We lived in the woods. The raspberry bushes grew hard green bulbs then red and sometimes fat blue with worms inside them. Look inside before you eat it! And Mother laughed when I stuck out my red tongue. We put bundles of violets and buttercups in jelly glasses. Mother held the buttercup to my chin. Butter skin says you are in love! I shook my head. Saying love made me blush. I couldn’t see any other houses from the yard. The cars from the highway made faraway, metal noises. I slept with mother in in the same bed, curled up in my StarBright pajamas. She woke at night and walked from kitchen to bathroom, humming and sweeping, switching the lights on and off. She woke me up, asking if I was breathing. We fell asleep to the fuzz of the television, the National Anthem singing.
Before I was five, I did not see other children. I played Barbies on the floor, Mother scooting hot pink miniskirts up their slim hips. I played Barbie music video and Barbie works at the airport and Barbie goes on a camping trip. At school, during playtime, when children joined me in the play kitchen, I shouted at them. I shook the fake pan on the stove as if I were making Jiffy Pop for a movie. I picked up the fake telephone and called Grandma. Grandma, I want to come over for dinner.
In kindergarten, I talked too much and did not finish my assignments. We had to color a rose with crayons and I could not find the right colors in the basket full of broken crayons. Nobody will give me a green and blue crayon. A boy was coloring his rose red at the stem. Roses aren’t red at the stem. I told the teacher roses aren’t red at the stem. But maybe roses at his house were red at the stem. I cried into my macaroni picture. Let’s make a picture for your Mother, the teacher said, her sweater bright with puppies. Mother likes violets and dandelions. I made her a violet and she put it on the refrigerator.
Mother asked me about school. What are they telling you? What do they say about me? Don’t believe what they tell you about me. I brought her books from the library. She read me One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish until I knew all of the words by heart and could read it myself. We bought books with the bright foil binding at the grocery store. We read The Poky Little Puppy. We read The Saggy Baggy Elephant. We read The Ugly Duckling.
I was like the ugly duckling, Mother said, pointing to the gray bird alone on the bank, the bright green and black ducks preening their stiff feathers around him. Their feathers folded tight over their bodies. His fluffed like pill bottle cotton. The little bird’s head was too big for his body. Mother was a bird out on the bank who swam behind the others in the water, preening down her ruffled feathers. At the end, she was an S-necked swan, the ducks in her enormous shadow. We are swans with the ducks, our S-shaped necks strange to the rest of them. They didn’t understand he wasn’t like them, she said, do you know what I’m saying?