Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category
Do you promise to love, comfort, and honor? Keep her for better or worse, for richer or poor, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her as long as you both shall live? I do.
The alarm rings. Ivan wakes up. It’s 5:30 a.m. on a cold frosty morning in December in Queens, New York. Next to Ivan is his wife Shannon White. Shannon is a registered nurse at Children’s Community Hospital, about 20 minutes away from where they live. Ivan goes into the bathroom to take a shower and dress for work. Then, as he does every morning about the same time, he goes downstairs in their two story red brick home to eat a blueberry bagel and have a cup of coffee.
Ivan sits in the kitchen sipping his coffee and reading the newspaper. He intuitively knows it’s time to leave for work. Ivan has been working in New York City for the largest accounting company, MBT for a few years now. He looks at the clock to confirm that it is 8:00 A.M; he kisses his wife goodbye and leaves for work.
Ivan takes the same route to work every day—crossing the Manhattan Bridge onto Wall Street. He gets to his workplace at 8:57 A.M. and notices that his secretary, Lauren, isn’t there.
“Hmm,” he thinks, but Ivan goes into his office and has a seat on his leather black chair. He picks up the phone and calls his partner James Downer. The phone rings four times and James picks up.
“Good morning,” answers James.
“Good morning, James. When I walked in today I didn’t see Lauren. Have you seen her?”
“Oh yeah, about that,” James said, “Lauren retired last week while you were on vacation. We couldn’t get a hold of you to let you know, but she did leave you a thank you letter.”
Ivan feels sad that Lauran had left without him knowing. Then Ivan asked, “If Lauran is gone, then who is going to cover the front?”
Excited that Ivan had asked, James said, “Last week I conducted a few interviews and found this intelligent candidate to take the position. Her name is Melonie Garcia. She has over five years of experience, and she starts today! She should be at the front desk already; if not, then she must be with Stacy.”
Ivan thanks James and hangs up the phone. He checks his work Email and open a message from the C.E.O. of MBT. The message is an invitation to a 40th year anniversary on January 28, 2012, at 7:00 p.m. While Ivan is reading the invitation, there is a knock at his door. He looks up and sees Stacy with a young Hispanic lady. She has long, shoulder length brown hair and light brown eyes. She is wearing a red, long sleeved shirt with a black pencil skirt above the knee and black ankle strap heels. She is 5 feet and 4 inches tall.
“Good morning Stacy!” said Ivan.
“Good morning, Ivan. This is our new secretary. Her name is Melonie Garcia. Today is her first day in the office. I am giving her a tour of the place and introducing her to the employees.” Melonie smiles at Ivan, and he notices then when she smiles she has rosy cheeks with one dimple on each side.
“Hi!” Melonie said.
“Hello,” shaking Melonie’s hand. “My name is Ivan Kelly. I will be your manager. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to let me know. Have you worked for an accounting firm before?”
“Yes, I have for about a year at Global America on Third Street,” replied Melonie.
“That’s a great company to work for. I have a friend who actually works there as the president of Global America. Her name is Jenny Walters. I’m sure you’ve heard of her before or seen her presentations at meetings.”
“Yes, I have met her before, and she is an amazing woman,” said Melonie. Ivan smiles and thanks Stacy for showing Melonie around the place. Ivan goes over to and sits back down at his desk to finish up his work.
Five hours have passed, and Ivan goes into the break room for a bottle of water. He opens the cabinet and grabs a napkin. James walks into the break room and says hello to Ivan.
“So what do you think about the new secretary, huh?” James giggles. James always gets excited when there are new people working in the department.
“She seems as if she’s a nice girl. I didn’t expect her to be that young. Did she mention that she worked for Global America to you?” Ivan responds.
“Yeah, she did mention that to me when I interviewed her. Her resume is impressive, and she has perfect attendance from her previous job,” James said. James reaches in the refrigerator and pulls out a yogurt that his girlfriend made for him this morning.
“I hope you’re right about that James. I guess I’ll have to get used to having someone new. I still can’t believe Lauren retired.” James just shrugged his shoulders and left.
After break Ivan saw Melonie on the phone and heard her say in a soft tone, “Yes, Saturday night would be great. Okay, I got to go. Bye.” She hung up the phone noticing that Ivan was walking her way.
“Hello, Mr. Kelly,” Melonie said joyfully, “what can I do for you?”
“Well, the first thing you can do is call me Ivan. Mr. Kelly sounds ancient.,” Ivan said, which made Melonie laugh. “I wanted to know if there was any news for me while I was gone during break.”
Melonie replies, “Yes, there is. Your wife, Shannon, called and said that she was going to be working late. And Mr.Obby left a message reminding you not to forget about the important convention next week Friday at the Hilton Hotel. He left his number in case you didn’t have it.” Ivan had forgotten about the convention next Friday.
“Thank you, Melonie.” Ivan goes back into his office. The sun is starting to set, and Ivan packs up his stuff, says goodbye to everyone, and leaves.
Ivan looks out the window. He sees snow crystals slowly falling and tries to count each one. Today is the 40th Anniversary of MBT event in New York City. Ivan is waiting patiently as his wife is getting ready. Shannon puts up her blond hair with a pearl booby pin.
She stares at Ivan through her vanity mirror and says, “What are you thinking about?”
Ivan’s brown eyes meet with her’s and he smiles, “Nothing. I was just counting the snowflakes. Are you ready yet? We better get there early because the weather downtown could be worse than here.”
Shannon puts on her red lipstick and goes into the closet to put on a black cocktail dress. “Okay, I’m ready. How do I look?” She asks.
Ivan goes to her and slowly grabs Shannon by the waist and says, “You look beautiful.” Then he gives her a kiss on the lips. Ivan and Shannon have been married for five years and haven’t had a child yet. There were times when Shannon had wanted one, but Ivan keeps repeating himself telling her that he’s not ready for one. Last year when Shannon attended her sister’s baby shower, Shannon came home and cried the whole night. The next day Shannon and Ivan stopped talking about having kids.
On the way to the venue Ivan and Shannon drove silently in the car. Shannon is texting her sister to reschedule the dinner plans they made tonight. As Ivan pulls into the parking structure across from the venue he notices about three hundred cars. He was nervous to see who was all going to be there.
They both get out of the car and cross the busy street to the event. Walking into the front entrance there is an elegant long white carpet leading to the ballroom. There are white magnolia flowers in crystal blue vases alongside and under oversized mirrors. On the ceiling is a massive white handcrafted Venetian Murano chandelier with gold details e hanging above the room, which makes everyone’s eyes sparkle. As Ivan and Shannon make their way into the ballroom, Ivan sees James and Melonie at the bar. Ivan and Shannon go to join them.
“Hey Ivan!” says James, shaking his hand. James is wearing a blue dress shirt under his single-breasted three buttoned jacket and black dress pant.
“Hey, are you two enjoying yourself?” asked Ivan.
“Yes, I am. This is the biggest event I have ever been to,” Melonie responds. All her hair was parted to the right side, falling down with loose curls and bangs that are swept to the side.
“Wow, really? You’re going to enjoy it. By the way this is my wife, Shannon.” Shannon and Melonie shake hands and say “Hello” to each other.
“Ivan, why don’t you and James stay here while Melonie and I get us drinks?” Shannon said. Ivan shakes his head and the two ladies go to get drinks.
At the round table of six are Ivan, Shannon, James, Melonie, Peter, who is the financial advisor, and Tony, who is the lead person that manages MBT website. They are sitting and listening to the President of MBT giving a speech. As the speech is going on, Ivan silently gets up to use the restroom. Walking to the restroom, which is located near the front entrance, he sees Melonie staring at the ceiling.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Ivan asked.
