“Do you understand that the shower pipe is leaking,” Dawn says to Ray, through the bathroom door. “How can you not be showing any concern?”
“How can you not remember kindergarten?” Grace says laughingly in her new room, us in our Sunday clothes, me sitting in a wooden, straight-backed chair, her voice auto and crisp as she slowly chooses her shoes and carefully flicks her dirty blonde hair back, then holds it tight and up with a scrunchie around fingers. “I mean everyone remembers kindergarten …”
This early morning hints of old routines back in God's Country, her doing her hair and finishing her make up while telling me what it's like in the outside world.
Later, at church, Grace asks me, “Don’t you remember him? C___ J___? From the church when we were little? He was the preacher’s son?” She laughs. Every once in awhile I’ll catch her eyes giving a look of thoughtful recognition.
C__ J__ is a weird guy, twenty-nine years of age. He goes through jobs the way others go through moods. The church Grace and I go to is not his father's, this one is in the next town over and is modern with a band and no dress code.
I ask Sylvester, “Don’t you think that guy’s weird?” Sylvester defends him.
Later, C___J___ gets caught giving a dollar to a little boy to take his pants off in the church men’s bathroom.
I only go to church to exchange any messages with Grace.
“I think we might be going Christmas shopping Wednesday night,” Grace whispers.
Despite our voices low, the empty sanctuary echoes our sounds.
“I don’t know how I’ll swing it,” I whisper back.
Quick moving jazz plays from Dawn’s boom box sitting on the desk in the corner of the red and white kitchen.
She brings up my plans at the dinner table.
She, Ray, and Flower discuss things thoroughly.
“I don’t see how they could get much shopping done in less than an hour,” Ray says.
“Well, maybe they just want to get a cup of coffee,” Dawn offers.
“Dawn could drop him off at the Darter’s on her way to pick me up from the kennel tomorrow morning,” Flower says. “Grace can drop him off at Wildwood after the night church is over. Of course, I don’t know what Grace’s work hours are … “
By five-thirty in the morning I have taken Tommy and Roxie out and am back in bed before Flower’s alarm has rung.
At six-thirty I wake and notice Ray has not left for work. I hear him walk back and forth from the shop to the bathroom three times. He steps into their bedroom. She steps along with him to the shop.
“Nothing is wet,” he says to her. “Even the insulation is dry.”
It is bitterly cold and windy outside. I dress so as to exercise Roxie.
“Mrs. Darter was on the phone,” Flower says to Dawn.
“I don’t know any Darters,” Dawn says.
“You know, Cathy Darter. The Darter’s Grace is staying with?”
Dawn steps out of the house in search of me. The fields have been harvested and dug under for awhile. Ice has hardened over what's left.
All I wear on my torso is a white-t-shirt. I figure she’ll say something to me about it.
Muffin runs into Dawn’s arms. “Chain up Roxie so I can speak to you,” she says in the shade of a pecan tree.
When I return, she asks about meeting up with Grace Wednesday night.
“Not much time to do any shopping at all...” I say slowly.
“I just had a long talk with Mrs. Darter,” she says. “I’m not going to allow you to see Grace anymore.”
She seems suspicious of my nonchalance. Dawn’s way used to trump my conscience, as if she wanted me dead, lifeless, a character in a novel to do with as she pleases.
“According to Mrs. Darter, Grace has been hanging with a terrible crowd. She’s now living with the Strange’s. The Darters say you’re welcome at their church but they don’t think Grace will be there very often.”
I remain still. I almost thought I saw a tremble in her expression. After all these years she’s good at hiding that place where her pain and her motherhood meet; a bullet hitting her might as well be a snowflake. Like all the old men I have known, I will inevitably say my mother was frightening perfection, not by moral force but because it will turn out to be the truth ... some sort of emotional, intuitive sensibility that remains aware of the future and manifests through the raising of children.
“Did you know Grace hasn’t paid John anything for his car? She seems to have used him terribly.”
“Grace has paid John for his car,” I say.
“No she hasn’t.”
“It’s an argument between them. John doesn’t want Grace to pay him. For awhile she paid him ten dollars a week, out of formality.”
“She’s acting as if she never intends to buy it.”
“Grace doesn’t want to buy that car. It’s a piece of junk--”
She steps back. I notice how big I am compared to Dawn, even though I've stopped eating their food again.
(During the rain shower)
Muffled voices filter through the wall. I catch some of Dawn’s words.
