Some Things Disappear
by Donna Gagnon
“There’s a landscape of silence behind every word we speak,
and we shouldn’t be afraid of it.” — Brent Carver
my mother’s Formica kitchen
spotless, shining, immaculate
yet overwhelmed by
the dangerous stench
of cabbage rolls
I would twitch my nose and...
my Captain Crunch tasted like cabbage
freed from waxed paper
peanut butter sandwiches, bologna sandwiches...
everything tasted like cabbage
I push my grocery cart now
past mounds of shiny
at the IGA
and wonder how this helpless
can make me
Boys will never look at you, you know.
You keep ignoring me,
not paying attention to your hair in the morning.
I just don’t know what to do with you, Clara.
Where’s your head?
Look at your friend, Susan. She’s a pretty thing.
All those curls.
It’s the rollers, you know.
Think about how much time she spends getting ready for bed at night.
And the cold cream.
Cold cream is magic.
Don’t look at me like that, Clara Ledford. I swear,
Wash your hands. Here’s the peeler.
Get going on those carrots.
you’ll dig me an early grave.
Your father will be home any minute
and we’re nowhere near ready.
On a Grade One morning,
Susan stood outside my mother’s kitchen
I blanched at the thought that she could smell
last night’s cabbage through that perfect nose pressed gently
against the thin, gridded metal.
“Let me see that loose tooth.”
“But, Mom. Susan is waiting. It’s time to go...”
She forced my mouth open. Stuck two fingers in and pulled.
“The other one’s loose, too.”
Her fingers moved,
pulled again, harder.
“There. Now off you go. Straight to school.”
We walked slowly that morning, Susan and I,
deliberately marking our saddle shoes streaky grey on the concrete sidewalk
dragging our way to St. Martin de Porres Catholic School.
We banged our vinyl book bags against our pleated navy skirts
not thinking about the shadowy nuns who taught us everything
by cracking wooden rulers over the backs of our hands.
On the steps leading into the school yard, I stopped.
Looked at Susan.
She stared at me, her eyes round and scared.
I wiped two big tears off my face with the back of my hand.
And then I smiled,
just for Susan.
A big gap toothed smile.
“Thtop tharing, Thuthan. Thee’s my mother. Thee can do anything thee wanth.”
At the spraying sound of my lisp, Susan began to sob uncontrollably.
The nuns smacked her twice that morning because she wouldn’t stop.
I slept in the arms of a nun
on a school bus.
Riding home from the Royal Ontario Museum
where Susan had apparently lost her favourite scarf in the cloakroom
and Bruno, I was told later,
had upchucked his lunch on the sidewalk
as everyone stood in a very straight,
waiting to go home on the bus.
My mouth hurt.
And I started feeling feverish as the school guide
told us about menstrual pads
while we were staring at a bunch of Indian people cooking around a campfire.
The glass they were trapped in started looking smeary.
I thought I was drowning
and the Indians just stared at me
like I was a lost salmon or something.
Sister Mary Theresa said, “Clara.”
Just like that.
I hadn’t turned around or anything.
There I was
with my face all red,
sweat pooling in the top of my cotton underwear
and I’m thinking about “menstruation”
and Sister Mary Theresa just said, “Clara.”
Next thing I know, I’m lying like a baby across a nun’s lap
and there are wheels turning
and kids’ voices humming
and I don’t know where Susan went.
Somebody was singing “Edelweiss” and I could smell
lily of the valley.
It smelled wonderful.
Much better than cabbage. Warmer, sweeter.
Even though I woke up before we got back to school,
I kept my eyes closed.
Wasn’t even tempted to peek at Sister Mary Theresa.
But I knew she was staring down at me.
We all got off the bus that day.
All of us except Susan.
Nobody had noticed that she was missing.
Until we got home.
The Blue Scarf
“Clara. Was Susan with you at the Museum?”
“All of the time?”
“Yes, Sister. All day. Really. Um, well, until she had to go pee.”
“Why didn’t you go with her?”
“I did! We found the cloakroom.
