Spooks, Angels and Babies By Piper Davenport Smashwords Edition Copyright 2012 by Piper Davenport Smashwords Edition License Notesâ€”This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author's work. Spooks, Angels and Babies Copyright ÂŠ 2009 by Piper Davenport Cover Design by TBA All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Spooks, Angels and Babies By Piper Davenport
Twilight Gods The damn summertime in Detroit is the worst time to be outside. The black folks in raggedy cars fry under the sun and watch pretty white asses cross the street or maybe something else. You sit in one particular cab. Your name is Hector Valdez and you are an immigrant from Mexico listening to the sounds of Mrs. Celia Cruz. The sun that will silently destroy your brown face is captured by the softness that keeps you calm and will slowly melt away. Your car is a faded piss-color that reflects off the sunlight near the crack house on Watson Street. You look in the mirror; a black girl is crossing the street, her nappy curls break from the yank of her pimp’s hand. You turn away, a green light urging you forward and you are gone. Still stuck under that streetlight, the black girl reminds you of a stolen book bag, a faded memory of a bygone era of beat boxes, Adidas shoes and typewriter bracelets. You cannot stop for her; the next time is your last but that will not come for a few minutes. You glance up; you cannot see a thing. Your eyes twinkle as ghetto children will make wishes upon false stars. Perhaps you’ll play the lottery. You glance at your watch: It is almost evening. It is 6:33, a strange time indeed. You turn on the radio but it is about death. You shoot past another flicking light and pass wilted bouquets and moldy teddy bears. A woman is standing on the corner, her thumb stuck out, her dark sunglasses rotting beneath cakes of makeup beneath a battle-scarred face but what is pleasure? A romantic twelve-gauge shotgun that lands with delicate care onto dangerous, fake faces whose eyes will widen when they realize how strange it is to see the smiling sun in close range. The shape of hands, the ammunition of a thousand armies and your visor drops in deluded fright as your car slams on the brakes to avoid twelve angry pigeons, one of whom is lying lame and dreamy under the blood-red evening sun. The woman opens the door and climbs in. Her lips caress words with ease and You pinch the meter in sight. You close the door and speed off into the evening night. You side-step the birds and flick a dozen gray hairs of his in different directions. “I’m thinking of playing the lottery. Got any numbers you can suggest, honey?” You ask but it is more of a statement than a question. “Yeah, none. Now, I’m going to 1212 Penrod St. and please hurry,” she says, looking down at her watch, “I haven’t got much time.” “All right.” You arrive at another red light. Homeless men are putting on a late-night play. The streetlights hide their faces but you can see them carrying one off down the street. Maybe someone is on a cross and has earned the right to be carried by the other men. You look in the mirror. Your own cross is hanging from the shadows, which give you one as well. You realize that you need to shave but then you hear a noise and your eyes focus on the woman sitting behind you. You begin to notice some strange things about her. For one, she has black leather gloves on her hands. They move up the unusually hairy arms. Two, she has a moustache, struggling not to fall limp, hiding behind a contempt for kindness that the lovely transvestite prostitutes on the corner willingly embrace. “What’s the gun for, man? Are you going to rob me?” You ask. He is taken aback for a moment but then calmly replies, “No. But I’ll pay you. To forget that we ever met.” The man throws a ten dollar bill into the air. It lands on the plush vinyl of the passenger seat. You realize where you have seen the man before. It is today when you are at your mother’s house. It is during lunch but before her soap operas come on. The newscaster speaks for exactly two minutes or one hundred and twenty seconds. A child is crossing the street and is hit by a drunk driver. The drunk driver is arrested. The blood alcohol level is . 012, above the legal limit but the jury has mercy on him, compassion and gives him a year of
probation. It is June and this happens last June. You cannot remember the headline because it reads in the newspaper like this: EGAPMAR NO SEOG NAM. But you feel the man’s pain enough to understand the intimacy this man finds with destruction. You ponder then if you should call someone? But at your own home, you have a wife, four children, your parents, your three brothers and their two wives that depend on you, your shared contribution. Your stomach churns as the two of them sit in silence. You try to make conversation, to try to understand the man, to change his mind. “You’re my last customer, you know? Yep, that’s right. Last one for the evening. Was thinkin’ about maybe going over to Baker’s on Eight Mile. I know it’s kind of far away but they’ve got great jazz music.” “I don’t listen to that shit or anything else. I hate music.” You smell cigarette smoke coming from the backseat. The man rolls down his window. “Bummer. Hey, you know, man. I like to watch a lot of television. It’s nothing like what I see out here in the streets but its close. Hey, which do you think is more exciting? The life of a cab driver or the life of a newscaster?” "I don’t know,” was the reply. A cabdriver, you know why?” you say. “Watch the road, you stupid fuck.” You wince at first but then realize that the man is talking to an old, blind, deaf and dumb black man who almost steps from the curb and almost runs into your cab. You narrowly miss hitting him and pull onto a side street. You drive a block and pull in front of a Tudorstyle house. The man thanks you through the window and tips you two single dollar bills. You listen to the sound of the doorbell. A light comes on in the house. One life for another. You could call 9-1-1 but then what? Do you want to be on the news tomorrow? You shake your head no. Then, you remember that the Coney Island is open all night. You drive a bit and then see a familiar face. A transvestite named Dorothy Gale, who is known for her red slippers and rescuing dogs off the street. But when you examine her, she’s actually wearing brown shoes and ugly ones but she is still lovely. She is a vision of mercy and redemption before the twilight evening begins. But then, a stroke of genius hits you. You’ll ask her for her favorite number and play it tomorrow in the lottery, after work, after the news and after you buy a new pair of dark, shaded sunglasses.
The Nightmare of Henry Dudds I awoke in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep; I was afraid. I had a terrible dream: At the exit of the nightclub, a crowd of eager fans surrounded me, pushing against each other in order to secure my autograph. Most of the fans were young women; I noticed immediately a little black boy standing off in the corner alone. The boy had on a dirty yellow shirt, blue shorts and was barefoot. He was probably homeless, I thought but shook the image of this little boy walking around with no shoes from my mind and continued to smile and dazzle the crowd. The flash of cameras in my eyes blinded me for a few seconds and I used my hands to reach for the tiny notepads, the programs with my face on the front and even sometimes arms or shirts for me to sign. The odors of day-old whiskey mixed together with perfume and cologne intoxicated me to the point where I thought I might fall over. Instead, I stepped back a moment, almost falling over on the sidewalk. My protector was an old face from the streets, someone I had seen before but didn’t really know too well and he was too busy talking to a woman to pay attention to him almost falling over. Instead, a white man with glasses on and a newspaper wrapped under his arms grabbed my backside and pushed me back up. I turned around, tipped my cap and smiled at the gentleman. But for some reason, I couldn’t take my eyes off the little boy with the overgrown belly, the too-skinny legs and big, sad eyes looking at me from behind the rest of the crowd. The boy was standing in the shadows behind the doorframe, a ragged stuffed animal in one hand and a piece of red licorice in the other hand. The woman that had been promised to me for a reason I could not remember at that moment wrapped her arms around my neck and bit gently on my ear. Her body turned towards me and posed for the smiling faces. The mink fur around her shoulders almost dropped onto the soggy red carpet. Her lips planted on pink kisses on my yellow face much to the chagrin of the other women standing around. It was lovely for me, the concert, but my body yearned for rest and the ability to go home and be left alone. I pulled back my sleeve to look at the time. Tomorrow morning, my next crowd of fans awaited me in New Orleans but alas, the beloved Circa timepiece watch I always wore on my right wrist was missing. Perhaps I had left it in my dressing room. As much as the attention of my fans was exciting and gratifying, I needed my watch. It let me know when it was time to move forward. I turned around again. My protector would have to let me go in through the back of the nightclub to where my dressing room was to look for my watch. But first, I removed the woman’s arms from around my neck and my lips kissed her on the cheek. She looked at me with confusion on her face. The crowd was calling my name from the street. “Where you going, boss?” My protector now observed me heading toward the entrance. I knocked on the door once and it opened. Everyone stepped aside to not to block the entrance. “Back inside. I left my gold watch in there,” I replied. The rain was beginning to fall outside and the crowd was now beginning to disperse as they watched me wave goodbye to everyone, including the woman that was supposed to wait me. The alcohol, mainly whiskey, was beginning to relax inside of me. I pointed my fingers pointed at one of my fellow musicians, whom the woman quickly wrapped her arms around me and forgot about me as soon as I was no longer in her sight.
