​East Fork:

A Journal of the Arts​​

The Africa-Shaped Bruise
By: Codey Lembck

1: The Fatality of it All

I hold my mother's lifeless hand.  There's this heaviness on my shoulder and there is less carbon dioxide in this hospital room than there was a minute ago.  There's this cool breeze that smells like death.  There aren't any windows in here.  Why aren't there any windows in here?

Still gripping her hand, I stand up and kiss her gently, my tears leaving a lifetime of love in a puddle on her forehead.  I lean my face next to her ear, placing my cheek on hers.

“Mom, tell Grampa and Grannie I say hi and leave a seat open for me until I arrive,” I whisper into her ear.  I leave her hand dangling, and start walking towards the door.  Already forgetting what her voice sounds like, I pause at the doorway.  I turn around and take one last glimpse of the emotionless eggshell walls, the still creaking chair, her lifeless lips, and my face is wet. 

Numb, I stroll through the hospital's vast, seemingly never-ending hallways.  I walk by two grieving young parents.  The young thirty-something woman is grasping her husband's arm and  her eyes have amounts of pain way behind her years.  Her husband is motionless, unaffected by his lover's tears, grasps and screams.  He is inside of himself trying to keep all the sorrow from slipping out.  Trying to stay strong.  But he is broken.

I walk past an open door and inside is a birthing in progress.  The mother is shrieking in pain, yet the pain is absolutely stunning.  She clutches onto the father's arm and his face is all terror.  He isn't ready.  He reminds me of my father.  I hear an innocent little shriek of the wet first breaths of a child.  I think the father pisses himself.  And the mother smiles and it is uncomfortably reminiscent of my mother's and my face is still wet.

Still limping towards the entrance, the electronic sliding doors open for a rugged looking brunette man wearing a flannel and a “Kiss the Cook” apron.  He has a crimson-stained towel over one hand and a tip of his finger in another.

“Yeah. I'm a pretty shitty cook,” he says as he flips his finger into the air and catches it like a coin.  I laugh for the first time of the day and my face is still wet.

Walking into the sun's all-knowing rays, the Earth starts spinning slightly slower.  Sitting down on the dry, heated curb, I put up a stone exterior.  Inside though, I'm shattered.  There is a black hole in my chest, turning my organs into dark matter.  A flashback to mom tenderly teaching my eager little seven year old  hands how to strike a chord on the grand piano in grandma's old house.  There is a fuse slowly burning the string connected to the dynamite in my stomach.  Mom weeping on the last step of our stairway looking at father's skin scrapings mixed with the blood dripping from my broken nose.  There is a house on each of my shoulders and my collarbone is cracking from the pressure.  Standing on Jefferson Middle School's stage, seeing mom's glistening smile pierce through all the other happiness.  There is torment wrinkled throughout everything inside.  Then mom's diagnosis, her fate-accepting frown, my walls slowly creaking; cracking. 
A green pick-up truck rolls up, and parks steps away from me.  A older man with thin hair, a chiseled jaw, and eyes older than his years closes the truck door behind him.  He looks at me.  I stare back at him.  He glances away, not prepared to face what my stare means.  He sits cautiously next to me, as if he is afraid that the curb will suffocate him.  I see sweat drip down his face.  Maybe they're his tears.  Maybe they are regrets.  He finally readies himself, and looks into my grief-ridden eyes.

“She's gone, isn't she?” he says, unmistakeably trying to remain calm.


The word bites my heart.

“Oh, Johnny. Oh, God. Oh, Jaime,”

Her name lingers over both of our heads.


It's first time I've called him that in what feels like centuries.

We crumble into the gravel of the curb; a mixture of rain, blood, mistakes and grief.  A young nurse walking past us on her way to work pauses, crouches down, kisses both of our foreheads, and whispers,
“May God ease your hell.”

