Household Words: Part 4

We had a few more meals together: an Indian dinner, with cloth napkins and red sauces, and pizza at a corner table.  Then I got my financial aid statement from USC-San Diego.  It was more than I’d gotten anywhere else—much more.

The building I lived in then had a row of brass mailboxes that must have been seventy years old.  They had funny circle-punched patterns on the fronts, and nameplates corroded beyond recognition.  My name was misspelled: “Hocks.”  I never bothered to correct it.  The locks didn’t quite work right anymore.  I had to wiggle the stumpy key to open the door.

There it was in my hand, then: a lot of money.  Strangers had decided I was moving to San Diego.  I’d never been there.  There was no sunlight in the mailbox hall, just the dim artificial glare from a track of fluorescents.  I wondered if that was a real signature.  I thought, it will be summer forever.

I told Ellen the news on the phone, while attempting to invite her to a movie.  She was quiet. She okayed the movie.  When I picked her up, she wore dark lipstick.

“I liked the movie,” she said afterward.  “Thanks.  Have a safe trip.”  Her parents were gone, on a weekend trip or something, so she walked toward a dark house, with only a dim glow in the westernmost upstairs window.  That was the hallway night light, I would later learn.

Later, it would guide me to the toilet, swimming sleepily from Ellen’s bed to the bathroom.  But then, I didn’t know what the glow was.  She climbed the stairs, opened the deadbolt, and shut the door behind her.  All without a glance back.  The living room window rose a shade lighter, as if a room behind it was fully illuminated. Was she making tea?  I already knew about the tea.

Before I moved to San Diego, I went to my parents’ for Christmas.  I flew up on December 23.  We had all been x-rayed and scanned, and now we were hunkered down in the small cabin, three seats and three seats, under the low arched top.  The inside of a plane looks like edible Styrofoam.  Behind me, someone is talking sweetly to her baby, “There’s nothing to worry about,” as the baby stutters, pouty.

I took the window seat, and the two next to me are empty. One light, the middle light, burns a circle onto the center seat.  The flight crew is talking, two women and a man.  All three are young, soft-faced; they like being there, or it’s an easy day, or tomorrow they will fly south to Miami, to escape all this sharp ice.  I’m not going to Miami.  My parents now live on a lake in Minnesota, and I will be there in a few hours.  I’ll see the familiar toaster oven and cereal boxes, in this house.  They have white curtains there, with teal tiebacks.  They have an orangey brick fireplace.  I will wander the house a little, like a displaced patient, before I go hide in the guest room.  The lake will be pearled and static.  In the summer, it’s striped by the wind.

Now we’re getting ready to take off.  The women and the man sit somewhere.  I look out my window: through the plastic and the glass layers are the blue runway lights, set in paths.  The blue reminds me of Pinocchio’s fairy in the Golden Book my dad read to us.  I want to look for that one when I’m at the house.  They’re so blue, more blue than our gas stove jets screaming heat.  These lights are not firey– only warm, concentrated hue, firm.

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