Stories From Yesteryear: The BorderPosted: November 11, 2010
I wrote this one back in high school. Unlike the other stories here, which lean on the humorous/sarcastic side, this is dark and contains sensitive subject matter. Particularly: sexual abuse. Thankfully, I’ve never been sexually abused, so the depictions in this story are most likely highly inaccurate. I was only 17 at the time, too. However, my teacher at the time didn’t seem to have a problem with it as she gave me a 10/10.
It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon when he arrives. He is wearing a long worn out, midnight blue raincoat, with glistening raindrops clinging to the fabric. He is tall and thin; he carries a single suitcase and a bottle of cognac with a silver bow attached to the neck. He has skin the colour of bittersweet chocolate, as smooth as the voice that comes from deep in his throat.
His smile is perfection, white and blinding, a candidate for a toothpaste commercial. He stands in the door frame that is dripping with rain water for a moment, his deep dark eyes, so feminine looking with the long fringe of lashes framing them, assessing the house carefully. (Those eyes of his of his, they can be so penetrating at times, and at others, so empty.)
As he eneters, I notice his shoes. Worn down, much like his raincoat, but well polished. Also, I notice his hands as he folds his umbrella: long and elegant. He has the hands of a skilled artist. A gold ring flashes at his middle finger, a fake diamond stud is at his left ear. As he speaks, I notice the eloquence in his smooth as chocolate voice. There is an undertone of Caribbean accent. Possibly Jamaican.
“An old friend of your father’s,” my mother had said.
My father died two months ago in a car accident. My mother had predicted this. “I knew this was going to happen, I knew it,” she had sobbed into her clenched fist, perched on an ugly orange hospital chair, her mascara running streaks down her cheeks. Then she proceeded to rage on about his “coked-up, fucked up head.” Crushing the bones of my hand with her free one.
Yes indeed. My dad was driving his not quite paid for Corolla with half a gram up his nose. I wonder what he was thinking as that telephone pole got closer and closer to his front windshield. I wonder if the radio was on and if so, on what station? I wonder how long it took for the ambulance to arrive. I wonder if he died on impact. Or in pain. Did he think of God when he hit that pole?…Was his last thought of Him? Or of mom? Or of me? Did his life flash before his eyes? Did he cry out?
His funeral left me with a numbness that I cannot describe. [And then she goes on to describe it – LOL.] I felt like when the dentist freezes my motuh to fill a hole in my tooth. Like that freeze was all over my body. It froze my tear ducts, paralyzed my heart. But that was a preparation – unlike at the dentist’s office – to take something from me, to leave a cavity in my soul.
And so he left us with no money. Zero moolah. Nada dough. Sans l’argent. All of his cash up his nostril. That’s just great. Thanks for the parting gift, Dad.
And so he enters. Mr. Paul. Our border.
In the dark, I can see his empty eyes. His smile – glowing Aquafresh white. I can feel his artist’s fingers. Lord help me. I can feel him.
My mother painstakingly prepares dinner that night. It isn’t much, but nevertheless, she puts an effort in it. With a nervous smile, she produces baked ham, mashed potatoes, collard greens, and fresh hardo bread from the West Indian store. And Lipton Iced Tea, from a powdery mix. Dessert is Haagen Daas vanilla ice cream, with Hershey’s chocolate syrup. [Holy product placement!]
Mr. Paul is very tidy in the manner that he eats. He uses his utensils appropriately. He chews and swallows soundlessly, speaking only when his mouth is cleared of food. He cuts his ham, tops it with some potato, garnishes it with the greens. He puts it all in his mouth and washes it down with a swallow of sweet iced tea. I can see the powder crystals clinging to the bottom of the glass. [Good Lord, this paragraph – and the one at the start of the story – is like watching paint dry! Could the writing be any more tedious?]
He is a public transit driver, he says. Has been one for over fifteen years and makes a pretty good living, so he says. He went to Ryerson University for business, and after receiving his degree attempted to open his own video store [?!]. But that didn’t work out.
“And the rest shall we say, is history,” he says, closing his knife and fork politely on his empty plate. He asks my mother if she would object to his smoking; she shakes her head and tells him that she herself is a smoker. I try not to remember the three packs she went through the night my father died.
Mr. Paul pulls out a Benson and Hedges, a long one, the 100s kind. My mother retrieves her dainty Virginia Slims. They smoke companionbly. I find my eyes fixed to Mr. Paul’s fingers.
