Reruns: A Triptych
Long enough without mentioning her, and she disappears. The Sheriff wants it this way. After the funeral he braces himself and their speck of a baby, the Boy, in their solid A-frame Town and lets her fade. He keeps no pictures. Forgets the long braid she twisted into a bun every morning with six pins. Forgets the skirts that flared to her knees and never wrinkled — not even on that high-school Saturday they explored the Town’s old mine and, otherworldly, fumbled and pressed together ’til his flashlight died. He’d tucked his shirttails, she’d smoothed her hair, and they’d felt their way back into the sunlight — same ol’ field above the lake, same ol’ Town. Him blushing, her grinning, dirt smudging a stripe over her nose. The memory gutters, snuffed. Goes the way of her bright eyes as she polished his star with lemon juice. Her braying laughter as together they played some joke on his Deputy, the Boy’s godfather. All the second helpings dished out in the Sheriff’s kitchen. Dead, and every morning he tucks his shirttails, smooths the oiled whorl of his hair. Feels his way into another grayscale morning. Same ol’ Town, same ol’ Deputy — his antics increasingly desperate. And the Boy, who doesn’t look a bit like her — who? — the Boy who doesn’t remember but puzzles at their gray world, its smallness. The Boy asks questions. The Boy follows him fishing, restless. Scurries ahead for a certain rock in the path as though it holds some answer. Hurls it as far as his little rope-arm can. The Boy looks at the Sheriff. The Sheriff whistles. Empty sunlight and a sleepy lake and a Sheriff and his Boy, fishing. That old mine nearby has been abandoned for years, the Sheriff would reckon if you asked. Saturday in America, same ol’ Town — why, this could be anywhere.
It’s another day and another bashful, baleful expression on her Son’s face and he’s grounded again — whence her children’s nattering fear of physical punishment, when the worst she’s done is send them to pull weeds, she has no idea — and the Mother is here in another high-collared dress with a starched skirt to lecture — patiently, again — on the rewards of proper behavior. And as she speaks, It’s telling lies that gets us into trouble, she feels again the shallow panic that’s been worrying her lately. The tug of impatience with her script, with this endlessly naive boy and his crooked cap and his shock of hair and his refusal to either grow or decay, neither straightening up nor breaking away. Rebel already, the Mother wants to scream. She wants to shake him. Because if this is Twain, someone needs to get the fuck off down the river. But instead she hears herself say, doe-eyed and caring, Even when you think you’re getting away with it, God knows everything. He sees everything.
And she remembers the first time she heard this lecture, all bobby socks and raised brow, from Sarah at boarding school who said she didn’t want to kiss in the afternoons anymore and wanted to be a good girl and find a good husband and — crying, suddenly — don’t you want to go to heaven, June?
Right through the roof? her Son asks.
Get out of here! Break a window! Skip school with those insipid friends! Right through the roof.
His stare is bovine. Right through the ceiling?
Sweet Jesus, when will you and your Brother raid the liquor cabinet. And through the ceiling.
Her Son considers. Her molars grind each other flat.
Would God see it if I hid in my closet? He asks finally, and her laugh catches on something inside her and tears.
They are supposed to blend, slot together neat as an equation: three and three, each side carbon copied in triplicate from its source. They end up crammed, bunched, too many children too close in age. The Girls are suddenly confronted with semen-encrusted tube socks and the shock of a fuzzed back, a spray of hair from under an arm as a Boy pads down the hall to the bathroom in the morning. Four men together, and the idea that these disgusting creatures too are people frightens the Girls. The Youngest One curls herself into the space behind the front hedge and cries.
And the Boys have never seen the shrill pageantry of sisterhood — the caustic fights, the prissy whispers of allegiance, the coquettish smiles and over-brushed hair that confuse them all. Are these siblings? Flirts? Enemies? Sides are taken; lines are drawn. The house is a checkerboard of territories and alliances. The building itself is not neutral territory — designed and built by the Boys’ Father, run by his Housekeeper, it feels foreign and sinister to the Girls. This is not their home. They lay siege to it internally, sprawling their magazines and clothing across the shag carpeting. They mark their territory.
Together the Children grow to hate their Parents, for shipwrecking six young lives for the sake of a conjugal fuck. There is a house-wide shudder at the slow realization that the Parents do not know what comes next. They are to somehow form a family. There has never been a more detailed plan than that. They are nine people stacked in a house, nine separately boxed selves, living together yet all alone. They steal glances at one another — these familiar strangers, these intimate nemeses — and are always checking and rechecking, above and below. Always wary and ready for the next attack.