Friday, September 16, 2005


I’m 25 years old. I live in a 300 square foot box. I’m not gainfully employed. Yet, somehow, my sister, S., named me next-of-kin. I’m supposed to protect the little one (my brilliant, 2-month old niece) if anything should happen to S. and her husband. Where will I put the little bundle of molecules—in my tub? When I go for oysters and Sancerre at “Balthazar,” where will I leave her—with the coat check lady, hoping she won’t get lost in a mountain of mink?

A baby and Belle and New York City…

“You ever gonna have one of these up in the city?” my sister asked me as she lay in mother’s four-poster bed. Dozens of paper white pillows were stacked behind her, arranged to the side of her, on top of her. “Oh, come on, la vie metropolitaine and a baby of your own… you could teach it all those languages that you speak.”

She made a grand gesture, mocking me. Her arm gently descended on the pillow as her voice faded. Slowly, slowly… she almost fell into a quiet slumber before I had crossed the room. Pregnancy kept her eyelids perpetually swollen, the blue irises always searching for the next nap behind padded lids. Lying in that cavernous bedroom strewn with mismatched teacups and saucers, floral sheets twisted and discarded miles from the bed, yellowed book jackets waving like daisies under the fan’s breeze, she looked like a nymph in mother’s overgrown garden. I pried open the three windows that Zeola had been so careful to close and waited for a breeze. The scrub oaks and pine trees that surrounded the house and lake were still and lifeless. The azalea bushes drooped, sun-bleached and shriveled from the summer drought. Five hundred acres of tawny, overgrown grasses stretched before me. I wanted to cry and curse and sneeze all at the same time.

My life in New York was a sham, mother was a mess and the mattress atop the family’s fabled bed was fifty years old and full of dust mites.

“Do you think Mamma minds that I’m laid up like this?” she asked, her eyes still closed.

“She likes having people dependant on her—hell, look at Daddy. You don’t worry about a thing, all right?”

The bed was one of the family’s prized antiques, a golden creation of polished oak, delicately carved pinecones gracing each of its four posts. Having learned of S.’s pregnancy, Mamma decided that S. had to rest in that particular bed throughout the entire gestation period.

“Pinecones are powerful symbols of hospitality and warm reception. As such, we welcome this first, unborn grandchild into our family.”


I felt responsible for livening up her goose down and lace solitary confinement.

I had to rouse her; I had to play my role. The familiar pattern of our conversation would reassure me. Her brow did look smoother and her expression was more relaxed, even playful. The thought of leaving her like that, just so, crept into my mind. I walked over and pressed my palms against the slant of the roof above the dormer window. I stared out the glass panes and squinted.

“What does today’s sunlight remind you of? Can I tell you what I think of?”

“Tell me, lil’ one,” she said, her voice assuring me that things were good this morning. We both had moments of ease, days of madness. Mamma called it an imbalance of humors (“...too much damn Tabasco sauce when I was pregnant with you two girls”). Slowly, my sister smiled and tilted her head to the side. A hand rested on her large belly and she submitted to the morning light, allowing its warm rays to rest on her broad, ivory cheeks.

“Duh duh duh da!” I held up my arms and turned my torso toward the window, to the door and finally to my sister in bed like a gymnast saluting the Olympic committee. “For my very privileged audience of one, in list fashion, I give you, ‘Morning Light!’ Chicken feathers, fresh laundry, Mamma’s golden arm hair, the sheen of a fresh catch of grouper, the reflection pools outside the courthouse and last but not least, the glow of my lovely sister’s smile after giving birth to a beautiful baby girl!”

She gave me a smile, broad and lazy. She was good, I was good—we were both trying very hard to be good in the white, morning sunshine. I stepped toward the window again and looked out.

Decaying grandeur.

I kept my eyes on the property and waited for Miss Havisham to walk up the flagstone.

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