by Kai Flanders
Sorry to have been so long in writing. Things have been so busy with the move. I would have called but I know you prefer letters.
We moved in last week- the house is spacious and airy and has a big backyard. It is so strange to live somewhere new. The smallest things, like the color of the oven dial or how fast water comes from the new taps, are the most surprising and feel the most unnatural. Though the town is much the same as the last: lots of manicured lawns and track homes and little parks with names like “Mulberry Meadow” or something like that. Everything is fresh off the assembly line. But there is still some land the developers haven’t yet gotten to.
If I was not so busy I might feel alone. Oh Robert has his friends from work, John Deere likes to transfer their employees en-masse, but I know hardly anyone. There is one woman I went to college with, but I barely recognize her. She took me to a cocktail party the other night, but all they did was get drunk and talk about their husbands. I think I need to buy more sundresses.
Gene is still doing his stick game. I don’t mind at all, but Robert wants him to grow out of it. He even bought him a bicycle, but Gene has ridden it maybe the once. It’s silly really to see him jumping about in the backyard. He keeps breaking my close-hangers.
All my love,
Thank you for the wonderful letter. You are right, I should try and be patient, but it is harder than it seems. I’m glad Julie passed her driving test, its about time! Please tell her I miss her.
We have become quite the neighborhood attraction. Everyone seems to find Gene’s stick game very interesting. And they all have opinions about it, which interest Robert more than me.
Gene does it much more now, almost all of his free time, though I can get him to sit with me in the evenings. He even has a favorite stick. His, oh I don’t know what to call it…routine maybe, has changed a bit since you last saw him. I’ll try and describe it to you:
He picks up something- a whiffle bat, a stick, a blind rod, a cloths-hanger, anything really- and goes out back. There is a high wooden fence separating our yard from the Kuntz’s (the young couple next door) and he whacks at it, making whooshing sounds with his mouth. As he gets more and more carried away (where he goes I haven’t the slightest), he begins to bend his knees and hits and ground. He looks like a little frog; it’s so funny to watch you can’t help but laugh. The stick, he’s been using the same one for weeks, he even stripped the bark from it, is always moving- smacking things, shaking, flying through the air. He spins in circles. Sometimes he jumps and yells things, usually intelligible and mixed in with wild noises. He even does it in the bathroom, uses the plunger I suppose.
The other children call him stick-boy. Gene doesn’t seem to mind, but Robert hates it. The other day he sat him down asked what it was all about. Gene said he couldn’t tell us. Robert kept at him, but he just repeated that he couldn’t tell us. Finally, after more than an hour of badgering, he said: if I ever told you they would come take me away and lock me up forever.
Gene told me later that he was joking. I believe him, it’s something he would do. He has a funny mind that way. But Robert won’t listen.
Hope all is well. I’ve not made many friends, but I have time plenty of time to read. I just finished My Ears Are Bent. It was wonderful. Send some poems with your next letter. But only if they aren’t about me.
Give my love to all,
You would be reading Anna Karenina! What is this your sixth time through? You make me feel so literarily inferior.
I’ve been reading a lot too. I have little else to occupy my time. I do like to take walks in the twilight. There is a nice path that runs beneath eucalyptus groves along a dry creek bed. On the far side of the creek there is a field and beyond that a red-brick colored farmhouse. It is abandoned, I think. The other evening I saw some children playing tag in the field. It was very beautiful and very sad.
Robert still refuses to listen. I’m tired of fighting him on it. I’m very tired now too. Night dad.
All my love,
p.s. Thank you for the poems. I especially liked:
three white bicycles
lined end to end
-this tomato field
I haven’t had the energy to write. I feel listless and things have been rather strained around here lately.
The Kuntz’s have installed an electric fence to around their garden. Rabbits kept eating their radishes. The fence kills the rabbits if they touch it and some of the rabbits know to stay away. But they don’t warn the other rabbits. I don’t think they know how. They just sit on the little knoll outside the garden and watch. The electricity switches off for an hour or so around twilight and I sit with tea and watch the rabbits eat. I must confess I enjoy watching them win for once. There was one with a brown stripe down his back that seemed to know when it was safe but yesterday he came in the daytime and the fence killed him.
Robert took Gene to a psychiatrist. His “diagnosis” was that Gene can’t differentiate between daydreams and reality, something like playing house or war except Gene thinks it’s real. They want him to take medication- huge green and yellow pills with little “z” printed all over them. They look like horse pills.
The first thing Gene did when we got home was to go play his stick game. Robert flew off the handle. He snapped Gene’s favorite stick. Why can’t you be normal, he says. You can’t play baseball or something? Do you know what people think? This is why you haven’t made any friends, he says.
Through all of this Gene did not cry. Afterwards, he came into my room and told me that me loved me. It’s nice to think that everything is going to be alright, isn’t it?
All my love,
p.s. I bought a new rack of cloth-hangers and I’ve placed them rather strategically in my closet.
Beth sealed the letter in an envelope and searched the desk drawer for a stamp. Something familiar caught her eye: a photograph that had slipped out of its album. Gene, aged two, was crouched down petting a black cat that pushed up against his knee. There were red bricks and cinderblocks, scattered and broken, in the background. On the back was written in two lines: Isle of Palms, South Carolina. my sweet Gene. Beth kissed the picture of the tow-headed little boy and stared out the window. The cold was coming in among the trees.
by Kai Flanders