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GREY BORDERS

Dane Swan

 

Dane Swan is the author of 2 poetry collections, a short story collection and Tuesday (Grey Borders Books, 2018), his first novella. His second poetry collection, A Mingus Lullaby (Guernica Editions, 2016), was a finalist for the 2017 Trillium Book Prize for Poetry. Born in Bermuda, Dane currently resides in Toronto. You can read his blog at daneswan-writer.blogspot.ca

 

from Tuesday (2018)

Winning the Lottery

Amen!” My mom was way too excited as we entered our small, two-room apartment in a dilapidated low-rise. “I can’t wait for your father to get home, to tell him the good news.”

“Mom, seriously,” I cut her off, “It’s not that big a deal. Really, it’s kind of screwed up.”

“Jason who cares what it is. You’re transferring to the best private school in the city, and they’re giving you a scholarship!” I was reminded. “I don’t know what you saw in that school, or why you were in that school, but hallelujah! Look at this place, you think people like us can say no to an offer like that? Boy, you better be thankful.”

“Mom, I --”

“I hope you weren’t in that school selling drugs. I will beat the tar out of you if you were being some kind of wannabe thug up in there.”

Technically, I wasn’t selling drugs. I was delivering drugs. A teacher there had already paid for them. But that’s besides the point.

“No mom. I was meeting up with a girl I met at a party last week when I saw what I saw.” I lied, collapsing into a plastic-covered sofa, turning on the lone TV in the apartment, and beginning to flip through the channels. “It’s not like after this thing blows over they’re not going to find a way to get me expelled. I mean, who’s going to believe the words of a known dealer?”

“And that’s why you won’t give them excuses to kick you out. From now on, no hanging out on the streets, I want to see you studying when I get home from work. That man said that if you do well he’ll help you get a scholarship to a college! Boy, don’t mess this up. If you’re not here you better be in a gym training, or I’m going to beat some sense into you!” Always with the threats of violence.

“Mom, I got it,” I confirmed, settling on a channel. “When was the last time you beat me anyway?” I chuckled, “What, like when I was ten? You ain’t got to use no fake threats.”

“I’m serious boy. This is a huge opportunity for you. They paying for your books, uniforms, and classes. All you have to do is pass your classes, and score goals. It’s been a long time, since that was all you had to do.” And now mom’s getting emotional. Come on mom, this is obviously the academic equivalent of hush money. This isn’t a reward. It’s a bribe. I got up, walked towards mom, still standing by the apartment door, and gave her a long embrace. Mom’s moment was ruined by the Ashley-Madison ad on TV.

“Mom, you hear that?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s messed up.” Still embracing, we laughed in each other’s arms.

“I’m going to make some dinner. When your father gets home from work we’ll celebrate. You don’t have homework?”

“Mom, I’m transferring schools tomorrow remember? Even if I did have homework, it’s not like I’d have to hand it in.”

“Well, go and study then. You have a limited time to become smart.”

Before grabbing my backpack, I grabbed the cell granny bought me, and began to text her.

“Boy, what are you doing?” Mom asked, with a serious tone to her voice.

“Texting granny the news.”

“Oh, well tell her hi.”

Message sent, I put the phone back in my pocket, and searched for my bag near the door. The jackets had fallen off their hooks again. Probably didn’t hear them falling over the TV. Moving the jackets aside I found my bag, grabbed it, and returned to my spot on the plastic-covered sofa. Opening it I chuckled. There’s only one textbook in it, my worst subject-- math. With little choice, I grabbed a notebook, opened it up, and started writing.

The Greek Mathematician Pythagoras founded the Pythagorean School of Math in Cortona Italy.

“What the hell? If he started a school in Italy isn’t he an Italian?”

His most famous math formula is the Pythagoras Theorem

I remember Mrs. Livingston teaching this. She said that the Babylonians had actually discovered the formula long before --

Whoa, that was a big mouse running out the door.

The theorem is used to calculate the various side lengths of a right angle triangle.

Maybe we should get a cat. Or better, get the fuck out this neighbourhood. It’s my hood, my boys are here, but if I ain’t allowed to see them no more, makes no sense stayin’ here.

...Therefore, A squared + B squared = C squared.

Why are we living here anyway? Instead of saving up for a house they never will be able to afford to buy, we could be in a spot without mould, or, mice, or bedbugs, or roaches. We’d just need to find a landlord who isn’t --

C represents the hypotenuse -- the side of the triangle opposite the right angle, and also the longest of the three sides.

Even just saying that to myself it sounds like an impossibility. No one in this city can be trusted.

For example: If a right angled triangle has a side that is 3 meters, and another that is 4 meters the hypotenuse is 5 meters.

First I get kicked off my club team, then my school team, and then lose scholarship offers from a fight I don’t start. Start selling drugs -- ‘cause my rep is fucked and I can’t get a part-time job doin’ nothin’ else, see some fucked up shit at a boojee school, and suddenly some rich mother fucker is going to pay for my silence by giving me an opportunity I should already have.

If A squared = 9 meters

B squared = 16 meters

A squared + B squared = 25

Then C is the square root of 25, or 5 meters.

This is some basic shit. How the hell could I be failing math? I’ve been dividing, multiplying, handling cash for long enough that this shit is --

My pocket was vibrating. Granny.

“Hey granny, what’s up?” I asked, tongue in cheek. I was making the delivery for her old ass. I’m sure she loved my, “I quit,” text. Before she could get out half a sentence I cut her off.

“Nah, I’m done. You know that Richie Rich school you had me go to? I was looking for that teacher’s classroom, and saw some really fucked up shit. I grabbed a teacher who was in the hallway, and after she stopped screaming, she reported everything to the principal, and dragged me there as a witness.

