Maps in a mirror, p.81

Maps in a Mirror, page 81


Maps in a Mirror

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  Well I stood there thinking about that stuff and pretty soon it makes them nervous and Mama says, “Now, Daddy, he can call it whatever he wants, don’t go making him mad or something.”

  And Daddy laughs and says, “He isn’t mad, are you, Son?”

  Can’t they see for themselves? Course not. Looks like dust to them, so they can’t see it clear at all.

  “You don’t seem too happy to see us,” says Daddy.

  “Now, Jesse,” says Mama, “don’t go pushing. Papa Lem said don’t you push the boy, you just make his acquaintance, you let him know why we had to push him out of the nest so young, so now you explain it, Daddy, just like Papa Lem said to.”

  For the first time right then it occurred to me that my own folks didn’t want to come fetch me. They came because this Papa Lem made them do it. And you can bet they hopped and said yes, knowing how Papa Lem used his—but I’ll get to Papa Lem in good time, and you said I ought to take this all in order, which I’m mostly trying to do.

  Anyway Daddy explained it just like the lady in Roanoke, except he didn’t say a word about bio-electrical systems, he said that I was “plainly chosen” from the moment of my birth, that I was “one of the elect,” which I remembered from Baptist Sunday School meant that I was one that God had saved, though I never heard of anybody who was saved the minute they was born and not even baptized or nothing. They saw how dusty I was and they knew I’d kill a lot of people before I got old enough to control it. I asked them if they did it a lot, putting a baby out to be raised by strangers.

  “Oh, maybe a dozen times,” says Daddy.

  “And it always works out okay?” says I.

  He got set to lie again, I could see it by ripples in the light, I didn’t know lying could be so plain, which made me glad they saw dust instead of sparks. “Most times,” he says.

  “I’d like to meet one of them others,” says I. “I figure we got a lot in common, growing up thinking our parents hated us, when the truth was they was scared of their own baby.”

  “Well they’re mostly grown up and gone off,” he says, but it’s a lie, and most important of all was the fact that here I as much as said I thought they wasn’t worth horse pucky as parents and the only thing Daddy can think of to say is why I can’t see none of the other “orphans,” which tells me that whatever he’s lying to cover up must be real important.

  But I didn’t push him right then, I just looked back down at Old Peleg’s grave and wondered if he ever told a lie in his life.

  Daddy says, “I’m not surprised to find you here.” I guess he was nervous, and had to change the subject. “He’s one you dusted, isn’t he?”

  Dusted. That word made me so mad. What I done to Old Peleg wasn’t dusting. And being mad must have changed me enough they could see the change. But they didn’t know what it meant, cause Mama says to me, “Now, Son, I don’t mean to criticize, but it isn’t right to take pride in the gifts of God. That’s why we came to find you, because we need to teach you why God chose you to be one of the elect, and you shouldn’t glory in yourself because you could strike down your enemies. Rather you should give all glory to the Lord, praise his name, because we are his servants.”

  I like to puked, I was so mad at that. Glory! Old Peleg, who was worth ten times these two phony white people who tossed me out before I ever sucked tit, and they thought I should give the glory for his terrible agony and death to God? I didn’t know God all that well, mostly because I thought of him as looking as pinched up and serious as Mrs. Bethel who taught Sunday School when I was little, until she died of leukemia, and I just never had a thing to say to God. But if God gave me that power to strike down Old Peleg, and God wanted the glory for it when I was done, then I did have a few words to say to God. Only I didn’t believe it for a minute. Old Peleg believed in God, and the God he believed in didn’t go striking an old black man dead because a dumb kid got pissed off at him.

