By, Ashley Ellen Goetz
My first memory was a coffee table.
In the beginning it was clean, but then it became cluttered with coffee mugs, plates, 1971 Time Magazines, cigarettes, TV dinners, beer bottles, unpaid bills, mold, dust, foreclosure notices and boxes.
Then, they left us.
Maud found my sister and I on the street in 1972. Maybe she was doing her civic duty, or maybe she needed us, I’m not really sure.
“Charlie, I’ve decided to keep them.”
She washed us off and cleaned us up and placed us in her shiny family room. I was seven. I had never seen such fine things, such vibrant shades of orange and red and green.
Maud’s eyes twinkled as she looked at me. “Oh you look so perfect in here, this is what a family room is for—Charlie, come look, look how perfect they are, aren’t you so glad we’ve taken them in? I told you, one day, we’d have a family in this room.”
“Yes, honey, they look adorable… can we move them from room to room and see where they look best?”
“Don’t be rude,” she said, grabbing my arm. “I just want us to be a family. Am I the only adult in this house? Please, can’t we sit down and have some lemonade in our family room. Do you want some lemonade sweetie? I’ve made it from fresh lemons.” Charlie sighed and walked out of the room. Maud swallowed uneasily, then turned and gave us a big, reassuring smile. She bent and straightened me up, picking a few stray hairs off my shoulders. It was really silly, stray hairs and all; but she wanted us to look perfect.
“Charlie, come back and have some lemonade, like a family. I’ve made lemonade. I squeezed lemons…”
I swear she was choking back tears, then she straightened her back, made her shoulders real broad and her head real high as she ran to the kitchen and returned with glasses of lemonade, ice cubes, lemon slices and everything, sitting neatly atop an intricate cape cod ruby glass serving tray.
I loved the way she said family room. I finally felt like I was part of something. A family.
Then there were the guests.
She patted us down and dressed us up, and showed us off, leaning in all close. The guests came and stared at us, not knowing what to say.
“Look at them…They are just perfect aren’t they? Are you so happy, Maud? You’re almost a family now.”
Almost a family. As if we were two dirty kids from the street, not suitable for their standards. I was embarrassed, everybody judged us. Maud shook her head and straightened her spine and made this stale smile. Her left eye twitched, as if she was suffocating with shame.
“Oh, don’t be silly, of course I’m happy. You must come try my raisin oat ginger cookies, I’ve taken up baking.”
She shuffled them off to the kitchen, where they continued to admire her glassware, her teapot, a showing of her spice rack, and a rundown of her recipe ingredients. My sister and I sat speechless outside the kitchen. I hugged the walls all nervous-like, while my sister sprawled across the room, shamelessly. Then the guests came back with cookies and tea. They looked at me, paused, then moved on and sat with my sister, who was openly exposing herself to the coffee table. They pinched her and cracked jokes and everything.
Maud sat down beside me, smiled, and rubbed my back. She curled her arm around my shoulders and sipped her tea, head straight, legs crossed, pinky out.
Then there was the house.
I’ll never forget the house– its bright orange walls, yellow shag carpet and red poppy paintings. The coffee table was always clean and in the center was a dish of striped candy that no one ever touched. My favorite thing was the footstool. It was perfectly wrapped with floral fringe and bright lime leaves and yellow buds and maroon petals. It had a wooden lid that hid soft green blankets that Maud would wrap around me at night. During the bitter winter months she would snuggle with me under the pale purple glow of the lava lamp and whisper old stories from antique books like the Canterbury Tales and Gulliver’s Travels. We would fall asleep together, like a family.
Then came the news and the incident.
One spring morning Maud came back from the doctor with a guilty smile and ran to the kitchen to make an urgent phone call.
“Charlie, I have wonderful news,” she paused for the longest moment. “You’re going to be a dad!”
I looked toward my sister. My heart sank as I clung to the orange walls that separated me from the kitchen. When Maud peered around the door at us, I tried to keep perfect posture, hoping to appear like a permanent fixture in the family room. Family room, family room I repeated.
She went to the kitchen to make celebratory beef stew. After she finished wiping the spilled beef broth off the linoleum, we were startled by a vicious scratching at the front door. I looked at my sister, then at Maud, bewildered.