The door shut behind me with a thud and my nostrils were overwhelmed once again with a slight musty odor. My dressing room had actually been the janitor’s closet. It was on the immediate right and the door was partially opened. I feared that my watch was gone when I looked inside. My fears were right and I saw nothing of mine left in the room. Then, I realized that I had not left the watch in this room because I had looked at my watch right before I went outside. The woman that had been promised to me had probably swiped the watch when she had wrapped her arms around me. I wondered how she had been able to do that. No matter, she was gone and I was out of a watch. I opened the door slightly. Only a few people remained outside. I didn’t feel like being bothered, not tonight. I decided I didn’t want to go through the back door. I looked around. I could hear the sounds of a few people in front. Probably the servers, collecting their tips for the night. I opened the doors that weren’t locked and looked for windows that I could escape out of. Finally, I found another room, an office, with an open window. The room also had that stale musty odor, shag carpet and an old metal desk. I locked the door behind me so no one could follow behind me. A chair from the corner was used to give myself a boost out into the alley. To my immediate right were the street but also my fans, the other musicians, and my protector that I didn’t want to be bothered with and to my left was a backdoor leading into an old loft warehouse. My gut instinct told me not to go inside that warehouse but my body was ready to collapse. I climbed out of the window and dropped down onto the street. Smells of garbage, cat urine and sewerage welcomed me into the alley. My senses were not strong enough to handle such senses and I gagged onto the ground. I looked back up and the same boy that I had seen from the doorway was standing at the corner of the next-door building, looking at me again. I ignored the little boy and headed towards the warehouse. Neon lights were blinking from the top of the building, though I doubted if anyone lived there, if at all. Though it was nighttime, it was cold and winter and snowing, and smoke from the loft’s chimney reached out to touch the night sky. A shooting star fell then right before my eyes and I wished I had caught it in time to make a wish but I shook that notion off as silly and continued on my journey. I passed a homeless man, lying on top of a pile of dirty blankets. Fire breathed from a rusted barrow with firewood. An old tin can near his boots contained a million pennies and a few nickels. I looked in my pocket for loose change but I couldn’t find any. The only thing in there was a box of matches to a place called Paradise Valley. Tossing the box into the man’s tin can made me feel good about myself. At least I had acknowledged him. He acknowledged me by turning over on his side, snoring at a slightly louder pace, revealing a few rotted teeth and a missing arm with a sling over it. I walked over to the door. Through the fogged windows, I saw a faint light blinking on and off. A whistle opened my closed ears for a second. Was it a code from my protector that he was far and something more sinister was near? Perhaps a train about to pull away? A lovely, full-figured woman in a purple sequined dress and matching peacock hat pushed past me, almost pushing me back outside as she made her way up the stairs. I could hear the tinkle of her glass slippers against the metal of the staircase. I continued to listen to that wonderful sound until I could hear no more. I saw frost and snowflakes falling down from the top. Each snowflake was shaped like a musical note or instrument but I felt heat from down below. The faint light of neon colors reverberated off the wall. I placed my hand on the railing and walked slowly down the stairs but then, I heard a loud, crashing noise up the stairs and a feminine voice screaming. I
immediately thought of the lovely woman that pushed past me earlier. It was something about that scream that I wanted to hold onto to. I decided to go back upstairs to help her out but when I turned around again, there was a cage with bars in front of it, blocking me from going upstairs. I tried opening the door I came in through but it was locked, almost as if someone had put a chair against the door. Then, I heard the sound of laughter. It was a man’s laughter, bellowing and hearty. So loud in fact that the staircase was shaking. Sweat was pouring down my eyes and I could barely see in front of me. Back down the stairs I went, the stairs getting smaller and smaller with each turn of a corner. I saw a puddle at one corner, a smell of old urine that I was now stepping in. I continued going down the stairs until I reached the bottom: a train platform. I was now uncomfortable and pushed my sleeves up. I took my hat off and wiped my forehead with my shirt. I looked around. The place was completely deserted. Rows and rows of benches were covered with some liquid, which I assumed (and hoped) was water. I heard a voice deep inside me echo out, “Hello?” The sound bounced off the walls around me. The lights above me were slowly dimming. I saw a luggage rack across the tracks, filled with luggage but no passengers. A brown rat scurried along the tracks; I wanted to jump over the tracks and go to the other side where I saw an exit sign and another metal door. Steam was rising up from the ground but from where exactly it came, I wasn’t sure. I heard the crash of lightning, which made my heart almost leap out of my chest. I wanted to jump down on those tracks and then climb up on the other side, but then I was worried that another train might come along. Before I could jump down onto the train tracks, I heard the slam of a door in the ticket booth. A red-haired, white man with freckles and a conductor’s suit came out. He had a newspaper in one hand and a suitcase in the other. He walked over to me and pulled out a round timepiece watch from his pocket and looked at it. He nodded his head toward me. I started to walk toward the tracks but he put his hand in front of me to stop me. He whispered, “Wait!” I stood back. Something small and bony tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and there was the little black boy standing behind me. He looked a little bit older now with lines under his eyes, like he had been crying. I bent down to touch him on the shoulder. He was eating a piece of melon but handed me a golden ticket. I held it up in my hands. It was too shiny for me to clearly see the gold lettering. I turned it over and over in my hands. Gold dust from the lettering was smearing onto my hands. I tried wiping my hands onto my pants but the gold dust wouldn’t come off. I realized then that I hadn’t asked the boy where he came from, where he got the ticket from, and why was he giving the ticket to me? I turned around and he had vanished. I asked the train conductor where the little boy was at and he looked at me strangely. I asked my question again and he pointed towards the east. Heading in our direction was a train. I heard that loud whistle again. This time I could see the train headed our way. The conductor walked up close to the edge with his luggage in his hand. He motioned for me to move forward. Instead, I walked back toward the staircase I had come down from. It now had a cage across it with bars on front. I pulled and grabbed onto it but it would not budge. Frustrated, I looked around to see if there were any other exits. The only thing I saw were the bathrooms, a waiting room, right in front of that a lost-and-found box and above that, a departure board with no destinations. In fact, the only thing on it was: The writing is on the wall. The phrase repeated itself over and over again in gold neon letters.
