A ferocious crash comes from the kitchen. Plate shattering. Sounds like a whole box full.
"What now?" Quinn almost shouts but mutes his voice to a dull roar. She's crying again, we can hear it well enough from our room.
"Nothing." Mom calls back trying to sound normal. "I didn't like those plates very much anyway. Cheesy Guatemalan hand painted..." She trails off to a squeaky muffled cry.
"Are you okay?" Quinn's doing his deep man voice and it always sounds weirdly menacing. He's 17, for freaking sake, not 42.
"Leave her alone, man." I'm 12 but, of the two of us, I've always been the more mature one. "The guy broke her heart."
"She's the one who broke up with him." Quinn's such a freaking hot head.
"Yeah. Still." Mom's an odd bird, yeah. Still, I couldn't explain why, but, he'd broken her heart before she broke his.
Guatemala's been my home ever since I'm 5. We've our friends up at the lake and our place in Antigua. Mostly gringos. So what? There's a lot of ex-pats here. It's my home. I hate her for it. Hate her! Who can hate mom, but? Who can? She's like the coolest mom anyone could ever want. Everyone wants her for a mom. Animals, strange children, grown-up people even. She makes everything all right, everything, even things you can't make all right.
More crashing sounds. This time sounds like she's throwing the plates. Yeah, she's losing it and I hate her, but I can't.
I remember her losing it only one time before. The way it's in my memory, it's like washing your hands when they have tempera paint on them, like water bubbling up colors and making them streak down the drain. I'm 3, maybe 4. Some kids can remember that stuff. I can. I can remember some baby things, too. Anyway, it's before mom and dad split. Dad says something to mom. Then he's yelling at her. He can't stop picking on her. She's at the counter in the old apartment in Cali. And she's cooking while he's laying in on her. She's got this wooden spoon in her hand and she is stirring something. Then suddenly, she puts down the spoon and grabs her ears. He gets closer and yells into one of her hands. She just starts screaming, just screaming louder than anyone ever screams in real life. I start screaming, too. She backs away from him with her hands on her ears just screaming. Dad's quiet for like the first time in a long time. He's frozen there by the stove and she backs away. It's like mom's got a scream ray and he can't move anymore.
I can't stop screaming either. It feels so good to scream. It feels so good and scary. She's leaning against a wall in the dining room screaming. I'm leaning against her screaming. Quinn comes over, he starts screaming, "Mommy, mommy," forever.
Then mom's neighbor friend's banging on door. She yells she's gonna call the police. Dad lets her in. She calms mom down.
Then we are living with mom's sister in New York and we don't see dad for a long time. Then we move to Guatemala. And I've been here ever since.
The suck part is, Quinn's going to Ireland to stay with dad. He's got his TV show there and Quinn's "going to work for the old man." Freaking un-fair. And I'm going to the top of some stupid mountain. Town called Bushnellesville, population 14, all of them related to me. Mom says it's just for a little while till she gets her head on straight. Yeah. Whatever.
It's night time. The boxes went freight yesterday. Last night in the apartemento. We can't bring Gatita with us. She's moving in with Marguerita and Les. Secretly, I love Marguerita and Les. I imagine I am a cat. They have the best house ever.
I'm petting her now. I'm memorizing her. It's just like with reading. I can't read. It's an inherited thing. Every male on my mom's side has it. It's why I homeschool. Quinn had it. It mysteriously disappears when you get puberty. I have puberty, but I still can't read. Quinn could read at 11, here I am 12 and not even a little bit. Mom says, "One day you just will. It's a mystery." But you know what, freaking mysteries are for babies.
Anyway, I am memorizing Gatita. It's my best thing. I can remember everything, except letters and words I see cause they move around. My eyes can't concentrate on them. But everything else I hear, I see, I touch, I smell, I feel, yeah, I can feel things. I don't freaking care if that sounds stupid. I don't mean feel like girl feelings. I mean like stuff you can feel about things that people don't say or explain or that you can't make right in your head. I can feel those things and they make sense to me and I can explain it to people. I don't need mom to tell me I have that, but she has noticed, which is cool.
Gatita is purring. I feel the spot on her neck where it's vibrating, close my eyes and I can feel something in her. She's telling me something about cats, about how they know when things are coming. She knows we are going. She knows she's staying behind.
