Sunday, April 13, 2014

six is a small age.

You're six years old and live next to your grandparents. Time is a smudged glass in a summer haze. You spend your days without shoes and watch your feet, praying callouses form on your heels. Your mother has a hard brush to rub hers away but you wait for the day when you'll be able to boast, look how far I've walked. Look how many layers I carry.

Six is a small age. Six is sweet plum dumplings in the summer. Six is cold ginger ale cans from a deep basement. Six is red plaid pants and thin cotton t-shirts. Six is leaning against your grandma's knees as she braids your long, wet hair. Six is a singing time.

In the summer, the evening smells like grill smoke and wet dew, burned wood chips and yards of flowers. People stand outside in their yards. Fine day. It is. The tree branches form shade over the yards like a suburban rainforest, and sunlight slips in rings onto the tall grass through the green leaves. You sit in your backyard, on the edge of the sandbox. If you're not careful, you'll get a splinter on the back of your thigh. You're always careful. You make a path in the grass from your house to your grandparents. Home is communal, a haven. You watch for smoke to rise over the brown roof of your grandparent's home. Tuesday, there is nothing. Wednesday, you wait. On Thursday, a puff of white settles into the air, a balloon rising with a halfheartedness like smoke from the hookah's the caterpillars in Alice in Wonderland smoke with a lazy ease.

Hookahs. Alice in Wonderland. You went to the bookstore with your grandma and picked out a large volume. Alice in Wonderland on one side and Through the Looking Glass on the other. You carry it to the register and present it with a proud smile. This is what I want. Later, you struggle through the pages, confused and unhappy by the strangeness. But this comes later.

That Thursday evening, you climb the stone steps to the small backyard patio where you grandpa stands in front of the grill. He has on a cream polo shirt and his hands are in his pockets as he watches the chicken on the grill. Hi grandpa, you say. He gives you a look that means, I know what you're up to, and with the tongs, snips a bit of the skin from one of the wings. Be careful, it's hot, he says, and your fingers burn when you hands you the piece of skin. It melts on your tongue, the fat sizzles and forms a fire in your belly.

He turns a chicken wing over and one drops into the embers. You know what comes next. He picks the wing up with the tong, brushes the charcoal from the edge, and winks. That's your grandma's. It comes everytime and you still laugh. It's tradition, in the smallest sense. He gives you another piece of skin before you walk on the cool stones making up the steps down from the deck. You run barefoot back to your house.

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