The novel “14-Pages” will be released soon. So I decided to post a snippet/sneak preview. You’ll find Chapters 1 & 2 of the novel below.
James Fant http://www.jamesfantbooks.com
It was a cold and stormy January night and Marco Goldsmith wondered whether or not he still loved his wife. He was certain that she didn’t love him. How was he certain of that? She told him so, very plainly. “I hate you, Marco!” his wife Venice screamed. “I can’t stand you! I hate your guts!” Those words cut through Marco like a butcher knife, slicing wounds into his soul. Those words angered him. In fact, he was so angry that he screamed at his wife and punched two holes into their living room wall.
Crafty arguments plagued the Goldsmith’s three-month-old marriage. Happily ever after was no match for these arguments. They eased into the most casual of conversations and spawned from the most uneventful statements. Open lavatory lids and other harmless actions invited them and these arguments, bitter and irrational, made themselves at home with Marco and Venice.
If one were to ask the Goldsmiths to sit down and explain the cause for their constant dissension, neither would be able to give a clear reason other than incompatibility. So as Marco stood in their living room gazing at two large caverns in the cream colored drywall, he wondered what set of events brought them to that present point. It all happened so fast. But before either of them knew it, Marco was swinging and Venice was screaming and storming off into their bedroom.
Marco’s chest lifted and lowered as he took labored breaths. He looked into a nearby mirror and he did not necessarily like the person that looked back at him. He was a sullen man that stood an inch shy of six-feet tall; however, the weight that burdened his shoulders made him seem shorter. Sweat built above his brow and his walnut colored skin clung to his small frame. He was losing weight because he was not eating. His face seemed sharper; his cheek bones protruded through thinning skin. The dark brown eyes of the sullen man in the mirror were surrounded by redness, no doubt from the constant stress. Venice’s proclamation of hatred angered him and he could only remember being that angry one other time. That time, just like this one, did not produce great results.
Marco shelved those horrible memories and turned his attention to their wedding photograph that was just inches away from the craters he created in the wall. Venice looked beautiful that day; Marco remembered saying that she looked scrumptious. Her honey toned skin glistened in the sunlight. Her jet black hair was up, showing off her shoulders. Her full lips curled up into a radiant smile. Her light-brown eyes seemed to jump out at Marco from the picture frame and at that point he wanted to jump into the picture to be with those eyes, to be with that Venice, the Venice that did not hate him.
It was their wedding day and they were happy then. Marco wanted to go back to that day. He wished that he could step into that photograph and laugh again; he wanted to stand beside the woman that loved him again. He wished he could remove her veil and taste her lips again; he wanted to go back in time to the moment before he removed Venice’s garter from the softness of her thigh. He hoped that he might feel the warmth radiating from beneath her white nylon stockings, to feel her flesh underneath his fingertips one more time.
The photograph held Marco for several minutes and he forgot all about the drywall that had crumbled beneath the force his fist. It seemed like the wedding photograph of them hand in hand was taken ages ago. But the photo was young. Their marriage was young. “Where did it all go wrong?” Marco asked aloud, amazed at how quickly his happy home had turned into a house of horrors. Marco kept wishing that he would soon wake up and that his nightmare would all be over. He had no idea that the nightmare was just about to begin.
The nightmare started with three harsh pounds on the front door, the unmistakable sound of the thick muscle of a back fist crashing against the rain drenched mahogany such that water exploded from the smooth wooden surface of the front door with each thud. The pounding shook the picture frame at which Marco was gazing, simultaneously expelling Marco from the happiness of the not-so-distance past to the present reality of the property he had damaged. His hand was no longer massaging Venice’s supple flesh, no longer enjoying the heat that emanated from her inner-thigh. His hand came back to the present. Now his hand was right next to the holes that it made in the living room wall. Now his hand was throbbing.
Marco quickly stepped to the living room window and peered through the hardwood blinds to see two squad cars parked in front of their home; their flashing blue lights were shining brightly through thick sheets of rain.
“THIS IS THE POLICE! OPEN UP!”
They must have the wrong address, Marco thought. It wasn’t the first time that oscillating blue and red lights illuminated Marco’s face. The first time his face was bathed in bright red and blue hues, it was much younger; it was ten-years-old to be exact. Marco’s face displayed great fright as if the police were coming for him. They were not of course. The police had come for Marco’s father. Marco remembered his father kicking and screaming as Sheriff’s deputies dragged him out of the living room of their small duplex and into a tempest that was not unlike the one raging on the other side of Marco’s damaged living room wall. But Marco’s father had hit his mother. His mother’s eye, puffed and purple, was all the evidence that the Sheriff’s office needed to arrest his father, who at that time was a raging monster in Marco’s eyes. But Marco’s crime was nothing like his father’s. He had not laid a hand on Venice. Venice’s eye was neither disfigured nor discolored. Surely the police had the wrong address.
