WRITTEN FOR EMRILIA’S LISTEN AND WRITE
Inspired by Christina Perri’s Jar of Hearts
Richie watched his mother as she watched for his father, the afternoon sunlight streaming through the lace-covered window played colours in her hair, red, gold, amber and bronze. Sal would have been pretty if not for the hard bitter set her mouth had taken over the years. Right now those lips were pursed in impatience as she waited for Carlos, she was itching for a fight.
Fair enough Richie thought, but he still hoped she’d manage to get it together before Carlos hit the pavement that lead to their small two bedroom shoot through. Sal’s leg ticked a slow rhythm, like one of the down tempo piano pieces Richie’s grandad had taught him. Maybe he’d taught it to Sal too, maybe she was thinking of that now. Thinking of all the ways her father had been the best man in the world and all the ways her son’s was not.
“He’s not that late Ma.” Richie mummured, protecting his father out of habit, though he knew Sal would never again be of the opinion that Carlos deserved air to breathe.
Sal gave Richie a look that needed no words to accompany it. Carlos’ tardiness might be intensifying her rage, but it was not the cause of it.
Pursing their lips to the side in unison, Sal and Richie looked away from one another.
Richie had caught many of his mother’s expressions, but the face he made them with was all his father’s. His smooth olive skin, greyblue eyes and nut brown hair were Carlos in reflection, as was the shape of his nose, the cleft of his chin, heck even the size of his shoes had wound up being the same. Carlos’ DNA was like poison ivy, even Richie’s sisters looked the spitting image of their father.
Richie was the eldest of thirteen kids, a rare thing for a sixteen year old whose parents aren’t Irish Catholic. His mother was a Chistian of sorts, or at least she had been when Richie was little, sadly the years that wrinkled her lips had also tarnished her faith. Carlos on the other hand worshipped only at the altar of love. He loved life, he loved impossible dreams, he loved his sail boats, he loved the women he met on them and he loved the kids he had with those women.
Obviously, Carlos did not love contraception.
Richie was pretty certain that’s why Sal was so angry today. This would be the first time Carlos had came to visit since his latest piece of “happy” news. Richie would soon have another sibling. Most likely a sister as since his own birth, Carlos hadn’t managed to father another son. Richie didn’t mind, a brother would have been nice but he loved his sisters more than the earth and he’d love this next one too. It wasn’t her fault her dad was a man-slut.
Sal leant forward in her seat, careful not to shadow the window lace lest Carlos figure she’d been watching for him.
“He’s got a new car.” She kept her voice smooth, but Richie could hear the grit beneath it. “Blue camaro, wonder how many child support payments that c-”
Sal’s jaw clenched the same way Richie’s would if he’d been shocked and angry at the same time.
Richie made to move toward the window but stopped himself when the sound of a woman’s voice reached him. Carlos had brought her with him. His latest woman. He never did that.
Richie had grown up knowing all of his sisters, it was impossible not to in a small seaside town, but Carlos had never openly introduced any of his women.
Curious as to what made this one so different, Richie hurried to the door, opening it before his father could ring the bell. Carlos’ beaming smile was so wide it almost knocked Richie off his feet. The heavily pregnant woman behind him smiled too, though her’s was much more timid.
“Richie!” Carlos cried happily as he squashed his silent son in a bear hug. Richie’s eyes stayed on the girl. She wasn’t a girl though, he’d expected a girl, but this was a woman, mid-thirties by the look of her. She was pretty in her own way, but with her oddly hooked nose, she was far from beautiful.
She seemed to pale a little under Richie’s steady gaze.
“This is Carla,” His father drew the woman under his arm. “Isn’t that a stitch, Carlos and Carla! Oh hi Salmetta, how are you darling?” Carlos pushed into the house leaving his son on the doorstep with Carla.
“Sorry we’re late,” the woman seemed confident though she spoke softly and played nervously with her ear. “I still get sick sometimes.”
Richie had been around pregnant women most of his life, his mother being a support counsellor for all of Carlos’ abandoned women, he knew that morning sickness came on in the afternoon and he knew that it lasted way past the first trimester. He could have made idle chat with these facts, but as Carla continued to toy nervously with her ear, Richie’s brain became very preoccupied with trying to comprehend why a giant diamond was hugging her ring finger.
Words drifted from inside. His father’s voice.
“Engaged….so happy….the one.”
