My life began on M street, that charming avenue of craftsman homes and brick apartment buildings where Box Elder trees give shade to the heat drenched streets and sidewalks. A multitude of children played then, as they do now, beneath their ever spreading bows. M street has never been a grand avenue, not like the more historical streets with their mansions with widow’s walks and coach houses. Those lay farther north and east along the gently sloping foot hills of the Wasatch Mountains.
I hate going to bed at 6:00 on a hot summer evening. I lay amongst twisted sheets and listen to children play. Close by a girl laughs in bright hot sunlight while a boy answers, his words lost in the constant hum of the cicadas. In my mind I see the sun lit flowers, hot sidewalks and heat blasted grass turned brown at the tips. To feel the crunch of that summer grass under my bare feet would be heaven.
Slipping out of bed I walk to the window that leads out into the back garden. There are many ways to escape 86. My favorite is through the windows. Even when the doors are open I prefer to travel by window. There’s a sense of excitement, of freedom, of going wild when you duck under the lace curtains and swing one leg at a time through a window. Looking out I see that the children in the apartments are playing hide and seek.
I know some of the children who live there. There is my friend Trina, and her brother Opa and there are the divorce kids who visit their father on the weekends and evening. Unfortunately there are more adults than children. Mommy hates the man she calls him the ‘itsy bitsy teensy weensy yellow polka dot bikini’ guy because he plays that same song every day on his record player.
The children who play hide and seek are the divorce children. The boy is hiding along our chain link fence. It’s not a good hiding spot. If he went back just five feet he could fit between the back wall and the apartment’s covered car park. I like to hide there. That’s where I found a dead ruby throated humming bird. It was the tiniest most beautiful thing I’ve ever found. I wanted to have it stuffed but Mommy made me bury it.
I slip through the window into the back yard wearing only my night dress. It’s made of beautiful green silk with lace flowers at the top. Mommy says it’s mostly plastic but I pretend it was made by silk worms. Of all the things I own, it’s the most beautiful. My cat Lilly sees me from where she’s been sleeping in the shade. She’s only a year old but she’s smart like a dog. She rubs against my leg the moment I drop down from the window. The yard is darkened by the shadow of the house and by our two cherry trees. Both trees are old. I imagine they were planted by the people who built our clap board queen Ann in 1910. The bark on the trees is shiny and smooth. Our Bing cherry is my favorite tree for three reasons. One it gives the sweetest fruit of all the trees in our yard, two it gave me an Abraham Lincoln commemorative coin which I found buried in its roots and three, its easy to climb. I walk around the Bing cherry, my bare toe outstretched, tracing the place where I found my coin. What if more coins lay buried under the trees?
I walk to the pie cherry and examine its base. I hate this tree. I want to cut it down but Mommy says I can’t. Its cherries are bitter tasting. She says they’re meant for pies. Apparently, their flavor only comes out when they’re cooked in sugar. I don’t understand fruit you can’t just eat. The only good thing about the pie cherry is the color of the fruit. I climb up onto the first branch and pick two sets of cherries. Each set I hang over my ears like long red bead earrings. I feel pretty in red. It’s like magic. Put anything red on me and I feel instantly pretty. Someday I’ll have a red evening gown and wear it to the opera. I’ve forgotten about the Divorce kids. They’ve gone quiet. I feel their eyes on me.
“What are you wearing?”
“An evening gown.” I answer with perfect nonchalant.
“You’re showing your shoulders.” Looking down I examine my shoulders and the thin lace strap that lays over each one. If I were wearing my red evening gown there wouldn’t be straps at all. “It’s immodest to show your shoulders,” they add as if I haven’t heard them.
I hear them but I ignore them because my mother is an L.A. hippy and my father is a knowledgeable Satan and I don’t have to live by church rules. Instead, I lay down in a thin patch of evening sun and close my eyes. I dream of red dresses and opera houses with crystal chandeliers and curtains as red as my dress. I feel the divorce kids watching me. Their worn old tee shirts and knee length shorts hiding their bodies from the evening light. If they bared themselves no one would be shocked, no one would reproach them because they live as outside the church’s grace as I do. The divorce will blacken them as much as my father’s excommunication has blackened me. So I lay in the sun, my shoulders bared while in the shadows of my room, Mommy finds an empty bed.