After another series of heavy thuds on the front door, Marco opened the door to see two uniformed officers, one male and one female, both scowling harshly at him. “Are you Marco Goldsmith?” yelled the tall, muscular officer. He spoke through gritted teeth and Marco could smell the stench of stale coffee on his breath.
“Why yes. I am,” Marco replied.
The muscle bound officer wasted no time, grabbing Marco and slamming him against the door.
“Hey! What the—”
Marco squirmed, trying to free himself from the officer’s grip.
“I’ll go and get Dr. Goldsmith,” said the short female officer, lines growing on her face between her red freckles. As she brushed past him, Marco saw that the name on her badge was Cohen. With a little more effort, Marco twisted around as much as he could to see that the huge, dark-skinned officer’s name was Graves. Craning his neck became painful, so Marco relaxed as best he could in the seconds that passed as Officer Graves pressed his body into the front door. Rain water immediately soaked Marco’s Oxford button down through to his tee shirt. The frigid moisture chilled his chest. His upper body lifted and lowered against the freezing wet mahogany surface as his lungs exchanged the thin winter air making his breaths visible.
“What’s this all about?” Marco asked, after he managed to inhale enough air to speak.
“Shut up!” Graves barked. And then he continued twisting Marco’s arm and pressing his body against the same front door that Venice slammed in his face two hours earlier.
Earlier that evening, before the shouting match, before the proclamation of hatred and the holes punched in the wall, Venice was giving a presentation to wealthy donors at the Sight for Sore Eyes Benefit Fund Raiser. Dr. Venice C. Goldsmith, M.D., Ph.D. was a rising star in the ranks of Neuro-Ophthalmology. A stellar clinician-scientist, she was funded by two R01 grants as well as several foundation grants and private industry contracts. In spite of her research, she held an extremely successful practice; she was well-loved by her patients and well-respected by most of her peers. On that evening before their ultimate argument, Venice stood at the podium and explained the minutiae of Neuro-Ophthalmology in terms easily understood by the crowd of millionaire philanthropists, entrepreneurs, heirs and heiresses. Her message was clear. “Aging does not have to lead to vision loss.” With each word she spoke, a new check was waiting to be written. Venice was in her element. She loved being in that arena.
Marco had a different view of these boring benefit dinners. He sat in the audience at a table surrounded by what he called geeky folk, self-absorbed know-it-alls in love with the sound of their own intelligent voices. They tortured Marco with corny jokes and senseless cackling and he wished that he was someplace else.
Marco fidgeted in his seat and was becoming increasingly annoyed with his neighbor, Dr. Bill McHenry. “Oh I love to hear your wife speak,” McHenry said. “She’s so well-spoken.” Marco hated to hear that phrase. To him it gave the notion that mastery of the English language and a proficiency of communication was something that was inherently foreign to African-Americans and that Venice had somehow escaped the challenges of nature. Marco took a deep breath and smiled. He was ready to leave before they even arrived at the dinner and McHenry’s comments did nothing to help him.
“Venice tells us you’re a businessman,” McHenry snorted. “Just what sort of business are you in?”
“He’s a very successful restaurateur. He owns Marco’s Soul Food by Northwoods Mall.”
That was Venice. She surprised both of them as she quickly returned to her seat. McHenry was so busy going on about Venice’s miraculous ability to speak and Marco was so focused on nodding and ignoring him simultaneously, that they didn’t realize that her talk was over, the crowd had given a round of applause, and that she had quickly made her way to their table, no doubt fearful of what Marco would say to her fellow faculty member.
Venice continued on as she took her seat. “Yes. He’s going to open a restaurant downtown very soon as well as one in Mount Pleasant. Isn’t that right, honey?”
Marco feigned a smile and replied, “She’s right. I guess the secret’s out now.”
“Well that’s great, Mr. Goldsmith,” McHenry said. “Soon your wife and the Office of Development will be knocking on your door for large donations.”
Marco again squeezed out a smile.
“Marco, honey, tell Bill about how well you did in the markets last year.”
“Yes please. Venice tells me you made a killing, enough to pay for your new house in cash.”
Marco gave Venice a disapproving glare, causing her to nervously sip her iced tea.
McHenry continued. “You’ve gotta tell me. How do you pick your stocks?”
Marco sneered and then he turned to McHenry and said, “Well, I look at a company that keeps honest books, treats its people fairly, and doesn’t pollute the atmosphere. Basically, I take a ‘what would Jesus do’ approach.”
“Excuse me?” McHenry replied.
“I pick stocks that God would pick,” Marco said, matter-of-factly.
Worry lines formed on Venice’s forehead during the brief silence that followed. She was trapped, along with Marco and Bill McHenry, in one of those awkward moments where scripts did not exist and outside assistance was needed for escape.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Vice-Chair for Clinical Research, Dr. Bill McHenry.”
McHenry straightened his tie and said, “I guess I’m up.” And then he walked to the podium.
As soon as he was out of ear-shot, Venice twisted around to face Marco and forcefully whispered, “Why did you tell him that?”