2: A Child's Embarrassment

oh shoot my pants are wet, it's soaking through everyone will know dad will be so mad at me i don't want to let him down, ahhh man it smells so bad, i'm gonna be the laughing stock of my own party, i wish my body would lemme know when i have to pee and would actually let me hold it in, i don't want dad to scold and hit me again, it's my birthday this is the worse i'm supposed to be glad i'm turning five and all i have now is wet reptar underwear, man these are my favorite underwear too i gotta hide from dad he is scary when he is embarrassed of me and my many failures

thank god it's mommy, she leads me to the bathroom with its nurturing blue walls i feel bad imposing on the warmness of the room with my pee-smelling reptar underwear, “it'll be alright my little munchkin pumpkin johnathan” and she kisses my forehead, i love her kisses they are just the right warmth and softness and the world seems to stop spinning and my heart smiles (hearts smile, right? if they don't, they should) she tells me not to worry she'll sneak into my room and get me new bottoms and no one will ever know

as i await for my hero's return, i grab the step stool and climb up so i can use the sink, i try to wash away all the redness in my face from all the pee-tragedy tears, i notice in the mirror these small brownish reddish dots all over my cheeks, i've seen them before on my mom's cheeks in pictures where she wasn't a mother and i wasn't real yet, and the fact that i have them now too makes me so proud and i'm beaming in the mirror when she walks back in with my favorite pair of pants, they are these tye-dye pants i made in school cause i was too cool for tye-dye shirts i wanted tye-dye pants, i change quickly and my mom tells me a secret “your daddy wet the bed until he was thirteen so don't be embarrassed, you're just like your father” i don't want to be like him though i think and hope i don't say out loud

“don't ever tell him i told you that”

all dry and proud i blow out my candles and everyone claps for me, i feel like the king of the world, at least until the next time i remind daddy i'm just like him

3: Zombie Runs

The coffee maker starts hissing.  A bitter smell runs through the house.  I try to get out of bed, but there is an elephant of grief on my chest, so I just roll off to the side, hit the floor brick-style and hope that the elephant didn't follow me down.  I get up, try to find my Converge shirt but it is invisible under all the clothes (both dirty and clean; mixed together for some reason), random sheets of torn-up bullshit poetry, empty bottles of any liquid, and everything is a mess. Mom's gone, and everything's a mess.

I walk into the kitchen, nearly slip on something wet.  The smell of oranges and peaches is overwhelming the coffee smell.  Did my father clean something in this house?  He has never done that before.  I grab the fresh pot of coffee and pour it into my favorite mug; one with a picture of mom and me dressed up in alligator-in-suit costumes, me making an ass of myself, her genuinely giggling.  My father looks at the cup, focuses in on the picture.  He smiles, then frowns, eyes water, hands loosen, neck loses posture and I think I see yet another bag grow under his eyes.  I take a sip.

“I didn't know you drank your coffee black?” he questions.

I don't.  I usually add at least seventeen bags of sugar and several cream shots.  Mom used to always make fun of me for it.  But right now I want everything to cause me some sort of pain; even if it is just a really bitter taste.

“You wouldn't know father, because you haven't been here for the last couple of years.”

Another bag grows under his eye.

“I deserve that.”

A sense of guilt shoots up my nerves.

“I wish you'd call me Dad,” he begs.

I ignore his last remark, and leave for school.  The thought that mom won't see me graduate hits the back of my skull like a bullhorn.

I walk onto the bus and everyone averts their eyes.  I sit next to Colin in the back.  He looks at me through his glasses, and his mustache moves into a smile, but it looks fake.  Like he expects that a goofy smile will kill all the awkwardness about the fact that he has a mother, yet I don't anymore.  The bus feels cold, icy.

“So, how's it been with your dear old papa?” he asks sarcastically, already knowing the answer.

“Fuckingsucksalotofcock” spews out of my mouth.

My father decided it would be a smart idea for him to move into his old house that he abandoned a couple years ago.  Everyone didn't want me left alone; or at least he says.  I guess teenagers who lose their mothers have a high-suicide rate?  But the fact that he is living with me makes me more suicidal than losing mom.

“So yesterday I was watching some really great porn,” Colin says giggling, trying to change the subject, “and I was kinda stroking it, you know how it goes.”

I don't really know “how it goes” as I haven't even be able to think about anything sexual for the last couple of months, not even exposed ankles gets anything going. 

“And this girl, super fake ass boobies, but hey boobies are boobies you know? is really digging it and all of sudden she goes 'I'm gonna cum like a beluga whale' and I lose all sense of my erection and just start dying.”

He starts laughing hysterically loud, and people start turning around, looking at us with confused glares.  There is a girl next to us, who probably heard the whole thing, and she looks absolutely disgusted.  She rolls her eyes like an avalanche and her facial expression just reads 'fucking boys'.  My expression hasn't changed since I got on the bus.  Colin, not laughing now but blushing, gives me a disappointed stare.
“Man, you used to love masturbation jokes.”

