In the Jungle

martinique-wallpaper-palm1
My mother is deep in her bed with her socks on, sticking out. She never wore socks, so I remember it surprised me. Her heels were always cracked, like mine are now, and though she perpetually tried to soften them, with creams and socks and special razors, in the summer they immediately toughened up, calloused and yellow and split as soon as she set foot on them. Mine too. My father is looking for me, I can hear him call, and I realize after a moment that my mother doesn’t see me. She’s sleeping, maybe. She has been in bed for days, maybe weeks, though at two I shouldn’t be able to remember anything like this, especially not the feel of time. It’s summer and the big fan in the attic is whirling. The air is heavy and hot. I sit on the coarse oriental rug on the floor of my parents room and look at my mother’s face. It looks creased and old, though she is just thirty. Her long dark brown hair spills over the side of the bed but a thin piece sticks to her cheek. Something is different about my mother. She is skinnier than I remember. Weaker. Her fingers are bare, her plain thick gold wedding ring sits on the mirrored tray on her dresser next to the perfume she doesn’t wear. I hear my father again, this time closer. He comes into the room and scoops me up. My bare legs burn on the rug from the quick movement. “I lost you, for a second,” he says with a laugh because he doesn’t mean it, or doesn’t want to scare me, or something. “Daddy.” I say and reach for him. He has me on his hip, which is not really a hip for holding children—bony and sharp. He perches me again on the other side, and then goes over to my mother’s side of the bed, the right side, or the left if you’re in it. He looks down at her, and just for a moment, he loses his perpetual smile. The jungle wallpaper behind him becomes 3-D and I reach out my hand over his shoulder to touch it. It’s rough, like real leaves, which at the time I imagine it is. He takes the little piece of stuck hair and pulls it gently off my mother’s cheek, placing it back on her head and holding it there. “You need anything?” he asks, which surprises me because I thought she was sleeping. “No.” she answers quietly, not opening her eyes. Not sleeping. He nods and turns away from her, back towards me. “Should we get a snack?” he asks me, nuzzling his face into my neck, feeling the underside of my chin with one finger, as he always does. I don’t remember nodding, but we go to the kitchen anyway. Oreo cookies on a plate and some milk which I never liked but pretended I did.

 

Image by cult-culture.com

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