Melonie jumped with surprise and responded, “Yes, it gorgeous. One of the prettiest chandeliers I’ve ever seen. How come you’re not in there?”
Ivan blushed and said, “I was actually making my way to the restroom and was going to ask you the same question.”
“I got tired of sitting and took a walk.” Melonie said.
Ivan smiled. “Ah, I see.” Ivan and Melonie stare at each other for a second and then they heard Shannon’s voice.
“Ivan, what are you doing out here?! You’re going to be giving a speech next. You have to get ready, Honey.”
“That’s right; I didn’t know it was so soon. I’m going to use the restroom, and I’ll be out.” Ivan said to Shannon and Melonie. Walking to the restroom, Ivan hears two men whispering near the elevator.
Ivan steps out to the podium in front of the crowd and gives his speech about how MBT made its 40th year a great year. He talks about the ups and the down of the company and how much it has been rising up the ladder. It‘s a quarter to ten and everyone starts to get their coats from the racks. Shannon grabs Ivan’s and her’s and walks to the car.
On the ride back home Shannon asks, “Why were you staring at her all night?” Ivan is shocked to hear what Shannon is asking him.
“Who was I staring at?!” Ivan said with surprise.
Shannon frowns and says, “Melonie. You were practically staring at her all night. I was watching you while you were watching her.”
Ivan wonders why Shannon is asking this question. Is she jealous of Melonie? She has never asked him anything like that before.
Ivan responds, “Honey, I wasn’t staring at anyone but you all night. I promise. Whatever you think it is, is nothing. When did you start to have these crazy ideas?”
A little embarrassed and feeling silly Shannon said, “You’re right, I’m sorry. I was probably….” she paused and said nothing.
Monday morning, Ivan is on his way to work and is listening to the radio. The radio announces, “The forecast for today includes a snowstorm heading your way by 8:00 p.m. and 2 to 4 inches of snow overnight.”
“Ah, man,” Ivan thinks. Today he is planning to work overtime to get his paperwork done before James goes to California with his girlfriend. Ivan will have to call his wife later to make sure she gets home safely and does not to wait up for him. Ivan goes inside his office and takes off the coat his brother bought him last year for Christmas.
Stacy knocked on the door. “Ivan, Melonie said that she’ll be late today, because she has a doctor’s appointment; she’ll be in around 10:30.”
“Okay, thanks.” Ivan says.
Melonie arrives at work at 10:32, takes off her black pea coat and sits down at her desk. She is in a hurry to answer phone calls because she feels badly that she has come to work late. Melonie takes the taxi everywhere she goes because she lives by herself in a one bedroom apartment. Melonie is twenty minutes away from her workplace; so sometimes she takes the subway. For some time now, Melonie has been working on a project that Stacy has assigned her and Melonie is at the end of it.
It’s late afternoon and everyone starts to pack up before the snowstorm is supposed to hit. Ivan says goodbye to everyone when they leave. Then he steps out of his office to put a file box away in the storage room, and he sees that Melonie is still there. She is working on the computer with one hand and writing something down with the other hand. Ivan walks to her.
“Melonie, what are you still doing here?” he asks.
“I have to finish something for Stacy before tomorrow morning, so I’m staying late today.” she replies.
Ivan is worried about her because the snowstorm would be coming soon. “You should go home. The snowstorm is going to hit.”
Melonie looks at Ivan and says, “I will go home when you go home.”
Ivan smiles and says, “Alright then, but I’m just letting you know that you have to leave at least thirty minutes before me.” Melonie nods her head and goes back to work.
It is seven, and Ivan sends Melonie home. Melonie packs her things, puts on her pea coat and left. After Melonie leaves Ivan calls Shannon to see if she is home.
“Ivan, are you coming home yet?” Shannon asks on the phone. “
Yes, Honey, I’m just leaving the building. How’s the weather over there?” Ivan asked.
“The weather is decent, not too bad, but be careful because the roads are slippery. I hear that they haven’t plowed some of the streets in New York.” Shannon says with concern.
“I’ll be home in an hour. Love you.” Ivan hangs up the phone and grabs his bag. Driving out of the parking lot he sees Melonie standing on the sidewalk. He rolls his window down and shouts, “Melonie, what are you still doing here?! I thought you left half an hour ago?”
The wind was coming from the south at least 10 mph. “I am waiting for a taxi, but no one has showed up yet!” She shouts back.
Ivan waves his hand for her to come closer. “Get in!” he says. Melonie hops into the passenger seat and they drive off.
“You would be frozen to death out here if I didn’t see you,” Ivan says. Melonie’s face is red from the wind blowing at her. Ivan sees that she is cold and turns the heat higher.
“I would have taken the taxi home you know.” Melonie said.
“It’s okay; I don’t mind. I rather have you home safe and sound than for you to stand out there waiting.” Ivan says. Melonie laughs.
As Ivan is driving towards Melonie’s apartment, she asks Ivan about his childhood. Ivan had a rough childhood, growing up without a father. His mother raised him by herself since he was five. His father had passed away from alcohol abuse two months after his fifth birthday.
Ivan didn’t get a chance to spend time with his father because his father was in and out of rehab. It got harder for his mother. She had to pick his father up from rehab and send him back when he had to go again. Sometimes she would have to pick him up at one in the morning from jail. One day his mother had enough; she disconnected the phone and moved to a different city.
“What’s the matter?” Ivan realizes how silent Melonie has been.
They reach a stop light, and Melonie looks at Ivan with teary eyes, “Nothing, it’s just that when I was fifteen my mother had died in a car accident,…and I was in the back seat.”
Ivan is quiet, because he isn’t sure what to say to her. Then he says, “I’m sorry for your loss. I didn’t know that.”
The light turns green, and Ivan makes a right turn onto the street of her apartment.
“This is very thoughtful of you to give me a ride home. Thank you,” she says grabbing his right hand and covering it with both of her hands. The touch of Melonie’s hands makes Ivan nervous but warm. Her hand is soft, and her clear nail polish reflects off the street lights. They both smile at each other and look into each others eyes.
“You’re welcome. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow morning at work then.” Ivan says taking his hand away from hers and putting it on the steering wheel. Melonie gets up and closes the door, waving goodbye as she goes into her apartment. Ivan waits until she has gone in, and then he stares at himself in the rear view mirror. “What am I doing?” he asks himself. He starts to feel something strange inside.
An excerpt from a short story by Chandra West
It has taken me many years, tears, talks, and prayers to be able to speak freely about growing up without my father and some of the damage it did. When I was 13 years old my life changed forever. It was then that I found out the man I knew to be my daddy was not. I did not meet my biological father until I was 19 years old—six years later.
Unwed mothers or baby mamas as they are now called tend to hate my truth but the truth is you have got to stop being selfish. Once you found out you were pregnant and decided to keep that child, your life was no longer your own and that child’s needs must come first. I know it sucks but remember, children don’t ask to be born. And for the biological fathers, or sperm donors, it is so hard for me to hate you because although I am an adult now, I once was that child needing and wanting my father’s love. I can’t hate someone I was not allowed to know or never got the chance to know. I do think that although most of the burden falls on the baby mama, that as a man you are responsible as well. When you had unprotected sex regardless of whether you were already married and cheating on your wife, or how trifling the baby mama may be, you chose to have sex knowing what the consequences might be. So, yes, you are wrong! Children, whether male or female, need their fathers, too. You can teach the child things the baby mama cannot. As fathers you formulate future relationships that your daughter has with men. Remember you are the first men we love. Okay enough of that.
