Thursday, February 01, 2007


When I think of my childhood I see the two of us, Lilly and me, running through the library after Mother had opened the curtains wide and thrown open the windows to let in the sunshine. The dust floats in thick columns that spin and disappear in our wake. The air is thick with the perfume of daddy's garden and from another room I can hear Mother singing. I'm chasing Lilly and she's screaming with laughter until it becomes too much and she turns to look at me, tears welling in her huge green eyes. I scoop her up and carry her outside where we can see Daddy tending the roses, on his hands and knees- sleeves rolled up, sweat streaking the back of his shirt. For a moment, it's just me and Lilly standing there, holding hands with everything just as it should be.

My father married my mother for two reasons: she was captivating and altogether inappropriate. My mother was the most beautiful woman I'd ever known. She had long, red hair, piercing green eyes and the most haunting voice anyone had ever heard. When she ran off to marry Daddy she left behind a promising career in the theater but she didn't care. They were in love and he promised to take care of her always. Shortly after my sixteenth birthday, my grandmother died without leaving Daddy a cent, he said, as punishment for running of with my mother. His allowances stopped immediately. He was pampered and privileged and helpless and without the money he was absurd and hateful.

Then one day Mother took us to live with her parents in a dirty hovel in the West End. I hated the clutter and the strange smells, the people coming in and out at all hours, and schemes my grandfather was always trying to develop to fund the production of one of his plays. Lilly and I shared a room with Mother who was gone most nights trying to revive her career or sneaking off with my father. They tried to stay apart but it never took. When we went to bed at night, Lilly looked up at me with those eyes that said “you’re all I have.”

On her tenth birthday, Lilly received a letter. It was during a temporary truce in my parents' crazed war and we had gone to the old house for the afternoon. Daddy opened the envelope, threw his head back and laughed and laughed and laughed. He wove his drunken dance through the overgrown garden singing "A witch! We have a witch!" He and Mother fell to the ground laughing.

And then Lilly was gone.

Lilly's departure should have meant I was finally free. I took a job at the desk of a hotel in exchange for a room and a small allowance. One day, when nobody was in the lobby, I opened the heavy curtains wide and let the sun pour in. There was hardly any dust. For five years I took care of Daddy as he became drunker and more absurd and my grandparents as they became old and frail and Mother as she lost her looks and her prospects. Lilly sent letters offering help but she was still a child. At school she was not in the way.

Time was punctuated by the weddings of friends and births of babies and Christmas cards “From all of us!” and messes and tearful phone calls and hating all of them. Then I saw him. He came to London for a hardware convention. He was shy and looked away when I spoke and left his room cleaner than when he checked in. He came to stay three more times that year and on the last time asked me to tea. A year later we had a registry wedding and a clean and quiet home on a clean and quiet street and I hardly ever opened the curtains but when I did there was no dust. But he bristled when the phone rang because it was one of “them” and as time wore on so did his patience with them and when my father drove himself and my mother to into a tree on a rainy night, he took care of everything. He insisted Lilly stay at school. "Nobody need know about any of it" he said. And I knew that nobody knowing was the key to the quiet life in the quiet house on the quiet street.

Lilly got married and he wouldn't come - “too much to explain” he said - so I told him I was shopping and she was beautiful. And her letters arrived and I hid them under the kitchen sink and re-read them in the middle of the night. My sister, in her absence, was all I had. And one day I answered the door to find Lilly there with her baby and he had her sad, beautiful eyes and we stayed inside with the curtains closed so the neighbors wouldn’t see and watched the boys sleep and held hands.

And then the morning came when he boy with the sad green eyes came to live with us. Because we were all he had. And I crept out of bed to hold him and watch him sleep and read Lilly’s letters. Sometimes he opens his eyes and looks at me and I can almost believe that he understands the key to a quiet life in a quiet house on a quiet street and he knows why we can’t say “I love you.”

Even though he's all I have.


This post was a part of the February Blog Exchange, and is written in the style of a "famous" person - can you tell who is speaking? It was written by my wonderful Blog Exchange partner, Kara:

Kara is really angry that Peyton Manning is going to the Super Bowl. She writes at her home site CapeBuffalo
and is a proud member of the Supercoolest Book Club Evah! and The Parent Bloggers Network. None of her socks match.

To find Lara's style-imitation post, hop on over to Cape Buffalo.


dancing dragon said...

Your poem reminded me of when my best friend and I used to study in the library in high school, and she would force me to read poem after poem. The style actually reminds me of her poetry during that period. But I'm guessing you were imitating another famous poet.

Binky said...

I don't know who it is, but you told a great story. Now I need to find out who you were writing about!

Caffeinated Librarian said...

Well bless your heart Petunia!

Maybe it would help folks to know that Lily's married name was "Potter?"

Fab-O rendering of a J. K. Rowling character Gregory Maguire-style!

Kara said...

you got it, caffeinated librarian!!!

I have always been fascinated by Petunia. I know there's more to jer than JK is telling us. I've been playing with her backstory in my head for a while. I had to go bare bones with this story to make it the appropriate length for a blog post. (I love Gregory Maguire!)

soccer mom in denial said...

A great story. Thanks.

Heaven said...

That was lovely, well written and even though I had no idea who it was I truly enjoyed reading it.

Buffy said...

Love the blog. Wonderful writing.

super des said...

That was excellent...
A different side of Harry's Aunt. It took me a while to get, but the vlues were all there.

Major Bedhead said...

Very cool! I got it as soon as I heard the witch line. Well done.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading that one. an interesting take on Petunia's life, very well done.

Her Bad Mother said...

Loved it, even though I couldn't guess.

Alex Elliot said...

Wow! It did take me a little bit to get it, but I really enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

That was an incredible moving post even without realizing who it was. To see a sympathetic side to a character who is viewed as so hurtful to the one who is risking his life to confront He Who Must Not be Named just blew me away.

Bobita said...

Very, very good. I believe this about Petunia. I hope that in the 7th she is redeemed in some way.

Beautifully done!

Anonymous said...

I'm such a nerd that all it took was the name Lily and the fact that she had green eyes to know!