When my son visited his grandmother in her nursing home, he ran around
asking, "Where is she, where is she?" She was sitting on a couch in
the rec room, wearing the sweater we bought her for Christmas. He was
indignant even as he collapsed by her feet.
In the city, he finds his grandmother everywhere. The woman on the
bench is wearing her sweater. She is always sleeping.
Something You Must Know
My mother says you'll know your partner because your features
will match up. People are just like the toy that requires you to place
blocks of different shapes into their corresponding holes. Everyone
fits somewhere. This is something you must know.
It's hard to imagine how this girl's profile will unfold.
Her ear makes everything else so ugly. Knowing is instant but finding
the right fit is difficult and some people never do. It's a matter of
seeing her nose. If only I might touch her feet. I must press my
palm into hers. If I could pull down her tights, I would know.
The church on our block was hosting organ concerts for five Saturday's
in a row. "Free to the public," my sister read from the newspaper.
"All are welcome."
"It's starts today," she said. "Let's go."
We needed something free to do. Our parents were on their summer
travels and we'd spent all the money. But I didn't want to go to the
concert. "Organ?" I said. "That's like being at a funeral."
"Boo hoo," my sister said.
An hour later she was the one who didn't want to go. She was lying on
the leather couch. "I'm stuck," she said. "It's too hot."
It was very, very hot. We'd wilted along with the plants. "Churches
are cold," I said. "Remember?"
"Why me?" my sister said. "Why us?"
The church was very cold. Other people were there who didn't look
like church people. They sat at the ends of the pews and looked
around. We looked around too. We looked at the pretty windows. We
looked at our hands and at the books tucked in front of us.
A woman in a long skirt welcomed everyone and handed out programs. We
weren't sure if she was a priest or if she just worked there. The
woman said the organist was Ugandan and that it was an honor to hear
her play. She gestured for us to look toward the back of the church
and we did. The organ's pipes were bone long and off-white. When the
music started and I expected to see something come out of them. I'd
never thought about seeing music before, but right then it seemed
ridiculous that we could not.
The music was slow. We could not settle down. How many keys was she
pressing at once? It seemed like a lot. How had we ended up there?
We both considered the other responsible. We were so cold. The music
lasted forever. Were there songs? We didn't know. We kicked our
feet. We shivered. The cold was making us stiff and itchy.
Somewhere in the middle we submitted without knowing we were
submitting. The organist layered notes on top of chords and more
chords on top of notes until the music was so thick that we could no
longer tell where we were, or what was real. The music invaded us.
Then there was no longer an "us." There was only the music. There
wasn't room for anything else.
When it was over we were woozy, raw like babies. Our ears rang. On
our way out of church we asked the woman if there were refreshments.
She tapped her heart and said "no."
The outside heat seemed like a personal, purposeful offense. I'd
imagined skipping but skipping was not possible. Our apartment wasn't
any better. It was worse.
My sister went to the bathroom and sat on the edge of the tub and
soaked her feet. I took off my shirt and stuck my face in the
My sister came into the kitchen on her toes.
"Did your feet shrink?" I asked.
"A bit," she said, marching with her hands in the air. "Did you
freeze your zits off?"
"I stopped doing that a long time ago." I said. "I'm just really hot."
She came up behind me. "You have zits on your back."
I tried to look. "No, I don't."
"Yes, you do." Her fingers bounced around my shoulders. "I can ice
them off if you want."
I tried to look. I couldn't see any. "Ice?"
I knocked some ice cubes out on the counter and brought them over in
my hands. They slid off the table when I put them down.
"A bowl, a bowl," my sister said. "Paper towels."
I sat in front of her, on the floor.
"You still have freckles?" she said.
"You don't?" I said.
"They disappeared. They faded and faded and then they were gone."
She sighed. "I miss them."
She wrapped two cubes in a paper towel and rubbed them over my
shoulders. Cold water ran into my armpits and onto the floor. I did
not let myself shiver.
She pushed my right shoulder and told me to move forward.
"Are you cold?" she asked.
"No," I said.
"Then it's not going to work," she said. She applied more force.
The wet paper balled and stuck to my back and the ice was on my skin.
My sister tightened her grip and ran it along my spine. She tossed
what was left of the paper towel and fished more cubes out of the
shallow pool that had formed in the bowl. She took a cube in each
The music from the church flowed through the apartment. My sister
leaned into me and ran the cubes down my chest. She pressed them
against my sternum until even my bones hurt. After a bit she showed
me her empty palms. "All gone."
She put an ice cube to my collarbone. We hummed. The sounds came
together just like they did in the church. Our apartment blurred, then
became more vivid than it had ever been.
I pressed an ice cube on my sister's foot.
"Freezing!" she yelped.
I rubbed cold water on my palms and ran them up her shins. She
shivered hard. "How could you stand it?"
I held her ankles.
"It was so cold in that church," I said.
"It was," she cried. "It was so cold in that church."