RIGHT NOW. My mother clasps the hand of my mother-in-law from the top, pressing it to her thigh. Under a slate shelf of clouds the two hands tremor slightly from the intensity of the grip. My infant son gurgles, oblivious. Or he sleeps in his stroller which my mother teeters, unaware of her movement. Taut ropes of stoicism and heartache draw my mothers face into old age. If my father is there, which I doubt, he is probably sitting in the rear, not next to her, his eyes avoiding everyone.
19 HOURS AGO. I sat against the wall in a featureless beige cubicle, pressing the knuckles of my spine hard against the cement. Joseph Korn argued with me in his stern, sometimes fatherly voice, then softened and finally sat, eyes closed, pinching the bridge of his nose. When leaving he hovered over me for several minutes, bending on old knees to squeeze my shoulder as I stared at our shoes. We were both wearing Allen Edmunds. His were spotless.
ABOUT 8 AND A HALF YEARS AGO. The cigar-chomping Bulldog clock in Rudys struck midnight, both paws pointing at the 12. Looks like its payday, crowed Scott, wielding a pair of scissors he must have been hiding in his backpack. My best friend smirked as he gnashed the blades in mock snips. 16-6 to 18-5. Wed wagered over individual won-lost records.
5 DAYS AGO. My firm named Jeremy Stein its new head analyst for the Singapore office. I quickmailed my secretary that I would be leaving early for the day and to say I was feeling ill. Her thinly disguised words of consolation blipped onto my screen. Jeremy was a special case he grew up in Hong Kong and spoke Cantonese. Ted, Arthur and Vanessa, all more senior, were the ones who should be upset. Even reading, I could hear her screwing up the Rs. Jehwemy. Awthuh. Staten Island or not, my secretary was right. I still went home.
8 MONTHS AND 19 DAYS AGO. Andrew Jr.s head appeared between my wifes legs like the sunrise of a permanent day between two green mountains.
ABOUT 8 AND A HALF YEARS AGO, LESS 25 MINUTES. My ponytail versus his Fu Manchu had been the bet. Heading back to the dorm, Scott mused aloud that he would hang his ponytail in our living room, or maybe mail it to my girlfriend. A little further, he began surveying groups of coeds, holding my hair off to the side and asking which way they liked it better. They giggled at the asinine sound effects he contrived while yanking my hair like a bathroom lamp cord. Ding-dong. Weee-waw (Addams Family style). Open sesame. Gerrrooonnnimooo.
13 YEARS AND 3 MONTHS AGO. I swatted tentatively as yet another serve kicked sharply away from me. I tried to go line, but he pounced on the shot for a cross-court winner. In the stands, watching as always in a red Adidas sweatsuit unzipped to reveal his tan, my father made a show of leaving in disgust when Nick Bell went up 4-1 in the second set. He looked like a noise-sensitive moviegoer switching rows, shuffling past indrawn knees and muttering loudly, something about the endless final set of the 1981 McEnroe-Borg final.
ABOUT 8 AND A HALF YEARS AGO, LESS 27 MINUTES. Gerrroonnnimoo again. The outskirts of my field of vision went black, as if telescoping Scotts face through a rolled tube of dusky paper. My fist surged out, cold-cocking him, fracturing his jaw in two places.
4 EVENINGS AGO. My wife surprised me by arranging for a babysitter and meeting me for dinner in the city. We ate at Raouls, where Id taken her for our first anniversary. As we contentedly sipped port, tiny sparks suddenly crackled from a match tip as the waiter relit our candle and vanished. Catching my gaze, Lorraine asked me what I thought about getting started on a second child. I eased forward to kiss her, head tilted expectantly; the crisp, exquisite features of her face dissolved into a shimmering, candlelit blur. The only other time she dissolved like that was on our wedding day, as fresh tears leaked past my willpower with her every step towards me.
ABOUT 20 YEARS AGO. Trailed by a posse of neighborhood kids, Cory Lester crossed Greenhill Road in the slightly pigeon-toed gait of fat kids, intercepting me on my way home from school. Cory pushed me backwards, announcing that he was captain of that particular stretch of sidewalk. Friends from the day before goaded him; said I didnt get it. He pushed me a second time. I stood, feet immobile, eyes clamped shut, whirling my arms furiously like helicopter blades until a kid from my Hebrew school knelt behind me and Cory knocked me to the ground with a punch in the chest. You walk on the other side, he commanded with a kick in the face, splitting my lip. I was the smallest but fastest kid in the second grade. Not fast enough, though, to outrun the thrilled chorus of "Faggety Andy" jeers.
ABOUT 66 HOURS AGO. I ducked into Jeremys office to congratulate him, his nonchalance barely masking his conceit as he leaned away from me in a plush leather chair and clasped his hands behind his head. He was solicitous, Jeremy-style, mentioning that if I were still interested in Singapore in a year or two maybe he could bring me over. I parried with Lorraine that she probably wouldnt want to relocate so far from home holding her sexiness out there for his dateless envy. Moments later I wrenched my desk lamp from its base when it wouldnt extend to the angle I wanted.
