On our front lawn, a strapped effigy with brown skin and an accursed smile is purged by an intense, flaming iridescence. Beneath the flames, a crowd of men stands with their eyes beaming into the burning wooden doll like bolts of lightning, as if to zap it totally from existence. I recognize almost everyone: Mr. Bedford who runs the corner store, Mr. Wallace who lost his job only days ago, and Jerry, the fat leader of the mob, a gruesome man with cheeks that crumble together like curds of cheese. My father is downstairs opening the refrigerator and some cabinets, perhaps looking for a firearm, or a stash of money to plead for our lives. After patting me on the back, he walks silently onto the second floor deck of our house, smiling at the crowd with the same smile of his own effigy burning to pieces just in front of him, and holds up a packet of Jet-Puffed marshmallows and a six-pack of Oscar Myer hotdogs. “You boys need help with your campfire?” he says, shaking the marshmallow bag, as if to taunt a hungry dog. The mob doesn’t seem to know what to do. Their leader, Jerry, is stricken. They have no idea what to say to him.
My father doesn’t believe in the written word, all he knows was passed from mouth to mouth to mouth. So I have to panhandle for pencils before every test. But I’m not afraid to beg, what dignity I had went out with him. “Never let your enemy be above you,” my father once told me. “If they are on the first floor, you better be on the second. And if they’re on the top floor, your better be on roof.” This is not a metaphor. “So long as you are physically above someone,” he said, “you are always their superior.” This is his tradition, not mine. I am a mutt with no home. For me, tradition is a lost and found box of unclaimed, disowned items that I can pull out whenever I need. Where it comes from does not matter. So I use pencils, but not erasers. I bow to statues, but never kneel. I kiss, but never flirt. No tradition is worth a failing grade, a cut on my face, or giving up the snap of a busty, white-girl’s bra-strap.
The phone has been ringing again, almost every night. My father will only take it on the rooftop, since he can never tell just how high up the caller might be. Just tonight I heard him through the open window of my smoke-filled room, heard the threats of the man on the other line, screaming so loud that I could make out particular words—“scum” “invaded,” “parasites” and “kill.” My father responded in his accented, nonchalant way: “Jerry? Jerry, is this you? How’s Eric, he still in the first grade?” After the man hung up, my father came back down the stairway, a smug smile across his lips, and said to me in his self-satisfied manner, “I heard his television in the background. You know what that means? He was in his kitchen! That’s only the first floor of his house!”
Today I was buying a game from Bard, when Kara pinned a “pride” sticker on my backpack. Like an asshole I say nothing, because she fucks guys in the bathroom and I wouldn’t mind a piece of her when the opportunity arises. But still. Who the fuck is she? Like I’m going to join her after-school “pride” groups, sit in a circle with a bunch of fucking nodding heads who opine their minority sob stories while they wear traditional earrings, submit their minds to their traditional Gods, learn five words of their traditional language and eat at traditional restaurants. As soon as I got home I tore the sticker to shreds. I ripped it between my teeth. I stomped it out of existence. “Pride!” She says I have no pride? She has swallowed her pride so deeply that she is choking to death on it, her arteries blocked by every useless traditional value, her intestines buldged with government handouts, her stomach dripping with indigestible aphorisms like: “Never let your enemy be above you.” What a joke!
It’s been two days now since they set fire to our house. The fire didn’t take much, most of the garage and the dining room, but everything still feels charred and black. This morning a young journalist knocked on the door while my father was still in his morning prayer. “Why is your father taking such a stand?” he asked me. “What does he hope to achieve?” I considered telling him the truth, that the roof of our house is over a foot taller than any other house in the neighborhood, and that my dad is fucked-up in the head, but I know this is not what he wants to hear. So I reach into my lost-and-found box, and pick up a gem. “My father will not hate anyone,” I tell him. “There is nothing they can do that will make him hate somebody else. My father stands for equality, and so do I.”
Today at church my father was received in awe. I could see sparks of hope in the eyes of the congregation, sparks unlike any I have seen before. Their eyes were raised, as if everything they looked at was in some hallowed spotlight. Even Jerry, the man who terrorized us and set our house aflame, kneeled before my father, his hands clasped in shame, his heart turned from hate to love. The crowd cheered with such jovial passion that they lifted my father onto their shoulders, and paraded him about like a King. Everyone joined in: the priest, the school teachers, the police, the store owners. I could see tears of joy trickling down his brown skin. He was above them all.
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