Satin

You don’t know what satin feels like. You never have. It’s a word you’ve always loved, since you were too young to know what it was, whether it was a Disney princess or a kind of washing-up liquid. It could have been either. You heard your babysitter talking about it, when she was using your grandmother’s phone to call her friends. It was long before cellphones.
When you were old enough to babysit the little boys down the block, you learned why your own babysitter had spent her time on the phone. Watching little kids was a pain. You didn’t like it. But you needed the money, your grandmother’s purse strings being as tight as her small mouth. When she went out to her fancy meetings, dressed to the nines, strung up with pearls and too much lipstick, you thought she was a rich lady. You learned when you got older that she was a penny-pincher, stingy with every coin, and that all those fancy meetings she went to were for your own sake. So she could keep you. Not for herself, but from others.
Your babysitter talked about satin. You weren’t listening very hard, so you only caught the word because of the way she said it, and you didn’t get any of the context around it. She was a fast talker usually, but she snaked the word “satin” through her tongue like it was three times that length. You try to replicate it with your own mouth but you catch the person next to you in your cubicle looking at you and you put your head down and get back to work.
It’s dull work. You’re dialling numbers and waiting for people to pick up the phone. You’re not selling them things. You’re trying to get them to answer questions. It’s two pm and no one is picking up. Everyone is at work, just like you, or out doing errands. Or napping. You wish you could put your head right down and nap. You don’t know why your babysitter’s face is so strong in your head until you realize that her name is the last one on the page you’ve been crossing names and numbers off from. You must have seen it right at the beginning, but your brain didn’t take it in. You read an article about that once. How people think something is a coincidence when it actually isn’t.
You skip down and call her number first, before the rest of the list. You wait. No one picks up. No answering machine. You don’t cross her off. You’ll try again later.

PHOTO / jovike

A Leroy Excerpt

Leroy remembered only two things from his early childhood. Tony Boss-man has asked him about it once, to see how good his memory was. So he’d told him those two memories, like pearls in the rough and dirty shell he’d become, and he’d felt he was giving part of himself away. But then, the Boss-man always made everyone feel as if they were giving themselves away. That was part of the Boss-man’s power.

The first thing he remembered was eating cereal when he was about two years old. It had been a shabby house then, shabbier even than the next ones would be, but he had a corner that his mother had painted yellow, and his little mattress was there with his few toys. Inevitably, night after night, he’d sit in that corner and watch as his mom fought with his dad. It happened every day, as far as he could tell, and only years later did he figure out what his mom was doing and why his dad objected. The particular memory that he could see so clearly in his brain was different. It didn’t have drunken-dad and floozie-mama in it. It had been an afternoon alone, and he’d climbed up onto the counter in the kitchen with the aid of a stool, a chair and then a big heave with his puny arms. If nothing else, being inside had strengthened those skinny arms of his. No one can stay weak inside. If you do, you’ll get in trouble. But on that afternoon, he’d felt it was the biggest accomplishment of mankind that he’d gotten all the way on the counter. He’d opened the cupboards because his belly was rumbling – and there was something else, he was always hungry then, but of course he would be, why should his parents give a hoot over a two year old’s nutrition? He’d found a box of cornflakes in the cupboard, and he sat triumphantly on the counter with his small legs dangling daringly. He dug his tiny fist into the box and heaved out a handful of the dry little flakes. He put them in his lap and ate them slowly, one by one. One by one. That’s what the Boss-man always told him, too. Take ’em one by one, Leroy, taken ’em on one at a time and it won’t feel so big. As if the Boss-man, sitting in his office with his piggy little eyes knew anything about the streets.

The second memory Leroy had was from around the same age, he thought, and was just as vivid, although it had a more surreal quality to it. It was a night when Momma and Pop were settled, not fighting. They’d gone to their room for a while, and both came out smiling. Leroy remembered smiling, too, and reaching out with his arms to latch onto Pop’s leg. Momma lit a cigarette and gave it to Pop. The smell wasn’t the same as the one that already permeated the house. It was different. He’d gone over to his corner and taken a pen and stuck it into his mouth, pretending to pull something in and then blow something out. Momma and Pop laughed, so he did it again, and stood very straight with his arm bent sideways, the way Momma held her cigarettes. They laughed again, and this time Pop stooped down to him and gave him the burning roll-up in his hand. Leroy’d been afraid, but he wanted Pop to keep smiling so he took it but didn’t know what to do. Pop took it back and whispered to him that this wasn’t just that green stuff or brown stuff that your Momma has all the time. No, this was some fine quality heroine right here. So smoke up, boy, never too early to have some fun. Leroy, panicking, tried to bend his face away from the smoke that was so close, making his eyes tear up. Pop put it in his mouth and pinched his nose closed, so he’d had to inhale a bit of whatever it was Pop had. He went limp, and the last thought he remembered having before he passed out was that maybe Pop was making him a hero, he gave him hero smoke, maybe he’d be like Superman.

