Secrets

Secrets

A child in thought is how I most remember myself. A child talking little, thinking a lot, afraid a lot. Loving peace and quiet, hating when he comes home sick. Not understanding her when she rattles on in a language that seems to be English but somehow isn’t. Loving when he promises to take us to the park on Saturday. Hating when Saturday comes and he doesn’t feel well enough. Loving to hold her hand when she walks down the street in tight skirts and high heels. Men lick their lips and whistle. She doesn’t see them or me.

The outside world, outside our apartment 13E is frightening. Monsters lurk outside my bedroom door and behind the closet curtain at night, just waiting for me to stick some part of my body out from under the bedcover. I protect myself with force fields and invisible rays scan the room before I finally fall asleep.

Dad comes home sick. We always know before he arrives. There is going to be trouble tonight.

Ma says    Don’t you children do anything to make your father angry. Fix his dinner. Heat up the coffee.

The elevator door slams. His footsteps tell the whole story. His keys fumble in the lock. I open the door. He pushes past me into the kitchen and flops down. We make ourselves busy, removing his shoes, hanging up his coat. He slumps in the kitchen chair. His eyes are red. His breath smells. We are all running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Someone pushes food in front of him.

Ma says    You all go to bed.

We take turns in the bathroom, brushing our teeth, washing.

I am in bed.
The door is closed. I am listening, afraid.
He hollers    What is this shit?  Where is everybody?  Where the hell is everybody?

Ma says something about school tomorrow.
He curses. She runs into their bedroom, slams the door.
He gets up, is moving around the house, is in the living room.
My sister is there with him. I hear her voice. His words are soft, unclear.

Silence.

His fist meets some part of her body. The contact rings through the house. She’s crying. Again the fist. There is a struggle, furniture is overturned, then silence. I can’t stop shaking.

He’s moving around the house again, bumping into things.
She’s crying in the living room.
He’s coming down the hall, pushes the door open, flips the bulb on. My head is under the cover. I hold my breath. He stands there for what seems like forever, then steps out and closes the door. The liquor smell lingers. The light is still on. I don’t move. He’s outside the door listening, then he moves down the hall.

Minutes pass in silence.

I see the clock on the telephone building from my bed. He is talking in whispers. She whispers. After awhile he staggers off to his bedroom. I hear her faintly crying. I have to go to the bathroom, but don’t move. I reach up to flip the light off and hate myself for not helping her. I have to go to the bathroom.

Many times he says I am the only man in this house and whenever you
think you’re man enough to change that, let me know.

I hate myself for not being man enough. I tell myself in four years I’ll be 18 and man enough. I’ll join the Marines, kill a bunch of guys with my bare hands, come back and beat the shit out of him. I’ll make him eat that gun he is always talking about.

I have to go to the bathroom badly, but hold it.

he says    I killed two men and went to jail, but it was self defense so they let me
go. Besides, you don’t get much time for killing niggers. Don’t tell
anyone. This is between you and me.

Something about his story doesn’t ring true but I can’t figure it out. Maybe it is true. I don’t tell anyone.

he says    Whatever you got is because of our sacrifices, this apartment,
the food in your stomach, the clothes on your back, those eyeglasses,
everything, and don’t forget it.

he says    Never hit a woman, don’t be a momma’s boy, don’t believe anything
any one tells you.

I get up off the cot silently and fumble around in the closet for one of ma’s empty Pepsi Cola bottles. I pee in it and toss it out the window.

In the morning we’re scurrying around getting ready for school. The cornmeal cereal is boiling on the stove. No one is speaking to anyone else. Dad slumps in his chair with a Lucky Strike in his mouth and a cup of coffee in front of him. His eyes are red. He’s feeling sick.

he says    What’s the matter with everybody? We don’t say good morning anymore?

Good morning dad.

Fred Nicholson