Some Saturdays, Mother took us on drives to the north end to see big houses with winding driveways and yards of green green grass. I don’t know if she was trying to torture or motivate herself. Perhaps to her, torture was motivation.
She’d drive with the windows down, the radio off and point. “Look at that one,” she’d say. “I wonder if they appreciate what they’ve got way we would. I bet they don’t even clean it themselves. How’d they make so much money?”
There were always those questions. “Do you think they have a maid? I bet they have parties all the time. How much is their electric bill? Who does their yard? Would they speak to someone like me?” And we would stop mid-squirm in the backseat. We thought she was asking us and we’d start thinking real hard, but we didn’t know the answers.
I liked looking into the windows. I liked to see other people’s walls. They looked crisp and white like snow. I imagined the interior of those homes to be silent, cool, odorless. Clean clean. The visible tops of couches and chairs appeared rich from our rusting little Nissan. Deep. And in my mind I could see myself sinking into them, eating an entire package of Oreos, which we could never afford. But if we lived here, we’d have a pantry full of Oreos and we could drink all the milk we wanted. There’d be a bowl full of the oranges I craved.
Our couch at home was lumpy, scratchy plaid.
And somehow, if we lived in one of these houses, my hair would be long and straight, I’d have lots of friends, my sisters would be angels, Daddy would be alive again and Mother would stop smoking and drinking coffee with amaretto all night.
Yet, these houses seemed so empty. They looked filled with whispers, tip-toeing. Lifeless.
Other Saturdays, Mother with her eyes soft and wet, would take us to the local drugstore to get thirty cent cones. “I’m sorry girls,” she’d say. We didn’t know why she apologized. We were happy. We had ice cream in our hands.
We’d follow her, dripping and sticky, to the pet shop next door and look at the puppies in the window, rolling around in wood shavings while licking our cones and fingers. By then I’d learn not to ask for a puppy. We couldn’t afford one no matter how cute or slick a puppy was or how we promised to take care of it. But my sisters, they’d start whining.
Mother, upset, would complain about how messy we were getting with our ice cream cones.
“Get in the car and stop all that whining,” she’d say. “So ungrateful.”
I’d feel guilty. I didn’t know how to be grateful for our ugly couch or not being able to get a puppy.
north end (Copyright 2009)