The Angle of Attack: Chapter 4


Chapter 4*

I had known all along that my parents weren’t really my parents. Not only did I bear zero resemblance to either of them, they were both Viking white while I was perpetually bronzed, my skin the approximate hue of a hazelnut. Right up until they died, we shared a tacit ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy by which I never asked, and they never told. It had held ironclad and true even on the occasions when I came home after the word “bastard” had been lofted in my direction in the schoolyard. My parents were real enough to me and besides I had more important things to agonize over, like my freakish penis.

That oblivious willful blindness came to an abrupt end almost immediately after I was packed off to live with my mother’s childless sister, Aunt Carrie. She lived in a shitty little house with faded yellow paint peeling from its melanomic sides. It was located at the edge of the flattened toxic wastes, realm of scavenging otherworldly blackbirds, that stretched out bleakly between West Hillsborough and the airport. From the outside, it had all the character of a storage container while the inside, cluttered with crumbling old furniture, was a spooky candlelit shrine to her husband who had died of lung cancer years before. Framed pictures of his sooty coalminer’s face were mounted on the walls of the musty rooms alongside large, immutably sadistic, crucifixes. I had always despised it and her.

“Go on and say grace now, Paul,” said Aunt Carrie, painfully squeezing my hand as we sat down to our first meal in the gloom of the kitchen, dusk pressing up against the windows, a shoelace of beef flung on a mound of gray mashed potatoes.

“No thanks.”

“It wasn’t a question.”

“I have nothing to say.”

“You will thank our Lord for the food in front of you or I’ll take it away.”

“Fine by me,” I said pushing my plate towards her. “My mom wouldn’t feed this slop to a dog.”

Aunt Carrie stroked the handle of her knife while tapping its blade against the side of her plate. The creased skin around her dull eyes was twitching and she began running the tip of her tongue along the bottom of her uneven teeth, probing at the gaps between as if trying to dislodge foul things stuck there. She leaned across the table, crucifix pendant falling from her throat, pushing before her air that somehow had the metallic odor of dirty coins. “Your mom?”

“Yeah, my mom!” I yelled.

“You listen up,” she said hoarsely, wagging the knife in my face. “Nicole may have spoiled you stupid, but she was never your mother. You know that, right? Sure, you do. What you don’t know is your mother, your real mother, was raped. That’s right. Raped by a black man. Got rid of you the second you were born. You’re nothing. Nothing but a godless… black… bastard… rape child…”

“‘Sup, niggas?” is how I greeted the lanky group of black boys smoking in the parking lot of my new school in West Hillsborough. Over the summer break, long and torturous, Aunt Carrie had so indoctrinated me with the “godless… black… bastard… rape child…” narrative, by the time school started up again in September I was wholly convinced I was evil incarnate, my darker pigmentation the physical manifestation of all that evilness irrepressibly pushing itself up to the surface of me. The boys stared at me, wide-eyed and speechless, as if they had all been simultaneously whacked upside the head with a frying pan. “Got a light?” I asked, a cigarette bouncing with the words from the corner of my mouth.

Never having smoked before, had I received the requested light, I would have buckled over retching and spluttering like a half-drowned person (which is precisely what happened when I did finally take my first puff off a cigarette). Fortunately, upon a signal from their leader, a tall seam of muscle improbably named Harold, I started getting the shit kicked out of me instead.

“Fuck, man! How much abuse can a nigga take?!” I protested from the pavement, rolling around, hugging my head. That question was promptly answered with another furious volley of kicks and punches.

“Hold up, guys. Hold up!” commanded Harold, pushing aside the others and bending over me. The massive afro mushrooming from his head, an array of multicolored hair picks embedded in it, blotted out half the sky. “I thought you looked, familiar,” he said, extending a hand and pulling me to my feet. “You’re that crazy cracker whose parents got blowed up.”

“That’s what I should do!” I said, slapping myself on the knee. “I should look up Harold!”

“What’s that?” said the shaven-headed millennial sitting across from me, pulling a headphone from his ear. Goddamn it, this unconscious talking to myself in public has to stop. Maybe, like this kid staring at me now, I should permanently keep headphones in my ears too. At least then I could pretend to be actually talking to someone.

“Sorry,” I said matter-of-factly, flicking imaginary bits of lint from my shoulder. “I just suddenly remembered I might have a friend here. That’s assuming we don’t all die of old age on this hell train.”

“Right on,” said the kid dryly, reinserting his headphone. He looked away and drummed rhythmically on his beer can with two fingers. His scalp was flecked, not unattractively, with divot-shaped white scars where hair didn’t grow, and I conjured the image of a Lilliputian golfer teeing off from there. Probably more likely he had gone headfirst through the windshield of a car. Whatever misfortune had befallen him, I sat there bitterly envying his youth, soft young features, big healthy oxblood liver, effortlessly summoned hard-on and, suppressing the sudden urge to brain him with the bottle between my feet, I thought of Harold again.

After the beatdown in the parking lot, Harold had accompanied me to the bathroom where I dabbed at my swollen boxer’s face. On the way, I tried explaining to him I was half black. “You crazy, man!” he cried, as he appraised the two of us standing in front of the mirror. “Al Pacino’s blacker than you, honkey! And that crazy long straight hair?!” He really liked the word “crazy” I was coming to realize, and he was right except that my hair, as black as the coffins my parents were buried in, fell in wavy riots around my shoulders and could scarcely be described as “straight”. That didn’t alter the fact that ever since Aunt Carrie had pierced the veil on my lineage, an infernal voice from deep within whispered with greater and greater authority over my enraged denial that it was all true, that there was something wrong and unnatural about me, something cursed that my violent spawning somehow explained.

