junebug’s seventh birthday on home video

you watch on TV as junebug sits at the kitchen table in a yellow kitchen with momma, poppa, & a baby brother whose voice is a sweet bird song.  she opens five gifts, exclaiming, oh, pretty-pretty! as she pins t-shirts with cats & flowers to her chest.  momma asks, do you like those ones? & poppa comes a little more alive, letting out a whistle the child will later learn to associate with construction workers catcalling thin women in high heels on busy streets.  this is the year junebug will wet the bed & momma will say, you’re too old for this; do you want me to hang your sheets on the clothesline so the neighbors can see what you did?  this is the year she will sit in the car one afternoon after school with momma, the words in her mouth prickly as needs, & momma will say, junebug, shut up, but junebug won’t, she won’t, until momma’s hand leaves a bright red print on her cheek.  on the TV, junebug & birdsong-brother blow out the candles, which crackle & light again, again, until the children are breathless.  junebug cuts the cake, & then the video clips out.  then the family is outside, junebug is blindfolded & swinging with a stick at a pinata.  she & birdsong-brother take turns whacking, & when junebug’s swing severs the body from its head, birdsong-brother wails loud & hard, his eyes pinched tight.  the video clips out again, & then junebug & birdsong-brother are climbing on the swingset, shimmying across, arm over arm, their legs kicking fast.  junebug bends her body over the bars, doing a kind of somersault, & stands in the grass, her arms raised above her head, searching the camera for applause that doesn’t come.  this is the year poppa will stop accompanying her to her piano lessons every tuesday after school.  when she is fourteen, she will say this is the year that poppa disappeared from the film reel of her memory; then, when she is twenty-four & her mind will give no memories at all, the celluloid child will wait, tucked deep in a TV cabinet, for a working VCR & the right moment to look directly into the camera, her glances quick & shy.  junebug doesn’t have to tell you, this was the year, because your head goes fuzzy, your brain separating into thousands of worms that press themselves to the bowl of your brain, fleeing the rancid apple of memory decomposing in the center of your brain, because some animal part of you knows: this was the year.

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