Whispers

The Iowa Review - - NEWS - Craig cur­tis

Chris Elms is a name I’ve never for­got­ten. I think you re­mem­ber too much of ev­ery­thing. Mem­ory has a mean streak as well as a kind­ness. We tend to want to re­mem­ber what we like. I have no other oc­ca­sion to re­mem­ber him. There was a real elm tree in their yard. A big pane of glass looked out onto it, as big as a man, or a boy. It’s hard to de­cide what you are at thir­teen. They were in that bed­room on a sum­mer day, Chris and my brother. I was ten. One decade, but it had seemed so huge to me. “Don’t go there,” my grand­mother said. Her voice was fierce. I hadn’t heard it like that be­fore. She meant the Moselle house. They were German Catholics, or Span­ish and German Catholics. Their col­ors weren’t cer­tain. The father, Vince, had haunt­ing green eyes, as did his wife, Emily. They had two boys, as our fam­ily did, only two. This was years be­fore that sum­mer of the win­dow and the elm tree. I was six. “Do you want any gum?” Emily, the mother, had asked me, her hair black and her skin darker, more enig­matic than her hus­band’s. The boys’ skin color was in be­tween their mother’s and their father’s, which was lighter, his skin al­most un­com­fort­ably silken, as of a dead body. I don’t even re­mem­ber him talk­ing to me. He had a kind-look­ing face, and he was thin, and so was she. “Black Jack,” I said. That was a pop­u­lar chew­ing gum, in sticks. “I’ll bring you some.” She smiled at me, then left us alone. The boys were go­ing to en­ter­tain me. They took me into their room in a house that was two doors down from our own, on Crest­lake. There was an al­ley be­hind, and all the houses had front and side doors and garages, and the trash stayed in the al­ley. I don’t know how I got in the house, whether they in­vited me or I asked. I didn’t know that my grand­mother, who was spend­ing a week with us to clean my mother’s house—her daugh­ter-in-law’s—would be so an­gry about my thought­less visit. The room was messy, un­made beds, two of them. I re­mem­ber look­ing at a jar, a Kerr jar, with a lit­tle red cloth over the oth­er­wise gap­ing hole of its round top, held in place with a rub­ber band. “What’s that?” I said. “Why do you like Black Jack gum?” the younger boy said. (I don’t re­mem­ber his name, nor that of the other; they were boys, they had faces; I had writ­ten my name on the back of the wood leg of one of my

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