Let the Trumpets Blow

By Mark Ali

Hwebe had imagined when his hoped-for son was born he would take his neonate body, warm and pulsating, throbbing with life and breath, possibility and hope, and carry him out into a field. The newborn would be brimming with existence, and he, a father now, would walk tall in the brush, clearing a way with each he step he took, proud and strong in the midnight sky, the sun absent, but the moon full and beaming down on the pair, spotlighting their arrival.

He crossed his fingers whenever he had the thought, no matter how ridiculous it was.

He would hoist his son high above his head so the seed could take his first true bath in the stars, bathe in the natural light reflecting the promise the boy had innately within; the young man who held the child would also be moved—he knew he would have to fulfill his own potential—he had no choice. He, a father now, would howl something indecipherable and guttural, animalistic and primal, language which couldn’t be deciphered by human ear, but resonated in a way signifying the divine. He would be speaking the tongue of the gods, and declaring to the heavens, this newborn here was one of their own, just as the father thought his own self to be now because he was a creator too. The hoped-for son’s cries would echo the spirit of the father’s.

When he found out he was going to be a father, it was months after the mother-to-be knew, many moons since she urinated on a stick behind the privacy of a bathroom’s locked door. She gave him the news at a well-lit family restaurant, full of people on a Friday night. He made the mistake of ordering a chile relleno and was paying the price for it. He had heartburn. “Guess what?” is how she began delivery of the news, and she did not even pause long enough for him to play the “what?” game before she completed the announcement.

His stomach rumbled and, for a second in this watershed moment for himself and two others, he thought, What if I hadn’t ordered that chile relleno?

As the soon-to-be-mother’s words were received, chased by small bits of pertinent information, he began to blank out. He mumbled something incomprehensible and proper. The light was artificial and somewhat dim in the establishment. He didn’t grin but hard-pressed a smile. Her eyes were on him, and he felt as if others’ were too. Even if he hadn’t been losing some control over himself, he wouldn’t have asked her any questions then. He knew it wasn’t the moment to do so. Inquiry in situations like this often led to inquisition, and he could tell she was as unsure as he was, just as uncertain about what would happen next. He told her his stomach didn’t feel right and pointed to the picked-over half-eaten, heavily-breaded green pepper covered in red sauce with cheese oozing out of its guts. With the bill paid, he drove back to her family’s house and, once there, walked her to the door but did not go in, then drove off.

No trumpets blew, though the sky did open up.

It rained that night. Hard. The clouds opened up and the rain drove down in buckets, from gutter to ground. He began to fully regain his senses: He was on his way home after getting word he would be a father. He pulled over to the side of the street, parking across from his mother’s house, where he rented a room, and began crying. What did he know about fathering? He was overwhelmed, had been barely able to drive, and was lucky he had finally reached a stopping point, if not a resting place. The car was idling and he had yet to turn the lights off. The gearshift was in park and he had released his foot from the brake. He squeezed the steering wheel, white-knuckling 10 and 2. He had wished those tears he cried were joyous, but he cursed himself as he sat in the confines of his car, which was mass-produced a year before he had been born.

The ceiling lining drooped down like canopy bed linen.

The curses repeated in a strange falling spastic rhythm, uncontrollable, like the rain hitting his windshield running unbidden. The words were uttered through clenched jaws and bitten lip, low and hard, soft and firm. His forehead made contact with the steering wheel. If only he had the apparatus to control his own life like he did this car. Where was his steering wheel, his gas, his brake, as he navigated his own life? Those were the questions that came to mind followed by odd thoughts of times his tire had a slow leak, constantly in need of air even after getting it plugged, or the parking ticket under his windshield, placed five minutes after the meter ran out. He just wanted to maintain some aspect of authority, some aura of supremacy any man, young or old, seasoned or becoming, sought.

The threadbare fabric on the blue bench seat revealed a metal frame.

