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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Spirit in the Sky


I sit on the landing at the top of the stairs.  Mommy told me you'll be home soon, so I will stay right here.  Today is my birthday, and you said you would bring the little radio home for me to have.  I don't care about anything else right now except the sight of you walking through that front door, carrying the present you promised.

I've seen transistors before.  Some of my cousins have them.  I can't wait to get one of my own.  Then I can listen to music all the time.  If a song comes on that I do not like, I only have spin the dial and switch the station to something else. Finally, I will figure out the words to "Spirit in the Sky."  It feels like my entire life's about to change.

I imagine a big celebration where the whole family is together.  Aunts, uncles and all of us kids.  Someone whistles and yells, "Shut up, you clowns!  Little Mary's gonna sing."

The room will get quiet as one of the grown-ups lifts me onto the table.  I step between the ashtrays and half-empty glasses of beer, taking requests throughout the night.  It is a dream of mine to be everyone's favorite.
But right now, I feel like I have to pee.  Mommy let me have some ginger ale with my lunch, and I drank the whole can.  I go back inside the apartment.  The door to the bathroom is closed.

"I have to make," I call from the hallway.

"I just got in here," Judy informs me.  "You'll have to wait your turn."

My sister likes to read books while she's on the toilet.  At this rate, I'll never get in there.  I return to my perch in the foyer and cup myself with two hands as I sit back down.

I can smell the dinner Eleanor is preparing for her children on the first floor.  My mother can't stand the folks who live downstairs.  They are quiet and keep to themselves.  They complain to the landlord whenever we have company.  The parties are too loud.  Plus, there's always fights.  It's scary when somebody falls down the steps.

I hear a key in the lock of the outside door and see a shadow in the hallway.  It's Eleanor's husband.  He is tall and seems nice.  He and his wife hold hands in church.  I bet he doesn't drink.

Last week, he taught his youngest boy how to ride a bike.  I watched them from my bedroom window.  The father ran alongside, up and down the street.  Barely holding the seat and then, letting go.  He never once raised his voice, except to shout, "Good job, son!"

I shared the news with Mommy.  She was in the kitchen, stabbing some tuna fish to death with a fork.  "Gregory's training wheels are off!  He learned how after just a few tries."

"That kid's got something wrong with him, you know."

Gregory.  Mom caught him on several occasions, scratching his bare hiney across the bricks in the alley.  The last time, he gave her lip when she scolded him.

"Mind your own business, lady.  You ain't my mother."

She dragged him along the sidewalk with his pants around his ankles.  He hung suspended by the collar of his shirt while she rang the doorbell.

"He's lucky he doesn't belong to me," she warned our neighbor.  She dumped his half-naked behind at
Eleanor's feet and stormed upstairs.

Sometimes, I can't decide if Mommy is a hero or a monster.  I think maybe she is both.  I stand up and try to readjust my discomfort.  Now, I really need to pee.

I scoot toward the bathroom a second time and jiggle the knob.

"Judy, open the door.  I'm gonna have an accident."

"You are not," she says.

"At least, let me go in the tub."

"No.  That's disgusting."

I attempt to get my mother's attention.  She is on the phone, engrossed in a conversation that could last the remainder of my lifetime.  I'll have to keep the details brief.

"Judy hates me," I tell her.

"Quit breaking your sister's balls."

When I head back into the vestibule, I try to pinch my cooter closed so the water will stay in.  It's no use. I feel the warmth spreading beneath my seat.  I am emptying my bladder into my pants.  The pee soaks right through my clothes to the carpet on the top step.  My socks and slippers are drenched.  It takes a few seconds for the whole thing to be over.  I am momentarily relieved.

I sit there in the growing darkness.  In one hot, wet minute, my six-year old life has taken a dreadful turn.

And then, there you are.  I can tell immediately that you're not right.  It takes you forever to find your house key and open the door.  Holding the walls as you climb the stairs, you lurch toward me.  Pausing midway, you sigh.  I'm afraid I will startle you, that you'll fall backward and break your neck.

"Daddy, I'm here," I whisper softly, as if I were trying to pet a stray cat.

You stop and look toward my voice.  You manage a smile.  Now, I know you're drunk.  You seldom smile otherwise.  I've grown to hate that look on your face. Loving you is difficult.

"Did you remember?" I ask.

You say nothing.  You have no idea what I'm talking about.  I move closer to the railing so you can pass.  You lean on my shoulder and push yourself through the narrow space.  I can hear the squish of the wet rug as you press beyond the doorway and into the living room.  Mommy starts to holler.

There'll be no little radio tonight.  I cover my ears and start to sing.  I make up my own words to "Spirit in the Sky."

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