Spoils of War
Brendan McDermott joins the ranks of family storytellers with this vivid depiction of the secret Saturday morning gymnastics his mother Kathy Price McDermott.
Sneaking down the stairs, avoiding creaks in the floor, she sticks to the off-white plaster walls, picturing her white t-shirt perfectly matching the wall, and her body chameleons itself, undetectable. A deep breath, and she slides, weight of her body on the wall, the pads of her toes blessing her steps with silence, and the wisdom of experience knowing to skip the third stair from the first landing, to skip it and its everlasting ‘creeeeeeeeeak’, sure to blow her cover. She stops. The landing, her first sanctuary, awaits. She peers over the rail, examining the piano below; making sure her feet won't hit ebony, or ivory. The piano meeting her standards, she carefully climbs onto the stair rail, ducking slightly so her curly bedhead only barely scrapes the goosebump-like dots on the ceiling. Light pierces the curtainless windows of the front door as her toes touch the cherry wood, eyes closed in anticipation of its familiar cool touch. Her eyes open to an even brighter light. The ever-present floor-covering hot lava of the seven-year-old mind floods the room with light. The piano burns. The flames crawl upward. My mother’s juvenile mind sharpens, and she knows what she must do. She licks her hand, the silvery shine of saliva made brighter from sunshine and magma. Wiping the spit on both her feet, she dries her hand out on her shirt, then clings onto the doorframe sinking her chewed up nubs of fingernails into the wood, and swings her body through the air, feet flying on faith until the doorknobs on either side of the kitchen hallway appear in front of them, as if granting a saving wish from the certain death below. From this awkward position, she detaches her chewed up claws one at a time, planting each on the walls, ready to move. The magma of her overactive imagination bubbles and pops and a small yelp escapes, her right foot slowly moving forward to stick to the wall, her left one following suit. She reaches her second sanctuary, leaning against the TV on the counter.
“So wait, you’re telling me you used to be flexible, athletic even?”
My mom ignores the jab at her physical fitness. She is much too enthralled by the prospect of reliving her childhood as we sit in my grandmother’s kitchen.
“See where the fridge is now? That’s where the counter used to be, and then the TV was on top of it and then the fridge was where the microwave and oven are now,” “Yes, I know. Mom this is about the third time you’ve told me.”
My seven-year-old mother stands up from the countertop and intently examines her next challenge. The bubbling and popping of the magma on the floor seems distant and irrelevant to what lies ahead of her. The rabbit ears sit juxtaposed at seemingly random angles, foil wrapped on the ends, perfectly set for clear reception.
“And the thing about that TV, was if you even touched the rabbit ears, reception’s gone.”
She stares down the ears, as imagined sparks shoot up and between them, a surely lethal blow. Her body becomes lithe, and she contorts through them. Her loose sleep shirt skims the edges, but clothes only count for schoolyard tag and Sunday finest. Flipping the TV onto channel eleven, she skirts around the TV power cord as it makes itself to be a very large snake. Looney Tunes begin to fill the kitchen with Puddy tats, acme brand anvils, and the never ceasing argument between duck, or rabbit season. A dried lakebed of stainless steel spreads out before her. she pulls a glass from the white wire dish rack to the left of the sink, and proceeds to tap the source, filling her glass with the familiar ‘drip, drip, swischhhhhhh drip, drip, drop.’ Her glass filled, she pauses, standing tall over her domain, her end goal, the fridge, clear in sight.
“Now I did this every Saturday, because Grandma would go to the store every Friday night, so I figured if I woke up early, I would have first rights to all the chips, all the cookies, and of course all of the chocola.”
A quick drink of water later, my mom is back in pursuit. She stretches her leg over the rest of the sink, as growing excitement hits. Mounds of red, blue, and gold paper bags rest on top of the fridge, waiting to be enjoyed. She grabs the blue package, as always, and tosses her chocolate chip prize over the magma, onto the kitchen table. She sits on the counter and opens the door of the fridge the tiniest crack, because she knows her chocola is right inside the door. She opens the drawer below her legs, and grabs the bottle opener, the small silver key to her Saturday morning nirvana. Closing the drawer and taking each in hand, she makes the leap over lava and over chair onto the table. She sits down cross-legged and pops her bottle open, taking a well-earned sip before excitedly tearing open her cookies and savoring that first one. The lava fades and becomes linoleum, the rabbit ears lose their spark, the sink is simply a sink once more. Mel Blanc fills the room.
Watching my mom’s smile as she recounts her childhood, I see the same person. The same person who saw the floor as lava, now sees gel pens as the pinnacle of creativity, saves the impressive doodles she makes during meetings, and experiments with odd voices enough to make Mel proud. Growing older is inevitable. Growing up, is optional.
Guest author Brendan McDermott, Junior at St. Louis University High School, St. Louis, MO