by 50K or bust
Third person limited- Some secrets should be told
“Anthony I want you to go to college. We’re saving for that. Each month I put money away for tuition and books. We live on the rest of what I make. There isn’t enough for you to buy every new video game that comes out.” Ann leaned heavily on her folded arms.
“Mom,” Anthony started to wail a protest.
“Don’t! I’m tired. I have to work a double shift tomorrow. I need my sleep.”
“Mom, are you going to sleep at the table? What about my dinner?” He walked around the table and opened the oven door. It was cold. He opened the refrigerator, there was no plastic containers of food left over or sitting in a store wrap waiting to be prepared. “There’s nothing to eat.”
“Grab a peanut butter sandwich for now.” Her voice was faint.
“Forget it.” He muttered and heard the soft snore from the buried head. “I need money.”
Even though he knew she wouldn’t wake, he tiptoed up the steps and opened her bedroom door.
The bedspread had been a staple to her decor since he was a baby. Many of his pre pubescent pictures were taken on the colorful cloth. He’d once asked why she kept it.
“It’s a reminder of good times.”
“What good times?”
She would pat his head and just smile. A little sadly, but it was a smile. He loved her smiles. There were rarely in view now days.
He checked every drawer, but only managed to find a five dollar bill. He felt under the mattress. His fingers touched something. Not money, but something small and hard, metal. He pulled it out. A key. An odd looking key.
His eyes took in everything in his mother’s room. There wasn’t a box or chest that looked like it needed a key. He crawled to the closet and began to move her shoes, a tub of clothes she couldn’t throw out. Curious he opened the tub and lifted some of the clothes.
They were long pieces of bright colored material. Some soft as silk, others so shear he could see clearly through them.
“What did she do with this stuff. it looks like what a belly dancer might wear.” Running his hands further down he found the coin girdle and matching head piece. There were more filmy veil like pieces. He sat back on his heels.
He let go a word that if heard by his mother would get his mouth washed out for sure. “She wore this stuff?” He couldn’t picture his mother in this get up. She didn’t have a bad figure. She wasn’t fat. In fact his friends thought she was pretty hot. He fingered the material again and shook his head. “Nope, I can’t see her dancing in this.”
He folded the fabric as best he could and snapped the lid on the tub. When he pushed it back into place it wouldn’t go all the way to the back. Something prevented it from touching the back of the closet. He pulled the tub out and found a wooden box. Setting it on the bed he turned it over to find a key hole that resembled the key he’d just found.
Inside were pictures. Old faded ones. Not like ones he’d seen at his grandparent’s house. These were the ones that developed while you watched. He remembered some of his baby pictures were the same kind.
The pictures were of his mother and a man. A man dressed in an outfit like India men wore, or maybe it was Arab men. A tunic that came down to the man’s knees and wide pants. There were other pictures of the man in regular clothes. There were some of him and friends, then pictures of the man and his mom.
“Is this my dad?” He spoke the words aloud then clamped his lips closed. Turning the pictures over there was a name written in marker. Tarque Azazi. 1990
In another envelope he found pictures of his mother in the belly dancer costume on Tarque’s lap. Another of them kissing. The others were more than he wanted to see of his mother and stuffed them back in the paper. Who was this man?
Folded up at the bottom of the box was a paper. It was his birth certificate. He noticed the difference right away from the one she had given him.
This one had Tarque Azazi written it where it said father. Born: Bagdad, Iran
Anthony sat frozen on the bed. When he could move he kept one of the pictures of the man, put all the rest away and locked the box. He returned everything to the way he found it.
In his room he opened his laptop and googled Tarque Azazi, then printed everything he could find on him.
A week later he mailed a letter to his father. After a month of no response, he mailed another letter to the man.
During the time he waited for an answer he tried to quiz his mother for answers. He already knew her canned responses. This time he changed the questions.
“Mom, what did you do for fun in college? I hear Berkley is a pretty wild place.” Her slow smile gave him some courage. “So you must have hit the party time then?”
