Excerpt from my in-progress creative dissertation

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Julian Barnes’ England, England says: There’s always a memory behind your first memory and you can’t quite get at it. I don’t recall if dad hated it more when I brought Steven around or when Sarah was at my side. Barnes goes on to note these uncertainties as unprocessed memories. Steven’s family lived down the street and Mrs. Johnson made the best dinners, usually chicken dumplings and canned peas and carrots. My dad used frozen vegetables in steam-ready bags. The hamster-sized pieces shriveled from a frosted bead to a tasteless vibrant cube dumped and cornered on my plate in a soggy microwaved puddle. At Steven’s I welcomed Mrs. Johnson’s tin soaked salty-watered delights. She made mashed potatoes too, pressing down and twisting her wrist in smooth motions. Our plates were heavy with speckled cream mounds, because she kept the skins on the potatoes. Mr. Johnson wasn’t around for most dinners; I occupied his seat near the refrigerator. When our glasses were low I could release the suction seal of the fridge door without leaving my seat to top up our glasses with sweet tea. Robbie spent the summer trying to teach me how to play chess. Steven wasn’t as patient with me, and my inability to understand and apply the multiple winning possibilities required in successful chess playing, as Robbie put it. Robbie offered something Steven couldn’t and an older brother never likes to come in second. “Why don’t we ever hangout at your place?”, Steven asked as he walked me home one night. My dad doesn’t cook like your mom does. His big teeth looked electric white under the fluorescent streetlight framed by his dark lips edged by pink gums.  Anna, where have you been? Dad was standing on the top stair under the porch light. Steven stuck out his pale-palm for a shake. Lost track of time dad—trying to learn chess remember?  We were on the landing of the brick staircase, four stair-levels below my dad. The cobweb cornered porch bright like stage lights blacking out any expression my father could have had. No need for formalities, son. Dad’s lips hardly parted when he spoke. Call next time you’re gonna be out late Anna. Our front door knocker clinked as he pulled the door shut behind him. The sound of moth bodies tapping the porch light continued. Steven pulled me in for a big hug and said goodnight. Sorry about his manners, he can be a real jerk. It’s alright sweetie. I’ve had worse. Night.

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