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profiles in cowardice (First Half)

A train whistles. I’m standing with my back against the station wall waiting for my two brothers, Cad and Vont, to find me; they just arrived from Chicago. Cad is short for Cadman and Vont is short for Vincent. I rub my legs and chest. I’m wearing a pair of dungarees and a cotton blouse. “There she is.” I recognize Cad’s deep voice in the distance. I’m nervous. I know they are getting close to me and before they can say, “Hey Ev, how are you?” I say, “Daddy is going to die.” My dad’s Adult Onset Polycystic Kidney Disease is now End Stage Renal Disease. That’s what Doc Cod says. Doc Cod also says that the dialysis isn’t working and dad has only a few days to live unless he gets a donor. “Which one of you is gonna give daddy a kidney?” “That’s m’little sister. How’ve ya been baby?” Vont asks. “Dad will be dead, are you going to give him a kidney?” I repeat, but my face is turned away from him. “Well it’s nice to see you, Ev,” Cad says. “I haven’t seen you in how long, almost a year? You look wonderful as always.” He kisses me on my left cheek very close to my lips. His beard is rough. I feel awkward. I don’t know if I like it anymore. “I haven’t seen anyone in two years,” I say kind of loudly, pulling away from his face. I send my words directly toward Vont. “Let’s go get a cab,” says Cad, and Vont agrees. Someone grabs my hand to help me out of the station. It’s Vont. His fingers are bony and cold. I tear my hand away and follow their footsteps. Cad finds a taxi and I tell the driver our destination, 124 Morningside Drive, Shaker Heights. Our father, Mr. Reginald Jasper, is almost dead and has always been proud of his house. It is the sole survivor of the “sixteen original model homes designed and built by Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen. In 1912, the Van Sweringen brothers brought the English ‘garden city’ style to our Cleveland suburb.” Those are dad’s exact words. Daddy has always been proud of me, too. I’m like his house. And of Cad, until, well recently, but never of Vont. Dad had it rough growing up that’s why Cad and me get his respect. We’ve tried. Me the most, then comes Cad.

We sit in the back seat. My brothers take the two window seats and I sit in the middle. Cad gently places his hand on my leg. My heart beats an extra time and I feel the hair on my arms stand up. “So how’d you get here? Mrs. Wolersnaft?” asks Cad. She is our neighbor. “Yes. She stayed with me last night too because daddy went to the hospital. She dropped me off here on her way to work.” I shift my left leg inwards and Cad pulls his hand away. “So it looks like West Germany is gonna take it all the way, man,” Vont says. “I told you on the train, they can’t beat Brazil. Pelé is the best,” says Cad. He is certain. Cad almost always sounds certain when he talks. “I dunno man.” “I still say Brazil,” says Cad. The loud city noise turns into quiet suburbs. “No way man, Germany,” Vont says. “How much?” “How much what?” “How much do you want to bet that Brazil takes the trophy?” asks Cad. “You wanna bet? Fine. Two buckarinos.” “Two dollars, that’s chump change, make it an even ten,” Cad says. My brothers will bet on anything. There’s a pause. “How about this? I’ll bet you a kidney.” “You’re kidding.” “You win, I give dad a kidney, I win, and you give ‘im one of yours,” says Vont. Cad doesn’t say anything. I get the sense he’s looking at me. I have been listening to the whole conversation with his words entering my left ear and Vont’s entering my right. I want to say something to him but I don’t. Maybe he wants to say the same something to me. He doesn’t. Instead, he says to Vont, “So.” Brazil plays Uruguay and West Germany plays Italy in the semis this afternoon. Vont just committed to Germany, so he’s positive that they’re going to the finals. That’s pretty risky. But good for dad. “Germany killed England, man, they are gonna cruise by Italy. Hey, d’you have a light, man?” I assume Vont asks the driver. Cad doesn’t smoke, as far as I know. “I’m sure Brazil won’t have a problem with Uruguay. How about this, I’ll take Brazil and you can have Germany or Italy, whichever team advances to the finals.” “No, I’m not worried man, I’ll take Germany,” Vont says. His voice sounds confident. That’s unusual. “What if they lose in the semis?” asks Cad. Pop goes the cigarette lighter. “Thanks man. If they lose, I’ll give up a kidney. Same goes if Brazil loses to Uruguay, you know.” He blows smoke towards my face and I know it is on purpose. Fuck him. “Fine.” Their hands shake right in front of my eyes. I hear the slap of their palms. I’m a witness. “What do you think, Ev, have you been following the