Pictures from My Father's Trip
After I saw the man who could bend spoons with his eyes, everything just fell into place. For a long time, I had known things weren't right, but I didn't exactly know why they were wrong. It wasn't as if I was really looking for the answer to some big question in particular; I was nine. But when I saw the incredible melting of those spoons, even if it was only TV, and heard the man talk about his life as an alien on Earth, I knew that I had some sort of answer even if I wasn't ready for it. The truth of it all just knocked me flat.
It was exactly like the time I fell off the monkey bars and landed smack on my back in the hard-packed dirt. I couldn't breathe for two whole minutes, and in the time it took Miss Baker, who was on playground patrol, and the other kids to notice me lying there, I felt my whole life get sucked right up and disappear into the sky. I was alive, but I was suddenly pulled apart from everyone else, and the sound of the other kids running and screaming and leaping off the slide was like some song that I could hum but didn't really know the words for. Everything looked the same, but completely new, too, and staring up at the gray November sun through the lattice of the monkey bars, I knew somehow that things would never be familiar again. It was like that when I saw the man who could bend spoons; he was so strange that I knew right away how absolutely familiar he truly was.
It was fate or something more that I even saw the spoon-bending business to begin with. I wasn't supposed to be up late enough to see things like that on TV, but my mother was at the country club Christmas party that night with my aunt Claire. Ever since my father had gone away, my aunt Claire tried to get my mother to go out and do things, even offering to help my mother find a really good babysitter. Our usual babysitter, Grace Nanagost, wasn't one for rules. She let my brother, Gus, and me do mostly whatever we wanted as long as we were quiet and we let her make unlimited blender drinks and try on our mother's clothes. It was a mistake to ask Grace to do anything like play tag in the basement or draw pictures. Like most adults, she liked to be left alone.
The night of the spoon bending, Grace was drinking frothy margaritas, one after the next, and wearing my mother's mink coat around the house. She made the margaritas with the tequila my mother had gotten once in Mexico, refilling the bottle with water each time before she put it back in the liquor cabinet.
"Why don't you go outside and play or something?" she'd ask Gus and me as she paraded through the living room on one her trips to get a new outfit or mix another drink. "You kids watch too much TV."
Gus and I were sitting on the floor, watching a movie about a man who used kung fu to get his girlfriend back.
"It's dark out," Gus said, playing with a squashed lime rind that Grace had dropped on the floor as she sashayed past.
"Aren't you hot in that coat?" I asked.
"That's the thing about mink," Grace said, taking a swig of her margarita and settling on the couch. "It's an all-weather fur--indoors or out."
"How would you know?" Gus asked. "That's not even your coat."
"I know mink," Grace snapped. "I've killed them with my bare hands!"
Grace made a twisting motion like she was wringing out a wet dishcloth. "Like so," she said. She drained her glass and then stretched out flat on the couch, pulling the mink up around her face.
"Oh," Gus said, and looked down at the carpet.
He was five. He believed whatever Grace said. I knew that she was a lot of talk. She wasn't much of a babysitter, either, but we lived in a small town. It was really only much of a town during the summer tourist season when people came to stare at Lake Michigan and buy fake Indian crafts. Babysitters were scarce in the winter, good ones and bad.
"Annie, this is a damn hard couch," Grace snorted from inside the mink. She reached out and turned off the lamp on the table beside her. "I'd think that your mother could afford a whole lot more comfortable couch than this."
"It's chintz," I told her.
I wasn't sure what that meant, it was just something I had heard my mother say, but by that time Grace was snoring, anyway.
"Let's turn the sound off and then make up our own words," I said to Gus.
I couldn't understand most of what the kung-fu men were saying, anyway, and I wanted to make him forget about the dead mink.
We turned off the sound and watched the men silently swinging their arms around and kicking each other in the head.
"Ouch," Gus would say once in a while. "Ouch, that hurts."
"No, you have to make up real words," I said. "Stuff like, 'Give me my girlfriend back now, mister, or I'll be forced to kill you!'"
"Oh," Gus said, but then he didn't say anything else and curled up in a ball on the floor and fell asleep or at least pretended to sleep. I thought he was probably just copying Grace.
I watched the rest of the movie and then the news, all with the sound off. By then it was way past my bedtime, but Grace was still snoring from inside my mother's fur coat and Gus was still asleep, too. When the late-night talk show started, I turned the sound up a tiny bit and moved closer so that my face was almost touching the screen. It was better that way. With the room almost completely dark, lit only by the television's watery blue glow, I forgot that anyone else was even there. I knew that my mother wouldn't be home until very late, and since Grace and Gus were asleep, they didn't really count. I felt like the only living being left on the planet and that made it all the more incredible when the man appeared.
The talk-show host had been interviewing some movie star and then the man came on. With my face that close to the screen, the man's eyes were as big as cereal bowls, and when he spoke, it was like he was whispering right into my ear.
"So you're going to be bending some spoons for us tonight," the talk-show host said.
"I think so," the man said. "That's what I had planned to do."
I studied the man's face. He was very pale and skinny. He looked like he probably watched a lot of TV, too.
"Fabulous," the host said. "Now, you don't use ordinary means to bend these spoons, is that right?"
"Well, not ordinary in your sense of the word."
"My sense?" the talk-show host asked. He laughed a little, but it sounded fake.
