He arrived in Miami on a ship. One of his brothers had arranged the voyage, fashioning a plan involving a make believe narrative about him being a sailor just in case questions were asked at the shore. From Miami he flew to New York and, sometime after that, rented apartment 50 at 755 Ocean Avenue.
She was waiting for him in Brooklyn. She spent her time learning about gerunds and why one should avoid using the passive voice. Young enough to follow a path set by her oldest sister, she’d flown directly from François Duvalier International Airport in Port-au-Prince to John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens to join her sister and her sister’s husband in a house in East Flatbush.
From Holy Innocents Church on East 17th Street, a procession of cars drove northeast to the Evergreens Cemetery on Jamaica Avenue. It was a sunny day in April. The trip took no more than 20 minutes. And when the procession arrived at the cemetery, he was carried to a grand mausoleum, one much larger than the one of his late wife. He was laid to rest surrounded by resting strangers, while the familiar and living looked up. His spot was high on the wall of tombs, so high that his younger daughter had to crane her neck to read the inscription on the front, which might have said something like:
OCTOBER 14, 1950 – MARCH 25, 1997
It might have said something about him being some kind of brother, father, man.
About 10 years after she had first flown from François Duvalier International Airport to John F. Kennedy Airport (leaving behind a boyfriend and not yet having children), she flew from Queens to Port-au-Prince (leaving behind a husband and two daughters).
He walked to the door of apartment 5O and then to the elevator, exited 755 Ocean Avenue, and walked to the subway station at Beverly Road. He paid his fare, walked up to the tracks and jumped.
October 14, 1950
April 5, 1997
August 14, 1982
There were two beds in the bedroom: a full bed where his daughters slept and a queen-sized bed where he slept. Between the two beds was a card table, which had on it things that seemed to have no other place. Among these things were a rotary phone and a radio. On a tall cream-colored dresser with silver handles sat a 32-inch television and a small General Electric alarm clock radio. 11:38 at night, its numbers shone bright red in the pitch-black room. Outside one of the bedroom windows the Sears Roebuck building stood like a beacon, like Oz over the tops of much shorter buildings. Outside of the other window stood a water tower. The headboard of his queen-sized bed was a dark wood shelf. On it were a photo of his older daughter, taken when she was nine, a photo of his younger daughter, taken when she was five, a photo of him cutting a birthday cake at work, a pen with his name carved into it, lottery tickets from days and weeks past, and some short notes he had written, mostly people’s phone numbers.
Her resting place in Fond Rouge sits on a green, grassy hill a short walk from her mother’s house. Her body rests inside a mausoleum where her mother and father also lie. Sky blue and white, it must have been painted to mimic the place from which they hope she watches down on them. Her coffin rests on top of her parents’. A grey stone plaque on the front of it says:
LE TEMPS N’EFFACE JAMAIS
LA TRACE D’UN PREMIER AMOUR
DANS LE COEUR QU’IL A TRAVERSÉ
“Time can never erase the trace of a first love in the heart it has gone through.” Yvan was her husband.
In the entrance hallway of the apartment stood a white column for holding floral arrangements. Deeper in the foyer was a dark wood desk. On it sat a complete set of World Book Encyclopedias stacked in two neat columns. In the desk drawers were some of his daughters’ notebooks from various grades in school. The foyer opened up to the living room, where a movie-poster-sized black-and-white photo of Josette hung, taken when she still used her family name, Isidor.
Her father would host chicken fights for everyone in the village on a back porch that sat on a green, grassy hill a short walk from their house.
There were three beds in the bedroom: a full bed where his daughters used to sleep, a queen-sized bed where he used to sleep, and a hospital bed where he then slept and spent most of his time. The hospital bed was between the two other beds, where the card table used to be. On the tall cream-colored dresser with silver handles sat the 32-inch television, now with cable, and the small General Electric alarm clock radio. At 2:17 in the afternoon its numbers illuminated a dull red in the sunlit bedroom. Outside one of the bedroom’s windows, the Sears Roebuck building stood like a beacon, like Oz over the tops of much shorter buildings. The hospital bed blocked the view of the water tower that stood outside of the other window. People surrounded the hospital bed for 30 to 60 minutes at a time, depending on the day, depending on how long they had decided to visit.
His friend who he used to play cards with would stay for 30 minutes between picking up and dropping off passengers in his taxi. One of his nieces would stay for 35 minutes before returning home to get dinner started. His daughters would stay for an hour, in the company of one of their aunts, who was always ready to take them back to their lives of ballet classes on Saturday mornings and social studies homework on Sunday nights.
His country looks like this: [ ].
She and her youngest daughter shared the same shy (yet, in some circles, praised) gap-toothed smile.
The borough where he eternally rests looks something like this: [ ].
Her trip home was a return voyage back to the earth.
His country looks like a man tossing a potato chip into his mouth.
He was a simple man who cut and arranged flowers for a living.
Had she lived, she would have been her family’s savior.
Starting after the night he died, he would visit his daughters in their sleep and talk to them wherever he could meet them in dreams.
An unfortunate case of the chicken pox around the time she delivered her second daughter was how she first got sick. But what really did her in was a plate of food poisoned by someone in her husband’s family.
He fell into the tracks by some awful mistake.
[smell: freshly cut flowers]
[see: a photo of Josette]
[touch: Yvan’s pajamas]
[hear: Josette’s mixtape]
[taste: a sip of Sustacal]