Mr. Nelson


I play Solitaire on the cul-de-sac. I am lonely, lonely—I don’t want to be lonely—and my rib cage feels ancient as igneous, although I still sleep with a nightlight and eat peanut butter from a plastic spoon. My mother wears Pond’s Cold Cream to work and taught me to use the can-opener last week. Mr. Nelson is only allowed to kiss her on the cheek when he comes over in the morning to make coffee. He cannot hold her hand. He cannot carry her briefcase.

Grown-ups have no concept of place. My mother insisted Mr. Nelson walk me to school today, so I tell him it was where the pigeons nest on the rooftop, with windows all grey like august and clouds hanging overheard like great sheer monsters, with some sort of bulbous pulse, but he gets confused and we end up at the Grocery store instead so he buys us both candy bars and says this will be our little secret. I write a poem on the back of the paper bag but then I’m sure if it is a poem or a painting because all the letters got mixed up into a muddy kind of color so I just shove it in my sock drawer. I go downstairs and start dinner. My mother says these are the best boiled-potatoes that she has ever had, but I spend most of our time together staring at my hands.

She does not know that I sometimes listen to her whispering French Film when she washes her hair, all the foreign noise of our early morning hunger, and while we are getting up somewhere else somebody else is throwing up or staying up or looking up. I walk to school alone, picking up pebbles and twigs to put in my school bag and examine at recess, which I usually spend in the washroom, and today another girl is there, clutching at a sack of crushed violets, and although I’ve heard many times that people my age don’t know what it is to be sad, even now I know completely that this is not true; we keep all of the things we think are pretty in our empty lunch bags, what our mothers will later throw away.

We bite our nails, open our scabs, and argue with our friends: intercept healing. So no, like Mr. Nelson says, I guess I don’t understand what’s going on over in Vietnam, or with the big city women burning their brassieres, but some of those kids on the TV that he says are hungry, orphaned, lonely, because of “us,” the way I see it, all the worlds’ kids are hungry, orphaned lonely, because of us, picking dead flowers and bits of shrapnel and walking by themselves to a school that isn’t really there, to a house that is just a pile of rocks, the kind that are too big to fit in your pocket, and too small to feature in National Geographic.

My mother says we’ll manage. Mr. Nelson says finish up. The girl beside me doesn’t say.

I get a headache and go home early. Miss Bishop believes it when I tell her my mother will meet me at the corner store, not that she cares, and I repeat every Latin phrase I’ve ever learned and some more that I just made up. I pick daises and dandelions and even some daffodils and only feel a little bad about stunting their growth.

Mr. Nelson is rolling a cigarette out of today's paper on the stoop of the corner store. His hair is standing on end but his hands are steady when he waves me over, his staccato footsteps constant as he heads in the direction of my home.


Tomorrow, he will find the school for the first time.

Today, I throw my own flowers out.  

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