Ray’s comes out in grunts.
“Used John … Lied many times …”
I start my math. I don’t finish till after lunch. I supervise Tommy and Roxie running around while reading the script of “American Beauty.” It is about a modern family in the suburbs who have new neighbors move in. One house feels the overwhelming shame the other house should be feeling.
I write until seven, then eat supper by myself. Dawn and Ray have gone out to Nik’s Pizza for dinner.
I finish my schoolwork. Most of what I turn in are research papers with annotated bibliographies. Dawn stresses over the writing.
I wash the dogs. Around one o-clock Dawn leaves to pick Flower up from the kennel.
I finish washing Roxie, walk the dogs, feed them, then sweep the sidewalk, then do pushups, situps, then go running.
At two I am dropped off for a haircut. I wait in the outer waiting room until I am called. The barber, Jared, or stylist, as his sign says, is cool, but consistently kind, even to me.
“Man, all I know is as far back as I can remember you've always had a girlfriend,” the client says to Jared as his hair is cut.“And I've known you since kindergarten.”
Jared cuts my hair so short that when Flower sees me, she asks: “Did you turn your hair blonde?”
“And how come you would come home with stories about Grace and John going to the Golden Corral buffet when you already knew they had broken up?” Dawn asks.
I affirm the truth, noting that “Tamra came along.”
Dawn’s expression changes so suddenly I look away.
It seems Grace must come home for Christmas. She’s coming to pick up some more of her things, but also to exchange gifts.
Dawn seems happy about it but not in a sick way. I notice her in the kitchen, wringing the dish cloth in her hands over and over, then putting it down, her massaging her fingers with the fingers of her other hands over and over, smoothing each hand over with the other hand, like Lady Macbeth.
“She’s getting a ride back to Wilton from John,” Dawn says.
“Huh!” Ray exhales through his nose. “Free taxi service,” he mutters. “Wonder how long she thinks that will last?”
He is watching television. Everyone in the house now watches television, like they're trying to figure him out. I used to look at the Star Trek stickers that would come in cereal boxes. Grown people dressed like that.
While the others sleep, a blizzard binds the night of the Millennium. I walk Tommy inside a cyclone of twisting, porch-lit snow, a wall of fluttering white holding its territory a foot from my face. The snowflakes fall cross-legged as Tommy sniffs, white piling thick on the ground: if the fallen snow lasts three days, it will snow again.
At midnight I lounge alone on the couch watching “Good Will Hunting.”
In Spanish it is translated: F___-your-mother.
In English it is: Motherf_cker.
Which both translate to: F___-yourself.
Men working their erections, thinking more and more Mother, the others, wondering about erections, always thinking: Penis. Turning, without the dignity of Oedipus.
Dawn already knows these things: that pleased expression she keeps around me.
“This thing where you keep studying,” she says. “You act like you’re taking the SATs this Saturday.”
I look up at her from my chair in my bedroom.
“I only signed Grace up, not you. Even though you are the same grade, she is older. You won’t be taking it.”
My elbows move to rest on my knees, my face then in my hands. She acts as if she’s never seen me cry with such abandon before. When I was a boy, refusing to cry was a twisted game I played with Ray. During the torrent she remains silent, standing in the doorway. After several minutes, she walks away, my wet face still resting in my wet hands, my throat choking back. I still have no where to go when I leave God’s Country. There is no hope for scholarship.
One of the jobs I work is at a large general store. One coworker, Rob__ is a drunk, a coke head, and a murderer. When he killed the man, he killed his small son along with him, shooting them both dead in their car. He is short and wiry, with blood shot eyes and a white smile to gleam from his dark brown face. He is wise … They call it street-wise, but really it is philosophical except with an ease to it. He knows the dark side of human nature so well that to him it isn't dark, it is human nature.
He has a lot of tattoos but you can’t tell because his skin is brown. He is in his thirties but looks his twenties. Supposedly he loves me like a little brother. We push shopping carts together. Whenever he sneaks off to the gas station to get a forty he buys me a Snapple. He says he is happy he has me to work with everyday. He tells me stories, explaining how Matt Damon's father had a Peter Pan complex, hence the film, Good Will Hunting – (“Having to pay for the sins of the father isn't an intellectual or religious concept,” I told him. “... All you're saying is its impossible for a female to ever have a conscience. Nor a male who's not a man.” “Is that what I'm saying?” he asked, with a tilt of his head, kindly conciliatory.)
