"Yes," I say.
"Is there anything that might make your father run away from you, particularly here in Lakeland?" Manager Salinas asks. "Did you two have a fight?"
I had never tried to tell my fathers story in words before now, but my first completed sculpture of him was the reason for our trip: a three-foot mahogany figure of my father naked, kneeling on a half-foot-square base, his back arched like the curve of a crescent moon, his downcast eyes fixed on his very long fingers and the large palms of his hands. It was hardly revolutionary, rough and not too detailed, minimalist at best, but it was my favorite of all my attempted representations of my father. It was the way I had imagined him in prison.
The last time I had seen my father? The previous night, before falling asleep. When we pulled our rental car into the hotels hedge-bordered parking lot, it was almost midnight. All the restaurants in the area were closed. There was nothing to do but shower and go to bed.
"Its like paradise here," my father had said when hed seen our tiny room. It had the same orange-and-green wallpaper as Salinas office, and the plush emerald carpet matched the walls. "Look, Ka," he said, his deep, raspy voice muted with exhaustion, "the carpet is like grass under our feet."
Hed picked the bed closest to the bathroom, removed the top of his gray jogging suit, and unpacked his toiletries. Soon after, I heard him humming loudly, as he always did, in the shower.
I checked on the sculpture, just felt it a little bit through the bubble padding and carton wrapping to make sure it was still whole. Id used a piece of mahogany that was naturally flawed, with a few superficial cracks along what was now the back. Id thought these cracks beautiful and had made no effort to sand or polish them away, as they seemed like the woods own scars, like the one my father had on his face. But I was also a little worried about the cracks. Would they seem amateurish and unintentional, like a mistake? Could the wood come apart with simple movements or with age? Would the client be satisfied?
I closed my eyes and tried to picture the client to whom I was delivering the sculpture: Gabrielle Fonteneau, a Hai- tian American woman about my age, the star of a popular television series and an avid art collector. My friend Céline Benoit, a former colleague at the junior high school where Im a substitute art teacher, had grown up with Gabrielle Fonteneau in Tampa and on a holiday visit home had shown Gabrielle Fonteneau a snapshot of my Father piece and had persuaded her to buy it.
Gabrielle Fonteneau was spending the week away from Hollywood at her parents house in Tampa. I took some time off, and both my mother and I figured that my father, who watched a lot of television, both at home and at his Nostrand Avenue barbershop, would enjoy meeting Gabrielle Fonteneau too. But when I woke up, my father was gone and so was the sculpture.
I stepped out of the room and onto the balcony overlooking the parking lot. It was a hot and muggy morn- ing, the humid air laden with the smell of the freshly mowed tropical grass and sprinkler-showered hibiscus bordering the parking lot. My rental car too was gone. I hoped my father was driving around trying to find us some breakfast and would explain when he got back why hed taken the sculpture with him, so I got dressed and waited. I watched a half hour of local morning news, smoked five mentholated cigarettes even though we were in a nonsmoking room, and waited some more.
All that waiting took two hours, and I felt guilty for having held back so long before going to the front desk to ask, "Have you seen my father?"
I feel Officer Bos fingers gently stroking my wrist, perhaps to tell me to stop talking. Up close Officer Bo smells like fried eggs and gasoline, like breakfast at the Amoco.
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.
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