I sat where he usually sat, on the tattered armchair by the front window. He stood there awkwardly asking me for his seat with his body language but wouldn’t say the words. It was just a chair after all. And I was his son, returned only for a moment, to sit and stare out the window he’d been stingy with for years. The view was unremarkable: typical Queens avenue lined with American colonials and lower-middle-class bungalows. But it was hard for him to feign disinterest while he stood there seemingly lost, with nowhere else in the house, in the world, for him to sit and find himself.
“You’s remember when we use to pick-up Anne from work at the hospital, the one by the Van Wyck?” He asked the question like it was an answer to something else, in a thick Haitian-Creole accent that’d over time picked up New Yawk speech more readily than American-English. I nodded remembering Anne as mommy.
“Nah. You don’t remember,” he said with a wry smile. Luckily, I wasn’t thirteen anymore, easily frustrated and provoked. I could turn away and stare out the window to the streetlights flickering on and the sun setting slowly behind elm trees. He went on, “One time, she called to pick her up because they fired her.” He laughed, which I found strange due to an upbringing that hadn’t allowed me the privilege of finding unemployment any bit funny. He lost his job in ‘95 and then even smiling was strongly advised against. But he continued laughing. “In the car, when I ask why, she tell me ‘because they’re racist!’” I’m not sure I understood the punchline, if there were one, but he snickered loudly and finally grabbed another chair to finish his story seated.
All the nurses were West-Indian women like my mother and truthfully, she was fired for her poor work etiquette and attitude, which I surely believed. “They catch her sleeping, while a man almost dying in the other room!” I smiled like the sadist I am, sharing memories of my mother with my father, something I would never have expected in my hundredth year, let alone my twenty-third. But there he was - smiling and laughing, thinking about her. “She said if he wasn’t a white man, they would’ve let her continue sleeping!” We were both laughing then. My mother had always been blunt even when misguided. She used the race card like she’d walked with Dr. King but still didn’t quite know the difference between George Washington and George Washington Carver. “Silly Americans love their peanut butter; gon’ elect the man president for it. Ha!” she’d told me once while grocery shopping.
It struck me, while reminiscing, that my father had known my mother, they’d had some sort of relationship, may have even been in love. I looked at my father then, sitting and smiling like a stranger, and the realization sent me reeling through memories of the latter days of their volatile marriage.
The new more romantic image mixed poorly with the old; the one left by the image of my mother battered and abused by a man that vowed in a suit in a church in a photo album in the basement to protect and cherish her ‘til death (en Francais). My mother cried when her only son, thirteen, saw her swollen face in a gurney.
(Wesley Jacques has been writing short fiction for twenty years, not to be discredited by the fact that he is twenty-three. Born in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, to Haitian immigrant parents, he was raised in a web of group homes, foster homes, and other non-homes. He has a master of arts degree in English literature.)