Zero Zero

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: November 07, 2019

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Submitted: November 07, 2019

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Zero-Zero

 

Corrine Dato sat in the airport lounge, her flight home to Toronto was late, it was to be expected. Avoid travelling to the third world, she reminded herself. She watched as swarms of people hurried from plane to gate, to luggage carousel, eventually to waiting family, anxious to see their loved ones. 

Family. 

Her own family had been dropping like needles off pine. Corrine shrugged, what was she to do about it? Cry, scream? Yank her hair out? Outrageous options. So not her. Fishing out her latest copy of, “The Journal of English for Academic Purposes”, she sat back in her chair, relaxing into her decision, easily dismissing Andy from her mind. If she had successfully survived her child, her lukewarm feelings toward her husband would be easily pushed aside.

 

 

Allow for The Three-Day Rule

A parent needs someone or something to blame when their child dies. In order to find sense in it.

Corinne was quite sure she could have reasoned and accepted Simone’s death if it had been from some sort of accident like a fall off a sudden cliff. A serial killer? Maybe, even a dreadful head-on collision. Corinne would have damned a drunk driver, happily sending him off to prison, joining MADD as a sign of solidarity with other childless mothers. Or a careless teen, impressing his friends in his father’s new sports car, might have killed Simone as she crossed the street on her way to work. Ear buds in, such poor eyesight, unaware of the car coming around that corner…Yes, Corinne would have gotten on board with those too. Not right away of course, but eventually she would have eased into the idea. Damning them all. If she had to.

Disease would have been preferred. Long and drawn out. Lots of time to prepare and plan, time to say a proper goodbye. Corinne always extoled the virtues of planning ahead. The list of potential diseases is long, varied: pneumonia, malaria, flu, flesh eating (no, too terrible), polio (did anyone even get that anymore?), encephalitis, pneumonitis, meningitis (anyitisactually) or something rare like paraneoplastic pemphigus, perhaps? She wasn’t that picky. Cancer - she could have blamed that too. Easy. A tumor is meaty, you can take black and white scans - things with adorable names like CAT and PET, you can extract it, cauterize it, send it off to the lab for further testing. Malignancy is something you can really get angry at, poke at, eyeball into intimidation. 

But albinism isn’t a disease you can blame. It’s the lack of something not the presence of something. Almost intangible. And its innocence goes even further than that. Simone didn’t die because she was an albino. Albinism doesn’t kill you. You kill it.

Corinne found Simone floating in the bath one evening, after she had unexpectedly stayed late at a department head meeting.

If only…

If only she had come home instead, but there had been those last-minute additions to the schedule, so of course she had stayed. Besides, she assumed Andy was going to be there. 

Simone’s wrists had been carefully sliced down the river not across the steam, as the saying goes. She meant business. The water was rosy and thin and had left a residue on Simone’s skin and hair, not shocking red as you might expect, but the type of pink cherished by little girls. A shade of bedroom wallpaper, the color of frilly dresses, stuffed bears and Valentine hearts. Corinne didn’t remember much after pulling her only child onto the cold tiled floor of the guest bathroom and calling 9-1-1. Nothing to be done though, she had been dead for hours. Then there had been the memorial of course, the well-wishers reminding her how lucky she had been to have a child as wonderful as Simone – blah, blah, blah…. to hell with all that, she thought.

Because Simone took her own life, the burden of guilt was all Corinne’s. Nobody would fault poor Simone, the girl who had been through so much. The victim in all of this. And Andy…well, Andy was the nice one. Nothing was ever his fault. Everybody loved Andy. The lingering question in Corinne’s own mind was how did she not know? Wouldn’t a good motherhave just known? Let’s just be honest here, that’s what everyone was thinking? Corinne didn’t foresee her daughter’s suicide because simply put, she was the type of parent who scheduled and organized her daughter, provided a roof over her head, but maternal love? Impossible. She had once read that animals often rejected their offspring if reluctant or unprepared for motherhood. Cats being particularly guilty of the offense, the break in the code of unconditional love. The ability to emotionally connect was critical. Granted, Corinne had never outright shunned Simone, but her heart was as cold as the hinges of Hell – a legacy from her own frosty parents. She assumed frigidness was in her DNA.

