Reading 22

The following passage comes from the short story “I am Born” by Sena Naslund (2000). Here the narrator describes how she acquired her nickname.

  1. Tink! Tink!
  2. I seem to hear my brother calling
  3. me. It is Paul’s voice, the voice of
  4. my twin brother.
  5. His voice reaches the place where I
  6. sit waiting. I am in the middle of the
  7. seven concrete steps that stretch
  8. between home and the sidewalk
  9. where the world begins. I am six
  10. years old, it is summer in
  11. Birmingham, and I am writing with
  12. a wedge of gray stone on the
  13. concrete. I form pictures on the
  14. steps – a whale, a star. The gravel
  15. twists in my fingers, and I scrape
  16. my knuckle. When I suck my hurt,
  17. I am tantalized by the texture of
  18. the grit. I pick up the gravel and
  19. turn it so that a new point will
  20. engage the concrete.
  21. Tink!
  22. He wants me. But first I must
  23. explain about my name, my
  24. odd nickname: Tink.
  25. It was a gray December day, Mama
  26. later told me; and she wondered
  27. aloud to Paul and me, sitting in our
  28. wooden high chairs. She went to the
  29. window and wondered aloud if it
  30. would snow. “I t’ink so,” I said.
  31. I remember the sudden swirl, the
  32. view out the window—a gray
  33. forsythia bush, tangled on itself like
  34. a pile of coat hangers. She had
  35. pulled me out of the high chair to
  36. waltz me around the room. My
  37. mother was delighted that my
  38. sentence reported my own private
  39. mental activity. Paul squalled
  40. jealously.
  41. She plunked me back in the chair,
  42. dashed to the piano, and played
  43. Chopin’s “Winter Wind Etude”
  44. for us. Both Paul and I loved the
  45. “Winter Wind”; when we could
  46. talk better, we compared our
  47. responses and found that I loved
  48. the fierce chromatics that come
  49. tumbling down the keyboard,
  50. while he loved the stirring melody
  51. that cuts clearly through all the
  52. chromatic swirling. My mother
  53. played so passionately. Though
  54. confined to our high chairs, Paul
  55. and I swirled our arms around our
  56. heads and fluttered our fingers.
  57. Surely the weather gods would
  58. hear her playing and bring us
  59. essence of winter.
  60. Mother’s hair was long and black—
  61. she was descended from the
  62. Spanish who were shipwrecked
  63. in Ireland, made the best of it
  64. and produced “black” Irish—and
  65. she wore her hair in a coronet
  66. over her head. She with her black
  67. hair and white arms seemed to
  68. dovetail with the upright black
  69. piano and the black-and-white
  70. keyboard.
  71. I heard this tale of my first
  72. sentence many times when I was
  73. growing up and told it often to
  74. explain my odd nickname.
  75. One of my earliest friends had
  76. asked if “Tink” were short for
  77. “Stink.” You do smell bad, she had
  78. said. Only when I was a young adult
  79. did it occur to me to ask my mother
  80. if it did, in fact, snow on that
  81. December day.
  82. “No,” she said.
  83. Why had no one warned me that my
  84. first syntactically complete sentence
  85. had been an error in judgment?
  86. Why didn’t I consider the real
  87. context for my thoughts, that this
  88. was Birmingham, the Deep South,
  89. and that the chance of it snowing
  90. was very slim—maybe once every
  91. four or five years?
  92. Tink, I have something, I can hear
  93. my brother saying. It still makes my
  94. heart beat fast for someone I love to
  95. arouse my curiosity that way:
  96. I have something.
  97. Paul came up the steps fist forward:
  98. “Guess.”
  99. I guessed a four-leaf clover?
  100. a nickel? grass?
  101. He opened his hand. It was empty.
  102. “Not fair, you stinker,” I said.
  103. “Can’t you see?” he asked.
  104. I looked from the palm of his hand
  105. to his face. He was triumphant.
  106. “Air,” he said. “I’m holding air.
  107. It’s very valuable. You couldn’t
  108. live without it.”
  109. I thought disdainfully,
  110. “Neither could you.” But I said
  111. humbly, “Hey, you’re right.”