ISSUE 21
August 2002

Hildie S. Block

 

Hildie S. Block is quietly writing in Arlington, Virginia while her two-year-old is practicing with her very own garage band of minors "Under Age." She has a masters degree in writing from Johns Hopkins. Her fiction appears regularly in bee and has also been seen in MassAve Review, Strata, Rejection Slips, and Stick Your Neck Out. She is at work on a novel called Oh, and She Has A Dog.
bottom drawer


you are five years old: you ride in the backseats of cars. you have to stretch to reach the faucet in the bathroom. even when you are standing on your own riser.

you are short. and small. and insignificant. you eat your dinner sitting on an old yellow pages directory that is tattered and torn. it is covered with the stains of food that never made the last connection from the plate to home plate. you are small. and everything that means anything at all to you is in the bottom drawer of the dresser in your room.

all of your best toys, all the good stuff. all of the things that make up the small collection of memories that fit into a five year old life. things that have already been broken. the first time something breaks it really means something. a torn photo. a book without a cover. a bent slinky. games with the pieces missing.

today, today the day before first grade starts you are rummaging through the drawer. it's in disarray, but that doesn't matter. what matters is finding enough change, in the bottom of the drawer, wrapped in the change purse from mexico or in the beaded marble bag from new york. the goal is seventy-five cents.

earlier, there was a conversation. they, the big people, they were talking. they said that at school you had to buy lunch. lunch cost seventy-five cents. you needed the money now and there was no time to go to the bank where the rest of your good pennies and birthday checks were being kept safe by the nice woman with the crooked teeth named bunny. no time, not now.

you have sixty-two cents when one of them, the big people comes towering into the room and casts a long shadow over the drawer where you are looking desperately for change. what are you doing he asks. you are embarrassed. what do you say? what can you say? can you admit to this statue that you can't even scrape together seventy-five cents on the night before you start "real" school?

she joins him in the room, their pair of shadows blocking out all of the light like an eclipse. it's late she says. clean up and let's get into bed, she says. panic seizes you. they can tell something's wrong.

what's wrong one of them asks. it doesn't matter which one because you are dizzy and the room is spinning and you can't see or hear and

what is wrong, it echoes through the room up to the ceiling and crashing back down on your small head. you hold out a sweaty hand filled with a couple dimes and lots of nickels and some pennies. there is black on your hand from the money and your hand hurts from clutching the coins so tightly.

sixty-two, you say. i only found sixty-two. i can find the rest, you say. i can, you say.

they laugh. she starts to clean up the mess on the floor. he picks you up and puts you on the bed. we are disappointed in you, he says. but this won't happen again, he says.

she tried, she said. explain it better, she said. it's ok, she said.

he continued. we'll help you out this time, he explained. but starting next sunday, you get an allowance. exactly enough to buy lunch every day. if you lose it or use it on something else, that's your responsibility, he said. if you save it, then it's yours.

then he gave you three dollars.


****

you are in high school. you think you are big. you have school and homework and college entrance exams. friends and cars and band practice.

you have your own phone because you spend so much time on it, that no one else wants to touch it, even if they could. it's red. it was a present from your boyfriend on valentine's day.

they, the old people, they make noise. they want things from you. they want to pick you up, they don't want you to have the car. they want to know what's going on.

today, today they are especially noisy. they are upset about something, something, something, but you aren't certain what. you are stuck at home and you don't know why.

your friends are out. but you are not.

they say stay in your room. they say. they say paint, paint the walls, the trim, the ceiling, but you don't know why or even really how. they say get rid of the clothes that don't fit. they say go through your drawers. they say

clean out your bottom drawer. they say.
you mope. you sit on the edge of the bed. you sulk. you stare at the posters held to the wall with yellowing tape. you stare until your eyes start to smart and then you pick up a pair of jeans and throw them. throw them as hard as you can at the wall. again. and again and again.

your friends are out and you are in.
you start to look through your things. you look at old photos and go through old school notebooks noticing noticing the graffiti in the margins and not the thoughts on the page. you smile.

you begin to do the minimum. you pick up your clothes, you straighten. you clear. you make beds and dust where it shows. you take three things from your closet that are permanently stained and throw them in the hallway in front of the bathroom.

you can go out now. you never even opened the bottom drawer. it's full of stuff that meant something. you don't even know where to begin.

it's ok, though, 'cause now you can go out. you can go out. you're free. you can go out.


******

you are home from college. you are going to see your old friends to see if they changed. you are going to see your old friends to see if they notice a difference in you. you are going to see your old friends.

you are in your room. it's changed. the walls are dirty now, and the tape is peeling and cracking. the tape is cracking. it's dusty and some of their stuff, their stuff is on your desk. tax stuff. bill stuff. their stuff.

you have to unpack. you don't know where to put anything, but you have to unpack. you put your bag on the chair and it immediately overflows onto the floor.

you are unpacking. the bottles of contraband, they are for a party. the bottles of contraband, they didn't leak or break and they are for the party. the bottles of contraband.

the bottles of contraband need to find a place to hide that will be safe. they need a hiding place. they migrate to the bottom drawer. they are tucked away safely in the bottom drawer and no one would ever dare dare dare look for them there with all the treasures and the things that no longer mean anything.

they are there and they are safe. the bottles of contraband.