Due to storms ruining our clothes as we worked, the general store buys us new clothes so we change in the men's department. The general store feels like new money, not worried about sustainability, knowing it had won. They treat us well. We're like a family because everyone is so poor.
Our supervisor is named Melvin. He is older, but everyone assumes he is in his thirties and he doesn’t say any different. He is wise also. The two of them have started teaching me. They take me out and show me how to fish every Friday and Saturday night: fishing, then spades and booze, then home.
Last weekend, they taught me to drink. Rob__ sat on the edge of the tub, lit by an exposed bathroom light bulb, softly laughing as I puked into his toilet. “Hold on … little guy, …” he says over blasting blues and flushing water, “Watch your head ... Sit on your knees for awhile … ... Hold on … little guy …”
I understand they need me to remain the retarded one. I speak good English only at work, only bad English when around them, a certain lack of specificness in the consonants. I read American runaway slave narratives and Schindler's Ark the way I used to read the Bible, wondering why their original publication had to be fiction, then republished decades later as non, but today I am caught with brand-new Shakespeare tied around my thigh with two strings though my khakis are baggy.
“What is that?” Dawn demands, pointing. “Inside your pant leg?”
Ray and Dawn walk the wide, long, main hall of the house for hours, talking. Luckily, I used my own handwriting in the margins, designed to look like a doctor's scribble – code. Ray suggests to Dawn that I bought the book from the thrift store across the street from where he had picked me up. Dawn agrees with relief.
“No, it was no problem,” Grace says. But it was, her facilitating Dawn, who didn't want me to come along on the family vacation to the Morris homestead in Florida.
She accepts the money from Dawn, doesn't protect her character with familial generosity.
I ignored them, Grace, her boyfriend, their friends, instead reading books and writing scripts for the recently-canceled “Freaks and Geeks.” I never even asked for a ride, though Grace's apartment was over four miles from work. I woke at four-thirty in the morning, walked the sidewalks through downtown Wilton to the recreation center and swam laps, then walked the rest of the way and arrived at work by seven, leaving at four in the afternoon, then walking back downtown, working at the library, writing out Bartletts until closing.
Each Saturday morning, Rob__’s woman has food prepared for me. He keeps a half gallon of Seagram's Seven ready. Since I am not allowed to sleep in God's Country past eight, every Saturday I sleep the whole day and into the night and don’t eat or drink a thing.
As he sits in the recliner, watching sports, I wake and catch him looking at me in a lost expression.
He jokes, grinning with sly mischief: “Never thought I'd ever meet no white-boy-slave in my lifetime.”
The dawn and street light throw shadows and light across the inside of the cab. The cab driver is different from the ones I usually have.
The heavy duffle bag is on my lap. Whenever I have a full duffle I tell Ray I am dropping the contents off at the Goodwill thrift store, then I ride home with him with an empty duffle bag in the evenings.
The cab driver kindly shines his light on the storage room. I carefully hang the clothes, cover the rack, place the objects that were wrapped in the clothes, then fold the huge, empty, duffle and place it inside my book bag.
“What trouble you in … ” the cab driver asks when I reenter the back seat.
“Nothin.’” I say.
“I know you’re Caucasian,” Robert says quickly. “But you’ve got to be Wilton White.”
I look at him, bewildered.
“I know, I know, Guy, but you only have to pass for white for a few minutes.”
I take off my shirt and put on the Tommy. I put on the leather sports watch.
Since birth I have been too proud to accept that we are white trash, the hue of my skin enough for others to know it. I look like a tall, lanky, country boy.
As Ray drives the truck to Wilton I watch the sunrise. The huge, 8-ball duffle sits vertically across my lap and rests against the passenger seat floor board.
“I mean … if you ever spoke once in a while … “ he is saying.
Rob___ pulls out a pistol and points at me, then Big B, then me again, with his half whine-half-murderous pitch.
Melvin is standing across the table from him but crouched down with his hands dodging Rob__’s movements. “Calm down, brother, just calm down,“ he says. “Have you met Guy? Ya'll like brothers .. Nobody’s cheating.”
(In work bathroom)
As I wash my hands I look up into the mirror.
“He's gone,” Dawn says once she notices me looking around the house. “I gave him away to a good home.”
Outside, I look throughout the land for any sign of a grave. Maybe Ray told her to, in order to reaffirm the new familial structure.
