Another tribute to Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried
HELLO HOW ARE YOU, WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO?
Aunty Sandra always shouts just a little, her inside voice is the voice of many a kid running around in a public pool, slipping on the wet tiles, and coming to a stop just underneath the DO NOT RUN HERE sign. She walked in with little beads of sweat on her forehead and an air of slight decay. Her handbag is old, its fake snake skin flaking off in plastic pieces. The faded clasp used to have a silvery colour, but now shows a redness underneath, it has not properly closed since 2009. Instead her handbag is always slightly open, leaving behind a trail of candy wrappers of the sort only aunties ever possess, sickly sweet and always sticky.
AND DO YOU HAVE A BOYFRIEND YET? A SWEET LITTLE BOY TO HOLD HANDS WITH? MAYBE GIVE A LITTLE KISS?
Her breath smelled of mints and of being old. From her bag she got a plastic container, slightly yellowed, how it fit in there nobody knew, stuffed too full with little triangles of cucumber sandwiches. Instead of butter she used low-salt margarine. Unveiled by the container came the rest of what she carried: two pens, only one of which worked, the other always leaking small amounts of black ink, leaving all slightly spotted, disdain for the world around her and especially the youth, a dissatisfaction with regards to her life and how it had played out in front of her eyes, seemingly without her consent, a little tin of off-brand petroleum jelly, and two lollies she intended to give away to her favourite nephews.
WHY ARE YOU NOT WEARING A DRESS? A CUTE LITTLE DRESS FOR A CUTE LITTLE GIRL LIKE YOU. WHEN YOUR MOTHER WAS YOUNG SHE WAS ALWAYS WEARING CUTE LITTLE DRESSES FROLICKING AROUND IN MY BACKYARD. WHY ARE YOU NOT WEARING A CUTE LITTLE DRESS?
The young girl did not smile. Because young girls do not have to smile on command anymore.
I THINK I STILL HAVE A CUTE LITTLE DRESS FROM WHEN YOUR MOTHER WAS LITTLE IN MY ATTIC. RED, WITH WHITE POLKA DOTS. OR MAYBE YELLOW. VERY CUTE.
Her bag, a small polyester backpack, bright green with Peppa the pig on it hung low around one shoulder. Its smallness only seemed to exaggerate hers.
WHAT A SWEET LITTLE BACKPACK YOU HAVE.
It had a stain along the bottom , her bottle filled to the brim with raspberry lemonade had leaked three months, a week, and four days ago, leaving behind a gone-off sweet smell, and a sticky residue.
AND DO YOU KNOW YET WHAT YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?
It was filled with only a few things, no messy rubble yet, her mother always cleaned out her bag on Sunday evening, stripping it of the mess of the week -little bits of paper, an old Pokémon card gotten from her older brother (Gyarados), three drawings, each made within the span of ten minutes, each subject not at all recognisable, though all had said they loved them, and a paperclip unexplainably traded for a juice box the last Tuesday-, before filling it with Monday’s snacks and drinks.
A NURSE? A TEACHER? A BALLETDANSER? A PRINCESS?
Now it held a book (What Frogs Do When They Are Bored), three coveted gel pens (blue with glitters, yellow and silver), not much knowledge at all except that she knew more than most, a dislike that bordered on hatred for her aunty Sandra, a scarf because it may get cold tonight, and a magazine that catered to girls her age which she hated, but at least she could draw little moustaches on the people pictured in it.
NOT TO REPEAT MYSELF OR ANYTHING, BUT WHY ARE YOU NOT WEARING A CUTE LITTLE DRESS?