Ch. 12: Fear of X (or tiptoeing past the sacred mountain). June 12, 1987.

Ch. 12: Fear of X (or tiptoeing past the sacred mountain). June 12, 1987.

A Chapter by Gee Roughin

The summer pushed and pulled Suzie-Q between hot and cold. She was condemned to freeze with her shorts on in the grocery store, and she couldn’t imagine an alternative. When she forgot her sweater, the goose-bumps stood up to the top of her shoulders and sent chills past the spaghetti straps. But in her room, she left the window open and the door locked, rushing to shut it only when she saw her Dad was about to mow the lawn. For leaving windows open in an air-conditioned house Suzie-Q imagined that the punishment would be 30 boards and cleaning the air-conditioning vents and furnace both with a toothbrush. The air-conditioning vents and furnace were already clean, but Suzie-Q swore she wouldn’t take 30 boards without putting up a fight. Since she had never fought anything or anybody before, Suzie-Q figured the result would probably be 300 boards and her window cemented shut. The mere thought that Suzie-Q’s window might be cemented shut made Suzie-Q begin to feel queasy, so she kept very careful track of where her father was at all times.

Sam’s first return to Suzie-Q’s window had produced a sharp cry and the pattering of Suzie-Q’s usually dormant heart. It was 5:30 pm, the hour of Suzie-Q’s Dad’s return from work. Up until then Calvin Q had maintained a semblance of politeness and did not try the door if Suzie-Q did not open it herself. He had perhaps noticed the soft click but in any case he had not said anything. Calvin thought that, in the absence of a mother, his teenaged daughter’s privacy was to be respected�"to a perhaps extreme degree. But Suzie-Q knew that if he suspected any unapproved activity, such deference would break down fast. When Suzie-Q saw that the visitor was not her father but Sam, she had a second clap of nerves, thinking that her father’s imminent return might compromise the privileged relationship she wanted to be able to set up with Sam because he was her neighbor�"un-surveyed, frequent and secret.

“I must’ve jumped ten feet! It’s late Sam�"you shouldn’t risk your life.”

“Don’t exaggerate. Besides, I looked every which way before I threw you that rock. It’s quartz, did you see?” Sam picked up the stone he had skimmed over the window sill before letting himself in. He tossed it back out the window. The stone just made it through his own bedroom window, glancing off the frame.

Sam climbed through Suzie-Q’s window only when she thought her Dad might get home any time. Somehow he always slipped out unseen. Suzie-Q locked her bedroom door every time she was inside, but she didn’t use the open window again for her entrances and exits. Instead, once school let out, she and Sam spent days in the woods behind their two houses. They tried not to get wet crossing the stream on wet rocks. Sometimes they just sat on the dry rocks for hours. Suzie-Q loved nature, but she wasn’t used to it. Sometimes she wore the wrong thing, and was cold, or hot, or couldn’t sit properly on the ground, or had too much to carry. She learned to like running through underbrush. She could not get tired of staring through green low branches at the water in the creek which never stopped moving at all.

Sam was used to whites, but thought Suzie-Q probably wasn’t used to Blacks. Sometimes that annoyed Sam, but he took it in stride. Sam thought Suzie-Q’s Dad was probably a Black-hater. Every once in a while, a strange fear-of-her-Dad with gripping fingers would seize onto Sam’s jacket zipper and pull pull viciously, but Sam didn’t pay any attention. Sam felt a strong kind of sister-protection for Suzie-Q. He thought that Suzie-Q might not have another confidant. Sam found it funny the way he could make Suzie-Q blush by doing anything unexpected, or just by standing close. Sam found it funny that Suzie-Q blushed every time he said the word Black. Sam thought that maybe, thanks to him, Suzie-Q wouldn’t grow up racist. Sam’s Dad thought it was a bad idea to spend so much time with white girls. Sam wondered if his Dad didn’t think something funny was going on, and Sam liked to imagine his Dad thinking that. Sam’s Dad said that white people were always traitors in the end, and especially white girls. His Dad looked bitter and wounded when he said things like that. Sam thought he had enough charm to keep anybody loyal.

