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Callaloo 25.3 (2002) 753-758

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On Fridays

Amina Lolita Gautier

My mother entered first. Thick smoke met us at the front door, followed by the sound of the men. I knew this sound by now. Long after she walked out on us, I'd remember the way the men had laughed and talked trash while they gambled and drank, their booming voices drowning out whatever record was playing in the background, and I'd remember my mother's laughter knifing across the men's voices. My eyes watered and burned the first few moments it took them to adjust to the smoke-filled room. My mother squeezed my hand tightly. Under her breath, she said, "Friday," and in an even lower voice, she huffed, "not again." She turned and locked the door behind us. Those words were only for me, the reiteration of a ritual that has persisted long enough to defy the element of surprise. Yet Fridays still caught her unaware. I could hear it in her voice, the defenseless weariness and anger squeezing through.

On Fridays, a stranger occupied my father's body, lived within his brown skin, used his soft tenor voice. On Fridays, my father's brother, Mike, met him after work to hang out and unwind. They always got stinking drunk and ended up back at our house with a few men itching for a few hands of poker, bid whist or dominos. Fridays were paydays. On Fridays, my father steadily lost the week's money, and the rift separating us three would threaten its way into a chasm.

My mother gave me a quick shove towards the table, then headed for the bedroom so she could change.

The high-backed chair engulfed my father's slight and lanky frame. My mother's side of the family referred to him as "a long drink of water." I thought he was handsome. And serious. He gave me a cursory glance when I stood by his side too close to his cards, his left hand quickly shutting to bring his cards closer together so I couldn't see, his eyes shifting over me with predatory wariness, "Hey baby." He pulled my hat from my head and ruffled my frizzy bangs. My hair had been pressed before the snow made contact with it. Now it blossomed all over my head in an unruly bush. He pulled me close, so close that I caught the soured scent of the cheap beer he drank. "Dad's winning," he winked and pushed me away.

"Hey! Don't be using the child to cheat, man." Uncle Mike spoke two or three octaves higher than everyone else. He burst into great gusts of laughter at his own joke and the other two men who filled out the table laughed along with him.

My father said, "Go take your coat off and hang it up to dry." I walked away from their laughter and headed towards the bathroom. [End Page 753]

I stalled in the bathroom for as long as I could. I didn't want my mother to think I was still in the living room and come looking for me and I didn't want to go to my own room. The cuffs of my coat were soggy with snow. I slung it over the shower rod to drip into the tub and strained to hear the happenings in the living room.

Uncle Mike's voice was loud above everyone else's. "Betty, what are you doing? It's cold in here, girl!" I knew then that my mother had opened the living room windows to let the smoke out. I couldn't hear her answer and I imagined what she might say and do. She might turn to face my uncle, and say, "You're all lucky I don't throw you out this window I opened! I'm letting some fresh air in here because I can't take the smell of you!" Then she could kick the three men out, excluding my father. She could beat him up, then make him promise not to waste any...


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