Marco returned the forceful whisper, “The man asked me how I picked stocks. I told him.”
“What would Jesus do? Come on Marco, you know half of the faculty members here don’t believe in God.”
“So what? Are you ashamed of God around your colleagues?”
“No. I just don’t see the need to say God in every sentence I speak. Saying God in every other sentence spoken by no means illustrates Godliness.”
“Thanks for educating me as always,” Marco replied sarcastically. “But anyway. Why are telling this man about my personal financial life? No check that. Why did you tell him that I’m opening up new restaurants?”
“You are. At least you talked about it.”
“Talked about it and doing it are two different things. Why do you always feel the need to embellish what I do when we’re around your doctor friends?”
Venice switched in her chair to face the podium. “Drop it Marco!” she commanded.
Marco drew back in his chair. His brows drew dangerously close together. “You know what?” he asked, “come to think about it, you sure made it to our table really fast after you were done with your talk.”
“That’s because I was worried about what you would say to McHenry.”
Marco paused as what he deemed to be an insult hit center mass. He felt a slight pain in his middle of his chest. “You’re ashamed,” Marco said finally. “That’s it. You’re ashamed of me.” He was not really whispering anymore.
“Marco, please drop it.”
Marco threw his napkin on the table and stood to his feet.
Venice turned and whispered, “Marco, where are you going?”
“I need some fresh air. I’ll be in the car when you’re ready to go!”
And then Marco walked out on her. That was his retaliation.
Marco made it to the front of the Simpson Eye Center in no time. The cool night air was exactly what he needed to clear his head.
“You can’t take these stuffy benefit dinners either, huh?”
That question came from a medium height man in a pinstriped suit. The man wore glasses with nearly invisible rims. It seemed like two monocles sat stably above his nose.
“I guess not,” Marco replied.
Pinstripe didn’t miss a beat.
“The names Garrett Anderson,” he said as he extended his hand.
“Marco Goldsmith,” Marco replied. “Are you on the faculty here?”
“Oh no. I’m actually one of the guys they are getting money from.”
Then Garrett slipped a business card from his coat pocket.
“Garrett Anderson and Associates,” he said, the corners of his mouth lifting quickly and disappearing under his cheek bones.
“What exactly do you do, Mr. Anderson?”
“Garrett, please. I run a consulting firm that helps turn small businesses into corporations.” Garrett beamed with pride. “Last year, my firm saw $15 million in net profits. Net Profits!”
“Oh I see. So you’re one of the million dollar donors?” Marco asked.
“Why yes, I am. But I just assume write the check and be done with it. You see, my mother was losing her sight. We brought her to the Simpson Eye Center and now she has close to 20/20 vision. Besides, my wife is on the Board of Directors here. She’s friends with your wife, Venice.”
“Is that so?” Marco replied, now feeling that his meeting with Garrett Anderson was not coincidental. This was a business call, a cleverly disguised trap. Marco imagined that Venice told Anderson, Go out there and sell Marco on franchising. Show him your Cartier watch. Show off your two-thousand dollar Fitzgerald Golden Fleece suit. Marco’s dull. He won’t see through the sales pitch.
“Yes. As a matter of fact, Venice wanted me to talk with you. She thinks we may be able to do some business, say triple your presence in the next year alone.”
“You could do that?”
“I could probably do more than that. Let’s set aside some time to talk.”
Marco looked at the card and quickly agreed to meet with Garrett Anderson so that he could get rid of him. Then he walked to his car, fuming with anger. Venice would get an ear full from him when they got home.
Silence commanded the entire drive home from the benefit dinner. Thirty minutes after Venice crashed down into her passenger seat and slammed her car door, Marco pulled into their driveway. Venice was the first out of the car. She sped into the house as Marco lagged behind. Just as he was about to walk through the front door, she slammed it in his face.
Marco busted in the door and screamed, “Woman! Are you crazy?!”
“I’m tired of you walking out on me, Marco. You act so childish sometimes.”
“So now I’m a child?”
“No. I said you act childish. Stop putting words in my mouth.”
“I’m not putting words in your mouth. You have a small opinion of me.”
Venice spun around, quite amazed at what he said.
“Where in the world did you get that from?”
“You’re ashamed of me. You can’t leave me alone with your geeky friends for too long because you’re afraid that I’ll embarrass you with my culinary school education.”
“Marco. For the last time! I AM NOT ASHAMED OF YOU!”
“Then why did you tell McHenry that I was opening up all these stores. ‘Oh yes. He’s opening up restaurants all up and down the eastern seaboard. He’s going to be a household name,’” he mocked. “But Venice, the reality is I only have ONE restaurant; it’s a restaurant that I built up from the ground. And that ONE restaurant is doing very well.”
Venice threw her hands up and walked into the kitchen. A bottle of water was just what she needed to cool her jets. If only Marco would have given the moment time to breathe. It is amazing how an argument, if allowed, takes on a life of its own.
“And just where do you come off speaking my name to this Garrett Anderson guy?” Marco asked as he followed Venice into the kitchen.