I thought perhaps the bathroom might have a window I could climb out of as some public bathrooms had windows. I didn’t know what time it was but I knew that I needed to get back to my hotel room. Though I was tired, I was surprised that I had enough strength to continue moving around. I walked over to the bathroom door and pushed against it but it was locked. Pushing with all of my might, I was still unable to open the door. I kicked the door with as much disappointment as I could muster and then I heard the sound of another whistle, a human one. The conductor was motioning for me to come over to him. Since there was no other way for me to get out of the train except jump down on the tracks, which I thought was pointless since all the doors on the departing side were locked, I walked over to him. Boarding on the train was the same lovely woman with the purple sequined dress. I had not seen her appear from anywhere else either but decided perhaps to board the train. I thought there was a possibility that I could hop off the train once it arrived at its next destination and then hitchhike back to town. I ran over to them as I could see that everyone else was already on there, though I did not know where these people came from, though I assumed they went on board when I had my backed turned. The conductor was twirling his mustache; he had a big grin on his face. I walked up to him and handed my gold ticket. The little boy came up behind me and tugged on my suit jacket. He was pointing at something on the train but the windows were too foggy. I could not see what he was pointing at. It was my mistake to ignore him. He didn’t have pants on anymore but I was too tired to care. I was tired of this place and ready to go. I wanted not only out of this train station but I needed to get away from this town. I boarded the train and noticed that the immediate cars to both my left and right were full. One thing I noticed though was that everyone was wearing hats. I could not see any of their faces. The lovely woman was ahead of me and moving towards the back of the train. I decided to follow her but before I could, another conductor blocked my entrance. He told me to have a seat in a row of empty seat I had not seen before. I looked out the window. The little boy was looking up at me through the open window. He had a suit on now, with oxford shoes and a felt hat. He was tap dancing with everything he had. The harder I stared at him, the harder his feet beat against the ground. Everyone around me began snapping their fingers. No one was looking at the boy, though who tapped to the sound, his legs stretching him and making him eight feet tall. Another whistle erupted then and then on cue, everything stopped. The boy walked off the platform, disappearing into the smoke that was now coming from the train. Everyone went back to what they were doing and I looked forward. I could hear the sound of someone weeping around me. I turned around and around again but I wasn’t able to see where it was coming from. The sound of it saddened me. Then there was a loud crash. Glass shattered from above us and pounded down on the roof of our train and covered the platform. Lightning was striking all around us. The lights inside of our caboose went on and off. The sound of the person weeping, which I was sure now was a woman, I could hear very loudly. It began to rain inside the train station. The sound of raindrops against the shattered glass reminded me of the lovely woman’s glass slippers against the metal staircase. I heard someone shut, “We must get them out of here!” The lights went off again and stayed off. I heard the woman weeping move forward until she was sitting across from me. She had on a black veil covering her face but there was a familiarity about her.
Once she sat down, her weeping quieted. I was not sure where I was headed next. I heard another loud scream but this time I did not turn around. I was focused on reaching my next destination, which I did not know. Lightning struck again and then I could hear no more. The train conductor began to speak, his lips were moving but no sound was coming out. I heard him point in a northern direction. The woman with the veil began to protest. Everyone around me stood up and they were protesting too. My head began to spin and a rock came through the window next to me. The little boy was rain-soaked in his suit. I guess he had been trying to get my attention. He was jumping up and down but the train was slowly moving ahead. He stepped back and began pointing furiously at something over my shoulder I could not see. The black-veiled woman removed her head covering and I saw that she was my mother. She had a picture of me in her hand. It was the same grown man whose hands I was staring at. I opened my mouth but no sound came at. One bright light bulb slowly dimmed behind me. I saw a shadow inching forward. I was fascinated by its shape. I had seen it somewhere before. I saw an object being pulled from the depths of the shadows. The little boy was now running along with the train and he tried to grab onto the now-broken open space but his legs and strength were too small to lift him up. I tried to grab him but I felt a force that I could not feel yank me back forcefully into my seat. The train had reached the tunnel by then. Sweat began to cascade down my forehead. I panicked and yelled out, â€œStop the train!â€? I wanted to be away from the darkness that I could not see. I ran into the bathroom. I splashed cold water on my face. His large shadow was behind me. I looked in the mirror and was blinded by the sight. It was me, only older and sadder. Standing next to the boy, young and gullible. They were both looking at me. Good versus evil. I screamed out but no one heard me. I pushed past them outside the bathroom and screamed in the hallway. No one turned around. I was invisible. The last thing I remember was the man behind me, the feel of his gun against my head. We were not too far from the tunnel light. He pulled the trigger then and I was gone.
Spooks, Angels and Babies Eight Hundred and Ten She do not know that they were in the city limits until they see a graffiti-laced sign on the side of a skid row building that reads: We Ain’t Bullshittin’. I can’t read,” he had breathed between the gin bottle on his lap covered in paper bag memories. He had asked her to read the sign to him. He liked the artwork. Artwork? She thought to herself and slowly shook her head. He said that was appropriate for the all of the ghosts, ghouls, and witches they pass on the street. She’d watched him with a slow smile that had become warm and sleepy after he told her the truth about himself. He told her name and she looked at him quizzically. That’s an ironic name for a night like tonight she said more to the car window than him. He said his mother claimed to have seen one the night she gave birth to him. That the only time in her life that she ever prayed was the night she found out that she was not giving birth on the day when all the martyred saints rose from the dead but a few days earlier. They met when she pulled her car over to offer him a ride in her leaf-soaked car. The Watcher You come and step on the grass. You cannot find yourself. No one is waiting for you except the trees and then you can only sing lullabies against whispering leaves. Some snot on the corner of your nose falls onto your shirt. There is a growing irritation between your legs. A baby fly you squeeze in between your two fingers died on its way down to the grass from the swat of your arms. In that space between heaven and hell your stomach pries loose bowels to make room for supper. A good meal promises satisfaction, and nothing else. So you take as many leaves as possible to cover the pain of being soiled, and like the disappointment of a Christmas morning without snow, the experience is only half-fulfilling. The woman moves inside the house, and you pull yourself out. You open your window; one of the hottest days of the summer and there is no air conditioning in the home. You look down at yourself and ask, ‘What should you do?’ The woman’s breasts, should you eat them? The woman’s face should you destroy? The flesh inside you says no, so you do nothing. At Noon Lord, look at the clock. I hope this business is finished. I know that I have to leave soon to catch the train to up and get here. Just what the world needs—Another Delight. And they’ll have to drive him because he’s got that leg problem—Just like his father. What else? He met his bride through him through the newspaper. She read the story and wanted to know more about him—That’s where it all started. Something about Sunday living? Rumor has it that he took the money from that dollhouse his Mama left him. I didn’t know anyone still did that. But apparently their community is gettin’ smaller so they feel the need to look outside the community but not outside the church for companionship. Lord, does that woman know what she’s gettin’ into? Does she know that she’s being watched . Of course, when she left that child here, she died that night. Livin’ out there on that back country road. This is not Satan’s Kingdom. Hell, she don’t even come into town anymore. Keepin’ to herself— That’s what this community has become: saints and sinners. Reverend says we all going to hell. I told him that it was a shame that nobody don’t warn that gal. He just looked at me. So, I looked away. The Watcher Finds a Companion One little taste of sweet corn could send you straight to heaven. There is no need for the added pleasure of butter, salt, or even spring water for flavoring. Besides, the squish-easy insects headed down the dark tunnel of your throat and straight to your stomach. For not