She raised her eyebrow at him with that look. “Hey, I was just asking. I’ll be there in just a few years. I think I’m old enough to hear the truth.” He stared at her and she returned the look. He held his breath, would she think he was on to something?
“What you do after you’re eighteen is something I can’t control. I can tell you that the choices you make knowingly or accidentally may sometimes have the same consequences, so be careful.”
“Like you did having me? What’s my father really like?” He kept his expression open and just curious.
She frowned, “We’ve talked about this. I told you what he looked like.”
“What does he do now? Do you ever keep track of him?”
“No! and you will never attempt to find him.” The response was harsh.
“Its a little hard when there is nothing listed on my birth certificate. No name or anything.”
He saw her shoulders drop a little, “I’m sorry. It was something I did knowing the risks. I shouldn’t have, but I thought the outcome would be different.”
“Did you think he would marry you?”
She gave a slight shrug. “I thought there might be more between us. I guessed wrong. He disappeared and I never saw him again.”
“You didn’t even try to find him?”
There was a long pause, “Honey, there are somethings I just don’t feel comfortable talking about. He didn’t want anything to do with us and let’s just leave it at that. You have your uncles and Grandpa to take you fishing and camping. You don’t need someone who didn’t care about us.” She ruffled his hair and left the room.
He hoped she wouldn’t be too mad if she found out he’d tried to contact the man.
After three more letters with no answer, Anthony was frustrated. He’d even tried to call the number where he thought the man worked. When he was finally connected with someone who could speak English, no one knew who he was talking about.
After baseball practice, the bus let him off at the end of the driveway. Anthony frowned when he saw his mother’s car parked in front of the garage. She always parked inside then went into the house through the connecting door. She was supposed to be at work.
The front door was locked and he used his key to get in. There were no lights in the living room or hall. A faint beam peeked through the crack at the kitchen door.
“Mom?” He dropped his duffle bag and school bag on the floor in the hall by the stairs then pushed the kitchen door open.
His mother sat facing him at the table. A bottle of alcohol sat next open next to a glass half filled with an amber liquid.
“Mom?” His tone went up at the end. More than a simple question. This was concern and censure for the contents on the table.
He’d seen the bottle in the back of the pantry and measured the level every day. She kept it to a glass a day at first , but the bottle was replaced almost every other day for the last two weeks. “Are you ok?”
Her voice wasn’t slurred. Her eyes were clear and piercing. He sat. She pulled a large manila folder from her side of the table and sat it before him, the address side up.
It bore her name and address. A number of stamps cancelled across the top and the single word, IRAN caused his blood to cool to a molasses like crawl.
“You know what’s in here?” Her finger tapped the top.
“Ah,Um, I’m not sure.” He hedged, just in case he was wrong. He didn’t want to spill any of his own secret.
“This arrived just before I left for work. When I opened it, you can imagine the shock I had to see a number of letters written to a Tarque Azazi.” Her voice hardened as she spoke. “Where did you get his name and how did you find were he was?”
Anthony took a deep breath. Before he could speak she continued, “I was a little worried when you were asking questions about your father, but I put it down to curiosity. Now I see that you were on a fishing expedition. How did you find his name?”
“Saw it somewhere.”
She slammed her hand on the table causing Anthony to jump. “Where did you see his name!”
“In a box in your closet.”
“So you’ve been snooping in my things. Going through my drawers? I guess you found what you were looking for.”
Anthony looked up at his mother’s face. It was a lot thinner than before. Her hands shook a little as they held the glass to her lips. She took a large swallow and grimaced.
“Why are you drinking so much? You never have more than a glass of wine for Christmas or New Years at Grandma’s house.”
She set the glass down a little too hard and leaned forward, her elbows on the table. “Your stunt has caused quite the uproar. It happened at the worst time possible for you and me.” She leaned back in the chair her head resting on her shoulders. “We are screwed.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
He watched for some sign of forgiveness. It didn’t come. “I have to tell you the whole story. I didn’t want to. I wanted you to be the wonderful, loving boy I gave birth to. I see that spoiling you was the worst thing to do since you went behind my back and stole from me, rifled through my things without asking and now this is what has happened.”