“Garrett is very successful at turning small companies into larger enterprises, especially if he sees potential,” Venice replied, now quite annoyed. “He saw your potential right away.”
“You’re undermining me, Venice.”
“Yes. You don’t like the way I run my business, so once again, since you are a know it all, you’re gonna take it upon yourself to manage it. Because you are a genius, right?”
“But you weren’t so smart when your broker was rear ending you with no Vaseline. That’s right, I said it. You were losing money until you met me. You barely knew what a stock was.”
“And I’m sure Benjamin knows all about finance, doesn’t he?” Venice snarled as she rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Marco asked.
They stared at each other for a moment. The tension in the air allowed the extremely vicious comments to now surface.
“Alright, Venice. Leave Benjamin out of this!”
“You started with the low blows first, Marco. You know what? Just—nothing. Forget about it.”
Venice walked into the family room because she knew where the argument was going.
Marco again followed her and barked, “What? You don’t think that my restaurant is successful?”
Venice spun around to face her husband.
“Marco Goldsmith. You are a fabulous chef. Your business idea is incredible.”
“There’s a but coming.”
“But you need a real business manager.”
“See, I knew you were going to go there.”
“I mean for Pete’s sake, Marco. Benjamin as your business manager?”
“Leave my brother out of this Venice. PLEASE!”
“Marco, come on! You have this big extravagant office for him. And for what?”
“DROP IT, VENICE! LEAVE MY BROTHER OUT OF THIS!”
Venice paused to allow the tension to ease.
“Marco I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”
Venice walked to their bedroom with Marco close behind her. Unfortunately the argument followed them as well. Sooner or later, all of their arguments led to their bedroom.
“I’m just saying, Marco. I want to be solid financially when we have kids.”
“Kids! Kids! Kids! That’s all I hear from you, Venice!”
“Well we’re married. Children are a part of marriage. Family. I want lots of kids. You knew that before we were married.”
“It’s not that I don’t want children.”
“What’s it about, then?”
“Your mother suffered from preeclampsia. Your aunts suffered from preeclampsia. One of your cousins died because of it.”
“Marco, you don’t have to give me a history lesson about my family’s struggle with blood pressure. I know about all of the risks. I have managed to avoid taking blood pressure medication by controlling my diet and exercising regularly.”
“Okay then. If blood pressure problems aren’t enough, Venice, we argue non-stop about absolutely nothing. I just don’t think that we should bring children into this.”
“No! This isn’t about blood pressure or arguments. You’re just being mean as always. I expressed that I wanted a large family before we got married, Marco!”
“Yeah you expressed a lot of things before we got married. Funny how expressions change after the ring goes on.”
That was it. Marco had hit the magic button and heavy breathing was the only sound heard in their bedroom. According to Hebrews, chapter 13, verse 4, the marriage bed is undefiled. Marco always interpreted that scripture to mean that anything was permissible in the bedroom of a married couple. If a wife wanted her hands to be chained to the bedposts while her husband spanked her bare bottom with a small leather whip, that was permissible. If the husband wanted to coat his wife’s body with chocolate syrup and slowly remove the chocolate from her flesh until she screamed for mercy, that was permissible. But Marco wondered if the arguments that he and Venice had in their bedroom was permissible; he wonder if hateful words had defiled their bed?
Venice softly asked, “What did you say?”
“Nothing, Venice. It’s nothing.”
“No. You said something. Be a man and tell me what you said.”
“You want me to be a man?”
“Yes! Be a freaking man! What did you say?”
Marco got in Venice’ face and screamed, “When we were dating, you were awesome in bed! But now, you’re lackluster at best! You talk about what you expressed before marriage? Well you fooled me. Gave me just enough to make me think our sex life would be great and then you yanked the rug from under my feet!”
Venice saw red. It didn’t upset her that Marco insulted her skills in bed so much that it upset her that he brought up their pre-marital sex; she had previously asked him never to do that. Venice, like Marco, was very spiritual. Even though Marco was her first, she was not proud that she made love to him before they were married. Marco knew that. It was amazing that they both knew exactly what buttons to push.
Venice brushed past him and walked back into the living room. Marco remained in their bedroom for a second, wondering what possessed him to go there with her. Perhaps it was the Be a Man statement. That always cut him deep and made the gloves come off. He knew that he would hurt her when he said it and yet he said it anyway. He wanted to apologize but they were now at a point where neither of them apologized for anything, even if they knew that they were wrong. So he did what he always did after a good argument with Venice; he talked softly to her like they had not just been screaming at each at the top of their lungs.
Marco walked up behind Venice and whispered, “Are we okay?”
But he wasn’t prepared for the words that he would hear next.
“I HATE YOU, MARCO!”
“What did you say?”
“I SAID I HATE YOU! I CAN’T STAND YOU! I HATE YOUR GUTS!”
Marco lunged at Venice and then jabbed two holes into the wall. They had argued countless times during their short marriage, but now they were in uncharted territory.