Leroy’d thought a lot about those memories when he was inside. When he worked out, he thought again and again about getting rid of his tiny arms, of those little things that had hauled him onto the counter. When he sat and muttered and made people think he was crazy, he wondered if that toke of heroine smoke – hero smoke, as if – had really made his wiring go wrong. Those memories had proved to Boss-man that he could do what was needed. That’s all that mattered in the end, really – Tony Boss-man approving you or not. He’d been approved and he was damn proud of it at the time. But the man – the gaping hole – the smell of gunpowder – and Tony, letting him take the fall. No, that didn’t sit well with Leroy, not one bit.

Objects’ Spirit

I often wonder whether or not inanimate objects have spirits of their own. Oh, I know it sounds absolutely crazy, but stay with me for a moment.

Haven’t you ever felt close to something that was just… well, a thing? A favorite mug, perhaps, or a painting that moved you. Maybe a childhood toy or stuffed-animal or a piece of jewelry or even the first car that you called your own. Of course, stuff is just stuff. We all know this. There’s no argument that if we had to choose between saving our friends and family from a fire or saving our things, we would choose the people in our lives over the mere objects that we’ve accumulated.

And yet, I always feel that the mere act of possessing something and appreciating it instills a kind of life in it. I find myself talking to my computer at times – sometimes aloud, sometimes only in my head. I know that I could never get rid of Beary-Bear or Twinkle, my favorite teddy-bears. I know that the bowl in which I pour my Quaker Squares in the morning seems to greet me cheerfully in the mornings when I dip my spoon into it.

What if objects actually did have some sort of life or spirit to them? What if they whispered amongst themselves when we went to sleep, chatting about how we used them during the day; complaining when we were unkind or rough or when they were ignored. What if they appreciated our attention or loathed it? What if our refrigerators were in love with our stoves?

Well, maybe they do have a life of their own. Maybe they do communicate. It would sure explain how when one appliance breaks, everything else seems to follow it in breaking. It would explain why some objects charm us and make us love them while some make us put them way back in the shelf or never buy them in the first place. It would explain that bizarre feeling when we get up to use the toilet at four in the morning and feel as if someone’s just stopped talking when we woke up.

Ah, the things one thinks about at midnight…

Warm Milk

When I was little, we always called it “warm milk,” even though it was really hot-chocolate. I don’t know why. Maybe “warm milk” sounds nicer, more wholesome somehow. To this day, though, I still think of it that way.

When I was little, in my grandparents’ home in Los Angeles, I had a cup with a screw-on top. It had handles, and the top was pink. I also had a yellow one, at some point, although I’m not sure which came first. The cup was clear plastic, with little drawing stenciled on it of butterflies and flowers. It was the kind of cup that adults love, because if it falls, very little can spill out of it in the time it takes for the fall to be noticed. It was the kind of cup I loved, too, because it was unique. I was the only one who drank out of it.

The taste of warm milk with chocolate Nesquick mixed into it brings me memories of that house where I used to drink out of that cup. The smell of the wooden floors in the kitchen seem to magically rise into my nostrils, as well as the smell of cleaning supplies that accompanied any late night in that kitchen, seeing as how my grandfather always cleaned the kitchen meticulously after dinner.

It is so strange, somehow, the way memories rise at such trivial moments, such as a regular Friday evening. The taste of warm milk is still in my mouth.

I Remember… (When I Was Really Little)

I remember the house we had in Los Angeles when I was really little.

I remember eating ice-cream in front of the television after nursery-school.

I remember begging my mom for cookies when she was on the phone, and bugging her until she’d give them to me just so I wouldn’t bother her.

I remember that I planned that strategy in order to get more cookies.

I remember my nursery-school teacher, Robin, and how I would get scared if I was parted with her.

I remember the red tricycle I had and the way I liked to stand on the back of it and move it forward with one leg, pretending it was a skateboard.

I remember my crib that I slept in until I was three years old.

