"A thought-provoking, socially relevant academic masterpiece." --Zelda Kitt, educational leader and parent
"I was so nervous as I neared the end of the book. I loved it. There are a lot of great messages throughout the whole book and especially towards the end. I have to put this in my collection of books for my son to read." ---Kristin Marvin, parent
"I actually finished the book in one day. The suspense was so great that I couldn't put it down. It was an awesome book, and kids my age would definitely enjoy it." Kaitlin Ervin, 15
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.43(d)|
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In the Absence of My FatherGrief. Grit. Gangs. Guts. Grace.
By Quebe Merritt Bradford
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Quebe Merritt Bradford
All right reserved.
Chocolate's frantic footsteps always seemed to pacify him when he lost his way, or when his existence seemed too difficult to shoulder. This time, it was the fatal collision of the former and the latter.
Gene provoked, yelled, and scolded.
"Get that dog away from my front porch," she snarled, as she locked the car doors and strode toward the homely house. The wind blew, and Gene's contentious hair lashed her face, and she yanked it back into submission. Her gait was confident, her air pessimistic.
"Ok, Wade, I understand honey," she cooed, the phone gripped between her shoulder and head, her rapid pace halting at the mailbox. "The final decision rests with you ... Okay ... bye." Gene slipped her miniscule phone into her purse and shoved the stack of letters into her armpit. She locked the mailbox door and lunged toward the house. After a few cavernous steps, she slowed her pace. Gene seemed to hold the house, the boy, and his dog in contempt.
"Don't you ever get tired of that decaying mutt?" she asked, removing her chic sunglasses and gesturing toward Scottie.
Scottie mustered up quite an effort as he hung folded over his own body, dragging his long tongue over the raw spots near his hind leg. He was immersed in a snorting cacophony. Chocolate pulled on his dog's weather-beaten collar, and Scottie complied, turning his drooping body around in the direction of the backyard and beginning to limp.
"Sit, Scottie. Sit," Chocolate whispered while he cut his eyes toward Gene. Somehow, he thought, if Scottie sat, the dog's actions would refute Gene's negativity.
Scottie was not of the same mind. The dog licked Chocolate's hand, and its brown eyes stared vacantly.
"Come on Scottie. Sit like I taught you."
Scottie continued his blank stare.
Chocolate sighed as he hoisted up Scottie's black paw and searched for the culprit of the dog's pain. He turned over the hand-sized paw and spotted a minute green piece of beer bottle glass embedded in the dog's flesh. Chocolate tried to capture the tiny piece of glass in his fingers, but his grasping ability resembled an African elephant's attempt at fishing out a corn kernel from a steel barrel. Scottie winced and let out a menacing groan, so Chocolate worked slowly, rubbing the dog's head and crooning to him. He detested seeing Scottie in pain.
"Boy, what did I just tell you?" Gene hollered as she swung open the screen door, allowing the bang to announce her presence once more. "You don't do anything I tell you to do."
The wind raged, and Gene fought her hair, snatching it back behind her ears. She was barely able to keep her sun-hat atop her head.
"I'm not going to tell you what to do more than once. If you're feeling grown, leave. I get tired of you sneaking and slithering 'round my house."
Everything that Gene uttered to Chocolate ended in "leave," from the smallest blunder—letting the screen door slam, packing too many clothes into the washer, loading too few clothes into the washer, neglecting to fill the clothes line up—to the largest faux pas. Chocolate didn't need Gene to sketch him a picture; it was obvious that she wanted him to leave.
He guided Scottie to the backyard and tied him to the chain-link fence pole, located a gardening hose, and gently squirted water on the dog's blood-stained paw. Scottie lowered his head and licked Chocolate's forearm. Scottie was just the right friend to snuggle up to when Gene purposely locked Chocolate outside for the night, or when the sorrow of losing his mother rushed to his mind, and he could confide in no one else.
Whenever Chocolate saw Gene, he couldn't return the daggers of hate that she hurled at him. She was the image of his mother in every physical way, though she lacked the grace and control his mother had exuded. There was no denying though that Gene's deep cacao skin and oval black-bean eyes carried on his mother's physical legacy of beauty.
"Why do you have that hosepipe running?" Gene screamed as she poked her head out of the back door. She was good at interrupting his thoughts. She was even better at interrupting his sleep.
"Bills are too high 'round here for you to be wasting water. Boy, get from 'round here. Don't come into this house until it's time for you to go to bed. I don't know how I got stuck with you or this filthy mutt dog. I can't feed everybody's children and their animals."
Gene paused for a moment as if thinking of the best way to inflict pain. Those slightly rounded eyes that his mother had used to smile upon him now reigned down in terror.
"That dog has to get from 'round here," Gene commanded in an edict of finality. "It's either you or that dog." The screen door slammed shut, echoing her sentiments.
At the thought of losing Scottie, Chocolate's heart began to feel heavy. His upper body heaved in anger and long gulps of breath were interrupted by frustration lodged in his throat. The more Chocolate reflected, the angrier he became.