To the men who stepped in and took the role the sperm donor was too weak to take, thank you. I think raising a child that is not yours must be one of the most selfless acts, and God will bless you. It may seem like I’m not giving you the credit you deserve. I am sorry for that! But try to understand, that if you are a stepfather you are not the child’s father. And no matter how much you love the mother and her child, the child has a father and at least deserves to know that he exists even if he unfortunately has chosen not to be a part of their life.
To all the children and adults who went through a situation similar to mine. I want you to know that it was not or is not your fault. You did nothing wrong. I believe in my heart once we come to terms with us being born innocent in all this, we can begin to learn to love ourselves, accept who we are and at the same time know that the ugliness doesn’t have to hold us back from being more and achieving more.
“Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully” (Ephesians 4:25).
Much goes unnoticed in the city. The citizenry is conditioned to block acknowledgement of litter in the gutters, and packed into the sewer grates; creating stagnant pools of water, shimmering prismatic colors from the oil-patina. They never look down the alleys at overflowing refuse cascading down the sides of large dumpsters. They don’t want to think about the byproduct of consumption, but this isn’t why they don’t look into these recesses. If they did look, they might see the life forms that have taken advantage of these places, or be forced to witness someone requiring help. He depends on this.
During the hours of activity, the alleys provide him refuge. At these times, he sleeps or hides, waiting. He knows this is not his time; someone may see him, take notice, take action, and prevent him from pursuing his need. The need is all he has and all he wants to fulfill. He doesn’t know where it comes from, or why it’s there. He only knows the pain and distress of not slaking it. The need is life, all-consuming. In the past, he tried to go without answering its incessant call; it almost killed him.
A part of him used to wonder why the need must be served, but it has been a long time since he has had these thoughts. This voice is mostly lost, along with the recollections of a carefree time that he spent with his brothers and sisters, when he understood a part of family and togetherness.
While he waits, such thoughts almost eclipse his consciousness, but the need manifests in a pang, knotting his guts, focusing him on the future when it will be his time: The nighttime.
The night, with its long inky shadows, is his need’s accomplice. The city grows quiet; activity slows to a crawl. Only the rare cab or solitary vehicle travels the streets. The homeless become more active, and so does his prey. A few late workers, and bar hags and hounds can always be found out and about.
He looks out from his hiding place with the daylight waning. He sees a corona of light from the setting sun above one of the rooftops, and knows it won’t be long before it begins. Another pang roils through his guts and demands tribute.
After the sensation passes, but before the time is right, he wonders why the need must exist. Why is it so powerful? He often thinks this is all he is, all he is reduced to, the slave of need. Often, he loathes himself, and what he must do to suppress the need. There never seems to be an end to its desire. The only respite is the exaltation during the act and the brief period afterward. It always returns, demanding, wanting, craving.
It is time, and before the need can resume its urging, he sets out. He moves along the sides of buildings in the darkest shadows. It feels good to move after the long day of waiting. He feels the grace in his motion. He is aware of the silence of his passage and the perfection of his stealth. He approaches the corners of the buildings, searching. No opportunity has presented itself, but he is not discouraged. The time will come.
Then he sees her. He halts all motion and just observes. He has found that even without the aid of its hearing or sight, his prey can have an uncanny sense of his presence, and he does not want to lose this chance. She is by a corner of the building, just slightly in the alley looking out toward the street. She has not reacted to his presence in any way. To be safe, he waits a bit longer, and watches.
In the most fundamental sense, he loves his victims; without them, he would be destroyed by the need. He admires the sheen of her brown hair. He inhales through his nose and believes he can ascertain the musky scent of her life-force passed on the breeze. He shivers in the rapture of anticipation. She is not the most comely of specimens, but there is a subtle beauty to her short limbs and up-turned nose. She will serve the purpose.
He moves forward, and his stealth fails him with a rare mistake. He kicked a small pebble from the loose blacktop. After rolling a short distance, the pebble produces a couple of slight tinkles of sound; they sound to him as loud as drops of rain on a tin roof. He looks to her, gauging any reaction. Her head has risen and is inclined toward the alley. He imagines that she is trying to guess if she really heard anything. She resumes her vigil, observing the street. He cannot discern her purpose for being here and doesn’t try.
The unaccustomed faux pas has awakened the need, which demands he take action. He charges forward. He comes up behind her, and before reaching her, withdraws the stilettos. He is very practiced with these instruments; they are extensions of his hands, and he fears no mistake. At the last second, she becomes aware of him and tries to move. It is too late; the first stiletto sinks into her lower back, not a perfect strike because of her attempt to flee, but enough to snag and stun her. The second one impales her neck and will surely kill her in time. He hopes that she doesn’t die too quickly for that can defuse some of the pleasure.
With his weapons still in her flesh, he drags her deeper into the alley, where he can finish with less chance of being noticed. Now, more comfortable with the setting, he goes to work. Holding her with the one weapon in her back, he withdraws the other from her neck. Her heart sprays a pump of arterial blood out of the hole, and he knows he must be quick. He prefers to have the time to play with and humiliate his prey, but that won’t be an option here. He uses his freed weapon to rend a great gash down her belly. Before her insides can spill out, he shoves his face into the wound.
He bites into the still living organs. There are many satisfying pops as his teeth pierce the cellular casings of the organs. The blood still pumps and soaks the spaces of the removed anatomy and marinates the remaining tissues. The need inundates the roar of the blood in his ears, but now it carries a message of bliss and contentment, not pain and discomfort. He consumes until there is nothing desirable left. He looks at the husk of the thing he devoured; it is hardly a vestige of what it once was.
The receding bliss of fulfilling the need leaves him empty. The need is gone; the bliss is gone. All that remains is awareness that he is not proud; it’s not pity; it’s not regret, just a vague lack of understanding the necessity in this action. He returns to his skulking knowing that it won’t be long before it’s back, demanding its tribute, and whether he likes it, or not, he will answer its call.
He goes on, and the city goes on. No one notices his actions or the carnage they leave behind. All are focused on their need and are too busy paying homage to it. The time passes, and he grows old and frail. One night on the hunt, he realizes that he is being hunted when a more able predator sinks its teeth into him. Even facing his death, he is ambivalent, because it will end his need. Still, the city and life move on without out him, never aware of the passage of this solitary alley cat.
We were only seven when we sat next to a fire watching Casablanca. We didn’t understand a single line, but we liked the black and white and we liked the end. And when Bogie leaned in to a kiss with Ingrid, all you said, as if to the distant kissing gods, was, “I want that.” And so I gave you everything I knew, and I pecked you on the cheek.
And you wanted adventure because you wanted to meet Indiana Jones. And although I didn’t have a hat, whip or gun, I gave you all I had and held your hand in a playground full of cooties. And they laughed at us, and we had to hide from our friends, but I held you crying on my shoulder and I reminded you that Indiana wasn’t always happy, but he always had an adventure. And so we went on holding hands and smiling as they laughed.
And when you discovered boys, every boy but me, I found the boy you asked for, and I put you together. And when he hurt your fragile heart, I gave you what you needed, my Indiana shoulder. And although I never told you, I gave him what he needed, too, and he went home with an Indiana bruise.
Every winter I gave you exactly what you needed as I froze with no mittens, coat or hat. We were barely 18 when I made sure you were the warmest girl in the state. And when you asked me to dance, although I didn’t know a single step, I spent seven months learning. Because you needed fun and I needed to give you everything I had.
And we were in our twenties when you wanted roses, and so I spent my savings, and I bought you a flower shop. And you needed a ring to match your eyes, so I gave you everything you needed, and we were wed in a field of silly dreams.
And we saw mommies and their babies, and you told me what you wanted, and I tried and tried and tried, but it ended in three years of nothing, and I couldn’t give you what you wanted. The doctors said not to blame each other, and I held you on my shoulder, and you still blamed me. And suddenly we did nothing but argue and I was confused and you weren’t sure what you wanted anymore. I learned to eat in silence until the day you cried to me and filed those awful papers.
