Chapter Six: Getting Settled
Time passed with everyone ignoring what had happened days before. It was a thing we all did back then. Not particularly healthy, but quite possibly necessary. I think we used silence as a way to keep my father at arm’s length. The less we said around him the better. The only downside was we often applied the same attitude toward each other as if there was some hidden blame game between us, though the only person at fault was Leonard Favor. It had nothing to do with us and yet, the very fact that Eli got hit for no reason or my mother got yelled at and pushed around, was somehow all of our faults, because we never did anything about it.
At least, this was the case until my mom had finally stood up to my dad during their first bad argument at the new house.
My father continued his routine – go to work early, get home late, lipstick in weird places, Roxanna calling on the phone, mostly drunk whenever he was around us. I can’t really say the situation was worse with him. He’d always been this way. I believe it had something to do with our address that made it grate on us more than it had when we’d lived off Figueroa Street. Or maybe, the excitement of living somewhere new had jarred us from that mold of old, made my father’s antics less central to the goings-on of the family and gave us something else to consider.
My mom, as our time at Lincoln Drive matured, seemed less inclined to care about the obvious.
We all knew good ole’ Lenny was having an affair. The signs were so blatant, I think even Elijah knew there was another “lady” kissing dad all the time.
But to me, it didn’t seem to factor much in her life. My mother was content to care for the house as she began to entertain contractors for the various renovations she had brewing in her mind. It was as though a whole other side of her blossomed into existence. She had something more important to deal with, something that wouldn’t berate her or try and bulldoze her. She could put in her time, her sweat and her enthusiasm and not be judged. There was no hovering despot when it came to the house. There was no consequence if she made a mistake. It was hers to own and she dealt with it the way she saw fit. Plus, every time she did something, the end result was always better than when she’d begun. There was no circling back, there was no rehashing the same old, worn out topics. The house improved. Everything looked better. And, whether Leonard realized it or not, the world he came home to every night, after a few hours of boning Roxanna, was more and more a reflection of my mother. The center of the universe no longer revolved around him. Slowly, methodically, my mom was building something special for the rest of us.
It was something that didn’t include him.
As time passed, even the house itself seemed to form an opinion in congruence with this notion.
Less than twenty-four hours after the microwave “beeped” at him angrily, my father came home from work to find the front door unwilling to open, though he’d used his keys to disengage both the knob-lock and the dead-bolt.
I’d been sitting on the upper portion of the deck in my pajamas, but bundled within my mother’s crocheted afghan against the cold of the night. I’d been devouring the latest Stephen King novel my mother espoused was a must read. Of course, it was late, which was probably why his raving at the front door came to my attention despite the distance.
My mom had taken Eli upstairs to his room to tuck him in. It was their custom for her to tell him old stories. Whether about Native American Indians or tales of our family generations ago, Elijah loved them all. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say sometimes she spent a whole hour with him, speaking in low tones as he stared off at the wall, his mind as far from reality as the story unfolded within his impressionable mind.
Valerie had gone to bed twenty minutes prior, dead to the world once her head hit the pillow.
So, the house had been quiet when all of a sudden, my dad’s slurred yells reached my ears.
I got up, annoyed. Didn’t the jerk have his keys with him? I remember thinking as I made my way through the sliding glass doors and the sunroom beyond. As I came into the living room, the entire front portion of the house shook suddenly as my father yanked upon the door ferociously.
“Motherfucken, ass-grabbin’, two-balled bitch!” I heard his muffled holler through the thick wood of the portal.
I increased my pace, striding through the dining room as Valerie poked her head out from her bedroom. Her hair was skewed to one side as though held fast in a strong wind, her face was bunched, eyes squinting against the lamplight. I glanced her way with a weary shake of my head.
Her upper lip furled with an unbecoming snarl as she sank back into the depths of her room, muttering under her breath.
“What the fuck is wrong with you!” my father was saying, gnashing through the rabid-like saliva of a man too far in his cups.
I opened the door, the knob turning easily in my grasp, the hinges sliding smoothly. It was, after all, unlocked.
My dad’s eyes gaped for a second, seeing I had unbarred the way without issue, then the accusatory gleam in his eye I was more than familiar with settled behind his gaze. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” he rasped.
I was immediately affronted. What the -? I didn’t do anything.