I remember refusing to answer my father in Hebrew and only speaking to him in English until we moved to Israel and I had to speak Hebrew.

I remember rocking so hard on my little rocking chair that I unbalanced it and fell backwards, hitting my head hard.

I remember getting my first Barbie doll from my mother when she went on a vacation, and I remember that my brother got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action-figures.

I remember my friend, Ally, from nursery-school and my next-door neighbor, Gina, whose toys I was jealous of.

I remember a lot from before I turned three – I’m told it’s rather unusual. The memories are strange, though. They’re fuzzy and soft, all in pastel colors and moods and disconnected visions. Early memories are strange, but I’m glad I have them.

Another Excerpt

Here is another scene in the story I’m working on. It is the beginning of the first chapter, and follows a prologue, which I may or may not post here eventually. For those who may not have realized it yet, I wanted to explain the nature of this story. It’s a fantasy story, based in a kingdom where class and nobility matter.

__________________________________________

At fourteen, when everything changed for me, I was a beautiful girl. I had been a beautiful child as well. I knew this. I was the noble daughter of Duke Pietro der-Milt and his Lady Dermira. How ever could I not be beautiful? I was taught that the noble houses held the most beautiful people in the land, the most gifted thinkers, the greatest of artists and the kindest of spirits. So my governess told me during my childhood, using my parents as the best examples.
“Look at your pretty mother, little Miya! see what a beauty she is?” Pirima would say. She’d point at my mother, sitting in our great drawing room or in my father’s study or in the corner of my nursery. She was a beauty indeed. My mother always knew how to look beautiful and delicate. She could embroider, read, write letters, instruct servants, talk with my father, survey the accounts – all while looking as pretty as a picture, without a hair out of place or wrinkle in her dress. Pirima often whispered to me that she wished she could look like my mother, and her lips would twist in a sad little frown. I didn’t understand the nature of jealousy or envy when I was young; I merely thought it natural that everyone would want to look like Mama, who was, I was sure, the most beautiful woman in the world.
There were plenty of mirrors in our home, so I learned early on that I was a beautiful child. My skin was smooth and healthy, a few shades darker than my mother’s milky-white complexion. My hair, which was black as coal, thick and wavy, hung down my back when I was a little girl, kept away from my face by a neat little bow which Pirima would tie into it every morning. My eyes were grey, and Pirima always said they reminded her of the stormy sea because when I was angry or sad they turned dark blue. My black eyebrows were delicate and thin, and my nose was small and rather flat, accentuating the fullness of my red lips. My body was that of a healthy little girl – rounded with the healthy fat that children possess, my limbs strong with activity.
One day, when I was about six or seven, I stood looking into the tall, gilded mirror that stood in one of the corridors. As I stood there, admiring myself, I watched my mother come up behind me. She laid one white hand on my shoulder and smiled at me in the mirror. My eyes widened.
“I look like you, Mama!” I cried with delight.
“You do, my dove. You look like your papa as well. You have his hair and his nose,” she touched my hair and my nose as she said this, then knelt down behind me in a rare motherly gesture and hugged me tight, arms encircling my stomach. She usually didn’t touch me much. My joy at seeing we were alike, though, seemed to make her emotional. I had no cynicism at that age, and I didn’t see her emotion for what it was – a kind of vanity. I was happy to be in her arms, happy that she smiled at me, happy that I looked like her and like Papa.
“Now, Miyara, let’s go visit your papa in his study, hmm?” she took me by the hand and we spent a quiet afternoon in the study with Papa, who was in a good mood as well. I remember that day as one of the happiest of my childhood. It wasn’t often that my parents made any effort to spend time with me. We usually met only during meals. The rest of the time I spent with Pirima, who was my only other company for a long time.

___ Drive: An Essay

This was the essay I submitted to the University of Chicago. It’s more of a creative writing piece than an essay, though, which is why I decided to share it here.