Sam wondered a lot about Suzie-Q’s mother. He thought that the absence of Suzie-Q’s mother and the absence of his mother made them like each other more. Sam missed his mother every day. Everybody talked bad about his mother and said nasty things about her, but Sam just missed her. Sam wondered if he would get to see her one day. Sam was angry with his mother too for leaving, but Sam secretly thought he understood why. He was sure that his mother didn’t want to leave him but only his father, and he said to himself that maybe she was ashamed to leave his father with nothing at all. Sam couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting to be with him. Sam remembered how his mother used to make him laugh and cry at the same time.

One day Sam and Suzie-Q ran into Sam’s house to make Sam a PBJ. Suzie-Q had already made her own PBJ at home, but Suzie-Q had told Sam sheepishly she couldn’t make him one since her Dad kept tabs on the number of bread slices left in the bread bag. Sam made fun of her and called her Dad “tight” but when he saw she took it too hard Sam felt bad and tried to make Suzie-Q laugh. Suzie-Q asked to use the bathroom at Sam’s house, and while she was in there she remembered about Sam saying “survival” and she wondered what it meant.

When Suzie-Q got back to the kitchen she stood there staring at the sandwich Sam was spreading marshmallow fluff on, not saying anything until Sam said with his mouth full of peanut butter and fluff he’d stuck together on the same spoon, “Stop looking at my sandwich like you never seen one before! I bet your Dad don’t let you eat fluff, do he?”

Suzie-Q didn’t know how to answer the fact that he was right about her Dad not buying fluff ever while at the same time saying she wasn’t thinking about that at all, so she blushed. Besides, she really did want to try peanut butter and fluff. This confused Suzie-Q because at the same time she wanted Sam to know she was really thinking about something much more serious than all that.

“Don’t look so embarrassed, you can try some,” Sam poked at Suzie-Q, sticking a peanut butter and fluff spoon in her face at the same time.

Suzie-Q felt relieved now because she could pretend to be uninterested. “I was just staring blankly,” giggled Suzie-Q with her mouth full. “Actually, I was thinking about something else entirely.”

Sam rolled back his head to corner Suzie-Q with his eyes. Sam thought that Suzie-Q was pretending to joke but wanted to say something more important, so he finished making his sandwich without saying anything and waited for Suzie-Q to pull her head into a sentence. Since Suzie-Q didn’t, Sam decided to make an extra half sandwich with extra fluff, and handed it to Suzie-Q. With that, the two of them ran back to their rock.

Suzie-Q finished her half-fluff sandwich and wanted to start talking but she felt thirsty. Sam would probably just drink from the creek, wouldn’t he? Suzie-Q couldn’t be sure as she sat there rubbing her rubber tongue on leather gums, so she waited sticky with her dry-sweet mouth to see what to do.

Sam talked natural with his mouth still full. “So what else entirely were you thinking about back there?” asked Sam.

“I’m thirsty,” squeaked Suzie-Q.

“Well drink something,” said Sam. Suzie-Q went ahead and bent over towards the water gliding with sunshine on it under the rock they were sitting on. She cupped her hand to pull some to her mouth. Sam couldn’t resist. Soundlessly, he put his sandwich down on the bag. Soundlessly, right before Suzie-Q’s teeth hit the water in her cupped hand, Sam spaced his hands on her waist and pretended to push her in.

Suzie-Q shrieked. Sam still had hold of her waist when she turned her head to ask with fake exasperation through stringy hair, “Will you let me drink, I’m dying!” Suzie-Q wailed. Sam kept hold while she leaned down a second time. Sam shook her again. Suzie-Q spilled all the water. Suzie-Q was torn between being thirsty enough to die and not wanting Sam to take his hands away. She giggled and sputtered into her cupped hand and pressed her lips down into it to sip something up. Sipping, Suzie-Q woke to the feeling of her body, whole, connected whole to two fingers that were touching her skin just above the hips. Suzie-Q felt ice spread down from her brain to block the feeling. Suzie-Q then had awkwardness and confusion and broken-upness. When she tossed her hair back and turned to smile, Suzie-Q’s eyes veiled sheepishness with mockery. Sam gingerly let her go. “Get your drink, man, or you ain’t never gonna tell me what’s up.”

