Chapter 1 The Day I Died
I died three hours ago.
I was walking down Stockton Street when I fell into a gutter. It was foggy, cold, dull, a typical June day in San Francisco. It was almost dark. Most food shops were closing, only a handful of grocery stores were still open, waiting for the last few customers to scoop up the last pieces of tomato, bok choys, zucchinis, and dark spotted bananas. The street was dirty and quiet. I got my milk from a convenient store on the corner of Stockton and Broadway. I was cold, with my silk skirt above the knee, barelegged. I should have taken my coat, rather than the thin light black jacket. After all, who am I being fashionable for?
I broke up with Frank last week. Actually, I was dumped, to be exact. Now that he met this new girl, Emily or Amelia, I became the past. Men, oh men, the most despicable animal on earth. They cheat, they fight, they bite, and they just leave, after they break your heart into a thousand pieces, and they are not even slightly sorry.
I was angry. The very thought of Frank made me feel sick. I closed my eyes
and tried to breathe deeply to relax a bit, and that’s when I fell.
I hit something hard, rolled over, then landed on my side. Damn, it hurts so much!
It was dark. For a minute I didn’t know what happened and where I was. The whole place was damp and chilly. Something must be rotten, and the smell was nauseating, with a faint hint of dust. I was trying to get up, but the sense of acute pain in my right arm and torso made my body motionless, then I passed out.
It was very, very cold when I came to. My whole body ached, my head about to split. I slowly raised the left arm to touch my forehead. My newly trimmed and styled hair was now a total mess, drenched in something thick and sticky. The whole place stunk.
I closed my eyes. There was no light and I couldn’t see anything anyway. I was trying to figure out what happened. I was walking on Stockton, got my milk, hating Frank, oh Frank, then here I am, in this rotten smelly dingy hole, broken and painful, for real, Jesus!
I must have fallen down a storage chute of a grocery store. I remembered seeing such holes before when walking down Stockton in Chinatown. Those Chinese grocery stores tended to keep all their vegetables and fruits in a warehouse underground. They were normally covered by a piece of rectangle steel cover, only open during delivery time. There were lifts inside, to move people and goods up and down. I’d seen a tiny Chinese woman with a dirty apron standing on that shabby lift, holding a gigantic box of mangoes, to get lowered into the dark hole. It was scary.
Oh my God, oh my God!
I fell into a hole that only opens twice a day. Maybe once, for some. Or never.
I tried to move again. The pain was unbearable, like an enormous wave, like the wave Frank and I rode together when surfing at Santa Monica beach one year. We were so happy then, golden boy and girl, sparkling in southern California sun, laughing and shouting I love you to each other as if we were the only existence that mattered in the whole wide world.
I felt cold, ever colder than before. The rotten smell was not so bad now, I thought it might be bad bananas. I’d always hated ripen bananas. I only liked them green, slightly raw, tart, as if you were sucking the juice directly from the banana tree. Frank said I was weird, maybe, but everybody got to have one weird thing, to be different, to be special, to be unique.
Then I heard a sound. Something was moving in a far corner above my head. Something small and fast. I heard the sound of paper carton being chewed, and I knew it was a rat. No no, not just one, they were rats.
I started to panic. I couldn’t breathe. Oh God, I forgot I have asthma. My left hand was scrambling like crazy by my side. I was trying to find my tiny purse with an inhaler inside. Where is it? Where is it?
My throat was getting tighter and tighter. I tried to roll onto my left and sit up, but the waves of pain were unstoppable. I felt like drowning. The water was cold, swirling and bubbling, salty. My airway was blocked. I opened my eyes, I was reaching up towards the surface, towards Frank, towards light.
The soft, warm, sweet darkness. The gentle embrace of mother. The scent of a lavender bath. The comfort I had never experienced. Suddenly I was exhausted, and I fell asleep.
The next thing I knew, was seeing my own body lying on the ground. I was still on my right, blood soaked. The color had turned dark, like a deep purple velvet blanket, spreading underneath myself. The carton of milk was on top of a box of cherries, half spilled, sweet-smelling. My purse was two feet away from my right arm, the sequins sparkling in the morning sun. A Chinese man with a pair of glasses stood shocked at the opening above on the street.
