A fragment in honor of Laura Ingalls Wilder
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I had always written things, even when I was small. My finger would trail their curves and ticks in the air or lace them around lamp shades and armrests. I would invisibly trace my thoughts about the house when no one was looking. And if they were, I would hold the words back until my toes curled and traced them out on the ground.
I would unearth them from books. Long, mystical words with shifting sounds I could never remember. Short, fragmented bursts that seemed less ugly when traced on the cover. And the words that I always wanted to keep with me, I wrote on myself. I wanted to enter into the books and they were the keys. Every morning, I would sit in front of my little shelf and bring them down one by one until they surrounded me. There were the Danish nursery rhymes that made heavy words light, Charlotte’s Web, which sometimes made me forget that I was afraid of spiders, and the little collection of Laura Ingalls Wilder, my favorite.
I tried to hold back the bad things with words. A page before it happened, I would trace out its counter on the paper. Maybe if I wrote eyes enough, Mary wouldn’t go blind. Maybe if I closed the book at the right moment and scrawled his name across the edges of the spine, Laura’s baby wouldn’t die. She didn’t name him, but I had to or I would have nothing to write. I thought about how her baby died, and how she was short like me. When I looked at those books, I thought how I would die.
I remember that once I wrote on the Appia print in my room, miming the shape of its own words against its glossy surface. Everything was on the verge of falling apart in that painting. The wall gave way to glaciers, the fire escaped the fire place, the door opened out to the ocean. Even the children’s clothes faded into the floorboards as though they weren’t really there. A finger span kept the rushing water from the bookshelf. I thought as long as I wrote their secret names, then they would stay in place, sealed by themselves. I thought the fire would be content with the first book it found, that the water would stop, as frozen as the glaciers. I didn’t know what to write on the children, because they were more floor than themselves, but I thought if I could keep them from disappearing then I wouldn’t disappear.
I would tap at the book that the little girl was reading in the painting, one still untouched by fire. I wanted to see the words that she was tracing, but no matter how close I got to the wall, I couldn’t make any out. I needed to know what she was reading because I knew my words would someday fail and the fire and the water would be unleashed and come upon her. Then they would take her brother and the rest of the books. And the only thing that would remain would be the little yellow balloon pulling wildflowers into the chilled sky.
There are times when I want to tap it again and see if the words still hold, but I never do. As I grew older, I began writing words with my teeth so that no one could see.