even the sound of crickets could soothe the emptiness of your stomach quite like whole sweet corn. The woman’s place in the right part of your eyes does not ease you; the faint sound of music coming from the woman’s living room reminds you of a fiddler in a grassroots blues band that included Bessie Smith, and all the other famous blues players of that era, who, in your opinion, almost achieved greatness, but not quite. The breasts of the woman perish in the nighttime reflection of the fire you built; the tips of the woman’s face roast themselves beyond recognition. A lot of breathless sighs from the back of your throat ease your tension from the rain that night. You walk over to the window; the bed is empty. That night, raindrops oil all senses out of your brain. You no longer desire to be outside but in. Your next conquest: to be God, better than you yourself. The Small-Town Mayor A letter on crisp, white paper arrived on the Governor of Michigan’s oak-covered desk. The fatigued mayor had received a telephone call from the sheriff. The wrong man was in prison. Another man had confessed to the disappearance of the young woman. A sneer appeared on the sheriff’s face when he said this. He did not like the fact that this new evidence became apparent during his tenure. A rare morning fog disappeared beneath the chill on the windowpanes that interrupted his coffee break. On a week like this with the nation holding its breath. He fully intended for the prisoner’s deliverance and the opportunity for him to start a new life in a new town. He read in The Detroit Free Press about layoffs but that like everything else was temporary. They’ll be hiring again. A factory job was a chance for someone to start again. Benefits, middle-class, training, an envied trade-in voucher, a thumbs-up from car enthusiasts, those were words that brought respect to a man. Made you feel the American Dream was obtainable after all. Hell, he thought to himself, what do I need a secretary for besides appearances? That advertising degree worked for him after all. At first, the Governor upset him—Despite what the man was known for, the Governor wanted the state to have a reputation for fairness. The mayor placed a plastic death mask on his face. He thought about the big city to the north. “God, help them.” Well if the prisoner does cause destruction, not in his town. He would personally make sure that would not happen in a few more days. He is a man of God; a man of his word. The Black Mayor You have just received a letter in the mail from the Governor. Apparently someone passing through Detroit hacked a woman’s body downriver. That’s what you have been trying to tell black folks for years. It’s all over. Let the cowards run away. This is your city—You build this city up. You took those jobs from Ford and gave jobs to the people and made a way and now you are trying to protect what is yours from takeover. You are thinking of building a fortress around the city to protect your investment. What can you do, though? You owe the Governor a favor. People look in the mirror and all they see are shades of gray. You see a man with no arms, no legs, no mouth and least of all, no man. You are a body, a crook, a spirit. No, you are a spirit inhabiting a body. You just want to be. People don’t really know who you are. For every soul you save through your rhetoric, there is another someone out there with a better way, who can do cartwheels that you cannot. So, you just fly away. You do the best you can but you are getting old now. Why does the Governor spring this on you now? This letter doesn’t say this is what you should do; the letter says this is what you are going to do. A man is coming to your city. You cannot even alert your city about this strange floating tiger. You still could not alert your city even if the man was black. You will keep an eye out for him. You are shooting blanks and your hair is falling out.
The Journey of Henry Ford You take the sweet bus ride from Jackson all the way to the end. You are tired. You haven’t been on a bus in a real long time. You had to take the bus to Motown. You reminiscence about the first glimmer of sunlight you have seen in a long time. You walk through the pearly gates, only Saint Peter is no whereto be seen. You splashed your face with darkening water on your last community shower. The water tasted like the crumble of rusty pipes tweaking down the faucet. You look at the prison guard. You decide you will go back to having sex now strictly with women. The prison guard has given you something, only you don’t realize this because the prison guard has also been with other men. You suspect this and even though you have heard rumors of a cancer striking gay men, you don’t consider yourself to be gay, therefore you know that those rules don’t quite apply to you. That’s what got you here in the first place—Making your own rules as you went along. You only regret that you developed a foot fungus from always showering next to a politically-motivated prison from some foreign country whose name you cannot pronounce and that you could not place on a map. Hell, you could not even place the gown your mother had on the night of your birth. You stand next to your politically-motivated man because you have heard of the proud public shits in the shower and you know no one with the cancer other than the prison guard is going to come near you as long as you are standing next to him. You do this for him in exchange for being his boyfriend. You have no beef with anyone—You just want to be left alone. Your last breakfast consists of soggy cigarettes hidden in the one sink in the bathroom that is always broken. Your guard does not care if the sink is ever fixed. You tell him that someone threw up in there and that your politically-motivated friend sometimes pees in the sink. Your prison guard knows that you keep cigarettes in there. Keep your eye on the prize. Good behavior. You are excited that the Governor is letting you go. You are surprised though that media does not make you into a celebrity again. You came to prison recognized and signing autographs. You felt excited about the attention you received. Your mother even comes up one time. Your mother is an attractive woman who smoked too many cigarettes. Through false teeth and high hair, your mother says that your entire family sat around and watched you on television like you were a movie star. You always wanted to be the center of attention. Your mother and you never see her again. You call her one time after all of your attention has died down and you find out that your mother has moved again. Your mother is a woman who refuses to be tied down. You remember one time hiding in a closet as a small boy, watching a grown man jump up and down on top and your mother underneath. Something about the man slapping your mother at the same time excited you. You were six years old. You did not mean to watch. You were hiding in the closet because you were playing hide-and-seek with your younger brother. You knew your mother’s closet as the last place that anyone would look for you. You pulled your pecker out and started beating off. Your mother was usually in a bad mood but that day, you saw the hint of a smile. You wonder how long this is going to last because your mother’s happiness is only temporary. You asked your mother one time about your father and your mother tells you that your father was a man without a face. Your father was a smoker and in the movie you saw last night. Your father lived inside the city and worshipped himself. Your mother then tells you to go out on the street and find your face on another man. Your mother says that’s your father. Your mother says that if you ever find such a man—Congratulations, you have won the lottery. Your mother says to call the Army, the Marines, the Air Force, the National Guard. Says to call the President, the Mayor, your high-school English teacher or your favorite babysitter from childhood with the two-toned car named Mrs. Wright. Your mother slaps you across the face, blows cigarette smoke in your face and ponders the
question of who your daddy really is in a too-small cotton housedress with bunny house slippers. Your mother says sorry for the trouble but at the age of seventeen, that life was a gracious wonder. Your relationship with your mother changes after this. Your don’t become disrespectful though; you begin to play hide-and-seek with your younger brother. Every time, you hide in your mother’s closet. You sometimes try on clothes. You sometimes do not. You hitchhike a ride. A fellow asks you if you are going that way. What way? The Detroit way. You are offered a life. What are you going there for? Silence. You do not like questions. You don’t like to talk. You don’t even like Detroit. Detroit is a city, a place where people live in matchbox houses and live silly, little lives. You grew up there but have been away for so long, not that long but long enough, that you don’t care about the museums, the bridge to Canada, the talk of a moving train a black mayor is discussing for Downtown. Where are you from? Warrendale, a little border community you reply. Oh, so you’re from Detroit. You look a little suspicious. Where you from pops? Live near Machus Red Fox. Isn’t that where Jimmy Hoffa disappeared? Some might say. Gas tank is half-full but pops opens the door on Eight Mile Road. You are here. Welcome home.
