EXECUTIONERS OF CARROTS (EXCERPT)
Executioner of Carrots / Professor of Miracles
Skidmore College 2012
English Departmental Honors
Neither my mother nor my father has blue eyes, but I do. Bluish grey, sometimes green. Blue eyes represent a lack of pigment, the absence of color in the iris: clarity. There is no darkness or density around the pupil to absorb any vision, as blackness absorbs the sun, as water sinks into a sponge and gives it weight. Everything filters directly into the internal mirrors of the eyeball, pure as light through a projector’s lens. The blueness came to me from Grandma’s eyes – it hid underneath the chestnut in my mother’s and came forward again in me. I do have a ring of gold that surrounds my pupil, a burst of amber before the grey-green-blue that tried to cover up the clearness of the pigment, but didn’t succeed. My grandmother and I share a name, too: Evelyn, though neither of my parents has ever called me by that name.
Come to think of it, maybe my grandmother’s eyes were green – greenish grey. Neither of my parents can really remember. They must have changed, depending on what color sweater she wore, like mine do. Green grey gray slate hazel blue. Not brown, not rich and dense but icy and light.
When we visited Grandma’s house, I usually slept on a cot in a little nook, underneath an angled ceiling where the roof slanted for rainwater. My brothers slept in the full bed next to the cot, under a window covered by blinds and yellowy drapes, probably colored with flowers. We never turned all of the lights off. I always woke up paralyzed in the middle of the night, usually drenched in cold sweat underneath the scratchy crocheted blankets and white sheets, thinned by decades. If I moved, it would prove I was awake. I scanned everything on the bookshelves – the milk jug full of pennies and nickels and some quarters, and the peacock feathers that leaned against the inside of the lip on the glass jug.
Grandpa was a milkman, once. He was also in the war, before he delivered jars of milk to people's doorsteps. He lied about his age and joined when he was 16 just so he could feed himself; there was no one to feed him. He didn’t talk about it too much. He was the First Sargent of an artillery unit, under constant fire. When he was bombed once, he jumped under a truck for cover, only to find out after emerging with a gash on his head that it was an artillery truck, full of ammo and gunpowder. He got injured badly enough on multiple other occasions that he could have received a Purple Heart, but he refused to apply for one. He didn’t want it, rejected it, even. He had seen others suffer far more, seen bodies mangled much more than his own.
I watched the books, and the few stuffed animals that remained. I waited for something to move, for all of the books and the framed photos to be pushed off of the shelves and onto the floor, for the milk bottle to shatter and for the coins to scatter and roll under my cot and out the door into the hallway – for the seat of the empty armchair next to the open door to sink inward. I was worried that the sheets I kept over my body would be pulled away from me while I lay there in the old, aching, moaning house. I don’t believe in kind ghosts.
During one of the visits, I stood in Grandma's kitchen in my pajamas, tired from sleep disturbed by ghosts of ghosts. On the kitchen table were green beans in a plastic bag, freshly washed and damp, with their stems intact. Beside them rested a plastic mixing bowl – pale, ashy blue plastic. Grandma sat at the table, with her oxygen tank next to her, reclining in her chair the way I do when the back isn’t rigid or upright enough. She looked over to me briefly, asking if I needed anything.
“Can I get you something? Do you want a sandwich? Ice cream? I think there might be some, in the downstairs freezer. Do you want me to check for you?”
I pulled the bread drawer open with my index finger while I leaned on the counter, taking in the scent of old wood and yeast and flour. We don’t have a bread drawer at home. Why does bread have to be in a drawer?
She began to take the green beans and to snap their heads off, cracking the long, stringy stems off of their slender bodies, and to toss each bean into the bowl, into the grey-blue plastic bowl. She discarded their heads in a different plastic shopping bag, creating a pile of stems deemed inedible – excess. The rest of the bean, the part in the bowl, would be boiled in a large stainless steal pot. But the bowl held them as they stacked up, tangled in with each other.
