My aunt and uncle had a new baby. She was my cousin, they said. It was a miracle, they said, because my aunt had tried so hard to have a baby and wanted one so much. They told me that she had lost 15 babies, which I found completely confusing but nonetheless terrifying. How could anyone lose babies? The idea made me feel cagey about my aunt, and I guess my mother sensed this, because she kept reminding me that I loved my aunt very much, as was evidenced by the fact that I didn’t shy away from her for even a single second when she had to stick her finger down my throat and made me upchuck because I had eaten cockroach poison. That was during our last visit to my aunt and uncle. I was less than two years old; I didn’t know what I was doing. I just figured that something lying on the floor in a pretty little bowl was something I should definitely taste! Of course, I have no memory of this myself, being so young at the time, but my mother told that story so many times that it’s like a movie that can play in my mind at the merest mention. I can picture my aunt’s pin curls flopping in front of her eyes as she held me over the sink. I can smell the smell of her breath combined with the fragrance of her bright lipstick as she panted with effort. I guess I didn’t upchuck all that easily, which was all part of the story of my good nature in not holding an immense grudge against someone who hoisted me under her arm and forced her finger into the back of my throat over and over.
We finally got to California, where everything looked unreasonably bright and like the whole world had been bleached into an eerie whiteness. It didn’t seem like it could possibly be safe to go outside into that sea of brightness, and I even made sure to keep clear of the windows in mid-day. My aunt and uncle had just moved into this new house and had practically no furniture, just a lot of empty, freshly-carpeted rooms and a nervous little dog that looked like he’d been given way too tight of a permanent wave for his hair. As for the baby cousin: I’d pretty much never seen a baby before, and I wasn’t at all sure she was real. She just sat there doing absolutely nothing most of the time. Every so often I would pinch her, to see if she was real after all. She would scream or cry or something, but somehow I still wasn’t entirely convinced.
Hope you enjoy this re-worked piece from the novel I am currently writing, tentatively titled THE ROCKY ORCHARD.