The Writing Disorder



New Fiction


by Elizabeth R. Blandon

       The weekends that Rosa left me to spend time with her friends were eternities. Mr. Carton always planned an outing because activities masked the loneliness pervading our house. He asked me if I enjoyed tennis and I said yes because that was what he wanted to hear. I desperately wanted Mr. Carton to like me. On the other side of the net, Edmund played ferociously; I missed the shots he hurtled at me. Eloise sighed at my awkwardness.
       The children’s bedrooms were on the side of the house opposite to Mr. Carton’s suite, largest to smallest in order of eldest to youngest. Often, I would tiptoe in the night to Rosa ’s bedroom, which was at the back of the house. The window-less room had only her thin-mattressed bed and a wicker chair. The woman who gave me life spent hers looking at old photographs of the parents she left behind in Colombia . She insisted that the boldness of the coffee and the strength of the mountains ran in my blood because I had been born in Bogotá.
       The stories of her childhood seemed fantastic. Field trips to lush jungles, macaws as pets, over 100 cousins at every birthday party. She described my father as her first love. He was handsome, charming and from the right family. He did not even know that Rosa was pregnant with me when she came to the United States. I would ask “Didn’t you want to stay in Colombia?” I wanted to know why the three of us could not be a Colombian family. Rosa said, in her best efforts at English, “No, dees is for ze best.”

       No one knows everything about her childhood; I remember only pieces of what I lived and heard. The world of Edmund and Eloise, though they lived under the same roof, was unknown to me until I was a woman. Later, Rosa told me that as a boy Edmund begged Eloise to touch his privates. Eloise teased Edmund about his masculinity because he lingered in her closet, touching the blouses and skirts, and holding the softest item to his cheek. And when they were alone, Edmund would push Eloise to the ground. Just as he held his lips to her face, she would laugh at him, “You’re not man enough. You could never do it.” He would run to his bedroom and cry, feeling smaller and smaller each time he tried to kiss his beautiful sister and failed.
       I do not know what single event created the Edmund that I later hated. I do not know why I could not have prevented that event from occurring. What I remember is that one weekend in July, when the sun’s rays seemed capable of cracking skulls, though they dressed for it, Edmund and Eloise did not play tennis.
      Father insisted Edmund teach me to ride bicycle before he would take them to the court. A disgrace that I could not ride, tall as I was, reaching to my brother’s armpit. Edmund took me far from the house to a crooked street with shrubbery on both sides. Eloise stood nearby, one hand on hip, another keeping the sun from her eyes; ready to witness another failure of mine.
      “Get on,” he shouted. Edmund said to, so I did. “Pedal!” I was scared knowing that if the wheel wobbled, the bicycle, my body and my face would surely hit the shrubs. “Pedal,” he screamed, spittle shooting from his mouth onto my cheekbone. His face was redder than I had ever seen.
      When I did not, he grabbed my bicycle, one hand on the handle bar and another on the back of my seat and began to run. “Pedal,” he yelled, but my eyes froze on the blurring shrubs. He threw my bicycle down the street and I panicked to find the pedals with my feet. The bicycle leaned to one side and I could not straighten it. Then, I crashed, my arms embracing the greenery to avoid scratching my face as I went down.
      “You idiot!” Eloise shouted at her brother. Her skirt flapping as she ran towards me must have been more than Edmund could bear; he tackled her immediately. He pushed his sister behind the shrubs with the force of a lifetime of jealousy. From where I lay, I could see his body atop hers, his large hands reaching between her legs. Eloise’s screams were raspy, caught with the breath he was forcing out of her. I desperately wanted to stand, to push Edmund off her, to make the guttural cries stop. At the same time, I was horrified that if my sister’s screaming stopped, Edmund would start on me.
      Eloise fought him, her nails reaching for his face, but they were powerless, like fleece mittens patting a craggily boulder. I covered my face with my palms. They grunted and I cried. When I looked up again, Edmund had turned Eloise onto her stomach and lowered her panties. I looked across the grass through the small holes in the shrubs, watching for feet and legs. Eloise would be mortified if someone saw. It did not occur to me until more than 10 years later that Edmund bore the shame.
      He held Eloise’s fragile body down with the weight of his legs. His violent hands grabbed the back of her upper arms. I held her say “Edmund.” It was not a whine, or a whimper, or a complaint. It was a plea. “Shut up,” he yelled. From the proximity of his lips to her cheek, Eloise must have smelt the odor and felt the heat of his breath. Eloise jerked her body to the side, opened her mouth and clamped all her teeth into his left hand. Edmund growled, fell off Eloise, and drew his hand in like a bear caught in a metal trap. As she pulled her underwear up, Edmund ran towards the house.
      Eloise also ran for the house and I trailed behind, afraid of the story Edmund would weave. I hid behind the main door, holding in my breath to remain unnoticed. Mr. Carton was showing Edmund’s bitten hand to Eloise. She lifted her chin and pulled back her shoulders. Mr. Carton slapped her so forcefully across the face that the memory still stings me. “Barbarity happens in other houses. Not in ours.”