4: One of Many Apocalypses

“BOY YOU DONE FUCKED UP THIS TIME” i'm running for a corner a locked door escape comfort mommy, his feet sound like mountains moving, he runs his hand across the hallway and it doesn't make that screeching nails on chalkboard noise but i can feel it in my bones, i've decided that behind a curtain is a significant hiding place one i haven't tried the other numerous times maybe i won't be left with bruises and scars all i did was forget to take off my muddy shoes, mommy pleads, there is a small stain on the carpet, he acts as if i defaced an angel, i'm holding my breath hoping i'll be able to breathe after the beating or maybe hoping my breathing will stop, mommy begs, the curtain is ripped away and i'm out in the wild of father's storm, lashsmackslappunch, blood stains my hand the carpet the house, mommy weeps, “YOU FUCKING STAIN THE CARPET I PAID FOR WITH YOUR MUDDY SHOES” kicksknees “I WORK MY ASS OFF AT THE STEEL MILL TO COME HOME TO MY CARPET SHITTED ON BY YOUR FEET” the horrid familiar sound of his belt being undone “STOP IT DANNY YOU ARE DRUNK” arms reddened by leather “SHUT THE FUCK UP JAIME” i think he laughs? “NOW YOU GONE AND MADE POOR MOMMY UPSET YOU ABOMINATION” i don't know what abomination means but the word stings, i shut off completely and imagine eating oreos in the sun, but the cream is red and it haunts me

5: The Cracking of a Boulder

I'm awakened from an after-school nap by a crashing.  My surroundings still blurry from sleep, I get up, pause the Swans playing through my speakers, which previously had filled my room with weirdness and gave my sleep strange fantasies instead of reliving continuous nightmares once again.  My breath still smells like weed, unsurprisingly so do my room and clothes.  My mouth is dry and I hope wherever the crashing came from, there is water there also. Or a Sprite. I fucking love my Sprites. Also a lot of cookies.  Giggling to myself, I open my door very slowly so as to not alert anyone I'm coming out of my drug-hazed room.  I tell myself over and over to be quiet walking down the hallway and stairs, but I feel like I'm a bull in a china shop, or a hippo in a glass factory to be less cliché.

“Fuck Jaime, I'm sorry. So goddamnned sorry,” whispers my dad, masked by sobs.


I turn the corner into the kitchen.  The flower vase is in multiple pieces on the floor, making a barrier of glass knives around my father.  There is a hole in the wall adjacent from him, with a steel-toed boot underneath. 
“I caused this, your death is on my hands,” and he wants to say more, maybe apologize for all the hurt he caused her, ask God for forgiveness of his sins, maybe apologize to me (who am I kidding?), but his adam's apple is caught in his throat and he just wails.  It's the sound of a hyena killing a wildebeest.  The air is ice-filled.

I start to pick up the shattered glass all around him.  Finally realizing my presence, he jumps, brushes my arm.  A piece of glass cuts through my skin, a yelp, and blood drips to the tile floor.  We both look at the crimson splotch and it brings back ghost memories and I feel like the house is suffocating me.  He face is plastered with regret, the first time I've ever seen this.  He stares at me, and I feel sympathy from him (maybe me?).

“Oh Johnny, I'm so- I'm sorry- I'm a mess and everything I've-” and his throat closes again.  He stands up and truly hugs me for the first time.  I don't know how to react.  Do I hug him back?  Can I forgive him for all the hurt engrained in the walls of this house?  Do I pull away and scold, just like he used to do to me? I don't know.
I don't know.

So, I stand there, limp, motionless, and focus in on the rip in the curtain.

6: A Plea for The Unimaginable

“why do you let him do this?”

“i don't let him- pumpkin i hate it as much as you”

“you can't hate it as much as me, cause you aren't the one being hit and spat at”

“you think you are the only one in torture? have you seen my arms? my back?”

she lifts up her shirt and an africa-shaped bruise is stitched into her back


“you think i want this? you think i wouldn't love for this to stop happening?”

“mom- i'm sor--”

“no don't you fucking apologize, not to me”

i can't stop wondering what in our house is africa-shaped

“mom, do you love him?”

