Sippican Cottage

By The Stove

I slept in a dresser drawer until I was four. Pater would always tell me that.

Pater was always saying the same thing. His head was stuck. My head is never stuck. I wish my head would stick, and not run off like Mater says it does.

There were four flights to the basement. I don’t understand the counting. The house only has the three stories. When I’m on the piazza, though it slumps a bit with my few stone, I can see into the neighbor’s kitchen. They’re on the third floor, same as us, and leave the lights on like a millionaire, my father says, when he’s not stuck.

We go down four and I don’t understand. We stand on the dirt floor and dad peers into the furnace. Sometimes I look in the furnace too, just for the feeling on my face. Pater feeds it like an animal.

Other people’s lives are in the basement. They are stacked and boxed and moldy, other people’s lives are. They die and go away or go away and die. Their bedsteads stay forever. Where they go there is no sleeping, I guess. Pater’s stuck again and won’t tell me.

I have a clock in my head and it never stops. We have a clock in the parlor but my clock can’t keep up. Pater leaves the faucet in the kitchen open a crack. The valve is like a violin for him. He plays it. No one else plays it like Pater, Mater says. He has the touch.

He rubs his hands like Edward Robinson in front of a safe and puts his hand on the valve each night in the winter. He says things under his breath when it won’t let him start my clock. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, he says, so I know he’s praying. Pater is always stuck when he’s praying. Or maybe he prays when he’s stuck. I don’t know.

Then the drops come. Not as fast as the mantel clock; no. It’s sinful to waste it. Let it drip and it keeps the pipes from freezing in the night he says to no one in particular. I hear my clock, those drops, in my head even when I’m outside. They slow me down because they can’t catch the mantel clock. Pater snores and Mater sighs and sisters and brothers go down the hall but I don’t care because I’m warm and I can hear my clock. Pater puts the coats on me when he thinks I’m asleep.

I put the sugar and cinammon on my bread, and I spilled it. Mater was cross. She said I was disreputable. That’s what I am when Mater is cross.

I don’t understand what I am when Mater is cross.

She sits me on the chair, and tells me such as me doesn’t deserve to be abroad. My friends are skating and sliding in the Public Garden, but I can’t go, because I’m disreputable and it’s Mater’s turn to be stuck.

It’s warm by the stove when Mater is there.

Day: October 23, 2006

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