mourning in america

After a hot spell that seemed to last at least a couple of years, San Francisco finally woke up in late autumn the other day. All the women wore their knee high boots and sweaters and scarves, and everyone looked relieved and cozy. I remembered a moment in ’99 or 2000 when, unlocking the front door of our apartment building on Alabama Street, I felt a breath of chill in the twilight and for the first time ever, got excited for Halloween and the Day of the Dead and Thanksgiving, for pumpkin pie and hot apple cider. For winter in America.

Smells, like music, short-circuit the rational mind. Today I stood over a tray of cheap romance novels outside a thrift store on Valencia and breathed their binding glue and ached to be with Mum. I walked under the Moreton Bay fig in the grounds of St Lukes, and trod on the figs crushed into the pavement just as I always did on the way to Rick’s house. In Rainbow Grocery, I caught the scent of a just-opened tin of Cadbury’s Roses, and what it meant: the family Christmas.

It was hard enough to write about Mum’s death, which seemed to reduce me to a mental age of 12. Dad’s death seems to have left me almost pre-verbal. My appetite is picky and fugitive and my sleep fitful and unsatisfying. I am at most 5. I dreamed I was a mad old cat lady in France, and that I ended up spending my days rambling through the vineyards with the twin sons of the coke-snorting couple in the party chateau next door.

“Most of my dreams are obvious, but that one wasn’t,” I said to Jeremy, who rolled his eyes.

The parents were asleep on the job, but I sat by the river while the wild-haired, speechless little boys played in the dark water, and I made sure they didn’t drown.

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