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English Exercise 4.1

The keen, cold wind cuts my face as it blows past me from multiple directions. Today is the coldest day of the year, so cold that my gloves fail to insulate my hands from the biting temperature. I reluctantly slide up my coat sleeve, exposing as little skin as possible to the air, to check my watch for the time. It is thirty minutes passed noon. Thirty minutes passed the time Carl and I agreed to meet here on these front steps, and thirty minutes too long, I have waited for him to arrive. Neither of us is allowed to enter the apartment without the accompaniment of a lawyer, too many disagreements on what belongs to whom and who cares to take the leftovers. Carl finally arrives with his lawyer, walking up the sidewalk from the corner of the street.

“What took you so long,” I questioned as I stood from the concrete steps, “You were supposed to be here nearly an hour ago.”

“Traffic,” Carl answered nonchalantly as he pulled a cigarette from his pocket and began lighting it. “Didn’t you see us walking from the end of the street? There was hardly any place to park.”

Annoyed, “Did you see me sitting here on these steps?! My ass is nearly frozen numb from waiting so damn long.”

Carl inhales his cigarette and aims the smoke away as he exhales, indifferent to my obvious frustration.

I exclaimed, “I have other shit to do today! Put that damn cigarette out and let’s get inside already.”

I turn and begin climbing the steps to the front door. Carl and his lawyer follow behind, leaving distance between them and me.

We enter the apartment, which looks like it was ransacked with miscellaneous furniture and decorative pieces lying around all over the place. I spot the mocha finished end table and walk over towards it as I pull the sticky notepad out of my pocket along with the sharpie pen. Scribbling my name on the note, I slap it down on the tabletop as my fingers slide side to side, pressing down firmly on the adhesive. I turn to Carl and see his amused look on his face from witnessing what I just did.

“This was my mother’s table, which she gave to me when we moved into this place,” I curtly stated.

“Sticky notes,” Carl responds rhetorically, and then he passes me heading into the last room we have yet to rummage.

I falter slightly, and then follow behind him, slipping the sticky notes and sharpie back into my pocket. As we approach the bedroom door, coldness fills the room. Signs that say “Keep Out,” “Enter if you DARE,” and “No Trespassing” still cover the door as they would of any room that belonged to a teenager. Carl rests his hand on the doorknob and a weight presses heavy on my heart as I inhale a deep breath.

Many times I had come to this door.  Usually it was followed by my hollering at Trey to turn down the music he always played at volumes so high I could hardly hear myself think. Other times I was carrying over the basket of laundry or carrying out dirty dishes. Recently, he was practicing the guitar Carl was teaching him to play. It was originally my grandfather’s, but I was never one to play an instrument. That was Carl’s and Trey’s thing.

Trey had been accepted to University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth and was excited to be living on campus. He was all signed up to be the first guitarist in the college band. Been practicing all summer for the first fall concert. I got used to falling asleep to him playing over and over again. We always knew he was going to be a musician, Carl and me, since we first made him a guitar out of an empty tissue box and toilet roll with rubber bands. He strummed them so hard the bands would always break before he could learn the chords. “Kid’s all grown,” Carl said to me one evening in the parlor, both of us sipping on a glass of cheap red wine, while we were discussing his college loans. We were worried about having to take a second mortgage on the house, or moving into a small condominium. We never did live in that great of a neighborhood, being in Dorchester. That was six months ago, and what was a big deal then has now become the least of my worries.

There were cardboard boxes stacked up against the wall. Each of them had their own label, “clothes,” “books,” “electronics,” “everything else.” There were clothes laid out all over the wooden floor like a bomb went off in his closet. A messy pile of old graded essays laid on top of his desk. He always enjoyed creative writing, was good at it too. Some of his stories were better than the ones I would read to him when he was a boy. “Mama is there a better story,” Trey would always ask when he wasn’t content with my book choice of the day. A maroon pullover sweatshirt hung on his wall above his bed that read “UMASS DARTMOUTH” across the front. He was waiting for moving weekend to wear it. I thought it was silly for him to hang it on the wall when it could have been nicely folded in his dresser. I always complained that putting nails through it would make holes that would never go away. There it was, leaning against the nightstand by his bed, the oak wood guitar, which became Trey’s graduation present, couldn’t afford much else.

Carl rests his hand on my shoulder as I look up at him. He is looking at me with a consoling expression. He must have noticed my weary eyes sink in at the sight of our son’s room, exactly the way he left it when he went out that night to play basketball with his friends at the nearby court two blocks away. I was in the middle of cooking pasta and sauce for dinner when I felt tempted to clean up the mess. I could never understand how boys could leave such a mess, but I decided to leave it there to teach him a lesson that I wouldn’t always be here to pick up after him.

Carl slowly walks into the bedroom stepping on the creaky planks that always let us know when Trey was up getting a late night snack. Teenage boys and their appetites. I follow him in, lightly placing my foot to avoid the creak. We both make our way over to the guitar. My hand trembles as I extend it towards the neck of the guitar. My fingers gently glide over the strings creating screech caused by friction. I pull away quickly, afraid to break it. My vision blurs as my eyes flood with water and pour over as a stream of tears flow down my cheek. I turn my face away pulling a tissue out from my pocket. I got into the habit of keeping tissues handy, for things like this.

“You should take this,” I softly say to Carl, my face still turned.

“It’s your grandfather’s.”

“It was always yours and Trey’s thing. I wouldn’t feel right with it.”

Carl reaches into his back pocket and pulls out the worn wallet that I gave him for our tenth anniversary three years ago. He opens the trifold and reaches into the side pocket. He pulls out a photo of Trey and reaches his hand toward me. “Take this.”

It was the only photo we had of Trey of his senior year. He was propped up on a stool with the guitar in his lap, his fingers ready to strum a tune. I remembered that day clearly as if it were yesterday. I hollered, “Don’t go out looking like a street thug. Throw on some decent clothes.” He was already halfway out the door rushing off to school in those black baggy sweatpants he always wore even though the sun was hotter than a chili pepper that day. At least he had his hair cleaned up. I thought to myself.

A tear drops down on the photo. “Ah!” I quickly wipe the photo dry with my coat sleeve. Carl brushes my hair back behind my ear and rests his hand on my chin lifting my gaze up to him. He gives a sincere smiling gesture. I just now notice his eyes are bloodshot also. For the first time since that night, he pulls me in close to him. My head nuzzles into his leather coat as he embraces me in a tight squeeze. I can no longer fight the emotions stirring up inside me. My cries get louder and my tears come down faster as Carl holds me, consoles me, like he did the night we watched the ten o’clock news.

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