He sat there in the driver’s seat, looking in the rearview mirror. A coiled spring nudged him in the back as he cried profusely, like the rain coming down, sheet after sheet. The roads outside were wet and slick. He hollered out to no one in particular, maybe the gods, as he bemoaned the fate laying itself out before him. The sound was guttural, animalistic, and primal, but it was known and decipherable—it was a yelp.

The rain beat down on the rusting roof of his car, the blue paint peeling, revealing somber gray and burnt orange. The rain beat down on the car, providing music to his misery. The pelting torrent sounded like the drumming of a steel pan. The calypso rhythms echoed the staccato metronome he saw his life becoming. There was joy and excitement in the sounds, sure, but sadness too. If he could only tune his ears to the sounds between the sounds carrying a different beat, if only he could hear something else than what he had heard; the words over dinner rang in his head, now inside the car too, as he repeated them without knowing.

The heaving of his chest was the antithesis to the atavistic stomp he envisioned himself doing with child in arms, under a sharp sky swelling with stars. The puffing of his chest was different from the full moon moment he conceived in his dream announcing the arrival of his hoped-for son. Really, he was still finding his own way, but now had to begin clearing the brush for another. He was barely old enough to buy a drink. He had only voted once. But at this moment, in the rain, sitting in his car, the moon obscured by the murky sky, he had an epiphany about the creation myth.

He understood his life had changed, now and ever more. He thought of his mother. He thought of his father. He did not want to be his parents, especially his father. At this moment he thought of them both in ways he never thought of them before, in ways he never wanted to, them falling over each other in procreation. When the young told the old they were to become grandparents, each party knew they spoke a common language of arced backs and splayed emotions. If he only knew one thing at this moment, he knew the landscape of the world had changed. The world he was already struggling in no longer existed in the way it had hours before; terrain that had been hard was now soft, and that which was quicksand was concrete.

His dream had come to light, but not as imagined.

The announcement deserved more. It was supposed to be a harbinger of promise. Maybe this rain was the second coming of the omen he missed before. The reservoir of calm he drew upon in the restaurant booth was a mask he discarded now in the precipitation, in the confines of his old car. Control. Manhood. Dreams. For a moment he believed they all betrayed him like the storm did a person without an umbrella. He was becoming soaked in something he couldn’t avoid. He continued to sob. The rain bombed. He cried when he considered entering into the life his parents lived, the one they struggled with. He feared he would become like them, separate and detached from the mother-to-be, his soon-to-be child burdened with sparse memories of a united family. His wet and streaming tears were the truth, and he simply wondered why, when the young woman knew she was carrying a child, he did not.

The specter of his family history hung overhead like the charcoal mass loitering above his car. The storm clouds weren’t dissipating, and he couldn’t change the past. The rain still fell, and would continue to fall. It was a fact. His parents’ story was already written, but a new chapter of his story was opening up. In the distance, lightning struck and thunder rumbled. Clouds were colliding. Things were murky, but he knew he had a chance to break through.

There was a reason to search for a silver lining he never had before, regardless of the climate—his son would allow him be the man he was meant to be.

He realized things weren’t going to be as he imagined, so he crossed his fingers and dreamt something fresh and new. He dreamed of something practical and attainable, something he could control no matter how the world turned or shifted—he would be the man his father wasn’t, the parent he never became, the one his seed deserved.

He resolved to embrace the toil.

Trumpets were not going to blow. He would herald this child-to-be, his hoped-for son, even if this rusted car, older than he was, were to be his weather-ravaged chariot of triumph.

Despite the falling rain and gray sky, he saw things clearly now.

He wiped his face with his hands, shut the car down, and opened the door, stepping into the deluge.

___

Mark Ali is an English teacher, program coordinator, and Bay Area Writing Project teacher consultant who holds degrees from California State University East Bay. His work has appeared in Digital Paper, Pearl, and Rad Dad. Mark has attended the workshops A Thousand Words, Room to Write, and Gather, and has studied with Stephen Gutierrez and Marty Williams. He is also a member of a writing group whom he has worked with since 2012. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife and two sons.


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