So, he ran. He scampered to the place that always gave him comfort, where the grass spiked up high out of the ground, and the intonations of nature tiptoed around in reverence. The hallowed area rested about one mile from Gene's house and could easily be seen from the road. His mother lay there. His father Jerry may as well have lain there; nevertheless, Jerry slept in the same house as Gene and shrank behind her rage.
"Why couldn't it have been him instead of mama?" Chocolate muttered to himself. "Why couldn't it have been me?"
Chocolate halted near his mother's eternal spot and stooped down to clear the fresh debris from her tombstone. He looked at the date. Had it been two years already? So much had changed.
Chocolate glared down at the concrete, wishing there were some way that he could touch his mother again or hear her ringing, reassuring voice. He just knew that a 13-year-old boy needed his mother, so he hoped he could stand near her grave to obtain some encouragement from her. He'd read somewhere that success in life was ninety percent encouragement.
Chocolate plopped down on the ground and absently plucked at clover bunches. He sat thinking; he really missed his mother. Chocolate's lips crept upward as he remembered his mother's gentle laugh and temperate spirit. He almost laughed outright as he thought of her break-it-down dance and her clumsy jump shot.
His mother's love for athletics had pierced him like a double-edged sword when she had died. He had stopped playing basketball because it reminded him of her too much. Basketball was his world, but a nagging feeling of guilt always cascaded down on him when he played. Playing basketball reminded him that he was still living, and his mother was not.
Chocolate had asked himself and tried to answer a thousand questions since the day of her death. He could continue to live without her, but could he live well? He could breathe without her, but would that breath feel like his head was stuck in a plastic bag?
He glanced up quickly and used his torn sleeve to wipe away the grief from his face.
"Choc," a voice sacrilegiously bellowed from a distance.
"Yeah," he growled.
Mariner ambled toward him, eyes wide and ominous.
"Man, I knew I'd find you here. Ms. Pinkston called. Gene wants you."
Ms. Pinkston? What had he done now?
Chocolate walked back to the house slowly, unable to recall the occurrences at school. He could not shake Gene's ultimatum, and he could decide upon no logical reason for Ms. Pinkston's phone call, apart from his poor grades, of course.
As soon as he tipped into the house, Gene gripped his collar and pinned his body to the nearest wall.
"So you're selling drugs at the school now, fool?" she seethed. Her tongue lashed fire and lacerated him with spittle.
"Huh?" Chocolate stumbled.
"'Huh' ain't what I said. Ms. Pinkston told me she received an anonymous tip that you have been selling drugs at that school."
Gene held half of the broom's handle in her hand. The other half had been broken on him when he had forgotten to empty the trash two days prior.
"What?" Chocolate stumbled as he realized the depth of the situation. "I'm not selling drugs at no school."
"So the teacher is lying?" Gene asked sarcastically, crossing her arms, the broom handle sticking out. "She found my number, called my house, singled you out, and then told a lie?"
"No. Yeah. She is just mistaken." He stuttered like an idiot, and worst of all, his consciousness of his stuttering blocked his brain from thinking.
Gene's phone rang, and petulance forced her to terminate her conversation with Chocolate. One foot turned toward her bedroom, while the other remained planted across the living room threshold.
"Boy, I give up. I don't know what to do with you. You've been in the same grade since your mama died. You won't do anything I tell you to do, and now you're selling drugs," Gene resigned. She pushed past Mariner and answered her phone as she marched out of the room.
His father sat on the sofa listlessly, turning up the volume on the already loud television. Chocolate stared at him in disgust.
Just when things could get no worse, they had decidedly done so, he thought. He shook his head. He knew that Gene's furry had not subsided. She had gotten sidetracked with a phone call from Wade. She would drop anything for a call from him. Any argument would be placed on hold, but her anger would soon return. She would come into the room he shared with Mariner when Chocolate least expected and the other half of the broom handle would break into a fourth. Before going to bed, he would pad himself with a few extra pairs of clothes to lessen the blows.
Chocolate sat in the room and thought about the best way to procrastinate for the inevitable. He crawled into the tiny bed and scooted next to Mariner, his feet and ankles dangling from the foot of the bed. When Gene did not see him nor hear him, she was less likely to unleash her fury. Determined to fall asleep, Chocolate performed mundane tasks in his head, counting to one-hundred backward and then forward. It was so early. He couldn't sleep, yet he didn't dare to get up. Chocolate propped himself on his elbow and languidly watched as the sun waved farewell and sunk into the earth.
Chapter TwoPrayer Interrupted
Providence, Chocolate thought, must have stepped in to grant him peace in his sleep. It would be unbearable to live in misery and dream of it as well. So, Chocolate dreamed of his mother. He remembered his life prior to her death. Mariner and he had been so happy.
