Birdseye fish fingers, creamed potatoes, Heinz beans, and maybe, just maybe, a slice of buttered toast. All washed down with hot tea, a blessing on you for taking care of your children, missus. Knock once for yes, twice for no. A low card table with a green felt inlay, deck of dog-eared cards, the suits faded and fingered to nothingness.
There was a house up the lane from where we lived, three-story, with a sprawling back garden that seemed to go on forever. It could have been the Garden of Eden, or Gethsemane, but it was the garden of criminal intent for our fourteen year-old minds. The garden was the portal to the broken down house, its three floors of decayed carpet and abandoned bits and pieces. The owner, we presumed dead, and had been an importer of goods from China. One of the upstairs rooms contained boxes of playing cards, diaries, picture frames, fountain pens, and other bric-a-brac–the sort of stuff sold at a stall in the Dandelion Market, but not of sufficient quality for a shop proper.
Every now and then we’d slip in the broken back door and make our way upstairs in the dusty light from the glass over the front door. Whenever the house creaked, its geriatric boards settling into place, we jumped and ran for the corners, listening for footsteps. I was a terrible coward back then and afraid of my own shadow, so to be in that house at all was a daring move. the contents of the house never found their way into my pockets, afraid as I was of my mother finding something and questioning its origins.
The sycamore trees in the wild back garden we climbed all the time, scaling the knotty limbs, pulling ourselves upward toward the sun, to where we could spy on the houses to either side of the abandoned one. Beneath the sycamores was an open area of long grass, the green of which was lighter than that of the leaves of the trees. Summer sunshine poured through the branches, through the latticework of leaves, like a giant tap spilling bright water onto the ground. I lay on the carpet of grass and watched the spangled sunlight through my fingers. Have you ever noticed the click of teeth on teeth when kissed unexpectedly, or when you kiss not knowing what you’re doing?
My eyes closed and the sun turned the insides of my lids bright orange, my favorite color. Somehow everything went black and a tongue pushed past my lips, porcelain chinking, the shock of warm flesh in my mouth, the sprouting of doubt in my mind. In a dream state, surrendering. Was it a dream, or was it happening to me? Uncertain, I leaned upwards, a fitful lapse in an afternoon nap on a summer’s day in my fourteenth year.
This past summer I saw again that house and garden and marveled at how small they’d grown in the meantime. Through the prism of time everything looked so much vaster, so filled with wonder and excitement and uncertainty. Now the house is lived in, the garden manicured, the wall rebuilt where we used sneak through the broken blocks. The thorny bushes and dense undergrowth are gone, and the memory of who kissed me in a dream is broken and splintered on the floor.