Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Superstitions, 1988

She sat in her wheelchair, staring out the window at the cornfields. She said that morning she had a bad sickness right behind her eyes and needed silence. She had brown eyes but they looked black. I stared down at the laces of my shoes and waited, most of the afternoon. By dusk she was all right again.
“I dreamed last night that somebody shot you.” She told me later.
“Yeah? Who did that?”
“I don’t know. Somebody.”
“What for?”
“Watch out for yourself, Tommy.”
Later on we sat in the kitchen and watched the news. She rocked herself back and forth slowly while she watched. Above the TV hung a crucifix that my great-grandfather made. He carved it and painted it black and gold. It had hung in the kitchen of every house we ever lived in, above the TV.
“What time is it?”
“Around six, six-thirty?”
“You getting hungry?”
“Soon, yeah.”
She kept rocking back and forth, slowly, staring at the TV while we talked. I watched her grip the rubber wheels of her chair. They were strong, square hands, with almost no fingernails left at all.
“How’s your head?”
“Just fine.” She smiled. “All gone.”
She’d go blind sometimes from the pain. I’d carry her upstairs to her room and cover her with blankets. Sometimes she’d stay in her room for days, sleeping. I’d stay in my room across the hall and listen to her talk in her dreams.
“Did anybody call today?”
“I thought I heard the phone ring.”
Monica called. She said she was in a phone booth outside Joliet. She told me she could see the prison from the road. She asked if it was raining here yet and told me that it would be soon.
“Did we get any mail? Any bills?”
“That’s good. Eric said he was going to write, though. When did Eric call?”
“I don’t know. Last week sometime.”
She stopped rocking and took my hand. She put it in her lap and frowned.
“Watch out for yourself, Tommy.”

The next afternoon the sky turned gray and it started raining. She fell asleep in her chair so I carried her upstairs and put her in her bed. I could hear the wind hit the walls of the house. I stood at her window and watched the cornfields sway back and forth. It moved like an ocean.
“It’s going to storm.”
I found a dead crow on the porch later that afternoon. It was limp and its neck was broken. It had red eyes. I picked it up by the claws and carried it inside to the kitchen. Then I put it down on the counter and stared at it.
The eyes were already fading from red to black. I started smoothing down its feather and tried to straighten out its head. Water ran down its body onto the counter, making a puddle around it. It was a little bigger than my hand.
“I found a crow. It’s in the kitchen.” I told her later.
“Where’d you find it?”
“On the porch. It broke its neck.”
“It’s dead?”
I carried her downstairs to see it. She looked at it for a minute and lifted one of its wings carefully with the tips of her fingers. She let it drop.
“What’re you going to do with it?”
“Bury it, I guess.”
When it stopped raining I found a shovel in the garage, leaning up against the wall. It was rusty and old. I dug a hole in the mud and pushed the crow in. Then I said a prayer and asked God to take it. She watched from inside the house.
It started raining again that night. We sat in the kitchen and listened to the radio. She rocked herself back and forth while she listened. I looked at my hands.
“I had another dream last night.” She told me.
“Oh, yeah?”
“It wasn’t about anything, though.”
“What was it?”
“A train. In a desert somewhere.”
“Oh, yeah?”
“Yeah. It was like a movie.”

From my window I could see the clothes hanging on the line. The wind whipped them around. I could hear the sheets and towels snapping. They looked like ghosts, lined up along the side of the house. I counted the clothes from my window. They were drenched in rain.
She was afraid another spell was coming on. Another long one, she thought. The kind that made her go blind. She sat in the living room with the lights off and waited.
“When do you think it’ll happen?”
“Can’t ever tell. A few days, maybe.”
“Then why do you think it’ll happen at all?”
“I just do.”
The sky was dark all day long. It covered the land like a blanket. I looked at all the acres of corn swaying back and forth. In the far distance I could make out the lights of the highway. Then more fields. I could hear her praying in the dark.
She kept her money rolled up in a Band-Aids box in her closet. It was tied up with a red rubber band. I found it one day while she was sleeping downstairs. I held it in the palm of my hand and felt its weight. It felt like a rock. I held it in my hand and watched her sleep, all afternoon.

In the garage I could smell the rain. I was leaning up against the body of her car. The windows were smashed out and the metal was rusting away. The tires and engine were gone. Across the yard I could see the house. I found her window. The shade was drawn. I looked at the clothes, still hanging there like ghosts, and counted them again.

“You want some tea or something?” I asked her. She was lying in her bed with her eyes closed. She didn’t move. “You want any tea?”
“You sure? I’m going to have some.”
“No, thanks. I’m all right.”
“All right.”
“Leave the door open, would you?”
“Sure. Goodnight.”
When she fell asleep I closed the door and went to the kitchen. There was an old photograph of her taped to the icebox. She’s at the beach somewhere, shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand. A shadow runs across the middle of her face. She’s young in the picture. She’s standing up. The ocean spreads out behind her and her feet are buried in the sand. I studied the picture for a long time and closed my eyes.
She was still sleeping when I took her money out of the Band-Aids box. I shoved the roll in my jeans while I watched her. She was very still. I closed the closet door quietly and crept out in my socks. I looked at her one more time form the hall. She hadn’t moved.
I tore through the cornfields with the rain in my eyes. My throat burned. I tripped over some stalks and got back up. I could feel the house getting smaller behind me. I felt it fade in the distance. My heart was beating so hard I felt it in my fingers. I felt it in my teeth. The lights of the highway cut through the corn and I followed them. The cars hissed in the rain.
I thought, if I could just lift my arms up I’d be able to pull myself over the corn and fly away. I thought, if I could just do that.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


"Mr. Srinivasan
instructs us to call him 'Babu'
because no one can say
his name -

perverted letters mate
unnaturally, heretic
bloodlines (sex in high school
was like sports: we did our
best and hoped someone
important saw). This country

Absorbs into its blondness
darkness and we began
in darkness -

I wonder how a Hindu
falls in love in Texas.
I wonder where Ann Nguyen went
(who threw her books into my
hands and knew English
enough to say, 'You are my
boyfriend,' no matter what
I thought) -

who kissed engulfingly yet was
so tiny her ring sat only
a crown on my fingertip -
I thought I was the most
powerful chain-link boy
in school.

Mr. Srinivasan
was born in Rusk (a tiny
Texas town which still
dreams of the Republic)
and speaks only English.
His drawl is John Wayne or

Ross Perot and once in
Texas cows were sacred;
once in high school a girl
from Vietnam was more
beautiful than America."

-Jon Schillaci
1998, Ramsey I Unit, TDCJ-ID
Rosharon, Texas