Officer Cohen returned from the Goldsmith’s master bedroom to find Officer Graves still twisting Marco’s arm behind his back.
“Dr. Goldsmith is fine. No sign of domestic violence,” Officer Cohen said.
“But what about these holes in the wall?” Officer Graves asked harshly.
“You see? I’ve done nothing wrong,” Marco said through clinched teeth. “Now let me go!”
Graves released his grip and Marco straightened out his shirt.
“So where do we stand, Officer Cohen?” Graves asked.
“Well, Dr. Goldsmith wasn’t harmed and she’s not pressing any charges. But she does want Mr. Goldsmith to leave the premises.”
“Leave the premises?” Marco asked. “This is my house! I paid for this house, cash!”
Venice emerged from the hallway into the living room. Her hair was disheveled. Did she mess up her hair to make this seem like more than it was? Marco asked himself. She leaned against the wall looking helpless and lost. In Marco’s mind, Venice had gone back to their bedroom, picked up the phone, dialed 911, and put on her best impression of a helpless victim. He’s crazy. Come help me. I’m so helpless. It was an Oscar worthy performance in Marco’s mind.
Officer Cohen’s demanding tenor snatched Marco’s eyes away from the stage that Venice had set. “Sir! Your wife would like for you to leave! Now!”
“She wants me to leave,” Marco mumbled as he started making small circles in the living room’s hardwood floor. Graves and Cohen were taken aback by his curious circular pacing. “She’s all helpless now, huh? You should have seen her cursing me out earlier. She wasn’t all helpless then.”
“Sir,” Officer Cohen said as she stepped inside of Marco’s orbit. Officer Graves placed his right hand on his stun gun and Marco immediately saw it.
“Yeah, Venice would love that,” Marco continued to mumble as he paced. “Electrocute me. Play right into her hands.”
“We won’t ask you again,” Graves said calmly.
Marco was angered beyond belief but there wasn’t much he could do. He had hit the wall. The evidence was stacked against him. He had to leave. But if he had to leave, he was going to do it on his own terms.
“Fine, then. I’ll leave. She wants me to leave. I’ll leave.”
Marco stopped pacing, went to the living room closet, and pulled out his leather jacket. He threw the jacket over his drenched Oxford shirt, stormed past Venice and her minions, and ended up in their garage. He turned on the light switch and spied his motorcycle in the corner. A wicked smile formed on his face and then he walked over to his bike, removed the For Sale sign, and cranked it up. The roar from the chrome pipes filled the house and it wasn’t long before Venice raced into the garage.
Venice screamed, “What are you doing?! Get off of that bike. That bike is danj—That bike is for sale!”
“I haven’t sold it yet! You wanted me to leave. I’m leaving.”
Marco continued mumbling those words over and over. You want me gone? I’m gone. You want me gone? I’m gone. It was around that time that Graves and Cohen entered the garage. This was not their first domestic disturbance call. They had honestly seen worse. Nevertheless, it hurt Cohen’s heart to see two people so at odds with each other. Graves, on the other hand, shook his head and chuckled. It was hilarious to him.
“Make him get off of that bike,” Venice commanded of the officers.
Cohen replied, “Ma’am, you wanted him to leave. He’s leaving. Our job is done here.”
The garage door opened and Marco began backing the motorcycle out into the drive way. You want me gone? I’m gone. You want me gone? I’m gone. Ice-cold raindrops pounded the pavement and immediately drenched Marco and the motorcycle. Nevertheless, Marco revved his engine and then went racing down the street without even looking back at Venice. With great haste, he sped away from his wife, away from her hatred.
Now here is the question. Why was Marco riding his motorcycle down the highway in the pouring rain with no helmet? Here is the answer. He wanted Venice to worry about him. He wanted her to pace the floors and call his family and friends and ask if they had heard from him. Perhaps then she would think the worst and finally learn to appreciate him.
Venice told Marco that she hated him. That hurt Marco in places he did not even know existed and caused him to throw caution to the wind. He squeezed the throttle of his motorcycle and shot through the sheets of rain like a bullet. His super tread tires allowed him to slice through the flooded asphalt at great speeds while maintaining control but control of his motorcycle would be the least of his worries. In the blink of an eye, an 18-wheeler in the opposite lane veered into Marco’s path. All Marco saw were headlights. All he heard was the rumble of the trucks engine as it came straight for him. It all happened in a second, a second that left Marco no time for maneuvering. So he gently tapped his brakes and braced for impact.
Miraculously, the truck swerved back into its lane and continued barreling down the highway, leaving large waves of water in its wake. Marco’s heart pounded and frigid air gripped his rib cage. His fingers were stiff from the frostbiting cold wind. After Marco safely brought his bike to a stop, he turned to see the truck still speeding down the road.
“YOU IDIOT!” Marco yelled.
