A new piece. Short. Seasonal. Not very nice.
PERSISTENCE OF VISION
(c) Michelle Butler Hallett 2011
St John’s, NL, December 1989
Never liked Christmas after grade one. A matter of the right tree but the wrong place and the wrong name. My proper name is Mark Power – Danny told you that. When I first lived in Newfoundland, out in Long Pond, I tried the whole kindergarten year to win a race with Keefer Breen. He even made a better Advent calendar than I did. The rackets we’d get in … the teacher kept sending home notes, wanting to see my parents, but I don’t think either one ever – neither of them is here now. Can’t tell their story for them, even though I got a pretty good idea what happened – really happened.
Didn’t do anything about it til the day after I turned sixteen. Mom gave me the wrong birth certificate.
Nan Bradley, Mom’s mother, had this crazy aluminum tree left over from the 1960s, some pointy terror that had to stand naked because lights made it too hot. She had this disc with three colours of glass on it, and that would spin slowly over a light and shine colours all over the tree. And that was the tree Mom and me had in Montreal in the early 1970s. I dated a girl who thought the aluminum Christmas tree that Lucy goes on about in that Charlie Brown special was a joke. Broke up with her not long after that.
Missed tinsel, though. Nan and Pop Power, they just threw the stuff on, those strips of shiny paper, big clumps of it. Wonder the house never burnt down, wads of tinsel and outdoor lights on some poor old dried up spruce hauled in from Kenmount Road. I liked the look of it though. ‘Crying right happy,’ I called it, and Pop Power loved that. Pressboard coffee and end tables. Bright-coloured cone lamps pointing every which way off the same lamp pole. Ribbon candy and peanuts in the shell. Records stacked on the spindle, Elvis to Alvin the Chipmunks in a single click, and I’d frigging beat Keefer Breen yet: 1973.
1974, though: one-bedroom apartment in a dirty big city where I kept having nightmares about getting lost and forgetting how to say Bonjour, the little aluminum tree too hot to decorate, no Nan and Pop, no Dad, no Mark Power but Mark Bradley. Getting into fights with the teacher, this time, because I didn’t care what the class register said; my name was not Mark Bradley.
Christmas 1982: an Atari 2600 to keep me home, out of the arcades – I don’t even want to know how she got that, her working as a receptionist – and finally, a bit more of the truth: Dad didn’t leave us, like she’d always said. She ran from Dad and took me with her.
Years of me thinking I pissed Dad off somehow, but it was her.
She got really drunk that New Year’s Eve. Some strange guy brought her home, and as she fumbled around the kitchen while I tried to get ET out of another frigging pit, my eyes all dazzled with the game and that aluminum tree, she said ‘He swore he’d kill me.’
I jumped up some quick. I don’t think ET ever saw the light of day again. I thought she meant fuck-face who’d just brought her home, and I was ready to race out the door and hunt him down. But she giggled, sat down right heavy and sad, tried to giggle again. ‘I mean, your Dad. He swore that when he got out, he’d kill me and take you. So I ran.’
She was drunk.
After she gave me the wrong birth certificate, the Newfoundland one, I planned it out. Worked at McDonald’s til I had exactly the right amount for bus tickets and then a ferry ride. Forgot the whole food thing. Also never bothered to learn to read a map, so when I got off at Argentia, I figured I’d walk to St. John’s and look up Dad from there. This guy kept looking at me on the ferry, like he was worried about me – Danny. Eventually he found me walking on the road and drove me into town. Told him I was looking for my father and thanked him very much. He gave me his business card, dropped me off at the Woolco entrance there at the Avalon Mall, told me to call him if I ran into any trouble. And I did. Because I found dozens of Powers in the phone book. Couldn’t even start with Pop and the tinsel because I didn’t know my grandfather’s first name. Lost. In a dirty little city. And I forgot how to say who I was.
Danny took me in.
So I’ve been working for him ever since. He made sure I graduated high school first, which I thought was a total waste of time, but I learned some useful stuff in the theatre arts class, learned how to act. No one takes a second look at me. And that’s just how I want it. I’m pressuring Danny to let me start breaking into houses – I am positive I’ve got a cancer patient scoped out, and you know she’s got some meds – but he tells me I’m not old enough yet. But he trusts me enough to bring around the Christmas bonuses in cash. So here ya go. With Danny’s thanks for a good year, and all his best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year. Fix the tinsel on your tree.