V.

MUSIC IN A DISTANT ROOM
When I’m not crossing three bridges and states to see Ryan, or tending to my desktop
garden and trundling in waves of sleep, I’m shopping. Because I’m shopping when not
visiting Ryan, or embedding words in loamy roots, it becomes my forte. I work
clothing stores the way a criminal works a crime scene. I work them the way my
cousin, Gil, a three-times felon, knows how to rob a bank, is behind bars, incarcerated,
as I’ve been incarcerated and will be again, but behind the red line in the psych ward,
my home away from home, my getaway, I who go mad from remembering a
childhood I remembered to forget.
In one such shop, I’m rifling through the clothing rack, running my fingers
through different fabrics—silks, velvets, cashmere—listening to the tags rustle,
fondling tender buttons. A blue dress flies off the rack. I hustle it into the dressing
room, my throne room, strip off my black beaded skirt, wrap blouse. The blue dress
slips onto to me like my little helper apron with its cake frosting flounces, or the party
dress Mother snatched away from me when I was five. Within its folds, I’m
transformed into another Elizabeth and feel pretty, very pretty. Because I shop so
much, I’m hundreds of pretty Elizabeths, like flowers in a meadow. By being
hundreds of Elizabeths, I can hide the child, the Little Bits, who once was me.
Little Bits is terrified. She’s terrified because she, too, is remembering what

Mommy and Daddy did to her. She’s so terrified she feels littler than little, an itty,
bitty ditty. Now that the remembering is getting done in the blood, I need to feel
pretty, very pretty, to be hundreds of Elizabeths, not that terrified Little Bits, who’s an
itty, bitty ditty. I need to save her if I’m going to save me in order to save Ryan, so I
hide her, disguise her.
In the dressing room, I glance in the mirror, at a pretty me, then wince because I
also see the hurt Little Bits I was, who’s hurt even more by the remembering. I step
out of the throne room, go over to the jewelry case, scan it with the eyes of a murderer
in a gun shop.
I tap the glass, say, “This, I want this.” The woman who assists me enslaves me—
my wrists are handcuffed with bracelets, my neck noosed by orange Moroccan beads. I
whip out my credit card, slap it on the counter, like a gambler, or my great
grandfather, Racehorse Charlie. If I can’t race like a thoroughbred, I’ll at least dress
like one.
Outside, autumn drawls on. Red leaves are blown up as I drive home. I look at
them with joy because all we are rivals this—red leaves blown up—like fire, like
breath.
Before I go into my little house, shopping bag in tow, I see the last blue dragonflies.
Their glinting wings never moan, not even when they dip, like oars in water deep

enough to drown them. It’s enough for them to rise and draw together like a bow. It’s
enough to watch them, to believe I’m the first woman to have seen anything, to love
this moment: so brief and blue, uproarious. It’s enough to know all of us depend on
this—the end of summer, its shy light, the last dragonflies, bright as pansies, and the
dazzle that delivers us, like a wild guess, from one day to the next.
Yet, as I enter the house, I’m hit by the madness. Reeling, careening, terror replaces
wonder. My shopping bag goes flying. In it are the costly clothes bought just yesterday,
including a belt not unlike the one Dad used to snap, snap, in my doorway at night.
I heard that belt go snap because I begged for a goodnight kiss. Now the belt goes
snap while Dad hisses, Shut up or you’ll get this. Suddenly, he’s in my house, breathing
everywhere. He’s breathing, as if snorting the very electricity I run on and his cold,
mulberry hands, smell like parsnips, as he creeps on me.
Mom gets in here, too. I, Little Bits, am terrified she’ll whack me, again, with the
bat. Her visage is leaden, like the lead pencil I grab to write with, scrawling big letters
on the page. I’m ducking my head, screaming.
I’m eating my screams as I grab the pencil. Shaking, I do what I’ve never done
before, write during the madness, write to get out of it, but Mom and Dad are on me.
“Stop it!” I scream, but they’re attacking, full throttle, buzzing like fever bees, like
demons, teeth-baring gods. I grope for my meds. Where are they? Somehow I find

them, down them to drown out Mom and Dad, who are yelling at me because I’ve
bought costly clothes to feel pretty, to hide the Little Bits that’s me. They yell because
I’m pretty, very pretty and Mom has no pity because I’m prettier than she, which is
why Father wants me, not her, even though I’m an itty, bitty ditty.
Pause, pause, the meds start to kick in. My hand still shakes as I write big, big
words, but the throttling, the buzzing stops and Mom and Dad recede, leaving me, a
bunch of little bits, behind.
As the meds kick in, I try to decipher the scrambled words, scrawled in big, big
letters, on the page. I read my blocky letters—it’s a show tune, loony tune, I feel pretty,
very pretty and witty and bright and I pity any girl who isn’t me tonight.
While reading this loony tune, I begin to hear the birds outside my windows
pickaninny the lawn. I hear how the air is truffled with song. I also hear music in a
distant room. In that room, the radio is on. It’s loud enough to drown out the cries of
the Little Bits I once was, of a pretty me, who isn’t an itty, bitty ditty, but becoming
my big, Kirschnerized being.
Because I’m becoming Kirschnerized, I know the remembering, which gets done in
the blood, will have an end. When this happens, I’ll be saner than I’ve ever been.
Being sane will make me beautiful, so much so, a pretty me will no longer need to
shop.

Shaky, but stabilized, I go outside. Here, I’m immersed in birdsong while I spy a
white spider among the rugosas. She lifts her legs, moves her small, ghostly body
across each flower, as moonlight does in my house. She is a snowflake, vanishing. Her
quick fall from the bright sky matters. Her web is a beautiful hope easily undone, a
fabric transient as tears. Even so, she lays it all upon these heady flowers which for her
are the world: flushed, falling, gorgeous, mine.