He didn’t hesitate. “Why would you hold the door shut against me?” His finger was pointing at my chest.
“What are you talking about? I was on the deck reading,” I tried.
His face was a mask of fury now. “No, you weren’t!”
“Yes, I was,” I beseeched, my hands at either side, palms up.
“Bullshit, Jerry! You were fucking holding the door shut, so I couldn’t come in.” He glared at me through his bushy, salt and pepper eyebrows, his head angling to one side as though he couldn’t control its’ movement. “I know this, because I unlocked the motherfucker beforehand.”
“Dad,” I said, attempting rationality, “I was on the deck. No one was holding the door.”
He came within a foot of me, his acrid breath filling my nostrils. He was rank with drink. “You wanna play games with me, you sonofabitch?”
My eyes found his. I’m not your wife…
“You wanna fuck with me?” He leaned even closer. I felt a heavy finger poke me in the chest and stay.
I leaned into the pressure, my eyes boring into his. “I. Was. On. The. Deck.” I was hot of a sudden. Perspiration beaded my forehead and upper lips so fast, I was damp before I knew it.
For a second, I thought he was going to head-butt me. I saw the idea of it flash across his orbs like a wisp of smoke blown aside by the cold wind of hate. But, he didn’t. Instead, he turned his shoulders to the side and slid passed me. “You better watch yourself, Jeremiah. One of these days I’m gonna fuck you up.”
My chest was on fire. My eyes never left him. My tongue felt like sandpaper in my mouth. My spit had gone dry.
My mother came from upstairs, walking briskly through the kitchen. “What’s going on?”
My mouth twisted with an overburdened scowl. It stopped her in her tracks.
“You better get your delinquent son in line, Pillar. He’s cruisin’ for a bruisin’,” warned my dad just before he strode into the master suite and slammed the door.
My mom and I looked after him for a spell, then shared a tired stare.
It was my mother who broke the silence. “Come on, son. Let’s go to bed.”
We began to button-up the house for the night.
From there, she led me to my room and tucked me into bed – something she hadn’t done in ages. She sat on the side of the bed once I was under the covers, her hand reaching out to brush at the short hairs protruding from the top of my head. “I love you,” she said.
I could barely hear her, but I had. “I love you too, mommy.”
I was asleep before the soft touch of her fingertips left me.
Within a week, my father began to complain the house was cold, though, to the rest of us, it was warm, comfortable even. He would turn up the thermostat until it was near-sweltering, going on long tirades over the “draftiness” of the house.
“You better this place in order!” he’d yell at my mom, standing over the floor heater next to the massive fireplace in the living room, shivering. “You better get those motherfucken contractors in line, you stupid cow. It’s colder than a witch’s tit in Alaska in here!” He’d paused, pulling the throw-blanket about his shoulders tighter about his person. “What the fuck am I paying for, if you can’t make those sons-a-bitches do what they’re supposed to be doing? How in the fuck are we ever going to sell this hell-hole, if we can’t figure out how to heat it properly. Jesus Christ, you’re a stupid motherfucker!”
He’d go on and on, an unending diatribe about the chill, always deriding my mother, always using his most vulgar language, even when Eli was around. Sometimes, he’d call out when no one was around, just to hear himself talk. That was my guess, because after a while we tuned him out. We went about our business as he stood atop the grate of the heater talking shit the entire time.
It was relief when he was at work, when he was fucking Roxanna. It least then there was peace and quiet.
The time we spent together, Myra and I put to good use. We decided to back off the whole “sex thing” for the time being, despite the fact neither of us felt our first attempt was “botched” in any way. Our physical incompatibility was funny to us, which was how she and I typically dealt with anything touchy or potentially embarrassing through the years.
Instead, we used it as a means to get to know one another on more levels than we probably would’ve if it hadn’t hurt her so much and we’d gone at it like a couple of monkeys in a tree. Don’t get me wrong. We weren’t suddenly saints, walking the streets, handing out blessings to the masses and such. We still found time to shed our clothing and explore, taking our time with things we had rushed in the past. We were learning. We had fun. I was beginning to understand there was a lot more to Myra Arroyo than I had first anticipated. Yeah, she might be crude at times, a little off beat with her sexual tendencies and total lack of self-consciousness when it came to anything involving her body, but that didn’t in any way translate to a lack of depth. Myra was a deep well just like so many other women I’ve come to know along the path of my life. She just hid the fact she was like all the others of her gender better than most. Only those who were special to her got to see what she was really made of.