You needed space, and so I moved to Wisconsin.
I had a beard that I didn’t really need, and you called me up and told me what you wanted and I sold my house and shaved my beard and jumped on a plane to find you. We sat by that fire and you looked me up and down and told me what you needed, and it’s all I’d ever needed to hear.
“I need you,” you said.
And I gave you everything I have.
I will never forget the day when my mother found the dead body of my little brother, Jeremy Santiago. It was the morning of Monday, December 25, 2000 in South Bronx, New York. I remember in detail every moment of the shocking revelation that followed, a revelation my fifteen-year-old mind was not prepared to handle. I had been sleeping soundlessly when suddenly I awakened to the sound of a horrifying, high- pitched scream that shook the walls of our two-story home. It was the voice of my mother, and she cried loudly: “My God! My God! My God! Oh, my God!” I rolled out of my bed and ran from my bedroom down our wooden spiral staircase to the sound of her desperate cry. What I saw next has changed and haunted my life for a very long time. I saw the teary, wet face of my mother, staring in disbelief towards something that invoked fear in her and caused her to shake violently. I took my last step down the stairs, turned around and looked up at the body of my brother hanging from the top staircase banister by a thin white telephone cord. His five feet and five inch frame floated four feet above our brightly colored and towering Christmas tree. My heart raced as I observed his limp body. The white cord was wrapped tightly around his elongated neck and his brown eyes stared helplessly at me as if they were silently saying “help me!” I suddenly gasped for air and uttered, “Jeremy!” I blacked out, and my body fell limp to the floor. “Jon-Jon! Wake up! Are you okay, son?”
I slowly came out of my temporary moment of darkness and saw my father standing above my body as two female paramedics were kneeling beside me. The woman to my right asked me, “Are you okay, young man?” I replied, “I’m fine. What happened?” My father answered, “You fainted.” The two women helped me to my feet. I looked around and saw two or three male police officers standing above my mother. They were asking questions as she sat distressed on the black leather sofa in the living room. I turned to my father on the right and hesitantly asked, “Where is Jeremy? Did he really . . . ?” My father nodded and cautiously replied “I’m sorry. Yes, he did. God have mercy on him. He took his own life.” Just then, two male paramedics lifted a black body bag onto an elevated stretcher and rolled it towards the front door of our home. Every moment of that day felt surreal, and it was as though I couldn’t escape from a horrible nightmare. The paramedics and police officers left our home around twelve thirty five that afternoon, and the mood of the house was somber, confusing, and appalling.
My mother sat on the black leather sofa sobbing silently onto my father’s black, knitted sweater. My father held my mother’s head against his left shoulder and spoke soft words of encouragement. “It’s going to be okay, Ann. God will give us strength to overcome this sorrow. This too shall pass. God will give us strength.” My father was the only one in the house who seemed composed and who wasn’t crying uncontrollably. I sat cross-legged next to the flashing lights of our Christmas tree. Endless streams of tears trickled down my face as I rocked my body back and forth against the bottom wall of the staircase. My eyes stared at the boxes of unwrapped presents under the tree for what seemed like an eternity. That day was supposed to be the happiest day of the year–in my life and Jeremy’s as well. We both had worked so hard in school to bring our grades up so we could get the new Playstation 2 game system that my father had promised us. I sat there on the fuzzy white carpet in confusion thinking, “Why did Jeremy do it?”
The funeral was held on Saturday morning, January 06, 2001, at our church, the First Pentecostal Church of New York. My father, mother, and I were in attendance along with other church members, friends, and family members. I sat in the front row of the church’s sanctuary, resting my head against my mother’s right shoulder, and my father sat on her left side with his right arm drooped around her neck. Jeremy’s body lay stretched out a few feet from us in a huge, shiny black and gold-trimmed casket. He was dressed in a black tuxedo jacket with black dress pants and a black tie. That was the first time in my life I had ever seen Jeremy dressed in a tuxedo. He had mentioned to me once before when we were kids that he didn’t like the way tuxedos looked. Our pastor led the funeral service with a thirty minute speech and a brief prayer, and he followed up with kind words of encouragement to our family.
After the funeral service, we headed to the graveyard to bury his body. My father, my mother, and I stood over Jeremy’s body for the final time. We offered our final farewell and prayer. The casket was closed, and his body was lowered slowly into the ground. I walked away feeling as though his soul was at peace, but I still felt troubled and unsettled. That night I had a disturbing and terrible dream. I dreamt that I was standing in the living room before Jeremy’s dangling body and was looking into his soulless brown eyes. The living room was dark except for the lights that flashed on and off on the Christmas tree. All of a sudden Jeremy came to life and began to speak repeatedly: “Jon-Jon, I need to talk to you!” I replied, “I’m here, J, and I’m listening.” Jeremy repeated those same words several times, and I replied, “I’m here, J, and I’m listening.” The dream ended, and I immediately woke in horror. I couldn’t help but think about the two weeks before Christmas when Jeremy approached me and asked, “Jon-Jon, do you have a moment? I need to talk to you about something.” “Not now Jeremy. I will talk to you later. I need to finish this essay for class and study for exams. I promise I will talk to you later. I promise J” “It’s fine. I won’t bother you anymore. ” Jeremy walked away silently, and I turned back to my computer to finish my essay.
As I sat up in bed, I started to feel remorse for my selfish actions that day when Jeremy had approached me. What was it he needed to tell me? If I had taken the time to stop what I was doing to talk with him, would he still be alive? These questions rushed through my mind as I wondered why he committed suicide. Did it have anything to do with his past before he came to our family? Jeremy came to our family on March 20, 1995. He was nine years old. My mother and father wanted to have another child, but they couldn’t because ovarian cancer had damaged my mother’s reproductive organs. The doctors told my mother that she would not be able to have children again. My father and mother went to an adoption agency. Two weeks later a short, light-skinned Dominican boy with curly black hair and brown eyes, dressed in a black, hooded sweat shirt and worn blue jeans, arrived at our home. He was immediately accepted with open arms and with love into our black family.
The week prior to his arrival, my parents had told me the news about my new brother and that I wouldn’t have to be alone anymore because I would have someone to play with. I was so excited and couldn’t wait for my new brother to arrive. That day I proudly walked through my neighborhood and boasted to my friends about the expected arrival of my new brother. “Guess what, Cory, Joseph, and Erick? I’m getting a new brother!” My friends were all excited and happy for me. I remember being happy all week long and feeling as though I were invincible. Nothing could deter my happiness. I was getting a new brother soon.
When Jeremy arrived, I was the first to approach him and extend my hands to welcome him into our home. “What’s up? My name is Jonathon Wilkins, but you can call me Jon-Jon!” My welcome was rejected as he quickly turned towards the social worker who brought him and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Excuse his manners. He’s just very shy at the moment and quiet. Once he gets used to you, he will open up. His name is Jeremy Luis Santiago, and he is nine years old. Jeremy, I have to go now. This is your new family. They will take good care of you.” Jeremy loosened his grip around her waist; he turned around and said, “Hi” in a low and timid voice. My father, followed by my mother, approached Jeremy and said, “Hey, there, little man. I’m James and this is my wife, Ann. You can call me James until you feel comfortable with calling me daddy. Welcome to our home. We are going to take very good care of you. You don’t have to be afraid. Jon-Jon, take Jeremy’s suitcase and show him to his room.”
