The naked trees of autumn sit somber awaiting the frigid snows and winds of winter. The last of the leaves furl and die withering into cold dust under feet. I watch the cobalt blue sky turn grey, bloated with sleet and snow as shadows disappear. The scent of frosty fog grows increasingly stronger—tainted, like sour milk.
I stand at the window of the Carter seat in the multi-colored manor gazing out towards the valley below. The roofs—like small black pods—litter the bottom with the occasional splinters of people venturing out to mingle amongst their kin. Another vague memory my conscious never really holds onto, yet, my subconscious pushes it forward in these fun little blink and blurs that my cerebral future posse uncovers for their analytical and studious diversions.
I waver between holding onto my older self while focusing on her—that little girl swelling with emotions and questions and so much energy. The nerve of a volcano preparing to pulse, she squirms inside me like a kitten demanding to break free and expound on everything and anything within reach and then some. I forgot what that felt like to be too much—so crammed full of commotion and…hope—drugs, like caffeine, the older one gets, the less you consume.
An ugly eyesore, the house sits on a hill surrounded by the stain of unhallowed earth; a dark beast of a poor man’s castle. The unkempt barren slope of muck around the outer edges grows little to feed the mouths within. Its shutterless windows, like more dead black eyes, house the murky past. The curves and slopes angle ugly and oddly. The colors—teal, rust red, stained white, and unpainted plywood—mar the surrounding countryside. We are told to flush the toilet sparingly which means the stench of urine permeates every revolting shadowy corner; the smell remains on clothes and the feel of it on hair and skin hours after vacating.
The dirt road bends around poorly made houses put together with reused materials and dark misbegotten memories handed down generation after generation. The road, this hill too, like the mountain, is a character much like my grandfather; he, Spencer Carter, drifts and curls impassively conforming to those around him. Potholes erode into dusty dirt roads given to deep ruts when it rains—like repressed passions hoarded and hid from the world glimpsed occasionally through the elegance of music to those closest to him. Subdued and somber, he refrains his true self and the obsessions that grow within him like the buried mysteries of this hill fallen through those craters of time. The man, congested with emotions and spirit, unwilling to liberate, is like the hill filled with lonely and cheerless people.
In a square window panel, a faint impression of Spencer Carter’s photos stand and transform before me in life-like memories. One, of a younger Spencer: tall, pale-eyes, skin and hair and a smile like sunshine with the unawareness of a child; a stunning string musician—bubbly and bashful—conscripted into World War II and that of a uniformed Navy soldier, trimmed in white and forced into service and savagery not of his choosing. These events exposed the sensitivities in his heart and character that eventually dulls that light in his eyes. Afterwards, spiritually shaken at the core by barbarities seen and experienced and a lack of growth and nourishment in those areas of creativity and wonder—areas some would call delicate and soft to be molded with grace and persistence—in these areas lives an urgency, if not fed, that will consume his soul and eventually turn him dark and ugly.
The photograph changes yet again and he morphs into an unhappy angry man; his gradient grey scraggly bedhead and his dirty steel wool face, with a permanent glower, misshapen and sunken from the loss of teeth in his early twenties, sit on a gaunt hunched body; his only uniform now—the blueberry mechanics shirt and his Catalina dark blue work pants—hangs from his bony body like wrinkled excessively long drapes that drag and puddle on the floor around his feet, like his dreams. The ghastly low guttural tone of his voice—from decades of scorching with the hot pollutants from a large brown pipe he keeps between his thin cracked lips—is like the smothered sound of a muffler from a Japanese street racer. He fuses words together in dreadfully bad grammatical run-on sentences that would have English teachers throwing up their hands in defeat and quitting their professions forever turning their backs on locution and the written word. He is mean, cantankerous, and cruel in outrage of hope lost and a life unlived in regret and fear. His sense of humor borders on mentally and emotionally abusive and his whippings so severe, I feel their scars for the rest of my life. The occasional reflection of his past younger self granted to us in rare Bluegrass string melodies arriving unannounced and unsolicited that only seem to inflame his rage and stoke his destitution.
Years later, after he passed, the family sat and reminisced laughing about pleasant memories of him. They called him a shy jolly dedicated family man and brilliant musician with a wonderful sense of humor who worked hard for his loving devoted family. I stared at them open-mouthed in awe at their ability to be sightless and unawares; their capacity to conceal the facts in a flurry of illusion and self-deception; to bring comfort and security to their own sense of self as if the mere hint of facts were disgraceful and a slap in the face of his memory.
Isn’t that the more ignoble of the two? By not showing a fully flawed individual capable of a disparateness of human emotion? Doesn’t this do a disservice to those of us still operating so imperfectly, endeavoring to live up to this consummate and extraordinary gentleman that apparently had puppies, kittens, and rainbows coming out his ass? This same family that had no problem reminding the rest of us about everyone else’s flaws, living or dead, including my fathers?
I hover and digress, but I think, dear posse, you get my point?
I move back towards the kitchen table releasing a long audible sigh parking myself opposite Kennedy. Approximately sixteen, she’s my mom’s youngest sister and the seventh child named for John Kennedy; my mother, Sheridan, is the eldest. Naomi, my cousin and my childhood bestie—the oldest daughter of mom’s brother, Daryl, the second born—sits opposite me beside Kennedy. Naomi’s eight, I’m eight, and we’re playing cards.
I sense the pressure of emotion building within my younger self; emotions from the younger impatient temperamental me. I realize that both Kennedy and Naomi mock me. I feel the surge of emotions within bubble over. I stomp over to the nearest wall kicking it. Surprisingly, my small foot easily penetrates the cheap chalky stained wall that separates the dining and family rooms.
Fear goes through me removing all anger. I look at them in desperation—a plea for help. Both have their hands over their mouths; their eyes—as round as small plates—mirror my terror.
I marred this beautifully decorated wall and I’m royally fucked.
A blink and blur and another memory prior to the events of the card game. Nighttime. I lay in t-shirt and shorts on the ratty brown sofa in the room with no windows in the middle of this same house—the Carter abode. The TV—a large fat squatty box sits on the floor taking up a large portion of the room—soundless; I’m on the verge of falling asleep, my eyes half open, half closed when grumpy old grandpa Spencer walks through and trips. Unaware, earlier, when I pulled the coffee table towards the sofa, the already torn linoleum buckled underneath. His stumble over that bubble aggravates his already black ire and makes me his target of angst. Catching himself before he falls, he starts swearing and yelling at me pointing towards the floor in one long unintelligible polysyllabic word.
I jerk fully awake, alarmed, eyes wide to watch his humorous and bizarre attempt at a sort of coherent expression.
He grabs me by the arm and pulls me up and off the sofa. I dangle off the floor barely touching with the tips of my toes like a pendulating marionette. He yanks off his belt and launches an all-out assault on my adolescent body, whipping me with the unrestrained fury of a madman. The edge of the belt slices across my naked thighs. The welts numb at first then ache with a dull throbbing and piercing pain up and down my legs and buttocks.
I hear her whimpers small and breathy hiccuping over beats. I feel her pain while she asks him to stop only to receive more lashes and grumbling—dark and comical yet so severe.
The smell of beer floats from him like cheap aftershave.
I grind teeth to fight the hurt and wait for him to finish taking out his anger on me. He completes his reign of terror on my smaller body casually dropping me to the floor like a sack of fertilizer, walking off mumbling under his breath. Left on the floor, I try to make myself comfortable considering the pain, forever wondering what just happened and what had I done to garner such animosity.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins