Bonnie walked up five concrete steps, and opened the glass storm door to our tiny kitchen in our little New Jersey house on a sunny morning. I remembered it was a weekday, because my brothers were at school, my father was at the office. I think Bonnie said something about going to work, or a job interview, but my memory can’t be trusted.
I always want to change Bonnie’s name, but I can’t. Her name is so much a part of who she is for me. The “B” are her two large breasts. The “o” is a boob. The double “n”’s, more boobs. The “i” is the dark space between her breasts. The “e” is her ass, round and sassy and in perfect balance with her breasts. At the time, and forever more, Bonnie was the va va voom representation of womanness. She was an aspiration. A coveted contrast to the flat-chested stick figures in magazines and movies that I would encounter later.
Bonnie spoke breathlessly to my mother, nodded her pale face, red lipped, capped with a whipped topping of white blond hair. It was some kind of beehive variation that left me with a cultural understanding that not many of my peers have. I only heard her heavy smoker’s whisper, I have no knowledge of their actual conversation. I was looking at her curves, covered in green knobby wool.
The green wool suit was important. I can smell it, baby powder and Chanel Number 5. It made me cough. I know I could feel it, just looking at it. Feeling is important. I carried a blanket around with me until I was five. It was knobby too.
The green of the wool was light with a yellow undertone. It was spring grass. I would find a green dress in a heap of sweaty throw-offs in a dingy Salvation Army garage sixteen years later in Portland, Oregon. Maybe it called my name, or maybe it said her name, though I didn’t recognize it. I pulled the dress out and shoved it in a black plastic bag. It was two-dollar bag day. When I got it home, I recoiled at the color: a muddled olive green, a shit green, a cat food puke green. What was I thinking?
I flattened it out on my bed. Empire waist, small lapels, it looked about knee length. I grabbed it to put it on and noticed the tag was missing. There was no size, no indication of what it was made out of. It felt woolly and slightly scratchy in my hand. I folded out the collar, then turned it inside out. The long seams were singling stitched, the smaller ones had large loops. Some places had been sewed more than once, twice, even three times. This was handmade. Someone had cut the back vent, had attached the collar, had found the perfect green zipper. Someone working in bad light in the small extra bedroom that used to be Aunt Colleen’s or little Margie’s, before she married Steve. Someone who lost countless pins in the swirls of variegated brown shag carpet and who broke green threaded bobbins and knew how to fix them.
I put the dress on and it fit over my large chest perfectly. The empire waist allowed a slightly fitted straight skirt to skim over my under-proportioned hips, ending at my pointy knees. Bonnie had sent me this dress; I see it now that it’s all written down. As I hung it up at the hotel before my aunt’s engagement party, my mother exhaled her disapproval. The color is all wrong. It looks so matronly. She shook her head, sucked her teeth, her hand at her throat. Then she berated the dress with a long peachy-pink fingernail. Look at those holes. She was worried I would embarrass her. She was embarrassed. Don’t worry about it, I said. I had a big jewel encrusted brooch, brushed fake gold, to pin over the two holes above my right breast. I smiled smugly at compliments all night. My mother later told me I was right about the dress while sipping a Dirty Martini, eyes scanning the rented banquet hall. Thank you, Bonnie. Thank you very much.
On that morning, Bonnie was not alone. Her purpose was to drop off her youngest child. Let’s call him Chester. His actual name has no meaning, though I am sure it does to him, but it has been changed. He was a year younger than me, so he was probably about two or three. He had his mother’s white blond hair shooting out of his head, large and bucket-shaped. All kids that age have heads the size and shape of buckets. It has to do with the growth of the brain, the skull. Eventually, our bodies catch up with our heads, at least for most of us.
Chester had a brother, about three years older than him. They were raised to address their mother by her first name. Bonnie! Get me a another popsicle, Bonnie! Chester and his brother were given freedom that their parents never had. They were unshackled from the chains of rules, laws, sense, and reason. The end of this story is a direct result of that parenting philosophy. It is a harbinger of what will come: temper tantrums, bad grades, skipping school, sneaking out after curfew, sucking beer and cigarettes, vomiting rum and coke, smoking clumsy joints, dropping out of high school, laying bathroom tiles, upping to two packs a day, crashing cars into trees, walls, other cars, two more white blond bucketheads, prison, disfigurement, right-side paralysis.
But on that morning, we didn’t know all of this. Bonnie said goodbye to Chester, whose red face was pinched, his mouth open in silent protest. I waited for the scream to come out. He breathed, his tiny shoulders wobbled under his huge head. He wailed. He clung to her stockinged knees. She pried him off her. She gave his head a friendly pat as she walked towards the door. He ran to the glass storm door after her. She opened it, and holding one powder white hand to keep him back, she squeezed past him, and shut the door. She walked back down the cement stairs, stopped, waved, and disappeared. Chester screamed and cried and banged on the glass. He kicked the metal bottom of the door. Bonnie! Bonnieeeeee! I stepped backward. His anguish took up too much space. I retreated to the back wall of the kitchen. I didn’t even try to console him. He was in need. His grief was foreign, furious, out of control. It frightened me. My mother just let him cry and pummel his small red hands on the door. He balled his fingers into fists and hit the glass over and over.
I don’t remember the sound of Chester going through the glass.
I didn’t see it. I don’t know what I was doing when it happened. His voice just went from a persistent angry chant to a high-pitched animal sound. Then, ragged breath as my mother picked him up and placed him on the kitchen counter next to the sink. The window behind him was blowing a yellow flowered curtain. I could feel my mother shaking. You stay back there, don’t come over here. Chester’s face was mostly white, with tears and snot running down his chin and tiny dots and lines of red. He was looking down. Large pieces of jagged glass were lodged in his meaty arms. Fire-red blood was seeping out from under stiff translucent flames.
I ran away. I left the kitchen, and meant to go to the safety of my bedroom on the second floor. I stopped half way up the stairs. I sat down and cried like a little girl. I was a coward, a wuss, a pussy. In a house of boys, that was the worst thing you could be. I sucked the snot back into my nose. I wiped the tears off my face. I took a deep breath and walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. My mother was speaking softly to Chester and pulling out the pieces of glass slowly. He was taking small breaths. He looked up when I came into the room. He almost smiled. His eyes were shining in the morning light that flooded the kitchen. I could hear his eyes say: Isn’t this some crazy shit? Isn’t this cool? Maybe he was too young to say that and I was too young to hear that. But there was something there, just then. A spark, a beginning.
Lisa Tallin completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Alabama after working as a social worker for several years. Her poetry manuscript, The Lost Summer, was a finalist for Switchback Books’ 2013 Gatewood Prize. Her chapbook, Referent, Part 1, winner in Furniture Press Books’ 4×4 Chapbook Awards, was published in September 2014. She completed a residency at the Vermont Studio Center in October 2014. She lives in Brattleboro, VT.