on the page, but I don’t. Mrs Darking’s smile goes behind a cloud and she moves on to Barbara and Stevie and leaves me to myself.
Sometimes me and pa sleep all curled up together in the doorway of Douty’s bakery. The air leaking from under the door is warm and old Douty don’t disturb us when he comes to make the bread, comes early as sunrises, and he steps over us real careful. And when pa wakes it’s to the smell of fresh baking bread and old Douty comes out with soft good mornings and something for us to eat and it breaks warm in our hands and soft and white as clouds.
Sometimes we sleep in the park, if the night is warm as cupped breath and dry as bones and breathless still. And we got our own special benches and bats thrill the air and pa makes stories out of the shapes of stars and a owl speaks wise words to you if you listen.
And once a week we go to the Sally shelter and we get soup with vegetables in and bread that aint so good as old Douty’s, and we sleep on soft sagging mattresses that smell of sweat and cigarettes. And pa says maybe next month we’ll be back on our feet and when he says that his voice is all soft and laughing like he’s telling what he sees in the shapes of clouds.
I draw a few quick marks on the paper, even though I know it spoils the perfect white. And the marks make a house, with smoke coming from the chimney and flowers in the window boxes and the door is a little open and a mom standing tall as a tree in the garden with her hair like Mrs darking’s hair – as near as I could draw it. Mrs Darking sees what I’ve done and she strokes my head, pats it like I am a good puppy, and she says well done, and like that the sun comes out from behind the clouds again.
This one time I saw a lizard, small and yellow and grey, and it was sitting on a wall in the sun and when it moved it was as slow as syrup. Pop said it was just warming itself. He said lizards is cold blooded and they need the sun each new day to quicken the blood and to give ‘em the slippy they normally is. I didn’t really understand that then, but I reckon I do now.
Early mornings in the park is cold. Not ice-snapping cold. Leastways not yet, not in the summer. But cold all the same. A cold that has creeped into your bones in the night and waking is a slow thing. Pop says it won’t always be like this. He’s just down on his luck since mom passed. He lost everything then and he aint found his feet yet, that’s what he says. So we sleep in the park and under the stars – he says it’s a blanket of stars but blankets is warm and the stars is cold.
We eat our breakfast on the street – there’s a café opens its doors early and we sit at a table in the window and pop has a coffee and I have orange juice and a bowl of oatmeal with extra sugar for energy and a banana. Pop says he just aint hungry first thing in the morning and that’s all the reason he don’t eat; I know that’s a lie cos before, when we’d a kitchen of our own, pop’d eat French toast and maple and three rashers of bacon fried to biscuit crisp, and he’d finish mom’s if she left any – which towards the end she did. Pop don’t eat these mornings cos he’s saving pennies so we can both maybe get a hot dinner later in the day.
‘If you’re looking out for me, who’s looking out for you?’
Pop don’t got an answer to that. He mighta said God was looking out for everybody, one time he mighta, but he don’t think that no more. Not since God didn’t look out for mom. He just shrugs and he says for me to eat up my oatmeal and he nods to the clock on the wall so I know that time is marching. ‘Don’t want to be late,’ he says and his words are slow as cold lizards and it’s like he’s picking his words out of a whole bucket of ‘em and picking careful.
I put a hand on top of his and pop smiles. He’s thin as sticks, I reckon, and he misses mom a whole lot. He says we’ll be ok. He says today our luck’ll change, or maybe tomorrow. The lady behind the counter comes to the table and she sets a plate of French toast down in front of pop and a small white jug of syrup and a fork. She says it’s on the house and like that I think maybe pop’s right about our luck changing.
Pop thanks the lady and she tells him he’s welcome and she runs a hand through my hair and that was something mom used to do. When she’s gone, pop pulls a toothbrush out of his jacket pocket and it belongs to me and he lays it on the table so I won’t forget.