Give me a memory of the color red. Do not write the word ‘red’ but use words that engender the color red when you hear them.
When I was 9, there were some perfect days. There was one summer day that I recall – one of the few – that was filled with the perfect and simultaneous presence of my parents. As if I realized that we were hurtling toward the ending of us, I grasped at the remnants of that day and captured a few tissue-thin memories before they could vanish. I needed to retain a perfect memory of the three of us, together.

It was rare at that point in our existence for them to be home together. The transient fragments of my memory tell me that it was a weekday. The heat was oppressive and in the horse paddock, billows of dust rose under the hooves of the horses. Hot bugs buzzed and dry grass rustled in the scant breeze. I was sitting in the shade of the porch with one of the cats, avoiding movement and wiping beads of sweat from my upper lip, when my mother’s face appeared in the screen of the kitchen window. “Come get your bathing suit on,” she said. Her mouth worked into a wry smile at my delight.

The three of us climbed into a car, I don’t remember which one, and rode past country houses devoid of life. I imagined that the heat had caused everyone else to evaporate. They hadn’t been lucky enough to get a ride to the pool before the scorching sun vaporized them. The radio played the perfect song, causing my father to sing with his arm slung over the seat behind my mother.

We went to Hebron Camp to swim in the public pool together, the only time I remember my father swimming with me. I showed off for him, demonstrating my ability to dive into the deepest water of the pool to retrieve his quarter. I’d burst through the surface triumphantly holding the shining trophy in the air, but also making sure that they were still there. Each time I went under for the quarter, I half expected that when I rose through the bubbles and rubbed the water from my burning eyes, he would be gone. His presence was tenuous.

From a distance, I tread water with only my eyes resting above the surface and quietly marveled at them sitting in the water together. I desperately wanted to witness proof that this day wasn’t a fluke. I wanted to see evidence the day’s warmth was permanent and that our appeal was strong. I swam in circles around them, driving them close. I wrapped my arms around their necks, enjoying the intimacy of our limbs intertwined and my body kept afloat by the water. I clung to them in the pool, eagerly waiting to turn the page on their discord, clinging to the hope that feelings had changed.

The sun began to sag in the sky and, despite the heat, I found myself shivering. I protested when it was time to leave and hid my hands, as if my pruned fingers would be used as evidence that I’d been in the water too long. I hung in the water, unwilling to emerge and return to our home. Through clenched teeth, my mother ordered me to get out.

Sulking and wrapped in my towel, I followed them to the car already noting the distance between them as they walked. We drove through the dusty heat and, from my quiet perch on the backseat; I studied the waves of his brown hair lifted by the wind from the open windows. She said nothing but her eyes came to rest on the view beyond the passenger window. I followed her gaze to the direction of the blazing sun and watched as it began descending into the rolling hills, casting its fiery glow on the horizon.

Memories of Snow

I sat in the kitchen window seat with the girls this morning and together, we watched the snow fall. When I suggested that we should go outside to play, Gwen’s nose wrinkled and her eyes narrowed while she pondered the view, “The snow is too fast to go outside.” She adjusted her tacky purple tiara and slid off the window seat to adjust her princess dress, “Maybe later, mommy.” Her plastic high heels clacked on the hardwood floors as she left for the playroom. Kate followed, tripping over Gwen’s cast-off Cinderella gown, leaving me alone with my thoughts and hypnotized by the chaotic rhythm of the falling snow.

The vision outside the window pulled me back in time. When I was a kid, I thought, I played in the falling snow. I opened my mouth wide and caught snowflakes on my tongue. I scrambled to escape the confines of our farmhouse and the female specter inside. I would throw myself into the silence of a storm, walk into the field and let the heavy curtain of falling snow hide me from the world. From that angle, the farmhouse would nearly disappear. Behind a white veil of snow, it’s edges dulled to a softer, more obscure version of itself. That was as close as I could get to stepping away and into another world.

I remember sitting under a maple tree, it held the remnants of a never completed tree house, long ago promised and forgotten. The hiss of falling snow and the sound of wind wrapped themselves around me as I tucked myself into the notch of the tree. I nibbled on a snowball and examined the big white house. Despite the life it held inside, it looked dark and ominous. Was it the ghost or the argument I had witnessed that caused me to flee into the storm?

My father came home the night before and I was happy to see him again. He stood in the kitchen doorway wearing his suit and smiling at me while his blue eyes sparkled. I was startled by my mother who was suddenly slamming cabinets and banging pots a bit too loudly. Her mouth was set in that jaw-clenched position that told me she was angry. I wanted to tell her to stop. Couldn’t she see that he was happy to be home? I was afraid that her anger would drive him away again. They forgot me as she yelled at him. I felt the wind of a thrown object brush against my face and jumped when a pot connected with the wall behind me. Perhaps the years have caused me to place a memory in the wrong spot, but I remember him crossing the yellow and cream linoleum and embracing her. She tried not to laugh and I skipped from the kitchen, happy that they loved each other again.

Of course, he left again the next day. I was always told that his job required time away with the Governor. Some time after he had gone, my mother lunged at the liquor cabinet and jerked the doors open. Her face was stony a mask as she gathered the bottles into her arms. I followed her into the kitchen and watched as she poured the contents of a Johnny Walker bottle into the sink. I knew that he’d be gone for days now and for the first time, realized that the contents of those bottles posed a problem for us all.

Lately, I’ve discovered that I like dirty martinis, but the years haven’t dulled the memories of martinis I hated to see shaken, not stirred. The sound of ice cubes tinkling in a glass still conjures a vision of my father in his favorite chair, a glass of amber colored scotch absently dangling from his right hand. I thought of these things this morning as I watched the snow that was falling too quickly for Gwen to play. I understood that she felt warm, safe and loved here in this house full of life. She didn’t feel the need to escape behind a curtain as I once did. Perhaps because my martinis are an occasional indulgence that I drink with the knowledge of my past still haunting me.

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