This Place of Men: book 1 of trilogy (excerpts)
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~ Sometimes he saw things when he drank. But that was only when he drank too much. He didn’t drink often, but sometimes he would become careless of his burden when he sat before a glass, and the one glass would become a full bottle until his head would fill and the visions would come.
They had been happening most of his adult life, the visions. They began to occur while he was in prison. They started as reflections he would have at night; then they transformed themselves into quick momentary sightings during the day until finally turning into resonant narratives that gripped him whenever he was inebriated. He wanted to tell people who looked at him when he was drunk that once, when he was younger, he had dreams. He had had dreams like every young man, but now he saw things, no dreams. And sometimes he even wondered if calling the images visions was appropriate, so he would have told them he simply saw things. That’s what he would have told them if he spoke to them, but he rarely spoke to anyone about his life.
~ The sky was gray and hung low the day Otis returned home; so low that it seemed to rest on top of the small houses that lined Jackson Street. He pulled into the driveway of the one floor house he grew up in and sat for a moment in the car. He didn’t remember the house being as small as it now appeared. A new roof and fresh siding covered the outside and thermal windows had replaced the old ones; but other than that, little had changed. Even one of his father’s dump trucks was parked to one side of the narrow driveway the way he used to park years ago. It was as if his parents had been holding everything at bay until he returned.
As he walked up to the door he heard his mother’s voice come from inside, “Lord, Jesus!” then the front door swung open and she grabbed him round the neck and began to sob uncontrollably, “Thank you Lord, Thank you Lord!”
Otis was overcome by his mother’s tears and began to cry as well; and for the first time since he left he felt a real sense of guilt.
After a while, his mother loosened her embrace and took him by the hand where she led him into the living room. She turned on a lamp and looked at him, her eyes moving over his face, “Sometimes I wondered if I would ever see my child again, Lord. But you knew, you knew.” Then she began to cry again.
~ Terrell pushed the key in the lock and just as he unlocked the door his cell phone rang. He answered it, “Hello?” He knew who it was.
“Where are you?”
“Home. Sorry Babe. It was such a beautiful day and all, so I just took my time getting back. Sorry.”
“I called the house twice and you weren’t there,” Karen said. Then she clicked her tongue. It was almost two hours since she and the kids had arrived at her parents’ home. “You know, you could at least be by the phone to find out if we made it okay.”
“I knew you’d be okay. I mean…” He stopped short as he realized he had no excuse for his behavior.
After a short silence, Karen spoke. “Terrell, for once, try to think about others. Okay?”
“What’re you talking about?”
She let out a sigh. “Never mind. Just be careful. You know there’s a lot going on out there these days.”
“Karen, please. Don’t start it.”
“Look. Let’s not get into this. I love you and I just become concerned sometimes.”
“I know Babe. And I love you too.”
“Then you might want to show it. That and a little responsibility. Try to focus on your family just for once, okay?”
Terrell didn’t respond. She always knew the right words to say to cut him short. They were words that she carried with her, words like sharp things she’d collected over their years together: pins, needles and glaring shards of glass that she would pull out at need and hold him hostage.
That said, she ended the conversation.
“Well I have to go now. Good bye.” The deed was done.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” Terrell said.
This time she didn’t respond. She just hung up the phone.
He stood for a second with the phone in his hand. Then he laid it on the kitchen counter. Would she ever let go? This thing she held over his head. It was in the past. Way before he’d even met her. He was young and crazy then. Things change. He often wished he’d never told her about his past. But she wasn’t alone. Everyone who knew him, family and friends alike still had that look in their eyes that never seemed to go away. The shame they held for him always stood somewhere in their deepest stares and in the faintest sorrow their voices carried when they spoke to him.
~ ... it was Bishop Abrams who had stood by Terrell's side and deflected Terrell’s detractors years ago when it was suggested that Terrell was less than a victim of the incident. And it was Bishop Abrams who made sure the proper party was punished. From that time on the bishop influenced Terrell’s life, and Terrell's parents were grateful for the intervention. However, their were times when Terrell wanted to be out of the shadow of the powerful man, to remove the albatross from around his neck. But at the same time he was reminded of what he might have become if it hadn’t been for the bishop. And it was this gratitude that bound him to the man.
~ No, Courtney couldn’t know of these things, Otis reminded himself. He would never let her know. She would never know how it felt to sleep on benches, to go for days on paltry handouts of food, to feel so much grime on your skin until it cut through the flesh. She would never know how it felt to hide with shame from condescending glances, to hear the cries of the insane or to fall into the scope of predators.
“… You must work out…”
“…I used to…”
“…You ever play football?...”
(A tug at the waist. The sound of a belt buckle.)