Anger fueled his foolishness. Hail darted into his face as he throttled his motorcycle through the tempest. He thought to himself, this is crazy. Let me get out of this rain. Before long he was leaning his bike into a right hand turn onto US-Highway 52, wishing that the black clouds above him would be merciful. But the rain only worsened. As Highway 52 widened, Marco saw his restaurant up ahead just beyond the mall. He spent the final quarter mile of his idiotic journey through the storm cursing his stupid idea. Venice could probably care less about you right now, he thought. Then he pulled his motorcycle into a space by the back door of the restaurant, shut off the engine, and escaped from the elements and into his kitchen, his safe haven.
Marco shook the rain from his leather and walked into the kitchen of his soul food restaurant. The stainless steel of the counters, stoves, and refrigerators glistened. The soles of Marco’s dress shoes squeaked against the spotless slip resistant kitchen floor. Every utensil, mixing bowl and prep pan had been cleaned, run through a dishwasher with waters hot enough to separate skin from muscle. Yet Marco felt like preparing a full course meal fit for a football team and dirtying the entire kitchen in the process. Culinary therapy always cheered him up, especially after Venice sent him to within an inch of insanity.
Marco looked through the large glass panes of the swinging doors that fed into the dining room and saw Horace heading his way. Horace was Marco’s right hand man and a dedicated master chef in his own right. He was a muscular, medium height guy with a round gut that he was quite proud of. He didn’t talk much, but when he did, he spoke with a deep Southern drawl, deliberately lopping syllables from certain words and running other words together in a manner that suited him. He was from Greenville, South Carolina after all, a city two hours north of Atlanta. So he shared the same accent as many native Atlantans.
As Horace walked into the kitchen wearing a black pair of baggy chef’s pants, some black clogs and a white tee shirt that said Soul Food, he gave Marco a confused look. Marco was sure that Horace was wondering why Marco was there in the kitchen and not with Venice. He was supposed to escort his beautiful wife to dinner that evening. Then he was supposed to take his beautiful wife home and make sweet love to her as the rain beat against the storm windows of their Summerville home. He was not supposed to be in the kitchen of his North Charleston restaurant standing in front of Horace with a trail of rain water betraying his path from the back door.
“Yeah, I know,” Marco sighed because Horace’s facial expression said it all. Sometimes long explanations were unnecessary, especially when the thing being explained had become something of a faithful regularity. People could count on three things: death, taxes, and Marco and Venice arguing.
Horace leaned against the wall beside the swinging doors. He folded his arms and his massive forearms spread underneath his chest. He looked more like a retired bodybuilder than a master chef.
“Pretty bad, huh?” Horace asked.
“How could you tell?” Marco replied. He slumped onto a nearby stool and palmed his wet forehead. Closing his eyes, he twisted his head from left to right. “I’m lost,” he said. “She has me lost, bruh.”
Horace did not have to ask what happen. He did not have to ask what was said. He knew, or he could imagine, how harsh the argument was. So his job that evening was to be a voice of consolation, someone who could relate to Marco’s pain.
“My baby mama used to come at me hard,” Horace said. “For no reason, she’d be all in your boy ear. Yap! Yap! Yap! I was like, dang shawty! Let a brother breathe some.”
Horace was attempting to comfort Marco with his testimony. It was working, but only a little. Horace told Marco about how the mother of his first born son would follow him out into the breezeway of their apartment building and curse him out, calling him everything but a child of God and the father of her child. She did not care about the neighbors. She seemed to get a kick out of it really.
“But when the police showed up, and they always showed up, that’s when she went straight ghetto!” Horace pronounced the word police [PO-LEESE], emphasizing the PO.
Marco listened as Horace went back in time to a sunny afternoon in his apartment complex. The birds were singing, Horace’s son was crying, and his ex-girlfriend was cursing him out like he was a dog. “I just sat there, man. What else I’m ‘on do? Hit her? Wrong. She’d love dat. But one day, bruh. I guess she was off her medication. She punched me dead in the face, dawg. Busted my lip, thank she didn’t.” Think was pronounced [THANK]. Marco had long since figured that out.
“What did you do? You didn’t hit her back, did you?”
“Nah. But I ain’t gon’ lie. I wanted to. Chick busted my lip. Had me tastin’ my own blood. But nah. That was the last straw, though. We was done after that.”
Horace nodded and pulled the left side of his lip into his cheek. The memory was long ago, but memories have a way a being so clear in the mind that they seem like yesterday if they are thought of long enough.
“So that’s when you left her?” Marco asked.
“Yeah. It hurt too, because I was tryin’ to do something my daddy didn’t. I was gon’ be there for my son. My son was gon’ be able to wake me up every morning. I was gon’ put him to sleep e’ry night. Ain’t work out like that, though.” Horace shrugged each of his shoulders in turn as if he had deduced the root of the problems he shared with his ex-girlfriend. “We weren’t compatible, you know? She was oil and I was water. She liked partyin’ and I liked chillin’. She loved drama—
Horace paused and bit his bottom lip. The memory had him.