I was glad. I took the time to want to know her. I felt blessed that she felt comfortable enough to express it to me.
After one such exploratory session in my room, on a Saturday afternoon, I’d been sitting amongst some of the new wicker furniture my mother had purchased for the screened-in portion of the front porch. I was ruminating over my girlfriend when Valerie walked out through the front door, a book in hand. I felt her gaze upon me, but didn’t want to rouse myself from thoughts of my girl.
“You really like her, huh?” asked my sister, after a time.
My eyes met hers, a smile of acquiescence plain upon my lips.
“Stupid question?” she queried for a second time, opening the screen door and taking a seat in an identical chair.
“Not stupid, sis,” I said as I watched her come nearer. “Obvious might be a better word.”
She huffed, chortling. “Just don’t get all caught up in the mix.” There was a thread of sisterly concern attached.
“She’s just a little ‘looser’ than the other girls you’ve dated,” she said as a matter of fact, opening her book where she’d marked it. Then, she stopped to peer directly into my eyes. “There’s more to us girls than what’s between our legs.”
Her candidness made me laugh out loud.
“What?” she asked through her bangs, her eyebrows rising.
“You’re too funny sometimes, sis.”
“Don’t forget what I said.”
Chuckling, I replied: “I won’t.” Valerie had never shown concern in the past, especially of this nature.
I was beginning to wonder if there was more to 1052 Lincoln Drive than I could’ve dreamed. We were all changing. Whether we realized it or not, we were.
That Tuesday, when Valerie and I got home from school, my mother came running down the stairs to meet us halfway between the street and the house.
Immediately, I was scared. I figured my father had come home early and had done something to her, because her face was streaked with dirt, her hands were filthy and there were cobwebs in her long, straight black hair. But, I was wrong.
She led Valerie by the hands and beckoned me to follow.
When we reached the patio below the kitchen windows, she sat down on one of the two stairs, pulling my sister down with her. I remained standing a few feet away. The slope of the hill was such that my head was only a foot and a half above there’s.
“What’s this about, mom?” asked Valerie, her petite brow furling.
My mother actually giggled like a schoolgirl.
My sister and I exchanged a glance, eyes a little wide with surprise.
“Last night,” began my mother, bun-walking upon the concrete, moving closer toward Valerie. She held both of my sister’s hands within hers. “I had this dream - this very vivid dream. I was walking around the yard, looking for things to weed or prune or cut back. You know just aimlessly walking about with some gardening shears in my hand like we all do from time to time, right?” She laughed. It was a joke. Only she walked about the property with shears in her hand.
Valerie merely nodded for her to continue.
“I came across this succulent plant that had been trampled or purposely broken, and bent down to replant some of the shoots back into the ground. All of a sudden, I hear this crystalline tinkling, a metallic twinkling like wind chimes, only deeper as if the chime itself was very large. It was far away or muffled, because it was just on the edge of hearing.
“So, I stood up, trying to get a fix on it. I could tell it hadn’t come from the surrounding area. It didn’t sound like it was carrying on the wind. I took a few steps and heard it again, knowing I was correct. It wasn’t coming from the yard or the street. It was coming from inside the house.
“The moment I think this, I know it’s the truth, because I can feel it inside.” She was touching her chest, above her breasts.
I was trying to understand, but I couldn’t grasp what she was talking about. I’d never felt that certain about anything before.
Her soft eyes touched both of us. “I ran to the house and stepped into the dining room. I think the front door was wide open, but I don’t remember exactly. The chime sounds again. This time, and I think it’s because I’m indoors now, I can actually tell what direction it’s coming from.” The light of the afternoon sun shone through her pupils. “It was upstairs…
“I haul my ass through the house and take the stairs two at a time, stopping in the corridor, craning my head like a dog, hoping to hear the sound again. But, there’s nothing. So, I start searching. What I was looking for, I couldn’t tell you, but I had this overwhelming urge to look. I go through the spare bedroom and the rumpus room – nothing. I look all over the Elijah’s room, your room, Jer. I even look through the closets and the bathrooms. I find nothing. I’m stumped, so I began to walk towards the library when it comes again. I stop to make sure, but I know before it’s even stopped. I know it coming from behind the library door.
