DOUGLAS A. MARTIN
My Grandmother’s Closet
The carpet in the back room is like a skin laid up against. I press myself there, when no one’s looking. Now go back there and play, where we sometimes ride the closet doors. The garments inside are hung in a way, along the painted pole, that they hover a foot or so above the ground. Carpet continues on inside, and you could get under things, coats and long formal dresses. The address is 814 Kingswood, Celina. We’re driving there this summer, then this winter. You could fit yourself up inside the dresses and coats, or you could lay out in there, the little box for you, and look up into them—the skirts a-washing, clouding over the face.
Face of a cat-boy, old man whiskers, losing the girl lines. Memory is pawed, like the carpet eventually pulled up. What’s underneath would look better inside.
Now stand up inside the clothes, but to do so, the smaller box put back inside the larger box when done playing must be moved to the far corner of the bigger box, or already brought out into the bigger room (box) that holds the other boxes.
Every time coming over here, the same back room is gone into. Closets aren’t for playing in. I want to take home with me one of the girls who live in the cologne (plastic) bottles. There’s bound to be a more accurate description. Kologne Kiddles were one of the most sought after categories of Kiddles. There are 9 different types: Rosebud (I have her), Orange Blossom (no), Honeysuckle (no, but she’s pretty), Apple Blossom (no, but her hair is green), Bluebell (she’s plumper), Violet (yes, I love her; she’s a jinn), Sweet Pea (won’t you dance with), Gardenia (that’s the one scent my grandmother wore; that’s the flower they pin to themselves, the men, in the noir, so you know which way they go), Lily of the Valley (I have her, too).
I’m still telling everyone my hair is yellow. Then I’m adding an “e,” always, to the end of blond(e). I’m trying to act stupid, aren’t I.
The cat named Electra-Lux, after the carpet sweeper and the Queen B actress, carries one of the little girls around the house in her mouth. The address is across from the Projects, up above the 24-hour deli, where they really sell crack. They must. Grandma holds up her hands. Show me your hands. Let me see that they are clean. Do we need to get you a diaper? (I’ll never forgive her for that.) I prance forward, spider on the stage. I want to learn all the reindeer names, too.
Just like your mamma. We don’t talk like that, though, around here.
I liked to be called a brat. Then later I liked to be called a rascal.
Kitty has claws, that’s why kitty can’t get in the closet. Kitty won’t use them, if she doesn’t have to. Who’s seen my green eye shadow? Backstage, getting ready for the play. What’s interesting about the house on Kingswood is the TV room is for the grownups, the back bedroom is for us kids. These are all the dolls your mother played with, when she was a little girl. One even looks just like her, you think.
I’d asked first, if I could have one, to take home with me. No, we have to leave them there, so we have something to play with, when we come over. But nobody ever plays with them but me. They might want them one day. What about when you’re dead. We don’t talk like that, here.
I’m going to take my bag back into the back room. What do you need that back there for. I’m playing I’m going on a trip.
The girls don’t smell like they’re supposed to smell, anymore. The markers back there still do, for now. They’re bran’ new. Draw on the paper, but don’t press too hard. Or else it bleeds through. Try to find the exact color for the dress, because you don’t understand anything about shading, proper, little pug nose, you.
All around the floor, all around the bed, and retiring for night into the closet, the little girls go. When you were a boy, you put the car keys in the wall, and that’s why it’s black like that, all around there. That’s why it looks like it has smoke all around it.
She comes out of her bottle with her own puff of—the background is what mutes it. Turn down the TV now, so we can put on the play. Let me see what you’ve got there in that bag. Open it up. (You’ve already tipped her off somehow, meant to.) (Why, why don’t you want to get away with anything.)
Go put the little girl back in the back room.
Come out with your hands empty. Dance in the garage. Get it all dusty, all buggy. Get your face all fallen lifted back up. Lead yourself around in another one of your little circles, you like to make them. You know what happens if you turn around fast enough. You understand what you are and aren’t to play with in there. One leg cocks out. You come out with your legs up, I said.
It’s raining again, so go play in the back room, over the gentle laughter. I want you to think long and hard about what you love and just who you pity.
Douglas A. Martinís most recent books are Branwell, a novel of the Bronte brother, and a collection of stories, They Change the Subject. His first novel, Outline of My Lover, was named an International Book of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement by Colm Toibin. He is also the author of two collections of poetry and a co-author of The Haiku Year.