By G. Batson
Over on the banister laid an envelope with a return address, but no forwarding address. It lay amid the harrowing of magazines, discarded mail, and miscellaneous items that tend to pile up during the hectic week. She is at peace with herself. She wears her bra and panties; she is comfortable in her skin. She is in decent shape for her 40s, and is proud of her body; prouder when she is alone, rather than with her lover. Her eyes are dark, and makeup is often an exaggeration, and she has learned to use it sparingly. There was a light that shone through the curtain and evening, independent of the street lights and moonlight. She welcomed it, as complete darkness frightened her. Often, within her insomnia she imagined this light representing Jesus Christ but these days she felt like a nonbeliever, an agnostic; now she felt this light was simply there to protect her from the darkness.
Her bed was empty now, but for 15 years, Albert lay beside her as they tossed and turned and jockeyed for space but negotiations broke down and there was a breakdown in communications-their conversation went something like this:
“We need a bigger bed”
“The beds not the problem, it’s the people in it…all we’ve been doing lately is sleeping in it.”
There is a silence, there is always a silence…he makes the coffee, stirs the grits…she turns the bacon.
“Don’t burn the bacon.”
“Don’t dry out the grits.”
The conversation got shorter and shorter, the days he stayed home grew less and less, and the days she came home grew less and less. There was no one home.
The last days there was a horrendous storm that scattered and danced the African dance, a meringue and waltz and clamored upon the windows of their shattered lives; the blame lay partially on their disabled son.
Al was a frustrated boxer. He tried the golden glove, amateur boxing, correlated his incessant life with the street tone of his streets. He couldn’t get his balance in the ring; moving his right foot, when he should have led with his left, and vice versa. His will didn’t catch up with his passion, or his skill. He found solace at the gym, escape win or lose. Here there were misfits; some who tried the military, military dishonorable discharged, criminal life, drop out and some who became addicted to the smell of the sweat and pine. Thrill of victory and defeat. They were addicted to the grunts and adrenalin rush. But there were a few, very few who truly had boxing in their blood since the cradle. But he could never get used to the balance and awkwardness of leading with the left, following with the right—falling into the pain, instead of backing away. He thought life was full of its own pain and the balance of the physical and mental was far too great. It was the passion for Gladys that finally defeated him. Or, perhaps the child with cerebral palsy that Gladys didn’t want.
“I told you your addiction was going to come back to bite us…you brought our unborn child into this.
“How can you blame me for this? You know how many children are born with disabilities?”
Her response was evident. He left soon after, child and all.
He fought his way through three concussions. A one bedroom flat on the outskirts of Newark was their home. The paint peeled walls was promised on numerous occasions to be repaired. His son moved around in a wheel chair, a nurses’ aide helped out with some of the challenging upkeep of a disabled child; but it was Al who absorbed the large part of the burden.
The winters proved arctic, reaching 10 and below and the heat provided in the one bedroom flat was sporadic at best. The ills winds blew unmercifully against the windows. The heater blew east to west of the apartment and north to south. Al fought for small purses, but lost too many fights to continue.
He reached out to old friends, with questionable backgrounds to make ends meet through number running and light drug trafficking; reefer here, crack here, often fighting the ill winds whose punches were not conducive to dodging as a fighter’s punch. He would feel his hand number at times, even through the gloves he wore. He gave little thought to his circumstances. He remained celibate, ignoring some of the passes he received from his customer, or the groupies who visited the amateur boxing matches, hoping they cling on to a potential heavy weight champion. He thought of Gladys on occasions. His heart would sink and rise, depending on the circumstances; depending if the thought began with their first meeting at a popular club everyone would go to in Patterson, where they both grew up. They made love incessantly, and proved the cliché of love at first sight. They moved in and were inseparable since. But whether their break up was due to naivety to the world and its ill winds, it is all circumspect.
In the fall of 2004, the headaches began. Thanksgiving was peaceful and lonely, depending on who the view. Al and his son sat eating the turkey that Al cooked with all the trimmings. John could feed himself. He made his way through the turkey that Al had sliced neatly for him; the stuffing and cranberry sauce. The collard greens season in smoked turkey and yams, smothered in marsh mellows. He paused momentarily.
“Pop…” he paused again. “I…I went on myself.”
“No problem, no problem…” they shuffled to the bathroom, and with a change of clothes, they made it back to complete their dinner. There was an interruption by a knock on the door and Gladys stood with groceries in hand, looking flustered, but always neat and flawless.
“How did you know where to find us?”
“I got connection.”
“What you want?”
“To see my child.”
“Pop…please…let her in.” John’s plea infiltrated the thick tension that permeated the air creating a thick hallow. She heated up the food she brought; she awkwardly helped John eat, until he finally shrugged her off. Conversation was nonexistent, except for the few questions mother asked:
“John, how’s school?”
“You have a girlfriend yet?”
“Some girl on the school bus I like, I don’t know if she likes me.”
“Did you ask her?”
“No, but I stare and smile a lot, she stares back.”
“Well, why don’t you approach her: the faint heart shall not catch the fair maiden.”
“I would, only that she died last week…stroke…”
Gladys wasn’t expecting the answer and unknowingly revealed a sadness and pity that John despised.
She left, quieter than the ill winds that blew this chilled evening
Al’s headaches became incessant; he drowned them in pain killers and cold pressed against his head. He had no time for doctors, with the pressing rent and John’s upkeep; it was round the clock hustle.
He kept the painkillers in his pocket, and soon switched to heroin.
The migraines but were hidden in the midst of his new addiction. His thoughts of good times he and Gladys had proved comforting.
The streets were deserted the day he died.
Al shadow boxed, throwing jabs toward the chilled winds as John watched from the window above. John turned away from the window and wept in silence.