Mom called it a cruise, but I knew that prisoners didn’t go on cruises. I rode to the dock the day the ship left. I couldn’t see Dad, but I waved as the ship steamed away, just in case.
He returned five years later, tanned, muscular, almost unrecognizable. He didn’t drink anymore, didn’t yell or get violent. I didn’t mind the polite stranger he’d become.
But he doesn’t laugh anymore, doesn’t go outside. He just sleeps or watches TV.
Now when the ship comes, I ride to the dock to curse the beast that, somehow, ate my father.
A strange story, but that is probably what you’ve come to expect from me. What do you think happened to the father while he was away?
“How do you plead?”
“Not guilty, your Honor.”
“You were caught stealing 200 feet of wiring from a house.”
“I’m an electrician. I went there to install it, but I have this unusual problem. I sometimes get caught in a reverse time wave. I’m seeing a physicist about it.”
“You were caught trying to steal $150,000 from a bank fifteen years ago.”
“I was there to deposit it. Inheritance from a rich uncle.”
“Sure. The trial is set two weeks from today, no bail. If you’re telling the truth, you’ll walk out of the jail long before then, I’m sure.”
Grandmama was as colorful as her house, but instead of flowers adorning her steps, she had pictures covering her arms and neck. Maybe other places too. She’d been in the circus, she said.
Five years after she died, I came across a book of criminal tattoos. As I read the meanings of the designs I’d grown up seeing on my grandmama’s skin, I realized I never really knew her.
“You knew her,” my mother said when I confronted her. “You knew the person she remade from the ruins of that former life. It is easier to change spirit than skin.”