At Dusk A candle is lit in the center of the country road. A little boy came home from school only to find out that he will not be going out tomorrow after dark after all. His mother is a homemaker; a former exotic dancer with a new name. Her husband does not know her past. She moved from Detroit to the small town. She passed hundreds of black people eager to move away from Detroit as she is too. They literary waved to her as they packed cars, buses, and station wagons for better jobs. The factories in Detroit are laying off workers—The Downriver suppliers therefore cannot order as many supplies and start laying people off too. A snowball effect, a domino effect that leads her laid-off husband to play chess and pool during the daytime, and a trombone at night. He dreams of a blues musician but she has been in the entertainment industry. She knows the pitfalls: The scar on her left cheek that her husband believes was the result of being cut by a machine was actually the result of being cut by a drug dealer when she refused to allow fifteen of his friends run a train on her. She had grabbed the drug dealer by to the depth of his existence and pushed him out the door. She locked the bedroom door. She considers herself lucky that he asked first but really she knows that it is because there were leftover nickel rocks on the bedroom table and he is too selfish to play show-and-tell except with her. While his friends look for a chair to break the door down, she jumps out of the bedroom window and lands on her shoulder. It is bruised but she is all right, thankful that only the sound of gravel can be heard under the movement of her body. She realizes that she has left her driver’s license, her car keys, her clothes upstairs and it is four o’clock in the morning. She runs over to a bus stop right in front of the motel. The men are looking out the bedroom window. She remembers that she used to believe in God once, and starts to pray. She does not have enough clothes on to be outside on a cold, winter night. They shout and point and she can hear the bedroom door close, and the sound of feet on stairs closely following as they head out. She does not believe that she wants to live in a big city enough. The bus driver pulls up in front of her and opens the door. His mouth does not drop because he is too tired to care. “I have no money, and those men are after me,” she turns around and points. The bus fare is fifty cents. The men are in front of the motel and running as fast as they can to catch her. There is no else on the bus. The fastest of the men catches his hand in the door as the bus driver takes off. She has tears down her eyes and silently says thank you as the bus driver opens the door enough for the man’s caught hand to let go and speeds off. She closes her eyes and goes to sleep. When she wakes up, she is at the bus depot with a man’s green suede coat covering her body. She decides in that moment to leave town. She knows that she cannot go back to her apartment or back to her life. She exits the bus and sees a Greyhound bus across the street. She is determined to get on that bus. She walks across the street and the door to the bus is open— No driver. She hops on the bus and quickly takes a seat in the back. She presses her face against the window, and hopes that the driver will not notice her. She falls asleep. Five minutes later, the driver gets back on the bus with a cheese sandwich and a large coffee. He quickly moves to the back and taps her on the shoulder. His green eyes are not pleasant at first but then he looks down at the green suede coat with the AFL-CIO button on the left side of her breast. “Going down to Toledo. Where you headed?” He asked. She shook her head no. “Okay, well, you just sit tight, and we’ll be on our way.” She falls back asleep; oblivious to the black people getting on the Greyhound bus except for the one sitting next
to her. As the bus exits, she knows she will never see Detroit again. Even now, when her husband travels over to Detroit to a job interview at the Jefferson Assembly Plant, she refuses to go with him. She always finds a legitimate excuse---For today, her excuse is the sewing project she is making. She is sitting in front of the television---Just last week, she took her son to see the movie about four men who live in New York, three of them were scientists. She is watching the news, and then she sees a familiar face: A ghost from her past---One of her customers, a man from the motel room whose window she jumped out of, whom she was glad to go away, and killed another woman who fit her description. When that man gets out of prison, she decides not to leave her home. A trend that started on that lone country road behind her house—She lives behind a reverend and his wife. A man that she only knows was named after his grandfather, another reverend. She had overheard rumors that the man’s woman was really a former madam, a lady of the evening, but she didn’t pay attention to those rumors. That woman whom he killed was also a former exotic dancer, also was living in a small town, parading as a housewife. But she drove him to distraction, so he killed her. He is out of prison now; she is so sickened she does not leave the house for days. She is paranoid: Detroit is a small town trapped in a big city. So, when her five-year-old son picked up the white sheet and placed it over his head, he saw darkness. Where were the holes? You see the building burning. A lot of buildings are burning tonight. Life in Michigan is just not safe anymore but the little boy sneaks out after dinner anyway. He steals one of his mother’s candles. She prays every morning to some white lady with a sheet over her head. The boy cannot understand why that white lady can wear a sheet, but not him? The woman holds her hands together every time the little boy looks at her but her fingers never bleed. He presses his fingers together and waits for them to bleed.
An Average Woman’s Story Her story: After I found an old record, Sunday strolled through my life free falling, while the rainy mist abandoned me until tomorrow morning. Mama's voice was on the record player, they called her Billie, and I called her Mama because she was a part of me. Listen, now. Mama sweetly called for her man, whose eyes I saw in the back of my head. Her breasts sighed as my side slowly rumbled and shaked; Shakespeare's newest lovers arrived five hundred years too late. I wanted him to stop looking in my window--I don't like this. My face turned sour red and I softly cried. My legs were hurt badly. I hurt very badly. I told Mama, “This don’t feel good.” But she’s under the table; her voice sweetly called on the record player, like a butterfly kiss from the sky. The nighttime was a coming out party for the heathens with their devil music but I like to listen anyway for my salvation. Mama whispered words in my ear to make him disappear and then she died too. I cannot decide between the two. Mama came back; softly cried as she realized what she always knew, this one was a keeper. I walked over and pointed at my great-grandmother’s record player. I thought of Mama and told myself, “She’s staying right there in the moment. What about you?” The siege of silent music, an empty note . . . I looked around the room to imagine what she must have felt all those years ago. A record is pulled out; it is dusted off gently and her voice pulls me away from reality. Mama's gasp turns into the sound of a calling, far away and not from here. She had a saying for what I was going through: it was called bitter pleasure, and that it will not come again, that might actually save me. Mama, please don’t leave me. My voice began to trail off. Over and over again my voice begged her to stay. I know what you were feeling, Mama. I do. But Mama was a liar. She said that he was leaving and not coming back. She was wrong. I looked outside the window. I think there was someone trying to come in here and he won’t leave me alone. I would only admit to Mama that I was scared. My hand reached for the telephone but it was silent. That man appeared above my mirror through the window, I whispered to the air but no was listening. He kept coming back to hear me play records. Coming back to an empty table with Mama and me. His story: You followed her around. You had suspicions about this. You told yourself about a woman who haunted you when she moved into the abandoned house next door and saw you in the mirror because someone had forgotten to tell you where to go next. You longed to escape from the city. There were days when you sat so close to the windowsill that you could see the hairs on your body. You were claustrophobic in the outside world. You hated being around others. You found out these things by reading the newspaper and listening to the radio and hearing what people said about you but that was at the end . . . You come and step on the grass. You could not find yourself. No one was waiting for you when you left jail except the trees and then you could only sing lullabies against whispering leaves. Some snot on the corner of your nose fell onto your shirt. There was a growing irritation between your legs. A baby fly you squeezed in between your two fingers died on its way down to the grass from the swat of your arms. In that space between heaven and hell your stomach pried open loose bowels to make room for supper. A good meal promised satisfaction, and nothing else, unlike your mother who left when your father’s money ran out or unlike another woman who moved away when you started peeking in