“yes, no, i don't know, i used to, he was never like this, he was gentle, he was warm”

“gentle? you gotta be fucking kidding me”

“hey watch your fucking tongue”

i curse my loose tongue

“and son, munchkin, he was gentle with you, he used to play peek-a-boo”

“i don't believe it”

“he did, son”

“he doesn't love me, no one that cruel can love”

mom eyes send a water drop down her cheek

“he loves you son, he just-”

“he just what? shows his love by leaving scars, bruises, and hatred everywhere on us?”

“son, he works thirteen hours a day, and it's hard-work, little pay, he supports us”

“so that gives him the fucking right to hurt his most beloved? he should man-the-fuck-up”

she is weeping too much to correct my language

“mom, i'm sorry, i'll stop, i'll shut up”

“he used to take me on really romantic dates, one time he rented an entire boat, learned how to pilot it, brought me out to the middle of the lake, pulled the chair out, cooked me an entire feast, told me i was everything he needed, i was gorgeous, i was the one, told me we should have a kid, have you, and you turned out wonderful, and he caressed me and danced under the moon and it all sounds so cheesy looking back on it and i wish he would stop drinking”

7: Reconnections

“Dad,” the name still sounds odd coming out of my mouth, “it's okay. I understand, she left a huge emptiness and it's hard to fill the void with anything but violence and tears,” and I finally hug him back.  His body just crumbles at my touch and I have to hold him up.  He is freezing.  Our faces are both wet.

“Son, Johnny, I'm so sorry for everything I did to her. To you. I just didn't--” he starts to cry uncontrollably (I think I am too?). 

“Dad, it's alrig--”

“No it's fucking not alright.  I was an asshole.  I am an asshole. Your blood, her blood-” he pauses and tries to reassemble the broken jigsaw puzzle inside of him, “I've stained this whole house with my ungodly presence.  I hated my job.  I hated myself, I still do.  I should be dead for the things I've done to you, my family,”

“Dad, stop. Don't say that. You kept us fed and sheltered.”

“That doesn't mean anything if it caused me to lose both of you.”

He did lose us.  He left us.  One day, he just never came home.  He forced mom into a waitress job she hated.  Men grabbed her ass, verbally assaulted her.  She came home crying most nights.  She went into outrageous debt trying to pay off the house.  She was too proud to lose it.  It was her home, more than it was my father's.  She left her hugs in the blankets, beds, couches.  He left wars in everything else.

“Why did you leave?”

He can't stand to look me in my eyes.  He is looking at the floor, a small pond around his toes.

“Why did I leave? Because I hated myself.  I tore everything apart.  One night I came home, whipped you with my belt for some inane reason, and came into bed and tried to kiss her.  She kicked and slapped me out of bed.  She told me my touch made her shudder, and that she didn't love me anymore.  I punched her for the umpteenth time.  I slept on the couch.  When I looked in the mirror the next day, I didn't recognize myself.  There was evil in the corners of my mouth,  in my pupils and I hated myself.  I had to get away.  You guys were better without me.”

“She tried to kill herself the third night you were gone.”


His entire face sinks and melts into an emotional wreck.  He is kneeling now.  He resembles a broken ventriloquist doll.

“Why'd you never visit her in the hospital?”

He is shaking non-stop.  The entire kitchen feels like it is shaking.  For five minutes the only noise is his wails.

“How could I? I caused her illness.  My beatings, stress, my lack of affection killed her.  I'm a murderer Johnathan, a murderer.”

“Cancer killed her, D-”

“No, I did. She knows, I know, God knows, you know.”

“She loved you.”

“And I murdered her.”

“Dad, I forgive you.”

As the words leave my mouth, they seem flat, hollow, like I want to mean it but I don't.  There is a still scar visible on my chest and it cuts to the ribcage.

“I love you,” even more hollowness.

He is now just a puddle.

“Help me be better, Johnny.”

I lift him up. We walk to the couch, sit down and I try to view him as a widow, a person who lost someone dear.  But there is that African-shaped scar on all of us, and I don't know how to make it disappear.

8: Epilogue

the hospital room is warm and comforting and there are tubes in and out of my mom and she still calls me munchkin pumpkin and i still love it and i hope Death lets go of her and i wish the hospital's walls weren't so dull with their emotionless broken eggshells, and i wish it didn't smell like a funeral because she is still alive

“hey pumpkin munchkin can you promise me something?”

at this moment i'd do anything for her

“forgive him, forgive Dad”

“okay” i say even if i don't really mean it, he hasn't visited her, he hasn't done anything for her


“okay mom”

she smiles her smile and i feel like this is the last time i'll be warm again