The Book of the Dead
My father is gone. Im slouched in a cast-aluminum chair across from two men, one the manager of the hotel where were staying and the other a policeman. Theyre both waiting for me to explain whats become of him, my father.
The hotel managermr. flavio salinas, the plaque on his office door readshas the most striking pair of chartreuse eyes Ive ever seen on a man with an island Spanish lilt to his voice.
The police officer, Officer Bo, is a baby-faced, short, white Floridian with a potbelly.
"Where are you and your daddy from, Ms. Bienaimé?" Officer Bo asks, doing the best he can with my last name. He does such a lousy job that, even though he and I and Salinas are the only people in Salinas office, at first I think hes talking to someone else.
I was born and raised in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and have never even been to my parents birthplace. Still, I answer "Haiti" because it is one more thing Ive always longed to have in common with my parents.
Officer Bo plows forward with, "You all the way down here in Lakeland from Haiti?"
"We live in New York," I say. "We were on our way to Tampa."
"To do what?" Officer Bo continues. "Visit?"
"To deliver a sculpture," I say. "Im an artist, a sculptor."
Im really not an artist, not in the way Id like to be. Im more of an obsessive wood-carver with a single subject thus farmy father.
My creative eye finds Manager Salinas office gaudy. The walls are covered with orange-and-green wallpaper, briefly interrupted by a giant gold leafbordered print of a Victorian cottage that resembles the building were in.
Patting his light green tie, which brings out even more the hallucinatory shade of his eyes, Manager Salinas reassuringly tells me, "Officer Bo and I will do our best."
We start out with a brief description of my father: "Sixty-five, five feet eight inches, one hundred and eighty pounds, with a widows peak, thinning salt-and-pepper hair, and velvet-brown eyes"
"Velvet?" Officer Bo interrupts.
"Deep brown, same color as his complexion," I explain.
My father has had partial frontal dentures since he fell off his and my mothers bed and landed on his face ten years ago when he was having one of his prison nightmares. I mention that too. Just the dentures, not the nightmares. I also bring up the blunt, ropelike scar that runs from my fathers right cheek down to the corner of his mouth, the only visible reminder of the year he spent in prison in Haiti.
"Please dont be offended by what Im about to ask," Officer Bo says. "I deal with an older population here, and this is something that comes up a lot when they go missing. Does your daddy have any kind of mental illness, senility?"
I reply, "No, hes not senile."
"You have any pictures of your daddy?" Officer Bo asks.
My father has never liked having his picture taken. We have only a few of him at home, some awkward shots at my different school graduations, with him standing between my mother and me, his hand covering his scar. I had hoped to take some pictures of him on this trip, but he hadnt let me. At one of the rest stops I bought a disposable camera and pointed it at him anyway. As usual, he protested, covering his face with both hands like a little boy protecting his cheeks from a slap. He didnt want any more pictures taken of him for the rest of his life, he said, he was feeling too ugly.
"Thats too bad," Officer Bo offers at the end of my too lengthy explanation. "He speaks English, your daddy? Can he ask for directions, et cetera?"
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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