Mom and Quinn are talking like adults in the empty living room. It's echoing pretty loud. They can't hear me, so I tell Gatita what's going on. "You don't know Les or Marguerita, but they are really cool. Aussies. Really old, but so what. Who cares. They are cool. Been here in Antigua for 23 years. They've got the best place in town. It's mui grande. Hidden behind the old walls. The door is huge with a small door inside the big door from the colonials. Suits of armor and giant axes on pikes, real swords. You never have been to a museum and it's not a cat thing, but it will be a fun place to live. There's a pool
in the living room behind the wood doors with the funny carvings. Don't fall in. You probably can swim, huh? Cat's can, you know. It's natural. Just be careful, right? And you can take the little stairs round and up, and hang out on the roof. You can see Vulcan Agua smoking and Fuego burn and the whole city. Especially good at night. They have a bunch of cats, so I mean, you won't be lonely." She's rubbing her cheek on my fingers and I can feel her tooth, the long thin sharp tooth. I memorize it. The feel on my finger will never leave.
Quinn comes in and gets into bed. Mom comes in too in her night gown.
"Hey Buddy? How are you?" Buddy's not my name. She just calls me that when she's worried about me. She's brushing back the hair from my forehead and really looking at my face the way she does. I hate her for a minute. Then I can't.
"I'm okay." I tell her.
She stops looking at me and goes to Quinn and kisses him goodnight. Quinn lets her be real lovey dovey at night when no one's around but me. "You are so handsome." I hear her say. She really loves to pour on the compliments. I hate her for it but it will be my turn soon and I know I look forward to it every night. I don't want to smile while I listen to her, but, every night she does the same thing and my smile just happens even though I really am trying not to.
"Tomorrow's a big day for me." Quinn says. He's so freaking analytical sometimes. It annoys me a lot. "This is my big chance to prove to dad what I can do."
"Yeah." Says mom but she's anti-dad, doesn't matter how well she puts things. I know she has psychological stuff hidden up her sleeve. "You know what?"
"What?" Quinn falls for this every time.
"I think dad's going to prove to you something." Mom says.
"What?" Quinn asks. I just pet Gatita's tail and feel all the little bones through her fluff.
"That you are doing so great and he's got some skills to work on as a dad and you have a lot to teach him." I don't see mom smile, but I know she's doing her best I-love-you- so-much-smile. She nearly thinks we are perfect.
"Yeah? You think?" He says. Hook line and sinker.
"I know it. I am positively sure of it. Think of all the evidence of your life. Everything points to that conclusion. Just be yourself. You are just exactly who you are supposed to be." She is really convincing, even to me. I think about all the evidence. Quinn is pretty awesome.
"Thanks, mom." Quinn sounds so little for a minute. I glance over at him. Nope, he's still 17 year old Quinn with that stupid foo manchu mustache and goatee, all tall, taking up the whole bed. We both have the long hair, his is yellow and mine is brown. I don't have any face hair. So what, I'm 12. Mom's the one who looks little. What happened to her? Did all the packing make her shrink? I am memorizing anyway, so I know I will never forget them like this.
She bends down and kisses him on the forehead. "I love you, sweetheart."
"I love you, Mom." He says. He looks so happy. I hate him, too.
Then she's coming back by me.
I close my eyes before she can see me and use my man-est voice, "Hey, can you turn out that light, Quinn? I'm trying to sleep."
She's so close sitting on the side of my bed. "So?"
Mom's got my number. She always says that and she's right. She does. "You can hate me. It's normal and healthy." She's whispering so quiet, I feel like tears are going to stab into my eye corners.
"Right." I say as sarcastically as I can. I open my eyes a little. I can't help it.
"I know you." She says pointing a finger onto my chest where I know she means my heart. Would she just cut it out?! I can see her eyes are all watery. She always feels my feelings. It's not fair.
"Don't okay." I roll my eyes. The more she tells me I can hate her, the harder it is.
"When it's time to change, we have to. We can't just stay the same, okay?" She is petting back my hair. I have to close my eyes again. I don't care, I don't care, I don't care. "Emmett," She says my name. I feel so far away. "You are the smartest most wonderful cool kid I know."
