Aunt Ethel's house is 1950s modern. Blonde brick, gray and pink interior. Her sofa's streamlined and sleek, upholstered in that awful stiff nubby weave that leaves red loop marks on the backs of my legs. Armless chairs, blonde tables, and jazzy gray lamps with flaring shades complete the space age picture. It looks like the Jetsons could live here.
I hate it. Even at eight, I'm into old stuff. My father's house is packed with antique furniture, old clocks. My mother buys and restores old furniture, sells it. With my family, we've hunted antiques all across Oklahoma and Kansas. My mother's persistence in visiting one Kansas farm four times a year, five years running, resulted in the arts and crafts oak pedestal table she longed for finally coming to live with us.
It's New Year's day and the monotonous sound of the television droning on and on drives me outside. I don't want to watch the Rose Bowl parade. I can't bear the sound of football games on TV, even at this age. Cindy, the streamlined, sleek, black and white terrier, joins me in escaping. As often happens in this part of the country, January 1 is sunny and not too cold.
I sit in the sun on the front steps, feeling the warmth on my shoulders, looking across the road at nothing. We're on the edge of Wellington here, in my aunt's house. Everything is flat and winter-crisped dry. Brown. Ugly. The air smells dusty but the heat feels wonderful on my head.
Closing my eyes, I get the sense that this feeling I'm having will be with me forever. The sense of wanting to escape, of wanting to get away from the way things are, I think I've had it the entire eight years of my life. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be somewhere else, away. Just away.
I long to live anywhere but here. I want to free myself from the dry sameness of this landscape, the flat, unending prairie rolling off to the west. I am sure there are other ways to live, better ways. I've been to New York, to Chicago, to other big cities.
I think about how it feels on the trains we take to Wichita, to Dodge City, to Chicago, as if something's going to happen, something thrilling, electrifying. I remember how I feel standing in the space between the cars, looking out at the night as we arrive in the bigger cities. It feels as if there's a life out there and I'm missing it. I am misplaced. Lost. I know I should be someplace else. Anywhere else.
Aunt Ethel opens the door and tells me it's time to eat. She hugs me close as I edge by her, her sweet, flowery perfume at odds with the modern house I step back into. On the table is a feast. Turkey and dressing, potatoes and gravy, cranberry relish, jello salad. My family's standing around, waiting for me to come in so everyone can say grace together. The game drones on across the room. We bow our heads and pray.