A couple of weeks had passed since arriving to Kensington. Stasis seemed to bide Miles some time to figure out when he could talk to his brothers. He needed to speak with them about the circumstances surrounding the death of their parents, and Mr. Young role, but he wasn’t quite ready for the possible storm. Every time he rehearsed his speech he intended to deliver to them, the urge to flee resurfaced. Just a little time to himself to get it together and prepare was all he needed he reasoned.
The Kensington house would be a safe place for Aria while he was gone, but he needed to deal with Trish, lay down that he would not tolerate her being mean or doing harm while he was gone. He was her father and he intended to start doing better at being a parent after he dealt with his family.
He walked into the kitchen and opened the cabinet to get a glass for water. The shelf still contained some old cups and plastic glasses from when they were kids. One of them was a Spiderman cup. The outline of character was faded and dented. He paused and walked over to the pantry and pushed aside several cans of greens beans and beets to get to a small hole in the corner of the highest shelf.
“Ha. I’ll be darned. Still there.” He fished out a black-and-white photo of a woman in black leather with a whip. He flashbacked to the time when he and his brothers were a unit, and an event that happened with the babysitter.
They were all in single digits at the time, he remembered, Elias was maybe four. On this occasion, their mother had coaxed their father, who was the introvert of the two, to take her to dinner and a show in uptown Manhattan.
Mable Hattson, Mama’s friend, sang in the “Women of Color, Up With Right” choir. The group consisted of about five or six women. Salons featuring them were always packed. Ms. Mable, a tall, stringy-looking woman with an elongated face and wide mouth, always volunteered herself to watch the boys if Mama ever needed it. On a handful of occasions their mother took her up on her enthusiastic offer. Problem was, from his perspective as a little kid, Ms. Mable acted as if she didn’t liked children much, especially when the door closed behind their parents.
“Come here you boys. Line up so I can talk to you,” she’d start out. “Remember who I am?”
“Yes, Miss Mable,” they’d respond in unison, except for Kiev who’d stand rocking, looking off.
Often, Ms. Mable would walk over and place her hand on Kiev’s cheek. He was the only one that she seemed to tolerate.
“Remember my rules?” she’d ask. Her heels clicked on the ground as she’d pace in front of the line.
“Yes, Miss Mable,” the four boys sang with their faces tilted slightly up and eyes straight ahead.
“Well, let me tell you them again because I know little boys have an inability to remember things well. One: there will be no running or loud voices in the house; two: you will each read for thirty minutes while I’m here, three: you will eat all your dinner; four, you will recite your favorite poem to me. Got it?”
“Yes, Miss Mable.”
Now for your cooperation, you will earn a piece of candy from this locked treasure chest, but if you fail at any one of the tasks, you will get nada. No second chances. Understood?”
“Yes, Miss Mable.”
She pulled out of her bosom a skeleton key she kept on a green string and wave it in front of the boys.
“Be good and you’ll get candy.” Her grossly exaggerated overbite hung over her words.
He and his brothers tried their best, lasting for about twenty minutes maximum. They would fail at earning candy or ever even seeing what was really in the locked chest. She’d stuff the key back into her blouse once the last one failed. Kiev didn’t count.
Miles was the one to come up with the plan. Rudy, as usual, followed his lead. They huddled in the backyard.
“Every time she comes over here she teases us with that candy chest,” young Miles said.
“Yeah, there probably isn’t even anything in there,” Rudy added.
“Well, here’s what we’re gonna do. Rudy, you and Sasha are going to tell Miss Horseface that you seen Kiev trying to sing, that you think it’ll help his condition. Give her all kinds of compliments like she’s the only person could do it. You know, that kind of stuff.”
“Well, how’re you going to get the key?” asked Sasha.
Miles held it up. “Got it when she was napping.” He continued.
“Elias, you and me are going to get the chest and get some candy for all of us.”
Miss Mable bit, delighted to take Kiev, Rudy, and Sasha to the salon for singing lessons. Rudy and Sasha tried to remind Miss Mable it was only Kiev needing the lessons but she didn’t listen. Miles prowled Miss Mable’s vacuous suede bag, fishing out the chest. He also retrieved a box resembling baseball cards, out of curiosity. They ran upstairs to the room he shared with Rudy.
“Close the door, Elias.” The boys jumped on the bed. Miles fumbled with the key, trying to work the lock.
“Miles, stop! We’re in trouble, we’re in trouble, we’re in trouble. She’s Catwoman. Look!” Elias whispered in his young lispy voice. He handed the pictures over to his big brother, his face pinched with worry. “That’s it, Batman and Robin are not gonna like us either.”
“What are you talking about Elias?” He snatched the pictures.
Miss Mable wore a black leather bodysuit and a black leather mask in all the pictures, and high platform black shoes. In some, she snapped a whip over her head, in others her foot rested on a “bad guy” she’d tied up in various positions. The bad guys were also scantily dressed, some wearing odd headgear.
“I’m scared. If she finds out we took the chest, we’re going to be, to be like him,” said Elias pointing at the picture. His little finger shook and terror played out on his trembling lips.
