by HECTOR LEGRANDE
Night comes early here, so quickly that everyone I know gets up with the sun, except for her.
The restaurant serves any kind of seafood the fishermen bring in. The owner is from a country where they eat everything. I won’t say the name of it because I don’t want to offend the people who live there. Maybe it is okay to eat all that exists in the world.
Chris, she is a vegetarian. Her father is a stonemason. He builds chimneys, including the one in the house where we live. If he thinks one of his clients isn’t going to complete payment on their chimney, he puts a plane of glass in at the top of the chimney, beneath the cowl. He removes it when they pay for the work. On occasion some cheapskate’s house will fill with smoke, and he will call Chris’ father in a panic. Dropping a stone through the glass always fixes that particular problem.
The first few times I told my friends about this practice, I laughed. Now I think it says something about Chris’ father that is not entirely humorous, and perhaps describes a quality of Chris as well. The chimney is repaired, but something has to be broken to get it that way.
Having a fire every night is in some places considered a luxury, but it is more of a necessity here. There was no fireplace in the house I grew up in. We built a fire in a pit when it wasn’t raining, which was not very often.
Chris never had to deal with this kind of stuff. For one thing, her father made a fine living. When she was 15, Chris’ mother came back into her life. She was dreadfully apologetic about missing the first fifteen years, but as Chris put it, “not much had happened to that point anyway.” With the entrance of Chris’ mother Darlena into her life came the appearance of another central figure: Darlena’s new husband Roger la Barclet.
I knew of Senor Barclet, as he asked everyone to call him, before I knew he was Chris’ stepfather. He had run for mayor a couple of times without much success. I don’t think he ever expected to win, but it was a good way to promote his business – he owned four or five fish taco stands set up along the beach.
Senor Barclet’s father was a fisherman, just like my father’s father. But they were nothing alike. Neither were Senor Barclet and my father, god rest his soul. My father never went beyond the third form, while Senor Barclet studied business at the Universite. Senor Barclet always had a mischievous look on his face, like he was in possession of that ineffable quality which distinguished him from the collective: élan.
Once Senor Barclet was in Chris’ life, things began to change for her. She had lived modestly with her father: now she could afford clothes, jewelry, makeup and hair products most people around here only dreamed of. And once her stepfather got to seeing that I was never going to leave Chris for any reason other than if she asked nicely (and maybe even then), he treated me like a member of his family.
I was not into accepting gifts, but I’m not so stupid I can’t appreciate kindness. Predictably, Chris’ father did not like Senor Barclet. Eventually, he got to hating him so bad that he broke into his ex-wife’s house and threw him around. That’s when Senor Barclet came around the restaurant and asked me if I would do something about it.
I told Senor Barclet that I respected him a lot, and that Christina’s father was a bit of a pill. But maybe he didn’t want to take the matter that far. He pretended to consider what I had said, but I could tell he was just thinking of a way to get me to do it.
Like a lot of cowards, he planned to accomplish his aims by indirect means. You see there is this kind of pufferfish we served in the restaurant. Mostly it was to VIPs. If you ate it fresh, you would probably die unless you got to a hospital quick enough, and even then it would be touch and go. But if you took out the liver of the pufferfish, you could eat it easily and the meal, some of our customers said, was quite tasty. Possibly their sense were heightened by the fear. I really wouldn’t know. I never could stand the taste of fish after working in that kitchen.
Instead of putting Senor Barclet off, I smiled and nodded. I told Chris all about it. This is what she said, “I sympathize with Senor Barclet. He will never be happy as long as my father is around.” By then I thought I had figured out a whole way around the situation, but I wasn’t sure yet if Chris would go for it. We had rough sex and she smoked her e-cigarette. I could see that something was floating around in her mind.
She said, “I know what you are thinking.”
“I doubt that.”
“Pssh,” Chris said, fumbling on her bra. “I know you better than you know yourself.”
Our house was pretty tiny, but Chris kept it spotless. She also cleaned her mother’s house, because her mother allowed her the use of her car if she did. Most people didn’t have cars in town, so this was a real treat.
It was a red hatchback, and I used it to drive to the restaurant. We were closed on account of a very local holiday. The town’s namesake had perished on a beach somewhere, trying to greet the natives. Instead of accepting the conquistador with open arms, they cut him down.
Things could get out of hand if you retaliated, and I think Senor Barclet saw that. It was better to simply strike the final blow, or have someone strike it for you. I guess Christina figured if a rock fell through a chimney on her father, it would pretty much put him of commission. It wouldn’t kill him, but it might stop him from killing Senor Barclet, who she liked better than both of her parents.
At the restaurant I rounded up a few pufferfish and removed the livers. The fish smelled pretty good once I cooked them, and I even had a bite. I drove the car back to Senor Barclet’s house and Darlene was in the driveway, shoveling the feces of her dog into a little pit. She accomplished this chore in high heels, but it was nothing I wasn’t used to. She called me over.
“Hi Darlene,” she said.
“Hi,” I said.
“Chris isn’t here.”
“Making dinner,” I said. “Senor asked me to bring these over first.” She laid the shovel demurely at her feet and thanked me. The way she thanked me let me know that she knew what she had in that tupperware. I took one last glance at the house she and the Senor shared. So many rooms.
Chris and I got married at a small chapel. She’s known the priest since she was a kid building sandcastles. He had all the paperwork he needed, and said he would file it at town hall in the morning.
It is difficult for us to live without our parents.
Hector LeGrande is a contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New Jersey. He last wrote in these pages about a place to hide.
Paintings by Aline Feldman.
“The Way It’s Always Been” – Brandon Flowers (mp3)
“Can’t Deny My Love” – Brandon Flowers (mp3)