Today’s post is from a writing exercise I did with a long-lost friend I recently got back in touch with. She’s a writer too but had fallen out of the habit. I suggested we take turns giving each other prompts, then share our results. The first prompt I gave was on the topic of earliest memories.
* The small cake is put in front of me. I reach a hand out tentatively, touch the small cake with one finger. It seems to be encased in a crust. It is my birthday cake made by a grandmother. It’s frosted with a sugar icing that hardened as it dried.
* It is Christmas morning in the big house. I wake to the sound of music. There is a Fisher Price Little People carousel under the tree for me. It is unwrapped, slowly turning while the music plays. The situation feels a little creepy. Who turned it on, then left the room?
* I’m not quite three. My mom is pregnant. I want a sister. When the baby is born, it’s a sister. My dad takes me to the hospital to look at her through a window.
* I am a tiny girl in a long white nightgown. I am outside barefoot in the early morning, walking through my grandmother’s garden. I feel the dew damp on my feet.
* I’m sick. I’ve been throwing up. My baby sister is very sick. My mom heats a can of chicken noodle soup. It is too hot when she serves it to me. While she is distracted by my sick sister, I have the bright idea to put the bowl of soup on the floor vent where the cold air from the air conditioner blows out. I think the cold air will cool the soup quickly. I promptly spill the soup down into the air conditioner vent. My mother is livid, which I don’t understand because I didn’t dump the soup down the vent on purpose; it was an accident.
* My sister is in the hospital. I’m taken to visit her. I eat the Jell-O she did not want.
* It is summer in Louisiana. The heat of the day has lessened with the darkness, but it’s still hot. I walk into the convenience store with my dad. The floor of the air-conditioned store is like ice on the soles of my bare feet.
* I am in prekindergarten. I love the smell of coffee wafting from the teachers’ lounge at the parochial school I attend. An African-American girl named Othalene is my friend.
* My prekindergarten class is part of a school-wide program. We are to sing. I am chosen to introduce our performance. I wear a long pink polyester dress my mother made. I stand on the wooden stage, apart from the rest of my class, and look out on the vast audience in front of me. I announce clearly, Sister Pius will now lead us in some of our favorite songs.
* My dad’s friend is at our house with his wife and twin boys who are a few months older than I am. The three of us kids are on our front porch. I’m messing around with the screen door handle and lock it, then accidentally let the door swing shut. When we are finally able to get back inside, my dad punishes me by making me kneel on the air conditioning system’s large metal intake vent. The metal of the grid bites into the tender skin of my little knees. I know my dad is extra angry because I’ve embarrassed him in front of his friend.
* The neighbor in the mobile home behind ours has locked herself out of her house. She and my mother put me into the locked mobile home through an open window so I can unlock the front door. I walk alone through the unoccupied house. It is dark inside and smells different from my family’s home. I both want to get out of the house immediately and explore its every inch. My mother and the neighbor speak to me encouragingly through the window until I unlock the door.
* My older cousin is keeping an eye on a nearby house while the neighbors are away. She takes me with her to the house when she goes to check on it. She finds some things in the house that bother her, like cigarette butts in the toilet. She leaves me alone outside the house while she goes to get an adult. I feel like a lot of time passes before she comes back with my father. Dad decides the neighbors must have come back early but failed to tell my cousin.
* It’s night, and I’m scared. My fear has been with me night after night, so my parents have put an old AM radio in my room, hoping the music will soothe me. I hear Cliff Richards sing
She’s just a devil woman/with evil on her mind/Beware the devil woman/She’s gonna get you
and I feel more scared than I did without the radio.
Lyrics to “Devil Woman” courtesy of https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/cliffrichard/devilwoman.html.
Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/defocused-image-of-illuminated-christmas-tree-against-sky-253342/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/gray-scale-photo-of-a-pregnant-woman-46207/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/vintage-radios-4624/.