The Ethnicity Bank

Judson Hamilton

The summer had finally come to our Pacific Northwest and my eyes, so long accustomed to restrained skies and diffused light, winced at the uncorsetted sun. I was squinting at my wife who’d left me for this guy in a blaring red parka standing next to her. She was braying on about all of the reasons she was leaving me: the volatile mood swings, the glacial silences, the red streak rage. She said there was a growing dissatisfaction in me that threatened to cover the three of us in a blanket “knit from a smoldering, melancholic ennui” and that my “selfish tirades” were “driving a wedge” between us and had pushed my daughter into a “transformative amphibian state.” I squinted at my daughter, now in her third month as a bright green tree frog, with a yellow underbelly, flipping around this usurper’s index finger like an ecstatic gymnast. This can’t be my daughter, I thought, this slimy little bug-eyed creature,—she’s holed up in a cabin somewhere on the Orcas islands, possibly at some kind of youth camp—stomping around in the perennial rain boots that are required here; climbing on mossy boulders. Yet when she cocked her head to the side I swear she looked just like her mother.

Having vacated the two story starter home we had in the suburbs, I decamped to stay with my two cousins in a building done up in a kind of Mock Tudor style. Being unable to sleep that first week I did laps of the interior courtyard balcony trying, unsuccessfully, to ward off insomnia. Staying with them was unbearable—the freshly painted white bedroom with its open windows and equally white curtains billowed mockingly; their side glances of disapproval; the blood in the toilet. So, I lifted some cash from one of their purses and flew up the Olympic Peninsula on my red crotch rocket. It was warm, (or what passes for warm here—damp and cool), and the expanse of the mud flat beach, with its boulders acting as visual anchors for the subdued blues and browns of the landscape that hung together in a tenuous alliance.

Later I found myself seated around a glass table with fuzzy navels, the stench of overripe orange juice hung in the air as Peter detailed the painful art of alimony payments for me. He’d procured the services of a special accountancy firm that specialized in divorce cases and custody battles. David asked him what he was pulling down a year to which he responded, “A mill, but after that bitch dug her claws in—seven fifty.” I sipped my drink in silence, idly pulling the pulp from my teeth, as the schnapps burned the back of my throat. When prodded I muttered that I’d have to “mull it over.”. My tacit admission of my poverty seemed to have a relaxing effect on the others and as the discussion turned to winter surfing I pictured the 2K I had in checking, piled up like Monopoly money; all shades of the rainbow present in paltry, miniature representation.

Afterward we headed to the beach. My head was fuzzy and I stood and watched as Peter and David tried to get a large kite off the ground. It had been fashioned from a checked ski coat of a motley tartan, and once they managed to get it aloft it’s soft hues merged into the background of the sea and the sky, I realized that my daughter too would now cameo into my background until she’d become a an inseparable speck on my past’s horizon. Unpriable and irrevocable.

Reluctantly I returned to the place I was sharing with my two cousins—both divorced after unfruitful marriages, one was chalked up to lesbian tendencies; the other to a lengthy, damning list that her ex-
husband had accrued, included, but was not limited to: “honky-tonking,” excessive time spent at the horseshoe pit and general drunken and loutish behavior. I took up window-sitting as a new hobby sometimes for up to 10 hrs a day—my widow’s peak slowly deepening. I started taking my meals there (hastily prepared greasy spoon fare) and spent the nights running laps around the courtyard balcony. My butch cousin (who sported overalls year round, simply shedding or layering her undergarments per season) told me in not uncertain terms that I “cut a quaint and faintly ridiculous figure” and after a long diatribe about what she had diagnosed as my “manchild syndrome” and “gynophobia” she summarized neatly with the clipped advice to “shit or get off the pot.” Some would take umbrage with that. I decided to dismiss it out of hand and resumed my window-gazing which afforded a view of the Pacific turning restlessly under my watchful gaze. I had insisted on keeping the transom cracked, the better to hear the ocean by, which resulted in chills, fever and chain-sneezing as the place slowly filled up with black mold. Autumn had seen the backs of both my cousins and so, left to my own devices, I tried to mitigate my cold and loss of family with gallons of rum as a medicinal addition to the buckets of black tea I was downing. I’d bought a second-hand book on reptiles and amphibians and when the days were too dark to afford a decent view of the ocean I spent time in front of the fireplace reading up on my daughter’s newfound lifestyle. For kindling I used the piles of unpaid bills, and reams of subsequent debt collection and foreclosure notices which had piled up around the mail slot like a makeshift carpet. It was during one nightly rum-fuelled, fire-building session that I came across a court summons. I stared at it for a full minute. I had one of those rare moments where the mind goes blank; a motionless interval. It lasted all of half-a-minute before I snapped out of it and- the spell broken—I promptly sneezed 16 times in a row, stood up and resolved to shed some dead weight. I left the fire blazing and the windows open and headed downstairs. The flames were just beginning to lick the outside of the cabin as I mustered the compunction to get her back and took off—tracing a red taillight of urgency.

 
 
 


Judson Hamilton lives in Wroclaw, Poland. He has published several chapbooks and, most recently, a novella entitled The Sugar Numbers, out now from Black Scat Books. Follow him on Twitter at @Judson_Hamilton.

 

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