Next thing I know, they got me, and mom in there offering us hush money. But you know your daughter, she went for the jugular. Figured school, books, uniforms cost more there than the money they were offering. And after she told them why I stopped playing sports, the principal started laughing. Turns out they have a serious soccer program. He offered me a scholarship right on the spot. He also said that he would personally contact colleges if I still wanted a scholarship. All I have to do is pass my classes, not get in trouble, and he’d turn me into an example of how great his school is. That guy is kind of messed up.”

I could hear granny, but I wasn’t listening. There’s no point. Instead, I flipped through my textbook to the next chapter: Using Pi in Calculations

“Okay granny, I gotta go. Your daughter wants me to study so I don’t seem like a complete idiot tomorrow. Want to speak to her?” Without waiting for a response, I stood up, walked to the kitchen, and passed the phone to mom. “Mom, granny,” I said, handing her the phone, and walking back to the living room. I’m sure my mom knew that I was using her to end an unwanted conversation. She took the phone anyway.

“Thank you, mom. God is good. I love you too. I’m cooking goat. Mm hm. Bye mom, love you too.” Quickly hanging up, she put the phone on top of the fridge. She’ll have some help when her husband comes home, but for now, mom is making a meal that needs four hands.

On the burners, black-eyed peas are cooking in the pressure cooker. In the dutch pot, vegetables are simmering. A Chinese rice cooker is going. Goat is roasting in the oven while a curry built from goat stock made from defrosting the goat in boiling water, is on a low bubble.

“Okay, when the pressure cooker is done, mix the rice and peas together and add coconut milk with pepper flakes in a pot to simmer... Time to make some dumplings.” I could smell my mom’s progress and imagine her throwing some flour in a bowl, adding butter, oil, baking powder, salt, and slowly folding in water.  Eventually, she created a dough. Put a pan on medium heat, added oil, and then rolled the dough into small balls. Placing the balls into bubbling oil, she intermittently flipped them. Looking out the small window, she noticed the rain and yelled out to me.

“Boy it’s raining! Make sure all the windows are shut!”

“Dad’s here!”

“Vincent, did you hear the good news?”

“Your mother called me when I was on the bus. How are things Edith?” Dad kissed his wife’s cheek, washed his hands in the kitchen sink, and began smelling the various scents over the oven.

“Honey, shut off the pressure cooker, unplug the rice cooker, and grab a big bowl for the dumplings.”

“Okay.” The couple began to move in synchronicity for the next hour.

Back in the living room I was writing notes on calculating the area of a circle:

The area of a circle = Pie x radius squared...

Wait, that’s supposed to be Pi not Pie.

The area of a circle = Pi x radius squared

That’s better.

First proven in 1878 by J. Bertrand, the Pi Theorem, was developed for mathematical physics...

Yeah, this is getting ridiculous. How old is this book? Who cares about the when, what about the how?

Also, fuck granny. What sort of grandma sees her grandson down and out. Kicked off his team, see his dreams go away, and takes advantage of him? Then, when I got funds, and mom got suspicious, you told her that I was selling drugs. I was selling your fucking drugs. That nearly got me thrown out my house. And I guess, I would have been more dependent on you, wouldn’t I? Fuck you granny. What are you doing with all the money you’re making anyway? And you’re “holding” my share now too, so that mom doesn’t discover my stash of cash, like last time. Fuck you Granny. Fuck. You.

“Dinner,” mom yelled.

“Coming,” I replied, getting off the couch.

As I entered, I was greeted by the scent and image of curry goat, peas and rice, dumpling, and stewed vegetables.

“Boy, what have you been up to?” Dad asked.

“Mom doesn’t want me to come off stupid, so I’ve been studying math.”

“Good, when you’re done I got an Atlas under the bed. Eastern Europe’s wrong, and chunks of Africa have changed since I bought that thing, but you should have a look at that too.”

“Okay.”

“And then, before you go to sleep You should study a few pages in the dictionary.”

“Okay.” Like a dictionary’s going to save me.

“Boy you have a long road ahead of you. First you got to become a gym rat, and prove that you’re talented enough to deserve this opportunity. And second, you gotta prove those rich people wrong. You smart enough to stand beside them. Do you understand?”

“Yeah.”

“Well,” dad paused, “Good luck. This opportunity won’t come around twice. Take it, and run.”

Dad stood up, went to the fridge, and took out three bottles. Two were beers, the other a bottle of pop in a glass bottle. He pulled out a bottle opener from a drawer, and opened the three bottles.

Mom stood up, walked to the fridge, pulled out a jug of water, and grabbed three glasses. I watched as my parents sit back down at exactly the same time. Crushed by the silence, I stood up, and turned the radio on. Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” was playing.

“Boy, not that rock nonsense.”

That man is crazy, the song is a classic. I moved the dial, briefly pausing on “The Don” from Nas, before finding dad’s favourite station, which was playing Muddy Waters’ “Louisiana Blues.”

“That’s my stuff right there.”

“How old are you? There’s not much difference between Jimi, and Waters --”

“I told you, you were smart. Smart boy, don’t act fresh ‘cause you had a good day.”

I wasn’t sure if it was dad or the freshly empty bottle talking, “Actually, today’s been crap. No one would want to see what I saw. No one would want to be offered a bribe and feel like they gotta say yes. But tomorrow is looking good.”

“Watch your mouth,” my dad warned. He grabbed a dumpling from the serving bowl, looked me dead in the eye, and said without expression, “Having hope is beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is.”