The dirt turned easily to dust, gathering in our eyes, our clothes, and our lungs. To wash cars, water lawns and wilting flowers was forbidden, a leaking faucet was sacrilege, a spilled pail of water was sacrifice. It was a day when thick bruised divinities caused one to look up in wonder if a ceremony would commence. The earth held its rustic breath in anticipation of possible relief.
Older kids from the next street over came marching, wearing colorful makeshift headpieces made from construction paper and glitter; balloons tied to their hands and legs, party streamers dangled from all parts of their clothing. One of them danced with pom-poms and magic streamers. Another wore a mix of old Halloween costumes that had obviously became too small years ago.
They were handing out invitations to a puppet show to be performed in a well cleaned out garage. I ran home, kicking up a cloud of spoiled earth, arriving in time to see the little parade reach the front door; handing you our very own invitation. I was so excited I pleaded with you to let me go with the marching performers but you said no, advising me to be patient.
Later that afternoon, we walked hand in hand. The sky had become a dark purple wall that seemed only two or three neighborhoods away. I was walking three steps faster than you. We were early to the theater. It was decorated with several balloons and various colorful signs of Happy Birthday, Happy New Year, Merry Christmas and Congratulations. I wished that we would be the only ones to see the show, but soon more people began arriving; Gary, who lived two houses from us, came with his older sister Patrice, his little brother, Stevie, on her shoulders. Justin road his bike and took the seat next to me.
Justin spoke with an accent because his parents didn’t understand much English. He was a chubby kid. Every time I hung out at his house his mother would be baking something: cookies, cakes, and pastries. She once made a pudding which had cookies in it that were dipped in coffee.
“I almost burned the house down. I was helping my mom make molassadas.”
Fried dough, his mom would sprinkle sugar on them when they were still hot off the pan. Me and Justin helped sprinkle sugar on almost one hundred of them when I slept over one year. His mother was a big church volunteer.
“I knocked over the pan with all the grease. It caught fire on the stove. The fire went on the curtains, and mom had to use the sprayer from the sink to put out the curtains.”
You asked Justin if he had gotten hurt.
“I didn’t. I was trying to grab the bag of sugar because I was out of sugar, and the bag fell on the jar of cinnamon. The cinnamon jar fell into the pan, and that knocked it over.”
You told Justin that it was an accident, but that he shouldn’t be near the stove when it was being used. You explained that I was not allowed near the kitchen when my mom was cooking. Justin’s mom was never as worried about things like other moms were. You asked me if I had ever helped out. I said no.
Two boys that I recognized from the school bus were talking to one of the performers before sitting down. Lauren came with her babysitter and her brother. She lived next door to us. Lauren’s brother sat motionless on their babysitter’s lap. He was always sick, his eyes never really opened in a normal way and his mouth always looked like it was frowning. I didn’t know his name because Lauren refused to tell anyone.
The winter before, Lauren had shown me a picture of her parents having sex. She found it while searching for Christmas presents in her parent’s closet. It was with letters that her father had written while in Vietnam. Her parents had been young in the photograph, they both had long hair, and her father was really thin. Her mom was sitting on her father’s lap with a glowing sense of excitement on her face. We knew that when a man and a woman were naked it meant they were having sex, even if we didn’t know how. Lauren buried the photograph in the yard behind the shed.
The show began.
They played music on tin can drums. Three of them sang along to some songs on a cassette player; trying to act as musicians. Two of the boys recreated a comedy that I had seen before on television. I already knew the punch line. Everyone else laughed. Two of the girls and one of the boys painted their faces and made paper costumes to look like animals. The boy, who played the lion, lost his mane when he was roaring and even the zebra thought it was funny. I think Lauren’s brother laughed too. I got to go up on stage and help the sock puppet creatures. I played the part, and when I was finished, you and Lauren clapped the loudest.
As the circus came out for a final parade, the rain started. In one hard rupture, it poured out over everything, and the vibrations of so many rain drops smashing on the pavement were brisk and clean. We all stared at it as if it were part of the show, the best part. We sat and watched with a silent zeal, and no one noticed that the lion’s mane had fallen off once again.