First memory: a man at the back door is saying, I have real bad news, sweat is dripping off his face, Garbert's been shot, noise from my mother, I run to her room behind her, I'm jumping on the canopied bed while she cries, she's pulling out drawers looking for a handkerchief, Now, he's all right, the man say, they think, patting her shoulder, I'm jumping higher, I'm not allowed, they think he saved old man Mayes, the bed slats dislodge and the mattress collapses. My mother lunges for me. Many traveled to Reidsville for the event, but my family did not witness Willis Barnes's electrocution, From kindergarten through high school, Donette, the murderer's daughter, was in my class. We played together at recess. Sometimes she'd spit on me.
Memory is capricious. I can look back and see decadence, old bigots, the constant racial slurs, the bores, the wild cards, the bighearted, the family album of alcoholics, the saints, the old aunt propped in a chair saying only "da-da," the slow-motion suicides, but at four, six, ten, they loomed, powerful, not as types but as themselves. Among them, logic takes wing." (pg. 31)
We pass the apartment we rented five years ago, when I swore off Florence. In summer, wads of tourists clog the city as if it's a Renaissance theme park. Everyone seems to be eating. That year, a garbage strike persisted for over a week and I began to have thoughts of plague when I passed heaps of rot spilling out of bins. I was amazed that long July when waiters and shopkeepers remained as nice as they did, given what they had to put up with. Everywhere I stepped I was in the way. Humanity seemed ugly—the international young in torn T-shirts and backpacks lounging on steps, bewildered bus tourists dropping ice cream napkins in the street and asking, “How much is that in dollars?” Germans in too-short shorts letting their children terrorize restaurants. The English mother and daughter ordering lasagne verdi and Coke, then complaining because the spinach pasta was green. My own reflection in the window, carrying home all my shoe purchases, the sundress not so flattering. Bad wonderland. Henry James in Florence referred to “one's detested fellow-pilgrim.” Yes, indeed, and it's definitely time to leave when one's own reflection is included. Sad that our century has added no glory to Florence—only mobs and lead hanging in the air.