Bent Words

Bent Words

September 28, 2006

Instead of knocking, my mother always used the doorbell. Our house never had a doorbell and although she would have preferred to knock, we both knew, as we stood outside of the brown house with the blue door, that Mrs. Craig would not hear us if we knocked. She never heard my father’s knock and he never used the doorbell. As though it were a technological nuance that he refused to employ, he would ignore the rectangular piece of glowing plastic and continue to knock. My mother’s weary sigh finally gave way to the impatient pushing of the button which engaged the deep – and false – resounding chimes inside.

My mother used her thumb (sideways, so as not to break a long, crimson colored nail) to push the button and, in that instant, as though she had flipped on a light switch, the quiet house with the blue door sprang to life.

Mrs. Craig’s Chihuahua, Chad, yipped madly and pattered wildly toward the door. I pictured his little claws clinging to the burnt-orange shag carpeting for traction as bolted across the living room; his curt tongue racing ahead of the rest of his body. I then waited for the tap-tap-tap of his paws to hit the linoleum-covered steps at the front entrance. The heavy hoof of Mrs. Craig’s foot followed. Thump-thump-thump.

The door opened and the fresh fall air was rudely choked back by a musty scent which poured out liberally from the within the small house. The stale odor surely originated from that 60’s style, antiquated carpet; the fibers of which were one-inch in length and held pieces of the past within them. Corn flakes, raisons, the backs of earrings (though Mrs. Craig was notorious for gaudy clip-ons) and dried up pieces of the red clay I played with last week.

After Chad jumped and wiggled over our arrival and after we watched him trot impassively back to his warm place between the two pillows of his master’s bed, my mother chatted with Mrs. Craig. I do not remember these conversations. They were as old and as stale as the Ritz crackers in the carpeting.
Formalities finished, my mother deposited a half-gallon of milk onto the dining room table along with a bag of various items intended to keep me occupied during my stay. A half role of paper with multi-colored candies stuck to one side (which I was not allowed to enjoy until Sesame Street came on), a plastic bag full of red clay I had received for my birthday and a pad of paper with some drawing pencils.

“I don’t know, Mrs. Craig. Midnight? Perhaps later. Friday nights at the hotel are usually very busy.”

That meant my mother was leaving.

Her broad shoulders curved around me and she smiled with perfectly painted, deep crimson lips. I pressed against her as hard as I could for as long as she allowed; hoping the scent of her sophisticated perfume would last forever. It never did.
Just as the milk never made it into Mrs. Craig’s disheveled refrigerator and just as the family of snakes I rolled from the red clay would never fail to get caught in the crevices of her coffee table. I would never get to watch Sesame Street “because Mr. Craig can’t have the TV turned on until Simon and Simon at 7:00.”

After the images of the TV faded slowly from the large, black screen on the floor, Mrs. Craig sent me to bed. The scratchy purple ‘comforter’ in the spare bedroom reeked of dust and mildew. I would lie on top of it rather than underneath.

The equally scratchy white walls danced with the reflection of headlights from the cars passing by outside. I waited and watched as the lights quickly swept over three walls – my breath caught in the back of my throat with each passing car. Finally, a pair of headlights paused after lighting only two walls of the spare bedroom.

I sprang to my feet and launched through the light of a three-tiered lamp in the living room which burned an orange, eerie glow in the still of the night. I carefully prodded down the linoleum-covered steps and opened the blue door of the brown house, just so my mother would not have to use the doorbell.

Written at 7:17 p.m.