“I be visiting a folk,” Momma said to me as I walked out of the house to go to the docks. That phrase may sound like a statement. It wasn’t. When Momma said that to me, I knew it to be an order.
Momma visited people. And she took me along. Sometimes I could tell why a person needed a visit. Most times, I couldn’t. I didn’t ask. I never knew for sure what awaited me. For that reason, I always prepared. For Momma’s visits, I took Colum’s computer or a book in case I needed to wait. I took bread and water in case we stayed past dinner.
Years before we had visited a man past the age when people begin their breathing troubles. That’s the sort of person Momma visited. He wheezed as he opened the door to his home. He could only take a few steps before he had to collapse gasping into his chair.
To get to his door, we carefully walked past his menacing worn-out dog tied near the front door. Don’t worry about him, the man told us. The dog told us just the opposite. The dog barked with fury.
Rotted food and dirty dishes collected on every flat surface in his small kitchen. While Mom cleaned, I talked to the man about the years before the drought. He worked as a constructor, constructing buildings. The man protested about Mom’s efforts as we spoke. He intentioned to clean tomorrow, he said. Mom assured him such she could take care of everything quickly.
Another time I distracted a woman’s two toddlers while Momma talked to their mother. The woman’s husband had been caught naked with another man’s wife. The two cheating spouses had practiced “athletic cuddling,” as Momma called it. And it was not even his shift break, Momma pointed out.
Momma listened as the woman described how her husband sneaked away to the docks where he paid passage to go all the way up the river. He wrote her a letter once he got to the Causses. The husband didn’t apologize. He explained that life be fleeting, and he no longer allowed the responsibility of a family to crush him.
Of the two children, the little girl played the roughest. She scratched and hit and bit me. Her teeth left bruises in tiny arcs on my forearm.
Then there was the folk who I couldn’t tell why Momma visited. Momma would sit and laugh with them while I curled up to one side and read books on the computer. Sometimes a person invited us in and gave us cursory politeness before they mentioned some chore they required to attend to and showed us out.
When Momma said, “I be visiting a folk,” I stopped and looked down at my work clothes.
“Be I fine?” I pointed at what I wore.
She paused and thought. “Such be fine.”
“Let me get my kit.” I turned to get my shoulder bag from my room and put within it the computer and bread. I grabbed my bottle of water.
We descended to the tube at Swamp Ditch Station and rode it out to Ben Brother’s Street Station. We walked past Beau’s house before continuing on for two more blocks. Graffiti layered the garden walls. Some of it was new, but the base layer had been there for hundreds of years. I could smell the layers of paint.
gun and gunny
INSURGE INSURRECT INVERT
Vandal Horde pulves all Vandal Horde pulves now
I had noticed that the graffiti all through town had become angrier and angrier as I grew older. I remembered the painted scrawls from my childhood as being about who loves who and prideful boasting.
We ascended the unstable wooden steps to the door of a row house.
I recognized the woman who greeted us as Bar Zho Thomsen’s wife, Naomi Paudel Baatar.
Bar Zho Thomsen had, a few months before, fallen down a flight of stairs at the Exchange while working and broke a leg. Rebecca Conti Santra at the Exchange said the fall damaged not just Bar’s leg, but something inside him as well. Since that day, I considered him an ever-drunk. Somehow, someway, Bar managed to stay moderately intoxicated all day. From the day the cast came off his leg, he stumbled drunkenly whenever I saw him walk. When he spoke, he slurred and couldn’t speak clearly.
“And worse,” Rebecca said, “The brake on his mouth broke. He be one of those who voice all such his mind gestures when alcohol mixes with his blood, he be.”
The four of us, Momma, myself, Naomi, and Bar, sat around the table in their kitchen. The smell of burned coffee filled the room. I saw one of their daughters, Shiloh, peek around the corner. She was half my age. Naomi and Bar had three other children, including one two years older than I was. None of them could be seen other than Shiloh.
Bar strained to speak but couldn’t get his words out clearly. He seemed to be drunk enough to have trouble enunciating correctly. He swayed unsteadily. Fleeting expressions broke upon his face and quickly disappeared as he struggled for control.
Naomi had made fresh, dense sweet cakes. She offered one to me on a plate, and I took it. Momma accepted one, as well. Bar took one from Naomi and ate it ungracefully.
“The more you eat, the more you want,” Bar enthused with his drunken warble. He spoke with a mouth full of sweet cake.
“Thank…,” Naomi started to say. Bar interrupted her.
“The more you eat, the more you want.”
Naomi looked at Bar and waited to see if he was done.
“The more you eat, the more you want.”
Naomi leaned over to Momma. “Thanks be to your Sharon Roux Dignac,” she said. “She intercessed when the Exchange fired him. We lack money, so much so.”
“Such be well such she interceded,” Momma replied.
“The more you eat, the more you want.” Bar wailed joyfully. He smiled widely and struggled to get pieces of the cake into the opening of his mouth.
“How be the children?” Momma asked.
“Their days be hard,” Naomi said.
“So be yours. So be Bar’s”
I ate only half of the sweet bread. For some reason, Momma’s last comment bothered me. If Bar’s life was hard, so be it. Ever-drunks break the lives of those around them. That little girl, Shiloh, should not be burdened by Bar’s unfortunate choices. She suffered from the decisions he made.
“Mind-you if I recessed to your public room?” I asked Naomi.
“Not, so. No. I mind not.”
I found a comfortable chair in the next room and pulled the computer from my bag. I distractedly read about Alexander the Great’s aborted attempt to invade the Nanda Empire. Shiloh glanced in, saw me sitting there, and retreated quickly.
I attempted to ignore the conversation in the kitchen during the rest of our visit. Bar, with his drunken slur, kept rudely interrupting Momma.
I thought about what Naomi and Momma had said. Aunt Sharon kept Bar Zho Thomsen from being fired? That’s not Aunt Sharon. Not at all. She suffers no fools and allows fools to suffer. She’s the one who insisted that the Exchange terminate Comy Chalamen Two-Dollars after Aunt Sharon discovered Comy stole from the warehouses.
Momma and I walked to the tube quietly on our way home. We waited in the dark, dirty, and damp station with the only light shining as a dusty beam from the entrance above our heads.
“James Smith Thomsen. Alice Liberia Tazo. Brian Donovan Tazo.”
“I confuse?” I looked at Momma. “Who be those?” “All dead,” Momma said. “I pray the dead to have wholeness they lost in life. And I pray for Bar.”