Love Story, a first memory
The sun burns hot in the early morning, rising over the hills, extinguishing shadows, forcing cattle to crowd the small ponds in the fields surrounding our house. It stretches in white slices across our front lawn, warms the grass, sizzles the patio, reaches bright fingers through the windows, warms my face, wakes me up, alone in my older sister’s bed. I expect the smell of bacon and coffee, the sound of my father mowing the lawn, cartoons on the TV, the rumbling of the washing machine. But the house is quiet, still.
I climb down from the four-post bed, the curtains drawn throughout the house. I wonder if I am dreaming some kind of hell as I search each room. My brother’s bed, empty. My parents have disappeared. My sister has deserted me. There are no kitchen sounds, no Looney Tunes, no small motors running in the background.
I follow a thin strip of sunlight down the hallway, into the garage, out the door, down the path in the yard that leads to the driveway, toward the shadows where the sun has not yet visited this early. But I never make it to the shadows. I stand alone in a bright spot at the top of the hill, where I learn I’m not in a dream. I see my sister and brother pull at my father, who hunches over my mother, her legs curled to her chest like a little girl. The car door is open – it dings and pings, while birds chirp and sing their Saturday morning songs. Beer spills from a white can, crushed beneath the front tire. My father holds a rock the size of a basketball over my mother’s head, says she has broken his heart, says he will crush her skull.
I have never thought about my mother’s skull. I know only of black and white cardboard skeletons and sweet candy hearts. I don’t know people are made of bones and organs and blood, and broken bones are the easiest of those to heal.
My mother hugs her knees, stares at the ground. I wonder what her skull will look like without a smooth, tan face or chestnut hair falling around her shoulders. My father raises the rock, higher and higher. He brings it down hard, stopping just before he crushes her. He cries out, asks her why? My mother never looks up. She never even flinches. My sister spots me, standing on the hilltop, waiting for the bones and blood. She calls my name. My father sees me, drops the rock, and walks away cursing my mother, my siblings, my God. My brother falls to his knees beside my mother. My sister scoops me up, carries me toward the house, where the sun beams high over the rooftop, now, still warming and sizzling and scorching.
As I’m carried away, I can’t take my eyes off my mother, sitting on the gravel, the sun edging its way toward her, ready to warm her bare arms or burn her alive.