Still, during those pregnant months, she worried. The what-if’s come knocking regularly – What if the baby had Down’s, a cleft palate, missing fingers or toes? Oppositional defiance disorder?! All complicating Corinne’s life further. Anyone who knew Corrine also understood she did not suffer failure easily. Years earlier a second cousin of hers had given birth to a child with Spina Bifida, so Corinne made she sure did everything right. Trying to cross all her tsand dot those is,to do what was expected of mothers to be. Experts were always going on about kale, so she ate so much she had chronic gas – cycles of farting and burping for months. There was the meditation music on her way to work – something that promised to align her chakras, the vitamins every morning with juice not coffee, kind of regular check-ups, smoking wasn’t an issue because she never did and she often, not always, passed on a glass of wine or a rum and coke. There had been the occasional Xanax or Ativan (never together!) to calm her nerves - a necessity not a luxury. There had been a lot on her plate that year, what with the promotion and all those extra hours chairing the committee on Research and Knowledge Transfer. There had definitely been no plan to have children. It was to be a childless marriage- happy with her empty womb and her quiet world. Then there was the +sign on that damned stick. Disappointment in her own negligence had been acute. Carelessness, disregard, failure, irresponsibility.

Despite her misgivings, she had done most things right when it came to the pregnancy. At that point, what choice did she have? She had made an almost total commitment and effort.

But Albinism? Nothing she could have done about that. It never even crossed Corinne’s mind. Although it should have. There was Andy, of course.

When baby Simone arrived, she was milk glass skin, silver-white hair, as if dusted in fine talc. Murky red eyes, sometimes violet, reflecting themselves back at you. It’s how she imagined an angel to be – formed of pure light, cosmic dust, empyreal. And breakable – she had been afraid to hold the child like she had some fragile or unearthly quality. Soft-paste porcelain. 

Immediately after the birth, the doctor would not catch Corinne’s eye, the nurses suddenly seemed busy with other mothers. Ones with normal babies, she decided later.But she did hear them muttering things like, ‘Too bad’, ‘First one I’ve seen’, as they dashed from the room, embarrassed. All cowards. Chicken-liver, weakling, gutless, invertebrate.

Shame and pity had been dumped all over Corinne. She shook it off like wet from a dog. It made her think though – it wasn’t like Simone had been born years earlier - during one of the insensitive decades, before the PC police roamed the halls of hospitals, schools and office buildings, lived in every tv set, computer, radio, paper and book. For God’s sake, she had been born in the late 90s - her child should have been thought of as special not weird. Corinne didn’t do weird. Uniqueness should have guaranteed her an appearance in a diaper ad or two, perhaps something for Gerber. Everything should have been different. 

One of the doctors finally came back to speak to Corinne and her husband. All very medical and technical: Oculocutaneous Albinism, biological recessive gene, human TRP-1 mutation, absence of melanin, enzyme deficiency. Half-dazed with birth, only a scattering of words was captured and understood. Corinne was an English professor for God’s sake, her husband owned a small café, what did they know about all that sciency stuff? One sentence did ring out loud and clear though: Nothing to be done

There was no denial or some fancy in her heart that the hospital staff had accidently switched babies - that the pale creature who only ever whimpered actually belonged to some other couple, that it would be someone else’s hardship instead. The baby didn’t resemble her, but she had the unmistakable look of her husband Andy and the rest of his side. Broad face, wide eyes, full lips. It didn’t matter anyway, although the invisible chord refused to tug, responsibility was not denied. Corinne would do her damnedest to take care of the little girl. From then on, there was supposed to be a real commitment.

Age and ignorance spared Simone from any cruelty until the age of five. She had been cloistered away from daycare and preschool thanks to Andy’s mother, Beebee who cared for her. Home schooling had been considered but the Dato family could never have afforded it, Toronto was an expensive city and they needed two incomes to get by. It was not a house of silver spoons. Besides, Corinne would have gone totally mad spending all day alone with a kid and her career was everything, words her roots. She lived and breathed syntax.

