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Authors: Nicole Seitz

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BOOK: Beyond Molasses Creek
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“It's overrated. Sleepin'.” He smiles and likes to melt my heart. “Can I come in?”

“Yes, sorry, please. Come in.” I take the fruit into the kitchen and check the stove clock. It says 8:32.

“These look wonderful.” I unload peaches, apples, and plums and lay them out upside down on some paper towels. “Let me just make some coffee so I can think straight.”

Before I know it, we are sitting at the kitchen table, this massive wood thing, and I am ruing getting rid of Daddy's small dinette. It went much better with the linoleum floor.

I have so much to tell Vesey. I don't know where to begin.

“Feelin' better?” he asks as I sip, eyes closed.

“Getting there.”

“I thought I'd help you with the outside today. Got all them statues and such.”

“Oh, gosh, I'd forgotten all about that. They're so heavy, you shouldn't be lifting—”

“I'm a man, Miss Ally. I'm fine.”

“I know you are.” Something sharp flits between us, a spark, some current. I set my cup down and say, “Vesey, I have something to tell you, and I don't want you thinking I'm crazy, all right?”

He nods, brown eyes focused on mine.

“I, well, I was up all night, thinking about Daddy. It's harder than I thought it would be. Somehow when I lost Mama, it was softened by his still being here. I think I took solace in that, but now . . .” Vesey pushes up from the table and grabs a paper towel for my eyes. He folds it carefully and hands it to me. His gesture only makes me want to cry more. I blot my eyes and take a deep breath. “My father and I once had a conversation about dying. I was a little girl. He was laid out because of his back and . . . well, he was trying to make me feel better, so he lied. A pretty big lie.”

“About what?”

I smile, remembering. “He said that when he got to heaven one day, he'd write me letters and tell me all about it. Can you imagine? That Grandma and Grandpa had done the same for him.”

“And did it help . . . when you were little?”

“Yes, actually, it did.”

“Don't see the harm in it then. He was just looking after—”

“There's more, Vesey.” I stare him down. “I'm almost afraid to tell you this, afraid that when I go back there, you won't see anything and they'll have to call the paddy wagon and haul me off for good. I'm overdue, you know.”

He's concerned now. He rubs the knuckles on his left hand.

“Come here,” I say.

I stand slowly, and Vesey grabs my arm, helping me up.

“Back any better?”

“A little. I just don't want to take any more pills that knock me out. Give me a good bottle of wine, but I don't like those pills. It'll be fine in a few days, I'm sure.”

We walk arm in arm to Daddy's old bedroom, mine now, and I stop at the doorway. Kat runs ahead of us and jumps on the bead, turning and biting at a flea on his leg. I point to the unmade bed and watch Vesey's face. He looks at me, then walks forward and picks up a piece of paper by my pillow. He does see it. He straightens his glasses, reads it, and turns it over. His eyes search for the others and he bends and picks up each and every one as if picking delicate flowers in a field.

I close my eyes and see them in my mind.

Weather's real nice. Sunshine all the time.

Thinking of you.
Dad

Mama says hello. She's young and beautiful!
She loves you with all her heart. Me too.

Dad

Did I tell you we have a mansion by a glittering river?
More beautiful than I imagined.

Dad

Ally, sweetness, I've seen her. She's here.
Time for you to rest now.

Dad

EIGHT
Uncertainty

Kathmandu, Nepal
Sunila

I'
VE GOT TO REST
. I
CANNOT KEEP GOING
. I
HAVE NO
food. I am wet. Why did I ever leave? I belong in the quarry with Amaa. I am destined for nothing but misery and bad luck here. I duck in from out of the rain and find an alleyway between stores. I don't know which street I am on. They all look the same now. I wedge myself behind piles of rubbish and pull my knees up. I am sore from my shoulders to the bottoms of my feet. My shoes are barely there anymore.

Why did I set out on this journey? I am not this brave. I am stupid, just as they have always told me. I feel the hard edges of the Book of the Gods in the tops of my thighs and I allow my mind to go to the images. I have carved them many times. I feel calmer now. I breathe in deeply.
You have come because you must. Because there was no other way
.