I stood outside. But she took an awfully long time and I...
well, I saw the line moving into the other room and...”
“I followed you.”
Sister Mary Theresa bowed down to me.
Pushed my bangs high on my forehead.
Her fingers tickled my wet face.
“Clara. Okay. Just tell the truth.
Honest, remember? If you sin,
God places a black spot on your soul. Remember?”
“Yes, Sister. I’m honest, really.”
Susan’s scarf was blue.
Blue as the ocean.
Bright as the summer sky.
Softly hand knit by a Granny in Shoal Harbour, Newfoundland.
Susan thought she’d lost her scarf.
But I had tucked it into my book bag.
Long before she even knew it was lost.
Long before I even knew she was lost.
I still have it,
folded and tucked
between two pieces of freezer paper
on the bottom shelf of my bookcase in the attic.
The place where I crouch in the dark, every day,
and write about the things I have lost and
the people I can no longer find.
You must have seen what happened to that girl.
Look at me when I talk to you.
She went into the bathroom and...
Don’t give me that stupid look.
She’s your best friend.
Didn’t you go in there with her?
Girls always go to the bathroom together.
Come back here.
what did they want me to tell them?
I watched her
she pushed the heavy wooden door
she slipped inside
and I waited
I chewed my right thumbnail,
bit it ragged,
spit the hard pieces as far as I could
watched them sail
across the shiny tiled floor
then smoothed the sharp edges on the bottom of my shoe...
my mother had stopped painting my fingernails at night
with stuff that tasted like dangerous Kool-Aid
but if she saw me chewing...
I looked at the door.
I heard nuns telling everyone to get in line
I heard boys yelling at each other and shoes
the voice of a man?
an unknown, sudden fear
that stopped my breath
the door opened
and Susan’s blue scarf
flew through the air and landed
on the shiny floor oh so
like a butterfly
(“The Odyssey”: Part 3, March 4, 1962)
Timmy cleans out his closet
breathless, I sit cross legged on the carpet
lost in hazy lines of grey
watching a boy cradle dog toys
Timmy kneels beside a hollow log and
in this secret, special place
at the bottom of a hill, he begins
to dig a hole
there’s a bone and a ball
my chest swells
a dog barks
Timmy looks up, wide-eyed
through my tear blurs I see
a flash of fur
as Lassie bounds out of nowhere
as dog and boy roll gleefully together on the grass
I begin to sob
my mother’s in the kitchen:
Oh, for heaven’s sake, what now?
she wipes her hands on a tea towel
stands behind me and laughs at this child
howling and heaving and sniffling snot
It’s a happy thing, Clara. Sheesh.
I stumble to my feet
smack my mother’s shin
stumble blindly up the stairs to my room
and she’s yelling at me when I slam the bedroom door
butter melting warm,
where I want him
soft hard hot
as I whisper ‘yes...’
smashing me against
a steel fence
in a parking lot
filled with yellow shadows
and squashed coffee cups
for this, for something
against my heated skin
scraping against memory
buckles my knees
as he feels my fear
and holds me away, staring
questioning, drawing me out
into the darkness of night
with my secrets...
of my unspoken past
this pain of remembrance
that I share suddenly and
makes us weep
as he holds me to his chest
makes me hold my breath
and think of blue
Some Things Disappear
I have learned
for lengthy periods
how some things disappear
a kiss, a touch, a breath, a whisper
here and then
I have learned
despite my past, because of my children
a boy, a girl
who laugh and fight and gaze
on everything that is and could be
we scribble in a colouring book
crazy Crayola celebrations of Saturday mornings
our favourite colour is Blue Sky
we use it to fill in the sun
I think I see her
she’s older, like me
her skin buttercream
dark eyes filled with secret pain
I look in the mirror and imagine
grey streaks shining silver beneath suburban moonlight
touches the side of her neck
traces his finger down
to a breast that can still shiver and rise into heat
a small pile of bones
discovered by a dog-walker
at the foot of Cherry Street last year
I think about
that blue scarf
I think I should tell someone