through a bedroom window. So you took as many leaves as possible to cover the pain of being soiled, and like the disappointment of a Halloween evening without children, the experience was only half-fulfilling. The woman moved inside the house; you guess no said anything about you or didn’t care. Moved toward the broken telephone so that you pulled yourself away. Now was the time. This one won’t get away like the others, who found out about you before you could come inside. You open your window; one of the hottest days of the summer and there was no air conditioning in the home. You look down at yourself and ask, ‘What should you do?’ The woman’s breasts, should you eat them? The woman’s face should you destroy? The flesh inside you said no, so you did nothing but waited until the terror gripped her face and then disappeared again. Their story: They first met when she had a flat tire and he pulled over to offer her a ride in his leaf-soaked car. He told her that he would give her a ride as far as she was comfortable and that made her feel better. But then again, she trusted his handsome face. She thought she had seen it somewhere before. She did not know that he had been following her around. She did not know that they were in the city limits until they see a graffiti-laced sign on the side of a skid row building. “I can’t read,” he had breathed between the gin bottle on his lap covered in paper bag memories. He had asked her to read the sign to him. He liked the artwork. Artwork? She thought to herself and slowly shook her head. He said that it was appropriate for all of the ghosts, ghouls, and witches they passed on the street. She’d watched him with a slow smile that had become warm and sleepy after he told her the truth about himself: that he knew more about her than anyone else. He told the woman her name, almost like a game, almost like Rumpelstiltskin and she looked at him quizzically. That was an ironic guess for a first time encounter between strangers on a rainy night like tonight she said, more to the car window than him. He said his mother claimed to have seen one the night she gave birth to him. Seen what? A leprechaun. She chuckled nervously. What happened to your mother? She left when his family ran out of money and he’d been chasing her ever since. Later that night . . . He trembled as he touched her breasts, longing for more. He got out of bed. Her naked body registered feelings of complacency. She watched him as he put on a hat, no clothes. The hat: black, felt with no feathers but the man had wanted to sing. A familiar tune played on the record player about a man and a gun. Breakfast with a silver reflection; mirrors with a broken spoon looking back at a bloody plate. His nose was bleeding but he wondered if someone would hear them, would hear her screams? Would the people driving down the street see them? Once again he felt overshadowed and a little paranoid. She wanted to leave; she was not thinking about him. His mind raced along treelined streets looking at black, angry faces walking to school, waiting for the bus outside the window and then, a car floated by. She begged him to let her go but he knew what would happen and he saw in his mind the rage she had for him, the sharp sting of a hand around his face. And then those words: I know a secret. You were following me and I’m going to tell. The last thing she felt were his hands now around her throat. And then, she was quiet. There were voices far away inside his head when he said that. Telling him about distance and sorrow. Not one of them was Mama though. Someone had been violated. That he knew was true. He guessed two people died that night. Or three. Who knew? Mama, where are you? A woman, a child, a ghost, a devil, a pair of eyes was looking out, waiting for you to return.
A Primitive Encounter Sassie Goolie stood in line at the local movie theater, waiting to see the Saturday afternoon matinee. Her long hair flowed behind her, swept up in a bun. She carried on her person: a large black purse filled with candy bars, a small container of chicken, and a plastic bag of Hawaiian punch. The line moved slowly, though she was one of a few patrons, standing in line, waiting to see the movie. She was in town, a two-hour drive from home, to see the latest picture starring her favorite actor. The reviews had been dismal, at best, but Sassie considered herself faithful to the man whom she always looked forward to seeing up on the big screen. A small tap on her shoulder awakened her senses. “You’re not from around here? I can tell by your hairdo and your bag. Oh, what a lovely combination. You don’t see anything fancy around these parts like that! I also saw the cab drop you off? Are you visiting anyone, special?” the older woman asked. Her kind blue eyes hid the deceit that Sassie wouldn’t recognize. “No. Just going to the local school,” Sassie replied and wondered if she had given too much information. “And the hairdo? Bag?” the woman asked. She moved a little bit closer. Sassie could smell butter and pancake syrup erupting from the woman’s flowery sweater. In this part of the world, one could actually go outside on a November afternoon with just a sweater on. “The hairdo I did myself. The bag I got from the dollar store. I only paid five dollars for it.” “Five dollars at the dollar store? Isn’t that life’s irony?” the woman asked. Sassie just nodded her head. She was eager to get inside the movie theater and begin watching her movie. “You said that you go to the local school? What are you studying? In my day, I found musical theatre to be the most exciting. I always planned on running off to New York as a gal to be a Rockette. Course that was many, many years ago, but now, I just go to the movies. I enjoy watching the matinee. By the way, my name is Myrna. Like Myrna Loy. Ever heard of her? Oh, she was so pretty when she was young, and political too. But that doesn’t bother me. Say, gal, what’s your name?” “I came to the matinee. For some alone time,” Sassie replied and abruptly turned her body away from the woman. “So rude. Did your mother give you the same amount of money when she gave you the money for that cheap bag?” the woman retorted. Sassie shook her head no. She could feel her bun coming loose but she blinked twice and then she was standing in front of the ticket counter. The ticket clerk gave her a once over and repeated the same line she repeated day in, and day out. “How many tickets will you be purchasing?” she asked. Her frozen smile along with her crooked teeth made Sassie cringe at the woman’s fakeness.
“One ticket for the one o’clock,” Sassie said. “That will be seven dollars and fifty cents please,” the ticket clerk responded. Sassie handed the woman her money. The older woman behind her said to the woman behind her, “That’s more than she paid for that cheap bag. I don’t understand why she’s buying a ticket. This is a local theater. Not made for you,” Myrna said. Sassie went inside the movie theater and realized that she was doing the owner a favor. Besides the cheap, faded wall-covered plush, the old, dry carpet and the bruised gold loopings that separated the back of the movie theater from the front, Sassie saw a small line of people standing in front of the concession stand. She looked up at the menu prices, and was not about to spend the last of her school money on popcorn and a soda. She passed to the right, briefly turning back to the see the woman called Myrna buying her ticket, and moving toward the concession stand. Sassie’s knees felt like foam dumbbells in water, and she breathed heavily through her mouth as she climbed a set of stairs to hand the second ticket clerk her ticket. He pointed to the left, tore her ticket in half and politely stepped aside so she could make her way into the theatre. Theatre #8 had a plastic sign in big, bold letters that spelled out the name of the movie. Next to the entrance was a splashy, encased poster featuring her favorite actor looming over the title of the movie and the rest of the showcase. She nodded her head in approval and headed inside. Of course, the movie had to be showcased inside the room with the largest set of stairs. She breathed again and hoped no one was watching as she waddled her way up the stairs and sat down halfway from the top. Sassie could barely squeeze into the seat, but was thankful that her behind was cushioned. With her purse next to her, she reached inside her bag, tore open a candy bar and her container of chicken. Though the lights were dim, Sassie’s eyes darted around carefully for any signs of a theatre usher that might ask her to put away her food. She was on her second piece of chicken when the woman called Myrna saw her and began waving as though they had come together to see the movie. “Well, these stairs. They certainly weren’t thinking of us when they made them. Know what I mean?” Myrna said and placed her leg on top of Sassie’s knee. Sassie’s eyes went wide and Myrna cried, “It’s hard! Your knees. But I expected all fat!” “Do you mind? I’d really like to be alone,” Sassie replied. “Oh, I get it. I insulted you? Not yet,” Myrna said. She left Sassie sitting there eating her food. Myrna returned with the theater manager. Sassie could hear the woman saying,” Oh, I’ve got a life. Yes, I realize that, but she’s not eating your food. She couldn’t even make it up the stairs without falling over into my lap. There she is.” The theater manager came up to Sassie’s row. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you for your food. I’m terribly sorry. Theater policy. She’s a regular, ” the manager whispered, nodding at Myrna. Sassie handed over her ticket. “This is ridiculous. She put her
leg on my knee and I can’t afford your food! This town is too small for me. I’ll guess I’ll just have to wait until the movie is on cable.” Sassie got up and left. The woman called Myrna stuck her tongue out at her. “Can I get a refund on my ticket?” Sassie asked the theater manager. “I’m afraid not. Again, theater policy.” Sassie heard Myrna shout to another woman sitting nearby, “It was good exercise for her.” That was enough for Sassie. She marched back up the stairs, purse and all, and dumped the chicken into Myrna’s lap. “Now, you’ll smell like chicken instead of pancake syrup.” Sassie then bent over and pulled her pants and underwear down. “Where does she carry it? It’s smaller than I would have imagined,” Myrna said as Sassie, now red-faced, exited the theater.
