Four Days

By Susan Laura Sullivan

I spent four days in jail. A little drunk. A little too much to drink. That was down in Missouri. You know, it was a Friday and the judge didn’t work Mondays. That was the first time I read a book.

I would go to English school, you know, but not often, just now and then. I never realised the beauty. In what? In the language. The stories, the words. I could read in Spanish. I learned in school. But I never read books. And English, I never really read until I was thirty.

There was this waitress see. Mexican-American. I liked her. Worked in a café I’d go to. Saw me reading a book. Clan of the Cave Bears, it was. She said she wanted to read it after me. Would I lend it to her? Sure, I said. Soon as I finish you got it. Month goes by and she asks again. Well no-one wants to look stupid. Truth is I’d only read a little bit but that night I got to reading. What a story. I didn’t know a book could take you so far.

I watched movies before that. Who doesn’t? Easy to follow with all the pictures and over in two hours, three if you’re unlucky. I just never knew about books.

Some people say they’ve got no time for reading but you make that choice. You can always fit in a page or two. My wife never had time she said.

I learn. So many things. Words. Ideas. Everything. I only went to school sometimes, but from books . . . wow. I made myself read them. Wanted to.

Baba! Excuse me. My dog likes kids. But she’s big. You can see for yourself. She’s like a horse to the little ones playing down there. Kids sometimes got problems with her. Sorry. I talk too much. My kids say I’m talkative. You just come to the park to soak up the sun? Me too, and to walk the dog. It’s nice along the river.

I started writing some things. I’ve got these memories see. Remember things. The kids say I should write it down. I was born in 1950. I started writing about the first three years of my life. 1953. It was fun. I put it away and I came back to it and it made me feel . . . so good . . . I don’t know how to say it. I read it again, and liked it. What do I do now? How do I do it?

What’s that? Why not record? The kids say that too. But who likes the sound of their own voice? I have trouble with it. You? No, your voice is wonderful, but, yeah, it makes us feel bad, strange feeling to hear ourselves speak.

I never wanted to take my citizenship before but I’m taking it now. Going down to the library and studying for it. It’s near the community art center. You know, near that center where they hold the writing meetings you were saying. They show some of my art sometimes. I paint on rocks. I don’t know why, I just like it. I don’t take money. I paint lighthouses, faces, cats and dogs sometimes. I had an exhibition there. I’ll put some of my stuff there again in February. Sometimes, once or twice, there was a commission. But I don’t like it – taking the money.

I’m an electrician. I came here in the 70s. My brother lived in California. Been here thirty years now. More. You’ve got a little accent too. Where you from? . . . Oh? Australia? Nice.

I had some trouble at the consulate, you know, they like to ask you questions for a long time, then at the border, they forgot the visa for my brother. He came down to meet me. I did some electrical work for them while we waited. It pays to be handy.

I like Frank McCourt. I read all three of his books. Just finished The Grapes of Wrath too. What an ending. Hard life in those times. You know, it wasn’t easy where I came from but hard in those times. I laughed in ‘Tis. McCourt’s life reminded me about my kids’ lives. I cried when I heard he died. Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis and …? That’s right. Teacher Man. The Game. Sydney Sheldon. Great book. I’ve read over a hundred now. More. All about the Aztecs. Clan of the Cave Bear books. I just never knew. Where did you learn to read? In jail. Makes me laugh.

Maybe I’ll see you at that group. I’ll paint for you if you like. Baba. I better go. He likes to sit with people. Where people are, that’s where he wants to be. We used to live this way, but they widened the road, so now we live near the library. I won’t be surprised if I see you there, anyway.