I hear a noise and lift my head. I wish to be invisible, to blend in with the garbage. There is a man coming toward me. I wrap my hand around my chisel. I will use it if I must. He comes closer and bends down. My arm tenses. He reaches his hand into the garbage and pulls things this way and that, and suddenly he is staring right at me and my hand with the chisel is pointed back at him. He is a Dalit like me. Who of us is more afraid?

He lifts his hands and says in a coarse voice, “I mean you no harm. I am hungry.”

I look at him and feel pity. No more fear. “I am hungry as well,” I say. Then I put my head down and listen as his heavy footsteps slosh away.

NINE
Letters from Heaven

Mount Pleasant
Ally

“M
ISS
A
LLY
?” V
ESEY TOUCHES MY SHOULDER
. I'
M LEAN
ing against the door frame of my father's bedroom and feel like I might have dozed for half a second. “What is all this?”

I smile, sadly. There are pieces of paper all over the bed, the floor. “So you see them too?”

“'Course I do,” he says.

“It's his handwriting, Vesey. I'd know it anywhere.”

“Where'd they come from?”

“I don't know,” I tell him. “One minute they're not here, the next, they're all over the bed and the floor. I found one yesterday too”—I fish it out of my pocket—“and I meant to ask you about it. It suddenly appeared on my stomach after I'd been lying in Daddy's chair out there. I assumed you'd found it and put it there.”

Vesey grunts and furrows his brow. He looks through the papers, then around the room. “So, what, you think he's sendin' you notes from heaven?”

“Isn't that what it looks like? I just can't believe it. I don't even believe in all that mess.”

“In what mess?”

“You know, heaven, God. I don't know, maybe I do.”

“Y'either do or don't. No in-between.”

“Well, maybe there is an in-between. Maybe I'm in it.”

I turn and leave him standing in the bedroom. I can feel the coffee kicking in, heart pounding.

“I didn't mean to offend—”

“Oh, come on, Vesey, you didn't. I'm just tired. I just . . . don't understand . . .”

Vesey is staring at the ceiling now. He sets his hat down on the bed and squints up, adjusting his glasses.

“Don't tell me you can see it from here,” I say. “Heaven.”

“No . . .” Vesey looks around the room and grabs a chair at a little dresser I bought in Italy. He moves it to the center of the room, right next to the bed, and starts climbing on it.

“What are you doing? You'll break your neck!” I move toward him and hold on to the backs of his legs. It's a strange position and I feel slightly light-headed, feeling his strong, warm calves through his pants. He's reaching up, here, there, then he comes back down.

“What is it?”

“I reckon it's . . . putty.” Vesey is holding white blobs of stuff and rolling it around in his fingers.

“Putty?” I repeat. Vesey looks crestfallen. Then he smiles. “I guess maybe I solved your mystery. Looks like Doc Green stuck these up there on the ceiling before he died. Ain't he had that big ol' poster bed? All I can figure . . .”

“Why would he do a thing like that?” I try to picture Daddy, old and frail, standing wobbly and reaching up, sticking these notes up there. “Oh.” Tears spring to my face again and I sit down on the edge of the bed.

Vesey stands next to me, not sure what to do. He puts a hand on my shoulder and lets it rest there, warm heat. “Seems he wanted 'em to stay there long enough . . . just till after he was gone maybe . . .”

“Then they'd fall down ‘from heaven' and I'd think he was really up there. Think it really exists.”

“It does exist.”

“How do
you
know?” I turn to him and realize it came out much harsher than I intended. I was really only thinking aloud, emotions all amuck. Vesey removes his hand from my shoulder. He puts his hat back on.

“Maybe I'll leave you 'lone right now,” he says. “I can do the outside later.”

“No, Vesey, I'm sorry, I'm just . . .”

Vesey leaves me sitting there, a swollen shred of a woman, and turns his head sideways to say, “I know heaven's there, Miss Ally, 'cause I believe it. I got to. I got family waitin' on the other side.”

Then he's gone and I am lying back on the bed, staring at white dots on the ceiling like a great constellation. How could I not see it before?

