Maria T. Allocco
DownstairsHe’s telling you there’s not much time. You are sitting on your bed, which your mother made you make this morning. But she let you wear your marked-marked shoes and the tye-dye shirt you made all-by yourself. This time you say, Uncle, I don’t want to. You stand up, and tell him your mother is upstairs. You think to yourself, if I call him Uncle, this time, he will understand. Your mother is in the kitchen, you are supposed to be showing him photographs. She smiled when he asked you to see them, as if you were a child, and he, your Uncle. You told her you would help her stuff the samosas. Warm potatoes, peas, and the cooked cubes of carrots you never liked to eat alone, but inside deep-fried you don’t taste them. Not to worry, she said, patting you on the head. The cardamom from the kitchen has pushed into the basement, your room. The licorice-like smell floats past pictures of your friends, taped to the walls around your bed. It reminds you of the holidays. Hurry, pull them down, he says. His beard is white, and you will never forget, how even the skin behind it looked red. You didn’t get your period yet. Later on in life, looking back, you think you are lucky for this one fact. You think of your mother upstairs, rolling out snowball-shaped balls with her hands. First, she presses her palms down to form circles, full of flour and ghee—you later learned, this was fat. He unbuckles his belt, and pulls down his pants. You see your mother, her hands on the rolling pin, smiling over her shoulder at the children in the living room. With his palms he pushes your chest; you fall back onto the bed. You feel as if your throat has been stuffed with a handful of flour. You look at the wall, at the pictures you are supposed to be showing him. One is of you as a baby, with flour streaked on your cheeks. You are smiling, wearing a white bib. The picture your eyes decide upon is of you and your best friend at the mall. Behind you are mannequins in a glass case, in silver prom dresses. You are pretending to have your nose in the air, but now it looks as if someone invisible is striking your face from below. Your friend is sticking out her pink tongue and her eyes are squinted, so they look almost closed. The picture becomes a kaleidoscope of color. You focus hard on one of the faces of one of the mannequins. It is all white, and smooth. As you stare into it, you feel like a person—nameless, soundless, and behind glass. Your mouth is a closed curve of white plastic. Your eyes are blank open slits. You have no legs, a hole has been drilled underneath, the only thing planting you—a metal pole. Beneath him, for some reason, you cough. It is only then that you feel tears, and in the chill of the basement, see that your breath is white. Your mother is behind a closed door, in the kitchen at the top of the stairs. She is dumping stuffed dough into a pot of hot oil, flicking water at left over flattened pieces. When you touch your cheek it feels fat; your uncle has already tightened his belt. As you pull up your underwear, he is halfway up the stairs. You hurry to put on your jeans. He is at the top, he turns around to look down at you; though were planning to, you don’t dare zip. Nice photos, he says, before opening the door, and your auntie will say ‘smile’—will want you to stay frozen, as she fidgets with her camera upstairs.
Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry
Issue 1 | June 2010 | pp 25-26