“I’m thrilled by now. I go barreling through the door, headlong into the room beyond and I’m suddenly plunged into darkness. It’s so thick, I can’t see my hand before my face. I turned around, trying to find the doorknob, but I can’t feel it. When I step back to where the door should be, there’s no door there. I’m not sure if I should be scared or excited or what. The fact that I had a choice was indication enough this wasn’t a situation to fear. So, I swing back around, slowly, steady my breathing and wait.
“I can’t tell you how long I waited, because it was a dream and time is always somewhat distorted, but I don’t think it was all that long. I’m standing there, hands at my side, when the ringing comes again. Only this time, it was softer, tentative. You know, it was still calling, only not as loud, because it didn’t have to. It was as though it knew I was close and didn’t have to yell.”
“You make it sound like it was alive,” commented my sister, enthralled.
My mother clicked the roof of her mouth. “It was.”
“How do you know that?” I asked, beginning to think this whole matter was heading south – to the Looney-Land - real quick like.
“I have to finish, smarty-pants,” she chided. Her grin was goofy and splitting the lower half of her face.
We remained silent, though my sister squeezed my mother’s hands. Go on, mom, she’d said without verbalizing it.
“I was amazed to see there was a light shining from underneath the only other door in the library.”
“The one leading to the storage area that goes under the stairs leading to the attic?” asked Valerie.
My Mom nodded. “I walked toward the door and turned the knob. It opened and I walked through.” She paused, giving my sister’s hands a shake. “It was floating in the air, surrounded by a golden light.”
“What was floating?” I asked, coming forward, taking a knee.
“A knife?!?” It was Val’s turn at unbelief.
“Yeah, a knife, but not a knife in the true sense of what a knife is, if you catch my meaning,” answered my mother with total inadequacy.
“I’m lost,” was all I could think to say.
“It was actually a replication of a sword, a Saracen sword, like the ones in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” She was so delighted she was squirming.
“How do you know it was a Saracen sword, mom? I mean, it was a dream, right?” Valerie’s eyes were bunched with intense thought.
“I found it.”
I felt like the sky was about to fall on me – big time. “Found what?”
Before either of us moved, she reached around and pulled forth a gold-colored, seven-inch representation of a sword straight out of the Arabian Nights or Sinbad and the Seven Seas. It was a replicant of a Moorish sword.
“Oh my god, is it made of gold?”
My mother’s head went back and forth in the negative. “Naw, it’s too light.”
“B-but, I don’t understand. I thought you said it was a dream,” implored my sister, leaning back away from the knife-sized sword.
“But how -,” I tried, but my mother cut me off.
“After I woke up this morning, after I took you all to school, I came home and looked for it,” she said simply. “I spent the entire morning looking for it. About half an hour before I was supposed to pick up Eli at school, I found it.”
We all got out early on Tuesdays, so she meant around 1pm.
“Where?” I had never seen complete astonishment on Valerie’s face before.
My Mom didn’t hesitate. “I found it exactly where my dream said it would be, in the storage area under the stairs leading to the attic. Only it wasn’t floating in the air.” She giggled again. “It was wedged in between the wall and the framing of the staircase itself. It was wrapped in burlap with the words, ‘Affliction’s Key’, written on it in red marker. It’s etched upon the sword as well.”
“Affliction’s Key?” I repeated, tasting the words in my mouth. I didn’t like the feel of them. They were too auspicious.
“What do you think it means?” questioned Valerie.
“What – the words or the sword?”
She shook her head and spread her arms out to either side of her, palms up. “All of it.”
“It’s freakin’ scary,” I said, compelled.
“This house is special,” was all my Mom said. Her eyes became distant. She stood, pocketing the knife/sword once again. “I’m gonna check on Eli. Why don’t you guys get something to snack on. We can talk more about this later, ok?”
She didn’t wait for us to answer. She walked away.
Valerie and I stared after her, unsure of the entirety of what we’d just experienced. We had missed something, something critical.
We never had the time to figure it out.
I wish I had known then what Affliction’s Key could do, maybe things would’ve turned out different. Or maybe, I’d have been better prepared.