Alice and Lewis

Amy Gerstler

ten

Once I was, but am no more: his subject, his concern. I was ten when I met him. He babysat for me. Took me out in a rowboat. My parents trusted him. Ink sketches, the box camera, his eyes: he took my picture so many times. Drew me to him. I wished to be his mistress, whatever that meant: a shepherdess or milkmaid; the farm girl collecting eggs in her apron, pictured in my book. I wanted to live in his princedom, the city he roamed at night. Certain hours only I knew where he was. Combing the city for presents for me. I could be trusted. A polished wishbone, a doll's arm, a real glass eye,
a fan made of feathers, my first lost tooth strung on a gold bracelet:
an odd sharp pearl. He had trouble sleeping but didn't mind. Predawn hours were an alarming blue he liked, so he waded into them every night. "Blank slate blue," he sighed. "Tabla rasa blue" he repeated, to teach me the latin meaning, "like your eyes."

eleven

For awhile I ate nothing but fruit he left on our doorstep. Plump black
grapes. A crisp crab apple. I'd never seen such a small apple before.
To convey my cravings to him via telepathy, one day I strode around my room for an hour chanting CAKE CAKE CAKE. Later I retrieved a waxy paper bakery bag from the stoop, containing raisin bread--my name spelled out on the top crust in raisins. The bread came so close to fulfilling my mental request that for years raisins and miracles were linked in my mind. Based on a French expression he'd used, I constructed my first pun. "Lewis is my raisin d'etre" I declared loudly "my reason for being."

twelve

After I had my tonsils out, I hated my parents. They'd given me to
unattractive nurses to play with. Women who tucked me into a skinny bed with guardrails. Smiling, they demonstrated on a naked baby doll how doctors would cover my mouth and nose with a cone. When I woke my throat was so raw I couldn't talk. It healed, but I had an excuse to be mute. Proud of her vow of silence, the twelve-year-old nun scribbled her demands on a pad. Wrote notes to her betrayers: "No, I do not want a baked potato." My mother sent him into my room, with soup on a tray. He balanced the bowl on his knees
and blew on it. I loved him so much I had stomach pangs. He began to ask questions. Each response got me one spoonful of hot clear soup. Suddenly I was fumbling for words again, sullen and hungry. His jaw clenched. I could tell he found the sound of my hoarse voice unpleasant. Any second, I thought, he'll be whisked away from me, into another century, to sit on the edge of another little girl's bed. Such was the gibberish of my thinking when I was a child. He led me into the garden, out of my mother's sight. "Those are periwinkles" he told me, christening the held-breath-blue flowers with his breath--the most precious fume in the universe, I told myself, oxygen included. My hand in his dry, religious grasp. I was unripe. Twelve. Not yet ready.

 

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