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Authors: Nicole Seitz

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BOOK: Beyond Molasses Creek
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The next house we visited was dark and smelled like old. I wanted so badly to pull the curtains back and let in some air, but after Daddy introduced me to an old man, he left me in the living room and followed the man to the back of the house. I looked on the walls and saw dingy photographs of children and family, some boat pictures, one of a man holding a large fish and smiling with crooked teeth. I imagined at one time there had been light in that house, but now only darkness fell. How did that happen? It made me want to run, to shake the darkness off of me, to run into the sunshine and just keep on running so that darkness and the smell of old could never settle on me.

Daddy came out, wiping his hands on a rag and looking the man in the eyes. He put his hand on his shoulder and spoke so softly I couldn't hear him. The man stood still, old and slumped. Then we left. “Who was in there?” I asked him when we were safely in the car.

“His wife,” was all he told me. I sensed I needn't ask more, that Daddy had told me all he could or wanted to. Maybe I didn't want to know. Maybe I didn't want to put words to the fact that darkness had just shrouded the last light in that poor man's life.

I hoped we were done for the day. Surely Daddy didn't have to see more people, to go into anyone else's house. I certainly didn't want to and secretly planned to tell him I'd rather wait in the car at the next place. We traveled for a while along dirt roads, past fan palms and wild, natural Lowcountry drives, until I saw water glistening to the right of me. I watched as the sun danced on the river and it felt so familiar, although any waterway in the Lowcountry can feel like home for someone born here, even to those who weren't. But no. There was more. Through the trees, I saw the back of the Cummingses' house, our neighbors down the street. I knew it well—the playground that backed up almost to the dock, that three-swing swing set. And then, through a sliver of light as our car moved by, I recognized the back of our own house.

I looked at Daddy. We were on the other side of Molasses Creek. My heart pounded. It was as if I'd somehow dreamed it into existence. How many nights had I lain in bed, dreaming of the other side, the boy with his fishing boat, the clothes hanging on the line in the wind? How many times had I sat there on our dock, wondering what the lives of the people in that little house were like? And now we were here. Really here.

Chickens ran to the side of the car when we bumped along dirt in front of the house. It was simple, much smaller than our own, and painted mustard yellow with a rusted green tin roof. There were flowerpots to the sides of the crooked front steps made of oyster bins, round, with holes where roots and vines crawled through. A black woman in a handkerchief with a little boy on her hip came to the door and peeked out. Her face was dark and shone in the light when she stepped out. She smiled when she saw Daddy, then froze up when she noticed me.

“Althea, this is my daughter, Ally. She's helping me make my rounds today.” The woman looked at me and, with stiff arms, welcomed us into her home. She looked behind her and yelled something to the people inside. There was shuffling, then quiet. A dog greeted us at the doorway, a smelly golden retriever who seemed to smile. Not having any pets, I tried to put my hand down to him, but the woman shooed him off and down the steps he ran. The door was left open.

Upon entering, my eyes tried to adjust to the light. It was dim, a single lamp glowing on a table next to the sofa. Two windows flanked either side of it, and I ducked and squinted to see if I could spy our house. I could. It seemed like a castle from here, off in the distance, white shards of sunlight making it sparkle. I longed to be there right that minute. The woman said something to my father that I couldn't understand. It was as if she was speaking another language, foreign, but he understood. My blood stirred. My father moved toward the little kitchen and told me to stay put. I melted down into a wood chair up against the wall, staring at my house through the window, wishing the dog was still indoors so I wouldn't be alone. Then I heard a voice, a young voice, say, “You de gal from d'otha side?”

I stared hard to where the voice was coming from. It was the sofa. With the bright light outdoors, the sofa was masked in darkness, and there, not one, but two children were sitting still like snakes, staring at me. I hadn't seen them before.

“Oh, hey, I . . . Yes, I live over there. See that house?” I pointed and the children got up. A little girl stood and came closer to me. She must have been about four years old. She was wearing a dress with no shoes and had her hair in these braids that stuck up all over creation. She smiled and reached forward, touching my blond hair.

