by Michael Colangelo
Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. Francis of Assisi, Joseph, the Virgin Mary. These are the gilded portraits that hang from the walls inside Nana’s little apartment on Thanksgiving Day.
Blackbriar the Bear, Hamstring the Rabbit, Farmer Carrion – the names of the characters in the book tucked beneath little Peter’s arm, The Chronicles of Blackbriar. These are his personal heroes.
He just wants to read his book, but this is a family get together. They’re celebrating an important, and holy, occasion. Great Grandmother sits in an armchair unblinking. The others chat and hug and drink around her. The men go out on the balcony to smoke and chat some more.
Uncle Vince picks Peter up, grinning. He places him on his knee. Peter gets a quarter from Vince’s pocket and then he’s offered the cigar hanging from Vince’s mouth.
The smoke makes Peter cough and he doesn’t like it. Uncle Vince just laughs and laughs. His face turns red he laughs so hard.
He makes sure he tells Peter’s Mum and Dad that their kid likes cigars, just like he does. He makes sure to tell them that Peter is going to be just like him one day - a success.
Later on, after they eat dinner, Peter is tired. He rubs his eyes and sits on the couch while the adults move around him chatting and smoking and drinking some more. He’s trying to read his book but it’s so late that the colors in the pictures seem to smudge and the letters look all blurry.
The adults are ignoring him. They usually do. They’re here to talk about adult things with one another. But Uncle Vince, as always, comes to help Peter out. He sits down beside him on the couch and takes the book from his hands.
He digs out his reading glasses and holds the cover up to the light.
“What is this, Peter? A book about a bear?”
He opens up the book and begins to skim through the pages. Near the end he begins to nod in understanding. His brow furrows like he’s concentrating hard.
“Ah, so this bear. He goes to the farmer’s house for dinner? Even after his friend the rabbit warns him not to do it?”
Peter nods. He’s read the book before. He knows the ending. The last page of the book is a full page splash of Farmer Carrion and his wife all dressed up for a night on the town. The farmer’s wife is wearing what’s left of Blackbriar like a coat.
Uncle Vince turns serious. His face and his eyes grow very dark right before he leans over to whisper into Peter’s ear. His breath smells of strong liquor.
“This bear, Peter. You know why the lady’s wearing him at the end, right?”
Peter shakes his head.
“Because this Blackbriar’s some kind of motherfucker. That’s why. Farmer Carrion, he just wants to take his wife out for dinner. Poor bastard can’t afford to buy her nice things. Who can blame a guy for wanting the bear as a coat, eh?”
Peter shrugs and Uncle Vince gives a little laugh. Or maybe it’s a growl. Peter’s too tired. He can’t tell.
“But the bear, he’s just looking for a free meal. Some sort of handout. ‘Don’t be a motherfucker, Blackbriar’. That’s what this rabbit is really saying. I don’t think they’re really friends. Do you?”
Then Peter’s Mother is standing over them both. She snatches the book from his lap and takes Peter up in her arms.
“But we were reading,” Peter protests. He curls his head against her shoulder and then falls silent.
“We have to go, honey.” She strokes his hair and takes him away from Uncle Vince.
It’s later in the next year when Peter sees Uncle Vince again.
He’s sitting on the front lawn with his old book in front of him when his Dad pulls into the driveway. Behind him, a big black car with fins on it turns in and Uncle Vince gets out.
He’s carrying a baseball bat. They’re not about to play any baseball.
As Uncle Vince approaches, Dad turns to Peter and waves him off.
“Go inside, Peter. Uncle Vince and I need to talk.”
Peter runs inside. His mother runs outside. Peter runs upstairs and goes under the covers of his bed with his book.
He reads for the one hundredth time about the time that Hamstring got caught in the fox trap. Blackbriar happily gnaws his rabbit friend’s leg off to free him again.
Michael Colangelo is a writer from Toronto. Visit him at http://michaelrcolangelo.blogspot.com/.
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