The teachers at Cedar Creek Elementary were nice enough, but Corinne suspected none of them really wanted Simone there. Regardless, the staff all put on smiles and greeted little Simone at the door, always telling Corinne that she was a sweet student with much potential. Potential. The word potentialalways irritated Corrine. Hidden, embryonic, underdeveloped, inert. An excuse for weakness or laziness. The word made her think of her husband Andy.

Children can be so cruel. No longer ignorant to unkindness, Simone suffered. Kids called her ugly, they cried when seated next to her or if they had to share a toy that she had touched. Then, grade four and five name calling, easy at first…’snowball’, ‘cotton’, ‘marshmallow’, ‘lightbulb’, ’toilet paper’. Year after year, it worsened - the taunts, the shoves, the kicks, the humiliation. 

Eventually…

‘Hey freak, if I switch off the lights, will I still see your ugly face?”

‘The cocaine is supposed to go up your nose not all over you face, loser.”

‘Dead-girl doesn’t need a Halloween costume again this year.’

‘Do you drink bleach, mutant?’

‘You should drink more bleach, mutant.’

The isolation was the worst part. The stares, the whispers, the pointing, the ignoring. Loneliness would drive her to the computer where the contempt would worsen away from the eyes of teachers and parents. On Facebook, ‘You should have been aborted’, ‘I am going to kill your parents for making a monster like you’, ‘You might as well be dead, you look like you are.’, ‘Go fuckin’ kill yourself’’.

Kill yourself.

That one was usually accompanied by a little stick figure suspended from the gallows like in a game of hangman. 

Corinne knew Simone suffered but what could she do to make it stop? There had been that time she had pamphlets printed, bringing them to the school for the staff to distribute.‘I’m Just Like You – Living with Albinism.’

A whole box of mortification. 

Simone had wanted to simply drift far away from her mother and the red-hot embarrassment like flotsam in the wind. Or to disappear, go subatomic, become completely insignificant so that she no longer mattered. Then she laughed at her own absurdity. As if she mattered at all. To make matters worse, a few of the grade twelve boys got a hold of a box and stapling the pamphlets together made a life-size figure out of them. The effigy was hung from one of the rafters along-side the fluorescent lights in the cafeteria. It was all lit up for everyone to see. Painted in red ink across what was supposed to be her face:Kill Simone, the elbinow freek. Corinne had, without considering, printed the brochures on bright white paper. It would have been so easy for her to have chosen sheets of robin eggshell blue or canary yellow instead. It hung there all day until the custodian finally found the ladder which the same boys had hidden beneath the stage. 

Not having any other options, Simone directed her anger and shame at her mother. “How could you?” In tears. Inconsolable. 

“I was trying to help. The key to these things is education. They need to understand you are different but the same.”

“They know I am different, Mother. That’s the problem. Look at me. You think you can just force everyone into accepting. People aren’t like that. Don’t you realize they enjoy hurting me? The jokes, the wisecracks make them laugh. You think they’re just going to give that up because you say so?”

“Given the opportunity you can make them change. It’s just ignorance holding them back.”

Simone shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way!”

“You don’t know what you are talking about. You’re only 15.”

“I’m old enough to know I want to die.”

“Simone, don’t be ridiculous, you know how I feel about drama.” A deep breath. “The kids that did this are illiterate. Idiots in fact. They can’t even spell freakcorrectly. It is ‘f-r-e-A-k’. Putting emphasis on the long A-sound. “Or A-L-B-I-N-Ofor that matter. There is simply no respect for the correct use of the English language anymore.” Hands on hips, more outraged by the spelling errors than by her daughter’s obvious pain. “Furthermore, I predict they will be garbage collectors or ditch diggers in a few years. Mark my words.”

“Who cares about a few years away. What about now? You’ve made everything worse.” Another bellowing cry. 

“Your father will deal with it, Simone.” Andy looked up from his paper with no intentions to do anything of the sort. Corinne continued, “Whoever did this will pay. I’ll sue the school board and the parents. I’ll have those miscreants charged with something. The press will eat this up.” She was planning a letter in her head. 

