Locked Gate Day

We just got back from a lovely midmorning stroll around the station. I was painting up some panels for my classroom (because what I should be doing is actually PLANNING my day-to-day instruction for the next 5 months but, nope. Acrylics. Boards. Single words. GOLD PAINT) and Rosie became hammering at door--- "Letʻs go! Letʻs go for a walk!"

Big sister dressed herself and little sister-- both with matted hair and long dresses. Rosie has a giant plastic jewel tied on itchy-looking white yarn around her throat, and another length of string around her waist. She tucked her yellow plastic bow and arrows into her belt, and a dangerous-looking plastic tent stake. Maybe for cyborg vampires...? Maile was armed too-- a piece of tinkertoy construction with a snappy hinge. "Itʻs my bad-guy eater!" she said.

She is into bad guys lately. Saying that she fights them! or that she IS a bad guy, especially if we are watching a scary show and she wants to keep her eyes open. "I not scared, I a bad guy. I WIKE scary stuff."

Maile found one purple baby sock and put on Rosieʻs big tap shoes. Rosie found one white sock and her pink sequined sneakers, the double knots felted onto themselves. The girls pushed through the locked gate to the parking lot outside of the station. They ducked under the padlocked chain, and I limboed around the gate, keeping my neck a good two inches from a big rusty bolt.

We refound a smashed frogin the parking lot that caught our attention last week. Last week his guts were still scattered around him (the girls flicked coils of intestines with twigs) but today he is a tiny scrap of back-leather and a spray of dried and splintered bones. We found long phalanges like knobby needles and a crushed femur. Something about bones-- such elegance and symmetry.

We walked down the road, Rosie focused and eager to shoot something with her suction-cupped arrows, and Maile clattering along the pavement in her tap shoes, the tapping echoing off the trees across the way. She got tired after a while, and became immobile, the smooth baby face glowering. I mugged: "Ah, who are YOU?" She tried to keep her grimace. "Where did you come from???" She fought her grin and said lowly, "I a lion."

"Oh!" I picked her up. She is tall but still compact and light-- strong little two-year-old body, with just a little of that baby shape left-- the soft arms and pudgy feet, the round tummy in her dress.

"Are you dangerous?"

She opened her mouth at me to show me her scary lion teeth and then nuzzled her forehead into my neck.

I carried her back through the gate. Rosie dashed ahead. "Letʻs pick guavas!" I followed her to a guava stand behind our house that I had never noticed before-- a whole line of cultivated guava trees with wide shiny leaves planted along a sagging barbed-wire fence. We edged between listing tables fringed with moss and lichen with weedy pots full of green onions, taro, root bound guava starts. No fruit on the trees. But the starfruit tree is still hung with the heavy yellow streamers of fruit. Maile perched on my back and Rosie pulled down big yellow starfruit for me to carry in my shirt.

We picked our way to the lemon tree behind the machine shop where the station trucks wait in various states of attention or neglect. Maile was anxious that one little car had no doors and that a palm-sized garden spider had filled the front seat with web. Rosie ran ahead and picked three fat round lemons-- the size and shape of oranges, and smelling strongly herbal and sweet.

On the way back, I noticed the open door of the empty house next to ours. The two little houses sit right next to each other, identical shiny metal roofs, sagging porches, and termite splintered 2x4s around the windows.

"We've gotta close that door. Hey-- wanna see what's inside?"

We climbed up the steps-- Maile still a monkey on my back, and peeked into the empty house. The floor plan is identical to our house. The kitchen was overstacked with yellowing file folders and cardboard boxes of glass beakers, and the linoleum in the dark bathroom was arching off of the floor. I saw daylight behind the toilet where the floor has been eaten through by termites. The girls oohed and aahed-- Rosie was amazed and incredulous: "This is MY room!"

I tried to slam the door behind us but the doorframe is slumping, so I left it open. We walked home with our starfruit and lemons. Our own living room seemed sunshiny and human with the overflowing bookshelves and heavy curtains and this morning's teapot on the table.

Now the girls are settled in front of a show with starfruit thinly sliced and salami.

I love the days when the gate is locked and we can prowl around this weird place like ghosts.



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