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Nayu describes them to me. The haggard bodies covered with dust and blood, surging abruptly in front of the car. The limbs missing. The faces contorted in pain and disbelief. She tells me about the ranges of a scream—from the silent or guttural shock to the bellowing distress.  She was riding shotgun with her grandmother in Pétion-Ville when the earth grumbled, dust engulfing the car, swallowing the surrounding mountains flanked by shanty towns.

Becoming Abby

By M.J. Fievre

Memoir

You, my dear, are a party pooper.

You’re the one who doesn’t drink the offered glass of Pinot Noir because you’ve recognized in your own drunken eyes your father’s propensity for yelling and hitting. You’re the one who refuses to puff the joint because Daddy says drugs are bad for you; besides, you heard marijuana makes one sleepy and you really want to read a few chapters of Zola’s The Human Beast before going to bed. Weeds make you hungry too, they say, and you want to finally fit in these bell bottom jeans that are so in vogue in Port-au-Prince. Party pooper! You won’t dance too close to Ben under the flashing lights because that might give him ideas and you’re only 15 and you don’t want to get sidetracked when such a bright future awaits you.  On a large piece of cardboard on your bedroom wall, you’ve written down your life goals: finish high school, finish med school, open a clinic downtown, buy a house in the mountains of Kenscoff. You’re boring, you know. But keeping focused allows you to forget the insomnia, the dark thoughts, the darker impulses, your fear, your cynicism. Eyes on the prize, and you’re the perfect follower of rules—the perfect Catholic teenager, a candidate for salvation.

M.J. Fievre is a Haitian expatriate who lives and writes in Florida. Fievre wrote an essay in TNB Books’ new collection, The Beautiful Anthology, about her beautiful mother and her father’s unpredictable and violent mood swings. Here, she discusses beauty:

 

What is the biggest surprise when it comes to beauty?

I’ve found that some people are so physically flawed that they end up being beautiful.

We’re proud to announce the publication of The Beautiful Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Collins, now available in trade paperback from TNB Books, the official imprint of The Nervous Breakdown.

The Beautiful Anthology can be purchased at Amazon.  To order your copy, please click right here.  (Note:  in the coming days, TBA will be available via other retailers like Powell’s and BN.com.  Ebook editions are also forthcoming.)

SPINNING,  1991

We hear the phone first, and then the rifle shots spattering the darkness of the night—a night that holds its breath in fear. Patricia doesn’t touch me. In the dark, I hear her urgent whisper into my hear, “Something happened.”

In 2006, the year I turned 30, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with my BA in English, my fourteen year old daughter was repeatedly attempting suicide and failing in school, and my four-and-a-half year old ADHD twin boys were rapidly being kicked out of every daycare center in the city – all of which was the death knell for my failing marriage. Around this time, I created a MySpace account to stalk my daughter, who, I discovered, had a clandestine account herself. On my profile I listed writing and reading as two of my hobbies and one day I got an invitation to read a blog written by some “author” named Brad Listi. Everyone was an author on MySpace, it seemed. Most of them were trying to sell me something and the ones who weren’t tended to write boring blogs about finance or essential oils or some other subject I had no interest in.

I was, as a matter of course, rejecting nearly every “author” who invited me to read his or her writing – but for some reason, I went ahead and accepted this Brad Listi fella’s invitation.

 

Look at this earnest face.

Look at this earnest face.

Some things have not changed—the crunchy gravel of the dirt roads, the rooster’s crow, the buzz of bees, the bright yellow sun of the Haitian dawn. The rest is spooky in its familiarity, yet wrong in detail. A chill settles onto the top of my stomach. Even my skin has gone cold. I drive holding the steering wheel close, among the crowds of unwashed faces and men asleep against their stomachs, the makeshift tent villages. Sometimes, a humanitarian tuck comes barreling up behind me and rides my tailpipe.

Surrounded by the fresh smell of cotton steamed under the iron, I’m listening in a conversation between my mother and my husband, Hector. My fingers caress the cuffs and collars of Hector’s Guayabera shirts as I iron them. It’s Haitian Independence Day, and Mother, who is visiting us in Pembroke Pines, is helping Hector with the traditional Joumou soup. The two of them milling around, laughing and talking, the fragrance of garlic and piman—all this gives it an authentic Haitian feel. Their tongues roll around the Creole syllables with delight, and the warm cadence of their voices bring me back to the Caribbean mountains of my childhood. A soft, but unapologetic roll and clipping of words. Deep, modulated voices.

Mother has been working on her family tree.

The Wild Ride

By M.J. Fievre

Memoir

After the shooting in Port-au-Prince, the Parent-Teacher Association decides that we, children, need some fun, and the nuns organize a school fair. They call it Journée de Couleurs. It is a blur of colors and smells and sounds. The sky is full with bobbing balloons, which dance around the sunrays poking through the clouds. Under the flamboyant tree, the hot dog lady covers the sausages with mustard, onion, pickle, tomato, cucumbers, celery salt and hot peppers. Breathing in the greasy goodness of ponmkèt cakes and the sugar rush of cotton candy, students, with their dark blue uniforms and white ribbons, spend their centimes and gourdes on popcorn, peanuts, homemade ice cream called ti Carole, hamburgers and a large orange soda. Deep-fried foods, shows and athletic tournaments, and rides and prizes.

April Fools

By M.J. Fievre

Memoir

In front of the school, I kiss Papa and he waits until I’ve bought a humongous gummy rat from the old woman with a straw hat. Then, my father’s gone and Sister Therese is at the entrance, rushing the students inside. She wears a long navy blue habit and a perpetual scowl on her face.

The Freemasons come first because Papa Julio is an initiate.

The two gentlemen look solemn—Mr. Napoleon with his black suit and tie and shiny leather shoes and Mr. Gerard with his tan suit and brown shoes.

“What seems to be the problem?” Mr. Napoleon asks.

J.B. is quiet, talks in a soft voice. Built like Olive Oil, Popeye’s girlfriend, he could probably hide behind a flagpole with room to spare. Hair dirty and hanging in dreads, he suffers from an obvious lack of coordination. I think he’s cute, though not strikingly handsome. When he grins, full fleshy lips pull up over his teeth. He’s got a crooked kind of smile, and this makes me like him all the more.

I will let him kiss me today.

Couscous

By M.J. Fievre

Memoir

My father is dozing on the balcony, behind the large hibiscus plant.

Papa sleeps better during the day because he’s haunted. Night haunted. And when the spooky things come—memories of his childhood, he haunts my mother. He tells her his nightmares, wakes her up—to pull her into his suffering, to taunt her into saving him.

I know because I’ve heard him.

Another Morbid Tale.

By the time you’re sixteen, you realize that most people hate when you dump on yourself. They simply can’t stand being part of your pity party. After all, last thing anyone needs is to be dragged into someone else’s bummer. Before your high school sweetheart, Junior, hangs up on you, he calls you a cry baby, which foreshadows that there will be no ever after—not for you two, anyway.

When they tell you about the car crash, you feel around for grief or sadness to match the horrific news but all that comes is a sense of something gone from the world. You remember Junior’s last words to you: cry baby.

Before I became a writer, I wanted to be a photographer. I walked the streets of Haiti, looking for that perfect picture, always aware of light–the soft, gray light of a foggy or overcast day in Port-au-Prince, the light of a Jacmelian sunset, or the bright, harsh light of a noonday sun in Léôgane. The mere mention of these places ignited my imagination. I loved the very sound and shape of these words.