Kimmy’s House

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“Pyramid of Skulls” by Paul Cezanne

Kimmy’s house was a fascination. Antique sofas you couldn’t touch, covered, like the lampshades, with thick clear plastic. Plastic on the Persian rugs. Crackling plastic, a living room you couldn’t live in. There had been normal furniture, some kind of regular old sofa, carpet on the floor, when we first moved in next door, but at some point in her madness, Adelina had made her home a museum. Miguel, the crazy one, stayed locked in his bedroom when he wasn’t at work soldering circuit-boards or whatever it was he did there. Eric the horticulturalist left his bongs and pot-growing magazines in the one tiny room with a sofa you could sit on, plastic and all. And Kimmy was there, about my age, the same red hair as me, the same freckles on the nose, my magical unrelated twin living right next door.

Kimmy also inhabited that house, somehow. She could sit in the tv room and read a book or play with toys. She had a bedroom with a nearly empty closet, two or three toys, a shelf maybe, a dresser, twin beds, one book that I can remember, and an enormous candy egg, the size of an ostrich egg, with a hole in one end where you could look in and see bunnies and chicks frolicking in the grass. We would break bits of ancient icing off it and nibble at it, months or years after whatever Easter whim brought it into the house. Adelina had real ones, beautiful hand-painted hen’s eggs with miniature scenes inside. An ostrich egg on a stand on a glass display table. Intricate jeweled confections that must have been replicas of Faberge eggs, that we were allowed oh so carefully to open or turn or peak into.

When I was younger, before the stained glass, before the baby grand piano, before the carpet was ripped out, before the sanding and staining and grooving and pegging of the old original oak floors, it was the kind of house that might have had a small skull next to a candle, on a shelf overlooked by a painting of an angel, hovering over a small white child with a bandaged head, held lovingly by a dark woman whose forehead was pierced by a thorn. I was fascinated by the thorn, by the piercing of it, by the limp white child with the blond hair, but mostly with the thorn and the blood. We did not have a house with paintings of blood and thorns and limp white children. I think we had a plaque or two, saying this or that about Godliness and homelife, “Whatever is done for Christ will last” or an etched-wood Psalm. An upright piano, food in the fridge, cans in the cupboard, sofas you could sit on, toys neighbors gave us but plenty of them, clothes church families gave us, enough not to go without.

No bongs, no ornate eggs, no antiques. No screaming fights on a Saturday evening, when one or the other of Kimmy’s brothers would walk her over to our place to be out of the fight, then fetch her back again after it was done, some hour long past my 8:30 bedtime. No skulls. No thorns, except on the old rose bush in our backyard that hardly ever bloomed, or on the bougainvilleas we called the “paper flower” bushes, or on the pyracantha by our front door. Pyracantha and oleander and bottle brush– everything in our yard was prickly or poisonous.

Kimmy’s backyard had an olive tree, and supposed tangerines that tasted like sour limes, and a great enormous spiky dinosaur pine they called the Monkey Tree that every few years dropped massive cones larger than pineapples tumbling and crashing down through the branches and chasing us across her back lawn, or denting some stranger’s car as it drove through the alley behind our houses. Kimmy’s house was exotic, dangerous, dark. Ours was light, happy, ordinary. My parents argued privately, in low voices, after we went to bed. They still divorced, of course, even without skulls or thorns or intricate ornate eggs. We kept our own darknesses in closets and under the bed. I hardly knew they were there.

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