Palimpsets

This is something I wrote in Panama. It’s NOT at all autobiographical. I just started it and this is what  came from that. Thanks to Adam for the title help. You’re an awesome dude…you know…for a Canadian. 😉 PLEASE give feedback. If there are logistical fallacies, grammatical errors, etc, let me know. I won’t be offended. 🙂

————

The lawyer stepped into my bedroom, grimacing as he scratched at his limbs. “Damn mosquitos,” he muttered before directing his attention to me, “I’ve never itched so bad in my life! Look!”

His stepped his left leg closer to me and lifted his shorts to show off a cluster of red, inflamed mosquito bites running up his thigh, a perfect ring of pale skin surrounding each one as if the mosquitos were putting up signs that said, “Look at this guy! Look what we did to him! Innit funny or what?” 

“My legs are full of constellations!” he screeched. 

“Oh, yeah, I see it now…there’s ursa major!” I replied, placing my book down on the bed. He looked at me for a solid minute waiting for me to blink. Finally, after realizing I wasn’t about the back down, he replied, “You’re full of shit.”

My eyebrow raised instinctively, silently and preemptively challenging him on his next statement, which was sure to be reeking of bullshit. 

“It’s clearly Cassiopeia. Don’t they mention that in,” he replied, walking over and gingerly picking up the book I had perched on my unmade bed, “….uh….Crime and Punishment?” He peered over the book, unsure of what his next reaction should be. 

I grabbed the book, accidentally closing the book and losing my place. “No, Isaiah, I learned that from Carl Sagan. And there aren’t enough in this cluster for it the be Cassiopeia.” I picked up a pen form my bedside table and sketched a rough outline of Ursa Major on his leg. “See? Ursa Major.”

He looked down at me, still calculating a response from before, and was now showing more confusion over my decision to draw on his leg in order to prove a point.

“Well….thanks, Minnie…” he finally said, “NOW I can’t wear my new mini-skirt tomorrow night!” 

“You were going to wear it with those mosquito bites, though?” I shot back, pleased with myself. 

He raised his hands defensively. “Whoa there, Attitude McCattitude. No harm, no foul.” 

I rolled my eyes and turned my attention to finding the page in my book I had been on when I was interrupted. 

“Alright, I’ll take that as my cue to leave. I need to find some calamine lotion anyways.”

As he approached the door, he stopped. “What are you doing inside on a beautiful day like this reading that depressing drabble anyways?” 

I paused, running my fingers along the edges of the pages, listening to the musical fluttering of the aged pages. “Preparing for tomorrow,” I replied, suddenly shy and self-conscious. 

His expression softened, and a glint of pity shone in his grey eyes. I hated those glints. 

“You leave that to me, Minnie.” 

I flinched at his nickname for me; I hated that too, especially when he used it when he was trying to encourage me. It was counter productive, but I never had the heart to tell him. 

“I’ll do all the preparing and worrying for the both of us.” He paused. “Do you trust me?”

“No.”

He smiled brightly and winked. “Thatta girl.”

———————————-

The truck grumbled along the dirt road, the dim headlights providing the only light as the moon was hidden by the treetops. We raced along at an unsafe speed, the white trunks of the trees whizzing by like ghosts, their leaves in the wind like raspy, whispered laughs as they continued their perpetual game of hide and seek. 

I sat in the passenger seat, my left hand intertwined with his, the wind whipping my hair around my face. I closed my eyes and imagined we were flying far away. 

A few times I caught him looking over at me, his caribbean blue eyes piercing me, as always, as if I was seeing them for the first time every time. 

He was 20. I was 14. We had snuck away from the farm (which was hard when his truck had no muffler and a monster for an engine) in the middle of the night to escape Mama’s suspicious looks. 

Mama is the most loving person I know (except for Papa), but fiercely suspicious of any male farm hands who took an exceptional, not paternal interest in her daughter. Papa was blissful in his naiveté , but that was bound to change when he woke up in two hours to find me missing. Papa was a calm man, but if I, or my 10 year old brother Gabriel, was ever threatened with hurt or danger, he turned into someone I barely recognized. Fortunately for everyone, this was a rare occurrence and Papa was usually never anything more harmful than a reserved, peaceful man with the most extensive library in Douglas County. 

