Essay by Lauren Slater Assignment | Top Universities

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Essay by Lauren Slater

They might as well have been from the Isle of Skye. Or Australia, the Antarctic, what have you. Her hair was long and blonde, her skin so pale I could see the blue throb of a vein in the nook of her neck. Behind her hung a child, with two long braids expertly woven, tied off at the ends with red ribbons. The child lingered at her mother’s legs. The summer sun glared on the stoop where I stood. I tried to peer behind the little girl, but the house was dark, the only light glinting off a gun hung on the wall.

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It was high summer, midafternoon, the cicadas creaking and my vinyl suitcase absorbing sun like a sponge so when I lifted the handle to step inside the plastic seared my skin. I dropped the suitcase. From behind me my father — go now — his hand at the small of my back. The woman motioned me in. Go now, he said again.

And so I went.

The house was already crammed with children, none of them strays, like me, but several of them with questionable connections to one another: steps and halves, which made me think of a girl sliced down her center, half her mouth missing. I was neither step nor half but foster, sent from the state. Is that why I got the smallest room, under the eave at the end of the house, a room so small that if I spun in its center my outstretched hands brushed the walls, which themselves were busted and bulging with all manner of mysterious cracks? Built in 1774, the old arthritic house groaned and sighed at night. I’d lie there in my little bed and sometimes it seemed I was spinning so fast I’d have to steady myself on the warbling walls. Other times those walls seemed to speak to me, to beckon me, and I’d spend hours past midnight peeling off paper to see what lay beneath. I remember finding grapevines whose twisted paths I could trace with my finger, up and down and around, over and over again, a rhythmic, almost melodic movement of mind and body that reminded me of riding and eventually sent me to sleep. In the first summer month of my stay with that family, my dreams seemed always sparse, my slumber all static. I’d wake most mornings parched, a bedside fan churning the boggy air, their tap water tasting tinny as I drained it down.

I became the Trevors’ foster child in August, 1978. That was the summer of heat waves, the lawns turning taupe, the garden beds all brown. Wherever you looked you saw a hot, whitened world. Air conditioners rattled in windows up and down the street, but in the Trevors’ house it was quiet and close, the circuitry too old to support so much wattage, the windows all open and the white curtains flapping like flags in the thick air.

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Afternoons, in this high heat, the Trevors reclined on lounge chairs under their grape arbor, bottles of wine in a bucket of ice, long-stemmed glasses on a table before them. I watched Cranston, my foster father, lift a corked bottle by its dripping neck and with exaggerated elegance — du vino pour la femme and les petites? — pop the top and pour the liquid for Annie and himself, and then in smaller amounts for all the children, encouraging us to savor before swallowing. ‘Go ahead,’ Cranston said to me when he saw me hesitate, and so I did, if only to obey. I plucked a giant goblet by its skinny stem. ‘Now take a sip,’ Cranston said. A small sip, a sharp tang. With a second sip, my skin seemed to shed its outer layers so now I could feel beneath the heat the barest breezes. After my third sip, Annie removed the glass from me and said, ‘Enough is enough.’

I missed my mother, yes. But I missed more her atmosphere, all arrows and opera, with a little bit of blood here and there

Perhaps the wine was their secret, for Annie and Cranston shrugged off the heat, their skin fresh and dry even as the thermometer inched into the 90s, the humidity turning the air to jam. At sundown the family would steam mussels on the porch, prying them open and sucking the innards down, tossing the hitched shells into the bushes. Where I was from we didn’t eat shellfish — it wasn’t kosher — so when Cranston offered me a mussel, I had to say no. Still, I watched them closely. I saw the opened shells, the oily glimmer of the packed fish inside. I saw how they tipped back their heads and, using the shell like a spoon, sucked down the steamed meat, a little trigger bobbing in their throats when they swallowed.

I don’t think there’s a reason for everything, but if I did I might say God — and not the state — matched me with the Trevors because they were everything I was not. I was Jewish. The Trevors, blue-blooded Brahmins. I’d grown up celebrating Shabbat on Friday evenings, lighting candles and singing the Schma. The Trevors knew nothing about Friday nights, instead serving their Sabbath on Sunday, at the odd hour of 3pm. By evening you were done with the whole thing and had nothing to do but watch the red disc of that summer sun flare behind the trees.

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Alone in my room, I thought about this clan, their wine, their Sunday pork, the way they loved to lounge beneath the leafy shade of their own vines. I thought about how their antique house stood out on a street of small square boxes and tidy lawns, the gardens all preplanned except for theirs, packed with run-away perennials and spires higher than my head. At night the entire family read together, two parents, six kids — counting me — everyone sitting around the dinner table with a book, no noise except for the turning of a page. I’d bring a book down along with everyone else. But my words seemed always senseless, scrambled, and I had the feeling I was up above, attached to no one or nothing, circling a place without pain, this home so singular and basically serene. I couldn’t see how to settle. Get English homework help today

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