Snapshot

By W. Leander

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See me: I am nine years old, short, brown and bony, lying on my belly under the dining room table in only my socks and underwear on a hot and listless Saturday morning. I am alone, nobody else but me. It is so quiet in the apartment you can hear the floor groan; you can hear the refrigerator’s motor humming off and on; you can hear the kitchen faucet’s slow, ceaseless dripping. Outside, through the apartment’s propped-up open windows, you can make out boys cursing, women laughing, cars honking and motorcycles screaming by down at the streets far below. Mom is still in her room, door closed. And I need to be careful. If I wake her on her day off, that will be bad. Very bad. So I stay quiet.

             The table I am under is large, made from stained wood and thick, heavy, black glass. We rarely eat on it. It is normally only for nights we have “company.”  When it is just Mom and me, we usually eat in her room on her bed in front of the TV, watching Lou Grant or The Love Boat or something. Mom didn’t buy the table. She got it from Granny. Most of our furniture is from Granny: the dining room table with the three chairs that don’t quite match; the twin, tan sofas; the rug underneath the sofas; the vacuum that barely vacuums the rug; the crockpot where Mom makes pork and bean chili; most of our plates. Lamps and hangers and blankets and things. We had to get the furniture from Granny because Mom couldn’t afford new couches and rugs and crockpots when we left Granny’s house. Granny isn’t rich, she just has a lot of stuff because she’s old. When you’re old, you have to get rid of all your belongings before you die. That’s the truth.

*

I like to be under the table. I like to be under things. I like hiding under my bed or hiding in the closet, and when I sleep, I sleep with the covers over my head. Then I pretend I am a turtle hiding under my shell. And my pillow is my little turtle friend.

             Mom used to get mad at me when she caught me under the table. She would say it was weird. “Hey you, come on out from under there.” But I feel safe under the table. It is cool and dark. I sometimes bring toys with me when I am under here—Star Wars action figures and GI Joe’s, stuff like that. I can stay down here for hours. During these times, of course, it’s not really a dining room table. No, it is a dark forest. And these are not table legs and these are not chair legs. They are the trunks of ancient trees that rise up and up into a murky, hooded sky. And it is not an area rug I’m lying on but a field of golden, wild grass. You will not find grass like this anywhere else in the entire world. No, you have to come to my dark forest to see it. But I’m the only one who knows about it! However, sometimes our dining room table isn’t a dark forest at all. No, sometimes it is an abandoned underground city, sometimes a gigantic starship, or an exploding volcano.

            But sometimes it’s just a table.

            Right now what I have open in front of me is one of our large photo albums that’s housed in one of the bookshelves in the living room. There are four photo albums total: one is blue, one is red, two are green. What I do is, I grab one of the dust-covered albums, get under the table and look at pictures. There must be hundreds of photos nestled in these plastic binders. I go through them one by one, slowly, even though I have seen each of them many times. Pictures of family: Mom and Granny and Uncle Stacy and Aunt April. Close cousins and far flung cousins or friends from long ago, never seen again. Spooky yellowed pictures of old men and women, strangers to me, frowning stiffly in heavy clothing so scratchy and uncomfortable looking, I want to itch myself just looking at them. Pictures of birthday cake and backyards. Pictures of old cars and empty birdcages.

            The photos are all faded and creased and stained with fingerprints, most of them mine. That’s why Mom doesn’t like me looking at them by myself anymore. I have dirty fingers.

            But I feel sorry for the albums. I wonder if they get lonely by themselves, just sitting there on the bottom shelf getting older and older. No one takes them out and plays with them. At least they have each other.  When I go to the living room I can hear them calling to me: Pick me . . . No, pick me . . . You picked green last time, it’s my turn today. I try not to play favorites and give each one a go when I take one off the shelf and sneak off for the dining room table. But, of course, I do have a favorite. The blue one is my favorite. That’s because it has the oldest pictures. The red one has the newest. And the fewest. I like that one least.

            The photos in the blue album are from another time. A time before I was born, before I was “even a thought.”

            Here is Granny and Grandpa in black and white, looking serious but young. Not young like me. Young like Mom. Grandpa is in a dark suit and tie; Granny wears a long, flowery short-sleeve dress with a stiff white collar. They are standing on the steps before a blurry brick church. They stare directly at me. Like they know I’m looking at them and are not happy about it.  Here’s a picture of my uncle Leander before he was killed. In this picture he is standing in the driveway of Granny’s house. He is wearing jeans with no shirt and leaning against a huge yellow car, squinting into the bright camera flash and smiling.

            I skip over some of the pictures of family and friends. It is my mom I want to see. The ones of her before. Before I was “even a thought.” It's hard to think of my mother as ever being young, but here's the proof. Here she is at a park, sitting on a swing. She is with some school friends and they are laughing and smiling at each other. Here she is in her high school cap and gown surrounded by other kids her age. They are waving and making silly faces. It's like she is my mom and not my mom. Here, in these albums, she is almost always smiling, always happy.

