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  • An Angel in a Tree on Peckham Rye
  • Fred D'Aguiar (bio)

Your stepfather says, as he peers at you over his half-rimmed spectacles, whether you are in or out of earshot, eyesight, within reach or beyond him, in hindsight and with foresight, that you have hard ears, your skull is numb, and you don't show respect for anyone or anything, and because of all three wrapped up in your one beany body, that makes you ugly as sin, inside and out, a bad spirit, an assault on his four eyes.

Child, get out of my sight.

You wear jeans that hug your hips and low-slung trousers, a baseball cap pulled low over your forehead, shirts and boxer-shorts instead of blouses, skirts, thong, or any kind of stringy thing and no make up to break up except the moisturizing cream your mother tells you black skin needs as a feed or it turns white and cracks if left untended in northern grey climes, cream you apply like a nutrient from the top of your head to the tips of your never painted toes after your daily ablutions to remove the city's pollution.

Your stepfather parks himself by the front door of his rented first, then purchased later, council house, and waits for you. He questions you with his usual over the rim gaze and barrage about where you think you are heading and when you intend to grace his house with your return.

What hour you call this?

Such disbelief pickles his tone that you look up at the kitchen clock. You wonder did you fall asleep, the whole house in fact, but only you wake hours later and dress and head for the door without realizing dawn will soon rear its brittle head.

Where is your mother at these times? In your head as the one you bring up to counter him, her words against his.

Girl you should study your books.

Your English teacher says you good at it, your only good subject.

You have imagination. Don't throw away your brains.

But what does he know? He pours praise on this of all places. He keeps saying good must be here in this town of rundown scorn. If a poet found it here nearly three hundred years ago it has to be so.

Some crazy poet's vision. Beauty on these streets? Never. Not here. Devils replaced angels long ago. Where is her mother anyway? At the residential care center in New Cross cleaning up after her clients. In the next room running the hoover to Motown soul. In bed unable to sleep and so very still her head wrapped in a cloth soaked in Linseed oil with one of her atomic headaches that everyone must tiptoe around.

Answer me, child. [End Page 27]

You answer the frown, grumpy ass, and misery bollocks as you variously call your bullfrog big belly Stonehenge crackpot step-up two-down no-good stepfather behind his back, and way out of earshot. You answer in an even tone deliberately pitted against his bullhorn challenge of you. But tonight or this early morning it is your head that hurts and his voice tramples all over you leaving muddy footprints. Before you can stop your tongue, this instrument you train before a microphone starts to play its own tune, you blurt out that you are not his daughter and it's none of his bomber-cloth business. His eyes widen. His jaw drops. He harrumphs. He jumps up from his chair and his newspaper, with the horseracing times and odds circled for his stop at the betting shop after work, flies from his lap along with his spectacles. And he grabs you. You're in a grapple with him now, a kind of dance, trying to keep your balance, partnered by his unruly bulk. He fights you like you match his 6 feet 2 and two hundred fifty pounds. You spin with him, pushed by him and you both tumble and bump into the stove the fridge the table and scatter chairs. You tip over and he topples with you to the ground. He shouts in your face...


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pp. 27-40
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