Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Here's a piece of a novel I almost wrote once...

while plumbing the depths of postpartum depression....15 years ago

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In the endless time between November and April, food will lose its texture, music will go flat, colors dull. Though the bins at the supermarket may spill over with brightly colored fruits and vegetables, she will not be fooled. She knows those shiny red apples will be mealy, those fat orange tomatoes stiff as cardboard.

Picking through the smooth cool fruits, examining the bright stickers that cling to the flesh of each peach, sack of grapes, each pear - she imagines these places-“Guatemala”; “California”; “Ecuador”, on the opposite end of the earth where right this minute the sun is shining, people are packing up beach bags with sandals and swimsuits, rubbing sunscreen lotion into the browned skin of their children.

Once biting into a nectarine in December, the taste of distant sunlight on her tongue was so sweet, so painful that she burst into tears. She can't help it. In winter, almost anything makes her cry: The sad stories in picture books, commercials with children in bare feet. More than once she has burst into tears of protest when darkness encloses the world before five o’clock. These tears frighten her, coming so suddenly, dissolving instantly when some distraction - a skinned knee, a broken toy- presents itself.

“Do people in Australia walk upside down?” Joey asks when she points out the continent on the globe.
“No,” she says, lifting the cool metal sphere into her hands and pointing to other countries below the equator, explaining about gravity and the global curve. But she can't help feeling she is not quite telling the truth.

"Let's go there!" he says. So she lifts him off his feet, "You will need to practice walking on the sky," she says, holding him upside down. "Just in case we do." Topsy-turvy in her arms, Joey laughs wildly, kicking at air.

Later, when she looks in the mirror and finds new tracks on her cheeks she remembers the tears. Maybe they are the reason these lines have suddenly appeared at the corners of her mouth and eyes. “If only I could be happy,” she thinks. But she has forgotten what that means.

Sometimes she can feel, on her heart, the dull bruise, as if someone pressed a thumb against the tender red beating thing for a long time. But, except for a shadow just out of reach, a tip-of-the-tongue, kind of “wait! I can almost remember...” feeling, she has no idea what makes the tears come.
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Chapter Next

We run away.

We drive right onto the ferry and park on the bobottom deck. As we climb into the sun, I feel the boat rock beneath my feet. I have never taken the children on vacation before and everything is new to them—the new extra-blue of the sky, the fish-salt smell of the sea, the wind. And seeing it through their eyes, it is something new to me as well.

There are new signs to read, new corners to turn. I want to keep moving, to feel this wind, this sun, to see that surprised expression on my children’s faces when the ferry fires its engines, forever.

We pull away. The dock recedes, the water churns, gushing away from the sides of the boat like freedom, like laughter. It’s the color of sea glass and salt, the color of mineral baths foaming, the color of a vase I remember on a windowsill somewhere, catching light.

We cut a line across the flat-green bay, speeding toward the other side where, on the island, we’ll become something wind-tossed and fresh, something we’ll invent as we go along. On the other side, I will fill my mother’s beach house and this color…this perfect green.

The mainland shrinks away. The sun burns our heads. Our hair blows behind us like a sail. We like the blue benches, the blue painted floor. We like the crew’s blue tee shirts. The blue sky. Blue.

The children sit beside me until they get the feeling of the ferry in their feet, then, they run away, racing around the deck, clattering up and down the metal stairs, drifting in and out of reach like the seagulls that follow us, chattering on the wind.

Time spreads out around me like a new deck of cards to peel the wrapper off. It crackles and shines, fresh and as full of promise as leaving.

The money flutters in the ticket man's hand. Joey’s baseball cap hat blows right off his head, lands in the wake, a speck of red left behind.

“It’s OK,” Grace says, tenderly patting his hand. Joey's face twists with confusion, surprise, outrage – then tries to pull itself together. Soon, he forgets his hat and starts chasing his sister again.

I am wearing my ivory interview blouse with buttons made of seeds from South America. This blouse is sustaining the rain forest, I thought, as I put it on this morning. As I painted my cheeks with red clay, ringed my eyes with smudgy brown pencil, I thought about the laundry, about the bills piled up on the counter beside the stove. I thought about the tiny wrinkles gathering in the corners of my eyes like curtains, pulled back from windows.

This morning, as I pulled on my shoes, and realized I was leaving, I thought about the laundry and Richard and the way I’d been preparing for this day for months without thinking about his smile, or the way his muscles moved under his shirt or thw way our leaving would crack open his heart—and all of our lives.

I will need sneakers and jeans and a bright white cotton tee shirt. I will need a blue cotton sweater. My credit card has a thousand dollar limit. I have 300 dollars in quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. I will buy Joey a new red hat. I am going to Far Island to find this blue, this green.

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