Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Creme Caramel

       She draws a thick yellow chalk sun. She has already drawn flowers. She begins work on a house. She talks to herself as she works. This sun here; this building here; this grass now; and this kitty out back.
       Her white hair is not yet turning brown. She brushes it behind her ears out of her eyes. Hair by hair, bangs fall back to hang in front of her face. She wrinkles her nose, squints her eyes and sings. chalk painter, chalk painter, kitty george.
       She counts everything: broken barrettes, pepper specks in scrambled eggs, cars parked on her side of the street, ants crawling about at her feet. She counts the words her mother speaks throughout the day, each one becomes more attractive than the last. She repeats them during short breaks from drawing. She sits up straight, back straight, butt on feet, and hums her song. chalk painter, chalk painter, nature’s game, neighborhood, sun, and everything.
       She repeats her mother’s words and rubs her nose blue with her small chalk hand. Darling, honestly, I don’t know, don’t worry now, don’t fuss now, sweetie, soon, sweetie, ok. She speaks in her whisper voice just loud enough for her to hear and turns her mother’s voice on inside her head. They speak together. One day we’ll go together, all of us together. She glances up quickly as if called by name. Nobody is there. Her eyes are broken brown with flecks of green, glassy and sharp. She blinks the voice away.
       She stands up and looks down the street. Trees and cars and stoops and homes and kids and parents. She looks down at her work contemplating what to draw next. She is color-limited to red, yellow and blue, green, and brown. She wants colors she can’t name, colors she hasn’t seen. A pain she is just getting to know rises from somewhere under her throat. When she can’t say something, she knows it will climb from her body and try to jump from her mouth. chalk painter, chalk painter, sing my song, hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, all day long.
       She plays right in front of the kitchen window so her mother can see her.
       Their house is kept clean like for company—a perpetual cleaning that no longer takes time to maintain yet is always maintained.
       The kitchen is blue and white. Cornflower walls with coconut trim. Dark aqua linoleum with light swirls. Coconut cabinets with cornflower trim. It is the room they spend most time together in. The days move outward from it beginning early there in blue shadows, convening for silent midday conferences there, and ending late in opposite black shadows there.
       She is at the stove working on her daughter’s favorite dessert. Together, they made the custard last night before bed after bath. They sang a custard song about egg yolks and sugar. The songs are all simple and improvised, easy to get lost in, pleasurable to sing, hard to get rid of. Egg yolks and sugar, custard cream, bake me some custard, don’t be mean.
       She has pulled her light brown hair back into a bun for cooking. She makes one cup of caramel from two cups of sugar in a blue le Creuset saucepan. Her favorite dessert in my favorite pan. She hears her father’s blunt voice. What is it with blue? Why not yellow? She stands at the stove spatula in left hand, right hand closed and resting on hip. My kitchen, pop, and my kitchen is blue. She blows a thin wisp of bang from her face. It quickly falls back upon her nose.
       She stands contemplating the caramelizing sugar. Spots of brown push up from beneath the white and spread wet stains, pollute the sugar. The spreading soon forms a network of thick brown branches. Brown soon replaces white. The sugar submits to chemical transformation and turns liquid. She stirs for lumps and wrinkles her nose as a translucent, thick, sweet cloud escapes into the house. She pours the liquid caramel into thick ceramic ramekins and sits down at the kitchen table.
       How is my chalk painter?
       The young artist walks into the kitchen with several daisies in her hand. Using a stool, she takes a tall glass from the cabinet nearest the sink. She moves a stool, climbs it carefully, thoughtfully selects a translucent, green glass, places it on the counter, lays the flowers next to the glass, steps down from the stool, and makes her way to the sink. When she is finished, she presents the daisies to her mother holding the finished gift in both hands. She looks around the kitchen for just the right spot to put them.
       Eventually and methodically, she works and responds to her mother.
       I snuck these for you.
       She had been drawing and watching a woman drinking coffee half a block up outside the corner store. Coloring in kitty, talking to herself, and becoming the woman at the end of the block, she found she couldn’t sing about that and yawned.
       In one extended movement, she went from sitting on her feet to resting on her elbow to lying on her side above her chalk drawing. Her fine hair mingled with the sun’s thick rays. Her stomach curved above the roof of her house slowly and evenly becoming alternately more or less convex. She quietly looked for herself below and listened to her own breathing. She heard soft scraping like footsteps outside her bedroom door. She ran her finger through her flowers creating a red-yellow-blue line. She knuckled the cement.
       The strange pain beneath her throat vanished, and she began naming things when she caught the familiar smell of caramelized sugar coming from her mother’s kitchen. She quickly stood and brushed her hands off on her jeans. Scratching her cheek, she turned and walked over to Mrs. Stanch’s stoop.
       She climbs into her mother’s lap and notices that she is no longer as small as she thought she was. She remembers being smaller. She rubs her nose and rests her head on her mother’s shoulder. They fit into one another and after two or three tries are breathing together.
       Two sets of similar eyes admire first the white caramel cups, then the cooling blue saucepan, next the four daisies in green glass, and last the always empty chair pulled out slightly from the table. When the oven finds a proper, steady temperature, they will pour the custard and sing a cooking song.
       The kitchen table fits nicely into a nook in the back corner of the kitchen. A crack runs from just above the empty chair straight up towards the ceiling.

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