Cup?” asks Cad. “He doesn’t even like soccer,” I say sharply towards the windshield, almost strong enough to break the glass. “I love soccer, Ev, I used to go to all of your games,” says Vont, sarcastically. He’s a liar. He never came to my games. I was a wonderful soccer player. I wanted to be a referee when I grew up, but no more. During my freshman year, I was the first girl ever to play on the boys team. Cad was the captain of varsity that year at Abe Lincoln High and he told the coach how good I was and that I should get a chance to play. He told them I was better than most of the boys. I was. My sophomore year, I, Evalynn Jasper, was a varsity starter and scored 16 goals. Last year, I spent my fall afternoons at home, listening to the radio and seeing nothing but red. “Make a left here and it’s the fourth house on the right,” Cad tells the driver. “Far out. The street still looks the same, with all the change goin’ on in this land, man, our street still looks exactly the same,” says Vont. He’s been away for two years. “That’ll be sixteen seventy-five,” says the driver. “Sixteen seventy-five,” says Vont. He leans into my right side to stick his ugly head into the front seat. I shove my elbow into his skinny gut as hard as I can. Get off me you jerk. “The meter only reads six seventy-five, man.” “Yeah, there’s a ten dollar charge for goin’ outside the city limits,” the cab driver says. “It doesn’t say that anywhere, this is bullshit--” “--Don’t worry about it, Vont,” interrupts Cad, “I’ll take care of it.” Meanwhile I reach into my pocket and remove two paper cards. I know there is no extra charge for going outside of the city. I’ve taken many cabs from downtown with my father. This guy is not nice. I’m sure of it. I rub the first card between my thumb and finger. It’s not the one I want. Don’t ever use the red one unless you really mean it, unless it’s really necessary. I put it back in my pocket. “This is an absolute drag, man he’s just tryin’ to take us for saps.” “Just stop, I’ll pay him and that will be that.” Cad leans into my left side to pay the driver. The driver makes a rude comment to Cad before accepting the money. I really don’t like this guy. Cad finishes and grabs my hand to escort me inside. We take a few steps outside of the car and I hear the driver opening the trunk. I show him the card. “What the hell is that?” the cab driver asks, “Ahh, you hippies, get a job.” I’m not a hippy, I don’t think. Cad and Vont are in the Vietnam War. Cad is a bomber in the Navy and Vont does something in the Army. Cad flies his missions from the U.S.S. Oulette, which is in Manila. He did some secret missions in Cambodia last summer. He told me that in a letter I got this spring. I don’t know why his letter wasn’t censored. Perhaps Yossarian was the reader. Catch-22 is daddy’s favorite book. I wrote him back telling him I thought the war was in Vietnam. I also told him about dad’s health, and he wrote to tell Vont. The government allowed them both temporary leave. I go to a special school in Cleveland. I take a bus at eight forty-five every morning. There are fourteen students in my class between the ages of ten and eighteen. We listen to music, read books with our hands, get read to by our teacher and suffer endlessly. The bus takes me home at three fifteen and I spend my afternoons listening to Vont’s Beatles albums, talking to my dad when he gets home from work, and listening to politics on the radio. Vont gave the records to me when he left. He told me he would probably die and he was sorry about throwing me in the river and that I should have the records to remember him by. I told him he was a coward and an asshole and I hoped he did die. We were having a picnic at Cuyahoga Heights Park, right near the Cuyahoga River, about twenty miles from our house. This was the last week before Vont was leaving for the war. He was drafted. We were eating salami sandwiches and laughing. Vont was drinking beer and smoking pot. He thought everybody would laugh harder if I took a swim in the water. He grabbed me from behind and put his arms around me so I couldn’t hit him. I kicked my legs and screamed at him, “put me down, put me down, this isn’t funny, this isn’t funny Vincent, put me down.” He tossed me into the river. I could hear him laughing as I struggled to get out. When I got to the shore I was crying. I couldn’t open my eyes. They were on fire. They burned for several hours that afternoon. When I finally opened them, all I could see was the color red. The burns and rashes on my skin went away a few weeks after, or so I’m told. That was two years ago. One year ago this Monday the same river caught fire and burned for several hours. The flames were fifty feet high. Nobody in