• October 8, 2020 |

    september and october

    stills from home

    article by , illustrated by

    My dad has picked up airbrushing over the last month. He told me this morning that he’s expecting a new acrylic green in the mail. At night, after work, Dad has been going out to his barn, a tall-ceilinged open workspace with a kiln, most of a canoe, glassblowing materials, some miscellaneous wood—and metal-working equipment. He paints fine detail on models of Range Rover defenders and Corsair fighters, sending updates to our family group chat. The airbrush tool is small and sleek, a precision instrument for the trained craftsman. Dad is convinced that it takes some kind of natural-born skill to stay inside the lines, but that he’s still trying to learn. He wants to paint a miniature house next.

     

    My parents’ close friend, whom I call “Aunt” and whose husband I call “Uncle,” passed down a pair of clip-in cycling shoes to me a few months back. Aunt Yvette had only worn them once or twice, and she was so glad that we had the same-sized feet. We’ve had a stationary bike in the basement for years, which I had always ridden with sneakers secured into flexible silicone cages. Clicking in the new shoes took several minutes, during which I accidentally kicked the bike and broke off a tiny plastic shard of shoe-bottom. Now I ride a few days a week—interval challenges mostly—click click and go. Off to nowhere, spinning the flywheel with my toes tipped down and the heels of my hands pressed into the curve of the handlebars.

     

    In the morning, Mom plays George Winston’s Autumn. The music is quiet and twinkly, and the chords feel like fire in the fireplace and trees turning orange-y red. In the afternoon, she’ll switch to jazz: Art Pepper on the sax or Oscar Peterson on the piano, usually. I couldn’t name any of the songs playing, but I know the way that each one sways. Notes swingy-er than the cadence of our fingers on the keyboards, but no less pressed. At night, it’s Billie Holiday. Powerful and sweet, my favorite music. She’s for all times, but at night her voice fills the yard up to the treeline, the corners of my sisters’ empty rooms, under our eyelids. “I heard somebody whisper “Please adore me” // And when I looked, the moon had turned to gold!…” 

     

    I’m not religious or terribly spiritual, but I keep a small wooden Buddha in front of my window, head bowed and hands folded open upon the lap. Next to the Buddha are a few candles. One is supposed to smell like Rhode Island, a gift from my college roommate to remind me of school. It’s a little sharper than the way I remember campus, but the candle’s brand is called “Homesick” and I am. I have another called “Pumpkin Soufflé” to make mornings smell like a bakery. When it’s warm, I open the window and pretend that passersby can smell it, too.

     

    I have never been one to make my bed. Chronically late to school in my teens and stereotypically messy, it was a luxury I ranked below packing a lunch and (sometimes) brushing my hair. But I get it now, I think. A small accomplishment, a degree of freedom under control, a space folded up and tucked under a pillow. I usually open my blinds before I pull the flat sheet up and fold it over a little. Four pillows, even though I sleep with just one underhead. White duvet and a pearly quilt—my mom’s old one—at the foot of the bed.

     

    Mom and Dad started letting our dog Percy sleep in bed with them. She’s a 4-year-old boxer with the proportions of a puppy and the attachment of a duckling. They never used to let her upstairs, let alone in their bed with them. But now there’s a fuzzy red blanket spread across the king bed and a few of her stuffed toys (a bear, an alligator, a moose) scattered on top. She spreads herself flat at calf height or tucks into the crook of their backs, a puzzle piece and proud inhabitant of the foot of the bed. My room is across the hall; when Mom wakes up, I hear nails on the wooden floor and a whisper, Do you want to see Jordan? It’s the best part of my day: all wiggles and a tongue seemingly disassociated from a thinking brain. Pouncing on me like I’m a bird and rolling onto her back, legs straight into the air while her stumpy tail moves a mile a minute. Every day like I won’t be in the same spot, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, waiting for her to come in.

     

    Most nights, Mom and I watch an episode or two of The Blacklist. It’s about an international criminal and his inexplicable drive to aid the FBI—one agent in particular—in exchange for immunity for years of federal crimes. Dad recently fixed the living room TV, but we used to watch on a laptop balanced atop a pillow on Mom’s lap. We pause to curse out the characters or guess the end of the episode. In the morning, Mom will ask me what time we can have our date tonight. 8 or 8:30, usually. We’ll watch until around 10:30 or 11 p.m. and then head upstairs. Mom will read, I’ll call a friend and then go to bed.

     

    Dad cooks a bunch of different foods for the week on Sundays so that we can have them for lunch and dinner, mixed in with whatever fresh thing we’ll whip up day-of. He’ll grill chicken and bake asparagus, often tossing chili or turkey meat sauce on the stove: we’ll have it for lunch over the next few days. Always brown rice in the rice cooker, a new staple. Microwave reheat and mix ’n’ match meals are my favorite. We eat separately together.

     

    Last week I FaceTimed my older sister Sydney while I fed my dog a blueberry. If you say gentle first, she’ll put it in between her lips and carry it away like it’s a butterfly wing to enjoy quietly, alone. I do that every so often, to remind her about the good things.

     

    Mom installed bird feeders outside the windows to the patio. A late summer storm knocked them over once, so now squirrels sometimes come to pick at the few seeds still strewn in the mulch. Mom loves the tufted titmouses and cardinals. Blue jays, too, but they’re a little more shy. She’ll stand at the window, arms folded, telling me that he has been here every day this week! The bravest ones don’t mind us standing by, proudly cracking sunflower seeds for us to see. Others flit away when we approach. With autumn fog rolling, the chirping comes later in the morning, and most of the finches are gone by now. Sparrows and starlings are regulars, loud and greedy. They’re still welcome.

     

    I doodle a lot more now than before. I like space-filling curves and loopy shapes that fit together to fill up the page. It’s meditative, ink on paper, sometimes markers (for the feeling). I’ve tried sketching but can’t get past two dimensions, so I’ve learned to stick to single-line faces and bare cartoons. I keep some of the drawings in a notebook, scattered among to-do lists and notes to self; others are just on scraps of paper later thrown out.