“Calm down, calm down. Let’s put all this stuff back before she misses it,” said Miles, mostly convinced she was Catwoman.
They returned the chest and box of cards to her enormous purse before she finished her lessons with Kiev.
“You boys have a nice night. And Elias and Miles, close your mouths, you’ve been looking at me like you’re waiting for me to drop worms into them. Goodnight Mildred; night Wilson.”
The boys gathered the brothers in Miles’ and Rudy’s room and told them what they’d seen.
“You guys are lying. You just chickened out,” Sasha said.
“Look.” Elias whipped out a picture.
“Elias, why did you keep that?” asked Miles leaning in for another look with the rest of the boys, except Kiev.
“ ’Cause I knew they wouldn’t believe us.”
“Geez, I can’t believe it. She’s Catwoman. Imagine that. Catwoman is our sitter?” said Rudy.
“If we let her identity be known, we’re in big trouble,” said Sasha.
“I’ll take care of that.” That evening, Miles searched for somewhere to hide the evidence from his parents but also Miss Mable, AKA Catwoman, if she noticed it was missing. He’d put it in the pantry crack, not telling the boys, for their own safety.
His mother seemed like such a prudish woman outside looking in, but judging from the company she kept, like Miss Mable, she was anything but a prude.
As he ended his flashback and returned to the present, he laughed out loud remembering their naivety and their close companionship as siblings. His brothers were good people. He took a deep breath in, remembering, listening. Aria would be just fine for a little while here.
He wandered out into the foyer where Rudy was.
“Rudy, you get much help from Sasha and Elias with this old house?” he said, examining decay on the front door.
“Naw, I have to make most of the arrangements for repair myself. Thank goodness Mama and Pops set up that house fund. Elias and Sasha barely come over anymore, not like the old days.” Rudy sorted through some mail stacked on a table in the foyer.
“Because of Trish?” he asked.
“Why would you ask that?” Rudy said while opening an envelope.
“She’s not exactly the epitome of warmth and joy, you know? He faced Rudy and tried to locate his eyes.
“Did you ever think they stopped coming over because you left and broke up the family?” Rudy paused when Miles didn’t respond. Plus, you all have got Trish wrong.”
“Did Mama have her all wrong too?”
Rudy slapped the mail down on the table. “Mama and Trish were just really different people.” He faced Miles. “So what’s Idelina like?”
Miles began examining the door and its beveled window. “Practical, protective, a good mother.”
“Well, where is she? Why didn’t she come with?” asked Rudy.
“She’s been gone for a while.” Miles sniffed. “Past two years.”
“That’s rough. How’s Aria doing with that?”
“She’s okay. We get along.” Miles ran his hand over the frame of the door.
“Yeah, man. You have always gotten along...” Rudy shook his head at Miles.
“Rudy, I’m a little concerned about Trish and Aria.” Miles said, casting his gaze at the glass that seemed to be misshapen from the pull of gravity. Rudy twisted his face and mumbled something imperceptible. “She can be hard to get along with and Aria’s an easy target. She’s different and a kid.”
“Trish is a little critical, I’ll admit but I hardly think she’d do any more than hurt her feelings every once and a while. Unintentionally of course.”
“Well, can you talk to her or maybe watch out for Aria if I happen to step out occasionally, you know to go see old friend or what have you?”
“Sure. We probably could soften Trish up a bit if you all were part of her routine, come along to church for one.” He paused, and paused again. “Maybe we can get Elias and Sasha to go too.” Rudy added.
“Speak of the devil,” Miles said. Elias opened the front door.
“Will you look at this y’all.” Elias handed a rectangular case to Miles. He opened it to find his trumpet, given to him by his teacher Mr. Young, bedded on the lining of crushed green velvet. Staring in silence at the trumpet, he smelled the scent of the man’s cologne. “This probably should have been yours Elias.” He sniffed and wiped his nose with his index finger.
“Mine? I never had an interest in the trumpet,” said Elias. Miles handed the trumpet back.
“I know. Sorry, buddy.” Miles looked at Elias, “So, Rudy says you don’t come by much these days.” Miles knew he was baiting Rudy. He and Elias had a private conversation about this a couple of days after arriving in New York. Elias had shared he’d wanted to tell Rudy, but just hadn’t found the right time.
“Well no offense Rudy, but Trish can be quite abrasive. Remember the time I invited Trevor and Darryl over for Sunday dinner? She wouldn’t stop about how much of an abomination gay marriage would. She’s worse than Pops. At least he treated them decently to their faces. It’s uncomfortable for me to come over and socialize.”
“I see. Sorry,” Rudy sighed, “You know Pops was just old school. He didn’t mean any harm and neither does Trish.”
“I don’t know about that. I’m nervous about her around Aria. She’s targeted just about every one of us, except you of course.”
“She won’t hurt her. Trish is Christian.”
“There are plenty of people that profess to be Christians that have done awful things to people in the name of Jesus. I don’t think she’d cause her physical harm, no, but emotionally, there stands a good chance.”
Miles remained quiet.