Sips of My Coffee I didn't know at the time that I met her, that she would change my life forever. When I first met her, all I could think to myself, was Huh? Where did this person come from? Why has God forsaken me, and send them in my life? What could they possibly have to offer me? I think of all of these things as I sit in the coffeehouse, sipping on a hot chocolate and watching the big, giant television that sits there like someone had just sucked in their guts, took in a huge breath and just spit out this television. Where you goin? I gotta go study, Ma. Where are you goin', and when will you be back? I'm goin' to that coffeehouse 'roun the corner. Be back in a few. Okay, well be careful and make sure you take the cell phone with you, and make sure you park my car at the end of the parking lot, cause I don't want any of those damned no-drivin' teenagers to tear up my precious car! Okay, Ma! Got it. Books. Miles and miles, rows and rows of endless books that moves up and down the library walls like a fisherman moving on a dock to catch bait. It doesn't seem like it is going to happen, and then it does. There is nothing greater than the feeling of completion. I sip my hot chocolate and look at the books on the library walls in the coffeehouse. I want to throw my glass up against the window just to get a reaction out of the people there. Everyone is ignoring me, and I wish I were someplace where I was the center of attention. Since I know that will never happen I turn my face back in time: I'm grateful for you everyday; you know that, don't you? No, I didn't know that. Well, I do. I love you. Baby, I love you. Boy, I love you too. I've never loved a girl like you. What you mean? You know the whole black-white thing. Not that it matters. I just love the way I feel when I'm with you. Me too, babe, whateva you say. Her name is Jasmine. I met her at the library. Oh, yeah, what does she look like? Is she pretty? I know she's a brunette. What makes you think she's a brunette? Because I know you, Harry, man and you love brunettes. Well, she's definitely a brunette. Oh, yeah. What color are her eyes. Are her eyes blue, gray? They're brown, or black I think. What's wrong with you, man? You're acting funny. I'm in love with this girl, she's beautiful, but . . .
But what? She's black. So? Yeah, well, you know how my family feels about that. Damn, your family sucks on that. They can really bite sometimes.can't even bring her home but to hell with them, you know. I look out the window. This hot chocolate has a soothing, tranquil effect on me. It gives me a high that not even a marijuana cigarette can. I make love to my hot chocolate like only a burnt tongue can. This movie on the television is really interesting. I see the people in it. I see Jasmine and another girl. They are speaking about me: His name is Harry, and I met him at that coffeehouse. Harry? What kind of name is Harry? Harry is a name. It's a guy's name, and he has it. What's wrong with him? He got kids? No, and why somethin' got to be wrong with him? Why can't we just kick it? Cause I know you, and I know somethin' up. I can feel it. Your number came up today. I wish life were like a cup of hot chocolate, right when you first taste it you get your tongue burned the shit out of you. It burns so bad; you want to jump up, say, What the fuck! and slap the waitress across the face for talking on the phone while making it, and not paying attention to it. Nonetheless, it don't matter because it's slowly disappearing. Your sips of it get bigger and bigger, and the hot chocolate gets smaller and smaller. Television is like that too, so why can't life be like that? I don't know much, but nothing could be better than what's going on right now. My hot chocolate is gone, and I don't have enough money to get another one. Oh, well. I'll just sit here, put my spoon inside of my cup, and sip the tiny specks of it.
Morning in Detroit Go the city of Detroit and watch the drive-bys of old raggedy cars, coming from the ancient, dilapidated homes that crumble under the bitter sun of stink of sewer streets hiding the grey-faced children, their graffiti art laced with delicate rhymes, expletives, a marvelous shrine to the ghosts of Rosedale Park taking a heavenly walk. Yesterday but not today is the best time to take a heavenly walk to avoid the rat-tat-tat of Cass Corridor's drive-bys where basketball masters fall under the ghetto shrines hiding behind the walls of boulder-high dilapidated homes, their side alleys covered with mini graffiti art, temporarily until the rain washes the chalk dust into the sewer streets. But beauty is immortal, where vagrant kings rule on the sewer streets. They push like mad on their heavenly walks, remembering their own days of learning graffiti art, practicing until they are old enough to drive-by of their own creations, displaying their work in front of the dilapidated homes, that stand like the blighted fortress of an iron shrine. These prized little children make their own shrines once upon a time until the sewer streets begin hearing the demise of these dilapidated homes, unable to move, unable to take a heavenly walk along the blind edges of Belle Isle back to reality, to the drive-by of nature snobs, oblivious to the decaying graffiti art. It is easier to find an abandoned house than precious graffiti art downtown, where casino machines sing with stolen money, a shrine to slipping-down butterscotch dreams that you have to drive-by to see, to win, to lose, to forget. See dirty coats but no sewer streets to proclaim as golden territory, just hands waving, heavenly walks to the rich folks, Detroit celebrities gone to LA and their lonely homes. They forget the splendor of an eastbound Detroit with dilapidated homes, suffering under the weight of chalk-dry graffiti art not found in a museum. Only the sun runs with the heavenly walk covering up cracked windows, waist high grass like shrines in a child's picture with black thumb marks rubbing sewer streets, swaggering with wonder toward a rapidly grave drive-by. Sewer streets, dilapidated homes, a shrine to a flame-filled city, struck by decaying graffiti art. Movers and shakers masking blood sent from God in a heavenly walk to end this drive-by.
