H. K. WILLIAMS
Still full, the glass of water sits at the edge of the nightstand. Tiny droplets race down the glass forming a ring at the base. Soon, there will another greyish bruise on the dark lacquer.
She had called out for the water while another young couple agonised over their future “Island home” on the T.V. Each of the three options, with their open floor plans, high wooden ceilings and large bay windows overlooking the Caribbean Sea looked nothing like your island home or any other home that you know. Option three even came with several potted banana trees. At least there’s that in common; only that your bananas grow in a patch next to the drain at the back of the house.
You get the water. Mixed with tap water topped off with cold water from the bottle in the fridge; just how she likes it. Now, both you and the water remain; waiting, while she sorts through the clothes. Then you understand the real intent behind the request – she wants to be near to you.
And can you blame her? Now that the “nine nights” are over and the white tent dismantled, and the withered floral arrangements with their broad satin ribbons disposed of, and all the Pyrex dishes from neighbours and relatives returned; you find yourself peeking at her from the corner of the corridors and door frames, looking for the moment when you can sneak back to your life.
But she’s not letting you go just so; no, not this time. She has learned from her mistakes. But she needn’t worry, you know that she has raised you well; you will not abandon your mother while she is still grieving.
You take a sip from the glass before easing onto the bed beside her. Four plastic clothes baskets surround her and each one is lined with a blue garbage bag. She sees you reaching for the nearest one, but she says that you’ll just slow her down. Each piece dredged from the basket is examined in the late afternoon light and the lucky ones are refolded and stacked neatly on the bed; the rest are added to the pile at her feet. The crisp January breeze lifts the curtains over her head like a veil then drops them like a shroud. This was always the breeziest room in the house.
Yesterday, she removed his suits which were always to the left of the wardrobe, her dresses and skirts remain squashed to the right. She tried to get you take some for David but you don’t want to see your husband in your father’s suits; even if they were only worn once.
You decide to be brave.
“You don’t think that it would have been better, if we didn’t make it such a big secret?”
Her hands stop in mid fold, her sigh swallowed by the breeze.
“Avianne, how much times…”
“I know but…”
“We couldn’t just tell any and anybody. Besides it wouldn’t have make a difference.”
You don’t wait to hear the rest, knocking over a basket on your way out, shirts spilling onto the blue tiled floor as you head to your room. Your old room. It is no longer a bedroom but it’s now a storeroom with a bed. Curtains and bedsheets encased in large plastic bags share the shelves with cobwebs and the “old lady sugar” that the wood mites left behind. You wonder where she used to store these things before. The Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High books are still in the bookcase where you left them. Tugging at a yellow spine a book tumbles forward with Nancy on the cover, pressed against the edge of a cave, flashlight in hand, ready to catch the thieves inside.
There are no chairs, so you sit on the exposed mattress. The springs sag under your weight. Instead of reading, the book remains unopened on your lap and you stare out of the burglar-proof windows into the neighbour’s yard, where a large breadfruit tree holds sway over an expanse of haphazard green. It was always the first thing you saw when waking up, that breadfruit tree, when you pulled the curtains, looked at the sky and decided if it was time to get up.
But by the time you opened your eyes that day, the morning was almost over. Surprised you burrowed deeper into the pilled polyester sheets, revelling in the luxury of sleeping in on Sunday. No three hour long church service in a starched white dress; rather, the promise of endless cartoons sprawled on the couch in your nightie.
“I tell you absolutely no noise!”
Her reflection walked across the T.V screen, it was the only thing that you were allowed to watch. Her words shadowed your movements through the house. Usually, when she was like this you went outside and explored the rubble from the old house – an unsightly reminder of progress and your very own obstacle course. Here you would skip over the broken concrete slabs from what used to be your parents’ bedroom, to the living room, where pieces of light green linoleum poked through the rubble, always careful to avoid the rusted iron rods which once held the house together. But that day you were not in the mood. All you wanted was to watch T.V.
“Why you don’t go and pick up a schoolbook?”
You ignored her and stayed on the pouf, leaning against the dark green curtains – your shield from the early afternoon sun. She returned to the kitchen to finish washing the dishes and as soon as you heard the water hissing through the tap you pulled the knob of the 20 inch Sharp T.V. It makes the loud ping and her reflection fills the blank screen when she returned to switch off the television.
“No noise! Your father is resting!”
Not anymore. He appeared behind her clad in a plaid boxers and a white vest, red eyed after his rest. He looked uncertain as to what he should do now that he was awake.
“How you feeling?” she asked
“You want something to eat? I take out your food already, it on the stove.”
He shook his head, shuffled to the study and closed the door.
“Oh gosh eat something, nah, Andrew.”
Turning to you she declared: “Your father needs rest, so no noise”
So banished to your room, curled up against the cold metal headboard you tried re-reading an old Nancy Drew. Instead you stared at the neighbour’s dog as she ran up and down the red steps at the back of their house. She was the closest thing you had to a pet.
Daddy entered the room and he was now dressed to go out in a light blue shirt and grey trousers. Finally you’d get to watch some T.V.
He sat on the bed and there nestled at his side you smelled the Brut cologne he always wore. Eyes fixed on your feet which hung midway between the mattress and the floor, you felt shy as he reached for your hand and said:
“I just want you to know that I am sorry.”
You remained silent. You should have said, “Sorry for what?”
“You know I love you very much.”
You should have said: “I love you too.”
“There is something that I need to take care of. After that everything will be O.K. I promise”
You remained silent; confused by this sudden show of emotion.