This was getting worse. “Pease don’t, Mother.” 

Oblivious, “What happened to the school’s zero-tolerance thing against bullying? Just more bullshit I presume? You must stand up for yourself in this life or people will walk all over you.” Corinne was shouting.

“If you haven’t noticed Mother they already do, except they don’t walk, they stomp.” Just a whisper. Resignation on Simone’s face. Her shoulders hunched over, she turned and went to her room, closing the door softly behind her. 

“Simone, come back. We’re not done talking about this.” Nothing. “Simone, for Christ’s sake?” 

Only muffled weeping from behind safe walls.

Corinne looked at her husband who had returned to his paper. “Why do you just sit there? What do I do? I would appreciate a suggestion or two.” Corinne was flustered, exasperated. She wanted it to all go away. 

Andy sighed in exasperation, tired of the same conversation. He had just come in from work, he wanted a little peace and quiet. Was that too much to ask? “There is nothing we can do. Support her through high school and then things will get better. She’s a smart girl and very capable. Get her to see what she has, not what she is missing.” Potential.

Fuming, “Jesus Andy, that is brilliant. You should be writing articles for “The American Journal of Psychology” rather than serving up sub-par food all day.” 

He lifted the newspaper slightly to block out Corinne’s face. “I turned a small profit this month.”

“That is quite an accomplishment. Perhaps you could help with the bills?”

“Honestly, you’re browbeating your way through this again.”

“And your apathy is a better alternative?” She poured herself a scotch, no ice - never liking things watered down. She didn’t offer him one and went to her room, slamming the door behind her hoping to escape his feebleness. Weakness, debility,flimsinessfrailty. That was Andy through and through.

Simone’s life didn’t get better as her parents had hoped. Never even graduating from high school with her class, she ended up working the grill at a fast food place, the chipper every second Thursday. She had hoped for the cash register or drive-through, but the manager wouldn’t risk it. “Sorry Q-tip, you might scare off the customers.” 

Even there…

By the time she had reached her mid-twenties, she had put herself through a diploma program in veterinarian assistance. A part-time job which she enjoyed because animals didn’t judge. Corinne thought Simone was happy, sort of happy, content at least, but she was still living at home and there had never been a boyfriend or even a date. Barely a friend. It was no life. 

Sure, Corinne had tried – the birthday invitations had gone out – a party at Build-a Bear, when Simone was six, another try at Applewood Petting Zoo the following year. A few kids had come, present in hand (forced by their parents) but they had yelled at Simone to leave them alone, teased and tortured her. Corinne ended up grabbing one of the little girls by the arm and called her a ‘selfish bitch’. A slap had almost made its way to a cheek, but Andy had pulled Corinne away. That had put an end to the parties and almost resulted in a legal suit against Andy and Corinne for abuse to a minor. They settled out of court for $7,000, maxing out their line of credit.

Because of Simone’s depression, the school suggested Simone attend outside counseling. They all went at first, twice a week to see Dr. Greene and separately when it was realized that Corinne and Andy had deep-seated issues that went beyond their daughter’s condition. Corinne never shut-up, spewing disappointment all over the small office.

“I have tried everything without HIS help, I might add, and our child still lives on the fringes. What can I do?” Corinne was a professor at Ryerson. Some of the courses she offered included: The English Language: Rules of GrammarA Student’s Guide to Citation, another entitled, Footnotes and Referencing in Academic Writing, 300-level courses in Research Methods and Methodologies. Corinne was rule-bound, neat, requiring precision and explanation as a guide through life. She could rationalize the reasons why her child had this disease but was unable to navigate through the emotions that came with it. What could she do with a ten-year old that sulked all the time? What was she supposed to do with feelings that made her want to beat Simone’s classmates to a pulp?

How do you handle a social outcast? There were no instructions to follow, no Mother’s Guide to Dealing with Impossible Situations, no Albinos for Dummies. She needed the rulebook that was neatly presented with a table of context, properly footnoted, a bibliography in correct MLA format. Please refer to page 102 for mental abuse, page 289 for social anxiety caused by bullying. Instead, Corinne was alone at sea with a shredded sail and a busted rudder.

