Elegy to Queen of Hearts

“Elegy to the Queen of Hearts,” “3 Otis Street,” and “For My Brother”

Issue 22 by Betsy Littrell

Elegy to the Queen of Hearts

Mechanically, you circled

out of the garage, the same

one you parked in Monday through

Friday for the past 25

years. When you reached the exit,

you couldn’t remember which

way to turn to make it to

the same house you lived in for

19 years. That’s when the doctors

discovered the tumor.

I saw you just two months

before as you taught my

3-year-old son how to play

online poker, and I watched

talk shows in bed with you, no

clue that a growth threatened to

steal those memories. I saw

you next at my dad’s funeral,

wearing a hat because the

wig was too itchy. You

stumbled and fell on the plane,

your sister explaining that

you were ok despite your

bloody knee — you just sometimes

lost your balance. I tried to be

strong when I saw you, but I

lost it, collapsing, crying in

your unsteady arms. You still

were able to dry my tears.

I was 5 months along with

my next son and you parked your

hand on my belly — the only

thing you wanted was to feel

the new life growing inside

of me. And you did. That was

the last time I saw you

until your own funeral,

and I brought the baby that

had lived in my belly, the

one you told me I needed,

and I nursed in a room next

to your casket. Nearly

500 people showed up

to say goodbye, and my son

wrapped his hand around my finger.

3 Otis Street

This house is yellow. It used to be bone white.

Yes, I lived here when I was a little

girl, hair down to my waist, always in braids.

You’ve lived here almost twenty years now, so

it’s ok with me that you made some changes.

This old Victorian needed to be

brought back to life, a brighter one.

The foyer is as cold as I remember,

winter boots piled high, though none fit me now.

That’s the closet where I used to hide

underneath my mom’s puffy and woolen

jackets, feeling the wall for a secret

passage that didn’t exist. I wanted to escape.

Did you try to find a way out, too?

I was sure this house was haunted, all

the creaks and squeaks and rattles,

all warning me of something — or someone.

We had the ugliest golden

carpet, matted and stained, and the green

paisley couches had matching arm protectors.

The dining room was always empty, but

I kept my crayons and coloring books

in these built-in shelves. The kitchen

is different, modern now. I remember

when we had our first microwave,

so clunky on the counter.

But still, if my mom forgot to thaw the

meat, she conveniently forgot about

the newfangled contraption, and she’d

use it as an excuse to eat out.

The crazy second staircase is still

here, just as narrow. My sister’s

room was on the left. I can almost smell

the cedar bookshelf filled with Nancy Drew

mysteries and the Funk and Wagnall

encyclopedias. The windows are

original and drafty, heavy, letting the eerie

chill in. I see you didn’t cut down the

giant maple. My dad, gone eight years now,

would rake the leaves into rounded red and

orange piles just so I could jump in. Past

where the garden used to be, I had a

metal swing set that popped off the ground

whenever I would swing too high. Beyond

that, well, I don’t know if I’m ready

to talk about the fort. My foster brothers

knotted the branches together to make

a secret hideout. Did you ever find

the box of evil memories I buried in the

dirt? It was ugly and gray, storms locked

inside. I don’t think I dug down deep enough.

Maybe the memories became tangled in the

raspberry bushes. I was hoping they

could be suffocated, like my innocence was.

Let’s find my old room, it was next

to the attic. I see you changed the

wallpaper - it’s painted a pale pink now.

My parents let me design this room, and

I wanted to be an astronaut. The

walls used to be pasted with red, blue and

yellow stars with a rocket border, and

I dreamed I could fly to the moon.

For My Brother

I used to steal

your heavy hoop

earrings, too big for my ears,

but you never cared.

Mom brought you

to the salon for

an eyebrow waxing,

and you cried out in pain.

I wished that I

fit into your white dress

with the silver sparkles,

but you didn’t want to go to the dance.

Your mane was thick

and wavy, the envy

of many thin-haired girls,

but you wanted to cut it off.

Mom convinced me

that you wouldn’t want to be a bridesmaid

in my wedding. Maybe you didn’t,

but I never gave you the chance to say no.

I helped you pick out a fuchsia

skirt suit to wear on my big day,

a quick shopping trip because

you weren’t into fashion.

We were always opposites,

you into Star Trek, me into

Anne of Green Gables, but

maybe we’re more alike than I thought.

It turns out we both

have body image issues,

but for different reasons.

I just want to lose some weight, you want

to lose your breasts.

We’ll never again share earrings

or a trip to the spa, but

we’re both writers who can

share our stories.

You now choose a tie

to wear to work, and you

clipped your hair short,

just like you always wanted.

I couldn’t love you more.

About the Author

Betsy Littrell

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Betsy Littrell is a whimsical soccer mom of four boys as well as a Navy wife. She is working on her MFA at San Diego State University, where she was recently awarded the Sarah Marsh Rebelo scholarship for poetry. In addition, she is a journalist at KGTV and volunteers with Poetic Youth.