  But I’m getting off track in the story, because that was when my father touched me for the first time. His hand was shaking. And it had every right to shake, because I was so mad that a year ago he would’ve been bleeding from the colon before he took his hand away. But I’d got so I could keep from killing whoever touched me when I was mad, and the funny thing was that his hand shaking kind of changed how I felt anyway. I’d been thinking about how mad I was that they left me and how mad I was that they thought I’d be proud of killing people but now I realized how brave they was to come fetch me, cause how did they know I wouldn’t kill them? But they came anyway. And that’s something. Even if Papa Lem told them to do it, they came, and now I realized that it was real brave for Mama to come kiss me on the cheek right then, because if I was going to kill her, she touched me and gave me a chance to do it before she even tried to explain anything. Maybe it was her strategy to win me over or something, but it was still brave. And she also didn’t approve of people being proud of murder, which was more points in her favor. And she had the guts to tell me so right to my face. So I chalked up some points for Mama. She might look like as sickening as Tammy Bakker, but she faced her killer son with more guts than Daddy had.

  He touched my shoulder and they led me to their car. A Lincoln Town Car, which they probably thought would impress me, but all I thought about was what it would’ve been like at the Children’s Home if we’d had the price of that car, even fifteen years ago. Maybe a paved basketball court. Maybe some decent toys that wasn’t broken-up hand-me-downs. Maybe some pants with knees in them. I never felt so poor in my life as when I slid onto that fuzzy seat and heard the stereo start playing elevator music in my ear.

  There was somebody else in the car. Which made sense. If I’d killed them or something, they’d need somebody else to drive the car home, right? He wasn’t much, when it came to being dusty or sparky or whatever. Just a little, and in rhythms of fear, too. And I could see why he was scared, cause he was holding a blindfold in his hands, and he says, “Mr. Yow, I’m afraid I got to put this on you.”

  Well, I didn’t answer for a second, which made him more scared cause he thought I was mad, but mostly it took me that long to realize he meant me when he said “Mr. Yow.”

  “That’s our name, Son,” says my daddy. “I’m Jesse Yow, and your mother is Minnie Rae Yow, and that makes you Mick Yow.”

  “Don’t it figure,” says I. I was joking, but they took it wrong, like as if I was making fun of their name. But I been Mick Winger so long that it just feels silly calling myself Yow, and the fact is it is a funny name. They said it like I should be proud of it, though, which makes me laugh, but to them it was the name of God’s Chosen People, like the way the Jews called themselves Israelites in the Bible. I didn’t know that then, but that’s the way they said it, real proud. And they was ticked off when I made a joke, so I helped them feel better by letting Billy put on—Billy’s the name of the man in the man in the car—put on the blindfold.

  It was a lot of country roads, and a lot of country talk. About kinfolk I never met, and how I’d love this person and that person, which sounded increasingly unlikely to me, if you know what I mean. A long-lost child is coming home and you put a blindfold on him. I knew we were going mostly east, cause of the times I could feel the sun coming in my window and on the back of my neck, but that was about it, and that wasn’t much. They lied to me, they wouldn’t show me nothing, they was scared of me. I mean, any way you look at it, they wasn’t exactly killing the fatted calf for the prodigal son. I was definitely on probation. Or maybe even on trial. Which, I might point out, is exactly the way you been treating me, too, and I don’t like it much better now than I did then, if you don’t mind me putting some personal complaints into this. I mean, somewhere along the line somebody’s going to have to decide whether to shoot me or let me go, because I can’t control my temper forever locked up like a rat in a box, and the difference is a rat can’t reach out of the box and blast you the way I can, so somewhere along the way somebody’s going to have to figure out that
you better either trust me or kill me. My personal preference is for trusting me, since I’ve given you more reason to trust me than you’ve given me to trust you so far.

  But anyway I rode along in the car for more than an hour. We could have gotten to Winston or Greensboro or Danville by then, it was so long, and by the time we got there nobody was talking and from the snoring, Billy was even asleep. I wasn’t asleep, though. I was watching. Cause I don’t see sparks with my eyes, I see it with something else, like as if my sparks see other folks’ sparks, if you catch my drift, and so that blindfold might’ve kept me from seeing the road, but it sure didn’t keep me from seeing the other folks in the car with me. I knew right where they were, and right what they were feeling. Now, I’ve always had a knack for telling things about people, even when I couldn’t see nary a spark or nothing, but this was the first time I ever saw anybody who was sparky besides me. So I sat there watching how Mama and Daddy acted with each other even when they wasn’t touching or saying a thing, just little drifts of anger or fear or—well, I looked for love, but I didn’t see it, and I know what it looks like, cause I’ve felt it. They were like two armies camped on opposite hills, waiting for the truce to end at dawn. Careful. Sending out little scouting parties.

