There’s A Poster Of Wonder Woman (On The Wall Beside My Bed)
There’s a poster of Wonder Woman on the wall beside my bed. She’s standing with her feet apart, her hands in fists on her smooth, round hips. I know she’s a superhero, but I don’t know what a superhero is. We have no television because my mother isn’t like other mothers. She won’t attend to things like this – this kind of star can’t hold her gaze at all. And yet, here’s Wonder Woman, in her gleaming costume. She’s every kind of mystery.
Her hair is black, her eyes are pale blue. She doesn’t smile. Her fists and her expression are closed, but all the rest is spread wide open. She knows we’re watching. Does she allow it? Endure it? Does she enjoy it?
Other little girls may want to be this unarmed, undressed wonder woman but I do not. I do not want to be her. I want to have her.
I want to clap and shout till I catch her eye, then herd her away from the rest of the world. I want to put my forehead to her forehead and whisper so only she can hear me. I want to hide with her under blankets in a cave, take her into a closet or the roof of the tallest building. I want to pull her under my bed. I want to have her all to myself.
My feelings for Wonder Woman are complicated and profound. They dazzle me with their brightness. They’re a soft, familiar burn, something ancient though I’m only five. What could be ancient in me? The feelings crackle like a sparkler lit inside my ribcage. They shine, spectacular, then vanish like constellations in the sun.
What is happening with Wonder Woman’s clothes? It’s as if she had been dressed to battle evil, until someone came along and stole most of her outfit. Why did she let them? Why should her thighs be loose and gleaming? Her suit binds. It deflects the light, so where the blue shiny stuff follows Wonder Woman’s curve into shadow, it goes black. You can’t see in such blackness. You’d have to feel your way.
And the shackles? How did they get on Wonder Woman? Can they be taken off? Should they be taken off? I want to touch them. I want to touch her skin just before they lock it down, first with my finger then with my mouth.
Just a few years ago I was a connected thing, continuous. Now Wonder Woman is in me and not my mother. My first secret, though I’m barely separate. Terrifying, inescapable, beautiful. She’s better glanced at fleetingly, through mostly lowered eyelids, like an eclipse of the sun. Like God.
“Who is she?” I ask my mom.
My mother says, “She protects people. She’s a hero.”
She fights danger? Does she run? Do people chase her? What if she’s caught? To be surrounded by threats with her secrets falling out. How would that feel?
I want it to feel embarrassing and also inevitable, like bravery and giving in at once. I want her to try to stay concealed, to want to stay contained, then to go completely soft. I want to be there for that moment, when the stitching gives and it’s wrong and terrible, and the relief.
Then sometimes what I want is to be the one to take her clothes away. And despite the fact that it will lead to scrapes in soft secret places, I want her to let me. I want to make her feel powerless and obliging despite her strength. I want to be there while she fights masked men in her underwear, I want to fight alongside her. I want her to fight for me even though it causes her to suffer and chafe, and then I want to rescue her from it all. And have her.
I don’t know what then, just possession. She’s mine. I want her to have a smell, I want her smell to rub off on me. This want stretches back for decades, eons – many more years of want than my tiny life can represent. I want stuffed dogs with long fuzzy hair that you can shake and make wild, I want jelly shoes like all the other kids even if my feet sweat in them and stink, but those are things I want in the sun. This wanting is a cave that I could walk into forever. I want to press myself into my poster and steal this woman away.
Our Park Is Naked
The park is ours during the day but now, just before dawn, it isn’t. Just before dawn the park is its own. I can’t believe I never guessed.
“Shhh,” I hold Sharon Cooper back. Her smell comes up in gusts, nutty-sweet and something sharp like roses, then passes and the night smell settles back again, unfamiliar and wide.
The slide shines in the distance but we don’t go to it like I planned. The moonlight covers it in white. The elms along the far edge of the park stand in that same light. They move in wind all night while we sleep.
Moonlight is cooler than sunlight, thicker – sometimes blue then silver, almost pink the leaves dip into it, and out. Lift into it, and out. They’re their own trees. I didn’t know at all.
For me things grow and open into tumbling space. For Sharon things define and redefine in ever narrowing circles. We’ll slide down the slide before anyone else. Later when other kids shove to be first up the ladder we won’t shove. We’ll already be first.
But this isn’t our park. The grass is wet with dew that gives the moonlight back, round and smooth and held by nothing. I stand where it meets the sidewalk, my bare heels on the pavement, my toes lifted on the blades I never knew to be this black and shadowy. This hush and murmur.
“What?” Sharon whispers,“What is it?”
“It’s fine, just be quiet.”
