M e g   T u i t e

Dusty Coral Albums

Cracks seep through photos verging on brittle overkill. Each one a phantom pressed down on the clocks of family, taking all yesterdays and blasting them out of daylight savings into reverie of separate rooms. Ceilings are only floors that barely hold us and yet our faces look skyward as though we’re not down, circle the same house without seeing the clutter of emptiness that absorbs us. Those atoms pretend to plaster us into a place on the planet with these people who fill us with history that fades before it even talks about ghosts that inhabit mouths that smirk from the right side, sniffling when there’s a stilted moment, smiling at a joke without a sound, waiting to outdo it, speaking intently about subjects we know nothing about, letting our sneakers tread over dead newsreels dad and mom tell over and over until they are cemented into memory no one and everyone has of events riddled with constant airtime like noxious background of commercials reeking in our heads.

I sit with mom as we study page after page of withering snapshots. Mom smiles and points at people I can’t locate in my brain. “That’s your grandfather. Remember when he used to give you jars full of pennies?” No. I don’t. Mom’s long fingers and stories start moving in on the photos, until a whole world erupts, crackles through the barren yard of my mind. “Look,” she says. “The Pattersons.” I see my sisters and me on a couch with kids our own age and no one is smiling. Mom talks, her eyes landmarks on another map in time. She is in her bathing suit with the parents in their backyard at a barbeque while kids are swimming in the pool. Mom is radiating an exotic happiness like a phantom limb I have never touched. Her lips are exhaling coral lipstick, her head thrown back in electric madness that looks like a lady from a magazine.

I lie in my bed that night, images blasting across my flickering closed eyes. I was nine in that photo with the Patterson’s kids. It all comes back like that coated tongue after sucking down a milkshake, so thirsty and yet why didn’t the milkshake fill that hole? We are playing hide and seek. I know I’m too old for that, but we are all so weary, shy, and fall back on a hysteria we can grope through together.

I hide in an upstairs room under a bed. I pull the comforter down until it touches the floor, my internal organs galloping beneath the rotting numbness that has saturated me. I feel, I feel, I say over and over. I feel it now.

The door opens and I am a bottomless scream of silence. My eyes are wide and I hold my hand over my mouth. I wait and hear no Patterson kid. It’s that woman from the magazine with Mr. Patterson. They are vultures screeching, two monsters moaning, bedsprings raking down on me as I hear that face I saw pulsing in the photo of my mom so full of something that it wouldn’t even recognize our family if it saw it in a snapshot.