Excerpt of The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
(Page 8 of 9)
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"I was working in the prison," my father says. And I decide not to interrupt him again until hes done.
Stranded in the middle of this speech now, he has to go on. "It was one of the prisoners inside the prison who cut my face in this way," he says.
My father now points to the long, pitted scar on his right cheek. I am so used to his hands covering it up that this new purposeful motion toward it seems dramatic and extreme, almost like raising a veil.
"This man who cut my face," he continues, "I shot and killed him, like I killed many people."
Im amazed that he managed to say all of this in one breath, like a monologue. I wish I too had had some rehearsal time, a chance to have learned what to say in response.
There is no time yet, no space in my brain to allow for whatever my mother might have to confess. Was she huntress or prey? A thirty-year-plus disciple of my fathers coercive persuasion? Shed kept to herself even more than he had, like someone who was nurturing a great pain that she could never speak about. Yet she had done her best to be a good mother to me, taking charge of feeding and clothing me and making sure my hair was always combed, leaving only what she must have considered my intellectual development to my father.
When I was younger, shed taken me to Mass with her on Sundays. Was I supposed to have been praying for my father all that time, the father who was the hunter and not the prey?
I think back to "The Negative Confession" ritual from The Book of the Dead, a ceremony that was supposed to take place before the weighing of hearts, giving the dead a chance to affirm that theyd done only good things in their lifetime. It was one of the chapters my father read to me most often. Now he was telling me I should have heard something beyond what he was reading. I should have removed the negatives.
"I am not a violent man," he had read. "I have made no one weep. I have never been angry without cause. I have never uttered any lies. I have never slain any men or women. I have done no evil."
And just so I will be absolutely certain of what Id heard, I ask my father, "And those nightmares you were always having, what were they?"
"Of what I," he says, "your father, did to others."
Another image of my mother now fills my head, of her as a young woman, a woman my age, taking my father in her arms. At what point did she decide that she loved him? When did she know that she was supposed to have despised him?
"Does Manman know?" I ask.
"Yes," he says. "I explained, after you were born."
I am the one who drives the short distance back to the hotel. The ride seems drawn out; the cars in front of us appear to be dawdling. I honk impatiently, even when everyone except me is driving at a normal speed. My father is silent, not even telling me, as he has always done whenever hes been my passenger, to calm down, to be careful, to take my time.
As we are pulling into the hotel parking lot, I realize that I havent notified Officer Bo and Manager Salinas that my father has been found. I decide that I will call them from my room. Then, before we leave the car, my father says, "Ka, no matter what, Im still your father, still your mothers husband. I would never do these things now."
And this to me is as meaningful a declaration as his other confession. It was my first inkling that maybe my father was wrong in his own representation of his former life, that maybe his past offered more choices than being either hunter or prey.
When we get back to the hotel room, I find messages from both Officer Bo and Manager Salinas. Their shifts are over, but I leave word informing them that my father has returned.
While Im on the phone, my father slips into the bathroom and runs the shower at full force. He is not humming.
Excerpted from The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat Copyright© 2004 by Edwidge Danticat. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.