Suzie-Q got her drink. She relaxed. She turned back around and placed herself in the crux of ground just next to the rock, her back up against a tree trunk. She settled down her knees one on top of the other on the warm stone. “I just thought in your house about how you said that “survival” thing that one morning, you remember? I just wondered what you meant. If you want to tell.”

Sam didn’t really want to tell Suzie-Q that sometimes Sam’s Dad used to get drunk and hit him. Sam loved his Dad who was a decent guy and had stopped drinking two years ago. Sam wanted to tell the story about his mom and not the one about his Dad. Sam loved his Mom too but he thought the absence of his Mom gave him more in common with Suzie-Q than the hitting of their Dads. Sam told himself that when his Dad had got drunk and hit him, it was more like man to man, since Sam was trying to get his Dad to stop drinking and so sometimes he had yelled at him or thrown all his beer down the drain. Memories of his Dad coming at him, and Sam using what he learned in boxing at the gym to protect his head and get Dad in a lock hurt way down. Sam knew that when he was 10 and his Dad started drinking he was too young to have to play the big guy. When his Dad had been drunk and hit him he had hit him way too hard, but Sam was proud of his Dad for having stopped drinking and Sam didn’t want Suzie-Q to think bad about his Dad. When Sam’s Mom left his Dad when Sam was 10, that was worse than getting hit. Sam put his Mom on a pedestal in his memory. Sam’s Mom was beautiful and smart and used to make Sam laugh all the time. Sam’s Mom had had a temper but she never took it out on Sam. Sam had memories of being kissed all over his face the night Sam’s Mom left home. He thought he knew why his Mom had left his Dad, who was kind of square. Sam thought he was more like his Mom than like his Dad. He still thought one day she would just show up at the door unannounced and take him away, for one day or one week or forever, but Sam had not heard any news at all from his Mom since she left when he was 10. Now Sam was almost 15, and however much he felt close to his Mom whom he remembered like you remember the sun of summer in a February rainstorm, Sam defended his father’s honor to everybody.

Silence trickled through the foliage while Sam thought all this through. Suzie-Q waited. “When Mom left Dad and I fought a lot,” Sam finally let out.

“How old were you?” Suzie-Q asked.

“Ten.”

“Why’d she leave?”

“Donno.”

“Do you see her?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Donno.”

Another silent breeze swept in. Suzie-Q broke it this time. “My Mom left when I was six.”

“Why?”

“I donno.”

“Do you remember her?”

“Yeah.”

“What was she like?” Sam really wanted to tell Suzie-Q what his Mom was like. He never got to do that, cause everybody he knew only ever said mean things about her. He thought Suzie-Q might get it, since her Mom left too. He listened while Suzie-Q trickled through the formations of her memory.

“She was quiet and docile and very pretty. She played hymns on the piano, and we sang.” Suzie-Q never talked about her Mom either, so now she remembered things she didn’t know she knew. “Sometimes she would stop speaking for several days.” Suzie-Q glanced up at Sam to see if he saw the thing. She hadn’t remembered it on her own. Sam saw it.

Suzie-Q shifted out of herself. “But you must remember more things about your Mom.” Sam began to describe his Mom like he remembered her. Sam and Suzie-Q tiptoed past the sacred mountain.



© 2011 Gee Roughin


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Author

Gee Roughin
Gee Roughin

Cairo, Egypt



About
Before spending seven years writing Paranoid Wasp, I studied literature at Wheaton College (IL), Yale University and the University of Chicago. I moved to Paris in 1999. In addition to ten years in Fr.. more..

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