Smartest? I hate it when she calls me that. What's so smart about me? I don't open my eyes. "I know, mom." I say. "You love me soooo much. Yeah yeah."
She pets my forehead and kisses me a bunch everywhere on my face but doesn't say another word. It lasts for so long, I can feel myself falling asleep. Whatever.
We are at Quinn's terminal. Our flight's not for another two hours. He's about to board. We are hugging. The three of us.
"I love you guys, so much." Quinn keeps saying to us. I hug him. I don't freaking care what anyone thinks. Anyway, this is Guatemala. Boys hold their mother's hands in the street on Sundays when they are teenagers. Whole families walk hand in hand down the Avenidas. Whatever. We can hug. I keep hugging my older brother.
"Hey man." I say. "Have fun. We can skype."
"I love you, man." Quinn isn't crying. Quinn never cries, but his voice sounds funny.
"You too, man." I say. I think about how whenever dad sees us he always asks us if mom's making us girlie-men. I worry for a sec about Quinn.
It's like we have brother mind powers cause Quinn steps back and puts out his fist. I bump it hard. We do our shake, too.
The lady says it's time to board in spanish, then in english. Quinn slings his bag over his shoulder, salutes mom and walks to the lady with his ticket held out like some kind of hero. He does everything like that. He's a character in his own video game. He looks back and gives me the thumbs up and smiles. He pushes through the doors like an even bigger hero. We watch him on the black runway, walk to his plane. They call it gallant. I've heard people say it before. I know what it means. That's how he is walking. I feel it and I know that's what this is. He's walking gallant. I wonder if he's scared. I am scared watching him. Mom grabs hold my hand. I let her.
We are boarding then. We are taking the short "bump", as mom always calls it, to Miami. The plane's so small, the people are not so many. I don't know how many times we've taken it, but we always ever have met dad in Miami since moving to Guate. I'm thinking about the hotel he always gets. It's a motel really. Near a highway. The walls are made of weird white pebbles that sparkle. Dad calls it retro. I like the pool and the smell of really white small towels. The feeling of the scratchy bed covers, how they slip and stay both at the same time.
The people are piling into their seats. Even a few more starts to make the plane feel super small. They're taking seats and stowing luggage and buckling up and the engines are making sounds so close to my head, one in each ear. Mom's looking out the window. I know she's gonna cry. I see her chin is trying to hold it in but it's moving like any second and she'll be flooding. Then tears down her face.
I close my eyes while the stewardess tells us what to do in case of emergency in Spanish. I am remembering Miami, that I kissed a girl first, last Christmas by the ice machine when Dad was sleeping cause he was up all night working. Nobody knows, not even Quinn. He'd kill me for kissing a girl first. That's what you get for having a Mugin tournament that lasts an entire vacation. Go outside sometimes, man. Live a little.
She was two years older than me. I don't care, take advantage. I think it's cool.
Leslie. She was so cute. I can think about Leslie every single day. How many boners can you get in a single day? Quinn says, "There's no limit." I believe him. Puberty is so weird. The number of times Mom mentions that is also weird. At least she's cool with it. She says, it's the same for girls, just not so obvious. Dad says girls are different than men. It's hard to believe Mom would lie about that. Dad says, she's just trying to make us feel better. I dunno. I think Leslie is like Mom says at least. She needed to kiss me.
Mom grips hold of my hand. I open my eyes and her eyes are closed but the stream of tears is pretty bad. The plane is moving. I squeeze her hand as hard as I can. I can feel she's thinking about Lake Atitlan. I don't know why I know it, I just do.
"Thinking about the lake, Mom?" I say real soft.
Mom nods, like moving her head just hurts too much. I lean in and kiss her cheek. Her tears get on my lips. I wipe em away. I lean back. Press my head hard against the blue cushioned seat and close my eyes. I let Leslie go and remember the lake with Mom, so maybe she won't feel so alone or sorry.
Cherie's the one who got us first to come to Guate. She's got the lake house. We knew her when Mom was a healer up in the mountains in New York. She'd healed everyone there supposedly. They loved her. When Cherie went to her place in Guate, she invited Mom too, so we went. That's how it happened.
