Quarry Drive is that born-again auntie who’s in her mid-50s but looks about forty-seven; you can tell she’s been through some things, but she’s still here looking better than ever. It’s about halfway up Khyber Pass, tucked between Amis funeral home and the church with twelve names. Kind of easy to miss it if you’re not on the lookout. The asphalt is fresh but faded - it’s not a main road so it’s still in good shape. No potholes, no cracks…just a few pieces of gravel scattered along the the quasi-sidewalk Astoria’s construction workers slapped down when she built her new perimeter wall five years ago.
Turning down Quarry Drive from Khyber Pass is truly an art - the steep decline at the top resembles a rollercoaster if your imagination is strong enough – especially once you hit the plateau after the church. The turnaround at the bottom of the second plunge is gravelly and hidden by the forest of nasturtium and cane grass that lines Darnell and Clevie’s yards. The neighbourhood kids hardly went all the way down there by themselves. Pushing their pedal bikes back up that steep hill was more of a chore than an after school or weekend treat.
But that Amis parking lot? It has always been a hood BMX biker’s paradise.
When he was five he asked his mama about that building.
“Mama, what’s Amis?”
“They take you under.”
“TaKe YoU uNdEr?”
“Ride ya bike boy!”
He was too superstitious – his imagination too strong. He held his breath when they drove across cemeteries. And had stopped using the new bathroom at school because them white boys said “Bloody Mary” three times while they looked in the mirror. She didn’t want him to be scared of riding his bike, too, so she left it alone.
When he got a little older he traded hanging out with his mom for time with Zion and Sean, the twin brothers who lived next door.
“My mama told me this is the undertaker’s house - ya ever been in there?”
“No way! You only go in there if ya dead!” Sean declared. The trio loosely circled the perimeter of the parking lot on their push pedal bikes.
“Ya, the undertaker makes dead people and he puts them in boxes so they don’t go bad. Our granny went there when she died last year.” Zion chimed in as he popped a wheelie.
They all slowed down.
His mind started racing. Dead. People. The undertaker makes dead people. So there were dead people inside his house. And their spirits would follow him home and hurt him if he kept riding around in the undertaker’s parking lot. Undertakers were murderers!
That’s what his mama meant by “They take you under.”
He tried to maintain his cool in front of his friends; he glided off the slope without a word, rode across the street and onto the church property - the spirits surely couldn’t get him if he was over there. Zion and Sean followed suit. Before he could think of the most unafraid thing he could say, a familiar voice swooped in to save him from his new-found anxiety.
“You lot need to get inside - you don’t see the streetlights came on? It’s about to be da-aark - get back home you lot!”
It was Aunt Astoria. She lived in the white house just behind the church and was out in her yard picking some clothes off the line. She wasn’t his real auntie, but she did hang around his nana a lot. Of the six houses lining Quarry Drive, hers was the most upkept. Aquamarine trimmings. Her plastic white picket fence blended with an ever manicured hibiscus hedge, separating her yard from the road. Four potted paw-paw trees lay side-by-side in the opening of the hedge between her house and the church. She never got around to putting them in the ground; the winds from the last hurricane laid them out prostrate, their branches and leaves still blooming to this day, opening her yard to the church.
“Let’s go you lot, I’m hungry anyway.”
Her bright blue gate trembles in the evening breeze as he rides home, urging his legs to pedal faster.
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