June, a girl who discovers she's got a yen for betrayal.
She likes crossing boundaries, betraying the guardians of all crossings. Her mother, at this point in time, is mad. Her father practices a simpler form of betrayal.
If she becomes a doctor, will she be fulfilling her own expectations, or theirs?
Nothing stops her. Not the visit to her mother in the place, where June finds her old. A woman just turned fifty, with ash white hair and yellowing skin, as if the force of the shock really did kill her and she's one of the living dead, like those people you read about: twenty years on a machine, sucking up the state's money.
Today, June's brought her mother different-colored candy, a rainbow to suck on. It's what she would want, if she were in similar circumstances. But June isn't, and won't be. Ever. There's that certainty in her, rock solid.
What her mother does, there in her nightgown, requires less energy than staring. Her eyes are open but June knows she's not looking or seeing.
She's always found her mother beautiful, her father less so.
Is anything simple, ever? Success comes, she believes, only in following the complexity of your feelings.
Her parents are small in their discrete infidelities. Her mother's madness, her father's second family--parallel to his first. Did he sleep with both wives on a single night? She imagines him too fastidious for that, and besides: anyone could see there was no heat between them. She wishes he were the type of man capable of such passion but knows, sadly, that he's hardly more than ordinary.
Some children have to climb through the web of their parents' sexual life, finding dainty footholds, always afraid of falling. For her, there's no such web. Knocking on their lives produces a hollow sound.
Her father knocked, heard nothing but his own knuckles on a empty shell, then turned on his heel, ran for his life. Hardly criminal, is it?
But what of the lovelinesses, eating hamburgers together, the orange-and-purple of their evenings, the three of them drinking beer?
Their mother had handpainted every piece of fabric in the house they once shared. Each curtain a small masterpiece--of patience, if nothing else.
But such acts can be used as weapons. All those tiny strokes of color added up to work--not love or immortality.
June thinks she's ready to embark on a spree of tattooing.
Her mother's nightgown, femininely patterned, dragging on yellowed linoleum. Is her mother old? Or mad? Nothing about her is recognizable. Her eyes, once the same dark brown as June's, are unfathomable. June can't see into them, can't really even see them. As if being in such a place, or the need that brought June's mother to such a place performed an internal surgery that's changed the look of her external parts.
There's nothing in the woman's demeanor to remind June. Just the nightgown, dragging. She looks away, then returns to it. A pattern like the ones her mother had painted on clothes she'd made for June. A mother who not only made the clothes but drew on them! And a father who came home, twice, every night.
The white-haired woman struggles to offer something or at least show the truth of herself. June watches the slump of her shoulders, her muscleless retreat. Absence.
Then tells her mother things that make sound and take up space in the air around them.
--If you could see the way the sun sets these early summer evenings, the drinks we used to have on the porch, your curtains--she doesn't mention "dusty in the dark house," "dragging against a dirty floor."
Is there no way to get through to this woman, her mother, whose flowered nightgown sweeps dust and debris from corner to corner?
--Mom, he's just a man.
She knows even now that she'll one day think this moment a watershed: Her mother rendered mute and dumb by a dumb man, her father.
But, after all, she's eighteen: What does she have to do with them anymore? How is she theirs? And they hers?
She imagines her mother lives in a candy museum. Looks. Doesn't touch.
The candy she brought her mother will turn hard as glass. Or, it'll turn liquid and flow to the floor where the nightgown will dip into it, flip a small rainbow onto the flannel.
The person she's come to see isn't here.
If she could choose, would she be man or woman?
Men and their poor pride. Women knocked dumb by a husband's straying.
She'd been intrigued by her father's duplicity--thought it could teach her something about surviving in the world--until she saw it head-on. In the flesh, it was hardly interesting. A father rubbing his cheek against a small baby's head.
But interesting isn't the whole story: she wracks her brain trying to remember the feeling of a large person's face against her head. A certain degree of pressure, translated as love.
Her father, a man with cool brown eyes like her own and the ability to make solid substances liquid.
How hard can she be? What will it take to break her?
As long as she continues to find it interesting. But what does that make her? Voyeur? Anthropologist of her own life? Archaeologist? She heard somewhere that archaeology and psychology had their roots in the same era. It makes sense. Digging.
When she was young, her mother drew flowers on her forearm, small dainty tattoos. Colored in with thin-tipped pens, these flesh drawings got June sent to the principal's office more than once. Where the truth went unbelieved.
She can't help loving her father's lies, the difference shock provoked when everything rose to the surface.
The day his infidelity spilled over, June was on the beach, licking an ice cream cone.
She doesn't care if it's evil--at least it's alive.
They'd been a normal family, parents, child, paddling side by side in the shallow part of the lake.
It's not pity or sympathy, not shame either that falls on her like an insupportable garment. No. Desire inflates inside her, then holds her prisoner.
With no object to generate intention, she's simply a huge ache, marooned on the earth, all want, no having but desire itself. The world reflects her like a mirror--back at herself and out toward.
She thinks of her mother's careful designs, her father's duplicitous play.
She loves her baby brother, her mother, her father, the woman he calls his wife, the psychiatrists, the ice cream seller. The clear water that washes over her splayed toes, the power of waves, the indifference of the blue sky, the miracle of staying afloat.
Perhaps like her father, she means to hoard the places where people seldom go.
While she loves to travel, unseen, in dark places, she's less interested in arrival than in movement.
She's walked through their lives and past them. From here, she can gaze forward, see behind her. Eyes piercing the road.
Why doesn't she feel more for her poor mother? "Poor," the only concession she can make. She won't say it but thinks it. There are dead mothers listening, grandmothers, great-grandmothers.
June imagines her mother thawing to the things of the world, category by category. It'll take longer than a season, her pace even slower than the earth's.
June, once good, aims if not exactly for bad then something equally interesting. At the heart of her, small but precise, she's always felt fenced by gender: a boy? Or a girl?
Is it something you can decide, like what to wear, or is it purely nature, someone else's dream for you? She'd like to kick the habit of men and women.
Set out on new territory, empty, no footprints. Blank snow.
About the author:
Anne Germanacos' poetry, stories, and essays have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Quarterly West, Blackbird, DMQ Review, Salamander, Santa Monica Review, Mudlark, and others. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. A story published in Fourteen Hills recently received the Holmes Award for emerging writers. She lives in San Francisco and on Crete.