*******


you are older now. you are an adult. you have to act big. you are older now.

c'mere he said. c'mere. you go cause. you go. he holds you and you go. then you go back. back to putting, shoving, forcing your things into a bag. a flowered carpet bag. a carpet bag.

it all won't fit. c'mere he says and takes you by the hand. c'mere.

he has done it now. he has done it now. he has made room for you. he has made room for you in his life. he has made room for you.

the stuff, the suddenly not so important stuff, the stuff that wouldn't fit in your bag, the carpet bag, he has made room for that, too. he has made room for that, too. he has made room.

you are older now. it's ok, you are older. there is nothing wrong. you are older.

the drawer is clean and empty. it's a heavy wooden chest of drawers. the drawer is empty. it's the bottom drawer. you carefully take your folded stuff and place it inside. the bottom drawer.

*******


and now and now and now you are even older than you could ever imagine being. you feel old. you feel old. you feel.

it's the last day. all the boxes are gone. all the boxes are gone. all that is left is for the movers to take.

two sets of movers going two different places. two sets. the furniture is ready. everything is gone.

the stuff, the stuff is being split. the stuff is going two places, the stuff. not so old, but too old. too old for this. too old to start again. you are tired. too old.

you look around. you see places on the wall where the ghost shadows of art once hung. you look under everything. everything that's left. you look under and around and through, looking for a reason, a clue. a leftover. an explanation as to how to split a life in two.

how to separate what was together. how. how to divide two. how.

you look around, under and through things. there isn't much left. you check over things. you open the cabinets. you check the bottom drawer.

you pull out the drawer and look at it on the floor. you look at it. you look at. it's just a piece of wood. it's just.

it doesn't matter. he gave it to you, and it's still yours. take it. you pick it up and walk toward the door. you pick it up and you take the drawer with you. you pick it up. you leave.


********

you are tired now. oh, so tired. the machines, the tests, the drugs, the treatments, the

there are always wires and tubes attached now, and a tent over you. dull nagging pain, nowhere and everywhere and always. the lights never go all the way out; it's hard to sleep.

shadows come and visit you, they mumble and speak and then go. they aren't always there, but sometimes. and they look familiar, but not enough to remember, someone, someone, close.

you are tired now. all you want is rest and all the rest in the world, it just isn't enough. everything looks hazy, fades, in and out of focus, of consciousness. you are too young to be this old, but you are. everything should be taken care of, now, everything, everything, but this nagging feeling, something undone, always that feeling of something left undone.

jobs never finished, homework never done, projects left half way, always, always nagging. A relationship you could have saved; a child you didn't raise . . .

things are left undone, but you are too tired, too too sleepy, everything is such an effort and not worth even the . . .

you have to let go. it's too much; it's too late; you can't do any of it. leave it alone, let go, close your eyes and

********


you are five years old: you ride in the backseats of cars. you are small and insignificant. and everything that has ever meant anything to you is in the bottom drawer of the dresser in your room.

you are five years old.

you are bored. looking, looking for something to play with today. you are rooting around in your drawer. you are rooting around.

you find a pack of papers. they are stapled. they are folded. they are folded in three.

you take them out and put them on the floor. unfolded slightly, they make a triangular building. they are a house with windows and a chimney. they are a house. they are.

the blocks, they are the fence. it is a white fence and it goes all the way around the house. it is a fence. the people they wobble, the people they are round at the bottom and they wobble. the people. there is a mommy and a daddy, they wobble.

there is a baby. it's a little block. it doesn't wobble. it doesn't wobble, it's the baby. it's not—it doesn't wobble.

they the aunts, they are talking quietly and it gets closer. they the aunts, they are sisters, they the aunts they are talking right over you. they the aunts.

they the aunts, they are two. they are sisters. there used to be three. now there are two. sisters. they are wearing black. two sisters. two.

what is this? she says, one of the aunts, she says, what is this? playing with papers already? she says, already? she picks you up.

the other one, the aunt, she picks up the house. she destroys the house. she picks up the house. the fence falls down.

she unfolds the house, all the way, she unfolds the house, she unfolds the house. she flattens their home, the mommy and daddy that wobble.

you look up, up, up high enough to see the aunts. to hear the aunts, to see the aunts, you look up.

oh, my god, she says, one of them says, how strange. and then she wanders away. the other aunt, she puts you down and follows the other aunt who has flattened out your house. you try to hear, but you can't, you try to hear and you can. it's her will. where did she find this?

where was it? oh, my god, she says, how strange. it's her will.

 

 

Hildie S. Block: Fiction
Copyright © 2002 The Cortland Review Issue 21The Cortland Review