  Then the more I got used to understanding what my folks was thinking and feeling, toward each other, the easier it got for me to read what Billy had going on inside him. It’s like after you learn to read big letters, you can read little letters, too, and I wondered if maybe I could even learn to understand people who didn’t have hardly any sparks at all. I mean that occurred to me, anyway, and since then I’ve found out that it’s mostly true. Now that I’ve had some practice I can read a sparky person from a long ways off, and even regular folks lean do a little reading, even through walls and windows. But I found that out later. Like when you guys have been watching me through mirrors. I can also see your microphone wires in the walls.

  Anyway it was during that car ride that I first started seeing what I could see with my eyes closed, the shape of people’s bio-electrical system, the color and spin of it, the speed and the flow and the rhythm and whatever, I mean those are the words I use, cause there isn’t exactly a lot of books I can read on the subject. Maybe that Swedish doctor has fancy words for it. I can only tell you how it feels to me. And in that hour I got to be good enough at it that I could tell Billy was scared, all right, but he wasn’t all that scared of me, he was mostly scared of Mama and Daddy. Me he was jealous of, angry kind of. Scared a little, too, but mostly mad. I thought maybe he was mad cause I was coming in out of nowhere already sparkier than him, but then it occurred to me that he probably couldn’t even tell how sparky I was, because to him it’d look like dust, and he wouldn’t have enough of a knack at it to see much distinction between one person and another. It’s like the more light you give off, the clearer you can see other people’s light. So I was the one with the blindfold on, but I could see clearer than anybody else in that car.

  We drove on gravel for about ten minutes, and then on a bumpy dirt road, and then suddenly on asphalt again, smooth as you please, for about a hundred yards, and then we stopped. I didn’t wait for a by-your-leave, I had that blindfold off in half a second.

  It was like a whole town of houses, but right among the trees, not a gap in the leaves overhead. Maybe fifty, sixty houses, some of them pretty big, but the trees made them half invisible, it being summer. Children running all over, scruffy dirty kids from diapered-up snot-nose brats to most-growed kids not all that much younger than me. They sure kept us cleaner in the Children’s Home. And they was all sparky. Mostly like Billy, just a little, but it explained why they wasn’t much washed. There isn’t many a mama who’d stuff her kid in a tub if the kid can make her sick just by getting mad.

  It must’ve been near eight-thirty at night, and even the little kids still wasn’t in bed. They must let their kids play till they get wore out and drop down and fall asleep by themselves. It came to me that maybe I wasn’t so bad off growing up in an orphanage. At least I knew manners and didn’t whip it out and pee right in front of company, the way one little boy did, just looking at me while I got out of the car, whizzing away like he wasn’t doing nothing strange. Like a dog marking trees. He needed to so he done it. If I ever did that at the Children’s Home they’d’ve slapped me silly.

  I know how to act with strangers when I’m hitching a ride, but not when I’m being company, cause orphans don’t go calling much so I never had much experience. So I’d’ve been shy no matter what, even if there wasn’t no such thing as sparkiness. Daddy was all set to take me to meet Papa Lem right off, but Mama saw how I wasn’t cleaned up and maybe she guessed I hadn’t been to the toilet in a while and so she hustled me into a house where they had a good shower and when I came out she had a cold ham sandwich waiting for me on the table. On a plate, and the plate was setting on a linen place mat, and there was a tall glass of milk there, so cold it was sweating on the outside of the glass. I mean, if an orphan kid ever dreamed of what it might be like to have a mama, that was the dream. Never mind that she didn’t look like a model in the Sears catalog. I felt clean, the sandwich tasted good, and when I was done eating she even offered me a cookie.