It took Jeremy over a year to get used to our family and to start calling my mother and father Mamma and Daddy. Jeremy didn’t talk much. He was very shy, and he seemed withdrawn from us. One day I asked Jeremy if he wanted to play tag with me and my friends, but he replied coldly, “No!” I didn’t understand why he was so mean and didn’t want to play with me and my friends. I thought he didn’t like me. One summer evening, I was sitting on the floor in our bedroom playing our Nintendo 64, and I asked Jeremy if he wanted to play the game Star Fox64 with me. Once again he said no.
All of a sudden I lost my temper and became very angry. I shouted loudly, “You’re stupid! You’re so stupid! Why won’t you talk or play with me! What is wrong with you! “Jeremy gave me an evil gaze and screamed, “I don’t feel like playing your stupid game! Just leave me alone!” I immediately jumped to my feet and dashed out of our room and down the hallway to my mother’s room. I was extremely angry and my face was covered with tears. I shouted to my mother, “Momma! Momma! Jeremy doesn’t like me, and he said he didn’t want to play with me!” My mother tried to console me. “Jon-Jon, calm down. It’s going to be alright. Calm down now, son. He really doesn’t mean any harm by the way he is acting. Calm down.”
My mother began to explain the reasons for Jeremy’s behavior. “Jeremy has had a very rough life, and it will take him some time to get used to us and accept our love for him. When Jeremy was born, his mother died from complications of his birth and many people searched many weeks for a distant relative who could take care of him. None of Jeremy’s relatives were ever found, and the doctors gave up hope. He was placed in foster care. Before he came to our home, he had been through four different unstable and broken foster homes. He was taken from his last foster parents because his father used to beat him badly. That child is a lonely and hurting boy. We are going to do everything we can to make sure he feels loved and accepted by our family. Give it time, Jon-Jon. He will change. I want you to be patient and kind to him now. You understand?” “Yes, Momma, I understand.” “Now go back to your room and apologize to him. Okay?” “Yes, Momma.” From that moment forward after talking with my mother, I learned to be patient with Jeremy. I walked slowly down the hallway from my mother’s bedroom and headed back towards my room. When I entered, Jeremy was lying in his bed with his face down in a pillow. I quietly whispered his name, “Jeremy. Are you sleeping?” He harshly replied, “What!” “I just want to say that I’m sorry and if you ever need to talk to me about anything, I’m here to listen.” He replied, “Okay. Whatever.”
During the summer of 1998, Jeremy began to open up and socialize more. My friends became his friends and he allowed himself to be a kid. We spent most of our summer playing basketball at the local park and hanging out at our friends’ houses playing Playstation games. It pleased me more than anything that my little brother was beginning to enjoy life as a kid. Jeremy and I got really close that summer. We often spent late nights in our room discussing things like girls, our favorite foods, and stuff like what happens when we die. It was during one of those moments when Jeremy began to share some of the horrible things that happened to him before he came to our home. “Man, Jon-Jon, you just don’t know how lucky you are to have parents like yours. I have been through some terrible things in my life before I came to this family. None of the foster parents I had have ever treated me with as much love and care as our mother and father. My previous foster father used to beat me with extension cords. He would also beat my foster mother as well during his drunken rampages. He used to tell me that I was responsible for my biological mother’s death. He told me that I was a curse on this world, and I needed to die. For a very long time, I believed his words and accepted his beatings as a punishment for killing her. To this very day, I still feel responsible for my mother’s death. If I hadn’t been born, she would still be alive.”
“Jeremy, don’t say that. You are not responsible for her death. It was her time to go, and it was God’s will that you lived. Our father once told me that sometimes God allows us to go through terrible things in our lives and experience tragedies in order to build our character and make us stronger. Every person goes through different things in life that make them who they are as a person. It was God’s will that you came to our family, and I appreciate you being here. I always wanted a little brother.”
“Thanks Jon-Jon. I always wanted a big brother. I never got the chance to tell you this, but I’m sorry for the way I treated you during these past two years.”
“It’s cool, J. Momma already explained to me the reasons why you acted the way you did. I know you didn’t mean any harm. If you ever need anything or need to talk to someone, then look no further. I’m here, bro.” “Thanks Jon-Jon. I will take you up on that offer one day.”
Jeremy and I attended the same school. I always tried my best to be a very good big brother to him and protect him from anybody who tried to mess with him. I always took up for him and told him that if he ever had a problem with anyone then let me know and I would take care of it. Well, he took me up on that offer one day. I ended up fighting a kid at our high school who was in the eleventh grade and who was 5 feet 11 inches. I was 5 feet 9 inches, only two inches shorter than him. I landed a few punches into his face, and he countered with one punch to my nose that sent me flying onto the hard concrete sidewalk. Blood dripped from my nose down onto my white t-shirt. The fight only lasted thirty seconds. I got beat up in the end, but I still felt proud of myself because I stood up for my little brother.
It took me a very long time to get over Jeremy’s death. Life wasn’t the same without him. I missed him in moments like walking to school with him every morning and playing video games. I missed the stupid arguments we used to have over whose turn it was to take out the trash or wash the dishes. I realized how much I really missed him when I thought about those moments. His death caused me to enter into a short period of a deep depression. I struggled to overcome my grief. Every day of the week I cried. I would cry at home in my bedroom, at school in the bathroom, and any place I could escape to release my sorrow. It was very hard for me to understand why my little brother could be so selfish and do such a thing like that. When he took his life, I felt like he took a part of me with him. The depression caused me to withdraw from my social life with my friends and family. My parents tried to encourage me during my period of sadness and instill hope within me. I couldn’t find or even feel hope. It was very hard to be hopeful again when my life was absent of his presence. I just could not understand why he did it.
Jeremy was very talented at drawing. Everything he drew was very skillful and impressive. I had often complimented him on his drawings and encouraged him to think about pursing art as a career. “Dang, J! This drawing is nice. You are a very gifted and talented person. You should think about going to college to study art one day”
“Naw. I’m not that good. There are people who are more talented than me.”
“J, don’t speak like that. I hate it when you speak so negative about yourself like that. I’m telling you that this drawing is really good. You are just as talented as anyone else. I wish you would realize that you matter, and you have something to offer this world.”
Jeremy laughed. “You really believe that, Jon?”
“I’m dead serious and I mean it. I’m not joking. You are special and I hope you will see that one day.” “Yeah. I hope I do too.”
It had been over three months since Jeremy’s death when I received a phone call one Friday night that shook the foundation of my already unstable life. The phone rang around seven thirty while I was sitting up on Jeremy’s bed looking at some of his drawings in his sketch book. I let the phone ring about four times before I realized that mom and dad were not home, but out attending church service. I immediately jumped up and ran down the stairs to answer the cordless phone in the living room. I picked up the phone after the eighth ring and said hello.
A young girl on the other end replied, “Hello. Is this the Wilkins’ resident?”
“Yes it is. I’m Jonathon Wilkins. Who do you want to speak to?”
“You will do just fine. My name is Jasmine Mitchell and I think you knew my older sister, Tatiyanna Mitchell. She went to school with you and your brother. She was the girl who died in that terrible car accident last November.”
“Yeah. I think I had an English class with her. Yeah, I remember her.” I did not remember much about her except that she was the only girl who was pregnant in my ninth grade English class. She was also the quietest girl in class, and she usually sat in the back. I also remembered being shocked on the day when her death was announced over the school’s intercom. She had been only fourteen years old when she died, and I had heard that doctors were able to save her baby. I recall feeling sorry for her and thinking what a terribleway to die.
“Well, I don’t know if you knew this or not, but your brother, Jeremy, and my sister were dating and they were in love with each other. “
“Wait. Jeremy? My brother Jeremy? No. I think you have the wrong Jeremy. My brother did not have a girlfriend. My parents would not have allowed it because my father is a minister, and we are not allowed to date until we are eighteen. Besides, Jeremy would have told me if he had a girlfriend. Sorry, but you are mistaken.”
