A bloated avocado lies on the ground nearly bursting with green goo. The orbit is as big, if not bigger, than my three-year-old foot standing next to it. I should be able to run from it, but the threat that the ugly goo Dad cherishes and repulses me will at any moment ooze forth, leaves me breathless. I can’t move.
That fruit tree is the only tree in our back yard. It’s our outdoor hut; a black-caped villain dropping offspring like dead leaves in winter. I’m under it, not for relief from the hot sun that summer’s day, but because I’m testing how long I can stay there this time, before something happens.
The avocado splits and exposes itself, daring me to examine at close range. I stare to see if anything else happens, then cup my hands over my knees and slowly bend down to inspect the skin: hard and tiny goose bumps. An urge to stick my finger into the goo and get it over with tempts me. I avert my attention to the grass around it instead. Just then, a fat swollen one drops and breaks open on my hand, staining it a bright green.
It touched me!
I scream for my life and run up the wooden steps that lead into our house, and while frantically rubbing the back of my hand on my cotton pinafore, I enter under the safety of a solid roof.
Our two-story house, several blocks from the Pacific, is set into a modest slant in the hills of Santa Barbara and faces the ocean. Like the home we had before this one, I’m allowed to wander free.
Still squealing, I hurry through our utility room, through our kitchen, dining room, past the stairway and to the opened living room door that looks toward the sea. The sight of blue in the distance soothes me silent. Salty air tickles my nose and sparks a vision: White sand, wet sand, white-ruffled foam along the shore of the evermore sea.
The walls, floors and ceilings of our house have been built with dark wood and make it shadowy. Mom’s not keeping the ceiling and table lights lit during the day like last winter, when we moved in. We do have windows, which, shaded by trees, prevent any meaningful light from entering.
There is one sunroom and that is wherever Dad is.
I cozy into the bottom step of the staircase that’s across from the front door: My perch to wait for Dad to come home from the theater where he playacts and pretends. Mom strolls past me as if looking for something. I crunch the stained part of my pinafore under me. She glances my way, to the opened door, shakes her head and strolls back out.
My Dad is handsome. I’ve seen him in magazines in crisp and cheery men’s shirts and stern and serious men’s suits.
When he’s home, he always wears shirts with tiny checks, or shirts with stripes: Blue and white, red and white, yellow and white. Sometimes he comes home in a costume but only if he’s had a dress rehearsal.
A long thin blade of light slices across the stairway and into the living room from a side window. Dust floats inside its slivers. He whistles in the distance, which means he’s past the sidewalk and starting up our pathway. My eyes blur from excitement, and I can’t focus on anything but the exact spot he’ll walk through.
He stomps into the house the screen door slams behind him. He looks around as if he doesn’t see me. He’s not in a costume.
“Where’s my little girl?” he says in a big booming voice.
“Here, daddy. Over here.”
“Are you sure you’re my little girl?” He hovers over me, hands on his hips. “My little girl might have a green stain on her dress. Do you have such a stain?”
I stand up and show him my pinafore.
“You are my little girl,” he says.
He swoops me up in his arms and twirls me. I stop giggling so he can put me on his shoulders. He holds my legs while we go from room to room to find Mom, Joy, and my brother Jolly, who is six, three years older than me.