The psychologist looked annoyed with Corinne. “Corinne, maybe if you look at the situation differently? Make it about something that you live with rather than have authority over. It would be easier for Simone. Perhaps, every time she has difficulty you might realize that you don’t have to avenge her but teach her to navigate the obstacles and develop her confidence and strength despite it. To rise above the unkindness rather than react to it with aggression. Being a gentle soul, Simone needs the right tools in order to deal with her physical and emotional challenges, but she is not on the right path. She is floundering in your anger.” 

Corinne looked blankly; a strand of loose hair fell uncharacteristically into an eye. She hated psychologists. Too touchy-feely.

“I’m supposed to just ignore the assholes terrorizing my child and the system that supports it?”

“That is not what I am saying at all, I was merely suggesting -”

“Oh, then you’re saying this is all my fault?” A finger pointed accusingly at Dr. Greene. “Because we all know if it wasn’t for Andy, I wouldn’t be in this situation.” She crossed her elbows and leaned back into the sofa, “Just so that you’re aware, he tricked me into getting pregnant. And –” A quick breath in, “Albinism is in his genes. Not mine.” Corinne hoped her words were having an effect.

“This is not someone’s failing or blame, Corinne. Albinos can live very normal and productive lives if given the opportunity. Let’s keep the focus on Simone by -” 

Corinne continued, adamant for her position, “There seems to be no appreciation or even acknowledgement that the financial burden falls entirely on my shoulders. Who do you think pays for all these extra medical expenses? The Addis Grill Café doesn’t exactly have extended health care coverage, does it Andy?” She flashed him a disparaging eye. “If he actually made a decent wage, we could have had a tutor for Simone or sent her to one of those albino camps, avoided all this ugliness. He thought it was more important to take over his parents’ dump of a restaurant than finish his degree in engineering.”

The councilor redirected, “If it wasn’t for Andy here,” Dr. Greene motioned toward Andy who looked nonplussed, “you wouldn’t have Simone.”

Corinne stared at her daughter who sat across from her in a sharp blue dress. ‘Always wear bright colours Simone, so you don’t look so washed out’. Corinne wondered and realized with terrible self-condemnation that life would have been so much better if Simone had just been born normal. Or not at all. 

Their marriage didn’t last. The grief, the anger broke them. They had probably loved each other once, but 27 years were enough. Andy moved out a year after Simone died, into the storage pantry at the back of his café. A cot and a blanket were all he needed, staying there until the health inspector booted him out. Necessity sent him back to the house, into the guest bedroom, next to where Simone had – well, you know. Nobody went into that bathroom anymore - the memory was too stark. It remained a porcelain and tiled mausoleum with dust on all the shelves and a mouldy fuzz on the scented potpourri. Andy was forced to share Corinne’s ensuite. The couple lived together, in the house that had been a home of illness, struggle, some happiness and then death. They had been a family of three, then two, and finally naught. They had dissolved. They never divorced – too costly but lived together separately, occasionally arguing, frequently bickering like siblings who resented living together but had to. Andy missed the sex but not just the sex, the intimacy. Corinne was usually too busy correcting misplaced modifiers to care about making love to anyone, especially to Andy.

The suicide which Andy and Corinne decided to call, ‘the thing that Simone did’ or just ‘the thing’ put Corinne into a fog of confusion. ‘But how…?’, ‘But why…?’, ‘Wasn’t I on top of things?’ Simone had not been particularly down that week or maybe Corinne just hadn’t noticed. Noticing wasn’t really her thing. Work had been busy, there were finals to mark, and that speech she was writing, Noble Virtues of the English Language, for The John Taylor Douglas Conference at McMaster was taking more time than she had planned. Gizmo, the family cat, had died a few months before. Andy had rescued the thing from the SPCA fifteen years earlier, brought it home and Simone had been over the moon. That was Andy, always kindness over common sense. Afterwards, Corinne wondered why she had not thought of getting a pet but then realized it was because she hated cats. Dogs were no better. Maybe she should have made a bigger deal about it dying though. Had one of those Rainbow Bridgepet funerals for it? A cake and a sympathy card – ‘You were ready to leave; I was not ready to let you go’. Something like that. Yes, Simone would have cherished that. Too late. Corinne hadn’t been upset by the death of Gizmo, glad actually. The hair and the feces used to drive her mad. On the other hand, Simone had been devastated.