“I am very positive that your brother was the one who dated my sister. I have many pictures of them together. Your brother had brown eyes, curly black hair, and a small scar just above his left eyebrow that he received when he was punched in the face by his last foster father.”
When she mentioned the scar, I realized that she was talking about Jeremy because no one else knew about how he got that scar except me and my parents. “Okay, so why call now? What more do you need to tell me?”
“Tatiyanna and Jeremy had been dating each other ever since they were twelve. I’m the only one that knew about their relationship. They kept their relationship a very good secret, and they often would secretly meet each other in a park. Sometimes when our mother went to work at night, Jeremy would come over and spend the night at our house. He told my sister that your parents weren’t worried about him because he told them that he was spending the night at a friend’s house. Well, my sister became pregnant by Jeremy and after she found out, she told him. He was so excited to find out that he was going to be a father. My sister wanted to get an abortion. She knew that if our mother ever found out she would beat her. Jeremy convinced her not to get an abortion. He promised her that he would get a job and help her take care of the baby. Tatiyanna did a good job of concealing the pregnancy from our mother, but our mother finally found out six months into her pregnancy when she realized that she had become unusually fat. When questioned by our mother, Tatiyanna confessed. Our mother became extremely angry and slapped her in the face. She yelled at her and told Tatiyanna that the baby would go up for adoption after it was born because we could not afford to feed another mouth. Then one night, when Tatiyanna was seven months pregnant, she got into a heated argument with our mother about not wanting to give the baby up. Our mother told her if she didn’t want to follow the rules of the house she should get out. My sister took her advice and stormed out of the house in a rampage. That was the last time I ever saw my sister. We received the news of her death the next morning when two police officers came to our home. The officers told us that the doctors at Saint Luke’s hospital were able to save her baby.
“I know that this has all come as a shock to you, but your brother Jeremy Santiago has a son. His name is Jeremy Luis Santiago, Jr. Right now he is at Saint Luke’s hospital, and the doctors told my mother that since she doesn’t want the child, they have no other choice but to place him for adoption. I convinced a doctor to wait another week, and I told him that the father of the baby had relatives who did not know about his existence. I told him I would inform you and your parents about Jeremy’s son. Even though Jeremy is not living, I believe he would have wanted your family to take care of the baby.”
I sat there on the black leather sofa astonished by the revelation of Jeremy’s secret relationship and his son. This story was as shocking as Jeremy’s death. After the girl had finished her conversation, I told her that I would let my parents know about Jeremy’s son. She gave me her number and we ended the phone call. Why didn’t he tell me? I understood why he didn’t tell our parents, but I was his big brother, and brothers should be able to tell each other secrets. Perhaps, I wasn’t as close to him as I thought I had been. My parents returned home around nine thirty that night, and I told them about the phone call I had received from Jasmine. They were in total disbelief and told me that they would investigate the matter to see if it was true. If it was true, then they would save Jeremy’s son from being placed for adoption. After a DNA test proved that the baby was the son of my brother, the hospital released him into our custody. Jeremy junior looked just like my brother with the very same brown eyes and curly black hair. It was as though I was looking at my brother again for the very first time since his death. Little Jeremy was five months old, and I knew that God had spared his life for a reason. I promised God and my deceased brother Jeremy one night that I would do my best to take care of him.
It has been over seven years since Jeremy took his life. Not one day goes by that I do not think about his death. Every day of my life something small reminds me of him. The other night I was sitting at my desk browsing the internet, and little Jeremy, who is seven now, came to me and showed me a painting he had done in art class.
“Uncle Jon-Jon. Look. Look. Look what I painted in school today.”I couldn’t help but to smile and think about how much he reminded me of his father. My brother loved to draw and over time began to embrace his talent. He would often share his drawings with me. I have kept every drawing that my brother ever drew in my top dresser drawer. When I get lonely and need comforting, I pull his drawings out of my drawer and reminisce about the past. I often find myself thinking about how different life would be if Jeremy had lived and seen his son. He would be so proud of him. Every year on December 25th I visit the cemetery where Jeremy’s body rests. Sometimes I take little Jeremy with me to see his father’s resting place. Little Jeremy knows all about his father from the stories I have told him. I often find myself lying in the cold snow next to his tombstone while I cry and apologize to him for not taking the time to listen when he needed me the most. I always utter the same words several times, “I’m here J, and I’m listening.”
A group of elephants were strolling along on their way to a big town some great distance away. The elephants were going to get sacks of rice to feed all the animals in their village, who were hungry due to a food shortage. They came across an old rickety bridge that wouldn’t hold their weight. The elephants were very worried and weren’t sure what to do. One elephant said, “Oh my, what ever shall we do?” Just then they heard a tiny voice say, “YOO WHOO, WE CAN HELP!” The elephant asked, “What can you do?” Another elephant replied, “We’re going for big sacks of rice, that would be nearly impossible for you to carry, but you can try if you’d like.” He barely finished his sentence when suddenly a huge army of ants began marching across the bridge. Their tiny bodies and weight were no problem for that old rickety bridge. Soon they all came marching back, each carrying a grain of rice. Before long the ants and the elephants were back in the village with more than enough food for everyone. The villagers were so happy to learn how the ants had helped the elephants that they held a parade in their honor. The elephants apologized for doubting the ants’ ability to help.
Moral: We can accomplish more if we all work together. Or never underestimate somebody’s ability because of their size.
Today was my birthday. After a long awaited time, I was finally seven years old.
Everyone was by my house—abuelo, abuela, my cousins, Tia Maria and Tio Pedro, and my favorite person in the whole wide world, Tio Miguel. I was always with my Tio! We did a lot of things together. We’d go to the stores, the park, the movies. I think I was his favorite niece. He didn’t treat my sisters or anyone or my cousins the way he treated me. I always got the best of everything. Since today was birthday I knew that my best present was the one that Tio Miguel was going to give me.
I was sitting in my room watching TV when someone knocked. “Come in,” I yelled. The door slowly opened and it was Tio Miguel. “Happy Birthday, sweetie,” TioMiguel gave me a big hug. “You’re growing up so fast.”
“That’s what mami and papi said this morning.” I spun around slowly so that Tio Miguel could see every single detail of my new dress. “Do you like it?”
“I love it!” I could see Tio Miguel’s eyes scanning every part of my body. He was in a trance; catching every detail like it was the last time he was going to see me.
“Tio, what’re you looking at?” I asked curiously. The smell of his cologne sat in my room.
“Uhh…nothing. You just look real pretty, mija. But umm, I’m gonna go umm…help your parents downstairs.” TioMiguel gave me another hug, but this one was weird. His hands were a lot lower, and he was hugging me a lot tighter. I was so close to him that I could almost see the individual fibers on his shirt in the sunlight that shown through my window.
The moon streamed in. It was a school night, and I was sleeping in my bed. I could smell the scent of my freshly washed sheets under my nose, and I could hear the hooting of an owl outside. The house was completely silent. Mami and papi had gone to bed early, leaving me alone to finish my favorite cartoon. Ever since I turned 10, I was able to stay up a little later than usual.
A knock on the window. My heart stopped. I pulled the blanket over my face. This was the one thing that I was scared of most: being kidnapped in the middle of the night. Mami had always told me to keep my window locked after she saw all those stories on the news about kids being taken through their windows. I couldn’t breathe. I was too scared. I didn’t want to move. Another knock—harder this time. I slowly lowered the blanket and lifted my hand. A third knock. I opened my eyes, not really wanting to see who or what was out there at this time of night. One eye, almost open. A
fourth knock. I let out a sigh of relief. It was only Tio Miguel. I pushed off my blanket and walked over to the window. What was he doing here this late? I thought to myself. I tilted my head towards my clock and took a quick glance. It was after midnight. I unlocked my window and as I slid it up I could feel the grain of the wood against my fingers. “Tio, what’re you doing here?” I asked.