You have to take a boat, from Panajachel to get to her place. The houses along the way grip hold the mountain and hang there. When we first took the boat, from a distance, I would think their gonna fall in. Stupid kid shit, really. When you are little, you think everything is scary.
The long wood doc out over the water where Juan-Julio ties the boat is the best place in all of Guate. The lake is so quiet. The sky is mirrored there. Clouds moving forever making shapes. They don't stop. The sky at the Lake, is "dramatic", as Mom would say, "ever-changing," too. Like it can't remain in one place too long. Like it's got to keep moving. Like the clouds are eating each other and swallowing themselves and running crazy across the sky only to fall into another clouds mouth.
All the time the water just waves so small and gentle. Pumice stones float around aimlessly. An old Guatemalan fisherman will be rowing an even old gray boat loaded with green coconuts. His machete on his belt in it's jeweled holster, his gun too, the cowboy hat. He's going across the Lake, as if he's got all day. The lake's wide but he's near the shore. One small boat, just sliding across the glass water, making you think he got there ten thousand years ago and he's been there ever since, only to ride across your eyes where you see him every time when you sit on the doc.
It's one second so calm, you think you are in what people say is heaven. The sound of the buoys bumping against the dock makes you feel like you can never leave. Over and over again, they just hit the wood until you think they are speaking to you a secret but you don't know what it means.
Then when you feel like, "It's so tranquil, I gotta leave and do something else with my life then just sit and watch the Lake," there's a lightening storm across the way in San Lucas. Angry bolts stabbing the tiny city far away. It's like Motorhead suddenly. The thunder in the distance. And you are a Norse God and you stay there as the sun sets and the bats start swooping down and you think about black scorpions hiding under the pantry boxes and fire ants that make a train up the living room wall and the lightening starts to move, closer, like it's coming for you. Then you know you got to go inside and sit in a hammock. Everyone else is reading a book before dinner. But you can't, so you just have a daydream.
We are up in the air then. The pull of the going up has me back in my seat, pressed hard, eyes open and Lake Atitlan is gone. In a few hours we'll be in the states. Miami airport connection to Albany. The mountains there, I can't remember much. Mom lets go my hand. She's wiping her eyes and sniffs a lot. She's looking at me smiling her best, "I'm okay," smile.
"How are you, buddy?" She says. Her eyes are really the prettiest eyes a Mom could have especially after she's cried.
I shrug. I don't know how I am. I don't care. I try to smile, but I can't get the edges of my mouth up. Instead my lips feel like a line's been drawn between them. She puts her hand on my cheek. Soft warm gets in my skin there. Damn her. Now it's my turn to cry.
Miami airport. The place is full of bobble heads. I want to point and laugh. Already so hot and sticky. It's February. It's always this way. Guate is bone dry in winter.
I breathe in the moist. It reminds me of Leslie. She smelled like pool and strawberry shampoo. Her breath was sweet, too. Yeah. Miami.
Mom says it will be deep winter on the mountain. I have no idea what this means, but all I think about when she reminds me this ten times a day is a mush-man in Alaska with a big brown mustache coated in snow and ice. What is a mush-man? I don't know. I think I made the word up but who freaking cares. She tells me so many times, "Just so you are prepared for it." How bad can it be that I have to be so prepared? If she wants me to worry, it's working.
She also tells me, "Uncle Geordie is a strange man, but a good man."
We're basically running through the airport dodging the bobble heads cause the plane was a little late and our next flight is so close in time and we had to get through customs
but she's got to tell me again about Uncle Geordie and about the deep winter. She's calling back for me to catch up and she's saying, "I just want you to be prepared. That's all."
I just shake my head and laugh because she can tell me this on the plane if we make it. We've got hours to get prepared. Maybe she's the one who needs to get prepared for it. I'll be fine. I've seen snow before. I lived in New York before.
We're not going to be in Woodstock this time. I remember Woodstock a little. It was green mostly. And when it was winter it was white. White was nice. But we're not going to Woodstock. We're going to the top of this mountain where Uncle Geordie lives. It's in the next county. Shandaken.
We're in line for check in. We've made it. Mom's getting her tickets ready. It occurs to me suddenly. So I ask her why I've not met Uncle Geordie before.
