Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Chapter 1

Sometimes I wake up to the smell of catfish cooking. Cornmeal, bacon grease, the sharp hot odor running in my head so strong I keep my eyes closed a few minutes more so it doesn't go away.
That's how I keep the details from fading away, the red checked oil cloth, open window, real plates, real forks, honest to god cloth napkins. I ironed them myself.

I used to. Iron napkins. Water in a spray bottle, the hiss of the iron on scorched brown cloth. There isn't any smell quite like that one, fresh and clean, old and brown all at once. Makes me think of mamaw and Aunt Wynter and the house on Lake Houston, though I don't think we ever ironed much there. That was for fun.

I ironed at home. Or at Nanny's. I must've started when I was four or five. Handkerchiefs, pillowcases, stuff like that. Things that were flat and foldable. No aerosol cans of starch, just the water bottle. The one at home was a spray bottle, heavy plastic that you couldn't see through. I think it may have come from Sears & Roebuck or Newberry's, it was more like something you'd use in a garden, for aphid spray or something.

Nanny's was a tall jar with holes poked in the lid. She was more enterprising than my mom; she'd use what she had rather than spend money on something she could make. It kind of dumped big splotches of water on what you were ironing, though. Nanny was clever and creative, but Momma had class. Or wanted to.

I grew up thinking I could do anything. But I should do it with a certain finesse, not in a common way. That was the biggest sin I could commit, to be common. You could be a stripper, but you better be like Gypsy Rose Lee. You could be an actress, but Joan Crawford was everything Bette Davis wished SHE was. Class. Jackie Kennedy had class- even though she was Catholic, which she couldn't help, being raised in France.

Momma made me practice how I would act at her funeral (this was before JFK was shot, but when that happened she must have said a hundred times over those three days when that was all the news there was, "There- That's it, Sharon Ann. Look at her standing like a statue, never making a move. Shaking hands with strangers and heads of state. If you can do that, you will make me proud."

I didn't dare cry, or flinch. She’d say all these awful things. how she'd be mangled in a car accident, how she'd die in my arms from a sudden stroke, or how some crazy person would beat her up and she'd crawl home and die on the front steps.

We'd practice this shit, for god sakes. Once a week, at least. I had a hat and a black veil. I was stone-faced and deadly. If I'd known the word sociopath I probably would have tried for that.

Now that I'm older, some people never know what I'm thinking. I have a hard time showing affection, I've been desperately in love a dozen times and only a few friends have been able to read me. It's good in some situations, but it doesn't help when you want to like someone, or them to like you.


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