“What do you want me to buy for you?”
“Nothing Daddy. It’s O.K.” Finally, you said the right thing.
“Do you still want that pen you saw in the mall?”
He remembered. It was a Lisa Frank pen even prettier than the one Melanie had. When you saw it at the mall he said it was too expensive. Of course you still wanted it. You raised your head to tell him ‘Yes, thanks’ and saw your mother looking at the both of you from behind the corridor wall.
“You’ll get it when I come back.”
“But ent today is Sunday? The mall closed.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll get it for you.”
He kissed you on the cheek and the mattress rose as he stood. You noticed that his feet were bare as he walked away but all you thought of was how you couldn’t wait to show the girls at school your new pen
“Andrew! Where you going? Andrew, no! Stay! Andrew! ANDREW!”
She was screaming. You’d never heard her scream so for a moment you were not sure if it was really her.
You ran out of the room and found her on the front porch still screaming his name. The red iron gate was wide open.
No answer. The screams became sobs.
She pushed past you and got on the phone. You listened as she explained through her tears that Daddy has been sick for some days now and that he just went running down the road. ‘Sick?’ you thought. ‘He didn’t look sick. Besides sick people don’t run. Why did he run? He has his car, why didn’t he drive?
Ma collapsed onto the couch, the phone still in her hand. Watching her cry made you cry. You were unable to offer comfort since you did not know what was wrong; so you tried to be useful instead. You closed the door, put the phone back on the hook, and brought table napkins to for her tears. Then you sat with her and waited.
The streetlights came on as the afternoon darkened to dusk. Mosquitoes emerged from their hiding places to add to the torment. At least by then you had both stopped crying.
A car pulled up and your uncle and father stepped out. Ma rushed to the porch to meet them but you did not move past the doorway. Your father, wrapped in your uncle’s firm embrace, made his way up the steps to the house. He looked tired.
“I find him quite by the school, running full speed talking about some pen.”
Why didn’t you go to him? Instead you watched your mother fold him into her arms as tears filled his eyes, his ‘Sorrys” muffled by her breasts. His feet, still bare, were scratched and bruised. She told your uncle to bring a bottle from the kitchen cupboard and a glass of water. It was the first time you heard the word sedative. You were told to bring a basin with water and Epsom salts. Your uncle said he would spend the night.
Ma came to tuck you in after the sedative took effect. She sat in the same spot he had occupied just a few hours before.
“Your father suffers with his nerves. He can’t take too much stress and he had a breakdown. But we going to the doctor tomorrow please God and once he takes the medication he will feel better.”
“So this happen before?”
“Yes but you were too small to remember. Don’t worry it will be alright. Now say your prayers and don’t forget to ask God to watch over your father.”
You don’t remember anything past that point. Even what you do remember is debatable. If you were braver you would have demanded the memories of others to replace the ones you lost, but you have learned to be content with your own version of events. It is in poor taste to question that which is rarely mentioned.
“Don’t do anything to worry your father.” Her first warning remained in force for his entire life. And just like that you stopped being a child and became a trigger. Eventually you learned how to tiptoe around the edges of your life, trying not to cause an explosion.
He did get better and no one spoke of it again until he got sick. Like the dust which gathered in the quiet, cobwebbed corners of the house, we only dealt with when it could no longer be ignored. After the fourth time when he crashed the car trying to escape giant rats, you stopped believing your mother when she said that he would get better.
The second warning was a gag order: “Don’t go talking we business with people.”
But people still asked. The casual “How your father doing?”, was it genuine concern or an opportunity to gather gossip. You complained to your Aunt. She was never impressed with the pretence of normalcy.
“I don’t know why your father don’t keep taking the medication. He does stop and after a little while is back to square one. Look Uncle Eustace used to make sure and take his every day till he dead. Allyuh getting on like if he is the only person who have that.”
You accepted her scolding on behalf of your family because she was the only one who gave you the truth; the only one who addressed your greatest fear.
“No, you don’t have it, you would know by now. Besides it does only affect the boys. At least that’s what your grandmother used to say. It does skip a generation or two so watch for your children and handle it from early. You know father getting older right, you would have to look out for him.”
You started discussing matters in more practical terms at home with Ma. ‘Call Dr. Matthews and make an appointment. Should we crush the medicine into his food if he doesn’t take it? Who would take the first watch when he doesn’t sleep? Where to hide the knives? Maybe a little vacation will help. Tobago? Which hospital? St Ann’s or San Fernando General?’ It irritated you whenever she said that you were getting better at recognising the warning signs.
When you got the call that he died you were not surprised. The possibility of an early death hung over your whole life. All you hoped for was that when the time came that it would be declared accidental and not intentional. So the real shock was how. A massive heart attack in his sleep – quiet and quick. If anyone else felt the same as you, it was not mentioned. Appearances maintained to the last.
Ma walks into the room and sits next to you on the bed. She touches your belly and the baby kicks his hello.
“It’s a boy”
“I know you’re carrying low.”
“What else the doctor say?”
“Everything normal now, the up and down with the funeral sent up my pressure but I good now. You will come and stay with us when he’s born right?”
“Yes. Is just a shame that Andrew not here to see him. He first grandchild”
“You mean only.”
A small laugh bubbles up from her and you try to meet her eyes. She keeps her head down and instead you take her hand.
“And don’t worry about your son. It will be different with him.”
She holds on, squeezing tightly as if stamping her words onto his fate.