“…Nah man. I don’t wanna get undressed…”
“…Just a little bit. Come on…”
(The sound of a zipper. He closes his eyes)
Those were memories he’d rather forget. He didn’t need any answers. He just needed to forget.
~ Savior’s Temple had never seemed so cold as it had that evening as Terrell sat alone in the sanctuary waiting to be summoned to the bishop’s office. He looked around at the stained glass windows that radiated from pristine walls and he breathed in the warm scent of the wooden pews that shone dark and polished. All the years of his life had been spent there, and he’d always had fond memories of being a part of the church family until now. He had been told that he was an abomination, though he didn’t feel like one. All he knew was he was in love. He remembered how he had just wanted everyone to leave him alone. He recalled looking up at the painting of a compassionate Christ that looked at him from a radiant nimbus, and wondered why God made him if He knew it would be like this?
~ It was a warm night and the air was still; the sound of crickets rose from the grass and mixed with the sound of the radio that drifted from the kitchen. Otis wasn’t sure why he had come to the patio at that time, but something seemed to summon him. He found his mother strangely silent as she sat and gently rocked in one of the patio chairs. She was so quiet that it made him uncomfortable. Suddenly she spoke, “Your friend ain’t called here in a while.”
Her words startled him. “Ma’am?”
“Your friend,” she repeated, “That boy who’s always callin’ here.”
Otis’ eyes widened. He had no idea his mother paid any attention to Terrell’s phone calls. He stared at her for a bit; her profile, dark in the night, framed by the light from the back door, the light that spilled out onto the patio, and he licked his lips, “We… we ain’t that close no more.”
“We kinda had a fallin’ out.”
“Mmh. That’s too bad. Seems like y’all were close,” she said as she continued to look past him.
Otis lowered his eyes to the ground.
For a while, neither of them spoke. Then his mother moved her large, sturdy hands across her full thighs, smoothing the soft fabric of her dress. “Is that the reason you been so moody lately?”
He remained silent.
Finally her hands came to rest in her lap, one covering the other.
Then she lifted her dark face a bit and looked out into the night, “He’s special to you, ain’t he?”
Still, Otis couldn’t reply. His eyes continued to stare at the ground. He moved his mouth, but nothing came out. He gave one more attempt. This time a sound came, “Ma?” And again his voice left him.
“He’s special to you in that way. I can tell. How long y’all been knowin’ each other?”
His mother expelled a short breath and clasped her hands.
Otis looked at her, “I’m sorry, Ma.”
“Well, sorry ain’t gonna help nothin’ is it?" Then she turned to him, “And you might as well hold that head up. ‘cause looks like you gonna have to do that a lot.”
Otis raised his head slightly, but he still couldn’t bring himself to look at her.
“Is he the only one?”
~ “I had a dream about Otis.” Terrell and his sister, Charmaine, sat on a bench surrounded by plants at a gardening center. Charmaine looked at her brother for a quick second. “Who?” Then she suddenly realized who he was talking about. “Otis?”
Terrell looked at her. “Yeah.”
“What brought this on? Do you always dream about him?”
“No. I mean, he crosses my mind every once in a while, you know, and I wonder whatever happened to him. And once or twice he’s appeared in a dream. But that was long ago.”
Charmaine glanced over to where their mother stood. She was busy checking out some shrubbery for the yard. “You haven’t told Momma this, have you?”
“No.” Terrell shook his head. “Why would I do that?”
“Because you have a tendency to do things like that.”
“Well I would never bring all that back up.”
“Good. Because I don’t think that’s something she should ever have to hear about again.”
~ Otis sat with the phone book in his lap. His hand moved with slight hesitation as he fingered the light sheets of the phone book, each page creating a soft swishing sound as they passed his view. Then the name came to him. It rose lightly from the page of the phone book and floated before his eyes causing the mists of memory to lift. A breath of relief escaped his mouth as he realized he had taken that step into the past, that he was going even deeper along the journey he dreaded most.
“Terrell.” He whispered with disbelief as if he’d never expected to see the name again. Then he stared off into the distant morning. He wasn’t sure how he felt about seeing Terrell’s name. At times he despised him, and at times he still cared for him.
Picking up the tablet and a pen, he scribbled down the information. Then, laying the instruments aside, he stood and walked across the living room to a point far from where he had been sitting. There he stood in the cool shadow of the room as if the glare of his past was too much to bear.
Sometimes he frightened himself with his attachment to his past. He wanted to leave it alone, but like a wounded animal it always returned to its home in search of nurturing. Yet unlike an animal, mortally wounded, it never died. He was often unsure about how he would treat the elements of his past if he ever came in contact with them again. That is what frightened him most. But that fear wasn’t enough to overshadow his need for resolution, and that need to end his nightmares is what now took him from the shadows back to the phone book as he whisked through another set of pages. Another name: Abrams, Walter, Bishop
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