Colleen Lenahan :: The Sill Life

sculpture by lauren sandler, “sill lives: cactus tea” (Kirkland Arts Center)

Milky white, like the frosting on a gingerbread man. That’s how I remember it now. Not that that’s how it was, but that’s how it lives in my memory. And all out of sequence – razors in the matchbox, spools in the sardine can. But that’s how kids are, right? They mix things up. Especially once the earth-brown dust of time drifts down to cover them, making them meld together like clay.

The first time I saw Angel was through that window. Her small, round cheeks could barely contain the red vibrancy of pure life that emanated from them. I was picking my way home along the creek, as I used to do back then. She was filling up a teacup with loose dirt, eyes narrowed and tongue firmly planted between teeth as she potted a flower.

Why was she using a teacup? I never did ask.

My memory has turned the delicate, benign violet into a malignant cactus, perhaps as a way of warning myself retrospectively about the thorns beneath the idyllic porcelain of that summer.

It was a while before we formally met. Being new to town, Angel hadn’t met anyone through school the previous year, so she started her summer vacation as a solitary creature. Not that she minded. She never minded much, but when she did, she let you know about it.

It was another day, another squelchy trek back home along the creek. My toes drank in the soft, cold mud that stained them. A shout of triumph broke through my simple reverie.

“Hey! Look at this!” And we were friends. Just like that.

Angel proudly dumped her catch into my uncertain, but open, hands. Four perfect acorn caps.

“They seem like they’d make great hats for someone, wouldn’t they?”

How could I argue with that logic? She carefully retrieved them from me and placed them on the windowsill.

The windowsill. Why did everything start and end there? Such an unassuming space, a conduit between within and without, known for what it connects rather than what it holds. The gateway to the world, yet finite, contained, domestic.

Many happy days passed after the day of the acorns. There were thread spool dolls and sardine sandwiches, secret notes left and gleefully discovered in a private mailbox of our own making (a matchbox).

There were signs that all was not well, but they all sailed over my young head. The razorblades. Not in the bathroom where they should be, but in the kitchen. The rust-stained metal threatened storms in my fragile psyche, but Angel’s assurances of an innocent accident blew the clouds away all too easily. She always covered for him, even at that age.

The day it happened is when the Sill Life was born: a tableau of what had been and never would be again, for me or for Angel.

Slip slop up the creek, eager to tell her about the new ice cream flavors at Sandbury’s, when itchy smoke stole its way into my nose. It’s early for bonfire season, I thought, concentrating on my mud-slick toes.

The haze grew, both in the air and in my mind, the closer I got to the house, the window, the sill where it all began. My first best friend.

Lights, noises, smells, feelings jockeyed for position in my consciousness.

No sill. No Angel. Only ash.