      That was when I began to sleep with Rosa because I was afraid of nightmares, monsters and Edmund. Although I never told, Rosa may have found out about Edmund and Eloise. Mothers know things, like whether children are telling the truth just by looking into their eyes. On a Monday, Rosa decided she wanted me back. By Thursday of that same week, however, the attempt was over. “I have to speak with you, Mr. Carton,” she said at several meals. He responded before leaving for work or retiring to his suite, “We’ll talk. We will.”
      “Cheese my daoter,” she blurted out to him during Wednesday’s dinner of grilled salmon and mashed potatoes. I slunk deeper into my chair. Edmund and Eloise stopped chewing and looked at their father intently, waiting for the volcano to erupt.
      Mr. Carton pushed his plate back and slowly worked to produce a sound that poorly mimicked laughter. “Mrs. Beck has a new cook, Rosa. Have her teach you better recipes.” He stood up and dropped the cotton napkin on the plate, uncaring that the stain would add to Rosa ’s workload. “I’d hate to have to fire you.”
      The next day, Rosa and I took two buses to reach the business district of our town. Carl Thomas, Attorney-at-Law. Inside the dark and cool lobby, the receptionist greeted Rosa by asking whether she was going to pay cash or credit for the appointment. Rosa opened her tiny wallet, took out all the bills, unfolded them one by one and passed the stack to the receptionist. The young woman screwed up her mouth and then told Rosa to take a seat.
      A woman with long, black hair and fiery eyes was sitting in the remaining waiting room chair. She was quiet until she noticed that Rosa wore a red, blue and yellow bracelet — identifying the flag of their mutual home country, Colombia. Mr. Thomas came highly recommended and could make almost anyone legal. The woman wanted to bring her two-year-old son from Colombia, where crime was unstoppable, education was expensive, and caregivers were lazy. She finished her speech with, “What about your family?”
      Rosa stretched her fingers in my direction.
      The Colombian woman looked at me with a mixture of jealousy and disgust. “She dresses almost American.” I looked at my t-shirt, jeans and sneakers as if for the first time. Rosa nodded slightly, first time she acknowledged me publicly. The Colombian woman looked at me differently. “An American daughter? That makes a difference, doesn’t it?”
More than an hour later, the lawyer told us the answer: “No, it doesn’t.” A DNA test could prove I was her child, but my rights as her daughter ended with the adoption. That included my right as a U.S. citizen to petition my mother for legal status.
      “I wan my daoter. Wat cannay do?”
      “If you want to reverse the adoption, hire an attorney and sue Mr. Carton.” Rosa ’s eyes became shiny. The man looked at his watch, “As far as Immigration, prove that she is your daughter. That you take care of her not because you are the maid and you have to, but because you are the mother and you want to.” He was exasperated, with his clients as much as with the authorities. “It’s just like residency based on marriage. Just giving the Immigration Officer a copy of the marriage certificate is not enough. Prove. Prove. Prove.”
      We left the office and I did not hear Rosa ’s voice again until that night. She did not reprimand Edmund when he slapped the back of Eloise’s head while she was reading.
      She stared at Mr. Carton as she served him dinner, passing him the salt and pepper after he complained the spaghetti lacked flavor.
      That night, in her room, Rosa emptied the contents of a matchbox into her hand: a tiny tooth and a locket of thin black hair tied with a small pink ribbon. She kept no photographs of me for fear of losing them. She believed photographs could be used for curses and my mother took no chances with my future.
      When I saw Rosa ’s defeated expression, I remembered the day Mr. Carton took away my favorite teddy bear. I tightly hugged her for fear Rosa ’s honest, chocolate-colored eyes would reveal an intention to flee, “Don’t leave me.”
      Rosa patted my back and stroked my hair, shushing me. She slowly helped me into her bed. We enjoyed but detested this clandestine late-night confidence. It was evidence, which could not be proven, of our mother/daughter relationship. Exhausted, I did not resist as she covered me with the thin sheet that smelled of fried ice cream. My mother assured me, “They wud take me kickin, screamin.”
      I fell into a peaceful sleep, not knowing that someone could.

      On the first day of my third grade, Rosa and I started out for school and never arrived. We drove for days, how many I cannot remember. As always, Rosa told the truth: she was my mother, she was taking me from my father, and — because she was illegal — we would be separated if the police caught us. Women helped us along the way, providing beds and food. Not once did Rosa cook or clean by herself. Not once did I want to return to Mr. Carton and Edmund.
      Time passed. The child Meredith Carlton became the woman Maria Lopez. Elementary faded to middle and then to high school. I cooked for my mother, rather than she for me, and — each night at the dining table in the two-bedroom townhouse Rosa recently bought — we shared the best and the worst stories of our day. Mr. Carton, Edmund and Eloise became a distant reality like the disagreeable memory of intolerable fellow tourists during an otherwise exquisite vacation.
      My mother allowed my soul to rise and speak the truth, loving me for who I was, regardless of what I did or did not do. I had witnessed the anger and hatred of Mr. Carton when Eloise tried to speak the truth, but my mother was not like that rich man. She was a finer person. The secret of my childhood poured out of me, a long overdue confession, “Edmund tried to rape Eloise. The day she and I came home with grass stains on our clothes.” A tear escaped me and Rosa touched my hand. “I couldn’t…stop…him.”
      “I no,” Rosa replied simply. She had known about the temptations, struggle and teasing between Edmund and Eloise. And that day I learned about their twisted and torrid relationship.
      The guard said visiting time was up. The detainees stood to go, kissing and hugging their family members, with dignified restraint considering it might have been for the last time.
      Rosa hugged me tightly. In my ear she whispered, “I no how a girl is after. Wen a boy attacks her.”

      Although she was born in Queens, New York, Elizabeth Blandon was raised in Miami, Florida, until she attended Boston University, majoring in journalism and French literature. After Boston University, she attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is now a practicing attorney in Weston, Florida. She has published in The Florida Bar and the journal for the state's lawyers, and writes regular monthly legal columns for local magazines.

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