By Adan Alvarado
Chapter 1.4 “The Table”
My sister had her hands over my eyes and was guiding me out of my bedroom and into the kitchen. It was my birthday but I had got the impression in the recent weeks that celebration no longer found its way into our home. The darkness my sister had currently imprisoned me in was mild compared to the darkness that descended on the House of A in the past year. I could feel my sister’s smile; I took it as a chance to pry her hands away but she easily overpowered me, and then gave me an encouraging bump forward. I felt the frame of the kitchen doorway, and rubbed my finger against a smooth patch of wood where the paint had worn away. A turquoise ninja had robbed the spot of its taupe hue. I hated that god damn ninja, we had a deal, I toss and he scales downward. The sticky bastard reneged and I paid the price.
My sister removed her hands from my face. My father sat out of focus in his usual chair at the head of the table, and in front of him was a box wrapped in yellow fabric. My mother smiled at me as she shook the skillet over the stove. I looked up at my sister for a sign of confirmation which I received in the form of a squint and I quickly made my way to the kitchen table.
As I kneeled on the chair I noticed a few characters from a far off planet, a plastic un-dead canine and a red and yellow reptilian feline were sitting unwrapped a top the box, they hadn’t been visible given my proximity to the floor. Just as I reached for the red and yellow creature my mother placed a plate in front of me. The box remained, just out of reach as I shoveled the Chorizo into my mouth, using my tortilla to mop up the excess grease.
As I chewed I observed my new friends, waiting, and breathing. Each glance we shared was the hatching of a new plan; we planned the weekend ahead, keeping in mind the unknown variable that currently resided in the box. My new friends convinced me that fellow Thundarians were inside, but who? The young Lord was already part of my clan and I was anxious to add to it. I wondered if it might be the wise warrior whose red and blue nunchucks not only struck fear into the souls of enemies but complimented his studded suspenders as well. Though this particular anthrop was impressive I really hoped it was her inside the box. The baton wielding clairvoyant whose leo- tard and spotted shoulder conjured feelings inside of me that I didn’t quite understand. Greed got the best of me as I began to think both of the young Lord’s brethren were inside. I wondered how two additions to the clan would change the plans we had just finished hatching.
It was then my father shouted at my mother. The exact words weren’t decipherable but I was angry he interrupted my internal dialogue. I looked at my sister whose eyes were focused on her plate. I finished off my glass of milk and continued contemplating my plans which now surely required modification. I took my glass and plate to the sink and my mother took them from me without a glance and turned on the faucet.
I slid the box in front of me and looked around at my family; excited, oblivious to the change in mood. I slid my fingers under the paper on the right side of the box. Just as I was going to pull the triangular flip I heard my mother’s sobs over the running water. I abandoned the box and wrapped my arms around her waist, seconds later I felt my sister’s arms around us as well. A flurry of words came from the kitchen table one after the other like arrows, my father an archer emptying his quiver. We huddled together un- responsive, and then came the crash of an overturned kitchen table. I was the first to pull my face from my mother’s clothing, disfiguring the mythical beast our embrace had created. And with my right eye I saw my yellow and red feline friend, face down in a puddle of my sister’s orange juice, no longer breathing.
Chapter 1.5 “Cabin Light”
From the porch I could look at nothing but the second rock in the third row of the cobblestone walkway. The stone protruded out from the rest. I took a half a step to the left and with the help of the porch light I cast a shadow over the stone; the flaw was forgiven.
I stared past the wrought iron gate that separated friend from foe and all I could see was the deep darkness that owned the night. I found it hard to believe that our car was out there somewhere; awaiting our return. I squinted in an attempt to make even an outline of my mother’s noble steed, but even focus would not bring the hope I was searching for. I placed the plastic boots of my best friend, Alley on the paint chipped window sill; his color scheme won my heart in the supermarket a few years before. I moved him gracefully from one end to the other robbing him of free will. His movements soon became mechanical as his puppeteer was distracted by the sounds squeezing through the poorly sealed window frame.
