The plain cardboard box didn't seem much of a birthday present until I noticed it quivering. Peering in I saw two kittens huddled against the light. I was allowed to cuddle them for just a moment, then release them into the house to explore and become familiar with our home. I didn't see Rumpleteaser or JennyAnyDots again until the middle of the night when I awoke to needleteeth chewing on my wiggly toes.
My first parakeet didn't recognize the safety of his cage in a house with two cats. I came home to find a single clawed foot, band still around the ankle, lying amid drifted feathers in the middle of the floor.
Dodgeball had filled us all with adrenaline. Some, the athletes, strutted aggressively into the locker room. I trembled on a bench, grateful that the stinging welts on my legs and back were fading. A girl stormed in and berated her teammate for costing them the game. She cowered. I breathed that it wasn't a big deal. Within seconds I was face-to-face with a challenge to fight. I raised my fists and held my breath. She waited. I lowered my hands and walked away, not sure if I was cowardly or courageous.
I tried several churches and even a synagogue, but never could find a spiritual home. My best friend grew up with the surety of a Lutheran pastor's daughter. One afternoon as we rode the city bus home she turned to me and said "I love you, and it makes me terribly sad that you are going straight to hell when you die."
My mother directed me into the back when I got to the shop. Standing by the counter on which the numbering machine sat, she hesitantly told me, "Your father is dead. He killed himself. I don't know much more than that." Relief surged through me as I realized our dear friend, who had been hospitalized two days before, was okay.
The postal worker locked the door behind the last person in line. Until the final transaction was completed there would be no leaving. One by one we massed by the door, waiting compliantly while the remainder were served. A man stared at and paced toward me. He started mumbling about people of the sun and people of the snow; as he drew nearer his voice grew louder and he stood taller. "WE!" he shouted at me, "are the PEOPLE of the SUN! YOU! are people of the SNOW! And we will DEFEAT you!" I looked around as he harangued me, the only white person present. The clerks continued nonchalantly selling stamps. The other customers edged to the windows and turned to face the spectacle. The man loomed over me, shouting that my kind was POISON, that our time was OVER, that it was TIME for the SUN to RISE. When I could retreat no further, when violence seemed imminent, a bystander finally said "Hey man, that's enough." My abuser settled back into himself. We all grew bashful and waited with eyes averted until the clerk unlocked the door; everyone was silent as we shuffled out.
The plane slid sideways, and back, then sideways again like a leaf drifting down a breeze. One valley cut sharply between peaks to my right, and sun glinted off a meandering river to my left. Snow had recenly fallen, leaving knife-like ridges starkly black against the white drifts that climbed above timberline. Settling down into our valley, we came to a surprisingly gentle stop on the tarmac. I leaned my head against the cold plastic window as tears of homecoming joy leaked from my closed eyes.
I read the word twice, then spun around and read the sign on the other door. Ferfi. Noi. I turned again to see if there was any indication as to which door I should choose. Defeated, I minced back into the dining room -- still desperate to pee -- and asked my guide which word meant "woman".*
I was looking out the window when he boarded the train. In my lap I had fresh bread, cheese, and a sliced tomato from which I'd made my supper. I was alone in the compartment. My feet were curled underneath me, my hiking boots were on the floor. I'd been staring into the blackness wondering if I'd aced or failed that morning's exam. I heard a rustling by the door. The intruder was rat-like, narrow in the face and lost in the army coat he wore. He was shaking; I wondered why he was so cold. His smile was superior and possessive. I realized that he wasn't chilled. He was masturbating while staring at me, fly open, hand frantic. I clutched my pocketknife and reached for a boot for additional defense. His eyes closed. He spent himself on the floor, then grinned at me as he tucked his penis away and left. All that remained was a small white puddle by the door. A passing conductor saw the mess, glared at me, and continued down the corridor.
The technician moved briskly, making easy small talk while she prepared. She dimmed the lights and rolled the sonogram apparatus toward the table. Lifting my shirt she squirted cold jelly across my abdomen and placed the wand above my belly button. Focusing, she began sliding the device left and right, up and down. My husband and I waited quietly, not sure of our role. She smiled as a rhythmic sound came through the speakers. "It's like the cavitation of a submarine propeller!" my husband remarked. He held my hand and we silently listened to our child's heartbeat for the first time.
*The Hungarian for woman is női
*The Hungarian for woman is női