It was a Tuesday.
The first time I was on television was a Tuesday. I wasn’t excited to miss a school day. I hardly went. There wasn’t much time between my mother’s health issues and my own.
That day, I learned what the lines were streaming across my television at the end of a show. Credits. My teacher said they were made of letters. Placed correctly, letters formed words. I love the way the words keep my story alive.
The act before us was a woman, part snake-handler, part belly dancer, and mostly naked. Thick layers of blue-coated her eyelids. She wore a tiny cloth with golden sequins that left nothing to the imagination.
Mother grabbed my arm and covered my face. I could still see the dancer’s dark skin.
The music rolled. Something foreign, a chorus of hoots, drums, and hollers. A relaxed rhythm rode into my legs. My braces clanked to the beat. The dancer wiggled in and over and under the length of the brown and green python.
The scent of her sweat mixed with her perfume, a rich floral, oily scent. It’s called Egyptian Goddess. I found it once. One waft and I’m right back there. The music, the heat, my shirt stuck to my back, the ache in my young legs.
The host sat behind a large desk. A small woman, thirty years old. Or maybe she was eighty. Adults looked the same to me at seven. The music stopped. The host clapped.
Mother whispered, “commercial.”
People appeared from the side of the stage. One guy had a crate for the snake. His face was white. His hands shook. Another had chairs. The rest tidied the host’s makeup.
Someone called a countdown from five, leaving out two and one, but counting them on his fingers. The helpers disappeared back to their hiding places. I wiped my hands on my slacks for the tenth time. I thought I would be able to see the people watching the television show. Mother had said it was live.
The dancer moved from the seat closest to the host to the third one away. I sat by the host. The seat was warm. It smelled like her. Sweat, salt and perfume. The burning canister lights overhead made me feel like a plate of food waiting for a waitress.
The host spoke about me as if I wasn’t there. Her tone dropped from a happy chatter to somber stabs. Bold words like suicide and father spat out in sharp, abrupt phrases. A jarring tone. Awkward pauses. I heard the wail of a child and a widow’s cry. Moments of fleeting eye contact.
Mother grabbed my chin, twisting my face for a profile. I thought for sure she was going to spit and wipe something off. Instead, she stared into the black lens and said, “He sleeps with a picture of him, and wakes with scratches from the frame.”
The music rolled. Something foreign. I watched the lines streaming across the monitor.