I grab her hand. Daytime covers this like brightly patterned clothes over freckled backs, dimpled thighs, the outline of a ribcage under fat and muscle.
What other things we love are so unknown?
A light comes on behind a window. Just one. Most neighbors are asleep. The Fishers, the Cohens, the Smiths. They won’t know about the shadow of the swing set on the silvered ground or how the dawn sky above their houses fills with blue, like water slowly poured into a bowl. “Are we sliding?” Sharon asks.
Look, our park is naked. The seesaw, the metal ducks on their sturdy springs that we ride holding onto their bright painted heads are undressed and breathing. When it’s still like this we can watch them breathe – the rise and fall of everything. There’s some way to really know them now.
I want to say all that. Help me figure out the way inside. Should we lie down? Another light flicks on. Should we spin? Time is running out.
But she won’t see it. Sharon doesn’t need to find the line where this disappears when morning breaks and try to hold both edges, stay here despite the cars and shouts.
“The slide is wet. It’s getting light,” she says, “I’m going home.”
Apology For A Guinea Pig
Nina’s ears are pink and glow in beams of sunlight. I like to hold them in between my lips – moth’s wings ears, no part of me is so thin. The briefest interruption in my mouth, cool, then they warm. She’s dying in a blanket on my mother’s lap.
“Will she be fine, Momma?”
“She’s had a long life.”
Nine years. Almost as long as mine.
Jamie is blonde and lanky. She goes to public school. She likes plastic horses. Her mom made her a child-sized doll. Jamie is sleeping over. I’ve made plans.
Nina has dark eyes like polished stones. When I was three and four, I wheeled her in my baby carriage swaddled in a blanket. She was lovely, wrapped in that day’s light.
I pulled dandelions all along the way and she would sing for them and for the tender blades of grass – high, delighted songs. She was willing and the sky was wide and generous. I was sure. Tie this scarf around my head. My purse is full of clover. I will show this whole world to my baby.
We drew old women, palms pressed to their cheeks. A strict staccato cracked beneath their dense, square heels. I was a girl pushing her baby, something they knew well.
The park was always full of mothers. It was easy to understand how to push the stroller, how to smile down into it, but just the same they wanted to reward me for being what they’d hoped for.
“Is that your baby, dear?” they asked smiling down at me, their heads tipped sideways with approval. Then they peered inside.
Their faces closed up quick. They didn’t like Nina’s ears waving like the hands of queens. Not her thick, white teeth that sawed and ground the tender blades. They didn’t like her hooked, pink toes.
“What is it?”
“Will she die?”
“She will, honey, but she won’t mind. She’s had a good life.”
I’ve made plans. Jamie and I play doctor. I palmed the thermometer. I’ll have a calm commanding tone. Open your legs. I’m a doctor. She’s pink and on the rug next to my bed. I made a fort to hide in. I’ve thought it out. She’s slept over before. It’s important. It is thin between my lips.
“Do you want Jamie to go home, princess? I think Nina will be gone by morning.”
Her nose is white, the fur lays flat and leads your thumb up to her forehead. Her eyes shine like river stones.
I’ve planned it. She is here tonight. I built a fort to hide us.
“No, you hold her.”
The old women’s faces shut like fists, like eyes, too late. They puckered like she was a bitter thing, which Nina never could be. Just notice her lips, like velvet. Notice her pansy split nose. Notice her cheeks, her seashell pink toes. Just notice her fathomless eyes.
“Lie on your stomach.” Jamie’s hair is short. My head is flashing silver fish, together for this moment. My chest is many tiny lights exploding and a thick slow darkness. I’m running towards the edge and jumping. I’m frozen still and staring in the back. It hurts. I want it.
I should send her home.
I’ve built a fort to hide us. She is here tonight.
“You could get her carrots or spinach from the fridge,” my mother says. With one hand she adjusts the pillows at her back. Her other hands stays by Nina’s side to keep her safe. To steady her. “Maybe she’ll eat some. She won’t last long. She can have whichever she prefers.” She’s here tonight and it is thin. It might not last till morning. It could all snap shut and crack beneath staccato heels. I hold the leaves to Nina’s lips. Her teeth are strong and she is willing. Nina, it was dark inside my fort. Everything was close and sudden. Just the same I should have sent her home. I should have held you to my mouth. Whispered to your strong skull, swirling body – you were flawless. Their faces drained to puckered heaps, but old women can be wrong and you could never be so bitter. I should have whispered songs about the clover you could have. And about the tender blades of grass or fields and fields of yellow flowers. Whichever you prefer.
Laura Green lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s working on a memoir tentatively titled, Bastard Child of a Renegade Nun.