Katie Lattari

A Family

 

There is a hill with a house on top. The hill is green, as with grass. The house is rough and red, as with brick. The path in front of the house is gray, as with pebbles. To the right of the red brick house is a tree, as with bark and leaves. The tree is tall and fat and keeps the sun away from the swing below. A boy is on the swing. On his face are freckles. His hair is red, not as with brick. As with carrot. The boy has a name. The last of it is on the mat that lays before the front door. The boy with carrot hair cannot read it. The flowers in the front garden have a slick, bright look to them, as with candy. The sky above is blue, a creamy blue, but deep, opaque, as with paint. There is one cloud. The boy’s face is turned up into the leaves of the fat tree. He sees the leaves. He sees the leaves. From the window mother peers into the cheery outdoor world. Her face is still. Her hands are still. She looks at the boy. The boy looks down from the leaves and sees his mother in the window. Then she is gone.

 

There is a small bell pressed in the dirt in front of the red brick house. The boy stands above it, looking very seriously down at it. He does not touch it. He does not stoop. He looks to the window. Mother is not there. The boy takes two small steps backward.

 

Mother lets the boy in the house for lunch. The wooden kitchen table is polished. The single place-mat is starched and set in sharp straight lines. The sandwich on the white plate is cut into two equal halves, diagonal. At the boy’s right shoulder, mother is standing, looking. Lifting one half of the sandwich, the boy takes a bite. Several crumbs fall onto the plate, several onto the table. Mother’s hand swiftly sweeps the crumbs into her palm. She discards them into the sink. She rinses the sink with water. She wipes the sink dry with a cloth. She folds the cloth and hangs it up on the cloth rack. At the boy’s shoulder, mother is again standing, looking.

 

Toe of sneaker digs into the cool, moist earth. The boy is sitting on the swing beneath the fat tree, one hand holding one of the ropes that support the swing. There is creaking, as with old doors and older trees. Breeze rustles the leaves above. Eyes turn leafward. Things are dense there. Things sway there. Green, as with leaves. Not greens, as with other things. A small bell tinkles lightly. It is on the breeze. He sees leaves. He sees the leaves. He turns his eyes away. The warm breeze chills.

 

Standing off in the far reaches of the front yard, grass is at the boy’s ankles, the red brick house is smaller, as with perspective. The sun is round and hot and pregnant. It hangs. The sky is creamy blue, and opaque, as with paint. Things feel thick and bright. Mother is exiting the side door of the house, heading toward the grove. A white wicker basket with a pink fabric lining is in her arms. Mother’s walking and posture tell the boy some sort of weight is inside. Stomach gnaws. Gnawing. The boy turns in place, eyes toward the creek, back toward the red brick house, mother, and the weighted white wicker basket. His body is upset.

 

The boy is in the grove to the left of the red brick house. Thinner trees crop up from the earth here, the leaves thinner, as with paper. A flat, round rock lays on the grass. Another lays a few yards away. The first has a few white fibers on it. The boy’s eyes look at the round stones. Heavy. Brown fibers are swept from the surface of the second round stone by the breeze. A small clump of fibers stick. White fibers float into the warm air, pushed by the same breeze. At the edge of the grove, nearer the darker forest, is a plum tree, heavy with plums. The boughs of the plum tree pull down, as with plums. The boy approaches the tree, trunk taut and slightly bent, brings his hand up to one of the plums. Juicy condensation paints his palm. Red-violet. The breeze brushes his carrot hair. Re-wrapping his hand around the plum, the boy clenches hard. The fruit ruptures and oozes in his hand, jewel-tone water snaking and rivuleting down his fair arm. His other hand reaches up and grabs a second plum. The boy clenches. This fatter plum ruptures and squishes in his palm, his fingernails biting into it, the smell of the nectar hovering in the air around him. Seven more plums are clenched. Red-violet stains cover the boy’s forearms. The boy looks up into the blue cream sky. The sun hangs.

 

Mother sees the boy return for dinner, forearms and the cuffs of his tee-shirt stained. Ghastly. Red-violet. Mother’s mouth is twisted. Her tomato-tipped fingers push against the boy’s chest at the front doorway. She can see the sticky. She can see her spotless ceramic sink. Mother pushes the boy’s chest harder until his feet are firmly on the outside mat. She shuts the door. There is hardness there, as with hammer hitting wood.

 

Backing away, the boy is backing away as mother reappears at the front door, stainless steel pot of potatoes in one hand, a silver serving spoon in the other, black eye makeup streaking down her face, eyes nearer black than brown now, mouth twisted, shouting words, plopping and whipping her homemade potatoes down into the dirt at the boy’s feet.

It’s a dirty trick it’s an awful dirty trick I’m sure your father taught you that before he left.

The boy is frightened. He stumbles backward, heel catching at the gray path pebbles, eyes wide, arms stained red-violet.

Emulation, emulation! you dirty little brat you insufferable little prick eat your potatoes eat your dinner no one will ever tell me my boy is underfed you dirty little brat you insufferable little prick eat up and make your smiles and taunts and complaints on the inside and enough with this horrible theater.

Arms sticky, hair carrot, the boy spins around with a wail in his throat, the spoon approaching his head, and runs as fast as his legs will take him down to the stream for washing.