Tommy is gone forever.
“The house was wonderful wasn't it?” the woman asks as she processes the paperwork now that it turns out I have stellar credit.
I've given her Melvin's social in order for him to get the apartment, my skin and look required.
“He wouldn't know what to do with that,” Melvin says in aside to Robert as a young woman in Sunday clothes walks by.
Robert laughs as I put the last of the carts in line and start pushing the line up the parking lot toward the general store's front entrance. Robert, up ahead, leads the row with his left hand, still talking to Melvin beside him. I don't exactly know to handle being the butt of this joke and wait till the carts are inside where the customers can get to them and their noise has ceased. “Seems like I'd be whoring around by now, don't you think?” I say to Robert.
“You know you too clean for that,” he says with that sly twinkle he keeps in his eye. “You're aught to marry the first girl who falls in love with you and you with her and I bet you know it. Someone like you,You come from all that crazy, liable to beat her up anyways, her so weak and puny and self satisfied.”
I don't get to respond, though the tension seems thick. Melvin changes the subject, sends us on an errand.
“I got this other gal pregnant,” Mel says lowly. “Now she’s raising hell, maybe she'll leave for good this time.”
He takes a swig of Seven and casts the fishing line.
“How you goin to vote …”
“White’s’ll give it to the Democrats for awhile, then give it to the Republicans awhile.”
What Robert calls "white MILF," I find beyond my scope. Out of kindness I finally use bad English when dealing with them as customers. Something about my work uniform and job at a general store, when I use good English they get a frightened expression just inside their eyes.
Working outside, I ask Robert. He replies with a certain laugh … something like ignorance is violence.
So I changed my mind.
Big B lies all the time. He stays so high he never knows what he’s saying. He takes me deep into the projects late at night where tired, young brown-hued girls with gray, stringy hair cook me soul food in dark, worn out kitchens.
They ask Big B about the good old days when he was playing professional basketball.
(At Denny’s Diner)
Grace and Colin, her new boyfriend, sit across from me in the booth.
“When I think of the nineteen twenties,” I say lowly over coffee, “I put the The Color Purple and The Great Gatsby together.”
“That doesn’t even make sense --” Colin says toward Grace.
Grace changes the subject.
I never walk across the four-lane highway from my day job at the general store to get to my night job at the restaurant across the street, but bum a ride instead. I never use the scissor lift at work or work on the vast, top shelves of the back stockroom. It was one thing for my relatives to be aware of my upcoming legality: regularly forgetting about unlocking the door at night so I would have to sleep in my convertible til they woke in the morning; the odd smiles to themselves whenever I had a financial setback like a recent car repair; but once it occurs to God I'm receiving human rights he's going to be pissed.
(Tuesday, 31OCT2000, Halloween)
“By Seth’s middle ages language had grown so far from the wordless understanding of her parents that Seth would catch herself humming the same sad songs as her parents did, in exactly the same way. She wondered how she would hear herself mourning the future this way.
“Feeling lost, she felt she couldn’t forgive herself for not already knowing this new understanding. Then she realized she had always known. She felt mistakenly entrusted with the truth of how her parents had actually felt in those dawns and dusks suddenly absent of their sons.
“It was that day in her middle ages, deep in her youth, but still not old enough for her comfort, that she suddenly understood her parents. It was as if the whole universe physically went silent but for their two voices. They had done the worst thing possible: leaving the forever young and innocent immortals behind. Otherwise, the females continued giving birth immaculately and the males continued living out the lives of beautiful priests. Her parents met – God be damned.
“Ever since her husband had carved his name for her, she wondered about being the last relation of both her brothers. She wondered about being the last human, and only the second generation of the human race, at that. She continued to worry after she had her family. During her middle ages her worry intensified. She wondered how her oldest children still assumed her to be the matriarch of the human race, believing her storytelling so effortlessly they assumed in the beginning was the word.”
Dawn’s ledger used to be a way for her to keep track of things, especially our home schooling. These years later it’s become a list of charges. Finally, this month, it is cheaper for me to live on the outside. After two years of hoping this Friday would be it, this plan will come through, I pay a deposit, plus half of November‘s rent, along with December’s rent, for a townhouse from Rissette Realty in Wilton, just up the street from Melvin’s townhouse.
Overnight, after the end of five successive shifts between two full time job's worth of a one-hundred and thirty hours, I put the top down in the convertible and make trips from the storage room to the townhouse. The roads are empty. The snow silently melts as it touches impact.
