Spinning Straw

A turkey breast bakes inside my oven downstairs. Kiku the cat curls herself into her blankets on my rocking chair. She once in a while complains that the aroma of meat is killing her, although she’s known me long enough to understand that she shall receive her share.

I keep the shade drawn tight and the shutters closed on the window beside my desk, but grey light and a cool breeze leak through to tell me that the world beyond what lives inside my mind continues to run its course.

Easter Sunday, and I remember the homemade candy store on Main Street in the small town where I grew up. I’ve never owned much taste for sweet treats, but back then the jangled bell above the door, that kind and private sound that signaled our once-a-year visit to this shop, gave me appetite for food that I otherwise would not consider. My mother, I and my three brothers approached the glass-top counter in a state of reverence for the jeweled confections that lived therein.

Even my mother, sad, psychotic beast that she was most days, forwent the morning beatings she usually meted out in favor of this slight celebration. I now imagine that inside that shop she saw a ray of hope for change.

I always wanted a white chocolate rabbit. Today I realize that the whiter version is not chocolate at all, and with that knowledge comes regret for a fairytale lost.

John, who today lies dying in a hospital bed, wanted anything and all that contained sugar, but he was a fat boy who suffered slings from school chums, and he worried over himself that way, and so he dipped his cute head down to touch his chest and muttered to his mother that he wanted nothing at all.

Chris, always a happy boy, in spite of the physical and emotional torture he suffered at home, smiled bright and asked for jellybeans that tasted like fruit, and chocolate eggs filled with butter cream.

Wayne, our baby, made no overt choices. I reached my hand to touch his tiny lips with whatever candy he might find easy to lick or chew with just a few teeth.

The old lady behind the counter, powdered face, watery eyes and bracelets that rang a melody around her wrists, seemed a timeless reminder that life could be gentle if one were only sane, soft-spoken and eager to please a customer or a friend.

Back home my mother hid the spoils of our adventure. She meant well as she tried to re-create a sense of mysterious anticipation.

But by Easter Sunday morning the fairytale ended, and she became hysterical with her determined desire to see failure where none need ever have existed. She’d once again spun straw in hopes of turning it into golden threads, and when no gold appeared with Easter’s sunrise arrival, she stamped her foot into the floor and thus revealed her truest name, that of mad woman.

After coffee and another crying jag, she chased her sons and husband out the front door and off to St Peter’s Church, that building a monument to Catholic holiness that I could never comprehend.

I was the oldest of the four brothers, old enough to feel both pity for my father and outrage that he allowed us to suffer so. “Don’t you know her name?” I wondered as I watched him kneel inside the pew. “Can’t you see that her foot is caught beneath the floorboards where she stamps it down every day? Can’t you understand that we are all caught with her?”

In later years, when I was still young but no longer a boy, I came to see that yes, my father understood. But he was a coward caught in time. His desire for sex persisted when his wife turned off the light, and we four boys were his momentary pleasure’s side effect. If he had admitted that his wife drew unfair blood, then he would be left with our four mouths to feed on a railroad laborer’s salary.

I still love his memory, but not my memory of my mother. She was a mean soul who knew her name and who thought that name might never be discovered as she tried to spin straw into gold.

So, yes, I wish a Happy Easter Sunday to all those folks who find great joy inside the holiday. But for me, a baking turkey breast and a curled-up cat will suffice to keep me warm until tomorrow.

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