From: Punkett Boyle
To: An’b’dy list’nin’
She still sick. Coughin’ up a storm. Cain’t ketch a breath. Whistles when she sucks in.
He come back.
Beat black and blue and ever’whar over and under, and then some.
Had me some pages still, from the notebook Liam give me ‘while back. Ain’t got nobody ‘roun’ here who can look at me full on ‘thout turnin’ away. Mouth’s too swole and throat’s too poked to speak none, an’way. Fingers ain’t much better, but they’s near the only part of me workin’ ‘tall. So talkin’ to you ‘ppears to be what God give me t’day.
Don’t recall never settin’ eyes on my Daddy. Mama say, when she ever did talk ’bout him, he lit out ‘fore I could set up. Better off gone, she say. Mean bugger. Got me some older sisters what been married off and live up Chicago way. Reckoned I could find them some way ‘t’other, as’ them some questions. Don’ t got us no way get ‘hold o’them, says Mama. Got her a birthday card couple years ago, no address fer returnin’ the greetin’. Mama’s got it taped it up to the wall, and while it’s faded near to nothin’, the “I love you, Mama” can still be read if you looks real close. Means the world to her, and ain’t nob’dy ‘llowed to touch it. Tape keeps yellerin’ and rottin’, and she keep tapin’ it right back up.
Mama love all her chil’ren. But what it mean is this: what I don’t know, I may never not. Don’t nob’dy here in Halesburg know nothin’ ’bout my Daddy they willin’ to share.
I give up my querryin’.
But last night, come ‘roun dinner time, me’n Sib, Mama’s son jest after me, we was heatin’ soups on the burner in the kitchen, we heard us a shout and a slam from the front porch.
“You in there Beulah?! I know you is! Get on out here, greet yo’ man!”
Me’n Sib, we looks at each other, Sib’s eyes big like cat’s saucers. Cain’t move, neither o’us, and we stood stone still fer a minute too long.
Furniture tippin’, glass shatterin’, I kin only ‘magine Mama’s purties jest smashed to smithereens but move? I ain’t ’cause I cain’t.
Like a funnel-wind twistin’ and heavin’, the curtains dividin’ the livin’ part o’ our ol’ shack from the backporch kitchen was buckled and wrinkled and wrung, wrenched and pulled down in a heap, big ol’ ugly face, all grimace and anger poke itself right into our’n.
“Who you, boy? Who you? ” Big thick paws, fingers strong and thick grab my neck like a clamp, pushin’ my jaw near clean to my nose. My tippy toes barely touch the floor. Where Sib hightail it to, I don’t know, but I cain’t holler, cain’t answer, cain’t near breathe ‘tall.
Big ol’ ugly face get so close to mine I can fair smell what he’d drunk fer dinner last night and this mornin’ and the last month, and sour and vomit and whiskey and beans. He twist my head till lights sprung up front my eyes. Bells rung middle o’ my ears.
“Who you, boy? You got peas fer brains? Where Beulah? Where my woman? You tell me! You TELL me!”
Now my Mama, long time ‘fore, was a full on beauty, all shiny black hair and long eyelashes and skin to this day like caramel ‘top ice cream sundae. ‘Fore my recollections but I seen pictures hid in her dresser. She’d had her a husband, and then some. None us kids had us the same daddies. Never did we fret none. We all had us the same Mama and that there was the glue keep us fam’ly.
Mama love all her chil’ren.
And we all love her to eternity and back and forevermore.
So, if I had been able to speak to this monster of a beast heaved up from the gates of Hell come lookin’ fer her, I’d took what wuz comin’ and kep’ my mouth shut!
As it was, wudn’t no time to say nothin’ anyhow. Man loosed his grip and slammed me upside the head hard, felt crackin’ and poppin’, landin’ me up against the pipin’ snakin’ down from the flue. ‘Member seein’ quick snap o’ Mama’s nice wallpaper, saved from the fire down to the hardwar’ store last May.
Hurt some, but not as much as what come after. I’m wont to countin’ most near ever’thin’. I counts my steps to ‘n’from wherever I be. I adds and subtracts the cats screechin’ come darkest night, I multiply and parse and divide the tweets of the birds and the hollerin’ and bickerin’ from the bar down the street.
But I lost me track of the pelts and the punches and kicks what rained on me last night. Best I jest take it, and keep my mouth shut.
Went on fer plumb ever, seemed. Lost my daylight ‘long the way, and come mornin’ I come to, curled and mangled and unable to move tucked behind the potbellied stove. Mama bent over me, sick as she was, but doin’ her best to wipe away the bleedin’, cryin’ and drippin’ and mumblin’ curse words. Seen Sib over her shoulder, holdin’ a bowl fer her to worsh out her bloodied rag.
I hurt so. Lord A’mighty, I hurt so.
Welcome home, Daddy.