August. I am seven, eating popsicles with my brother and my cousin RoseAnn. She is a year older than me, skinny and knock-kneed with dark hair wisping out in all directions. At eight she already knows more than I’ll know at fifteen. Her eyes are narrow, hiding things, calculating, shifting. Mine are wide open in a chubby cherub body, big brown satellite dishes unable to filter anything, a constant barrage of beauty, pain, silence, rage, and the static of secrets.
RoseAnn wears denim shorts, a thin green sweater over a tank top and Keds sneakers. I have on a strange midriff top with multi-colored bric-brac sewn on a ruffled collar. My shorts are red with an elastic waist and my belly sticks out between the ensemble so I look like a cross between Carmen Miranda and Buddha. The popsicles are melting faster than we can eat them. There is slurping and fake burps and we stick out our tongues at each other with lurid exaggerated expressions. My brother, also a year older than me, tells a joke that I don’t understand but RoseAnn can’t stop laughing so I laugh too. I am sweating. It trickles down my spine and collects in the curve of my lower back and my bangs are plastered to my forehead. RoseAnn is spreading the red dye of the popsicle on her lips, making loud smooching sounds and batting her eyelashes. My brother thinks this is hilarious and he tries it too.
I am about to copy them when I hear a jingle and the click of toenails on the walkway and I see Daisy, a barrel of a hound dog that lives across the street. Daisy’s thick pink tongue hangs from her mouth and her hot breath hits my knees like a dense humid storm cloud. Before I can blink she jumps on me full force and I drop my popsicle. It hits my belly, slides down my shorts and lands on the scorching cement where it begins to melt instantly. Daisy bows her head, shamelessly lapping at the red puddle between us.
We stand for a moment like statues. I can hear insects humming and Daisy’s tongue hitting the pavement and a neighbor’s sprinkler shushing across the lawn and the short tight breathing from my own lungs holding everything in. But I can’t stop it. I start to cry. Big fat tears spill out of me and my nose dribbles snot onto my upper lip and mucus dangles from the side of my mouth tinted pink from the popsicle. I am rubbery and sticky and ugly and alone, choking and hiccuping and letting loose the fury and sadness of Pandora’s box in amazement and in horror. My popsicle is gone.
RoseAnn and my brother look at me with confusion and pity and a little bit of fear. I am alien to them. It is, after all, just a popsicle.
Or maybe it wasn’t.
Maybe it was the shifting and relentless power struggles of childhood. Or the sense of inadequacy, of feeling different and less-than. Or the feeling of being trapped in a body that can’t find comfort. Or maybe it was from the overwhelming glare and shine of perfect moments, and the emptiness they leave behind when they are gone.
Then again, maybe it was just the popsicle.