Bernard was surprised to seem Uncle Doak in a garden but not surprised to see his bottle. He had parked his Lexus at the new Marriott down the hill to come up and tend business for his daughter; and was surprised to see him in tract of land that used to be a burnt shack. He remembered it as a place where only crackheads slept. The movements of the people there would startle him every morning when he would go past it on the way to school; so much so that he braced himself every dawn when he had to walk by.
He hadn’t seen Doak since his mother’s funeral and the last public argument he had with Sandra.
Bernard had gave him his word that the baby she had wasn’t his and Doak took it, putting pressure on Eustace, her mother, and everyone in the housing project not to hinder him, for he was going to be a college boy. He had called his uncle only a few times in the last sixteen years. At first he would try to keep convincing him that the baby wasn’t his, and that Sondra only lived to starts fight with him, but after a while he realized that Doak stopped believing, and didn’t belabor the point. In the last year, he had sent Sandra’s mother checks at Eustace’s residence, but they remained uncashed and Doak hadn’t answered his phone messages.
“ I want to take you out of here, man” Bernard said while kneeling on the dirt where Doak was taking Horseweeds out of the ground “Life’s been good to me. I got this legal hustle where I sell real estate deals to these crackers at a markup and I got enough money to pay for you, J’nessa, and Mrs Eustace.”
He scooped a pile of mulch and put it in a ground hole to try to help him, but Doak slapped it away. “ Go see Eustace” Doak said.
His uncle stood up, and took a full pail of dirt to the old wheelbarrow. For 10 minutes, Bernard watched his uncle do the same routine, scooping grass, kneading mulch, walking to the grey and rust colored metal cart in his short legged duck walk. He had wished his uncle would scream at him, let out a cathartic burst of anger, and tell her where his daugher was, but he just kept to the same routine as if he wasn’t there. Bernard thought of his duck walk when he used to see him come home from the chop shop those late afternoons when he would be dropped off from busing and he would get off his day shift, and their paths would intersect. He remembered his uncle always having a sandwich for him, and how they would talk about the Mariners in the walk to her mother’s and his apartment above his. He had looked for him at the shop after he had checked into the hotel, but found that it had been replaced by a starbucks.
“Did they give y’all money at least” Said Bernard
“For what” his uncle snapped at him.
“I mean…the starbucks..for the chop shop.”
“Aint none of these white kids got use for a chop shop.”
The street lights went on, one by one, and he remembered how his uncle would compare them to the lights of the Apollo when the temptations would come on the stage. He turned to tell him that he had actually seen the Temps there a few years back, and though seemed like feeble imitations, he went there for him and the lights went on exactly like he said he did; but his uncle had gone into the shed to get some more liquor.”
“How’s aunt Melinda” said Bernard.
“Gone.” said Doak.
“You still live in apartment-”
“That’s what i’m trying to tell you, man. I want to make my sins right. I found this condo in University Place for real cheap. Three bedrooms, one basement. It only cost 1070 and I’ll pay for it. I’ll get everybody together and…
“Go see eustace” he said while standing up to walk away from him. “ I’m gonna go get my ripple.”
“ But i’m trying to get you out of here, unc.”
“Go see aunt Eustace” he said, pushing his hand away and closing the gate behind him.
The new sidings were burnt red instead of brown. To Bernard, they didn’t look like something renovated as much as something hid. Walking to Eustace’s apartment, they began to blend, and he picked up the pace as not to look at them or think of the memories each of the 8 buildings entailed.
Eustace’s apartment was still at the end, right before the inclined side street that lead to Yakima avenue. It was unnamed, surrounded by plastic brush upon real brush, a green fortress wall of artificial and real that encompassed the back of projects on the hill. He looked and saw her light was on, and on the corner of his left eye, he caught a glimpse of her watching a television show. He stayed there for a few minutes, seeing her eat Ramen and hoped to see a glimpse of J’nessa come in and out. The neighborhood wasn’t as bad as it used to be, he thought, and she had to be somewhere out playing. He remembered Sandra’s legs, and thought J’nessa was maybe a high school trackstar somewhere, running at a night meet meet.
He ran through the story he would tell her, Sandra, and Eustace: that he was a scared child when he left her, that abandoning her was the callus on his soul that would scar his whole life, that his success in real estate was marked by his failure in relationships with everyone else, and that he was a lonely, lonely man with nothing but money. He would tell her that he knew he couldn’t turn back time, and understood if she didn’t want anything to do with him for the rest of her natural life, but he would offer-face to face-to pay every bill she had for the rest of her days. He noticed the window in Eustace’s apartment was black now, and made his way to the door.
He knocked faintly. As a boy he would make a trademark “da da-da-da-da da-da” with his knuckles, but was so scared that if he did that she wouldn’t answer. A slight light from the kitchen came on through the window, and the lacquered door open slowly. She was wearing two black robes, and a shower cap that bundled her long processed gray hair. He reflexively thought the wrinkles on her face weren’t accumulated as much as they were carved.
