Hereditary Wounds: A Short Story
I try to focus on that and not my father. It's difficult, especially when the cold blade is tucked into my hand.
by Dom Alexander
Rummaging through a dead man’s possessions is, perhaps, the strangest thing I’ve ever done. I sit on the floor in his room. The setting, orange sun seeps through the window. I breathe in the pungent cologne, still clinging onto curtains. The carpet sinks, coinciding with the dancing footsteps of a ghost, stepping to the high squealing melody of Louis Armstrong. Plaster fills drunken-punched holes; an ashtray full of cigarette butts is on the dresser; a pressed work-shirt hangs on the closet door.
I flip through dusty photos and find one of a young boy, no more than seven years old sitting next to an older man. The hardened lines etched across the older man’s face, resemble my father. I assume this photo is another hereditary wound.
I never met my grandfather, but my father didn’t speak kindly of him. A month ago, he stumbled home after a night at Jackie’s Juke, reeking of shine’, fumbling with his tongue. He found me in the kitchen reading.
“Boy, what the hell is ya doin’?” he swung back and forth, an unsteady bowling pin.
“Just a lil’ readin’ befo bed pa,” I answered with indifference. I was eighteen, so I supposed he expected me out, chasing tail. However, it was always the same answer any night he found me at the table.
“Is all you do is read? Yeen got no friends,” he supported himself against the stove.
“Rich gave me this book,” my eyes remained fixed on my page.
“Nigger, you betta look at me when I’m talkin’ to you. You gon respect me in my house,” he slapped the book off the table. He jacked me up by collar forcing me to look into his unfocused eyes. He was there but possessed. A spirit from the past suffering from unhealed wounds conjured up by the shine’. He stared through my eyes, into my soul searching for something, anything, that resembled a man.
He released me then cackled and I got the urge to bash his brains out over the beige kitchen tiles. I always did in these moments. I never could act on my impulses, because fear always, rather quickly, expelled the urge.
“That’s the same look yo damn granddaddy had,” he leaned back against the stove, his feet beside my book, “he was chicken-shit just like you. A white man could’ve told im’ dig his own grave. He would’ve asked ‘how deep boss?’ Always sayin’ respect the white man. Couldn’t be me. Ain’t no cracka ass honkie dare gone disrespect me and get away with it. No nigger neither.”
I studied his furrowed brow and distant eyes. Simultaneously, he saw the past failings of his father and the future failings of his son.
“I’ll make sure my boy don’t live on his knees,” he said, not to me, but out into the world.
“Lookie here boy,” he met my eyes.
“You know I loves you. But you can’t live like my ol’ man. You can’t let nobody just run ya ova like you did Horace. You gotta grow a pair.”
I’m still sitting on the floor searching the room, for nothing specific, just any inklings of who my father could’ve been away if away from the world. I chuckle to myself realizing four walls couldn’t contain a man’s essence.
“Archi!” Richmond yells my name, standing in the doorframe “Man, I was banging on the front door and calling you. You had me worried there for a sec.” I can tell Rich means what he says.
“I must’ve ain’t heard you,” I stand.
“That means you ain’t gone hear if a hood comes and make you dance for those clams,” I can’t tell if he is still serious because of his love for dry humor.
“I swear sometimes I’s don’t even understand half of what you sayin’ – do all the niggers from Harlem talk like you?” I stretch a bit.
“Only the coldest of cats.”
“Man nuff’ of ya fool shit,” I laugh, “Is you trying to get on this?” I reveal a jug of shine’ from the same chest I found the photos.
“Is that hooch?” his voice rises.
“Ion knows what hooch is, but this the best shine’ DeKalb county eva done tasted. Now, let’s gone. This room startin’ to make me a lil’ stir crazy,” I sip some then pass it to Rich. He tastes it and coughs.
“It’ll grow on ya,” I smile.
“It feels like someone struck a match inside my chest.”
“It gets the job done, now come on.”
We walk the dirt road, wandering as the sun sets and Rich gets used to the taste. He starts rambling about Harlem – all of its sounds and smells.
All of a sudden like a growling truck barreling through a quiet night, Rich asks, “how have you been dealing with it? I know we don’t talk about it, but I found you in his room daydreaming the last few days.”
I hear him, but I don’t answer. I stop to listen to the cicadas string a symphony, gathering my response.
“Did you know a week before he died, he gave me this?” I fish into my pocket to show a poker. I twirl it in between my fingers.
“Do you know how he died?” I keep the blade dancing.
“He was at Jackie’s and got to arguin’. Somebody bumped into him. We know my pa never been the type to just let things pass on by. They say he was drinkin’ and carryin’ on bout respect when a fight broke out. Next thing you know they find pa on the floo’ with a poker in his side.”
Rich stays silent. I stare at the knife, wondering.
“It’s strange, though, because I don’t feel like I lost anything. When they first told me, I felt nunthin’. I didn’t shed a tear or nunthin’. He was an asshole, and there were times I wanted to kill him myself. But what’s even stranger is, now I wanna know what made him the way he was.”
“But why if you hated him,” Rich interjects.
I shrug. I start to walk again, turning to face him.
“Enough about death. We alive and kickin’, so let’s live life. The Mayberry sisters say they’d make me an apple pie anytime as long as I bring you. How that sound?”
“Does a wolf howl at the moon?” he jumps with excitement.
I finish the jug of shine,’ then toss it after a snooping squirrel. I can already taste the pie, its golden crust with its moist, gooey insides. I can see how the steam will snake off the pie and settle into my nostrils, tickling the hairs with a sweet touch. I try to focus on that and not my father. It’s difficult, especially when the cold blade is tucked into my hand. I have the impulse to fling it into the darkness, hoping it would take the weight it carried. Maybe if I was the man he wanted me to be, he wouldn’t have needed to give it to me. Perhaps he’d still be alive.
The roar of an engine startles us. I look back to see a rusted, Chevy pickup chugging down the street. The night blankets the other details of the truck, turning it into a mysterious monster with wide eyes. It begins to pass us then stops. My fingers throb from choking the poker as one strangles a rope as he hangs from a cliff. I squint to see who is stopping.
“Wait, I think I recognize that truck,” Rich says.
A behemoth stomps out of the truck with dirty, hole-filled overalls and a cigarette dangling on their lip. A straw-hat shadows their face under the moonlight, but it’s clear who it is.
“Horace,” I suck my teeth, “c’mon now, we ain’t got time for this.”
Horace sways. He looks to be dancing with the same demons my father stepped with.
“Look atcha, missa big shot,” he slides closer.
“I don’t know what you want, but we ain’t lookin fa troub-” Horaces cuts Rich a mean look. Rich moves closer to me.
“You think you betta than meh,” Horace can’t stand still without rocking, “you ain’t no betta than meh nigger. Think cuz yuh got money yuh betta than meh?” he tosses the cigarette.
I instinctively switch out the blade and hold it towards him, “look, Horace, don’t make me-,” he bursts into thunderous laughter. He stalks nearer. Sweaty and shaky hands are the worst tools to hold a poker with but stopping my body from shivering is impossible.
He grabs my shoulders. I yell and close my eyes. A thump hitting the ground forces me to look. Thick, rose-colored syrup hides my hand, the poker is missing. I find it in Horace’s side, pinning him to the ground.
Dominique Alexander is from Decatur, GA. He was paralyzed at 19 and after almost dying, writing found him at the darkest of times.