I was a child prodigy. I started taking piano lessons when I was 3 years old, and I showed promise by the age of 5. By the time I was 7, I’d won some local competitions and had some appearances on tv. I remember playing for a couple morning shows. My parents were my managers and got me concerts with famous orchestras. By the time I was 10 I was a touring pianist and was hardly in school. I wasn’t unhappy. I loved playing the piano and I loved the attention from audiences and my parents. I thought I would be playing the piano forever.
Constantly tasting, things like blankets, fingers, pacifier—linen, starch, rubber. Foods apple, tomato soup, tinged with metal by the spoon. Milk, soft and velvety. Plastic toys, plastic spoons, plastic cups and saucers. Soft, friendly, dusty plastic, and hard, sterile, bony, for eating. Not precious, like wood, which holds bites and is quickly taken away. Nor crunchy and pungent like dirt. A little plant is bitter and the insect moves too much. But soon, crayons, pencils and pens, like spoons, except happy. Crayons, sticky and crunchy, smells like comfort. Pencils made of precious wood. Paper has its own soft taste. And chalk, a bit like mushrooms, but crunchy and dusty, turning to mud. Peanut butter sandwiches, soft and sweet, with snappy, watery carrot sticks. Soft floppy ham and lettuce, a little paint, like plastic, and a little sugar disappears like magic. The world is full of beautiful things.
I thought that to be a parent one has to learn first to love unconditionally, like we are told that parents must, towards their children. When I was young and stupid I asked my father: Dad, who do you love most. He said, Your mother of course. No, I said, me or Christa. How could I choose between you two, he said. I knew he could, though, because I had seen him give Christa a five-dollar bill when he thought I wasn’t looking, and grin and roll his eyes at her after he’s made a joke about how slow I always am, or complain to her about how he can never understand me and how I never make sense when I talk. At the time Christa said I was just being sensitive and I’m sure he says stuff about me, too, that’s just how he is.
It was Christa who Dad liked best, and it was Christa who Dad hated most when she started dating Ben. Ben was not rich, not from a good family, not trustworthy, the wrong height, the wrong job, smiled too much, social climbing bastard son of a bitch. Dad was wrong. Ben was kind, hardworking, attentive, everything good for Christa. Christa knew this, so she married him and they moved to Seattle where Ben’s new job was. She’s still there now. Because there was no one else, I became the favourite.
I got married to a nice guy that my dad liked. Two years later we’re divorced. Between Jeremy and Olivia I can’t help but like Olivia more. So I give them both five-dollar bills. Dad also likes Olive more. I see Jem looking when Dad gives her a treat when he thinks no one is looking. I say to him, Don’t worry Jem, Mummy loves you very much. He said to me once, No you also like Olive better. Whenever I say that now he says nothing and runs to his room.
Mother and children walking towards the bus stop, all in a line, (row of ducks.) Henry is front, stick in hand, walking aimlessly, hitting everything he sees. Alex next, thinks he’s smart, dictionary under his arm, knows A by heart. Mark behind, always behind, hand in pocket, finger in ear, bumps into brother, trips into road. Mummy in rear, hand on belly, round with baby, hoping for a little girl, to hold her hand, like she held Mummy’s.
Thomas is five and he hates peas. He is given a class assignment to write about his favourite things. He writes:
“I like everything. But I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate peas.”
A girl grows up differently from a boy. While the boy is memorizing the names of dinosaurs, the girl goes to the grocery story with her mother who teaches her how to choose ripe, unblemished fruit. Later, as the girl’s husband picks apples without checking them for bruises, she will get angry and as he asks incredulously why it even matters, she will cry back, It matters, without fully understanding why.
When I was young, there was a boy. He and I swam in the cold waters of Maligne Lake. The waters made us strange, so cold no sensible person would dare to swim in them. I was young and stupid. I told him that I would marry him, and he smiled at me with his big bright eyes and gave me a kiss. My father said I was stupid. I shouldn’t be thinking of marrying yet, and later when I’m older, I should be looking for a sensible man. My mother told me that I’ll later forget him. And when I became older, and my daughter began visiting every Saturday to keep me company, to make sure the nurse was treating me well, I began to see him again. So clearly in front of me: his deep brown eyes, always laughing and kind, shaded by dark little lashes under heavy, creased lids, and above them two soft eyebrows, thick with youth and happiness. His forehead was not too wide, and his cheeks were framed neatly by a proud jawline. At the centre, a rough, angled nose struck defiantly against the sun, the indentation below it, as small as the tip of my little finger, and red lips, inviting and warm, under which lay his round chin. As his face pulled away from me, I recognized his whispering brown hair, tossing carelessly in the cold summer air, dry from the swim we took an hour ago. His shoulders were just as strong and wide as I remembered them, his hand just brushing against my knee. His rough elbow leaned against mine. I breathed in the scent of trees and wild grasses, felt the sun against my bare feet and the prickle of twigs underneath my legs. And I saw the sun past the mountains, wondered what life would have been like if we had run away that day. Where we would have lived, who our children would be. If we would continue to swim in cold lakes together, or if we would live in a small house together, or if we would have eventually fallen apart because the world would not hold us upright. But we were children then and we did not run away.
As the sun set, his warm, smooth back against the cold air, and I rested myself against him, feeling how strong he was compared to me. In the end, neither of us proved strong. All I have left, of anything, is the image of our few days in summer spent together before both of us grew up.
The air was crisp and cold with all the excruciating happiness of seeing the first blue sky of spring. A child screamed. No, it was a bird. A small brown fluff hopping around madly, as though his wing had been torn off. Standing over him was another, the proud black shadow stepping luxuriously over the paving stones. In his mouth was something small, a brown fluff with twig-like legs. The other one scratched at him and jabbed, but Death would not release his prey. He flew into a tree, followed closely by the other, screaming, crying, afraid, and Death began to eat. He held a wing under his right foot and tore at the flesh with his nose. My mother screamed and cried as they took my father away in his coffin. She shouted insults, apologized for things she had not done, prayed violently in an effort to plead him back from the dead. The air was bright and clean. I began to smell the scent of death, rotting and sharp musk, though I was sure it was not present. Soon it will be gone, and I left quickly because the scene frightened me. Death with his long nose and black eyes eats, tears, eats.