“I came to get you.” He responded with a loud whisper. His shirt was old and the picture on it was almost faded. His hair, styled with gel as usual. He had on his khaki cargo shorts and flip-flops. I could smell the cologne that he usually had on—so much that I could taste it in the air.
“Where are we going?” He kept peering over his shoulder. I looked at his eyes. There was nothing behind them. They were empty. He was fidgety and kept tapping his thumb on the window ledge.
“Haven’t you ever wanted to see where I live?” The way he now spoke was different than usual. It was thick and pleading. He grabbed my arm and was practically pulling me outside with him.
“Now? I have school tomorrow and what about mami and papi? They’ll be looking for me. And what about—”
“Dammit! Will you just hurry up and come on!?” His tone was direct as he tightened his grip on my arm. “Don’t worry about anything. I’ll take care of it. Just come on!”
I stood in shock for a few seconds. Tio Miguel had never gotten frustrated at me
before—maybe at papi, but never me. “Should I take a jacket?” I didn’t want to make him any more upset than he already was.
“No! Just come on. Hurry.” I could tell that he was growing more impatient. He looked over his shoulder every second it now seemed.
“Okay.” I climbed out of my wooden window and into Tio Miguel’s arms. I saw trees waving in the darkness. I could smell the smell that occurred after it rained. Crickets were chirping and chirping as our feet rubbed against the wet patches of grass. I got into Tio’s black car and together we sped off into the dark night. The car was old, but it was still in very good condition. I liked Tio Miguel’s car better than all those new and fancy ones. The car was comfortable and clean. The seats were covered with an antique looking fabric; it looked old, smelled old, felt old, it was old. Whenever we went driving in his car, he’d always tell me stories about what had happened to him when he was younger.
The day was hot and sunny. It was one of those days where all you want to do is stay inside in the air conditioning. I had a red tank top on and a pair of shorts. I wanted to stay home and watch some marathon that was airing on the TV, but Tio Miguel had asked me to go run some errands with him. I didn’t want to, but I always loved going places with him. We got into the car. I could barely breathe with the thick, hot air in the car. The beads of sweat began trickling down my backside. Tio Miguel had started up the car and I quickly rolled down the window, exposing my wet skin to the summer air. We pulled out of the driveway and he started telling me one of his many crazy stories.
“Ya know,” he began, “I got this car when I was sixteen. And you should’ve seen your abuelo when he found out that I got this car.”
“What’d he do?” I asked as we went over a speed bump.
“He smacked me so hard in the face. Ay Chihuahua…”
“Why?” My hair blew in my face as I turned to look over at Tio Miguel.
“’Cause I got this car behind his back. I wasn’t even supposed to be drivin’ let alone have a car.” He laughed.
“Tio, would you ever do that to me if I ever got a car without papi knowing?”
“I would never hurt you, mija. You know that. I love you too much.” He grabbed my hand and kissed it. We were now waiting for the red light to turn green. The air was still. In the silence, he put his massive hand on my thigh. I felt uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to move because I didn’t want to distract him from his driving.
The car stopped. We must’ve been outside of his place. The sky was a dark piece of paper that was dotted with many little stars and a moon. I had no idea where I was. I’d never seen this place or these buildings before. My hands were shaking and hadn’t stopped shaking. I was very alert, maybe a bit too much. Tio Miguel unbuckled his seatbelt and I jumped.
“What’s wrong?” Tio Miguel asked me.
“Nothing, Tio.” I said as I tried to remain calm. “I’m fine,”
“Ya sure? ‘Cause I can take you back home if you really want to.”
“No, no, no. I’m fine, Tio. Really. I’m…fine.” I took a deep breath and attempted to relax my nerves.
“All right. Come on then.” He opened the door and stood in front of the car. I didn’t move until he made a frustrated gesture for me to get out of the car. I unbuckled my seatbelt and cautiously opened the car door. I put each foot on the ground and could feel the pieces of gravel rubbing against each other underneath my soles. I got out and closed the car door. A loud THUD echoed around the area. I walked up to my Tio and
he put his arm around me as we crossed the street. He held me close—closer than usual—and firm. It was weird. I tried to move away, but his big, muscular hand and arm blocked me.
The place was silent except for police sirens, and the noise of garbage being looked through. I saw guys standing in groups along the sidewalk. They looked like the kind of people that were always getting arrested on the show, “Cops.” I saw some homeless men and women digging through the garbage cans as we passed the alleys. I saw barely-clothed women standing on almost every corner, walking up to every car that stopped. The neighborhood was filthy and had a distinct odor; garbage was everywhere—on the ground, in the street, and on the side of buildings. Most of the buildings were old and rundown, and the place where windows should have been were covered with pieces of wood or cardboard. The entire neighborhood emitted a smell that made me want to stop breathing entirely.
We walked inside a building that reflected the neighborhood that it was in. The carpet was ripped in the corners and the color had long been gone from all the years of abuse it had endured. The fluorescent lights on the ceiling kept flickering on and off against the hunter green walls. Paint was chipping off the walls and there were places without any paint on them at all. The walls were thin. I could hear movement inside almost every apartment as we passed them. The doors of each apartment looked as if they could be broken down with one simple punch. They were wooden and old and the numbers were made of stickers that you could get at any department store. Suddenly we stopped at a door that was all the way at the end of the long, dark hallway. It was labeled room number nine with one of the cheap sticker numbers. Tio Miguel took out a single key, which wasn’t attached to the key chain where the rest of his keys were. He never separated his keys—they were always together. It looked as if he had rented the room for just that night; more like some cheap motel than an apartment.
Tio Miguel opened the door and he let me go in first. When he got in he shut the door and closed all of the three locks that were on the door: the chain, the bolt, and the lock on the doorknob. I took a couple of steps inside and looked around the room. The floor squeaked. The room was as dark as a room could get. There was absolutely nothing in the room except for a small, wooden chest and a bed. Had anyone been living in it? It had the smell of a nursing home—stale urine. The smell of mold lingered, making it hard to ignore. The windows were old and broken; plastic and pieces of wood were the only things that attempted to keep the cool air outside. I heard music blaring from down the hall. Some kind of rap or hip-hop song. There was a lot of bass to it. How could my Tio live here? In this dump? Either he liked living here or this was all he could afford. But how could anyone really like living here? I turned around to look at my Tio, who was still standing by the door. There were tears in my eyes as I looked at his. Soulless. Empty. Anger.
“Tio? What is this place?” My voice trembled.
“Come here,” he stretched out his arms and moved me by the bed since there was no place else to sit. We sat on the bed, and he gave me a hug. His cheap cologne filled my lungs like every other time he hugged me. His hand made a circle pattern on my back as he tried to comfort me. My tears came down and stained his shoulder. He whispered something in my ear, but I couldn’t tell what he said. It was soft, almost romantic. His fingers teased my hair as he ran them through it. I could feel his temperature rising beneath his shirt. His other hand found the hem of my pajama shirt and lifted it slightly, exposing the small of my back to the cool draft from what was left of the window.
