Magic House

by | Aug 10, 2021 | CNF, Issue Twenty Two

I almost ate a live jellyfish once. I was crouching beside my dirty blond cousin on the wet sand. Dustin: Dustin who told me what virgin was. The entire family was getting away from our lives in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and Tennessee; we met at a scrubby campground in North Carolina. The elders covered their ears, blocking the high-pitched shots that rang from our barbaric gameboys. We had squeezed seven cars, two tents, and three RVs together on as many campsites for seven or eight families. The picnic tables: blue and yellow bags of chips, blackberry cobbler still gushing from its interstate genesis.

Oklahoma: I’m five and I’ve just discovered the insides of grandma’s aloe vera plant, by the window at the magic house. Cool clear liquid oozed from its snake-green tendrils. My brother burns in the sun. Though she is one too, my mother calls us yankees, uses redneck (I picture a rooster) as a term of endearment.

In Tennessee we pulled a pink quartz egg from the pond. Me and my brother and John and Joshuaaaaa. That summer we saw a movie, arriving so late we had to arch our necks. I didn’t care. I was at the movies. And we were going to get rich. Dustin, a year older, had bouquets of freckles everywhere. But he was never in on the quartz. I saw everyone again much later, at grandma’s funeral; everyone was living in Nashville then, everyone except Dustin. I recall feeling robbed when we drove away: we forgot the egg. I never saw Dustin again.

New Jersey: I’m seven and I’ve just married a cat. Kylie’s fur is white and black and brown-gold. Her portrait hangs on the wall. She is queen of my aunt’s townhouse, but I was not her king.

My uncle loves to make my mother laugh when they play moon. He smells like old food in grandma’s freezer. The bathroom at the magic house has two doors and no locks and once I opened the door when he was in it by accident. He was sitting on the toilet. I slammed the door shut. I thought he was going to say something when he came out, yell or tell my mom. But then, he never mentioned it. I couldn’t look him in the eye for weeks. At night he watched the bad channel while he thought I was asleep. Some other day, he told me about the witch who lives in the mirror, who if you say you love her will cover your face in kisses.

Another cousin; I cried when I told her story to a room of co-workers. I was pitching her story; this was our job. We weren’t supposed to cry on those Wednesday mornings, but maybe I didn’t sleep too much in those days. Maybe I stole to a conference room and danced to Donna Summer videos on YouTube. I feel love, I feel love, I — slept beneath a desk on the office floor because I lived so far, and the subway sucked away my lifeblood. Four years after my aunt’s death, my cousin saw an angel. It sounds garish, the magazine itself was garish, crammed with illustrated winged angels on every page. But before anyone knew she was dying my aunt visited me on Rivington Street; over white wine she said, “Please watch out for her.”

I’m twelve and I’ve just hidden in a poison ivy bush. I will win the game we’re playing, which is manhunt, but my skin will redden and my face will roughen and I’ll think I have lost my beauty.

Scratch that. Every bridge feels insufficient. I used to be afraid of driving over the one that took us to John’s, a different cousin named John, around the mountains where New Jersey becomes Pennsylvania. Between states. Once we came upon a woman lying alone in the middle of the road. She had short orange hair. Freckles. She began running on the asphalt. My mother told us not to look, but I saw the woman was afraid—zigzagging through the curving mountain road, pulling on her own hair. Years later I saw A Woman Under the Influence. That is still the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, though it’s not a horror film. Nobody helps her, nobody brings another person through, did I get that right? A few hundred miles north, I tried to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was my idea, Luis never would have suggested such a thing—but with the wind and the mist and this haunted feeling that day I was the one who turned us back, no walk to Sausalito. I wonder if I would have kept going had I been alone.

Read more CNF | Issue Twenty Two

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