Ten in the morning. Melvin is drunk. There is glass on the floor. His new rental house looks rough.
“Are you kidding me .. ” I say in an almost-whisper. “I got nothing going for me.”
“Guy, you’re embarrassing yourself, talking like that,” Melvin says as he rubs his brown hands over his face and eyes.
The owner of the restaurant, one of my jobs, is patriarchal toward his staff, especially the teenage females. It's convincing except for his comments when they're not around; plus he doesn't pay me for house sitting for him.
He never mentions it, nor do I. No promises were made; he was so desperate for a sitter the arrangements were to be made out later.
No matter how hard I try I cannot be his ace hard-worker anymore. Ever since Christmas I make dumb mistakes that embarrass me and lower my standing in his eyes and the staff's.
Confused, I step out to deliver an order. It's Jared. “Wow, you're getting some muscles on you,” he says.
The ventilation systems above our heads fill the kitchen with a low humming base.
Like an African prince who has just realized his inheritance, Tyrone says: “Girls don’t like you to let yourself go hard until you’re already in there.”
“Is that what you learned…” I say, my arms deep in hot suds.
“Yeah …I did,” he cracks with innocent, young laughter.
Miss lets out a cry at the news of Dale Earnheart's death.
Britney asks me to wait with her under the dark patio until her ride shows. The place smells of fast food, as do our clothes.
“It might have been that it used to be Wilton was racially charged,” I say, trying to explain what it’s like at my other job. “I was young, so I couldn’t pick up on it. I couldn‘t pick up on the fact that -- my coworkers -- were picking up on the fact that I those individuals -- were the only people I knew, really.
“So by being the youngest I was getting a good education but was also very gullible. It became -- imperative -- for me to think like they did, at least long enough to articulate it, because Melvin kept talking less candidly with me. And it felt like it had nothing to do with me. Like I knew it in my bones. And then it turned out to have to do with skin color … like all along … even before I met Melvin I mean.
“It was sly, like he had done it before. Got to the point where we hardly said anything at all. I had never met anyone who could do that before. I mean I knew I could do it, but I really didn’t become capable of it until I experienced him doing it to me.
“I don’t like getting old, I just become a worse and worse person as I find out more about the people around me and how -- they‘ve -- set up – human life.
“Like in those video games -- It was like I was a magician -- as if everyone was a magician and I happened to be a white magician growing up -- it was like I got to the point where I realized I happened to know more black magic than I did white magic. It took me a long time to figure out white people, since they had never claimed me: racism isn't about skin color, it's about culture. You ever hear a politician cryptically talking about values … Brown skin doesn't make you black, being raised by blacks makes you black. And the word nigger refers to any man who is a poser. A no-gooder. Period.”
She looks speechless. She sits up.
“We were raised together … ” I tell her. “Everyone wanted to have that look in the eye where a no-gooder had to lynch you ...”
She slowly leans back, then sighs, “So you were a talker all along,” with a soft smile.
At the yard sale, I remember her from Wilton Community Church.
“Yes, I try to encourage the military to my boys,“ says Aimee. “You know we try to raise them within a structure.”
“Oh,” I offer.
“But nothing like bondage,“ she says suddenly, acting awkward, as if she were remembering who she was talking to.
Just like Dawn. Can’t keep a job.
I simply didn’t show up at my other job, nor any night after.
Later on, some former co-workers stopped by the general store's bakery. They wanted me to report some of the employer’s abuses to the State.
I turned them down. Even though I had worked there for two years, I felt they would not do the same for me.
Just like a mule, I signed away my rights to overtime and began working sixty hour weeks in the store when I was sixteen. I got up to consistent eighty hour weeks and two jobs when I was seventeen. Now I am down to forty-hour weeks the summer before I turn twenty.
Each night I shift to a girl I've never seen before. Using her key, she steps into my apartment after I've gone to bed. Each time she slips into bed she already knows my innocence. When I'm asleep I'm so whole she is damaged instead, my innocence her favorite thing. I remember standing on the back porch in the eye of hurricane Fran. Louder for the silence.
I watch the “Rosie O’Donnel Show.” I record them and watch them on weekends while I catch up the apartment. I spend seventy-five dollars a week on groceries, I cook the food up on Saturday evenings.
I read award-winners, sometimes finishing a book in three days. I’m in the habit of falling asleep in the middle of reading on the couch.
