It’s 1972. I’m nine. I’m dangling my scrawny legs over the edge of the double bed I share with my sister, Shannon. The black Keds I bought last week in the boys’ shoe department are heavy. They drag my feet toward the floor.
On my lap lies a book I just finished reading. The cover is hardback and blue. Not navy blue, turquoise or even teal, but a shade I call electric blue.
I open the book and re-read the poem inside written by the main character, a young girl like me. I get a funny feeling in my chest. It’s like butterflies are flapping their wings against my ribs.
The book slides off my lap as I rush over to my desk. In my curly-cue script I rattle off three poems on paper torn from my spiral notebook.
Sheets in hand I walk to the bedroom door and turn the knob.
“Walking through the morning mist.”
I can’t get the first line of her poem out of my head. Why is it I can’t remember a single line I just wrote?
The jungle print on the bedspread is all I see. I feel a stretch of vine reach out and twist behind me, drawing me toward the electric blue book.
In seconds I make her poem my own.
Then off I fly down the stairs to the living room to announce to my family that I’d become a writer.
I tuck the stolen poem at the bottom of the stack and hand the sheets to my mother.
She reads the first three poems quickly, and passes them on to Daddy. When he’s done, they go to Erin. Shannon is the last to read them. No one says a word.
My mother holds the fourth poem a long time. Eager to get back to Laurel and Hardy, my father snatches it from her hand.
“This is great,” she says. Her voice quivers the way it did when she saw the Bay of Naples for the first time from the balcony of our new apartment.
My father reads the poem twice. He gazes up at me.
It’s a look I’ll see again at 15 when I visit him two years after the divorce. At a lounge in the Fayetteville airport his hands will cradle a scotch and soda, and his eyes will tear up as he registers how much I’d grown when he wasn’t looking.
“I’m impressed,” he says, taking one last glance at the poem before handing it off to Erin.
“You wrote this?” Erin asks.
I drop my gaze to the floor, and nod. When I look up, her eyebrows
“Wow,” she says, passing the paper to Shannon.
“Not bad, Bonesy,” Shannon says, shoving the poems back in the direction they had come. She gets up and cranks the volume on the television set.
When I take the sheets from my mother, she squeezes my hand and smiles. The stolen poem is now on top.
I rush back to my room, and press the door with the small of my back until it clicks shut.
Then I sit down at my desk and pull out a sheet of ladybug stationery. I write a letter to Grandma and Grandpa Corr, copying out the fourth poem once again as if I wrote it.
The next morning is trash day, and I get up early. I sneak outside and cram the electric blue book inside the Hefty bag on the curb.
On the way back in, I tuck the letter to my grandparents in the mailbox, making sure to raise the red flag.
Mari Corr grew up in a military family always on the move. Ten years ago she chose Portland, Ore., as her home. Her creative background is varied from studying improvisational dance, which culminated in a solo performance entitled In the Company of Women Who Speak the Truth, to the completion of two screenplays, one of which was selected for a public reading as part of the Mother Tongue Series in Portland.