If you're curious about my mother, know that when I drew her picture, yellow lasers shot out of her from all directions. That is what she looked like every morning standing in front of the just-drawn curtains. But most of the time, she dressed in dull colors, moved around the house in loose-fitting slacks and T-shirts, or else she wore thick cotton blouses and apronish skirts with stockings when she had places to go. Her hair was always short and dyed. She never let the real smell of her body out. She liked colognes.
My room was at the top of the stairs. This was in the house from before I started keeping track of anything happening to anyone anywhere except inside the house. Somewhere, upstairs, I had a sister.
In the mornings, my mother set a plate in front of me and combed down my hair with spit while I ate. But besides the spitting, my mother didn't talk much. What I got from her were even-penned, misspelled love notes in my lunches, which were many-coursed and came in beige plastic bags from the supermarket. She wasn't from this country, I knew that. The words she taught me were mostly wrong. She said my blood was rich with the fat of kings and that one day I would stand for something perfect, high above the clouds. She had spent some time on the wording of it, I could tell.
As for the house, it was a narrow brick affair set up on a high mound of yellow grass. The kitchen floors were wood and swollen and usually dusted up with flour. My mother loved to broom. I think it drew on some latent talent she had had once, like dancing, or training horses.
As for my sister, she was set on music, but she smoked. The most I saw of her were thin, flipping hands when she threw trash or cigarette butts out her window. If I was out there in the yard, she took aim: cherry pits or fat, hairy wads of bubble gum; squashed-down cans of soda. She lived in the attic, and when she wasn't home, I unlocked her black wooden box and read through torn-out pages of magazines that told stories of the darkest choice encounters of the flesh.
Besides that, her bedroom was just bare-bulb-lit, scrawled-on and broken walls, with nail clippings sprinkled here and there, sweaty clothes tossed into the corners. But her bathroom was special, wallpapered in old-fashioned red flowers and butterflies, and on the toilet seat she had painted a brown, winking owl. Sometimes there were words written on the white bowl itself, like love or good, words I recalled throughout the dinners my sister refused to sit in front of. My mother disappeared up to her in the evenings with bowls of soup and came down bashfully to my room afterward, made up in scarves and lipstick, to nod good night.
The school was squat and brick and twice daily visited by short-pantsed mothers and their gleaming pastel station wagons. My mother parked in the shade of a tree and kept the engine running while she waited, watching for me in the side-view mirror. Her car was a rubber-scented, rusted-up screaming black thing, the seats lined with brightly colored blankets and smeared, silvery newspaper. When she yelled out my name, it was like a dying man clearing his throat one final time. I hurried to her, humiliated.
I would always obey my mother, for to obey anyone else would have been a betrayal. So I was bad at school. At least once a week, there was a note in my book bag that attempted to describe for my mother just how much the school disrespected her mothering. I knew she had little skill in decoding the American crudity of adult cursive, so I read the notes out loud, declaring great successes by way of spelling contests and geography bees. According to school records, I was not coordinated. I talked at a wrong volume. I made messes. I tore my homework to shreds. On my report cards, the set of boxes named "unsatisfactory" got all the checks. My mother had no idea.