            The pictures are in no order. Time jumps and skips. Here she is when she was my age. She is in Grandma’s living room, but the furniture is different. Gone is the couch covered in roses and plastic that make my legs sweat. Nowhere is the glass coffee table, the large color TV. Even the wallpaper is different. Mom stands with her brother Leander.  They stand shoulder to shoulder. The both of them are all smiles, mouths open, Mom’s front teeth missing, like they are saying cheeeeese!

            “Your momma used to follow that boy everywhere,” Granny once told me. “Got to be Leander had to hide from her in the bathroom. Just to get a little peace.” I try to picture this, a little girl named Momma chasing her older brother through the house. I had tried once asking Mom about it, but she told me she didn’t remember.

            I turn the page.

            Here she is as a teenager in a sweater and cutoffs, standing barefoot in the backyard of my grandmother’s house, hand on her hip, her face tough and frowning into the camera. Here she is, older now, with some of her friends in some unknown kitchen. She has her hair done up in a way I have never seen before and she’s sitting at a table playing what looks like dominoes with another girl and two men I don’t know. Mom has a lit cigarette in one hand. The girls wave and smile to the camera. The men squint and try to look hard.  One of the men (he has a wispy mustache and shining eyes) has an arm draped over my mother’s shoulder. I see his arm and I get mad. Get your arm off my mom! I want to say to him.

            I wonder what it would be like to have been the same age as her. I wonder if we would have been friends, if she would have even liked me.

            I don’t like the ones that were taken after I was born. Like this one: mom seated outside by a public pool with me in a diaper and crying on her lap. Her face is wooden. Unsmiling. Her body round and thick because of me. She has never been able to get back to her pre-me shape. Though she tries. Once every few months she goes on a diet and then there’ll be a couple of weeks where she eats nothing but grapefruit and boiled eggs. You’ll see pink dumbbells in the living room, exercise magazines on the coffee table. She’ll have a can-do attitude. “This time I’m going to stay on the diet. This time I’m going to lose the weight!” In the evenings after she comes home from work, I’d see her in the living room exercising, her face sweaty and intense. For fun I’d sometimes do her exercises with her, both of us on our knees and elbows doing mule kicks. But after a week or two, she’d break down and buy a cheesecake or pickup McDonald’s at the drive-through and then I’d know that diet-time was over.

 *

Soon Mom will wake up and shoo me outside, harping on me to go and find my friends. When that happens, I will go downstairs and sweat on the steps and watch people parade past me on the sidewalk. But for now I am content to lie on my stomach under the table—which is not a table but a forest—tuning out the noise down below while I stare into the past and wonder.


W. Leander is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.

Food for Thought

By Rane Hall

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When she was an infant, I had hovered over Eve, indulging the fancy that I could see in her untroubled brow and delicate features the raw material of philosophy.  I was a literature major and since college I had taken to thinking of the biblical character of Eve in feminist terms – not as an allegory of fleshly weakness, but as the literary equivalent of our first Homo sapiens. 

In my Bible as Literature class in college, our professor projected Masaccio’s famous Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden.  In it, our first parents express their overruling despair at their fatal miscalculation.  Exiting the architecture of Eden, Adam drops his face into his hands, symbolically gesturing not only to the sweat of his brow (by which he will yield a living in this sublunar world), but also to the burden of his thought.  Eve, in contrast, uses her hands to cover her breasts and pubis. Her punishment will be to submit to her husband and to bear their children in pain. 

In the Expulsion Masaccio lays bare a powerfully reductive and determinant statement about gender in the West:  the locus of female identity is somatic; masculinity is intellectual. But, as I looked at the Masaccio projected on the oversized screen of our classroom auditorium and listened to the professor’s exegesis, a psychic subtext was emerging in my mind as a question: Was Masaccio’s vision an accurate reflection of what I was reading in Genesis? 

When I was seventeen, I persuaded the new young humanities teacher at my high school to accompany me to our campus museum, which was promoting a Yoko Ono exhibition, titled The Bronze Age.  The young teacher had a broad grin, tousled hair, and the habit of wearing romantic, blousy shirts of the sort you’d imagine Percy Shelley wearing in a Florentine café.  Before we’d crossed the threshold into the galleries, there was already the sturdy seed of attraction, the heyday in the blood, the magnetic force of the forbidden. 

The piece at the center of the gallery was a single green apple, placed atop a tall rectangular pedestal.  It was titled, Apple.  I eyed it carefully. And, when I saw that the security guard was distracted, and that the apple was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the fruit was to be desired to make one wise, I took of the apple and ate; and I also gave some to the man and he ate. 


