generation obloquy

Outside, the world was sound-tracked by rap music and the dialogue was all about getting the wheels and getting the bitches. Of course, without a discernable talent or an applied work ethic, crime was the only viable option… “

 

by julio peralta-paulino

It was dark outside. The city was quiet, as far as cities go. Hannah sat on one of her wooden chairs. It was from the dining room, but it was only a studio apartment and the chairs didn’t all fit in the kitchen. The toaster, for example, usually rested atop the refrigerator. Next to her was a bottle of Irish whiskey. She mixed the drink with ice cold water and sipped it slowly in front of her crowded television set. It was a four-legged Mayfair. An unusual brand, even in those early days of the silver screen. An ashtray and a radio with a face-clock rested atop the moving picture box. The long silver antenna was thick and reached high, behind the ashtray and the radio that read seven thirty with little white hands. Indeed, it was almost eight o’clock and Hannah, in her soft-cotton nightgown, wondered how her friends and family were doing back in the little northern town of the Caribbean island where she had started her life. Hannah wore her silky brown hair short and was recently married.

Days came and went with nothing but the occasional trip to the grocery shop. While walking, she sometimes wondered how so many people could live so near to each other and be such strangers. It was, of course, she concluded all the bad luck stories. The ones that went from mouth to mouth or traveled in the press and inspired fear. The nights were uneventful, her husband would arrive simply wanting to eat and rest. On that particular dark night, he’d brought home a camera and took some pictures of her. She mailed the best ones to some of her friends and to her family back home. The days ran away from her and suddenly turned into years.

It was a bright, sunny day and Mary’s son, Jonathan, was already about to have a son of his own. She’d moved back to that little northern town of her Caribbean island, before she could meet her daughter in law. Jonathan rarely sent pictures, but he would telephone nearly every week with updates on how everything was going well and getting better and how she should visit if only for a week or so or how he would do everything possible to make a trip and show off his newborn son.

Jonathan worked hard at a trivial job that left him little time to lift and love his baby. In those days, which were not so long ago, women still made a habit of keeping the proverbial home and raising the offspring. They lived in just a slightly larger apartment than the one Hannah had kept. The summers streamed by and there never seemed to be enough money to travel. A few years down the little line of life, Jonathan finally managed to take that trip. During the trip, he didn’t have a chance to show off his son for Hannah was always a few steps ahead of him, “Isn’t this the most beautiful baby you ever saw?”

He was a handsome boy and he grew to be an attractive man. They called him Eric. Eric was not any good at school and was not especially inclined to sports. The memory of his grandmother only brought him the certainty that he did not want to wind up old and poor in some little town back home. The values that his parents tried to instill in him seemed useless as soon as he walked out the door.

Outside, the world was sound-tracked by rap music and the dialogue was all about getting the wheels and getting the bitches. Of course, without a discernable talent or an applied work ethic, crime was the only viable option for boys like Eric. The basketball court was nothing more than a transaction spot where those boys would sell drugs and showcase their sheen for the girls who happened by. Hoops were played, but it was only a pastime the way dry thanksgiving turkey is a necessary prelude to the pumpkin pie. One would not want to break into heavy perspiration and make one’s sportswear into a smelly affair. No.

Jonathan tried, knowing it would break Hannah’s heart, to conceal the fact that her grandson wore his hair in cornrows, had two earrings, wore other items of jewelry that a sane person might find vulgar, and had moved in with a fast talking floozie that was twice his size. He simply lied to his mother and told her that Eric had done well in a business venture. He searched his heart to understand how his son could have become so committed to a life and culture so far from his own. Of course, there was no response that could sate his sorrow.

Eric did well for himself and before he could hope to understand how far he was from his roots, he had a child of his own. The little girl, who grew under her mother’s fat shadow, was the expectorating image of Hannah. Hannah, was frail and nearing her last days, still in the small northern town of her Caribbean island. She barely noticed the unusual hairstyle and the tacky effulgence of his bling. Tears came to her worn eyes, when she realized that she could not communicate with her great-grandchild. Hannah had only learned a few phrases in English, while Rachel had only picked up a few words in Spanish.

He was the toast of the town, despite his jewelry and obnoxious spouse, the host of lavish gatherings, and the inspiration for the unrestrained expatriation of several rapscallions who pined for similar types of riches.

It was damp and decidedly bright when Rachel visited her father at the correctional facility. Her fancy clothing seemed to mock the air around her as she waltzed in with some reggeton song still chiming in her mind. Her large hoop earring collided with the ear-phone she picked up as her father sat to hear the news of his grandmother’s passing.

Two thousand miles away, Jonathan sat at the front of the funeral parlor and wondered how the little line of life could be so crooked and cruel.

Originally published:
Issue Fifty-Four
April 2009

 

(illustration: dee sunshine)


Julio Peralta-Paulino is a writer currently at work on several projects. Some of his recent work is featured at City Writers Review and Jack Magazine. He is thrilled to be once again included in the eclectic and hip publication known as Smokebox. More stories from Julio Peralta-Paulino can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

 

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