  It felt good, I’ll admit that, but at the same time I felt cheated. It was just too damn late. I needed it to be like this when I was seven, not seventeen.

  But she was trying, and it wasn’t all her fault, so I ate the cookie and drank off the last of the milk and my watch said it was after nine. Outside it was dusk now, and most of the kids were finally gone off to bed, and Daddy comes in and says, “Papa Lem says he isn’t getting any younger.”

  He was outside, in a big rocking chair sitting on the grass. You wouldn’t call him fat, but he did have a belly on him. And you wouldn’t call him old, but he was bald on top and his hair was wispy yellow and white. And you wouldn’t call him ugly, but he had a soft mouth and I didn’t like the way it twisted up when he talked.

  Oh, hell, he was fat, old, and ugly, and I hated him from the first time I saw him. A squishy kind of guy. Not even as sparky as my daddy, neither, so you didn’t get to be in charge around here just by having more of whatever it was made us different. I wondered how close kin he was to me. If he’s got children, and they look like him, they ought to drown them out of mercy.

  “Mick Yow,” he says to me, “Mick my dear boy, Mick my dear cousin.”

  “Good evening, sir,” says I.

  “Oh, and he’s got manners,” says he. “We were right to donate so much to the Children’s Home. They took excellent care of you.”

  “You donated to the home?” says I. If they did, they sure didn’t give much.

  “A little,” he says. “Enough to pay for your food, your room, your Christian education. But no luxuries. You couldn’t grow up soft, Mick. You had to grow up lean and strong. And you had to know suffering, so you could be compassionate. The Lord God has given you a marvelous gift, a great helping of his grace, a heaping plateful of the power of God, and we had to make sure you were truly worthy to sit up to the table at the banquet of the Lord.”

  I almost looked around to see if there was a camera, he sounded so much like the preachers on TV.

  And he says, “Mick, you have already passed the first test. You have forgiven your parents for leaving you to think you were an orphan. You have kept that holy commandment, Honor thy father and mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God hath given thee. You know that if you had raised a hand against them, the Lord would have struck you down. For verily I say unto you that there was two rifles pointed at you the whole time, and if your father and mother had walked away without you, you would have flopped down dead in that nigger cemetery, for God will not be mocked.”

  I couldn’t tell if he was trying to provoke me or scare me or what, but either way, it was working.

  “The Lord has chosen you for his servant, Mick, just like he’s chosen all of us. The rest of
the world doesn’t understand this. But Grandpa Jake saw it. Long ago, back in 1820, he saw how everybody he hated had a way of dying without him lifting a finger. And for a time he thought that maybe he was like those old witches, who curse people and they wither up and die by the power of the devil. But he was a god-fearing man, and he had no truck with Satan. He was living in rough times, when a man was likely to kill in a quarrel, but Grandpa Jake never killed. Never even struck out with his fists. He was a peaceable man, and he kept his anger inside him, as the Lord commands in the New Testament. So surely he was not a servant of Satan!”

  Papa Lem’s voice rang through that little village, he was talking so loud, and I noticed there was a bunch of people all around. Not many kids now, all grownups, maybe there to hear Lem, but even more likely they was there to see me. Because it was like the lady in Roanoke said, there wasn’t a one of them was half as sparky as me. I didn’t know if they could all see that, but I could. Compared to normal folks they was all dusty enough, I suppose, but compared to me, or even to my mama and daddy, they was a pretty dim bunch.

  “He studied the scriptures to find out what it meant that his enemies all suffered from tumors and bleeding and coughing and rot, and he came upon the verse of Genesis where the Lord said unto Abraham, ‘I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.’ And he knew in his heart that the Lord had chosen him the way he chose Abraham. And when Isaac gave the blessing of God to Jacob, he said, ‘Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.’ The promises to the patriarchs were fulfilled again in Grandpa Jake, for whoever cursed him was cursed by God.”

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