LitCrawl 2011/Dirty Laundry! The Launderette on Second Avenue was packed, as you can see from the photo below:
We got some love from the local arm of the New York Times, too. I read a flash piece titled Sacrifices, which appears below. But before that, some more pictures. Big thanks to my wife for taking these great photos and also editing my story.
delivered at LitCrawl 2011/Dirty Laundry, 9/10/2011
I was four years old, my sister was a baby, and my father and my mother were sleep-deprived parents when our house caught on fire. I don’t remember much about it, but what I do recall with great clarity is the coldness I felt despite the raging flames, because my mother held me in one arm and a metal box in the other, the side of the gray box pressing against my bare thigh. Behind us, a wall caved in, sparks flying as if in celebration. My father led the way, clutching my sister close to his chest as we ran out into the night.
A week later we were in a new house in a very different place, as it was now summer when it had been winter. Our names changed, too, and it was difficult being called someone I wasn’t. For a while, nothing happened, until something did happen. I was walking back from grammar school when my father pulled up in his car. He was wearing dark sunglasses and a blue baseball cap.
The car was packed to the hilt. I wedged myself in the passenger seat, squeezing between two garbage bags full of clothes or towels, I couldn’t tell. I had trouble breathing, but then I relaxed and it was okay, nice, even, to be surrounded by the slick black softness around me.
He parked one street away from our house and told me to wait in the car while he got my mother and my sister. He walked away fast, but then stopped and returned. I rolled down the window, and he kissed me on the forehead, his mustache tickling my eyebrows. He grew smaller until he turned the corner. Then he was gone.
I waited. There was no one else on the street until my mother appeared, holding the metal box by its rusted handle and my sister riding piggyback. She popped the car’s trunk, removed a large suitcase that Dad used for his travels, and placed the gray box in its place. She slammed the trunk shut, the sound like a gunshot. Her eyes were wet, and she grabbed the steering wheel to stop her hands from shaking. Then we drove off.
More than sixty years have passed since that afternoon. My mother is ninety now, and she doesn’t have long to go.
“I’m ready,” she says.
I open the box, and inside, there’s a white handkerchief with a nickel-sized dot on its center. I stare at the brown-black stain, its barely-raised surface, an imperfect circle of nothingness. My father’s life, my sister’s, too, my family’s sacrifices, for this. It doesn’t look like much.
“Chocolate,” my mother says.
Could it really be? It’s a word I’ve only heard in fairy tales, as a final weapon, a miracle drug, the answer to the universe’s mysteries. How did it come in my mother’s possession?
Before I have a chance to ask, she takes the fabric and slips it in her mouth, and for the first time in all the years I’ve known her, she smiles.