“Stop it, Marcie!” the boy chided. He looked out the window for the longest time, then he turned back around. “Yo' daddy the doctor?”

I nodded.

“I gone be a doc too someday. Gonna have me a big bag to fix folk up.”

I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing and the boy went on.

“My daddy catch oyster. Fish all the time. Smell like fish, but I don't mind. I like the smell of 'em. You like fish?”

“Yes,” I managed. “I like fish.”

“I like to catch 'em. Catched this big ol' sucker”—and he put his arms out wide to show me just how big it was—“jes' last week. You ain't never seen none bigger. We fry that thang up and mmm, mmm, it good. Best fish I ever eat.”

He was animated now, and I was feeling dizzy, as if I was far away from home, in a dream somehow, and needed to pinch myself to get back. At the same time, I felt like I could listen to this boy forever.

“My name's Ally,” I said finally. “What's yours?”

“Vesey my name,” he said. “Vesey, name after my daddy. He Vesey too. Name after Denmark Vesey, ol' slave hero. I name after him too.”

“Nice to meet you, Vesey,” I said, trying to remember all those times my mother had taught me to be polite. If ever there was a time to use my manners, it seemed it was now. The moment felt important, eternal. I'd never met anyone named after a hero before.

My father came back through the kitchen with the woman, and the baby on her hip was crying now—not a screaming cry, more a whimper. Vesey said, “Rufus sick. He got da fevah. Rash.”

“Hush now,” said the woman and Vesey sat back like a statue, still on that sofa. Never uttered another word.

“Lots of liquids,” said Daddy, and he handed the woman something from his bag. “Two times every day, all right?”

The woman thanked him and I envied Daddy at the moment for having that woman's respect. For some strange reason I longed to have that same respect from her. I understood Vesey in a deep way, I thought, right then. No wonder he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. It was the way to his mama's heart.

We went to two more houses on that same road across the river that day, but to be honest, my mind was stuck at Vesey's house. I thought through every word he'd said to me. I remembered his cadence. I remembered the glow around his head and how I could hardly make out his features. I remembered the little girl's hand as she touched my hair, as if I were the unusual one.

I kept waiting for Daddy to ask me what I'd learned that day as he took me on his rounds, but he never did. Somehow, we both knew I'd learned too much to ever put into words.

ELEVEN
Pot Roast Says I'm Sorry

Mount Pleasant
Ally

“R
ONNIE
?” I
ROLL OVER IN THE DARKNESS AND PRESS
the receiver against my cheek.

“Hey, Al. You okay?”

“Not really.”

“You gonna make it?”

“I guess. I hate this. I don't even have the energy . . . Let's just say I chased off my only friend.”

“I thought I was your friend.”

“Yeah, but I could never chase you off. I even divorced you. You don't leave.”

“That's true. But how could I ever leave you?”

“I think I screwed up pretty big.”

“Saying sorry always works.”

“You know I'm not one for sorrys, Ronnie.”

“Yeah, I do know it. But don't worry. He knows you're upset about your daddy right now. You're not legally obligated to anything that comes out of your mouth. At least for a while. I think that's a rule of grieving somewhere.”

“Maybe you're right.”

“I know I'm right. Listen, Al. Get out of bed. Make some coffee. Get out of the house. All right? You got to . . . you got to just go. Can't wallow there in bed all day. That's not you.”

I lie there with the silence and miles between us. I imagine the Lowcountry sunshine outside. The darkness and old in here have already started to settle on me in my grief and stiffen my bones. “Good advice,” I tell him. “I knew you were good for something, Ronnie.”

“I thought you said I was good for nothing.”

“Well, that too. Love you, though.”

“Love you too, Al. We both do.”

“Tell Marlene I'll call y'all later, all right? Coffeepot's a-calling.”

My hip is slowly getting back to normal. Thank goodness for small things. I make my way to the kitchen, but just barely, as Kat weaves in and out of my legs. “Watch out now! You want me to trip? Hold on.” Carefully, I bend over and pour him some food by the back door. I watch him hunch down and commence to munching. Acts as if he hasn't eaten in a week. His striped fur glows white in the bright light reflecting off the creek and through the window. I rub my eyes, stretch, and wish I knew the name of a good masseuse in town. I make a mental note to locate a day spa today. Number one on my to-do list. Time to get this hip back into shape.

