Stolen Biography of a Father
(after Michael Ondaatje)
November 15, 2004
She wasnít part of his old life
by Valeria Vegas
She calls every day. She leaves long-winded messages on the answering machine. The pizza is bitter; the pizza man is poisoning me. I want you to kill him for me. It is not just the pizza man who wants her dead. The raghead fucks at the storage place broke into my unit and stole your Brooks Brothers pants and all those antique books from Aunt Jacque. Theyíre as bad as a bunch of niggers. They gave me a seven day notice to get out and when I drove away, they waved their arms in the air and cheered. I swear theyíre gay. No, they really are. Call me.
He doesnít listen to the messages, doesnít pick up the phone.
God dammit, they wonít give me my money at the bank. I swear somebody comes into my room and steals things. I canít find my hairbrush. Or my keys. Thereís so much snow here itís so beautiful and I wish you and Maira and the baby were here. Call me back.
By ĎMairaí, she means the woman who is about to give birth to his first child. ĎMairaí is not, however, her name.
When he does answer the phone and she is on the other end of the line and he wonít take her seriously, she resorts to bringing up his father.
The knife was a gift from a comrade named Destroy whoís still in San Quentin where the two met. Itís a small knife. Itís a stabbing knife. He keeps it in a black case with a Misfits sticker on it in a wicker basket hanging above his babyís motherís bed.
When he gets dressed in the morning, he shakes his head at his reflection. The outfit isnít complete without a bulletproof vest. He slides the knife into his back right pocket, clipping the case to his belt loop. His babyís mother doesnít want him to take it with him. Itís a new life now, she reminds him. She wasnít part of his old life; sheís afraid it will return and steal him from her. He ignores her because she doesnít know that the brutal life of an outlaw will not die until the outlaw is dead. He kisses the top of her head and leaves.
They do this every morning.
When she goes to check the mail later in the day, the knife is lying on the sewing table by the front door. She replaces it in the wicker basket above the bed. When he comes home, she will seduce him below the basket and hand the knife to him at the crucial moment.
His babyís mother is out of work and so is he. Though he enjoys going to prisoner rehabilitation group and hanging out with old comrades, he hates to see her hungry. She is pregnant and always hungry. The empty refrigerator makes him feel like he is not a man, but itís not easy for an ex-con to get a job, especially after September 11th. Especially for a thief.
The first case he caught was for shoplifting groceries when he was eleven years old.
One day, after prisoner program group at the rehabilitation house, he brings home a half-gallon of milk. He pulls it out of his coat proudly and shows it to her before putting it in the refrigerator.
When he was six years old, the cops kicked in the door to the house and ripped open cabinets and mattresses and pants pocketseverything closed. His father shoved the bags of dope into his underpants and threw him down the laundry chute.
Wrapped in socks with holes and sweat-stained undershirts, he shook and waited. It was dark. Loud bangs connected by the low rumble of menís voices seeped into the laundry. He tried to pick out his fatherís voice. He began to cry softly.
His father forgot about him, didnít come get him until after the cops had been gone for a long time, until he and his buddies started to crash. When his father pulled him out of the laundry and saw him crying, he sneered. You fucking coward.
When He Thinks His Babyís Mother is Asleep
He whispers in her ear: You are confident. You are happy. You are the only girl in the world.
I fucking need that money for coffee in the morning. I need it for the bus. I didnít get clean to live like a fucking bum. Fuck it. Donít give it to me. Iíll walk in the fucking rain. I donít deserve it anyway. Nothing has ever gone right for me, not in my whole life.
He wants to surf and live in Mexico and own an old truck painted metal-flake black with flames. He wants a bike, an old Schwinn, something nice he can trick out. He doesnít want to hustle or use or deal or steal or want to. He wants a dog named Trouble. He wants enough money, the refrigerator stocked with energy drinks, a coffee machine that works, a nice stereo system, his old punk rock records back. He wants his body fixed: the muscle in his calf sewn back like it was before the bullet ripped through, his stomach muscles un-sliced by the shiv, the hole patched in his lung, his back loosened up, the track marks on the top of his foot to stop itching. He wants every color of Dickeys work pants in his closet. He wants new shoes, Chucks, low-top one-stars, old-school style. He wants cinnamon coffee cake for breakfast every morning. He wants cable.
Oh, yes. He wants her around, her and the kid.
His pride grows along with the size of my stomach. He kisses his son through my skin before he leaves every day. He reads him Velveteen Rabbit on the N train. He gets a job and hands me his first check. Thatís rent, baby, he says. Next check, weíll start paying off those bills.
He turns on the TV and lays down on the bed with his usual groan, God, Iím so sore. I want him to kiss me so hard it hurts. I want him to press into me and leave bruises the way he used to before, before I met his mother, before we moved in together, before the baby, before the job.
The program is a detective show; a forensic profile of a case that he has seen before, but already his eyes are closed and his jaw is slack. He reminds me of my father.
I slip off his glasses and put them in the wicker basket above the bed, next to the knife. I kiss the top of his head, pull the covers up over him, make sure the alarm is set, that there are crackers and water nearby. As I reach to turn off the light, he grabs my hips and pulls me next to him. Wrapping his arm tight around me, he nuzzles his head into the back of my neck, whispers, I fucking love you so much.
The weight of his voice, the weight of his body crushes me. Between him and the baby itís hard to breathe, but I donít move. Not even to turn off the light.
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