Twenty minutes later, I was lifted out of the hole, flat on the stretchers, a white sheet covering my body. The street was noisy, the traffic being stopped by the police cars and the ambulance, the shops getting ready for the day’s businesses, the pedestrians walking, the on-lookers watching, the chattering, the life.
I was surprised I was still here. I mean, aren’t I supposed to see a white light of some sort? Or an angel guiding me somewhere?
I felt like I was extra. Well, in fact, I am.
At that moment, that exact moment, I suddenly realized that I have a mission.
My mission, is Margaret.
Margaret Belmont. A waitress working at the Harrahs in New Orleans. A 24-year old brunette, just like me. My sister. My twin sister I’d never been aware of when I was alive.
Death is a peculiar thing. It is a curse, yet at the same time, an enlightenment. It feels like I’ve crossed the river of confusion, of bitterness, of regrets all at once, standing on the other bank of peace, my mind crystal clear, as if I could see beyond all obstacles, beyond mountains and oceans. Nothing matters, yet meanwhile everything is linked. I could feel the energy swimming through all things, all beings, the divine connection, the strange cause and effect, the whole world shrank into one tiny granule, then sprout all at once to fill every corner of the universe.
While within all these peace and the sense of knowing, however, there grows a desire, a burning craving to be blended in with the living, to matter, to influence, to change. It is as if being indulged with all the secrets of life you ever wanted to know, but had no one to tell, forbidden to tell, becoming mute and helpless. The knowledge burns, scars, and makes me hungry. Literally, I’ve never felt this starved the entire time I was alive. But what to eat?
And the notion of Margaret.
It just jumped into my head from nowhere. I am utterly surprised, but it also seems to be the most natural, the most straightforward thing in the whole world. I had a sister I didn’t know before. I was not alone; I was merely ignorant.
I need to go to her, to see her, to whisper in her ears with the softest tone that you are not alone, Sister, you are not alone.
This desire, and hunger, made me arrive in New Orleans in an instant, like a flash vanishing at the end of horizon.
I was born in New Orleans, me and Margaret. Our mother is Helen Middlefield, the fifth daughter of a blacksmith from Mississippi. Helen was very pretty at sixteen, blond, large round eyes like two emeralds studded in a piece of jade, curvy, with a smile melting in the bleaching southern sun. Helen never tried very hard for anything in life. After all, when everything was just as easy as a smile, why bother?
Helen ran away from home with her first boyfriend Brad two days before she turned 17. They arrived in New Orleans in the winter of 1976, hoping to become rich quick and easy, like all innocent youths those days, as if the French Quarter was laid in gold, as long as you bent down, success and happiness were right there waiting for you.
Brad found a job in the kitchen of a small restaurant on Toulouse Street. They could only afford a tiny shabby apartment on the other side of Cannel, in the warehouse district. They didn’t become rich, while Brad turned into a drunk. Helen was pregnant, not knowing what to do, when she met Timmy.
Timmy was a drug dealer of the neighborhood, an addict himself as well. Timmy would have dough once in a while. He fucked around from street to street. Helen let Timmy have her from behind even when she was pregnant. They did it in Helen’s apartment. Timmy was strong, a little chubby in the stomach, and rough when he fucked. But Helen liked Timmy better than Brad, because Timmy was funny, even handsome when he wore his white linen suit with a black hat. More importantly, Helen never needed to worry about money when with Timmy. She still lived with Brad though, not that she was hiding it from him, but she simply didn’t care. Brad was drunk and sleepy most of the day, and gone by dusk. Helen guessed that Brad didn’t care
either. One time Brad came home early and saw Timmy riding Helen like a mare, one hand holding on to her blond hair and the other clapping her butt cheek. Brad only grumbled and mumbled something about bitch or fuck-ass, then crashed on the floor. Timmy fucked her even harder afterwards. Helen was six month pregnant then. Brad didn’t seem to remember anything the next day.
Helen gave birth to two girls, Maggie and Margaret Belmont, on October 17th, 1978. I never knew my first last name was Belmont. When I was alive, I was always Maggie Tyson, after Linda and Lucile Tyson.
I was four minutes older than Margaret, also slightly stronger, I guess, well, I know now.