Alley continued his erratic dance as I placed my ear near the glass. The sound was faint and completely void of grace. It soon became too faint to hear and I leaned closer contorting my neck. It was then he fell, what to him may have been a hundred feet at least into the crevice created by the house slowly separating from the stone porch. I looked down to scratch out a mental map before looking back through the glass into the pink curtains and the light that fought its way past the fabric. I searched for the sound and my friend simultaneously, but like hope in the night the sound never came. I abandoned the cold window for the warmer yet gritty wall, concentrating the search on my friend. The stucco finish broke the skin of my firmly pressed cheek as my arm plunged downward into nothingness. The frantically scribbled mental map of Alley’s location and my fingertips were my guide into the abyss. Liquid pushed through my skin forming a drop that zigged and zagged its way down my face hanging onto my chin for a brief moment before falling, presumably to smash upon my friend. The shock from the initial impact and the chill that would follow would let him know that he was not alone. His friend was indeed searching for him; he just needed a little help; a cry or the sound of scraping plastic and the wearing of paint. I rotated slightly until my back was almost flush with the wall and focused all my thoughts to one singular idea, extension. The tips of my fingers grazed the dirt and lingered limp from lack of circulation, I continued along the ridge of the wall. In a last ditch effort the search party of five moved every which way hoping for the pulsation that only the touch of his boot could produce. The search party was extracted, they had failed and he was gone.
As I made my way to my knees I heard a creaking sound in the darkness I had come to inhabit. I rose and joined the living and saw my sister, standing just out of the light, a shadow soaked saint. She walked over and wiped the tears from my eyes and blood from my cheek. My mother appeared in the doorway hugging her friend and exchanging goodbyes. When she stepped out onto the porch her eyes mimicked my own. We made our way through the wrought iron gate and into the darkness in search of the car.
To this day I don’t why but I moved out ahead of my mother and my sister, even though the night terrified me. Perhaps it was in an attempt to shield the women I loved, perhaps it was the loss of my dear friend or my time spent in the darkness but I marched on arms outstretched.
As I moved further away from him I thought about the day Alley and I had met at the supermarket. I stood amongst the crumble bits of earth I had tracked in and I starred toward the heavens masquerading as water dam- aged ceiling tile. I had already pushed past his unimpressive colleagues and just as I prepared to acknowledge defeat I spotted him; the lone wolf, the rebel, out of place and damn proud of it. I was entranced by his vibrant get- up, ironic camouflage and an arsenal that mocked the children of God, but blessed he was. A misunderstood urban reptile simply in need of a friend, I reached out my arms… I felt the wet sensation of cold steel. I had arrived at the car and thought to myself my mission complete. I moved my hands around in search of a handle; I placed my tattered fingers under the plastic and gently pulled in my direction to no avail. However, with my failed attempt came a man and a cabin worth of light. I stood outside the car starring through the smudge stained window into eyes firmly planted in the passen- ger seat. Eyes I knew but did not recognize; eyes that were a variation of my very own. The eyes began to glow from the embers of cruel intentions as my mother placed her hand on my shoulder. Those eyes came to define much of my childhood.
Chapter 1.6 “The Table part 2”
“Can I ask you a question?”
I moved around the table rolling the balls over the felt. He waited pa- tiently for my inquiry, but all I could do was place my thumb into the inden- tation on the cube of chalk. I couldn’t bring myself to ask him, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. He was my moral compass, my best friend. I could not see the villain others in my life had portrayed him to be. All I could see was the man who’d sit with me and watch Jim Varney films when I was sick, who’d place me on his lap when he cut the lawn, and read me stories at night voicing every character, his Nathan the Prophet was unmatched. “Who is this man you speak of, who steals poor boy’s sheep when he has thou- sands of his own? I’ll have this man put to death.”
“You are that man!”
He was the man, and I loved him, but he was also my mother’s lover and because of this I had been made to feel that my fondness for him was some sort of betrayal of my father.