Richie watched the woman’s face. She was hearing it too, her bottom lip hid between her teeth like a frightened child seeking the comfort of his parent’s bed. Her eyes met Richie’s, she didn’t appear all that comfortable with eye contact.
“He’s really excited.” She said happily, but her smile never reached her eyes.
“Where’s the other guy?” Richie asked pointedly.
Carla frowned in response, unsure how to take the meaning of her new fiance’s son.
“The father of your baby,” Richie clarified, unsure how he knew, but sure that he knew. “Where is he?”
Carla turned green. Then she turned to the garden and threw up, whilst Richie unpityingly gaurded his doorway against her.
“Where’s the other guy?” He asked again once she was down to spitting up bile.
Carla braced an arm against the red brick of Sal’s home as she took deep breaths. She kept her eyes down.
Richie listened to the conversation inside as he waited. His mother’s voice this time.
“disgusting….how long this time….vending machine for sperm.”
Carla grimaced as she too heard Sal have at it.
“It’s not what you think.” Carla spoke shakily, her voice was thin but not weak.
“Tell me what you think I’m thinking.” Richie asked with anger on his face and twelve sisters on his mind. He’d always felt worse for them than for himself. After sixteen years of abandoning his children Carlos was finally committing to a woman and didn’t even have the decency to choose an honest one or to knock her up himself. This would break thier hearts.
“You’re thinking I…duped him.” Carla responded taking gasps to steady her nausea. “You’re thinking…I’m in a tough place and I’m trying…to get him to take care of me.”
“Am I wrong?” Richie demanded.
“Yes.” Carla replied, standing up with effort, her protunding belly sticking out like an insult to Carlos’ firstborn. “He know it’s not his, we met when I was already showing. Look, I know his past and he knows mine and he loves me despite it. I have my own money, I can take care of myself.” Carla shrugged and met his eyes. “Maybe that’s what he loves so much.”
“My mother took care of herself,” Richie replied through gritted teeth. “and she took care of me, plus I know twelve other women who did the same for kids that were actually his.”
“I didn’t mean…” Carla’s voice trailed away and she began to nervously toy with her ear once more.
A crash from inside caught both their attention. Sal’s voice shook the walls.
“Not even yours!”
Carla made to move into the house, but Richie caught her shoulders to keep her on the doorstep.
“I wouldn’t if I were you.”
Sal was pretty scary when her back was up like this. Another crash sounded, glass this time.
“I can’t leave him in there.” Carla pressed her lip to her teeth once more but she allowed herself to be settled on the front step.
“He can handle it.” Richie knew from experience that was true. This wasn’t the first time his mother had fitted with his father, it was a good thing they were so poor and couldn’t afford nice crockery.
“You said before that you know each other’s pasts. You said he loves you despite yours.” Richie reminded her. “You don’t love him.” It could have been a question, but Richie made it a statement.
“Look, Richie, your dad he’s a good man.
“No he’s not.”
“Right,” Carla replied, knowing she couldn’t disagree. “Well at least he’s not a bad man and there’s plenty of them out there. Carlos, he’s…he’s a collector of hearts. He used to just collect women’s hearts, but then your mum got pregnant and he discovered the magic of a child’s heart, so he started collecting them too.”
Richie’s lips pursed sideways, but the expression was much tighter than usual. He didn’t get angry all that often but he was angry now, angry at his father, angry at his mother, but most of all angry at the whore on his doorstep with his father’s promise on her ring finger and another man’s kid in her belly.
“Who do you think you are turning up saying my sisters and I, my mother and the others like her, we’re all just collecters items.”
Carla’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened as she shook her head in embarassed shock, her ugly nose casting cresents on her cheeks.
“No…Oh Richie…no that’s not…”
Richie slammed the door in her hook nosed face, then stormed into the kitchen to slam his father up against a wall.
“Why her?” Richie demanded, loosening his hold a moment only so he could slam Carlos into the wall once more, his father’s head jerked with the impact “Why that woman and not us?”
“Richie, son. Please don’t be so angry with me.” Carlos begged.
Richie loosened and slammed again, Carlos winced with the impact.
He didn’t even know Sal was behind him until she placed a hand gently on his shoulder, her son’s wroth having stilled all of her own.
“Let him go love.”
Richie held firm a moment, staring into the face so like his own, before throwing the man who owned it to the floor in disgust.
Sal hugged her son tightly. As she pulled away, Sal brought her son’s head down so it rested against hers.
“She’s the first one who took his heart with out giving hers in return. Carla is his punishment.”