He and Mama met when they were both 20 in Fremont, Nebraska at a local pulperia. She had just come from Mexico, didn’t speak a word of English and was generally digested with the behavior of young gringos who favored her attention. Then she met Papa, shy, unassuming Papa who would wrap his favorite books in cut-up paper grocery bags and bring to them her at work in the pulperia, mopping floors. They mimed all their interactions and never said a word to each other for the whole of a year, but the attraction was clear, of that language they were both fluent. 

One day, when Papa unknowingly brought Mama her favorite book, In the Time of the Butterflies, she surprised him when she took the book and said, as if she’d been saying it her whole life, “My name is Brigia Isabelle Balboa.” 

Papa smiled, his heart sighed, and as he extended his calloused and overworked hand to shake hers, soft and delicate hand, he said, “My name is Robert Matthew Heaney, and I’m in love with you.”

I loved that story. Gabriel was still at an age where he didn’t appreciate anything beautiful and whenever I begged Paper to recount the story, Gabriel would clench his tanned hands over his throat and flail dramatically, gagging and coughing in rebellion. Despite his penchant for the dramatic, he was not inclined to romance and instead favored topics like aliens, Frankenstein’s monster, and vampires (“Real vampires,” he would clarify, “not those sparkly ones all the girls at school love”). He was a good kid. Annoying most of the time but generally a sweet kid. 

In the next seat, Paul squeezed my hand and pulled me out of my own memory. 

“Where are you?” he asked. 

“Floating above the Crab Nebula,” I replied, smiling. 

Paul smirked. 

“Where are we going?” I asked. 

He looked at me. “Do you trust me?”

“Yes.” I responded.

Paul grinned wider and squeezed my hand again. “Thatta girl.” 

——————————

It was still dark out when we left for Omaha the morning of the trial. Mama woke me sweetly and gently, with a cup of coffee just the way I  like it set on my bedside table, a back rub, and my favorite lullaby Papa used to sing when I was a fussy infant, “Toolah-Roorah.” 

“Time to wake up, amor, and get ready for the day.”

I grunted sleepily, pulling the covers over my head. Mama squeezed my arm supportingly and yanked the covers back down. “I know, mi amor…I know.”

I got up, showered and got dressed, briefly interrupted by Gabriel who uncharacteristically burst into my room to give me a tight hug and tell me “I love you, Minerva” before running out as quickly as he had rushed in. Strangely intuitive for a 10 year old boy whose best friend at home was a 9 month old calf he named Jem, he didn’t know why we were leaving for the city-he just knew I needed that hug.

I descended the stairs, my heart pounding louder with each step, rhythmically telling me to “go back up! go back up! retreat, retreat!” When I reached the last step, Isaiah reached out his hand and asked, “Well, are you ready, rockstar?” 

I swallowed, trying not to regurgitate my coffee and too scared to respond. My silence and scared expression seemed to answer his question, however, because he squeezed my hand and said, “Yeah, me too.”

Papa stood by the door in his best suit, wringing his hands nervously while Mama fussed over Gabriel’s shirt and trying to stop him from untucking it from his khaki pants. 

“Why am I wearing my church clothes when we’re not going to church?” he asked, his 10 year old brain still not developed enough to filter out questions that had glaringly-and in this case, painfully-obvious answers to everyone else. 

“Well, excuse me for not having the foresight to buy you fancy new court clothes,” Mama replied exasperatedly, before looking up and seeing I had come downstairs. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, “Sorry, mija, that was wrong of me.”

“That’s okay, mama.” I tugged uncomfortably at my dress-the only one I owned. There aren’t many opportunities for dress wearing when you’re husking corn. 

“Don’t tug,” Mama reprimanded as Papa simultaneously said, “You look beautiful.”

“She’s always beautiful,” Mama supported. Gabriel rolled his eyes and pretended to gag, already fed up with everyone’s behavior. 

“What the kid said,” Isaiah chirped before clearing his throat when Mama glared at him reproachfully at him. “We better go now before I’m the one put on trial.” 