Ohio, much less the world, had seen a river burn, including me, and I was standing one hundred feet away from it. I don’t like to think about the time when I was able to see. I know now that I have to accept being blind and if I really remember what life was like, I’ll only become depressed forever. My dad tells me things like this often. He has a very positive outlook. My dad’s kidneys can no longer filter the chemicals that enter his body. His kidneys failed because of his high blood pressure. Or his blood pressure is high because of his poor kidneys; Dr. Cod isn’t sure exactly which it is. He says dad suffers from hypertension. I think it’s probably from worrying about me and Cad and maybe Vont fighting in the war. Hypertension causes high blood pressure, which causes kidney failure. Or the other way around. I don’t want to blame my dad. He suffered enough when my mother, his wife, left us. She left when I was nine. She was a hunter. She hunted deer, duck and the occasional man. On her last hunting trip here in Ohio, she caught a rich doctor who was in town to talk about lymphoma. It took University Hospitals seven years to get a kidney transplant program after that convention, but only twelve minutes for my mom, Nancy Jasper, to pack her stuff and walk out the front door of our English “garden city” style home. My dad said I can be really witty and sarcastic and sometimes very cynical when I want to be. He said I’m too young to be a cynic. He also said I spend too much time listening to politics on the radio and to Doc Cod at the hospital. I told him all I can do is listen so I have no choice. He is only the fourth patient ever to be eligible for the transplant operation in Ohio. University Hospitals began performing the operation last summer, right about the same time Cad left. Doc Cod is the best surgeon in the Midwest at doing kidney transplants. He came from a hospital in Chicago. He told my dad and me that if the dialysis were to stop working, they would need to get a kidney donor. He then told us there are three types of kidney donors: living-related, living non-related and cadaver donors. I told him Vont and Cad and me are his living related, my mother is his living non-related, although she is gone, and anyone from the morgue is his cadaver donor. He explained to me that the donors must have the same blood type as my father and I said Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon has healthy kidneys and the same blood type as my dad, Vont and Cad. My dad read that to me from a science magazine. Unfortunately, President Nixon needs his kidneys to filter all of the whiskey he puts in his body. It gives him the courage to kill Cambodians from high above. President Richard Nixon, with his whiskey breath, started killing Cambodians sometime in 1969. Nobody who was supposed to know about it knew about it like Congress and us Americans. My brother, who dropped the bombs from his plane, left design school at Case Western after he got into a fight with my dad. He thought he’d be drawing maps and studying the landscape and terrain in Vietnam, but when he got there he was bombing Cambodians, and he was not to tell anybody about it. He told me then, but now everybody knows. The Van Sweringen brothers studied the landscape and terrain in my town of Shaker Heights, Ohio and applied the English “garden city” style to the houses they built. Oris Van Sweringen died before the last of the sixteen original models was finished. My proud-of-his-house dad tells me that story over and over. He talks to me as much as he can. Reads out loud. Tries real hard. Thousands of Cambodian farmers, proud of their land, died when my President considered it a threat to democracy. The United States continued bombing Cambodia for eleven months. Cad never told me that he felt bad about killing Cambodians. He said it was just his job and that he was so high up in the air that he didn’t feel like he was killing at all. On April 30, 1970, twenty days after the Beatles broke up and my 17th birthday, President Nixon said he was going to draft 150,000 more Americans, to invade Cambodia. Two days later and twenty-six miles away from my house, students at the State College in Kent burned down an Army building in protest of Nixon. After two more days of rioting, about six weeks ago, while I was reading a Dr. Seuss book in Braille, Sandra Scheuer was crossing a parking lot on her way to her history class. A group of people gathered at the other end of the parking lot and Sandra wanted to see what was happening. When she got closer a bullet hit her in the chest and drained the blood from her heart onto the ground. She is the older sister of my first boyfriend, Hans Scheuer. He was in my freshman English