Life only became harder after we were born. Helen wanted to leave Brad and marry Timmy, seriously, but didn’t know what to do with Margaret and me. I knew she was regretful having us, now, but in my memory, though faint and broken, she was beautiful, gentle and she loved me. Even on the street of San Francisco, she loved me. She sang lullabies and she slowly rocked me to sleep. I had a picture of her after I went to live with Linda and Lucile. Her blond hair was shining in the sunlight. She wore a V-neck long-sleeve dress, olive green with tiny white jasmine flowers spread across the chest. She was smiling, head slightly tilted to the right. My bald pink baby head popped in the lower left corner of the picture. I looked surprised, gigantic eyes round and shiny, mouth open. I was eight months old.
海伦生了一对双胞胎女儿，麦琪和玛格丽特贝尔蒙特，那是一九七八年十月十七日，我从未知道我的第一个姓就是贝尔蒙特。当我在世时，我是麦琪 泰森 ，在琳达和露西 泰森之后。
When Margaret and I were 19 months, Timmy killed somebody in a gang war. He decided to flee to San Francisco. Helen wanted desperately to go with him, to leave New Orleans. Timmy said okay, but no babies.
Helen cried her eyes out in the bedroom. Finally, she packed and dressed me up. She held Margaret in her arms for a very long time, kissing every inch of her baby skin, then put her back into the wooden cradle. She laid me into a crater picnic basket, told me not to make a sound, and went to see Timmy.
They left in a blue Chevy convertible. Helen told Timmy that the picnic basket had their lunch on the road. When Timmy found out three hours later, he dumped Helen and the basket with me in it on the service road of Interstate 10, near Lafayette.
Margaret grew up in foster homes.
Brad didn’t want her after he found out that Helen was gone. He was utterly disgusted by the very existence of Margaret, by her pair of round deep emeralds studded on the pearl-lustered round face, which resembled so much of Helen’s. He dropped her off in front of the wrought iron double doors of a church on St. Charles at four o’clock right before dawn, and left.
That was it.
Margaret was put into her first foster home when she was two, moved over to Jason's when she reached four. The Jason’s had three kids already. Their house was a small shotgun on the border of uptown and the lower garden district. There was a graveyard right in front of the yard. Margaret often sat on the porch staring at the bare field in winter. Some of the tombstones were very old, even broken in half, letters illegible. Margaret was never afraid of that graveyard, like the otherkids of the neighborhood. She was never popular, rather weird, as the others said. She thought of the tombs as “gentle and comforting”, as if she knew them from another life.
The Jason kids didn’t like Margaret either. The oldest one, Elena, actually believed that Margaret brought bad fortune to the family, which accidentally turned out to be true. Mr. and Mrs. Jason divorced not long after Margaret turned six. She had to settle for her second foster home, the Wayne's.
Mrs. Wayne was overweight. She was always in jumpy moods and used food as resort. Mr. Wayne was a clerk working in the city hall. He was short, bald, and never cared for anything other than his morning newspaper and steak dinner on Fridays.
Margaret didn’t like him, but was Okay being around. She secretly thought of him as an alien living in a parallel universe after she was introduced the idea in a science fiction magazine at 10. The magazine belonged to Mark, Wayne’s only son.
Margaret hated Mark. He liked to use Margaret as a vent for everything. He yelled at her all the time. He blamed her for his old sneakers, his asymmetric nose, his pimples and his failed mathematics exams. He never treated her as part of the family, which Margaret never cared for either. She knew she wouldn’t stay forever. She hated the ugly brown camelback on the corner of North Carrolton and St. Prayer Street. She hated the sound of traffic all the time. She missed the old quiet graveyard terribly.
Mrs. Wayne was severely depressed and ventually committed suicide when Margaret was 14. Margaret felt sorry for her.
Although the woman never loved her, she was at least kind. She gave her peace, and as long as Margaret asked, she would bake her the southern pound cake both of them were obsessed with then. Margaret was really sorry that she died.
Margaret stayed in two youth centers, one in Bywater district, the other in Metairie, until she turned 18. Afterwards she worked in various bars and restaurants throughout the city, almost ended up in Red Horse Cabaret on Bourbon, then found a position of waitress at Harrahs at the age of 22.