I received your message on my answering machine concerning Zane’s tardies and absences. I’ve talked with him about missing the bus. I go to sleep around 8 P.M. most evenings and though I tell Zane to go to sleep soon after, I know he doesn’t.
You also mentioned his drawings. The doodles seem to cover every scrap of paper in my home, so I’m sure he’s doing the same at school. He’s always sketching those aliens, from that show about crystal gems, or some nonsense. It’s a show about lady space creatures with superpowers and there’s a boy too, a fat, funny-looking little boy named Steven. Lord knows Zane has tried to explain it to me a million times. Even though I don’t understand it, I keep letting him watch his program. I imagine it’s hard for him living with me in this retirement community.
His mother loved to draw, too. My wife and I often found her with her art set alone in her room. She had so many pads of paper—and she really used them, not like these people who only draw on a couple of pages and buy a new one before the old one is done—every page was covered in colored pencil. I still have a few of the pads my wife saved in a box somewhere in my closet.
You’re an English teacher, so you would’ve loved my wife. She was always reading. Reading the Bible mostly, but there are some good stories in there, too. Have you read the one about Hannah asking the Lord for a baby? God gave her a son and she named him Samuel. My wife and I tried for a long time to have a baby. Once she turned thirty-eight, I lost faith, but my wife kept on praying. Right before she turned forty, she gave birth to our only child, Samantha. We loved that little girl more than I can say. I know Hannah gave her son back to God, but I’m not sure I love God that much. I know you don’t teach religion at Zane’s school, but maybe you’ve been to church. Sometimes I wonder if God thinks I’m a Christian. Can you believe in God, but be unwilling to give him everything he wants? Is the belief enough to do the saving or do I have to lose it all? Can you imagine giving away a child after you prayed so hard to have her?
After our Samantha died, my wife went shortly after. Sam by a car accident, my wife by complications after a stroke. I don’t blame her for leaving me behind. Our Samantha Rose was the brightest light in our lives and it’s dimmer here without her. My wife didn’t know what would happen to Zane’s father.
Sam met Kouame at college. When she brought him home, we thought he was her classmate. After she got pregnant, she told us he worked in the kitchen of her school’s cafeteria. When Zane was born, we learned Kouame was in the States on a work visa. Sam didn’t give her son Kouame’s last name. That’s why Zane is a Thompson like me. I bet Zane—and his teachers—are glad he doesn’t have a long last name full of vowels like Kouame does.
Zane was only a year old when the light of our world was snuffed out. Kouame couldn’t take the shadow-filled post-Samantha world either because he stopped working. He took care of Zane and I helped him with money whenever I could, but he couldn’t seem to keep a job. That’s why when he got pulled over for a broken taillight, they realized his work visa had expired earlier that year.
You’d be surprised how easy it was for them to send Kouame back to Liberia and to designate me Zane’s rightful guardian. That’s when I found out Samantha never named Kouame on the birth certificate. My life is so full of questions for people who can’t give me answers.
My wife and I were simple people who had one bright and shining star to adore and we did so faithfully for twenty-two years. Now my wife and child are gone, and I’m left with this little boy, who is not as little as the toddler they gave me when Kouame was sent away. Sometimes, I can still find the face I remember when I see him sleeping on the couch in the morning, with one of those stupid game controllers in one hand.
I know it’s not good for him to watch so much TV or to spend hours playing video games, but he has no friends here. There is one part of that show I mentioned, the one with the weird boy with a gem in his belly button, that I remember Zane explaining. I think that kid’s mom died when he was a baby, too. Have you noticed, in all of Zane’s drawings, I never see any sketches of the kid or the dad, just the women? I wonder what it’s like for a kid to never say the name Mom during the day.
I’ll continue to talk to Zane about going to sleep earlier and getting on the bus consistently. I understand that school’s important. I also understand that I’m his only parent, but my name isn’t Mom or Dad.
P.S. I asked Zane to deliver this. I trust it’s still in its sealed envelope when it reaches you.
Celesté Cosme has been teaching high school English for fifteen years. She is an MFA candidate at Rosemont College, where is the Flash Editor for their literary magazine, Rathalla Review. Her CNF essay “For Greenwood” appears in Pangyrus, and her flash “Thief” is forthcoming in the South Florida Poetry Journal. Her current WIP is an MG novel about two kids whose best-friend is the ghost of Nina Simone. She lives in New Jersey with her photographer husband, curious five-year-old, and crazy tuxedo cat.