 Insensitivityhad been the key word Corinne had left counseling with, having to say it out-loud at the end of each session and as part of her emotional homework. ‘My insensitivity will not define me. Compassion is my goal.’ Actually, she thought it rather insensitive of Dr. Greene to call her insensitive.Deficient, callous, indifferent, hardhearted.

That was not how she saw herself. Wasn’t she always trying to help Simone? 

The thing about Simone’s death was that it seemed to crack Corinne’s life into two halves. Pre-suicide and post-suicide. Everything became relative to that one day. Her colossal failure. That long weekend to Maine: pre suicide, the breast cancer scare: 2 years after Simone died. She obsessed over the two parts - the before and the after. Pouring over the details of their lives, she could never make sense of any of it. Absolute paralysis. What had driven Simone to take one of the Jamie Oliver kitchen knives and slash her own wrists on that particular day? There was still that empty slot in the knife block. She guessed it would always be there. It had been a regular Thursday in May. The type of day that makes you feel alive – the sun had been out, the tulips and daffies were in full colour, it was almost Mother’s Day. Really, who the hell kills themselves in the spring? And so close to the weekend?

Corinne checked Simone’s computer for internet searches. It had worried her that Simone hadn’t researched enough into the subject. It clearly said you are supposed to wait three days from deciding to do the thingThe Three-day rule. You know, to try and talk yourself out of it or get help. To postpone. If Corinne knew her daughter, she had not done her homework on the subject. There was even a ‘Things to Consider’website that they could have discussed. Together, they could have created CAF - a consider all factors graph and fixed the situation over a cup of Earl Grey. But Simone had always been disorganized and a poor communicator - like her father. There are guidelines to follow in life, after all. Typical, there didn’t appear to be any preparation on Simone’s part. Knives are spontaneous and regretful. And why had she chosen something so painful, so aggressive? There was a whole medicine cabinet of prescription pills with Corinne’s name neatly typed on the label for Simone to overdose on. A peaceful sleep. No doubt, she had cut herself to punish Corinne.

The suicide note had not given Corinne any insights. It was written in pencil on the back of an envelope from the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s annual fundraising drive. All very last minute. The envelope smelled a bit like her – lemon soap.

‘Mum and Dad, I’m sorry but I know you will understand. Everything was too much. 

I love you. Simone xo

Understand? Why did she assume that Corinne would understand? Because she didn’t. Not at all. The note was too simple. Didn’t suicide deserve at least a paragraph or two? Some effort put in?

Simone died the week after her 24th birthday. To say they were 24 wonderful years would be a lie. They had been downright difficult, and Corinne struggled to write the obituary that was to go into the Toronto Star: 

Simone had a thirst for life… loved to laugh… surrounded by friends and familyShe wanted to honour her child, but the truth was important…Best to stick to the facts. Not one for embellishment anyway, she quickly wrote: 

Simone, 24, our beloved (? check thesaurus for better word) daughter died peacefully last Thursday (insert date – check calendar) at her home in Markham. She is survived by her loving mother and father (should I include our names? Also, ask Andy if he wants to add his parents and brother in the obit – would rather not). In lieu of flowers, please donate to NOAH (Find contact address for the National Organization for Albinism and ? whatever the H stands for).

 

It was written neatly on lined paper, a pad she normally used for grocery lists and other ‘to dos’. She had looked up a few other memorials to make sure she was doing it right, even googled ‘how to write a good obit’. They had all mentioned God, but Corinne decided there would be no mention of God. God had not taken Simone, called her up or given another angel its wings. She had walked out on life and her family on her own accord. In Corinne’s opinion, too many people still believed in God including her own husband. She knew her daughter was not up in Heaven joyously singing with cherubs, finally unburdened… but just dead. Cremated and dead.

