My in-laws have a shoes-on house, but old habits die hard and Zachary and I usually take our shoes off anyway. Benjamin, my little nudist, is in good shape if he’s wearing pants, so footwear is pretty much shooting for the moon.
One evening, as J bathed the kids, I emptied the diaper pail. We emptied it every night as a courtesy to the noses of our hosts. I went down to the garage and stepped out onto the cold concrete floor.
The memory was vague and elusive, yet it was as strong as it was instantaneous. Something about that cold concrete floor came from long ago, that other time, that other house, that other life when I was the child but there were not any parents.
That was all the memory I got that time – just the recognition of cold concrete on bare soles.
We are having a heat wave in Los Angeles. My laundry, hung out at two in the afternoon, is folded and put away by four o’clock. (That’s a lie; it sits in the basket for at least five hours, and when I put it away, I mostly shove it unfolded into drawers. But, I pull the dry clothes in by 3:20, crisply baked from the sun.) I keep the blinds closed and even resort to the air conditioner.
Lilah, sniffling from the cold her grandfather shared, sleeps hard in the afternoon and then nurses with gusto. Her brothers sound disconcertingly friendly in their play, and when I come out from feeding her, it is clear they need to get out of the house. It is too hot for a playground, and I am not brave enough to take all three anywhere else on my own.
The mall is three blocks away, and there is a soft play area on the third floor. If we use the double stroller so the boys alternate riding and walking, we can make it there with little risk of dehydration. I pack a cup just in case.
I try to make sure Benjamin is riding and Zach is walking when we cross Pico and Overland. Ben has a dangerous habit of looking anywhere except where he is going, and the intersection is too busy for him to be on foot unless I can grasp him firmly by the hand. Zach, obedient child that he is, will hold onto the stroller as we cross.
As we cross, I urge him to go faster. The lights are quick here, and we need to make it across in time for the next light or we may all get sun stroke waiting for the next WALK signal. His skinny legs hustle.
This time, the memory is more detailed. The combination of thin legs, oppressive heat, and the mother urging the little child to run faster. I hear my stepmother on her bike, forcing me to run faster, feel the heat of the summer in my lungs, the desperation of a child who cannot go any faster but has to.
Zachary has my body; looking at him sometimes evokes the abuses meted out on my thin limbs. Benjamin’s body is so different from my own, and I relish the sturdiness that seems unassailable.
Lilah has my sister’s eyes, and something about her sweetness reminds me of my sister. Maybe my sister looked at our mother this way, pausing from her nursing to touch the face always just above her own.
Looking at her, I see my sister. I cannot decide if the emotion I feel is poignant loss or another chance.
These are my children. They are the next generation, touched by family tragedy but one generation removed, as if Faulkner had created a whole new batch of Quentins.