Mom is shifting around on her feet, biting the inside of her cheek the way she does when she's finding a hard answer. "He's an eccentric. You know, a person who doesn't live by society's rules. He has unique interests and..." She pauses for an extra second. Mom's scanning strangers up and down as if they have words written on them, "...and unique habits." Mom smiles. It's a moment of triumph for her. I know this-- what she's doing. She does it with dad. She does it with people she finds hard to feel entirely good about. "He's a genius really. Not a kind man necessarily, but his intentions are never malicious."
The woman is sending our tickets through the machine that eats them up. We're pressing through the glass doors and walking through the hot sticky blue carpeted tunnel. It's bouncy under my feet. I want to bounce on it. There was a trampoline in our backyard in Woodstock. I suddenly remember Quinn bouncing me. It hits me. We are really going to New York.
"You know," Mom says from by my side. "He doesn't like to leave the mountain much. And I didn't think you guys were old enough to understand him. Anyway, you've got cousins up there, too, right?"
I look at her from the side. The blue carpet walls are strange whizzing past her head and then we're inside the round little room that attaches to the side of the plane. The woman's checking our seat number and pointing. I've never met these cousins. Until a few weeks ago, I'd never heard Mom ever even mention them.
"Black sheep brother cousins, right?" I say, wanting just to twist a tiny dagger in her for a second. Just a quick second, cause I know what she's saying. Cause she's told me. There aren't a lot of people on the mountain. Loggers and family. Black sheep brother family. Old people family. Uncle Geordie, the terrible and black sheep brother with a brood of kids.
I look away and let her feel the sharp and twist as I walk down the strangling aisles.
"Yes. Exactly." She says from behind my left ear. "It's going to suck for sure. So don't make the best of it, okay?"
I decide I won't look at her or speak to her for the rest of the flight. I listen to Motorhead and Black Sabbath on the i-Pod Dad got me for Christmas. Quinn hooked me up. He put some Bob Dylan on there too. Tom Petty, Pink Floyd and the Beatles. I close my eyes and soon she's petting me awake. My head's on her shoulder and a blankets over me. I slept through the whole flight.
"We're here." She says in a happy final way that at least sounds not sad or worried. "Albany airport. We're in New York."
Black sheep brother is in fact named, Hank. He's not black at all. Actually, he's pasty white with masses of freckles trying to join together in hopes of making a tan. His hair, a bushy wiry wild red, compared to Mom's long silky blond version that always looked pinkish orange and like a shiny penny to me.
"Portly" would be the word Mom would use on Hank.
"You made it, Big Sister." He's leaning down hugging her as if he could hang himself over the height of her and put her inside one of his giant pockets. Men weren't this big in Guatemala. Mom couldn't give him a real hug even if she wanted to. His waist is just too big around. I instantly like him.
"Hank, this is my son Emmett." Mom still has an arm half circled about his waist as she opens the other in my direction.
"Get in here," Hank motions a giant meaty hand at me, grabbing at the air a few times where my shoulder is a pace away. One part of me wants to resist but he seems to have telescoping arm powers. Once he gets hold, he pulls me in. It is a Hank, Mom and me sandwich. Too much. He reeks of weird sweat and animals, the way it smelled at La Ronda when I had my riding lessons. Anyway, I still like him. Especially, when he lets me go.
"And so Quinn's gone off to the land of fairies?" Hank says to Mom as he walks toward the baggage claim.
"Yes, odd series of events, actually. Their father doesn't have a drop of Irish blood in him. Though they say the Scots and Irish...you know." I could see Hank raise a brow. Dubious is the word for that eyebrow. "But anyway, it's good for Quinn. Whatever it is that got him there."
Hank growls a long M sound under his breath in an animal and yet questioning way. "And you Emmett? You didn't want to go to the emerald isles?"
Mom looks back. She smiles at me. It is the sorest subject between us aside from her moving us here, back to the states. But she doesn't frown, she smiles encouragingly. She doesn't answer for me either or even give Hank a signal to change subjects. I can't hate her for that. I know, I've got permission to say anything I want.
"Well?" Hank asks waiting for an answer. I'm staring at her as we walk.