 

The memorial was not held at the house – their bungalow, was too small and had become increasingly filthy in the month it took for Corinne to organize the event. Not an event– more of a get-together for a few friends, colleagues and what little family they had. A Masonic Lodge in Thornhill had rented out their space to them. The AV system was included so it was a good deal. An enlarged photo of Simone from Niagara Falls had been propped up on an easel and they had brought in flowers which, sadly, wilted in the first hour. They had been discounted. The urn was on a table next to a book where people were supposed to sign their names and say nice things about Simone. A lot of people said they were: 

sorry,

very sorry 

so sorry, 

deeply sorry

terribly sorry

Besides being sorry, they ate sandwiches, some greasy finger foods from M & M Meat Shop, a baked dish of sorghum and beans from Andy’s mum (it tasted like sand) and there was a white cake from Safeway. Her fat brother-in-law, Pak was there wearing his stained Disney sweatshirt that read, ‘6 out of the seven dwarves were not Happy’. He had cut himself a piece as soon as they arrived, eating the ‘e’ out of Simone’s name so all evening Corinne stared at the cake that said, ‘We love and miss you Simon’. 

There had been an argument the day before over whether they should serve wine. Andy wanted coffee and tea, soda for the kids, but Corinne insisted on having some bottles of red to get her through the evening. Funny, it was Andy that got so drunk, he missed giving his speech and Corinne had to put him in an Uber. Toward the end, they all said a few words and then everyone was relieved to go home. Half-way down the 404, she realized she had left the urn at the hall. Turning back, she eventually found it in a closet next to the floor polisher and a box of old Christmas decorations. The janitor seemed to have cared less.

By the time she arrived home, Andy had thrown up in the front hall and fallen asleep half-way up the stairs. His face was streaked with dried tears. Corinne left him, his vomit and tears and went to bed, fed up with the day.

 

As she sat there at the airport in Dodoma, she thought of Andy. 

On the 5thanniversary of Simone’s death, they had decided to take one last stab at it, to make it work - for Simone’s sake. For the memory of her. Andy had been born in the small town of Iringa and had wanted to return home to Tanzania. His uncle had been born albino and had been murdered at the age of six. A curse from Godis what the boy’s mother had been told. Both arms had been chopped off with a machete on his way to school one morning. The child had bled to death. $2000 a limb.

Albinism doesn’t kill you; you kill it. 

There had also been two cousins. Taken from their own beds to be used for magic. That Dato family gene seemed to pop up as regular as morning toast. Black and white, black and sometimes white - like keys on a piano. Corinne knew that about Andwella when she married him. Knowing it though is so different from living it. 

After the death of his only daughter, seeing her struggles Andy finally decided to uproot his life to work on Ukerewe Island where a community of 70 albinos live off the coast of Tanzania. It is there that they feel safe. In peace. They are zeru-zeru– the nobodies, the ghost-people. ‘This is something we can do for Simone’, he had said, almost begged, convincing Corinne to go with him. Despite her own misgivings, she let guilt and duty override her better judgment and took a three-month sabbatical from work, rented out the bungalow in Markham and followed her rekindled relationship all the way to Africa. 

She lasted a week. Resolute and badly sunburned, she packed her things and left for the airport, her life back on track. No ‘three-day rule’ required – she had made up her mind and couldn’t wait to get home. To put things back in line. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel some pity. But all-out charity was for other people. As for Andy, she was disappointed. Not even potential anymore. Running away across the world wasn’t going to help anybody especially not her. Andwella would have to be a do-gooder all by himself. She had learned to neatly fold up her feelings of defeat – she was a flop as a mother and as it turned out, as a wife. But she could live with that. 

Her flight was called. Her journal was carefully put back into her case making sure not to dog-ear the corners. Feeling hungry, she wondered what they would be serving on the flight. She grimaced - probably badly done chicken or beef. Oh well, a sleeping pill washed down with a couple of strong G & Ts and the whole nightmare would finally be over. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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