ABOUT 20 YEARS AGO, LESS 6 HOURS. My father lectured me, his face red and contorted like the day I accidentally scratched his new Jag with my bike. He didnt give a rats ass how big Cory Lester was. If I sniffled once more he would give me something to sniffle about. He spat the words with pure contempt, then glared at me, as if to drill them in. Did I think he got to where he was by letting people push him around? More glaring. To my surprise, no spanking. Instead, he forbade me to call him Dad for a week.
ABOUT 5 YEARS AND A FEW MONTHS AGO. Two lanky teenagers with knives appeared from behind a parked van and jumpily demanded our money. It was my first date with Lorraine. I instinctively slid in front of her, body rigid, molars grinding so hard my jaw would be sore the next day. I reached into my pocket and tossed a fold of money to the sidewalk in front of them. The taller one said he wanted our wallets and watches, flashing six gold teeth with his smile, slashing the air with his knife. Blank, tense, I didnt move. Time passed. They bolted, Tall Guy grabbing the money, still grinning while the other one hooted back at us. I slowly became aware of the frightened, angry voice behind me wanting to know how I could be so stupid over a Casio and some credit cards. Her hands clenched the back of my shirt, leaving the fabric stretched into a mold of balled fists.
ABOUT 38 HOURS AND 48 MINUTES AGO. My wife and I went out for dinner in the neighborhood. It was her idea, sensing that I was still brooding over Jeremys promotion. We drove home immediately after the meal, my mood as yielding as a tire clamp. In response to ten minutes of her trying to cheer me up with motherly sounding platitudes I commented that she didnt have a fucking clue. She shot me a prolonged who the hell are you stare, and then started in on my mountain of self-pity. Poor, poor Andrew, she said. Taken in by one of the top five investment groups. Promoted ahead of everyone in his class except one dweeb. A nice home, a super wife and a beautiful son. Boy, does he have it bad . . .. Most other times her feistiness excited me.
8 MONTHS AND 17 DAYS AGO. I carried my wife and infant son across the marble threshold of our new house and directly to the master bedroom, delirious with proprietorship. I feel like Im dreaming, she whispered, giggling in disbelief, forehead snug to my neck.
38 HOURS AND 34 MINUTES AGO. Shed kept on me the rest of the ride home. Walking to the front door she began playfully pushing me toward the house, jostling my shoulders or, arms circling my chest, driving me forward, all the time teasing me, calling me her little baby, her big little lovable baby, cutting my breath with unwanted hugs. Her voice floated around me, girly from the wine. I quickened my pace, trying to pull away from her and escape to the house. The key missed its mark and she plowed into me from behind oof! poor baby, laughing before the door burst open and we stumbled together across the vestibule. Hysterical laughter in my ear. My fingers jam painfully into the second door and my view blackens. In one sharp motion I spin around and deliver a two-handed shove, more of a chuck, launching her into the center of the large glass pane to the side of the front door, her disbelieving face looking back at mine with curious calm.
38 HOURS AND 33 MINUTES AGO. The continuum of time slowed, transforming each heartbeat into a discrete, enduring event, able to be observed and contemplated from within the moment, as if Id suddenly been exiled to a different flow of time. Lorraine clutched with ribboned fingers at a pennant of glass embedded in her armpit, working it back and forth to disimpale herself. I turned to see the babysitter shrieking uncontrollably from the doorway but I couldnt hear a sound over the whoosh of static in my head. I fumbled with the red geyser, frantically pressing the blood back into the hole, Lorraine calling Andy, make it stop until the liquid thickened and became dark, like motor oil, and my name became an everlasting echo.
38 HOURS AND 32 MINUTES AGO. Eyes shut, I stared across time at my life, as if looking out from the crest of a great ridge. The markers and signposts leading to that moment aligned, as clear as the points on the trail out of the valley the lone tree where lunch was eaten, the treacherous patch of scree, the mottled boulder split down the middle. I beheld trails going to other places, and to either side of me, a precipitous drop into mist.
RIGHT NOW. A bedraggled drug addict is hounding me in our cell, poking me with his bony finger, wanting to know if it was true I told my lawyer to leave without posting bail. He keeps poking me even as I lie back on the cot. Im loose, exhausted. For just an instant, images of Lorraine recede and I see myself playing tennis with Little Andy, laughing and stroking the ball back to him, teaching him to enjoy the game. The shadow of an old elm stretches across the empty stands.
|© Marc DuBois 2003
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Marc DuBois has spent the better part of the last two decades shifting continents and work. He has been a Peace Corps volunteer (Burkina Faso), studied in Holland (development) and New York (law), bartended, and spent several years in New Orleans fighting against housing discrimination. Through these migrations writing has been a consistent creative outlet. He currently lives in Amsterdam, where he does human rights advocacy for a humanitarian organization, and is working on a collection of short stories involving aid workers. Recently, he began trying to publish his short stories, with "Match End" becoming the first.
issue 39: November - December 2003