Antoine helped Tess up the two flights of stairs and into his apartment. Kyle had gone out to the store and wasn’t back yet. Offering Tess a hot cup of tea, he then turned the shower on, and ushered Tess into the bathroom. “Take your time, girlfriend. I’ll be here waiting with some sweet chamomile tea when you come out.”
“Okay. Thank you, for everything, Antoine. I’ll be right out,” Tess replied.
Antoine went into the tiny kitchenette and put a bright red teapot of water on the stove to boil while he prepared a serving tray. He put a few graham crackers, tea biscuits, teaspoons, and a few paper napkins onto the wicker tray. Antoine then set it in the center of the coffee table.
Music meant a lot to Antoine. It had saved him many times whenever he was feeling melancholy. He decided to go with calm and nurturing songs, choosing Kitaro. Propping himself on the couch, he read a copy of Home and Garden while he waited for Tess to emerge from her shower, fresh, relaxed, and calmer.
Moments later, a haggard looking Tess tiptoed into the small living room. Her attempt to smile at Antoine failed and a tear slipped out of her eye. The shower was hot and relaxing but the pain was still raw against her nerves.
Antoine offered Tess the hot herbal tea and some of the cookies. “Don’t think you’re getting away without eating something tonight! Just look at you, Tess! Daaaamn! If you get any thinner, you’ll need to wear two pair of sweatpants under your jeans! When was the last time you ate a good meal? And, you best not tell me it was the Chinese food dinner! I ought to call your mother!”
Tess looked at Antoine and started laughing. “As a matter of fact, it was… so there! And… you better not call my mother. I talked to her earlier. She’s upset enough with me.” Her mood quickly shifted, “She thinks I am a terrible person. I am a bad mother. My children are better off with her than with me. I can’t seem to get it together, Antoine. Every time I turn around there’s something keeping me from doing the right things. I think I’m jinxed.”
“Listen, Miss Tess, your mother is good to help you with the kids. You’re lucky to have her. She knows that one day you will be a great mother. For now, be thankful that you know where they are and that they are being well cared for.” Antoine reassured.
Tess thought this over. She drained the little tea cup then turned to Antoine, “Are there any beers left?” Tess fluttered her eye lashes as she asked.
“Now how did I know that was coming? What about the tea? It’s better for you than that nasty old beer! Humph! There are a couple of cans left, I think. Susan was here yesterday and you know how she loves her beer as much as you love yours.”
Tess jumped up from the couch where she was sitting with Antoine. She bolted over to the small refrigerator in search of her beer. There was only one can remaining. Furious, Tess went into a rampage. “I don’t freakin believe this! Where’s all of my beer? What happened to my six-pack? Oh, no she didn’t guzzle my Buds, Antoine!”
“Calm down, Tess! It’s not the end of the damn world! Susan will replace them, okay? We’re talking about beer, Tess! Be for real!”
Just as Tess was beginning to simmer down, Kyle came through the apartment door. “Well, hello Miss Tess! How are you this fine evening? What are you two up to?” Always charming, always Kyle.
Antoine gazed up at Kyle and said that Tess was in need of some R&R. “Kyle, let’s watch that movie that we rented the other night, The Seventh Sign. Tess, have you seen it, yet? Girlfriend, it’s real good.”
Tess looked at Antoine and her words seemingly came out of left field. She began to speak softly as she stared into a corner of the room, “When I found my father laying face down at the bottom of the stoop, I never expected him to die. I don’t think anyone believed that he would. The whole scene was a nightmare. I turned him over with the help of the man who lived next door and, Antoine, his head was broken, bleeding, and his eye was hanging off to the side. He was breathing hard and he appeared so scared.”
Kyle said, “Oh, Tess, you poor baby. I could never imagine experiencing something like that! Whatever did you do?”
“I ran into the house and called my mother to come out. She became hysterical. My sister, Betty, was home but she reacted worse than Mom did. I wasn’t even nineteen-years-old but someone had to take action. I called 911. I called my grandmother and then I called Daddy’s sisters in Shreveport. The ambulance came and took him to the city hospital up the street from us. I remember Daddy barely able to tell the EMT’s not to take him to that hospital because he would surely die. Antoine, my Dad knew that he was not going to make it but I went to see him every single day after work keeping a vigil by his bedside. It was awful. I prayed that God would save him like all the other times he fell down the stairs. Why did this time have to be different?”
Antoine and Kyle sat quietly, stunned into shocked silence as they listened to Tess pour her heart out about her father’s sudden death. The two men could not grasp the tragedy nor the enormity of the negative impact that this trauma had on their friend. They began to understand why she drank like an insatiable fish. Yet, it was inconceivable that this was almost certainly just the tip of the massive iceberg of adversities that plagued Tess’ life. Antoine rose and hugged Tess.
“I was at work when the call came in. Daddy had been in the hospital in a coma for more than a week. I could not stop crying that particular morning. I went to do my work, but I simply couldn’t. I had gone into the women’s bathroom and I was talking to one of my coworkers about Daddy’s condition not improving. My boss had come in and asked me if I needed to go home. Mrs. Somers was a very compassionate person and she understood how difficult it was for me to make it into work each day. Just then, someone came into the bathroom saying that I had a phone call. It was my brother, Allen. He asked how I was doing. I told him that I could not stop crying, that I felt that something was wrong. I asked him how Daddy was. At first, he said he was fine. I became hysterical, Antoine, because I felt in my gut that everything was not fine!”
Antoine was crying. He held Tess by the hand and squeezed it. “Take it easy, Tess. You want another beer or some more tea?”
Kyle had gone to the tiny fridge to get himself a beer only to discover that there were no more. He made a mental note to run to the bodega on the corner of their block when he felt the time was right. He was sure that Tess would need one because he felt that he needed one just then.
“I pressed Allen, demanding that he tell me the truth. Tell me! Tell me, Allen. Tell me, what happened to Daddy? What’s going on? I know something’s wrong. I feel it!” Tess was staring blankly and shouting as if she were on the telephone with Allen. Tears cascaded down her face and landed in her lap. Kyle wiped her tears as she continued, “Allen said, ‘Daddy died today.’ I became hysterical. I screamed at him in the phone. You’re lying! Stop lying, Allen! Please tell me it’s not true ! I dropped the phone and was crying and crying until Mrs. Somers came and escorted me back to the women’s bathroom. My coworkers took up a collection and Mrs. Somers pre-paid a taxi to drive me back to Queens from Manhattan. It was the saddest day of my life. My Daddy abandoned me. Every man since him has left me. Every last one…”
They were all grieving by the time Tess completed her memory. The apartment was solemn until Antoine leapt up and decided to put on a new genre of music. Blaring forth from the stereo speakers was Barry White bellowing ‘…you’re my first, my last, my everything!!’ He grabbed Tess by the hand and began to shake her arms wildly. He shouted over the music, “Tess, let’s celebrate your Dad’s life! He wouldn’t want you weeping and boo-hooing! Come on, girlfriend! Shake your money maker!”
Kyle took the opportunity to slip out quietly. He would bring back some noisemakers, beer, chips, and party hats for Tess.