“The eyes of the shopkeeper, other tourists, and of the decapitated alligators fastened on us as the baby’s face began to burn.  “No. I want something else.”


Nineteen years later, we begat and named our second daughter Eve. Since then, I’ve wondered many times about the magical perversity of that decision and of Eve’s disobedience.

Eve was a focused baby.  She wanted things and she knew how to get them.  And even when she didn’t know exactly what she wanted, the simple fact of her wanting was always clear as water: She would say, “I want something else.” 

When she was three, Eve had a melt-down at a souvenir shop in Sanibel called She Sells Sea Shells.  We had promised our daughters a visit to the shop before the end of our vacation.  We said: “You may each have one thing from this shop; it can’t be over $15, but other than that, choose what you like.”

This, yes.  That, no.  Oh Eve, in evil hour. 

Inside She Sells Sea Shells were deep boxes brimming with flawless versions of the same shells we and a gaggle of old ladies competed ruthlessly for at daybreak on the beaches of the peninsula. There were shell-themed mobiles and mother of pearl wind chimes; macabre lamps made from the unlucky bodies of sea urchins and puffer fish; Mod Podged accent mirrors framed in shells; macramé plant hangers inwoven with cowries; sea themed charm bracelets, and gold and silver earrings shaped like tiny sand dollars.  She Sells Sea Shells proffered an embarrassment of nautical riches of every sort, for every budget.  At a place like this, you’d be hard pressed to say that shell encrusted tchotchkes just aren’t my thing. 

At some point, though, Eve must have found the choices both over and under inclusive of her desires.  She wanted and wanted fiercely, but not of the Sea Shells that She Sold.  Not the apple murex covered jewelry box.  Not the frogs or rabbit figurines crafted from painted scallop shells and pipe cleaners.  Not the plastic floating bath toys in the shapes of alligators or rubber ducks.  Not the plush baby rattles shaped like smiling cartoon starfish.  We handed her things in sing song encouragement; she pushed them away in monotone. “No.”

  The eyes of the shopkeeper, other tourists, and of the decapitated alligators fastened on us as the baby’s face began to burn.  “No. I want something else.” 

“I want something else.” 

It was a cyclical chant, almost hypnotic in the formality of its pain.  “I want something else.”  “I want something else.” 

The shopkeeper peered over her glasses.  The taxidermy alligator faces grimaced with judgment.  Boxes of shellacked sea urchins, baby seahorses, and dried clown fish offered their dispiriting chorus.  “For this, we had to die?”

“I want something else.” “For this, we had to die?”

  On the drive back to our rented bungalow, we exhausted our parental tool kit of bribes, threats, and distractions.  Eve’s crying was so passionate, and prolonged, and unnerving that we finally just pulled over the rental car, adjusted the A.C., rolled up the windows, and waited outside, watching the child rage.  Our heads rocked in subconscious unison to the toddler’s lament: “I want something else.” “I want something else.” “I want something else.” 

Thirty minutes later, exhausted by her infantile premonition of the vanity of human wishes, Eve literally passed out. 

When I dared the young teacher to eat a Granny Smith at the Yoko Ono exhibition, I thought I had two things in balance:  contemplation and action.  On the one hand, I instantly apprehended Ono’s thesis on the level of thought.  At the same time, I accepted the essential dare of the artwork and was shifting—as only a seventeen year old can—into action.

“She wants us to eat it.”

“I don’t know.”

“What don’t you know?”

“I don’t feel right—eating it.  Destroying the piece.”

“Destroying?  We wouldn’t be destroying it.  We’d be completing it.  Why would she float an apple out here if not to recapitulate original sin?  I think we have no choice. I want to do it!” 

“But, what if that isn’t what she’s saying?  What if this is a tribute to the Beatles?  The Beatles’ label was a green apple exactly like this Granny Smith.   Apple records.  What if this is a tribute to John?”

“Well, it might be about both things.  Either way, I say we confirm our humanity as fallen beings who deceive each other, and mess up, and have sex.  That’s what she and John did.  I say we eat this!”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh my god!  This is the original question.  Do you want to scramble back to Eden like scared children or affirm our existence as Homo sapiens?  I say we fall.  We choose death!  I’m going for it.”

We placed the half eaten apple back under its spotlight on the pedestal and ran for it.  And, predictable things followed:  sex, deception, fear, shame, more sex.  A daughter named Eve. 

It doesn’t change the things that happened, but it is also true that a balding white museum guard perfect in the knowledge that a bin of bitten Granny Smiths had to be taken out of the galleries at the end of every day of The Bronze Age later reduced the boldest moves of my adolescent mating dance to a shoulder shrug:  “Got a bin full of them half-eaten apples out back.” 


Rane Hall is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.