One day I stop eating entirely, then, later decided to allow one bowl of plain white rice once a day.
For twenty minutes, as Flower sits uncomfortably in the driver’s seat, I push the car through flood waters up to my thighs toward her apartment's parking lot.
Amazingly, her car starts.
“Yeah, we just pushed it through the flood, up the main hill,” Flower is telling her neighbor. “We’re exhausted.”
That evening as she cooks bad food and I loyally eat it she shows me the recommendation letters she had sent to the private Christian school in Pennsylvania in order for her to acquire full financial aid. One letter carefully alluded to her maybe being a suspected victim of sexual abuse from her difficult-to-know father.
“'Guess certain sentences are simply required,” I offer.
The whiskey is strong, but I've learned not to taste it so it’s okay.
“I know, but why are you so naturally mean, man, “ Poot, says, grinning mischievously.
He is Melvin’s son. His real name is Melvin Junior. Though he’s built like a runner, in Wilton he is known for his years on the Fike high school football team.
“I know, man … I don’t even get it … I just, have a lot going on I guess. I really don’t have time to be … “ I turn my head to the left and right, thinking blankly. “Playing around.”
He looks around at the townhouse. It is almost empty. I’ve been living here almost a year. He gently shakes his head and smiles at me.
The foggy winter has kept the sun away for months, and the ongoing drizzle still continues. The counter at the drug store seems telling: Persa-gel-ten acne medication; teeth-whitening strips; aloe vera gel; Mederma scar treatment.
I want to say to the cashier: “I’ve had a hard life.”
I arrive home from work with a box of Hefty trash bags
I begin to empty the sock drawer upstairs, the boxer drawer, the closet. The bags fill with t-shirts from Family Dollar and old clothes from clearance racks. Hours later, I only own five shirts and three pairs of pants.
I put the black bags by the street. Those holed-up clothes are no longer good enough for me.
“Seth’s eldest son never let on that he might know of the wordless understanding just behind the symbols she weaved language with. He never let on about how there must’ve been a patriarch; how she must’ve known her brother, Cain, in real life; how she must’ve been there that last day, how only she knew the truth of what had happened, of what she had done in the end. Him never letting on proves to her his position.
“Seth worried that her eldest son was expressing the same in-the-know she showed to her father when she stopped him short that final and first day. It was a new, effortless femininity, one she had realized just in time, an unmistakable animal-proof that saw her through almost as if by accident, when she matched her father‘s movement with a look loud enough to speak the wild.
“The rest of her children seemed to have little wordless understanding. She noticed her descendents seemed to feel the need to write things down more and more. Before that, they were memorizing purposefully. It bothered her to see it, how their version of memorizing was nothing like the natural, effortless way her parents had.”
I arrive home from work and begin packing up the townhouse. I collect lists of vacancies and start checking out places.
It takes less than one day to move and unpack in my new place, a quieter place, one that will allow me my brand new life.
“You just don’t know how hard it is; I never have enough money,” Grace says. She sits at the kitchen table and smokes a cigarette. She wears a blue dress. She talks about her friends and her weekends out with them.
“And we stopped by here Saturday night,” she says. “Because I’d left some laundry in your dryer, but you weren’t home, and I was so worried, because, I mean, what would you be doing on a Saturday night?”
He could have been anyone, played anyone in any movie, been anyone's mate. Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes asks him what he's going to do now that he's survived the Catholic Priests, an organization that's known everything there was to know of the abuses for two decades now. He is a lone young man taking care of horses. As he turns back to the stables he says he'll only continue on as this.
I take notes on what the victims say of their lives because it's like they're articulating what I'm walking around in.
In the work break room the employees discuss the scandal, saying. “Celibacy is what turned them into that.”
(Thursday, 01AUG, 2002)
It's a wettin' down out, the setting sun still illuminating through the rainwater beating on large living room windows looking out onto a wide, wooden front porch. “The house is done up exactly like I would have done,” she says.
As soon as I escaped God's Country Grace told Dawn and Ray that she knew where I lived, so I've still yet to escape properly.
“I can’t understand Grace, though I’m loyal enough.” I tell her at some point.
“She knows she’s stronger than most,” Dawn says officially while surveying.
