KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 2: Winter 2015
Memoir: 718 words


by Kandi Maxwell

In the sparse, well-lit living room, we remove the miniature trolley car that sits on the fireplace mantel at my grandparents’ house. We are eight and ten; my twin sister and I are the oldest, my little sister and our cousin are younger. We delight in the wooden car, carved with intricate detail, hand-made and finely sanded, stained to a rich, dark walnut.

“My dad made this for me,” my cousin, Lori, says.

My sisters and I are envious. We each take a turn, feel the smoothness of the wood, run our hands over the tiny seats in the open car.

“He made it in prison,” Lori says.

The words don’t sink in. Our family doesn’t talk of heroin, stealing, or prison. My uncle, Will, could be at summer camp, an elf in Santa’s workshop making gifts to send to his daughter.

Lori lives with my grandparents. Her mother, Krystal, sends her dazzling dresses made with lace and flair, the kind our mother would never buy—too impractical. We marvel at so many dresses, but we don’t ask, “Where’s your mother?” We have seen Aunt Krystal several times, but she only stays a few minutes.

“Got to run,” she says.

Aunt Krystal left our cousin as an infant, gave up custody and placed her in the care of our grandparents, but our young minds believe Lori is the lucky one. The princess with the hand-made gifts and fancy apparel. Her own room and a swimming pool. Lori calls our grandmother “Mama” and our family doesn’t speak of Aunt Krystal’s whereabouts or why she left.

We leave Lori and our grandparents and drive back home. We live in suburbia, a split-level house on a dead-end street where we play Wiffle ball and Football in the middle of the road. We ride skate boards or banana seat bikes down the sidewalk until dark. We don’t mention that every night our friend Jeff’s parents, Zoey and Bob, are at the bar until the early morning hours, leaving their four children home alone, while Jeff cooks fried bologna sandwiches with ketchup for the younger children. Sometimes we eat with them and watch TV until we are called home. We wish we could stay up all night like they do.

We don’t talk about Karen’s mother, Nancy, our neighbor across the street, who sometimes brings a laundry basket out on the front lawn, stomps on it and screams. We don’t mention the darkly drawn drapes, or that Karen eats most of her meals at our house. We wish we could say “bitchen” and other words that Karen sprinkles throughout her vocabulary that our mother forbids.

We live in the world of Beaver Cleaver and Ricky Nelson. Secrets are swept neatly under the rug. Shows on our black and white television model American life and we believe the illusion.

That world begins to disintegrate after our Aunt Shelly dies in a car accident, leaving behind four young children. We are ten and twelve when we hear the news at my grandparents’ house. It’s Thanksgiving. Our mom answers the phone. Her cries are not like anything we have heard before. The grief of my aunts and my grandma disturbs us, but even worse is the sorrow in my unreligious grandpa’s quiet pleas to an unknown god, “Why? Why?” The helplessness in his voice frightens us.

Aunt Shelly was cool. She liked the Monkees and the Rolling Stones. She dressed in bright, funky fashions: striped or paisley print dresses, sequined tops with matching stretch pants. She had lustrous auburn hair, and her laughter was light and came easy. There is no place to hide our anguish. Grief pours out of us, fills the room, darkens every corner.

Was it only weeks ago the four of us went to Knott’s Berry Farm dressed in our calf-high white go-go boots, our checkered mini-skirts and mod hats? We took pictures with our new Swinger camera and showed them to Aunt Shelly. We are not prepared for the death of one so young. The deception shatters. The illusion can no longer distort reality: Uncle Will is a heroin addict and a thief, Aunt Krystal does not want the responsibility of raising her own daughter, Zoey and Bob are alcoholics, Nancy is bi-polar, and our Aunt Shelly is dead.

Kandi Maxwell
Issue 2, Winter 2015

recently retired from teaching high school English. She has facilitated three memoir-centered writing workshops for Memoir Journal’s (In)Visible Project. Her essays have been published in The Teacher’s Voice, California English, Ray’s Road Review, Memoir Journal’s (In)Visible anthologies, Thinkfinity, Fair Haven Literary Review, and the anthology, We Do It This Way.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

It’s a Matter of Perspective, 2100-word memoir by Maxwell in Ray’s Road Review (Winter 2015)

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