“—I hate drama. Boy, my auntie used to tell us boys all the time ‘If you can’t see yo’ self havin’ a kid with her, don’t have sex with her. Dawg, if I could turn back the hands of time—”
“You wouldn’t have had sex with her?”
“Oh I would’ve had sex with her. But I would’ve put on a condom, though.”
Marco laughed. It was one of those side splitting laughs that start off with a breathtaking pause and end with a euphoric guffaw that saturates the room with the sound of merriment.
“Maybe that’s my problem with Venice,” Marco said when he finally caught his breath. “We only dated three months. Were only engaged for three. We’ve only been married for three months.” Marco scratched his head as he began deducing. “Three, three, three. Three definitely isn’t a charm when it comes to my relationship with Venice.”
Silence followed Horace’s nod and Marco could not make out if it was a gesture of agreement or one of pity. Maybe the nod meant both. Marco had known Horace for many years, since they worked as line cooks together at a restaurant named Carolina Fine Foods in Greenville. Horace was just as much a brother to Marco as Benjamin. So Horace knew all of the gory details about Marco and Venice’s dysfunctional relationship. Yes. He agreed with Marco’s assessment and pitied him at the same time.
Marco was envious of Horace because Horace saw the red flags and ran away before it was too late. Although it must have been painful to leave his son behind, at least he did not get locked into a disaster of a marriage that would have resulted in someone getting hurt, or at the least, someone punching holes in the wall. No. Horace had enough sense to run from the impending danger and find himself a good woman, a woman with whom he was compatible. Her name was Keisha.
“How’s the family?” Marco asked.
“E’rbody good. Keish is Keish, ya know.”
Horace’s drawl was so pronounced that he often left A’s off the end of words; and he definitely left them off the end of Keisha’s name. He called her Keish and everyone knew that he wasn’t referring to a savory cheese, meat, and spinach custard.
“Still got that baby mamma drama, of course,” Horace said. “But Keish, she cool though. She be the main one tellin’ me, ‘Make sure you pay yo’ child support.’ Or, ‘let’s go up to Greenville to see yo’ son.’ Or, ‘Yo’ son should stay with us for the summer.’ Yeah, I hit the jackpot when I met, Keish. And I love her down to her hot pink panties. Know w’m talkin’ ‘bout?”
Marco laughed loudly. Horace always cracked him up because he was so country.
“It must be nice to have a relationship like that. You and Keisha are like two peas in a pod. I bet yo u guys never argue.”
Horace doubled over in a huge fit of laughter.
“Man what is you talkin’ ‘bout? Me and Keish argue just like you and Venice. But no matter what, she my homegirl and gon’ be my homegirl.”
Defined as a close friend.
Friends do not always agree with each other. But friends do not insult each other. Friends do not hate each other either.
Marco left the kitchen and followed Benjamin’s boisterous laughter to his office, which was right across the hall from Marco’s. He was indeed quite thankful that Benjamin was still at the restaurant. He was also a little surprised. Marco was nearing the offices when Celine, one of their hostesses, popped out of Benjamin’s door.
“You are so crazy,” Celine said into the door with a fake girly voice that she used to feign amusement. Then she turned to face Marco, her countenance instantly changing, her eyes instantly guilty. She rubbed her hands over course hair slicked back into afro puff, batted her black, doe-like eyes, and gave Marco as much of a smile as she could.
And then she and her bodacious, figure eight frame was gone.
“Benjamin, I told you about that,” Marco said as he leaned into Benjamin’s office.
“Bruh, it’s nothing. Just being friendly.” Benjamin’s smile betrayed him and let Marco know that much more was going on.
Benjamin Goldsmith reclined his lanky six-feet-three inch frame into his swivel chair. His light brown eyes never met Marco’s menacing gaze. Instead they stayed firmly planted on ESPN SportsCenter. Highlights were not highlights until they were viewed on a fifty-inch high definition screen with surround sound monitors. Benjamin scratched his shaven dome and then he pulled a small piece of paper from his desk and shoved it into the side pocket of his brown cargo shorts. His feet were bare. His patented corduroy house shoes were on the floor next to his desk, the toes facing Marco; the heels, folded down to the back soles, were facing Benjamin. They were in prime position for whenever Benjamin was ready to step into them and make a move—whenever that was.
“I need a place to crash tonight,” Marco said as leaned into the door jam.
Benjamin pulled his eyes from his HD screen and took a good long look at Marco. “Another argument, huh?” he asked.
Marco nodded yes to confirm.
“I got you, bruh. You still have keys to my place?”
Marco was ashamed of what he was about to say. “I do. But, turns out, I’m going to need a ride too.”
That’s when Benjamin noticed that Marco’s clothes were drenched, darkened by rain water as if they had been died with indigo.
“You rode that bike down here, didn’t you?” Benjamin said with a smirk.
“What time are we leaving?”
“We can leave now. I was just wrapping up.”