The coffee percolates and sputters and the aroma stirs me, soothes my soul. I reach for Daddy's coffee mug and set it down before me with reverence. Daddy's mug. Daddy's not here, but his mug is. It's hard to wrap my mind around. I walk past Kat and open the back door. I take my coffee down to the dock and feel the coolness of the morning air tinged with humidity. The grass is wet beneath my feet. I can tell it will be a pretty hot afternoon. Might as well get out now while the gettin's good.

Vesey's house. There it is, staring at me. If I squint, I see two shirts hanging on his clothesline with some smaller pieces I'm guessing are socks or drawers. I can't see that far anymore. Age is lovely. The only good thing is I can't see my own wrinkles very well. The closer I get to the mirror, the more out of focus I get. I'll never invest in one of those high-powered magnifying mirrors, I guarantee it. More like torture devices if you ask me.

Vesey. My mind won't leave him. What kind of a man still has a clothesline in this day and age?

I ought to do something nice for Vesey. I mean, he handled the furniture men and then moved it all himself. He's been a true, loyal friend all these years, and me, I open my big mouth and offend him. So careless, not even considering his own loss . . .

It's settled. I'll go to the store, maybe that new Whole Foods, today and get something good and fresh. Maybe I can show him I'm sorry without having to say it. I do so hate to say I'm sorry.

What says sorry better . . . pot roast and macaroni or tandoori chicken with naan and jasmine rice? Knowing Vesey, I'd say the pot roast. He's Lowcountry through and through. He wouldn't know his
tandoori
from his
naan
. I chuckle to myself and after three sips of coffee, am beginning to feel human.

Since I've come home, Daddy's overgrown yard has become littered with stone statues of gods and goddesses. His Lowcountry retreat now resembles a graveyard. I've got to get Vesey to come back over and set these out better. It should feel like an artsy garden for contemplation and meditation, not a home for the dead. I pass a font with the head of the Greek god of wine on it, Dionysius. His mouth is wide open where the water—or wine—should flow. His eyes are still, stone cold, yet watching me. I back up and nearly trip over a statue of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders.

How in the world did I acquire all these statues? Well, to be honest, they were cheap. For instance, in Greece, I bought a slew of stone gods for just a few dollars from a stone peddler. It's how I fooled myself into paying the gargantuan shipping fees. I might as well have bought them at home. I'm sure I could have found similar . . . but the fact that they're Greek gods and I found them in Greece, well, I like them . . . just not all jumbled the way they are now. It's a bit creepy, if you ask me, white specters lurking about as if in a city of the dead. Creepy is not at all what I was going for. International, yes.

Before I get in the car, my fairly new Chrysler LeBaron that I bought specifically because of its comfortable seats, I notice something perched against the side of the house. What is that? I move over and see it—something I'd completely forgotten I owned.

When I was in Bali a few years ago, I wore nothing but these silk batik saris with the bright colors and designs. I fell in love with them, the way they covered my legs, the way they felt on my body, and the way my spirit felt when I was in them. There was a woman selling her wares in a little shop. She had the most intricate designs, and I purchased about a dozen pieces of fabric to wrap around my hips. Well, she had her batik-making equipment right there in the store, which was nothing more than a couple sawhorses, some stick pins to hold the silk in place, a slew of embossed metal patterns, and a wax melter/pen combination thingy. “Is this how you make them?” I marveled. Her eyes lit up and she showed me how to do it. It looked simple enough. You have the hot wax that you draw onto the silk or press on with your template, then later you use dyes to color it all. The wax resists the dyes, so you get these wonderful, intricate designs. I was so excited that I bought it all from her right there on the spot, imagining myself in some French château, perhaps, walking to the market for bread and fruit and wine, and then spending my afternoons making exotic batiks. Living the posh life of an artist abroad . . .

BOOK: Beyond Molasses Creek
3.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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