At home, during the war, propaganda had my grandmother convinced that the Russians were coming "over the hill" to do the same thing to her family as they did to their prisoners. She seriously considered putting her oldest son and herself into the gas oven and turning it on.
She always sat in the same spot at the table, facing into the family room, but with her chair always turned slightly towards the kitchen. What was she wearing? A T-shirt and a long skirt. Every day: crew neck cotton T-shirts, thick cotton, much thicker than her skin – skin which her fingers tore in reaction to nowhere else for them to go, or just as a nervous habit. Her arms were covered in scabs, in dried white blood cells that never got the chance to regenerate back into true skin. I’m not sure they would have, anyway, even if she hadn’t keep reopening them, blotting them with Kleenex she kept crumpled in her hand or in her lap. Her tracing paper skin hung wrinkled and tired from her bones, like an unmade bed where ghosts go to rest.
Published in Alligator 666
In a dream, I am with friends on a marshy beach near my hometown, Guilford. It must be Guilford, or my subconscious memory of some place in Connecticut, reconstructed and distorted – definitely elongated. We have to travel a long way along the water. It starts to rain and everyone retreats, aimlessly running quickly back the long path we’d just gone down. When we get back to the beginning, a harbor has flooded, and before I cross I realize I’ve forgotten something back along the stretch of beach. I do not know what it was, but I need it. No one will come back through the thick rain with me so while they cross the flooding harbor I turn around.
Running back through the rain is difficult, as it can only be in dreams. The sand pulls my feet in, or pushes against their forward momentum. I can’t tell which. Maybe it’s not the sand at all. I think it’s me? I can’t make my body go. It won’t go as I want it to go. But I keep running against a sideways gravity, through sand darkened by rain, and deep green grass – oddly tropical. But the tall stalks are so dark against a very grey sky, which seems to be contained somewhere off in the distance, as if there might be a wall a ways off, right beyond where I can see, or even right next to me, only I don’t look to the side, just ahead, or down at the ground.
I reach a tent. It stops raining and the push against me melts away. I don’t remember the white tent being there before – it’s the kind they set up for weddings in back yards. Yeah, this is all new. I don’t question its presence. What makes me nervous is how I can feel that there are people inside, behind the thick plastic that should be making heavy knocking sounds in the breeze, but it does not. It is still.
I enter the tent knowing that something in there was is mine. I really, really do not want to. It feels, just, creepy. The stagnant white plastic and the people inside feel definitely absent: like negative space lacking any perception of time.
A young girl I do not know sits at a table. She is silent and still. She doesn’t seem to be doing anything in particular. I approach her and see that she is holding my watch, the watch with the black plastic strap and the second hand that ticks in my ear when I sleep and when a room goes silent when the heat clicks off. I tell her That’s Mine. But she doesn’t believe me. But it is. It Is Mine. I know it is. It is the surest I have ever been. Every atom of me knows that that watch is mine, has always been mine. But this little blonde girl does not believe me. I try to convince her that yes, that is mine, I know it’s mine. Please believe me, that is mine. But she, too, is so sure that it is definitely not mine. She is sure that it belongs to nobody, to everybody. She holds onto it with strength entirely disproportionate to her frame as I try to take it back from her hands and into mine. It won’t disconnect from her, and she will not believe me – won’t believe the truth that that is my watch, I swear, why can’t you hear me when I say to you that you are wrong, that I know I am right. What do you mean it belongs to nobody, and what gives you the right to keep it if it belongs to nobody?
I get angry and I hit her with my fists, I hit her right on the crown of her head but she doesn’t seem to care or to notice. She remains unaffected by my contact. I strike her as hard as I can, over and over again. A man who is equally as blank as the blonde girl appears from somewhere, nowhere – and rushes towards us. He has graying hair and a beard. He wears an army green T-shirt. He assures me that I can’t take the watch away. I hit him too, with no success. And I wake up.
Thank you to Jean Yoon for photos on About Me and Writing pages
All other images and writing samples are Copyright Grace Eire