His mother had lived a hard life, but she had never made them taste the bitterness of the drink she had been poured. She had worked a rough job during the day, serving day-old pot-pie to picky poor folk. Chocolate would massage her aching feet at night. However, no matter how tired she had gotten, she'd helped them with their homework at night and read to them on the weekends. She'd attended each of Chocolate's basketball games faithfully. And, when Chocolate had come home with all A's and Mariner made at least a B in conduct, she would do the dance that would make Chocolate and Mariner double over in laughter until their sides were sore.
"Go Ma, go Ma," they would shout, egging her on until they could no longer breathe. And she would dance—hopping around like she'd stubbed her big toes and heels simultaneously.
His father had been there too, both physically and mentally. He'd worked at the automotive factory, putting doors on frames as they rolled down the assembly line. His father had always been right next to his mother during basketball games, cheering him on with a "Let's go, Son!" Sometimes, Chocolate and Mariner used to fall asleep to the high-pitched laughter of their mother and the slow chuckle of their father as they played board and card games at night.
"Girl, you'd better not let me tunk out," his father would tease. "I'd hate for you to get mad at me tonight. You'll be trying to knock over the card table."
"Just play your hand, Jerry. I don't need your pity," she'd say coyly.
His mother usually won the card games and his daddy always won checkers. His parents had advised that the boys needed to learn both skills: knowing how to play the hand they were dealt and setting themselves up in life for greatness.
Chocolate's mother explained that his father and she were role models of playing the hand they were dealt. She was taking classes at the university in the summer so that she could find a better job, but she wasn't complaining about the one she had. His father was arriving at work early and leaving late because he had a work ethic.
She'd stated that they were using every waking moment to help set up Mariner and Chocolate for greatness, but that the boys had to do their part.
"What are our parts?" he remembered Mariner asking.
"You two will do your best in school, practice the morals and values you have been taught, and be thankful for what you have," his mother had directed. "Refuse to dwell on what you don't have, boys."
Chocolate reluctantly woke up from his dream, trying to decide if he had gone to sleep or if he was just remembering the best times of his short life. Dream or no dream, Chocolate decided that his mother would want him to pray to God and thank Him for granting a moment of peace. His mother had always reminded them that peace and joy came from above.
"Dear God," Chocolate's voice cracked, as his knees jerked from the coldness of the concrete floor. His voice sounded small, but the immense words of gratitude rolled from his lips.
"God, I know that Mama talked about a peace that passes all understanding. I want that for my brother and myself. I'm not dissatisfied though. You have blessed me with a place to sleep, food, and my good memory of my mama. Lord, help me to not feel guilty about playing the sport that I love. I am thankful to you for—."
"What are you doing out of that bed, boy?" Gene screamed as she flipped on the hall light. The light in the hallway cast weird shadows on the bedroom. Gene's eyes searched frantically around the room for any evidence of his wrongdoing. The light in their room did not function. Gene hypothesized that they did not deserve a light bulb. Once the street light came on, they were to enter the house and go to bed.
"You thought you could just sneak in this house, didn't you?" Gene bellowed. Chocolate's eyes adjusted to the new light, and he saw the familiar vein in Gene's forehead as it threatened her integumentary system in an effort to be released from the thin layer of skin.
"So, this is when you have time to sell drugs. I better not ever find drugs in my house. I'll throw you out there with that dog before my house gets busted," Gene vowed.
"Gene," Mariner's shaky voice pleaded, "Choc'late's been in here the whole time. He was praying."
"Mariner, now don't you go telling tales for Chocolate. He ain't never been up to no good. You had better stay away from him as much as you can," Gene snapped.
Chocolate wordlessly thanked God and Mariner because Gene strode out of the room, and Chocolate dodged a whipping for the second time that night.
Chapter ThreeLoud Silence
The darkness overtook the house, wrapping it like a casket in the cold earth. A thick chevron impression of sweat trickled down Chocolate's torso and perspiration poured from his face. Chocolate shivered, and his eyes bucked like a chicken. The dream had been horrid. Death, destruction, and doom had coiled from every imaginable surface. Chocolate had lurched from his slumber after hearing the blare of the television through the papyrus-thin walls.
It was Jerry, again, Chocolate realized. Jerry had entered the house in a stupor, flopped down in familiarity, and flipped on the refuge of the television. Chocolate closed his heavy eyes and walked out of his room. He fumbled, tripping over Mariner's shoes and sweaty socks. When he entered the living room, he saw Jerry's toffee eyes vacantly staring at the television.
"Can you turn the TV down?" Chocolate asked, peeping around the corner into the living room. Chocolate watched as a crazed man paced back and forth on the large television screen.
Jerry's trance-like eyes unhurriedly scanned the room and rested on Chocolate.
"Get out of here," Jerry wheezed, furling his lips. "Who do you think you are? You don't tell me what to do with my television."
Excerpted from In the Absence of My Father by Quebe Merritt Bradford Copyright © 2011 by Quebe Merritt Bradford. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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