My father pulled into the parking spot. “I know where he lives.” He ex- ited the Cavalier without another word. I watched as he entered the local corner store. I turned my attention to the other side of the street where a neon ballplayer lit the sidewalk. I looked back at the corner store before ex- iting the car and crossing the street. I stood in front of the player as his bat flashed through the motion of a fluid swing. I looked through the window into the store to see if the “Little Pudge” figure in full combat position still hung on the wall. He was gone; I pressed my face against the glass and thought God dammit! As I began to push away from the window a red and blue uni- form caught my eye: The catcher was still mine to be had! Though I was happy to see him he looked different on this night, almost tentative, as if he was unsure whether he should throw the ball.
I slid across the glass, and as my Raiders hat scooted back, my fore- head accumulated dirt and left behind grease. I wondered what John, the owner of the shop, had added to his collection that week. I slid all the way to the door of the shop and noticed tape residue from the poster advertising the Will Perdue signing he’d had at the shop a few weeks earlier. John never removed the posters, and rarely stamped them with dates which often led to massive confusion and low turnout for the events he held. By the mere fact that the poster of the Bulls’ center in the midst of one of his yearly dunks was missing, I knew Joy, his wife, had returned from vacation.
A few weeks earlier my Pops and I had stood outside the sports shop waiting for our chance to snag an autograph from the mediocre center. Pops urged me to get the signature on a shoe; the Bull was known for his size 21. He was getting his autograph on a shoe and though I laughed every time he tipped the shoe in my direction I was dead set on having my card signed. My card had The Bull simply standing on the court, an image much more reflective of his skill set than the advertising poster.
The shoe/card dilemma was given life by John’s one autograph per attendee policy. The policy wasn’t for the athletes’ benefit but was to allow for enough time for John to have his guest sign as much of his own memorabilia as he could, regardless of whether or not it pertained to the particular athlete’s sport. He’d then peddle the items to customers who couldn’t attend the signing or couldn’t make the decision between a shoe and a card. Most customers would gobble up the autographs because as third rate as John’s “gets” may have been, the signatures were authentic, which is more than you could say for a lot of John’s other memorabilia.
We walked out of the shop after the signing, and as I examined my card, Pops extended his arm out in front of me and in his hand, the shoe. It wasn’t until later that I realized what exactly I was doing outside that shop as my Pops made his nightly stop at the corner store. I was attempting to love my father, or more accurately, re-love him.
I could see through the corner store’s large front window that he had reached the checkout counter and I made my way back to the car. He exited the store, opened the door and tossed the brown bag into the backseat. He placed the key in the ignition before pausing; his breath lingered in the cold air like the smog from the nearby oil refinery did in the night sky.
“He sits out on the porch at night, smoking a pipe” he said, continuing from where he left off as if time stood still inside of his car. I picked at the hologram image of a panda playing Pogs, which I had stuck on the glove compartment years earlier. The engine turned over.
I wiped the chalk from my thumb on the leg of my pants. I began to pull balls out of the pockets. My mother called from the stairs, I could see her headless body coming down the flight that led from the kitchen to the basement, and she was holding am empty box. Whenever we would visit my mom would bring assorted lunches for him packed in Tupperware. She balanced the cardboard on her knee, yelled that it was time for us to go as she made her way through the back door. I threw the ball on the table and he lifted me up to pull the chain on the bulb fixture. As I approached the flight of stairs that moved upward from the basement I turned back to my compass and best friend.
“David, do you smoke a pipe?”
Chapter 1.5 Re-visited: Alley V’s Revenge Song
Down, Down, Down
Used, abandoned, forgotten
Made a fool, a rope tautened
Hard to breath with lungs of earth
Quick to doubt our self worth
Friends for years, saved each other
Now you allow this dirt to smother
Shattered halos, withered wings
Nature’s better angels will not sing
Murdered by me!
In order to become who you needed me to be
I was given a weapon upon creation
New world, poor hearts, a representation
But learned to love once I was taken
Who would of thought your motives craven
Down, Down, Down that day
God and the Devil are one in the same
One relishes, the other with sympathy feigns
But both take great pleasure in all of my pain
To chip and to rust, you left me you beast
Alone I have suffered, but not yet deceased
I will overcome, I will reach the light and all will be well
And in the darkness, you will rue the day I fell