But Jonah's grandfather didn't come out of his room that day, and Jonah dropped his bookbag to the floor of the kitchen. There was the smell of smoke, and fried eggs, and the old food in the refrigerator. Unwashed dishes in the sink. His grandfather's door was half-closed, and Jonah sat at the kitchen table for a time, eating cereal.
His mother was at work. He didn't know whether he missed her or not, but he thought of her as he sat there in the still kitchen. She worked at a place called Harmony Farm, packing eggs, she said, and the tone of her voice made him imagine dark labyrinths with rows of nests, a promenade of sad, dirty workers moving slowly through the passageways.
She wouldn't talk about it when she got home. Often, she wouldn't want to talk at all, wouldn't want to be touched, would make their supper, which she herself wouldn't eat. She would go to her room and listen to old records she'd had since she was in junior high, her eyes open and her hands in a praying shape beneath her cheek, her long hair spread out behind her on the pillow.
He could stand there for a very long time, watching her from the edge of the doorway and she wouldn't move. The needle of the phonograph pulsed like a smooth car along the spiraling track of a record album and her eyes seemed to register the music more than anything else, her blinking coinciding with a pause or a beat.
But he knew that she could see him standing there. They were looking at each other, and it was a sort of gameto try to blink when she blinked, to set his mouth in the same shape as her mouth, to hear what she was hearing. It was a sort of game to see how far he could inch into the room, sliding his feet the way a leaf opens, and sometimes he was almost to the center of the room before she finally spoke.
Get out, she would say, almost dreamily.
And then she would turn her face away from him, toward the wall.
He thought of her as his spoon hovered over his cereal. One day, he thought, she wouldn't come home from work. Or she might disappear in the night. He had awakened a few times: footsteps on the stairs, in the kitchen, the back door opening. From the upstairs window he saw her forcing her arm into the sleeve of her coat as she walked down the driveway. Her face was strange in the pale brightness cast by the floodlights that his grandfather had installed outside the house. Her breath lifted up out of her in the cold and drifted like mist, trailing behind her as she moved into the darkness beyond the circle of porch light.
We won't be staying long, she would tell Jonah sometimes. She would talk about the places where they used to live as if they'd just come to Jonah's grandfather's house for a visit, even though they'd been living there for as long as he could rememberalmost three years. He didn't remember much about the other places she talked about. Chicago. Denver. Fresno. Had he been to these cities? He wasn't sure. Sometimes things came in flashes and images, not really memories at alla staircase leading down, with muddy boots outside of it; a man with a fringed jacket like Davy Crockett, asleep on a couch while Jonah looked inside his open mouth; a lamp with autumn leaves patterned on it; a cement shower stall where he and his mother had washed together. Sometimes he thought he remembered the other baby, the one that had been born before him. I was very young, she told him. That was all she would tell. I was very young. I had to give it away.
I remember the baby, he said once, when they were sitting together talking, when she was feeling friendly, holding him in her arms, running her fingernails lightly back and forth across his cheek. I remember the baby, he said, and her face grew stiff. She took her hand away.
No, you don't, she said. Don't be stupid. You weren't even born yet. She sat there for a moment, regarding him, and then she shut her eyes, her teeth tightening against one another as if the sight of him hurt her. Jesus Christ, she said. Why don't you just forget I ever told you anything. I mean, I confide in you with something that's very private, and very important, and you want to play little pretend games? Are you a baby?
Excerpted from You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon Copyright© 2004 by Dan Chaon. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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