————————————-

Paul came to work for us six months before the night we snuck off into the woods surrounding the farm. He was ganglier then, having never even seen a farm in his life. For six months everyday, Paul would say he as just passing through; we were just a pit stop. 

“Passing through to where?” I always asked, even though I knew the answer. Paul would give me a lopsided grin. His teeth were pearly white but one of his front teeth was missing due to “unfortunate circumstances” as he would say. 

“Onward to life’s biggest adventure, dear Minerva.”

“Which is?”

“I don’t know yet,” he winked. 

It was our only exchange every day, beginning with Paul exclaiming how beautiful the day was and that he was pained he wouldn’t be around the next day to see how beautiful it was. He would even exclaim this on grim, grey winter days. 

“Why?” I’d always ask. 

“Why, because I’m just passing through sweet Minerva.” 

One day during this exchange, Paul asked me to come with him.

“What?” I asked, flabbergasted. 

“You heard me, darling Minerva.” 

I blushed, walking away quickly. He had violated our unspoken agreement to not say more to each other and made me to look like a fool. I didn’t like it. 

That night, before dinner, as I was on the porch swing reading by what little sunlight was left in the day, Paul walked up the creaking stairs and waited for me to lower my gaze from my book. I was re-reading Mama’s favorite book, In The Time of the Butterflies. After reaching a stopping point in the book and realizing Paul was still waiting for my attention, I lowered the book to my lap and saw he was holding an orangey pink rose from Papa’s garden, the best rose garden in the county. 

He held the rose out to me, a peace offering. The colors from the sunset bounced off the velvet petals, which had already started to brown from the touch of Paul’s skin and from its longing of its previous life with stem and thorn. 

I silently refused to take the rose by returning to my book. 

“I want to show you something,” he whispered. 

“Is it the rose? Because I can see that,” I replied curtly, proud of myself for remaining firm in my apathy towards him. 

He chuckled, not one to be easily thrown by a teenage girl’s supposedly unending flair for the dramatic pout. 

“No, Minerva. Its a secret, magical place only I know about, where you can see every star God made. Would you like to see it?” 

I stepped down to where he stood and although he was taller, I still stood above him. This made me feel powerful. Taking the rose defiantly, I told him, “Tonight.”

He smiled softly, knowing he had won.

————————————————

The courthouse in Omaha was old, and near the top, with the aging gargoyles, an aged, mesh, red brown net was strung along the building. I had read online that when the top floor of the courthouse had housed some prisoners, the net had been put in place to keep the inmates from trying to jump out of the building. 

We entered into the marble rotunda via the paltry security booth at the front of the building. If you stood in the lobby of the courthouse and looked up, you could still see gun holes from a race riot that had occurred in the early 1900s. Gabriel was enamored with this marble wounds immediately. 

I passed through the metal detector with no problem, but Gabriel had been detained because his iPod had shown up on the Xray screen as a box cutter knife. Papa laughed as Mama cursed in Spanish and Gabriel fought the decrepit security guard for his iPod. 

Isaiah, on the other hand, was able to completely bypass the metal detector by the flash of a badge. He walked up to the muscular security guard past the metal detector. 

“Steve-o!” Isaiah exclaimed, patting Steve on the back. “Still hitting the gym, I see?” Isaiah grabbed his hand and winced in pain. 

Steve laughed. “Not hitting the gym enough, I see?”

Isaiah laughed heartedly and as I walked sheepishly over to the pair he motioned to me, “Steve, this is my client, Minn-“ he stopped himself. “Uh…Minerva.” He was unusually reverent today. It made me nervous. 

Steve extended his hand and his grip nearly crushed mine in our handshake. “Hi Minn-Minerva, I’ve heard all about your case in the news.” He cocked his head at Isaiah. “Cocky as he may seem, it’s all a front. He’s damn near the best there is but still don’t see it.”

“Because he sees himself as the best?” I postulated. 

Steve and Isaiah laughed loudly. “What’d I tell you? She’s smart as a whip!” Isaiah beamed proudly. I blushed but it felt good to know that I made him proud, especially in front of Steve. 