"I'm too young. I couldn't go." I say as flat as I could but the ball in my throat appears tight and big anyway.
"Emmett the younger." Hank says in a booming voice. He may as well have announced it to the entire world, but the airport is practically empty. We had a stop over in La Guardia, which somehow I slept through. I guess almost everyone had got off the plane there. It was strange empty. Derelict feeling. Yeah. Derelict.
Hanks voice repeats 'Emmett the Younger,' inside my head a few times. Truer words. He growls again. "Just as well. We have our own fairies on the mountain."
The word "fairies" sounds really weird coming from such a big man's mouth. He's walking as if his legs are having trouble with his own weight on them. Maybe their going to buckle, but they don't. He's taking big side ways wide strides. Hank doesn't seem to notice how absurd it all is. I have to laugh under my breath. Heavy.
Then he is carrying our bags, two giant duffels each as if they were packed with fluff. The truck is a big old cherry red Land Rover caked with packed snow and ice behind each wheel. He has two enormous plaid wet dog smelling wool jackets in the car. We put those on. Mom sits in the back and lets me have the front. I get car sick.
Hank seems incapable of driving over 45. In Guate, the first rule of driving on the winding mountain roads is to put the pedal to the metal. If you're not driving seventy around a crumbling hairpin curve you aren't really alive.
Needless to say, the drive takes forever, but I don't feel like puking either. First it's a grey endless highway. Then a long single road, more grayness going on into the mountains. A few tractor trailers pass us by driving into the oncoming traffic then disappear into a thickening fog. Of course, it's nothing I can't handle. Guatemalan chicken busses are the most insane passers on the planet. Bring it on! I'm so bored.
Finally, Hank pulls us off the road and we begin winding up the mountain. I mean, I think it's the mountain. The mountain as in the one I have heard so much about, but no. This is not it. We drive and drive where there are some houses, a few strange businesses. Tackle and bait. I don't read it but the fish and worm pictures make it obvious. Then the wrench...plumber? There's another place, must be hardware. An
odd little stone house with a neon beer light in it's window and a hand painted sign hanging from the front porch I assume naming it somebody's bar. And there's snow, lots of snow.
Small signs of human life totally disappear and the road we're on seems to narrow and end but no, it just switches from cement to dirt and stones and there's Hank now driving 20 miles per hour, up and up and around, but I appreciate it now, cause the fog's thick and the snow's cramping in up high all around the edges of the car. We're driving up one skinny lane. I gotta open the window. I start to feel sick.
I call from the outside where I am leaning out watching the snowy wilderness pass me slowly by. "What if there's another car coming from the other direction?" I'm finally feeling like we are in some territory of crazy driving, so far, I have nothing to best it with.
"Oh, no, no other cars here. This is our road. This here's the only car." Hank says.
I look back at Mom. She is smiling staring out the window oblivious to what danger we are in. "Well, Big Sister, did you miss it?"
"I didn't know I did, till now, Hank. It's just as beautiful as ever" I know she must really mean it cause she keeps sighing and oh-ing. All I see is snow and trees. A tight wall of mountain keeps winding with us. It has some waterfalls patching it here and there. Frozen blue ice jags out of every other rock. The air is colder and wetter. I hear her suck in her breath. "The blue hole." She says watching as a half frozen stream widens so close to the road, it looks like the road might tumble into it. "We'll swim there in the summer, Emmett."
But from where I am sitting, summer seems a world away. Everywhere is winter. It will never end. Then suddenly the mountain wall gives way to a big clearing. A giant white house takes up most of the view, but back up in the hills and across a log bridge that crosses the blue hole stream a few more houses are hiding. A derelict house with all it's paint lost to time, it's front porch hanging off and roof caved in guards the way forward. Hank drives past it, as if the place is not there. Mom doesn't seem to see it either. I just stare.
We stop in front of the big house. Hank leaves the car running, grabs our bags from the trunk and leans them against a large wood door.
"Your stop." Hank says, opening the passenger door for me. "Good luck." He is in some kind of a hurry. Mom gets out and stands next to me. He's back in the car without a word then drives away up a road where the red truck disappears into the woods. I spot it for a second more, bright and impossible from between the trees rising up a bend a ways away.