She shuffles over to me in her bedroom slippers. She always wears her bedroom slippers.
Danny. Do you know what time it is?
I glance at the last words Ive writtenimages or feelings perhaps, stimulated within my brainand move my hand to cover the paper. A mistake; Ive called her attention to it. I look at my watch. About eleven thirty, I say.
Almost a quarter to twelve.
Eleven thirty-seven, I correct her.
Its a school night. You know that.
She persists: Christmas vacation is over.
Oh, yes, dont I know it? January once more. Wake with the alarm before its light, ride the school bus through the bitter gray morning. Try to do the reading I didnt do last night. Then stagger from class to class, boredom to boredom, my eyes foggy with all the sleep I havent gotten. Eleventh grade now. I turned sixteen last month.
She stands beside me, resting her weight on the back of my chair, touching my shoulder with her fingers. I lean forward. It makes me nervous when my mother touches me. I smell the sour sickness of her body. I dont turn around, but I can see her in my mind: spindly limbs, gaunt, peaky face. Her thick cat eyeglasses, the lenses like teardrops. I wear glasses too.
What are you writing?
Oh . . . something for English class.
English was my best subject, she says.
When she was in high school, I guess. English is my best subject also. When I write, the teachers tell me I sound almost like a grown-up.
A story? she says, leaning over me, trying to read what Ive written.
Sort of. Were supposed to write . . . a kind of journal. Im making this up as I go along. Of somebody who we are. Who we might be.
A story, she says, as if that made it so. As if she still knew me from inside out, top to bottom, the way she did when I was little.
But this isnt a story. And it has nothing to do with any English assignment. Writing a story, I know the twists and turns in advance. I know how its going to come out. This . . . journal, I guess, comes from a place I dont yet know, and it unfolds itself inside me, bit by bit, so I cant see beyond the next folding.
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Journal of a UFO Investigator by David Halperin. Copyright © 2011 by David Halperin
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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