Day Five

From a memory acquisition exercise in class:

Since the open-backed stairs are carpeted on all sides, unmistakable marmalade magenta wrapping around dense slabs of walnut wood, there is enough friction for my little girl legs to hook underneath the bottom of one step, locking into position across the top of the next. And it is in this way, like a zoo-trapped monkey, that I dangle upside down for hours of my childhood.

One day, Jennie Winfree is over and even though she is from the old neighborhood, already I understand she is the sister my parents cannot make. We dangle from the stairs like beech leaves in autumn, the rough carpet gouging pock marks into our otherwise golden skin.

“And you will be a goddess, the Queen of Islandia,” Jennie says in her froggy voice, waving one chubby arm over the carpeted landscape underneath the stairs, the kingdom over which I reign. “The animals are at your command!”

“Munchkin sit! Munchkin go!” I shout at my pet guinea pig who carves figure eight’s below us in a cage of sawdust and newspaper. The albino animal is a picture of disgust. What remains of his dirty white hair clings in mucous-knarled clumps of shit and alfalfa to his body. His eyes throb red and unblinking behind two swaths of clean hair, the only hair I’m not afraid to groom since the vet said Munchkin has cancer.

Jennie and I swing in small arcs, innocent clouds swooping across the firmament of our kingdom. Stale, piss-scented air wafts upward from Munchkin’s cage, which I clean weekly for twenty-five cents. What we do not know is that two short hours from now the animal will die while Jennie and I coax him through small relay courses we designed in the hallway. And I, the Queen of Islandia, will hold Munchkin’s curiously warm body limp as a tissue, in my hands not yet understanding death but quite suddenly understanding the limits of my powers.

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