Nestled in the gorgeous hills of the city called Los Angeles, there is a street. It is a pretty street, suburban and colorful. It is called ____ Drive.
Many of the houses on ____ Drive are rather old, though you wouldn’t guess it by looking at them. In the fifties, all the houses were new and pristine, perfect little packages of suburbia. Young couples or families just beginning their lives moved onto the street, and made it what it really became – a homey, beautiful, precious place to live.
The street starts out with a wide bend, curving off the main street that leads up the hill. There is a store there, right near the corner, ridiculously overpriced and adorable, all brown wood on the outside and the good smell of bread and snacks on the inside. For me, that’s where the street really starts, at that store.
Right on the bend into the actual street, there is a single, solitary apartment building. It’s been renovated so many times over the years that it never seems to actually house anyone at any given time. After the building, the street starts proper, with a dip down straight off, houses looking crooked on both sides. There aren’t any sidewalks on the street – for why would there be? This is LA, the city of cars – and so you always need to be careful to walk against traffic, along the side of the road.
Every house on the street is different than its neighbor. There are no two alike, not even a little – each has its own unique brick patterns on the outside, its own colorful or bare garden, its tree or its bushes or its roses, the swing next to this house and the bench in front of that one. This one has a porch, the next might have a wildflower garden, and the next might have a collection of stones in front of it. Some of the houses are memorable, and some aren’t.
Although time has been kind to most of the houses on the street and they still look classic and well-tended, some newer families have moved onto the street and they decided that the houses they bought were too small. So what did they do? Why, what any upper-class family trying to live the American dream would do. They tore down the old, endearing, family-sized house, and built large concrete monstrosities with four garages and five stories, and park their Hummers on the street, because apparently the kids need the garages.
Still, if one can ignore those places, which stick out like sore thumbs, the street is one of beauty and tranquility. On Sunday mornings the grandkids come visit and ride their little tricycles in the driveways. Their parents sit back indulgently, speaking of times when they were that little with their own parents, the inhabitants of the street. On most other mornings, you will see sixty- and seventy-year olds walking briskly up and down the street with their usually-outdated portable music players, or maybe you’ll see them driving to work in suits and ties, with hair and mustaches sleeked.  You’ll see the younger families carpooling to work with their children bouncing in the back seat, watching Spongebob Squarepants on their portable DVD players.
The afternoons on ____ Drive will be quiet, people napping, resting, doing homework, relaxing and giving themselves alone time, swimming in their pools by the light of the setting sun and its reflection on the water. Occasionally the sound of a helicopter will break the peace of the quiet afternoon, but more often than not the street will be serene, almost eerily so.

So, the days. The nights are different. The nights might be noisier, as one house or another is bound to be having a dinner-party, a birthday, a casual get-together, a wild night of drinking in the house where the parents have gone on vacation. Even when it’s quiet, the patches of yellow glow from the windows cast a pretty light up and down the street. Everyone remembers dutifully to turn on the garden lamps as well, so as to help drivers coming down the road to see well.
There are walkers at night too, of course – the people with their music players, all bundled up now because of the cool, crisp mountain air. It is always cool at night up there, even during the height of summer. Some nights it’s foggy, making the air smell deliciously damp, like being in a real cloud.
If you walk down the street very late at night, it will be quite dark. Although many people leave their garden lamps on, their light is dim, especially at that hour of the night. Coyotes and raccoons often roam the street, the raccoons even opening garbage cans to rummage inside, and deer creep into the backyards to eat the flowers or drink from the pools. The man with the hybrid wolves will be walking down the road, taking them for their walk when the fewest people are around. The wolves are part dog apparently, but they look fearsome, even though they’re muzzled, and their size, their ice-blue eyes, and the ample amount of spiky grey fur on them isn’t very reassuring, though beautiful to look at.

There are two things that make ____ Drive the most wonderful, beautiful, splendid street in the world for me. The first is what you will see if you walk down to the very end, at night. Once upon a time, when I was very small, there was no gate there. There was just a long, long driveway, leading down to the biggest, ugliest house of all that sat alone on a huge plot of land, surrounded by out of place palm-trees and odd gazebos. Now, the house is the same, but there is also a gate before the driveway, a big black gate.
Still, nothing, not even the gate, can ruin that spot. You can stand there and see the whole of Los Angeles spread out before you, all twinkling lights. The lights are arranged in grids, little squares of suburbia similar to the one you’re standing in. It’s an astounding sight, awe-inspiring, especially when the air is clear and you can truly see so far. It is just a blanket of endless fairy lights, all seeming so happy.
The second reason for this street’s splendor is the fact that it was the center of my visits to the US all through my childhood; it was where my beloved maternal grandparents’ home was. The memories of it are now bittersweet. I will probably never venture up there again, as my grandparents have both passed away and we’ve sold their gorgeous, comfy house. Still, I will always and forever remember every detail of the street and its atmosphere, both with the sweetness and innocence of my childhood days there and with the cynicism of my older state today.