TE21 Serbian Moments

Andrea Scrima

Like Lips, Like Skins

like starbursts to either side of his face, but I’ve never been any good at this type of exercise; I become a lightning rod for the very things I’m supposed to be warding off. I yank the pillow out from under my cheek and turn it over to the cool side. Although she keeps the volume dialed down low, I can still hear the tinny transistor voices through the thin sheetrock wall from the radio my mother takes to bed each night, like the alarm clock we used to wrap in a towel and tuck under the dog’s blanket when he was still a puppy to simulate his mother’s heartbeat and lull him to sleep. The radio is tuned to her favorite talk radio station: agitated voices, urgent voices calling in fromwho knows where with a bone to pick or a cause to champion or some crazy notion that’s taken hold of them with a firm grip and won’t let go. I check my watch on the bedside table and see that it’s early morning. Groggy with jetlag, I sit up and gather my bearings. The floorboards upstairs are creaking: there are tenants in the house now, but when we were growing up—Delphine, Lillie, Alfie, and I—our grandparents lived upstairs and our lives took place in a different geography. Last night, when I closed the hallway door, my hand lingered on the knob, fingering an old feeling from when the door was always left ajar, before the house was divided into private space and hallway space, tenant traffic space, and upstairs and downstairs were connected by the staircase Alfie and I used to slither down belly-wise, like serpents, in the hallway Lillie and Delphine retreated to to talk on the telephone in private, pulling the cord to crouch on the fifth step up—because the fifth stepwas the farthest the phone 172

cord would reach—and whisper secrets behind the hallway door. Don’t tie up the line, I hear my father saying, and there was the unspoken implication that someone could be trying to get through with urgent news; that terrible news could arrive at any time. Snap out of it, Micha would say, you have a show to put up, things todo, but the pull of the past is too strong, and the house is as familiar to me as my own skin—it knows me, recognizes me, but it also casts its spell over me, and I’m no longer thirty- nine, it’s as though I’ve gone back in time to find my nine-year- old self waiting at the side of the road. Is this what happens to people who leave? Blinking, I look around at what used to be my parents’ room; it seemed so huge when I was a child. And here was the bed that my mother left one day to spend her nights lying on the living room carpet, unable to sleep and struggling to her feet every so often to get something out of the refrigerator. The bed took up most of the room, and Alfie and I used to jump up and down on it, trying to get a swat at the ceiling, and all at once I see the two of us jumping and jumping and little Alfie laughing, laughing and jumping. Our limp arms are flopping around us like rag dolls, we’re giggling and working ourselves into a frenzy. Alfie is getting wilder; he isn’t jumping in one spot anymore, but crazily, letting his head dangle to either side and screaming with glee. I vaguely foresee that we’re going to get into trouble if I let Alfie go on like this. And then it all happens so quickly: Alfie hits the edge of the bed, pulling the blankets down with him, a scream cuts through the room, and suddenly there’s bright red blood 173

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