I play the piano for her. Mozart's Ah Vous Dirai-je Maman, Sonata in A Minor, Beethoven's Fur Elise, Moonlight Sonata. From where I sit in the dining room with its tall windows and fire place, I can tell she is not listening. She walks the high-ceiling-ed living room, which opens into the dining room, and the Van Goghs and Monets and Manets. She doesn't take much time on the paintings and drawings of mine, she's seen them everyday for years.
“But why did you marry him?” I ask her from where I sit at the kitchen table, an iced tea in front of me.
She continues moving about the old-fashioned kitchen with its too-high cabinetry. Her glass sweats on the counter. “My father was a high-strung, opinionated man,” she begins as she peaks into the laundry room adjacent to the kitchen. “Ray was the opposite. Calm. Laid back.”
I think Ray moved like that because he was trying to stay calm. When Ray and Dawn first crossed paths, like met like. I want to ask her more questions, but I know I'll have to pay for them with answers of my own and I don't want her to know how much of my memory is lost to colors.
“My father was –hyper-- so he seemed open minded,” she says. “Progressive. Actually he did not budge.”
It has grown dark.
“Ray didn't budge the way a pyramid doesn't.”
She slowly picks up her purse. “Traffic has eased by now,” she says, ever dignified, poised for infinity.
After I wish her well and close the door behind her, I catch myself running my hands over my face.
“During the haunting of her middle ages, Seth wondered about her parents, what it was like for them to become the first “in-the-know,” as her children called it nowadays.
“Sometimes she sat whole nights wondering in amazement that her parents could have been so ashamed of the soft hair on their forearms. In her modern ages, Eve soberly told Seth the haunting, vulgar story of what it was like, the unforgiving, bottomless shame of it, as she and Adam realized they were truly human, “The first, and yet the youngest,” her mother whispered to her in the dead of night. “Of a long, long line …”
“It was the way her mother had said the words that caused Seth to feel she could take in the whole of the truth of life if she focused in on them enough. If she could only analyze the way her mother had said the words, the exact expression in her mother’s eyes, she could glean the information out, just like when she was younger, forcing her skilled body to work the staff into dirt. If she focused enough, she could find all the symbols, not just the first four, or the second four, but enough to carve out the whole story, a whole written language whose symbols called letters would speak the language like silent spells, all on their own.
“In her middle ages the window of opportunity again beckoned. This time she followed, like a lamb to slaughter, the way she felt her brothers would have. Her world grew darker as she secretly took in the knowledge of good and evil. She began to fear for her children, for the future itself, as she continued to catch the look of Cain in her descendant’s features. From then on her movements and attentions decisively, strictly demanded her descendants grow up able instead.
“In her modern ages her youngest descendants turned on her more and more. The looks in their eyes held less suspicion than outright anger. They seemed to feel it wasn’t right that one person know the truth of life, that there was no one to verify the truth she so effortlessly owned.
“’Even her parents didn’t trust her,’ she overheard one whisper to another. “Both her brothers gone, instead of just one, and her silent of it, her parents afraid to ask her. All along the old crone was a storyteller, same as the rest of us.”
“Seth winced when she overheard their name for her: Old Crone. She put her hand to her womb and leaned forward, exhaling the pain of it, as she felt the curse of Cain descending all around her.”
My name now Kenley, I shift through nightmares nightly. When the body tires of it, the body refuses sleep for days, then repeats. I am the King's meadow, the generations between my legs like burgeoning seeds burning through my bloodstream as through my wolf-eyes I see Judas betray Jesus.
In God's Country I quickly turn away from the stretch of fresh-blood-soaked railroad tracks, running down the valley, knowing the way to the house by roads not built yet.
Born 21 January, 1847, he left Indiana at twenty-one to work Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad in July 1868. Upon transferring to the Richmond and Petersburg Company he came upon God's Country, even its sky so rural it was lost to history, part of the proposed stretch of land for the New York-to-Florida Atlantic Coast line.
Upon his death, the ensuing town was named for his head manager, Kenley, who was just friendly enough to keep the peace after the spark and flash of blood in already-violent frontier country.
As his death remains the forgotten catalyst of galaxies, Great-grandpa's people silently return to the North, residing in Pennsylvania, then back down to neighboring Wilton Country, following work, the old-blood stained railroad tracks proving magnetic.
Broken free into the night, the darkest skinned people point me “North,” as if it were the deepest, sorrowful secret.
The light skinned point me “West,” as if they want me to come with them.
I inhale for scents of the ocean of my youth, sleeping while listening for the sound, knowing which way is