I lifted my head from his shoulder, intent on breaking this hug. I was stuck, again. My
heart began to beat faster and faster. I could feel the sweat gather at my brow. He loosened his grip but still held me close. He put his big hand against my cheek and wiped what was left of my tears. He looked at me. The look in his eyes made me feel uncomfortable. His hand hadn’t moved. It stayed there until he leaned in and his lips touched mine. This wasn’t like him. I tried backing away. He wouldn’t let me. He got on top of me and I felt my breathing almost stop from his weight. I squirmed and tried to get myself out from underneath him. He began to frantically take my clothes off, leaving
me completely exposed. The air was suffocating. He took off his shirt, tossed it across the room carelessly. I scratched his back. Pulled his hair. Punched his arm. Tried to scream.
“Stop!” I managed. “STOP!” I tried wiggling my way out from under him again. A slap—straight to the side of my face. The room blurred. My face was hot and burned where his hand met my skin. I tried to make him stop once again only to receive another blow. He kept hitting me; harder every time. It became harder and harder to get a new breath. I could hear the bassy tune from down the hall get lower and lower. The smell began to fade. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t make it stop. The room started to fade and get black.
A pick and a shovel. A pick and a shovel. The smell of fresh ore and the taste of dust. A pick and a shovel. The crack and the crumble; the scrape and the bang. Ahh, the cart, full laden with ore. A pick and a shovel. The cart on the track . . . . Squeaky wheel gets the kick! A pick and a shovel. A pick and a shovel.
Proast bolted upright in bed. Drool laced his thick, chest-length bronze beard. “I’m up. I’m up.” He shook his head to clear the grogginess.
His brother, Belcher, pressed a foaming stone mug into his hands. “Yer breakfast.”
Proast raised it in thanks and then blew the foam off onto the floor. His thick stubby fingers gripped the hard mug; his dirt encrusted fingernails leaving streaks on its surface. He pursed his fat lips expectantly and drained the mug.
He smacked his lips and wiped his beard with his free hand. “That was the ‘37 yeh durned lollard!” Proast’s belch echoed off of the stone walls of their single room home. “Yeh know the ‘37’s a dinner ale.”
Belcher pointed a stout finger at the most expensive article they owned as he grabbed another full mug off the squat table in the middle of their room. He pointed at the ancient timepiece crafted by their great-great-great-great grandfather that sat atop their fireplace. It read 5:00 o’clock.
“Oi! I’m late!” Proast threw off his covers and scrambled around looking for his tools. He was still fully clothed from the night before.
Belcher grabbed him by the shoulders and hauled him to the floor. “Yer so late yeh already missed yer shift.”
Belcher offered his own grimy hand to help Proast back to his feet. “Yeh must’ve had five kegs in yeh when yeh stumbled in last night.”
Proast thought hard, trying to remember the night before as Belcher stoked the fire in the fireplace. Proast lost his train of thought and scanned the room for his gear. “Did I at least bring back me pick and shovel?”
“Bah!” Belcher stood up and drained his ale. “Yeh came in just like yeh are now. I had to pull yer weight today.” He belched through his foamy beard. “And tomorrow,” he jabbed a stubby thumb into his own chest, “I’m the one taking the day off.”
“Aye, but yeh know I’d do it for yeh, anyway.” Proast slammed his fist to his shoulder with pride. “I’m a Rockcrusher.”
Belcher refilled his own mug and sat down on his bed across from Proast’s. “If that were the case, yeh’d not have missed yer shift. Ain’t nothing better than the smell of fresh ore.”
Proast refilled his mug, too, and raised it in mock respect to his older brother. “Ahh, yer close, ain’t nothing better than a ’26, and yeh know it!” He drained his second mug and placed the empty container on the table. He crawled back into bed. “Now, if yeh don’t mind, yeh woke me from one of the best dreams I’ve had in a long time.”
Aardvarks resemble domestic pigs.
Besides coming from Africa, they are medium in size and slow moving.
Common sense would dictate that I wouldn’t have seen one loping through my backyard last month.
Desperate to find someone to validate my story, I knocked on my neighbor’s door to tell them what I had seen.
Eventually both my neighbors came outside to hear my story.
Frustrated that neither of them believed me, I began my quest to find where the aardvark had run off to.
Goodness knows where it went.
Had it left tracks it would have been easy to follow, and the tracks could be used as evidence of its existence.
I began to have doubts that I had seen it.
Just when I began to think I was delusional, I saw it again.
Knowing that I might not be able to capture it, I ran into the house to find my digital camera.
Luck was not on my side, as it took me several minutes to locate the memory card.
Meanwhile, the aardvark once again disappeared for parts unknown.
No one would believe me without evidence, so I began to walk around the neighborhood, looking for my imagined beast.
Obsessed with finding the aardvark, I spent the next two hours searching before I thought I had found it.
Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part that I had seen it again.
Quietly I snuck up on the spot where I thought the animal was resting.
Reality set in when I noticed my “aardvark” was a small child’s wading pool.
Stuff always seems to look different when you’re chasing after it.
Thoroughly disappointed, I abandoned the search and slowly headed back towards my home.
Ultimately I decided my neighbors were right; I hadn’t seen an aardvark in my backyard after all.
Vigilantly I searched for the aardvark on my way home with the faint hope I might stumble across it before I arrived back at my residence.
When I made it back, several people had congregated in my driveway, many laughing at how preposterous they thought my story was.
X-rays of my head were suggested by the next-door neighbor.
Yet to this very day I still believe that an aardvark had run across my yard.
Zebras aren’t usually seen in this area either, but last night, I thought I saw a zebra in my backyard!
And here I sit. I must have come here a thousand times. Will I do it this time? Or will I run like a coward with my tail between my legs. The question is–what has brought me here today? I’m not really sure. Is it just discontent with life, or am I sick of life in general? I’m not sure. I could just start the car and drive away but, since I’m here.
The lake is beautiful this time of morning, the water calm and not too many people are around. There is a slight chill in the air, not bad for early June. The last time I tried this it was cold. What do they say–“bitter cold”? I believe it was twenty-something below zero. That temperature is pretty normal for a Wisconsin winter day. In those winter months the sun does not come up until much later in the morning and more people are out and about before the sun hits the horizon. I chickened out as I have done all the other times in the past. Maybe today will be different?
The first time I tried this I was on horseback; automobiles were not invented at that time. Milwaukee was just in her infancy. The city may have had one, maybe two thousand people at most. The landscape looks so different now. I know what brought me there that day. I wanted all of it to end; I could not stand for another minute the thought of what I had become.
My family consisted of Amish farmers and craftsmen. Something was killing the cattle and since I was the oldest son, and a better hunter than my younger brothers, I stayed with the cattle that night. I tried to conceal myself in the hay stack as best I could with my best rifle at my side. The cattle were startled; something had brought one of them down within yards of me. As I got to my feet, I was thrown back down. The fiend was on me.
The pain scourged on my throat. I tried to fight him off, but he was too strong for me. I felt for my rifle to no avail. I did feel the handle of the shovel my brother broke while playing around earlier in the day. I heaved the handle in the fiend’s back and he was reduced to ashes seconds later.
Distraught, I lay on the hay, trying to compose myself. My heart was thudding hard in my chest. The dust that fell on me was biting my skin; the smell was sickly and pungent. As I felt the chasm at my neck, I blacked out. The next night I woke with a hunger I will never forget. To this day I am haunted; I am haunted, by the memory. I still hear my blessed mother’s chilling scream from my hideous acts. I could not meet the sun on horseback that day.
Will I meet the sun this day? How the scarlet-ginger light grows against the horizon. First light looks so much different than twilight. I cannot look away. The burn, I can feel the skin on my face starting to singe, just a few more seconds. Oh, how magnificent the sun, how I miss its warmth. My flesh feels on the cusp of starting ablaze. Anguish. Will I last longer than last time? Oh the grandeur of the light. How exquisite. Just another minute. And here I sit. (Hearing the mechanical sound of the car window rolling up and the car engine starting.)