Why'd you go to all that trouble, Daddy? Why'd you have to lie? I'm a grown woman now
. I should never have gotten out of bed this morning. I roll to my side, curl my legs up embryo-style, and, despite the coffee, when Kat settles into the backs of my knees, I melt into a deep sleep and dream of elephants and white birds.

TEN
At First Sight

Ally

T
HE FIRST TIME
I
LAID EYES ON
V
ESEY
W
ASHINGTON, A
white bird had skimmed the top of my head with its wing and my eyes followed it as it glided over to the other side of the creek. There was a boy standing there that summer of 1957—just a dark speck on the other side of the river, almost like looking out and seeing my own shadow.

“Mama,” I hollered, “I see somebody over there. Somebody waving at
me
!” I ran down on the dock and stood on the edge of it, nearly falling off. I waved back as big and furious as I could, putting my whole body into it. I could see the small shape of a boy on the other side, a mess of cattails next to him and a fishing pole in his hand. He would throw it back over his shoulder and exaggerate, slowly casting his bait, then pull it in, making sure I was watching. I was, let me tell you. I ran back to the house. My mother was outside hanging clothes on the line. I tugged at her apron. “Can I go fishing?”

“Your daddy will be back after a while.”

“I can't wait that long!”

“Why ever not? What's got into you? Look like you're about to wet your britches. Go on in, honey, before you have an accident.”

“I don't have to!”

“Alicia . . .”

“But, Mama, there's a boy on the other side of the river, and he's fishing and I want to fish with him!”

A look came over Mama's face like she smelled something not right with the laundry. She looked toward the river and her eyebrows rose. “A boy on the other side of the river?”

“Yeah, come look!” I pulled her by her wrist and dragged her to the dock. The little boy on the other side was still there, sitting on the bank with his knees up, rod out in the water. He saw us and stood up quick, but he didn't wave. I did, though.

“You see? I told you! Can I go fishing?”

“Honey, that's the colored side of the river. We can't be—”

“But, Mama! Please!” I was about to cry, something I did quite well. My mother looked at me, softened a bit, and said, almost whispering, “I have an idea. How about if I let you get your fishing pole and sit here on our dock? That way you can fish and he can fish—”

“But why can't we fish together?”

Mama made a funny sort of laughing, scoffing sound, but she also sounded baffled to me, like she did when she didn't have a good answer for something. “It's just . . . not done, honey. This is the best you're gonna get. Take it or leave it.”

She was firm now, and about to get back to her business, so I told her I'd take it. We set me out on the end of the dock with my bamboo pole. I'd only caught a couple things on it before, a tiny bream and a small, ugly catfish, and honestly, Daddy was the one to put my worms and crickets on my hook, so I just sat there, baitless, line and feet in the water, with the dark boy on the other side. We fished that way a good couple hours, occasionally waving, occasionally pulling our poles out and dramatically casting them again, then, just as animated, reeling in pretend fish.

I felt a special connection with the boy on the other side. I could sense he was the same kind of lonely as me. And the distance between us only made me want to know him all the more.

By third grade I knew how to read and write in cursive and could recite whole sections of the Declaration of Independence. Daddy thought I was old enough to start learning some other things about the world. He didn't say it in so many words; he just put me in the car and said he wanted me to ride along with him . . . to keep him company. Being a doctor in Charleston in 1958, Daddy made house calls. He didn't work at a hospital or doctor's office—that all came later. He spent his days entering people's sanctuaries, their homes, their lives, at their most vulnerable moments.

The day he took me out to make his rounds was the last day of my sheltered life on Molasses Creek.

The first house we went to belonged to an old lady with a goiter on the side of her neck. I'd never seen anything like it, but when I could look her way, I noticed how her blue eyes sparkled at Daddy. The way he squeezed her hand and said she was looking “mighty purdy.” I suppose I knew my father to be a liar in those very moments, but in a way, I'd never admired him more. They both knew he was lying. It was his gentle way, his care, his laugh, that was true medicine.

BOOK: Beyond Molasses Creek
7.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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