 

There is a small pink dress, as for a baby, pressed into the packed mud of the stream bank.

 

The boy is sitting on the swing under the fat tree. The round pregnant sun hangs lower. Smells are gamey this time of day under the leaves. Under the leaves which block out the sun. Smells turbulate in the boy’s nostrils. Breathes out fast, as with a horse. Mother is in a house dress standing at the outside corner of the house farthest from the boy. Her face is still. Her hands are still. Finger tips tomato. The boy’s face is turned up into the leaves of the fat tree. He sees the leaves. He sees the leaves. Hand trembles on supportive rope. He sees the leaves.

 

He sees things too, which mother tells him he does not.

Do you see them, my boy? Do you see them in the tree, really?

The boy looks at his mother. She is slender, a willow switch. Her nails are red, as with tomato. Her lips are red, as with cherry. There is drip. Her eyes are very deep brown, nearing black. The boy turns his head to look up into the fat tree.

Why have you need to check, my boy? Why have you need to check? You know that nothing is there. That nothing has ever been there but leaves.

His mother has a tightness about the eyes. Her tomato fingertips grasp her apron.

Now, tell me: what do you see in the tree?

Leaves, mother.

Mother’s tightness about the eyes eases, as with slackening rope.

Go to the grove and play.

Mother places a hand on top of the boy’s head. Something is rigid.

 

At the edge of the woods bordering the back vegetable garden the boy is standing still, a stalk of corn next to the stalks of corn. Apple trees have boughs laden with fruit that pull downward with their juice. Tied fast around one of the thicker branches is a sun-faded dog leash. Tied fast to that same thick branch is a second more sun-faded dog leash. Wrapped fast around that same thick branch is a sun-faded strand of looped yarn. Its red has seeped out and stained the tree in the summer rains. All ends are frayed. All ends shift in the light breeze. Tied fast to that same thick branch is a neck tie, stripes faded in the sun. The boy feels a gnawing in his stomach. It is so quiet here.

 

The carrot boy is sitting on the swing suspended under the fat tree. Mother stands before him, arms hanging at her sides. Her face is still. The boy sits heavy in the swing, eyes holding at the waist band of her apron. Mother’s hair swims with the breeze, as with wheat. The boy’s jaw looks tight, his nostrils constricted. Mother’s dainty feet pad rapidly across the grass and rich earth; the boy’s hands wrap more tightly around the ropes suspending the swing. Tomato-tipped fingers pinch and open the boy’s freckled nostrils, his head jerking like a dog flinching at muzzling.

Breathe it. Breathe in.

The thumb and index and ring fingers clamp onto the boy’s jaw, forcing his mouth open.

It’s very fresh, the air is very fresh here.

The sour gaminess of the air gouges into his nostrils and mouth, pungent against his tongue.

 

At the dinner table the boy can see the fat tree through the window beside him. The sun is hung low and sweats red, as with plums on the bough. He sees the leaves of the tree. Only the leaves of the tree. The boy’s hand trembles on the table beside his fork. Mother’s eyes lift and narrow onto his countenance. She is searching him. The boy feels tested. His body feels upset.

The quiet is very refreshing, isn’t it, my boy?

The boy is looking down into his dinner plate, one stalk of asparagus remaining. Mother lifts her dainty coffee cup and looks out at the fat tree in all its splendor and decoration.

 

In the field adjacent the grove stands a tight little wooden shed in which mother keeps some of her outside things. The boy stands in the cool shade of the shed, thin strips of light still slanting in through gaps in the wooden planks. Here is some rope. Here is a rake. Here are some gloves. There is a tricycle. Here is a half-chewed dog bone. Here are the shears. Here is a pink stroller. Here is a bag of mulch. There is some rope. Here is some rope. Here is a pair of men’s dress shoes, shined. Here is some rope. Here is some rope.  The boy slowly takes two steps back.

 

There is a flower bed on the side of the house with some fencing around it.  The fence is white, as with paint. The sun hangs high and bright in the blue cream paint sky. Things are thick, as with fog. As with molasses. As with breathing. As with mud. In the lungs. Plum juice is red-violet on the boy’s hands and pants. The boy is kneeling in the flower bed, and breathing feels tight. Gnawing is in the stomach. A gamey smell wafts in the air toward him, and as it arrives its bite is more acute, more sour, more curdled. The sun hangs high and bright in the cream paint sky. Mother is exiting the shed. There is some rope. The boy turns his carrot head to look up into the fat tree, which blocks out the sun.  He sees trunk. He sees branches. He sees leaves. He sees leaves. He sees leaves. Mother’s face is still, the rope looped loosely around her forearm. The gamey smell burns in the boy’s nostrils. The sun hangs high and bright in the cream paint sky. The fat tree is standing tall in the summer breeze, full. The boy sees leaves. He sees leaves. He sees his dog’s swollen brown paw. He sees his dad’s purple, roughed toes. He sees his cat’s white tail. He sees his baby sister’s bloated knee, shin, and foot. He sees rope. He sees mother.

 

There is a hill with a house on top. The hill is green, as with grass. The house is rough and red, as with brick. The path in front of the house is gray, as with pebbles. To the right of the red brick house is a tree, as with bark and leaves. The tree is tall and fat and keeps the sun away from the swing below. There is a boy. There is swinging.

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