“What could that be?”
She set the dirty rag on my arm and ran to assess the situation. The dark wooden door swung open, revealing Charlie with a giant grin.
“What is that?”
“This is Bone Vito,” he paused, leading it through the door, like a wild horse. “Every family needs a dog.”
Bone Vito, an oversized Italian Corso, growled, snorted and slobbered. I was terrified. Aside from my small girlish stature and delicate features, I also held a meat-stained rag. I stood, stone frozen.
The Italian canine snarled, his mouth frothing at the end of his thick chain. Charlie unhooked his collar and the dog’s wolf-instincts locked into motion. Muscular legs ripped into full sprint. His dark beady eyes revealed my petrified reflection.
Sharp teeth tore into my arm, my back, my legs. Maud screamed and rushed to tear him away. Her yellow shag carpet became stained with scraps of my red flesh.
Charlie violently pulled Bone Vito into the laundry room. Maud held me. She cried while she braced my wounds. Cobbled and gnarled and torn, no stitches could make me whole.
Then came the baby.
Maud sat with me and my sister while she cradled little Marlina Bella Lacey in her thin arms. Bone Vito was sprawled ferociously beside Charlie, who slept better at night knowing that his giant guardian monster was salivating over the family’s threatening intruders. My wounds defecated the floor. We were the perfect Polaroid.
When Charlie left for work, Bone Vito licked my wounds and tore them open again, sending Maud running from the baby. Week after week, I was his mid afternoon snack.
“Charlie–this can’t continue. We have to do something about that dog.”
“That–dog? This–is no–average–dog. This dog–is family. The Don stays.”
Maud stormed out of the room. Charlie followed. After an hour of shouting, she returned, crying, clinging to me. I sat confused and mutilated.
“But who will want them now?”
I looked at my sister, terrified.
Then came the knock.
Two days later, a nice looking lady in a cobalt coat with orange buttons stopped by.
“This is them?”
Maud nodded. She had wrapped me in a knit shawl.
The woman looked us up and down. Turned us side to side. “They are very charming, this might work out.” My wounds felt like they were going to burst at their sad seams. Maud quickly looked away as the woman lifted the shall.
“My god! What has happened?”
“It was Bone Vito.”
After a long thoughtful pause, the woman spoke.
“I’ve made my decision. I will take the bigger one.”
“I–I didn’t want to separate them. Could you reconsider?”
“No, that one is horrible to look at. I will only take this one.”
The next day the woman returned with her husband and took my sister away. No one wanted me. I was damaged. Destroyed. Disfigured.
Later that afternoon, a young bohemian couple stopped by. Charlie spoke a few words. Maud sat in the kitchen tending to Marlina Bella Lacey. She would not look at me.
The couple uttered words like heavy and drag and agreed that they did not want the establishment to get me. They agreed to take me and hauled me away and hurled me in their truck. There were no good-byes.
Then there were the sirens.
We arrived at a noisy street. They carried me into the back of their dingy apartment, where I clung, day to day, in a dim, dark cavern. Stinky people partied around me. People that smoked grass, baked brownies and prodded my wounds. They used me as a prop in their existential awakenings.
Then they grew tired of me.
They kicked me out, covered me with a blanket and set a sign on the street that said, FREE.
Then there was the rain.
Then Stray dogs gnawed my legs.
Then it was sunny.
Earl, a wiry man in brown polyester pants and a yellow tunic stopped before me. He shouted to his wife. “Bethesda, come quick!”
“Oh Earl, how could someone leave such a ragged thing on the curb?”
They knocked on their neighbor’s door, then the next door and another door. Three men picked me up and carried my fragile body upstairs. Bethesda sprayed me down and sewed me up.
“Honey, come quick!”
Earl peeked in from the family room. “Oh Bethesda, whoever would have thought a couch would fit so perfectly in our kitchen?”
Sir Ringo the third, an overfed tabby leapt upon me, nuzzling his smell into my cushions and coating them with orange fur and dander. He purred loudly as he watched Bethesda make four boxes of hamburger helper. I was home.