“Carolyn,” my mother says. “Carolyn. Didn’t you hear me the first time? I said get the dessert.”
Afterwards, I sit in the hot steaming bathtub. Staring at the far wall. I sit for a long time. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this. Lord help me. I sit there until the bath water is cool. Staring at the wall. Lord help me. I can still feel his fingers.
Laughing. I wake up to the sound of their laughter. One mellow and smooth, the other, light and high. I can smell their cigarettes. They are playing music, very low. I creep downstairs,. barefoot.
I can see them in the kitchen, at the table. They are talking by the light of a candle, probably about moments with my father. Their combined cigarette smoke creates a blue haze. They are drinking his cognac. There is no romantic implications here, somehow, it feels friendly. My mother’s face is quite beautiful illuminated by the golden candlelight. I can see the high cut of her cheekbones as her laughter fades into a smile. She looks happy, happier than I have seen her in a long time.
The smile reaches her eyes.
He has made himself quite at home. Touches of himself are around the house. He has taken to buying us things. Sweaters for my mother and I. School supplies for me. Beauty products for my mother. Sometimes, after work, he’ll come home with a beautiful strawberry cheesecake or shrimp pizza. More than often, a much-needed bag of groceries.
He’s also taken to cooking meals for us. Stir fry. Steaks with mushroom garnish. Salads with avocado or mango pieces.
“Now what,” my mother would often say, as she passed him at the stove, the flat of her hand on the middle of his back, “would we do without you?”
My hands are on his back, not encouraging but resisting, My resistance just goads him on. He is hard, I am wet. My body betrays me.
God’s eye is the sky. One big blue eye, looking down at us. He sees me. He sees him.
My mother has this thing for reading palms.
We were at the breakfast table one day when Mr. Paul was at work. Over the remnants of our breakfast, she asks for my hand. I extended it to her, unsure of what was on her mind. “Let me read your palm” she had said. Why now? I had thought.
She truned my hand over in the cradle of hers, gazing into the intricate lines of my palm. Her eyes narrowed.
She told me that my life line was short. That I would suffer half my life, then make a fortune. My love line was very strong. I was quite attractive to the opposite sex. I would not make it to university.
“Oh yes,” she said. “Right about now, you’re troubled about something, Whatever it is, it will trouble you for quite a long time.
Out of curiosity, I went into his room.
His bed is neatly made. Propped on the pillows is the Holy Bible. At his bedside is a Dixie cup, reading glasses, some VIcks Vaporub and a copy of Go Tell It On The Mountain.
There is nothing. I look into his closet. His shirts and pants are neatly lined up. His bus driver uniform is hung to one side; his cap on the shelf. In the corner of his closet, I spot a small ripped undergarment. Bending over, I retrieve it.
Oh my God.
I race to the bathroom and retch in the toilet. I vomit until all I get are dry heaves, punctuated by my sobs. I stare the floating particles in the toilet water. They make me feel better.
I used to not believe in the devil.
But the devil was up my father’s nose the night he died. The devil numbed my soul as a result. The devil diseased the three fetuses my mother miscarried before she had me.
The devil stole my innocence.
I’m sitting in the snow, in the front yard. Just sitting there, watching my breath come out in puffs in the clean cold air. The snow absorbs wetly through my pants but I don’t care. My tears are frozen by winter’s breath. I am oblivious to the commotion inside the house.
I think about my father. Up there. In Heaven? I don’t know. Is he fortunate? Probably. I want to feel the numbness that I felt when I stood by my father’s gleaming black coffin. I want to feel the numbness of death.
The front door bursts open. Mr. Paul slips down the icy stairs, stumbling, his shirt half buttoned. Behind him, my mother is screaming obscenities, her kimono flying wide open, wearing only a lacy chemise underneath. Her hair is in sponge curlers; some of them are falling out. Her hands are filled with my father’s pistol.
She shoots twice.
Twin crimson geysers explode from Mr. Paul’s head. He slips and grotesquely lands on the icy ground. His shirt hangs wide open; he is sprawling. The pure white snow is stained with his blood. His eyes are closed. His fingers grip at the snow with his final breath.
My mother drops the gun. She looks at me.
“Get inside,” she says, pulling a cigarette from the pocket of her kimono and lighting it. “You’ll catch a cold.”