“ Please, Mrs Eustace, I come in peace” he said, but she remained still. He fumbled inside his wallet to find the card for his real estate office.“ This is where I work…no, no…I own the building. I got money. I know the child is mine and I want to make everything right. J’nessa’s 16, right? She’s going to school? She got good grades? I’ll pay for everything. I swear to god those checks I sent you weren’t a prank. I’ll pay for everything.”
She turned his back on him and went to the small living room next to the kitchen. Bernard noticed that her feet seemed to hover on the ground, and he started to follow her. “ Does she need to go to a better school?” he said “ I’ll pay for her to go to suburban school. I’ll pay for her to go to whatever college she needs to go to. I’ve made it, Eustace. I’ve become somebody, and I can do that for her.”
She went to a small bookshelf a few feet away from the table. She grabbed a golden plated box and put it on the table. She sat down in front of him, her face half brown and black in the shadow of the light, and Bernard waited for her to say something. A slight gust of wind ruffled the drapes. Bernard went to the window but Eustace nodded her head no, and he put his hands on his shoulders.
“What do you want me to do, god dammit. I want to make this right. I know I left her here. I know I left you here. But my life and her life isn’t over. I made 2 and a half million dollars last year. If Sandra wants to go to college, I’ll pay for that. If you want to go to college, I’ll play for that. You don’t have to love me or ever like me, aunt eustace. But please, lord please will you let me better your life”
Sandra opened the gold plated can, took out a piece of paper, and unfolded it in front of him. She laid it in front of the kitchen table and pointed at it with her index finger. He went to it and held it in front of the light. It read
(“ HOMEGOING SERVICE FOR J’NESSA WINBUSH:
Sunrise: Sept 23rd 1989 Sunset: June 7, 2004
Beloved Granddaughter. Honored Daughter.
Leader of the Wilson Jr High sprinters quad.
She is survived Sandra Winbush and Eustace Winbush Mccarvey.
Funeral service will be at first baptist church on June 20th.
We will see each other someday.”
A wave of sweat violently overcame his body. His eyes welled with water to the point where his eyelashes started to stick; and then he remembered how Sandra used to kid him about his eyelashes and his eyes welled some more. His throat muscles contracted to the point where he felt he might choke; and he fell to his knees in the living room floor as he tried to catch his breath.“ why…why didn’t you tell me…why…I …I could have.”
“Get your child” she said.
He tried to get up but his legs caved under him. His hands and fingers shook and rolled as if they were on a clothesline on the wind, but there was no breeze in the room. Eustace stood up in the kitchen chair across from him and looked him in the face. “Get your child” she said.
“What happened?…what happened? I…Please ….I could have…let me help. Please let me help now, Eustace”
Just then a light came from a back room to his left, and he could hear a door open. A woman came out with her head bowed wearing a red robe. From her sunken face, she could tell it was Sandra. She look up and called for Eustace, oblivious to the fact that he was even there “ Is it okay if i used the phone line to go online to seem my funnies.
“Yes, baby,” said Aunt Eustace,
“I like to go on the AOL channel and hear the funnies.”
“ I went outside today and had a good day and was thinking good thoughts at the walgreens when a shot came off, and I just broke down. People told me that it was only a carburetor, but I saw her. I saw my baby every where.
“It was just a carburetor, baby. Don’t worry your mind none”
“I could have sworn I saw my baby every where in that store.”
“It was just a carburetor, baby.”
“you gonna sit with me and we’ll watch the funnies together?
“ I can’t take no shots, mama. I had a bad day today. I can’t take no more shots.”
Before the door closed, he had reached his hand out and started to stand up “San-” he said, but the then felt a cold blade on the side of his neck. It was Eustace with an 8 inch knife in her left hand. With her right she pounded the gold plated box to his chest “ Take…your…child” she said, pointing at his collar with every word.
She pricked his chest as he stumbled to the door, like she was herding a stray cattle.“ I’ll give you everything you ever want” Bernard told her. “ I make it my reparations payment. I’ll make sure you never pay for a thing again. I’ll marry her and be good to her for the rest of her life, please let me..” but she pricked him till he was outside. He made a play for his wallet again to give her money, but his hands still shook and the bill flew off in the air. They came down like too heavy snowflakes, rising slowly from his hands then falling like slow spinning parachutes into the damp concrete below her steps. He picked up a few bills on the left side of him, then-as he turned up-heard the door close.
He struggled to maintain his balance in the middle of street between the tenement buildings. The brown streetlights flickered on and off, and he saw the old neighborhood looking at him in flashes. “I’m not the monster here!” he yelled to an echo as two lights came on “ I got out of this motherfucker. I contribute to the economy. I make my own money and I had none of your help in doing it” Two more lights came on and people started opening their doors. “I’m a success” he yelled “I make money money in a month than you niggas get from the government in 10 years. Don’t you niggas judge me. I didn’t kill that girl. I’m a success. I’m a success..”
Just then he heard a clang in the distance. When he realized it was from the shed he ran to it, but slipped in the watery concrete and tore his pants from a 45 degree angle. He limped to the community garden and tried to open the door but it had a lock. He looked to the fence and it was 9 feet high “ Uncle doak…. Uncle doak… “ he said “Please talk to me,man. Please open the door” but as he looked inside the shed, the light went out.