Marco wondered what Benjamin was just wrapping up. He did not like Venice’s statements about Benjamin, but he knew that those statements were true. It was just the way that she said them. The accusatory, demeaning manner in which she belittled his little brother. Nevertheless, those statements were true and Marco wondered if an insult was still an insult if it was in fact a true statement. It probably was not. It hurt just the same though.
When Marco and Benjamin made it outside to Benjamin’s Cadillac Escalade, it was already running. The seats were already warmed to a cozy temperature of seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit. The music of Slum Village leaked from the subwoofers at just a high enough level for them to make out the J Dilla baselines. Christian Dior filled the cabin and heat seeped through the dash vents. Marco rested his head on the headrest and watched as the rain made trails down the Escalade’s tinted windows. It looked like the SUV was crying. Marco had not cried in a long time. He wondered if he would soon be joining the Escalade and shedding a few tears of his own.
“Warm enough for ya?” Benjamin asked after he hopped into the Escalade and removed the handicapped sign from the rearview mirror. Marco did not reply and Benjamin did not repeat the question. What did warmth matter in Marco’s world? Nothing mattered. Nothing was of enough worth to want to wake up the morning and Marco felt afraid for the first time that he and Venice were not going to make it. And at that point, though it frightened him, he was alright with that outcome. He could not explain it. He did not want to. It was enough to be out of the rain. He was thankful for at least that small comfort.
Benjamin was entering Interstate-26 and Marco did not even realize that they had left the restaurant. Somehow minutes passed by that Marco had completely ignored. Perhaps he was too focused on the picture dangling from Benjamin’s rearview mirror by a small link chain. It was a picture of their mother and father. The picture was ancient and Marco knew this for two reasons. First, it was a classic picture, a photo that was taken in the seventies and developed on paper that somehow gave everything and everyone in the picture a sort of orange and brown hue over time. Second, Marco and Benjamin’s parents divorced when they were little boys. Their mother would never stand beside their dad now, even though thirty years had passed since they said I Quit. That picture was from another age. Marco wondered if they loved each other in that picture; back when his mother and father, along with everything else, were only mixtures of orange and brown hues.
“Don’t laugh when you get to my place, Bruh,” Benjamin said.
“Why? Is it filthy?”
Benjamin sucked his teeth. “Now you know better than that. But on the real, you’ll see when you get to my place. You won’t be able to miss it.”
And Benjamin was right. When they entered the living room of Benjamin’s apartment, Marco saw the ridiculous item that Benjamin asked him not to laugh at. He laughed anyway. He couldn’t help it.
“I told you, Bruh. Funny, huh?”
A huge treadmill was sitting in the center of Benjamin’s living room. It still had the smell of a new vehicle.
“Aunt Trudy bought it for me,” Benjamin said. “Hilarious, right?”
“Is she trying to kill you?” Marco asked as he chuckled.
“I guess,” Benjamin said as he dropped his keys on the treadmill’s console. It was a large and expensive car key holder. Benjamin dared not use it for the its intended purpose. “Aunt Trudy seems to think it will help. I keep trying to tell her what the doctors said. She’s not hearing that. ‘You gotta have faith, Benjamin.’ I’ve got faith, alright.”
“Let me use your bathroom real quick.”
“You don’t have to ask. Mi casa es su casa.”
For all intents and purposes, that was a very true statement. But Marco was not really focused on that. He did not have to use the bathroom either. He did what he did each and every time he visited Benjamin’s apartment. He went to the medicine cabinet to look at all of those little amber bottles, standing side-by-side. Guardians keeping his little brother from dying in his sleep.
Marco opened the medicine cabinet and tortured himself like a priest that whipped his own back. Large amber bottles. White labels with tiny black typeface. Descriptions. Instructions for use. All of the bottles had Benjamin’s name written on them and it was all Marco’s fault. Marco closed the medicine cabinet quietly and then he looked at the sullen man in the mirror, a man that he did not like very much at the time. The author of the amber bottles. The destroyer of dreams and drywall.
Marco did not know what time he finally laid his head down to rest and he honestly did not care. He thought about his parents and the promise that he made to himself. He was going to find a woman and love her with all of his heart and he was going to do that until his heart stopped beating. Forever. For as long as you both shall live, he heard the Bishop say under a canopy of oak branches. “I will,” he answered. Venice said the same thing. They were both liars.
He made himself a promise before he got married and when he finally closed his eyes that night on Benjamin’s couch he realized where he went wrong. He could not control Venice therefore he could not guarantee that she would keep her end of the bargain. But Marco did not come from a world of catalogue brides or arranged marriages where people stayed connected out of obligation or necessity. In Marco’s world, people got divorced left and right. I’m not happy. I’m not happy either. People untie the knot and life goes on.
Marco stretched out on Benjamin’s couch, not far from a treadmill that would never be used. He was sad because he made a promise that would never be kept. Finally, he drifted off to sleep and that was when the rain stopped and the sky repented of her anger. All that night until the morning, Marco tossed and turned and dreamt of Venice. In his dream, his wife screamed that she hated him over and over again.