Thirty-Six Hundred by Aarati Jagdeo

Between the hours of 7pm and 8pm my mother sits in the living room and stares out at the driveway. She feeds me and my brother precisely at 6pm and then we all sit and force small talk for an hour before she begins her strange ritual. During that hour, my brother and I speak very quietly or do our homework. Then, promptly at 8pm, our mother gets up and invites us to watch TV in her room.  We never decline her offer.

It’s been five months since our father left us to start a new life with his girlfriend. That’s nothing new in today’s world I suppose. However, the fact that his girlfriend is 16 years old is what causes us to get the stares at the supermarket and at school.

People who know and like my father always try to make excuses for him or lie about his girlfriend’s age. “His wife too disgusting”, they say or “his wife let herself go after she had kids”. The issue of him leaving us and bedding a girl only three years older than me never seems to carry much weight amongst them.

His girlfriend, Cherie, is one of those girls that developed early and is very aware of her effect on men. Her mother is a loud, obnoxious woman who I hear has been married three times already. Her first two husbands left her and the current one, apparently, hardly spends time at home. Some people used to feel sorry for Cherie, especially since she doesn’t know who her father is. However, that all went out the window once word got out that she and my father were “dealing”.

I saw Cherie and my father out grocery shopping the other day. He looked so old standing next to her. He had his arm around her shoulders and she had hers around his waist. I remember I felt rage creeping up inside me. Didn’t he know how ridiculous he looked standing there with his thinning hair and his stupid paisley shirt tucked into his khakis? She was no better with that annoying way she chewed her gum in her batty riders, with her sloppy orange lipstick and her too-tight t-shirt.  He spotted me that night and tried to say hi but I just turned my back on him and left.

Last night, one of my only true friends, Chris, asked me if I ever noticed my father looking at other women before. I told him no. “Maybe I just never thought…” I said.  I couldn’t tell Chris my true feelings yet. They were still too alien.  I wondered about so many things now, things that no 13 year old should have to wonder about.  Was my father a pervert? Was he a “paedophile”? Had he ever had those kinds of thoughts about me? I didn’t really want the answer to those questions but every night, before I went to sleep, they were waiting to haunt and taunt me.

Tonight I’m watching the clock in the kitchen. It’s 7:00. Like a moth to a flame, my mother starts to make her way to the living room and that wretched window. I look at my brother but his head is down.  I’ve decided I’ve had enough.  I walk to the sofa and put my hand on her shoulder.

“Mom, he’s not coming. Do you hear? He’s not coming.”

She looks at me and starts to cry. I cry too. My brother comes in and sees us. Then he stands there and weeps.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Arati Jagdeo describes herself as “a Caribbean girl living in a material world. I like chillin’ like a villain, kickin’ it old school, shootin’ the breeze and any other activity that involves an apostrophe.” Her entry, The Yard, which earned her second place in the 18 to 35 age category of the 2012 Wadadli Pen Challenge is about how a young girl, in an attempt to escape the heat, takes a shortcut through her neighbour’s yard and sees something she’ll never forget. The Yard also earned her third place overall. In her other story, the “well written” Thirty-Six Hundred, which earned third place in the same category, a young woman laments her father’s indiscretion as well as the state of her now devastated family.

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