Gail Peck

The House

In the house I never had there are many windows, and you can look inside and see a woman tilted slightly kissing a man. It’s the time of day fathers come home, and children are called, but pretend not to hear. Always, the height of the game right before supper. Give in, go home, the small feet leaving in all directions. My house is the two-story with gables and my bedroom isn’t square; the roof slants over my bed. If you stand up at one end you’ll hit your head. The bed is safe, but never put your hand over the side. Things live there.

It’s hard to believe what you can’t see. Mother is listening as I describe a man in a coat (always a man), a tiger waving its tail during the night. She tells me of God. I’ve seen a man, the tiger at the zoo. Why does God live in the sky surrounded by angels?

My stepfather has wings, “Airborne” they’re called, that’s why we’re never in one place for long. “This is your new daddy,” Mother said when she brought him home. I sat on his knee which he bounced. He knows about sky, has seen tops of clouds, even jumps through them. From the air, this house is so small no one could live here. I go to my friends’ houses that are much like mine, only the pictures are different, and the china might have roses, rimmed in gold. “Careful,” Mother says when I stand at the sink and balance a plate to dry. The glasses can hang on the sides of the drainer, but she won’t let them. We’re gathering a set of checkered ones, left by the milkman; first we must eat the cottage cheese to get to the bottom. Towels are stacking up, too, from detergent boxes. There was a ringer machine, then some man delivered one with a lid. Now I hear sloshing, but see nothing.

Mother smokes—no one knows this is bad for you—in the morning, in her house-dress, her hair uncombed. Sometimes in the afternoon she’s lovely, and the cigarette sticks to her lips as she talks and turns over cards. The cigarette glows bright, like her story, “He slammed the door and left to see another woman when I was pregnant.” The women at the table cannot top her. She’s talking about my real father. In the beginning I remembered him, then he stopped coming. Now his face is a blur. I don’t want to look like him. I want my mother’s beauty. If she could give it to me, would she? I’m stuck with straight hair, a face that is round, and I’ll never have her movie star stare. I was wrong about hair. Since I am older, I am permed, but I hate it, and brush and brush to no avail. Happy is not what I thought. I’ve been sent to my room for crying where I only cry more. She thinks this is punishment to be alone, and I let her. Another thing I hate is breasts. None of my girlfriends have them. Boys will like you for it they tell me.

Already it’s time to say good-bye to the house. The presents make me sad, and the names of the givers will fade with the others before them. The rusty old grill gets tossed, the plants given to a neighbor. We know better than to have a pet. I gather books I won’t allow to be packed—Nancy Drew who’s always so clever. I wish I knew how to make us stay. The house will go from white to yellow, and I will never like yellow; it will sparkle, grow dull, sparkle again. I see birds landing on the roof, a woodpecker coming to drill.

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