BY: Allen M. Price
My father pulls into the parking lot of the Dragon Restaurant and leaves our 1971 tan Buick running while he goes in to pick up our Chinese dinner. The spiteful, cloudy night sky spits on the windshield. In the parking lot, there are only a few cars around and no other people. Bored, restless, sitting in the car alone, I look at the dashboard for a moment, then slide across the leather bench seat. Curiously, I place my small hand on the automatic gear shift on the steering wheel, playing with its movements.
Suddenly, the Buick starts to roll in reverse.
I release the gear stick. With my eyes darting around, I turn to see the car moving backward toward the streetlight. The faster the car speeds, the faster my little heart races. Tears drip from my wide-open eyes, but no sound comes from my mouth. Faster and faster the car rolls down the hill of the parking lot.
Boom! The car hits the streetlight.
The stench of fear permeates the inside of the car. Tears fly every which way. Snot runs down my chin. I shudder when I see my father come running, my heart banging against my rib cage, praying to God he don’t whip me.
But instead of anger, he opens up the passenger side door and asks, “You all right, son?” his voice trembling. He pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket, bends toward me, and wipes my tears and snot. He then hurries to check the back of the car and works to unwedge it from the streetlight. When he returns, his hands are bloody and black, and I cry even harder.
He picks me up and puts me on his lap.
“It’s all right, son,” he says, clearing his throat as he speaks. He clears his throat even when he doesn’t speak, making me wonder if something’s wrong with him.
“You’re okay,” he says, and even chuckles a bit. “You remind me of me when I was young. Always getting into things, minding others’ business. It all right, son. You keep on keeping on. It’ll get you far in life. I stopped asking questions, wanting to know about things, how things work.
“My mother told me, when I was about eleven, she say, ‘School ain’t gonna help none. What you need is work. Get a trade—that’s the only way a black man get ahead in the white world.”
“My mother didn’t like having all us kids,” he continues. “She didn’t want no bother in helping us with school. Six boys, five girls. We all big and strong, but ain’t none of us got an education. Hell, if it weren’t your mother, I probly wouldn’t have graduated high school.
“I want you to become somethin’.”
He stretches his arm out to pull me close to him, making me jump, still afraid he is going to hit me for what I did.
“I ain’t never struck a living thing,” he says. “You ain’t gots to ever worry ’bout me hitting you. My mother beat us down when we got in trouble. My pa, too. He’d get the belt, tell me take my clothes off, take his thick black leather belt off, and whoop my ass good.
“I never got mad ’bout it, though. Bible say, honor thy father and mother.”
He pauses, then says, “I don’t know if I’m long for this world, but I sure is making sure I’m be ready for the next.”
He puts his large hand onto the gear shift and pulls the dented car out of the lot, the smell of the Chinese food filling the car as we drive down the dark streets. We pull into the dirt driveway of our house, and he turns off the engine. No longer sad and scared, I now feel sorry for him.
I don’t say a thing.
“I know you’re gonna do well, son,” he says, staring up at the dark, leafless trees in our backyard. I notice something in his eyes. A little water forms in them.
I can see that he is scared.
“With God’s help, you gonna make somethin’ of yourself, maybe be a star,” my father says, looking down at me. “And when you come back home, all the trees all around this house will stand up real tall to show you how proud they are of you.”
Allen M. Price is a writer from Rhode Island. Screen Memory 2 is part of the memoir he is writing and has spent time working on with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Harding. Excerpts also appear in The Fourth River (chosen by guest editor Ira Sukrungruang) and Jellyfish Review. He has an MA in journalism from Emerson College. His fiction and nonfiction work appears or is forthcoming in Sou’wester, Cosmonauts Avenue, Gertrude Press, Columbia Journal, The Adirondack Review, Tulane Review, The Saturday Evening Post, and others. His chapbook ‘The Unintended Consequences of Haitian Reparation’ appears in Hawai’i Review.