“Okay, time for bed,” Adina said to Wesley, her son. She looked over his shoulder to see what he was looking at on the computer screen. It troubled her. “Why are you looking up that word?”
“Aunt Naomi said you won’t tell me what it means so I decided to look it up. It was going to be my name. Does it make you upset?”
Adina pulled the plug out of the wall and the computer screen went black. “That big mouth aunt of hers. I’m surprised she didn’t tell you what it meant. I told her to never mention that name again.”
“She said you were going to name me that.”
“Did you do your arithmetic?” Adina asked.
“You’re changing the subject.”
“ I can do that. Did you do your arithmetic?”
“I’m past arithmetic. I did my multiplication, on the ride home on the school bus. And before you ask, yes,I did my history and science homework too,”
Wesley said as he went to the bathroom to brush his teeth.
She followed him.
“You know I’m the teacher’s pet in all my classes.”
She stood behind him as he looked at his self in the mirror. She smiled at him.
“I don’t know where you get your brains from, ‘cause your daddy and me, well, I barely got D grades, and your father flunked out when he when was in the 11th grade.” She ran her fingers long the direction of the waves in his hair. She looked at his dark black skin.
“Aunt Naomi said I don’t look anything like him.”
She kissed the crown of his head. “You have his eyes.”
Looking at his eyes as he stared at his reflection in the mirror, she remembered the last time she saw his father’s eyes. It was the evening she told him he was going to be a father; that she had been pregnant for three months and didn’t want to say anything until the beginning of the second trimester, since she had had miscarried within the first trimester, several times in the three years they had been married. She wanted to be careful this time. She remembered thinking that if looks could kill then she would have been pulverized within seconds. It confused her. She remembered their discussions about having a child, how he needed to get a better paying job so that they could move out of their apartment and get a house with a bedroom for a baby. Then she began to wonder if maybe she was doing all the talking and he was just listening. She watched as he studied his reflection. “But you have my nose, my high cheekbones, you even have my forehead. Even when you frown, I see myself in you. You look like me and granddaddy mostly.” She wrapped her arms around him and gave him a big hug. “Sorry.”
“For what?” He asked, not looking back at her as he left the bathroom. She followed him to his bedroom, and she sat down on the right side of his bed as he walked over to the left side to get a book that was on his nightstand.
“Sorry for pulling the plug.”
“Read me a story.”
She took a deep breath, watching her son as he lifted his legs onto the bed and pulled the covers over them. It’s time for him to know. No, it’s not. I should tell him. I wish Naomi would have kept her mouth shut. Damn. What if he asked me again? What will it hurt?I’m gonna have to explain it one of these days. No, I’m not—
“Mommy? Mommy? You all right?”
She looked at him suddenly, smiling. “Sorry, again.” She remembered what he had asked her.
“Once upon a time, there was this king, and he had a little boy named Wesley. Wesley was the strongest boy in all the land. He had a brother that was older than him, his name was Henry. Henry was jealous because even though he was older and better looking, or so he thought, he thought the girls would have liked him more, but no, they liked Wesley, because he was able to slay dragons that Henry would run away from.”
“My name was supposed to be Berihun. It’s Ethiopian for Let Him Guide Us,” he said, interrupting his mother.
Adina made a heavy sigh and began clenching her fists. That woman does not like me. I can’t believe she told him what we, well, what I was going to name him.
She started the story again, each word said more deliberately as if to serve an individual effect. This time she watched her son as he pulled the covers tightly up his neck. She stood up, turned off his nightlight, and began pacing from his bedroom window to his bed. Each time she went to the window she looked outside. It was dark. They lived out in beyond the city limits where the next neighbor was 5 miles away. In the darkness of the room, she looked at her son. “Once upon a time, there was this king, and he had a little boy named Wesley. Wesley was the strongest boy in all the land. He had a brother that was older than him, his name was Henry. He didn’t know Henry existed, but he showed up one day. Wesley was jealous because Henry was very very tall and very good looking, and all the girls began flocking to him and they wanted nothing to do Wesley. Wesley was humiliated. Even his mother began singing the praises of Henry, constantly asking Wesley why he couldn’t be more like his older brother. One day, Wesley decided to.” “—Mommy I don’t like this story. It sounds mean, and scary.”
Adina ignored him. “One day, Wesley decided to kill himself. He couldn’t take it anymore, and he mentioned it to his best friend Sinclair. He thought Sinclair would be upset and would try to talk him out of it, but not only did Sinclair agree suicide was the best option , but he also suggested Wesley take a jump off of a cliff.”
“Sinclair wouldn’t do that! He’s my best friend! Wesley covered his face with his blanket. Talking with his face covered ,he yelled, “I told you, nothing scary!”
She ignored him again. “Once upon a time I had what I thought was a great marriage. I thought he loved me, but somewhere along the way, I realized he didn’t.”
Wesley removed the blanket from his face. He began to lay on his right side facing her. He took a deep breath. “Why would you do that?”
Adina didn’t respond.
“You blame me. I know you do. You always have.”
The silence angered Wesley. He took another deep breath before calmly saying, “I can tell a scary story too,” he said. “I know what scares you.”
“What scares me?”
“That you’ll never find a man who will love you as much as God or granddaddy or I do.”
This boy is smarter than I give him credit.
“How do you know?”
"I’m aware of a lot more than you think.”
God, only you know that. How did he know?
“Who are you?” Adina asked her son.
“Sometimes you think I’m asleep but I hear every word you say.”
“Who do you think you hear me talking to?”
“Granddaddy. I lay in bed, pretending to be asleep and I hear you both talking to each other.”
“I don’t talk to your father’s father.”
“I don’t know him. I mean granddaddy.”
“But my daddy’s dead. You know he’s dead. I told you he died nine years ago when you were 2.”
“Why did you runaway to New York?”
“How did you know I ran away? Is your aunt Naomi running her big mouth like she’s not supposed to?”
“She didn’t tell me. You were 17 at the time, he was 26, and you and daddy ran away from Mississippi to New York City and got married. Granddaddy was upset. He thought you were smart enough not to follow after some man, to a city you’ve never been before. Oh yeah, that’s right you were pregnant, but something happened to the baby after you got married. You miscarried? Is that what they call it when you lose a baby?”
Naomi didn’t know this. Henry and I kept this a secret. How the hell does he know?
“ Daddy didn’t want me.”
“That’s a lie!”
“You know Daddy didn’t want me.”
“He did! He was happy he was going to be a father. I promise!” Adina sat down on the side of the bed facing him. She extended her hand to caress his left cheek but she withdrew it, changing her mind.
“Then why did he hang himself the day after he found out you were pregnant again, with me, if he was so happy? You had come back from the store with a grocery bag. You found him hanging by a clothesline made into a noose, from the balcony and the bag fell to the floor, eggs cracking, a ketchup bottle breaking, creating what looked like a puddle of thick blood with shards of glass. The first thing you saw were his legs dangling in the air like dead fish. He was so happy that he had to hang himself?”
“You’re scaring me! How do you know this?”
He laughed at her.
“I told you I could scare you!”