Anthony, I was a wild girl when I went to college. I hoped you wouldn’t take up my ways and bad choices.” She pulled her head up and he saw a slight up turn in the corners of her mouth. She almost looked like she did when he was younger. “I was pretty once. Sexy is more like it. I knew how to turn a head and I was easy. Something I’m not proud of at all. I’ve done my best to raise you to be respectful of women and treat them right. I wasn’t. I was abused when I was young by someone who isn’t around anymore so his name need never be mentioned.
I met Tarque when I was hired to tutor him. Yes, I was smart. Straight A’s even when I was partying. I never played before getting my assignments in.
He was a cousin to the son of a Sheik. They were in the USA for studies and to get a degree. I tutored him in academics and he tutored me in the art of lovemaking.” She didn’t look at Anthony. His face warmed as she talked. He wanted to know about his father, it wasn’t the romantic story he thought it would be.
“One day I went to tutor him and he wasn’t there. I went to his house, I’d never been inside as we always met at my apartment or on campus. I’d followed him once. I see that’s were you got your deviousness. When the houseman came to the door I was ordered to leave and never return. Body guards escorted me off the compound. I went to the consulate and asked where Tarque was, why he wasn’t in school. I got paid to teach him and that money came in handy to pay for classes and books.
“Did you find him?” Anthony interjected when the pause lengthened.
“I was told he had to leave the country suddenly. Later I heard he was in a hit and run accident and he killed someone. Since he was related to the Sheik, he and his cousin were whisked out of the country. I never saw him again.”
“I’m sorry Mom.” Anthony felt her pain of rejection.
“I had you. No thanks to my parents who wouldn’t lift a finger for me. After I graduated, they were proud of me, but told me I should have had an abortion. Me!”
Anthony smiled. His mother was as conservative now as she was anti-establishment then. She must have loved him a lot before he was even born.
“Yes, I loved you. No, I don’t read minds, I read faces. I made one last attempt to contact Tarque through the consulate. I got a letter from a lawyer to meet him at his office.”
“So he did care.” Anthony’s hopes rose.
“The lawyer handed me a contract. I would receive a set amount of money for your care and a set amount for your education--”
“All this this time he’s been sending money and I never knew?” Anthony stood, his face reddened. “You never told me? I never got to thank him!”
“Sit down and let me finish.” She pointed back at his chair. Anthony flopped down on the wooden seat.
“I’d get a set amount for your education. Now listen Anthony! AS LONG AS I OR YOU NEVER, NEVER HAD ANY CONTACT WITH HIM. If there was any contact made the contract would be voided. Guess what, your college isn’t paid for yet. There’s money but not enough.” She stood and pulled a chair closer to him and put her hand on his arm.
“Anthony look at me.” He turned to face her, “That isn’t the worst. I found out this morning that I have pancreatic cancer. Its fast spreading and I have maybe six weeks to two months to live. You will be alone. I’m sorry for that. All the money we received through the years to keep this house and keep us fed was from him. I don’t make enough to buy you toys like video players, computers and games. All that is gone. The envelope contains all your letters unopened and a note from the lawyer that the contract was broken. No further money will be sent.”
Anthony listened as the words rushed around his head forming and reforming to provide the picture of what his actions has caused. All he’d wanted was to hear from his father, to know the man knew who he was and cared. Now it was all gone. The man didn’t want anything to do with him. Paid money to keep him away. Worst of all he was going to be alone. No mother to talk to. No one to care.
Hot anger like fire spread through his veins. “If you would have been honest with me none of this would have happened.” He jump up knocking the chair over. “I hate you for that.”
“If you wouldn’t have been a sneak and a thief, you’d have never had to find this out until I died. Take your pick who was the worst offender?” She stood and gasped clutching her side. Hanging on to the table and chair, then the wall, she made her way to the living room where she collapsed in the chair.
Anthony heard her crying mixed with groans of pain. He picked up his jacket and headed out the door into the dark.