We said goodbye to Steve and I was grateful that he hadn’t treated me like I was fragile. That’s why Isaiah and I had hit it off so well-we could banter for hours without him stopping to apologize. I always wondered why he wasn’t married. Sometimes when we would be talking about the case he would get silent and stare off and not be able to hear anything. I imagined he had had a great love once, but through some kind of bullshit that only nice people are put through for some reason, they had grown apart. I hoped he found his love of his again; he deserved it. 

We stepped into the elevator and Isaiah hit the button for the top floor, where our courtroom was. As the doors closed, Isaiah nudged my elbow with his and in his best “solemn for the occasion” impression, he said, “Time for justice.”

I was the only one who laughed.

—————————————————

I got back to the house late. Too late. Papa was already out working in the barn, so I thought, as I crept up the porch stairs, that I could make it back in without anyone noticing I had been gone for four hours. Paul’s car pulled away quietly down the dirt road that led to the highway, the engine as tired as I was. I snuck in the front door, safe so far, and closed it softly before quietly ascending the stairs. I had just about gotten by without anyone noticing (my hand was on the door knob to my bedroom) when Mama stepped outside of her and Papa’s room, a laundry basket full of clothes balanced on her hip. She looked like she hadn’t slept. 

“Minerva,” she said. 

I expected the worst. Mama and Papa weren’t the strictest, but it was a sign of respect to give them a heads up if we were going to be gone for a while. If we showed them respect, they’d say, they showed us respect. 

Nothing happened. 

I panicked. “I’m just going to the bathroom, Mama.”

“Oh? You didn’t go when you were at wherever you’ve been for the past four hours?”

“Mama,” I pleaded. 

“What do you have to say for yourself young lady?”

I stood still, facing my door. 

“Look at me, Minerva,” Mama said with more patience in her voice than what I deserved for putting her through the agony of worrying about her daughter’s well-being for four hours. 

Still, I didn’t move. 

“Minerva,” she said more sternly. 

I sighed. Turning around, tears streaming down my eyes, I looked at my mother and winced when I saw her eyes express the pain she felt when she saw the state I was in. The basket of clothes she was carrying fell out of her grip and as she ran towards me, she rolled over the clean clothes as if they were air. “Por dios!” she cried.

She enveloped me and cried, kissing my tears and my swollen, red wrists and cried over my bloodied shorts and the cuts and scrapes all over my body. Some were already starting to bruise, yellow and blue pigments rising to the surface as another painful reminder of what I’d been through.

“Robert!” she cried, though neither of us expected him to hear; the barn was too far and we could hear the screech of the power saw as it worked away; he was probably working on my new bookshelf. A new wave of guilt crashed over me. I didn’t want him to come, I couldn’t bear for him to see me this way. 

Mama and I stood in the hallway crying for what seemed like forever, but when I finally looked up and saw Papa, terror written all over his saw-dust encrusted face, standing at the top of the stairs, I reached out and cried, “Papa…” before falling and letting the exhaustion overpower me. 

———————————————

Now, Mama and Papa were hugging and crying and kissing, with Gabriel sitting behind them on a bench, his arms crossed over his chest, visibly disgusted by our parents’ very public display. I was crushed in an embrace with Isaiah, who I couldn’t tell was crying or not. I wasn’t even sure if I was crying, to be honest, and if I was crying, I didn’t know if it was from fear or relief. 

Then I saw Paul. Expressionless Paul. His apathy is what hurt the most. He showed no signs of guilt or shame or remorse. He almost looked rather pleased with himself. When the trial was over and he was being led away, shackles on his wrists and ankles, a shudder ran down my spine as he stared at me coldly. 

He stared until he was escorted into a hallway and could no longer look at me. The hallway he’d walk down was just a pit stop on his way to 117 months in prison with no eligibility for parole or early release. 

I broke away from Isaiah, who was crying (and rather freely, to his embarrassment upon discovering this). He wiped away a tear that was streaming down my red cheek. Turns out I was crying as well. 

Isaiah sniffled. “Well, kid. What shall we do to celebrate?” he asked.

I looked at Mama, Papa and Gabriel, who looked much more animated at the thought of going home. I smiled and imagined the next great adventure that lay before me. 

Life was waiting. 

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