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Coming of Age in the Garden of Eden, Pennsylvania

By Leslie Stainton


Plucked from the bath, jammies on, clean-smelling flannel, I come into the living room where my grandmother and aunt and mother and father and the strange woman we know as Dr. Bunny, who will later turn out to have been my aunt’s lover, sit smoking in the yellow after-dinner light. Kiss Grandma goodnight, I am told. Kiss your Aunt Betty. Kiss Dr. Bunny. I pad from one to the next, offering my cheek, trying not to recoil at the bright lips, leaking smoke, that plant themselves on my skin and leave cherry bruises.


Ripe with the vigor of adolescence, I sneak out of high school in the middle of the morning and hop into my friend Fahrad’s car, and we drive to the Freeze and Frizz on the New Holland Pike. We order chocolate sundaes topped with whipped cream and cherries, and we eat them as slowly as we possibly can. In the distance, I see Amish buggies clip-clopping along the ridge of a hill. A few years later, Fahrad will be found guilty of dealing drugs and locked away, and I’ll have had my first Manhattan, over lunch, with my drama professor, who’s itching to cheat on his wife.


Nibble at the past and you wind up chipping your teeth. Was I ever sweet? Ask the neighbors whose porch furniture I tossed into the river one day on my way home from the pool. Why’d you do it, they wanted to know. Because I could, I thought, ten years old and already starting to spoil.


Leslie Stainton is the author of Lorca: A Dream of Life (FSG, 1999) and has published essays and articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, Opera News, American Theatre, The American Poetry Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review. She teaches writing at the University of Michigan Residential College.

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photo by Dinty W. Moore