The final buzzer of the day sounded and, as Harold and I shuffled through the fractured trash-strewn streets, we discovered we lived just around the corner from each other, he in a similarly despairing storage container house. “I got a ping-pong table in my basement if you want to play,” he said. I had never played ping-pong, but I’d have gratefully accepted an offer to watch dust settle in Harold’s basement if it would delay returning to Aunt Carrie’s morbid lair.

“Okay, I know,” he said defensively as I stared at his alleged ping-pong table. It was so battered and cracked and lopsided, the net a tattered nylon rag, it looked as though it had tumbled down a mountainside. “The ball flies at every crazy angle but if you master this table, you’ll be able to kick anyone’s ass. Even those crazy Chinese motherfuckers.” So, we began playing and that was the beginning of a friendship that lasted right up until the day Aunt Carrie sheared off the bottom half of my front tooth with the tip of a hot iron and I ran away from her and West Hillsborough for good.

Aunt Carrie was living proof of the inverse relationship between human goodness and religious fervor. If (human goodness) is inversely proportional to (religious fervor), the equation is of the form = k/(where is a constant, let’s say 60). So, if the equation is = 60/then doubling causes to halve as follows:

x = religious fervor
y = human goodness
1
60
2
30
4
15
8
7.5
16
3.75
…60
…1 (e.g. Aunt Carrie)

“I don’t want you to go,” said Melanie in that plaintive sing-song voice only little girls can deploy, especially when guilt-tripping their fathers. She was sitting up in bed surrounded by an army of stuffies, eyes drooping now that the last of the sugar and adrenaline overload from her birthday party that afternoon was finally washing through her. I had to fly and was feeling vaguely high on acetone having just spent an hour removing the hot pink glitter polish Melanie and her monstrous little friends had applied to both my finger and toe nails after some internal self-preservation mechanism had kicked in, mid-party, allowing me to pass out on the couch in the midst of all the chaos.

“You sit tight,” I said patting her hand and getting up from the edge of the bed. “I have a special something for you. Just from me.”

“I’ll go get it,” said Ally, leaning against the doorjamb, exhausted. She blew away an errant strand of sandy hair fallen from the pinned-up pile atop her head and waved me back down. “You stay with her.”

“What is it?! What is it?!” demanded Melanie, pupils dilating.

Ally returned with the box and Melanie set to tearing off the wrapping paper as if it was the first gift she’d received all day. “A globe!”

“AND a nightlight,” I said. “Here, watch this. If I take this little pin and push it in any city like tha-at… See, it lights up! Push it again and it goes off. So now when I go away, you can always see where I am, even when you wake up in the night.”

“Yay! Where are you going this time?”

“New York to Paris tonight.”

“Aw,” she whined as she illuminated the dots and spun the globe in its sickle-shaped stand. “No fair.”

“No, it is not,” said Ally.

“In the unlikely event everyone, including the air traffic controllers at CDG, hasn’t booked off on a month-long strike protesting some newly enacted labor law…”

“…Paul…”

“…one that so egregiously affronts French sensibilities for daring to require a few scraps of work actually be done in exchange for a big fat pay check and a booklet full of lunch vouchers…”

“…Paul…”

“…only the sacking of the city will do…”

“Paul!” cried Ally, waving one hand in front of my face and pointing at open-mouthed Melanie with the other. “You may as well be speaking Hindi!”

“Mom’s just saying that because she knows the next stop after Paris is New Delhi,” I said, stabbing the city alight with the pin. “The capital of India, a glorious land where cows have right of way.”

“So far away,” said Melanie in a faraway voice. “On the other side of the world.”

“But what happens if you keep going on past the other side of the world?” I asked as I slowly dragged my fingertip across Nepal, China, Japan, out over the Pacific. As it passed by Hawaii on the way to California, she smiled broadly, an all gums hockey smile ever since the Tooth Fairy had come knocking.

“You’re getting closer!”

“Exactly!” I said, taking back my faux military capand kissing the top of her Pippi Longstocking head. “So, as soon as I leave you, really I’m already on my way back home. Always on my way back home to you.” This was a total conceit (was it even me who had said the words?) but it had Melanie making gurgling noises and Ally wiping away happy tears.

   →                                              ↻

Rightwards Arrow                        vs.                         Clockwise open circle arrow

Over time, I was even accepted by Harold’s posse. “But don’t you ever call any of us nigga, nigga,” he had warned with lethal intensity, poking me hard in the middle of the chest. The memory of this unapologetic hypocrisy made me smile and I realized the kid sitting across from me had once again pulled a headphone from his ear, eyebrow raised.

“Really? Again?” I said.

“I guess your friend’s name is Harold.”

“Yes,” I sighed. “Yes, it is.” I didn’t know it at the time, but it was Harold who was being scooped up into plastic bags under flashlights in the darkness outside the train’s windows which, from the inside, bounced back the oblique forms of the drinkers, their flushed faces like Munchian apparitions in funhouse mirrors.

~

To be continued

*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available athttp://bit.ly/2u7rqcL

© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 4), 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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