I asked: they answered.
During National Book Week I challenged people to grab the closest book, turn to page 56 and post the 5th sentence.
Then I promised I would write a story using all of the sentences. And there were 35 disparate sentences!
It was a challenge, but here’s the result! The sentences I received are in italic. (Thanks to all who provided the sentences. I note your names on my Facebook.)
I got closure years ago. Or at least I thought I had. But now it stimulated me to wonder about my father’s life on the outside.
Before his imprisonment my dad took a long look at her, turned to my mom and said “she’s too good for him”.
But my mother defended her son’s choice of Bethie, who was tough as nails and thin as a twig.
My dad thought Bethie wouldn’t care about his opinion. But Bethie did care.
And despite having banished the thought of my father ever returning, my guess is he’s watching us right now.
I remember the day when my brother brought Bethie home to meet us.
In the days before his imprisonment my father tried to make Bethie see that my brother’s station in life was far below hers. He’d waited for some kind of reaction from her. Instead, she’d sat like a bird in a gilded cate, watching his reactions.
He wasn’t about to give up. One couldn’t help what he’d been born into. He kept pressing and pressing until my brother Holden could take it no more. He scooped Bethie up into his arms and stormed out of the house.
The family stood silently. That was what they had been expecting.
They say your central nervous system is like a command centre, and it has an extremely complex design to communicate with your body. Perhaps that’s why I feel so drained: like a sieve to be left with just seeds. But since thought creates reality I know I must switch my thoughts and forget about those exchanges from long ago, and convince myself it’s as if it never existed. Those memories, they seemed but shadows now. I needed to remain steadfast in the belief that, human and divine, we give birth to our higher self.
Not all Clark’s were destined for church, however. And that’s likely why my father, Reginald Clark, was destined for prison.
My mother, full of faith, quoted a line from a book saying “I will go down to Egypt with you and I will surely bring you back again”. She never said prison. She called it Egypt. I thought at the time you better kiss your man before you go to sleep because prison might just as well be as far away as Egypt.
Has she been there recently?
I’ll never know because she never spoke of her visits to her Egypt, nor of her visits to our father once he was released from prison…except for one instance.
My father’s cell mate was nicknamed Turks, and he was released on the same day as my father. My mother described how one time when she went to the cabin that Turks and my father shared, she surprised them both with her arrival. She recounted that Turks stood there, waiting, every sense alert, a big man, well over six feet, and his broad powerful shoulders heavy with muscle under a woolen shirt. It was clear that here too, lands may be had for the asking and forests of timber with a few blows of the axe are hewn and framed into houses. But my mother said it was less of a house and more of a ramshackle cabin: hardly fit for two grown men.
When my mother asked how two men could coexist in such a small place, she was reminded of the size of the prison cell they’d previously shared. “So instead of moving out, we tried to make a bedroom with bunks in it look like an acceptable place for two grown men to live”, Turks explained. “And nobody’s bringing JCB’s to crush our basti.”
My mother had no idea what Turks meant by that, and she never asked. And that was the only story she ever told me about my father and Turks.
They say that every time you go on a summer holiday you adapt to heat. And I guess the same holds true in life. You adapt to the circumstances that life throws at you. And in that thought, that’s where I found the haystack needle.
I’d spent so much time wondering about my father until I believed I’d gotten closure. The thought that he and I could ever reconnect was like thinking of the end of a battle, where only intervention by the United Nations brought an uneasy peace and a deeply divided county. And there was no one to intervene. Not my mother. Not my brother. And certainly not Bethie.
I hadn’t thought much about Holden and Bethie lately. I know from my mother that they live in home filled with art from Japan, and they buy Japanese black and gold lacquer boxes together for their parallel collections: they start their love affair with Japan. Like we season with salt and pepper our meals, they apparently season their home with trinkets and artifacts, like the Female winter with dark wings, white face, dark cheek spot that my mother spoke of. She said it was as if it looked right through her, but of course, she said “I don’t think it saw me”. Even still “I kept leaning over and smelling her to see if I could recognize her scent or anything familiar about her.”
Now my mother, she never said too many shameless things, just coyly suggesting the colours she liked for a kitchen when asked by my brother. But her fascination with the statue was more than strange.
I remember when Holden and I were young and a stranger called out to him: “Holden” a woman walking toward him down the corridor said “what’s up?”
We’d looked at each other, confused by the question and the person, and kept on walking.
In later years I thought perhaps this had been a philosophical question: like she knew something that let alone companions, colleagues or, heaven forbid, influences on human leadership potential leaders would ask.
And that brought to mind a funny line I’d once read in a book: “Bless my insurance policy” said Dill, hooking his thumbs through invisible suspenders.
Maybe life is held up by those invisible suspenders, and our insurance policy is to live this moment nobly, passionately and with love.
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