“Okay, I’ll see what I can do. We’ll see you and H-C Sunday for dinner right?” Rudy asked seemingly trying to change the subject.
“You bet,” Elias responded.
Miles had heard quite a bit about Elias’ girlfriend. He wanted to check her out since she’d probably be spending time with Aria too. This was going to be a big weekend: first church, then dinner.
“She’s in the kitchen now, Miles. Might be a good time to speak to her,” Rudy suggested.
Miles entered the kitchen and greeted Trish. He began washing the dishes, “Trish Aria and I would like to visit your church on Sunday.”
They cleaned up after breakfast in the bright yellow kitchen with red trim.
“Does Aria have any church dresses?” Trish asked. She pressed her thumbs along the seal of a Tupperware container, careful not to chip her acrylic finger nails.
“Probably, but if she doesn’t would it be okay if she just wore jeans?” He threw a red-checkered dish towel over his shoulder and paused from drying dishes to look at her. In actuality, he had no idea of what clothing Aria had. He realized he probably couldn’t have recounted what she was wearing today or even yesterday as a matter of fact.
“Jeans? Didn’t Rudy tell you we’re a proper Christian family? I’m surprised you wouldn’t have thought to come prepared.” She placed her fists against where her waistline should have been.
“With all due respect Trish, I don’t think clothing defines one’s faith.”
“Well, we are proper Christians. I’d appreciate if you all would join us in appropriate attire. In fact, I insist.” She leaned in toward him.
“Trish, we’ll accommodate your wishes.” Miles tried to sound formal, thinking of his need for things to be safe with Aria when he left. He began drying a stainless steel pot.
“Now, what to do with the child’s head?” She began wiping off the small kitchen table with a sponge. “I do have a hot comb. I’ll have to dig it up. Has she ever had her hair pressed? Perms are so much easier. Of course that will be at a later time, not tonight.”
“Wait,” he said. Rudy came into the kitchen and looked at Miles, then at Trish. “I never said anything about straightening her hair. Aria doesn’t need her hair straightened. Her mother never felt the need to do that.”
“Maybe her mother needed some advice. The child’s hair is wild. She’s got potential because of the mixed texture and loose curl but she needs to do something with it. Believe me, people in church will talk.” She threw the crumbs scooped in her hand into the sink in front of Miles.
“Clothes, hair, is this getting absurd?” asked Miles.
“Can’t she just brush it and pull it back?” Rudy threw some cool water on the heated conversation.
“The ponytail will be too frizzy and we won’t be able to hide the curl.” Trish opened the refrigerator and placed two Tupperware bowls inside.
“Wait. What is going on here? There is nothing wrong with my child’s hair. All her life she’s been told how beautiful it is. Now we get to the States, and we’re getting from you, a sistah, that it’s ugly and shameful. Why is it a sin to wear natural hair if you’re a black female?”
“It’s close to sinful,” she hissed and slammed the refrigerator. “Am I not the woman of the house? I have training in etiquette and correct social behavior. What is the problem, if I am trying to help improve her? Plus, when are you expecting her mother to arrive?” She began removing the apron she had on.
“We don’t have to go. The risk of humiliating you seems too high,” said Miles.
“Now, wait a minute. It’s more important for us to go as a family, than to be concerned with appearance. The Lord says ... Let’s drop this,” pleaded Rudy. “Please leave Idelina out of the conversation,” Rudy whispered to Trish.
Folding the apron, she slapped it on the table.
Miles said firmly, moving towards the pantry, “No problem, I just as soon be done with this conversation, I need to exorcize this out of my head so I don’t bring it to Aria,”
“Does she have a dress at least?” persisted Trish.
“Yes, she does. A sufficient one,” he lied and continued to move toward the dining room door.
“Okay, then. I don’t like to be disappointed” Trish snapped, bucking her eyes at Miles. She suspended her glare, waiting to react to his next response.
“Okay, then,” Miles snorted, pushing his way through the swinging door to the dining room and into thoughts that had caused him to leave home.
I was at seventeen when the world went awry, he thought. Life had proceeded in an unquestionable manner up till then. This exchange with Trish somehow conjured memories of his mother’s hypocrisy. The family thought she was perfect, but he knew she wasn’t.
He was supposed to become a doctor, lawyer or accountant. Though his mother secretly indulged herself in the experimental and devious, she adamantly demanded that her sons, particularly Miles, stay on the straight and narrow course.
“You are the biggest disappointment in my life, boy,” Wilson chided when he learned of Miles joining the military. Enlisting was the only option of getting away from home at the time. Thinking about his father’s words wrenched his gut.
Under the crush of his father’s humiliation, and the overwhelming conflict the secret had on him, he ran to where he was a stranger without responsibilities, a beige spot against a wheat landscape.
In the wake of his parent’s death, he mourned and felt responsible for his brothers’ relationships with each other. He compared it to the dying of a sun, entropy propelling the boys in different directions. Lacking gravity, there was nothing to maintain their relationships outside of the family dinners.
It was time to stop. He’d do it right after this one last run. For the immediate future, he’d go to church, and try to be kind to Trish for the sake of Aria.