"You, as in an earthling's sense of the word. Where I'm from, it's perfectly normal to be able to bend objects using concentrated visual energy," the man said.
He sounded bored, like he'd explained the whole thing a million times.
"Oh, I see," the host said. "And where exactly are you from?"
"Another planet, not even in this galaxy, so I won't bother naming it," the man snapped.
"Well, you can see how that would be a bit difficult for some people to believe, can't you?"
"I suppose so," the man said. "But I was raised here on Earth, so you might say that I'm versed in Earth ways as well as those of my home planet. I arrived here as a young boy and was taken in by my Earth family, who raised me as their own, and to them I am truly grateful."
"How did you arrive here?" the host asked.
"I was deposited in my Earth family's backyard." The man crossed his arms and gave the host a long stare.
"Well, we're running short on time," the host said, "so without further ado, let's see some spoon bending!"
As the man stood up to prepare to bend the spoons, I sank back to the floor. There was a strange rushing noise in my head, and the whole room seemed to swirl in the darkness around me. It was like I knew what was going to happen next, like I had known it all along. I knew in my heart that I had been deposited, too--that I had the wrong family, the wrong house, and probably the wrong planet. For a second, I felt like I couldn't breathe.
I pressed my face closer to the screen. The man was holding a soupspoon at arm's length and clutching his forehead in the palm of his free hand. The camera zoomed in on his ferocious eyes first and then back to the soupspoon. It made me dizzy the way the camera kept switching back and forth, back and forth. I wanted to see his eyes actually bending the spoon, the whole thing in one shot, but it was like all that power was just too big to fit into one small square of a TV screen.
Finally, as beads of sweat started popping out all over the man's forehead, the spoon suddenly bent and hung limply, as if exhausted, over his sweaty fist. The man held the limp spoon above his head and the audience cheered.
He bent a sterling silver teaspoon next, dabbing his brow with a handkerchief and banging the spoon on a table to prove that it was solid before he began. He clutched his forehead, and the camera flashed to the spoon in giant close-up as it began to shrink away from the man's terrible staring. The spoon caught the light as it bent in an arc around the man's hand, and for a second it looked like a shooting star, like something so beautiful and bright that you know it's an accident you're even seeing it in the first place. I looked away from the screen because it was all too much, and when I looked back, the spoon was twisted in a perfect circle around the man's hand, and the yelling and clapping of the audience was a humming inside my head.
I turned the TV off then and just sat in the dark listening to Grace snoring. I woke Gus and guided him up to his bedroom and made him lie down on his bed. I started to go to my room, but something made me keep walking. I just kept thinking about those spoons and how my even being on Earth could be some kind of mistake. I pushed open the door to my mother's room and went inside. The air was still and warm, like bathwater that's been sitting too long, and I felt like a trespasser just being there. Everything looked so different in the dark: the chair crouched by the window, the silvery mirror above her chest of drawers. Her jewelry was spread out across the dressing table, and when I ran my hand lightly across it, it was like feeling the surface of one of those maps that have real bumps for the mountains, little pockets for the valleys and lakes.
I opened the closet and stared at her clothes. With only the light from the moon coming through the window, it was hard to guess what color everything really was. I thought about Grace downstairs on the couch, wrapped in my mother's coat. I knew what it was like to want to be someone else, even just to pretend.
I sat on the floor of the closet and buried my face in the skirt hems and the dangling sleeves. It all smelled like my mother's perfume and laundry soap and dust, too. I felt around on the floor, touching her shoes and slippers that were all jumbled in one big heap. I reached over into the corner and my hand slipped across something that was set apart from all the other shoes. I could tell right away that whatever it was, it was black. It was like I could feel the exact color with my fingers. I picked it up and held it right in front of my face, breathing in old leather and wax. It was one of my father's wingtips; the right foot, I think. I felt around for the other one, but there was nothing else there.
I remembered my mother boxing up all of my father's clothing and sending it away somewhere. My mother had said that my father was on a trip and that he would be gone for a while. It truly had started as a trip; my father had gotten on a plane just to go somewhere. But then he never came back. It got to be like a story we told each other--my father's trip--something we could repeat over and over until it was real. We all knew he was probably gone for good, but I went on pretending to believe about the trip because it was easier that way. I held the shoe tight to my chest and wondered if it was an accident that it was left behind or if my mother had kept it for a reason. I clutched the shoe tighter and thought about my father, what he had done with just one shoe, if he had even noticed that the other was gone. It made me so lonely to think of it, sitting in the closet with that old shoe. But it was more homesickness than anything else. I was just missing my other planet.
The next morning at breakfast I concentrated for a long time, trying to make my cereal spoon do something. I made my eyes into little slits and thought about forest fires and electric blankets and the hottest things that I could imagine, but still nothing happened.
"Annie, what are you doing?" my mother asked, peering at me over the top of her coffee cup.
She was in a bad mood because she had come home to find Grace, smelling like tequila, asleep on the couch in her mink coat. Grace had gone too far. My mother had had to fire Grace on the spot, and now she would have to find a new babysitter.
"Nothing," I said.
I didn't want to tell her about the spoons. She had enough to worry about.
"Well, stop it," my mother said. "You're going to make your eyes cross permanently if you keep doing that."
"Yeah, stop it," Gus chimed in from across the table, but then he picked up his spoon and started staring it down.From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Now You Love Me by Liesel Litzenburger. Copyright © 2007 by Liesel Litzenburger. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.