5923 Drumheller, Spokane, Washington
The handle of our pink dishwasher has a long silver bar that spins around and around like a steering wheel, just at eye-level. A row of square silver buttons to the right promises flight and control. It hums and clanks, and gives off the comforting aroma of Cascade. I scoot a heavy wooden chair across the brown speckled linoleum, open lower cabinet doors on each side, close myself into the cockpit. I push button after button hard, and my fingers don’t seem strong enough, still, the rumbling shifts and starts; growling and gurgling steam warming my face from around its edges.
No matter. My airplane is pink, and it rumbles down the runway, it takes off over the houses into the valley below, and I turn back to rise above trees, to dive and swoop over our teardrop-shaped linden in the front, over the sprawling sycamore in the back, over patio and plum trees, and out again over the river.
Destination: Pots ‘N Pans, destination Dry. I am four and the boys taught me to read on the Cheerios box. I can take care of myself.
The afternoon is hot, the back screen door open. No one home, it seems. My little red and blue vinyl Pan Am bag is packed: white square plate with the Pan Am globe in blue, perfect little metal fork and knife my father brought home from Chicago. I am flying after my blonde, blue-eyed sister to Switzerland. She is a nanny; she speaks French. Her letter said she met an Iranian rugmaker, who flew her to Tehran, where she, no doubt is his girlfriend. My father is not happy. I imagine a room full of colorful scarves, of spices and wailing music. I’m flying there to bring her back. At night, her bed is empty in our room. There is a man in my closet.
Out the back door is the scent of June, an immense row of lilac walling the castle in. And arbor vitae. My father calls them that, the tree of life. Tall evergreens with pretty gold fingertips, and woody, rooted places to bury things at the base. But also, spiderwebs, and the strong scent of fertilizer the fathers spray over their yards. The smells of summer. Across the grass, cool breeze curving around and down onto the lower patio and rock garden, summer abundance, the provisions needed. Almost every day, I steal a blue milk glass bowl from the warm dishwasher and pad down the redwood steps, down the stone path, ending at a small concrete island at the foot of two plum trees. Still hard and green, the ones I can reach I pull down, gather flat green and gold fronds of soft and piney tree of life, frowsy blossoms of sweet melissa growing among the rocks.
The Widow lives here. My brother caught her one year, kept her in a jar for weeks so we could see her red hourglass, her shiny belly. I stay away, even in winter, but today my desire feels so strong, I gingerly pull the little white flowers from the edges of the rock garden, so as not to disturb her. So as not to die.
Long Ponderosa needles, chopped. Brown grass, and green. Mud and a few dead leaves left from winter keeps the leaves together. I stir, I let it bake in the sun. This one is for my little plastic me, and for her plastic daughter to make, waiting for the man to return from safari. Tomorrow they may get to ride my next door neighbors beautiful brown horses, to gallop across the Sahara and find him beneath the prickly muhgo pine.
The summer goes like this. I cook, I fly. I fly, I cook. By late August, by own rations have shifted from slices of gravelly bread to an abundance of dusty plums – Italian prunes – my mother calls them, the only thing in the yard I should eat, even though she knows I disobey. Those little perfect eggs, that shine deep violet when you polish off the must, that glow from inside when pulled apart with dirty fingers, deep green-gold. And smell of absolute deep heaven.
The summers go like this: When my brothers are around, home for a while to eat four peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches and drink a gallon of milk, to watch the Munsters, they are drawn like dogs to the smell of the miniscule red velvet cake I bake in my tiny turquoise blue oven. Each cake is no more than four-inches across, but I follow the recipes – vinegar and cocoa powder – with utter focused care. Each tiny triangle of sour, chocolaty cake is worth – and will, under no circumstances be parted with – for less than five cents.
As the summers go, only my luggage changes: A whole sack of plums and a ragged-eared book hauled as high into the sycamore branches as I can climb, scraping off the pearl grey bark to reveal patches of pale green skin beneath, climbing up into the solid, wrinkled arms with its huge, hand-shaped leaves, their backs furred with white fuzz. I get high enough to look out over the valley of houses that reaches down to the small saltbox houses build just after the war, down to the fields of the Stadium. And beyond, the small and dark Spokane River, just this side of the far bank covered with acres of pine.
This atrium over the kitchen, this place of solace and sadness – where I sit and watch the sunset the summer we don’t have a television and every kid in the neighborhood is watching The Wizard of Oz. I am too proud to ask to go over. Where I sit and watch the far bank of the river burn in long, glowing rows of flame, gripped with fear because my father had says if the fire jumps the river it could fly right up our hill and flutter me out of this tree.
The summers go. Like this: the smell of smoldering pine blending with the sickly-sweet cent of charred meat and fertilizer, with the hopeful aroma of newly cut grass from the backyards of other neighborhood ramblers with other trees, other kitchens just like mine.
by Shannon Borg