“I would watch as rivulets of rain formed from a range of droplets, their joining, rejoining, and flowing down, gathering others, being drawn from side to side, and never seeming to repeat themselves: or if they did, I couldn’t make it out in the intermittent flickering of the yellow streetlight.”
The house on Rockwood was what we always called it. To me at the time, of course, there was no other house; but that was what my parents called it and what your parents called it was really the only thing you had to go on. And so the house on Rockwood it was—on Rockwood but really nearly at the end of it, where the road leaves behind maintenance, its sidewalks shearing into gravel, and where it takes a slight turn under some overhanging Crepe Myrtles and slopes off into the creek, itself mostly dry, really less a creek than the suggestion of a creek where, I remember, I would hesitatingly follow my brother, he bounding about eighteen months ahead of me, myself picking over the rocks, hoping he didn’t leave me too far behind, on the other end of the orderly hedgerow that grew against the other bank, and behind which a stretch of underused avenue led, planted at intervals with empty parking lots, to the zoo which announced its entrance with a giant steel gazelle—nose upturned toward the immensely wide, blockbuster blue late-afternoon. It was darkening when we got home—tired and, in my case, moody—but we were reanimated to find, waiting for us, a pepperoni pizza still swimming in heat. My dad must have been out of town, since that was the only time we were indulged in pizza—my parents would not have said “indulged,” it was a matter of “priorities”—but we were thrilled by it, its singularity, its once-a-year rarity, probably, in some sense, its consummate artificiality; and we would squirm upstairs, to the room we shared, and mom would grade papers behind us at the desk we hardly used, since we preferred to draw or read on the floor—and we’d put on an old Betamax tape, which would crinkle at the edges of the screen a little at the start, as if the image were being straightened out and dog-ears unfolded, and then we would re-watch Ghostbusters, or Time Bandits, my brother picking the cheese off his pizza without so much as looking, myself afraid to eat too quickly for fear of running out, and letting each slice grow flimsy and cold. Later the windows behind us, which during the day looked over the blank, irregular yard to an ivied chain-link fence, would be splashed with black rainwater—the storm would come in from the east, more or less from the Gulf coast, and would hit both windows at once, buckets at a time; there was a skylight too, and, after the storm had lifted a little, and the movie was done, the rain would thrum on it in the dark, seeming to command the whole space of the room with its particular pitch. Lying in bed, later, I would watch as rivulets of rain formed from a range of droplets, their joining, rejoining, and flowing down, gathering others, being drawn from side to side, and never seeming to repeat themselves: or if they did, I couldn’t make it out in the intermittent flickering of the yellow streetlight. The light, however little, always lingered in that room, as though being higher up, it was closer to the source, even at night. Coppery beams would cling to the bottom edge of my mom’s oils, which hung on either side of the stair. They would drag along the slight indentations between the wooden planks where the layers of finish made a clear crease on the floor, which itself would creak as I shifted weight from leg to leg very slowly, first moving one foot, letting it take weight, and then gradually shifting to the other foot, all the while watching the spray of my brother’s black hair in the semidarkness, trying to gauge its movement as his head rolled occasionally forward and let another clump of hair graduate into the strange bronzing light. The knob of the bannister was recognizable by the small oval of crepuscular light on its surface that turned like the arrow on a compass as I navigated around it, and then, carefully, I would take the stairs, sitting down on the top flight and then easing myself one-by-one to the bottom. The door of the bathroom was conspiratorially silent, and I would gratefully close it behind me before sitting down on the cold floor. The bathroom was black-and-white with diamond-shaped tiles, and when we first moved in, an old-fashioned bathtub and an ornate sink, above which the mirror seemed to have a greenish tint. The molding was the kind of chalky white that accompanies the stolid lumpiness of having been painted over and over and over. It was interrupted on one wall by a small, white ceramic appliance with a white grille over a peculiar, honeycombed surface into which I looked. There was a single silver knob and, sitting on a small table next to it, was a box of kitchen matches. In the middle of the night, the gas radiator seemed larger, but also somehow less intimidating. I was, in any case, strictly forbidden to light it.