class at Abe Lincoln high school. He used to kiss me and tell me I was beautiful. I am. I haven’t talked to him in two years and his sister is now dead. When we were dating, he told me that his father was supposed to fight with the Nazis back in Germany but broke his own leg and so the Nazis didn’t want him. I asked him if he thought his father was a “chicken” for not fighting in the war and he said, “I dunno, maybe.” I told him my brother was a chicken because he went to Vietnam instead of staying home to protest. He called me and told my dad about the funeral and that I should come, but I felt weird about it so I didn’t. A friend of mine, Debby Krause, also from Abe Lincoln, used to come over sometimes to listen to Beatles albums with me. Sometimes Debby and I would dress up real nice and she would do my lips and eyelashes; my whole face. One time last year she told me I was pretty enough to get married to anyone I wanted. I saw myself marrying Paul Newman. He told me how pretty I was. I stared into his blue eyes and said, “I do.” Debby laughed and asked me if I ever took acid. She said she thought it would help me to see again. ...if you’re just joining us, the score is tied 1 to 1 in injury time. West Germany’s Schnellinger scored in the last minute of regulation to tie the match. The ref whistles the end. We’re going to play an extra period here in Mexico City. Earlier today, Brazil defeated Uruguay 3 to 1 so I’m sure Pelé is eagerly awaiting the results of this game. ...I think he’d like to see West Germany beat the Italians, Germany took out the former champions, England in the quarterfinals. ...Yes, the Germans would be a much stronger opponent against the powerful Brazilians. I’d hate to dig up old bones Chuck, but weren’t the Germans and Italians on the same team, so to speak, 25 years ago? ...Yes Chuck “What do you think of that Ev, the Germans tying it up in the last minute?” asks Cad. He rubs his hand on my back. It feels warm. I begin to tingle inside. I think he still wants me. For the first time I’m glad Vont’s here. “Man, this game is far out,” says Vont. I can hear him biting his nails and spitting the pieces onto the floor. He lights a cigarette. The smoke makes my eyes itch. I rub them and imagine the red swirling and flickering like a lava lamp. “Dad is going to die, don’t you think you should go see him?” I say. “He is not going to die, Vont is going to give him a kidney,” Cad says in a playful way. “I’m not so sure about that, Germany’s gonna take it in overtime.” “I don’t know what to say, listen...” “There’s nothing to say, West Germany lost, man,” says Vont. “It was some game, hell of a match. They just weren’t going to quit. Muller put up some fight.” Italy scored, Germany scored, Italy scored again, I heard the whole thing. “Listen, forget it, forget it, you take Italy in the finals. Forget the semis altogether, we’ll say the bet is Italy and Brazil,” Cad says. “No, Germany loses, Vont loses. That was the bet. I was a witness,” I say. “It’s only fair.” “So what do you say, Vont? Do you want a second life?” Cad asks. “Umm...I guess so. Thanks man, that’s real swell of you.” “Swell, ha! Since when do you use the word swell?” “I dunno. So should we go see dad now?” asks Vont. “I don’t really feel up to it. We’ll go tomorrow, how’s that sound Ev?” “I see him every day. Cad, you are a real drag, you know that?” With that, I walk off and find my way to my room. I shut the door and lock it. I put the first side of Let It Be on the record player and put the volume up real loud. Paul McCartney, my other husband besides Paul Newman, decides two months ago to leave the Beatles and that the band would have to break up. I hear a soft knock at the door. It wakes me. It can’t be Vont’s bony hand so it must be Cad. I don’t know what will happen if I let him in. I don’t think I should. I don’t want to do that anymore. He whistles and gently says my name. Ahh ha ha ha ha ha I’d like to buy the world a home, and furnish it with love, grow apple trees, honeybees, and snow-white turtledoves, I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony, I’d like to buy the world a coke and keep it company. La la la la la We’re going to take you through the disadvantages of the new Benson and Hedges One-hundreds. There a lot longer than king size and that takes some getting used to. La la la la La la la la la la la La la la la la la La la la la la la La la la la la la la La la la la Benson and Hedges One-hundreds are the new longer filter cigarettes. Three puffs longer, four puffs longer, maybe five puffs longer than kings, once you get the hang of them.

continue to Part 2 >>>

Story Submitted by Paul Roar(),New York

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