The Night Waitress She moves through the restaurant, plates spilling from her arms like feathers on a bird. Her name is Margarita. She dances to the clink of the oldies playing on a table-sized jukebox. Her hair is pinned up; each bobby pin representing a different cycle of her life. One bobby pin stands for the men in her life: an alcoholic father now disabled and bare in a nursing home. Another one for a boyfriend, scared of her pool-playing skills, that ran off. But not even in the middle of the night does he leave, nor does he leave in the middle of the day, and not even with a Dear John letter. His choice was simply leaving the front door wide open. Open just enough for anyone not to care except her. Days behind their affair, she finds herself stiff as an iron board. A doctor tells that her boyfriend should have left a Dear John letter: Margarita is pregnant. At the diner she works at, one of her regular customers offers his services as a private detective and this is what leads her to the house on Westland Street. It sits back from the corner, slanted like a scared game of dominoes, complacent and rickety. There is a party going on and then she remembers the street so well. This is the block that she should have moved on. There, in the center of the block she finds the house that he is moving into. The front driveway and lawn is littered with cars. A banner over the garage reads CONGRATULATIONS but her eyes refuse to read his name and hers, the other woman. Does she know that Margarita is pregnant? That while they throw a party in the backyard, a child is growing full belly inside her. In the backyard, banners of slightly crinkled white decorating paper cover the backyard, becoming a scene from a lost paradise. It didn’t take Margarita long for her to figure out who she is. The white flowers in her hair, Christ-like, barren stomach, slightly smeared lipstick. She is a good girl, the kind of woman you read about in magazines. A slightly frumpy delight that came along to rescue the bad boy from his mistakes, to steal him from Margarita. A tear drops from Margarita’s eyes as she realizes that this should have been her party. Perhaps she should knock on the neighbors’ doors, introducing herself before she is brushed away as an afterthought. But what about that other girl? You know, the one who came to look at the house with him straight from work, with a smock over her pink-and-white uniform, the one with the gap in between her two front teeth, who likes to carry straw purses and carry a bottle of Hennessey and a Pepsi in her purse. Margarita wants to knock on the neighbors’ doors and tell them the truth: I’m the one that he should be marrying. I’m the one carrying a mixed baby. The thump of rap music vibrates from loudspeakers sitting on picnic tables, leaning up against wooden barrels of begonias, flowers that will not return next season. She can see the bumping and grinding of men against women, somewhere in the middle of this chaos, she sees him. This isn’t the customer that frequented her diner. He is a different man. Perhaps a part of her remains hopeful that this is his way of getting back at her and she fantasizes about going into the backyard. Perhaps they should fight over him like two women on television, both pretending that they didn’t know about the other. But Margarita knew by the neighborhood’s lack of concern over the loud music, the closed curtains from the houses across the street with an occasional peeking back, hiding behind the sun that these people could simply care less about her problems. She gets back into her car and drives away. Only having briefly seen the woman that he is marrying, she drives down the street in a dream-like stupor, imagining the woman’s hair catching fire or an anonymous rock hitting her upside the head, anything to take away that Christ-like vision of her from Margarita. She imagines herself in the woman’s place, imagines them dancing the night away like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Instead, she
peeks through the side of the house, her fingers making black smudge marks against the house’s clapboard siding. A black man comes up on the side of her. He replies,“ I don’t believe I’ve seen you around.” “I’m just a visitor passing through, “Margarita replies back. “Are you sure that you are at the right place? You don’t seem like anyone’s type.” “Oh, I was. A long time ago, until one day I didn’t make a sandwich. I stopped making sandwiches, through no choice of my own.” The black man looks at her in confusion, but shrugs through his shoulders, a big smile across his face as he bites into a pulled pork sandwich. Margarita notices punch on the table, and wonders if the punch is spiked with Bailey’s Irish Cream, another lactose intolerant substance. The man offers to bring her a glass of punch, and when she refuses, Margarita knows that it is time for her to leave. Moving along Westland Street, she can watch the trees free fall leaves on top of her car. She thinks of her lack of action choices: the refusal to acknowledge the woman, the passing phrase of romantic projections, the music changing, the neighborhood changing, him changing, just the sort of confusion she needs to realize she didn’t really belong anywhere. Where is she needed at that moment? She drives back to her home, realizing that someone out there, other than him, will need her to make them a sandwich. Back in her apartment, Margarita begins to clean up as if she were at work, smoothing off imaginary crumbs off the tables, spraying them with cleaning fluid and wiping sugar droplets into her hands, only to brush them onto the floor. Then, with her broom and dustpan, she wipes up imaginary food droppings, recounting conversations the two of them had. He always came in and ordered the same thing: the peanut butter and jelly sandwich special. She danced through the kitchen, placing his order. Looked forward to their conversations about books, about who was a better writer of vampire stories, Anne Rice or Stephanie Meyer. Looked forward to the quarters he put in the jukebox, playing songs from the romantic 50s such as Pat Boone’s cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t that a Shame.” He had been a lousy tipper, often leaving a pencil-covered drawing of whatever she asked him to draw in lieu of a much-needed cash tip. She decides to mail them a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. She wants to be meticulous about the arrangement of their wedding present. Margarita wants to wrap them up the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich that she can possibly make and mail it to them. Just as if she is at work, she takes her time making that sandwich with as much love as possible. After all, that is how they meet. He comes into her diner with just enough money to afford a sandwich and a black cup of coffee. The lunch special. Margarita prefers ham-and-cheese but he is lactose intolerant, lacking the stomach to eat a dairy-filled sandwich. The steps she takes: First, the bread is toasted in the oven, slightly crispy and baked at 400 degrees. Margarita is careful not to double-dip her spoon twice inside the jar and she doesn’t test-taste the creamy spread. It is cold, she tells herself, having sat in the refrigerator for many days and many nights, waiting for a special occasion such as this. The lumpy jelly she smooths over, pretending to be a construction worker, the lumpy jelly representing the soft, crafted dirt that she hopes will be used someday to tear the house down. Instead, her delicate fingers slice the sandwich in half. She places two little candies on top for presentation, but then
decides that only Martha Stewart would make such a mess, so she eats the candies and enfolds the sandwich inside a baggy. Margarita then carefully covers the sandwich in the best wrapping she can find: newspaper. She blesses the small gift to the â€œhappyâ€? couple and places the sandwich in an envelope. Should she put her return address on the front? Margarita decides not to. The peanut butter and jelly is clue enough who the sandwich is from. She then debates about whether to include a card or not and decides against it. On the back of the envelope, she writes the words: To the man who loves sandwiches, here is his greatest gift. She pulls out the correct postage on the envelope and places it on top the mailbox in the hallway for the mailman when he makes his daily rounds in the morning. Now, the delivery of her present, that blessing is up to God. After Margarita mails the sandwich off, she debates if she should make another sandwich for her baby and begins to draw a bath. She knows that the baby is a boy, but decides against making herself eat a sandwich. Her and her son are going to be too good for that.
The Sidewalk On a hidden cul-de-sac, silent streets hide cold colonials from the common sway of ringing bells. Springtime with wilted roses, pouring down death onto ruthless peace. Death tricks struggling babies into believing its icy dreams but they know better. Their dry, brown faces dance to the hand of flames in their bones that bring empty-night loneliness bowing down to the Devil's knock, hiding underneath faint dustballs. They think there is beauty in their yards, less the faint dustballs fall like silk curtains in a Humpty Dumpty world of cold colonials. Not even the destruction of April showers can end the empty-night loneliness of the sidewalk. And what is worse: the cruel sting of slow-coming wilted roses or the climbing snarl of hatred from those dry, brown faces? Neither drowns in the rain like the melting tears of the struggling babies. Fate's slippery hand loosed its grip around the struggling babies whose parents roam the town's landscape, pushing the faint dustballs from their artificial lawns and into the eyes of those dry, brown faces just so their shaky unions could hide behind the cold colonials. Still, under the watchful eye of chipped trees, intoxicating wilted roses die with the everlasting grief of empty-night loneliness. The dread of coming home sours the empty-night loneliness as fate grieves for the lost, abandoned by the sidewalk. Struggling babies stolen too soon, innocence gone, safety shattered. Wilted roses then scream as bleeding thumbs pluck them, missing the faint dustballs that awaken the morning town. Cold newspapers hit cold colonials but it doesn't change anything, especially on the dry, brown faces. I guess my hysterical longing for change scares those dry, brown faces who hide behind the sweeping darkness of empty-night loneliness. April showers sully the sidewalk but not the cold colonials, nor the echoing sound of delusional pain, the struggling babies stifling the tremble of fear passing over the faint dustballs into the clawing hands of black squirrels eating wilted roses that didn't make it this year. But as for those wilted roses they die but not as rapidly as the dry, brown faces who only come out now to observe the windless grass and faint dustballs. They don't even notice the receding cracks of the empty-night loneliness, howling under the moonlight along with those struggling babies. The dullness of their weary lives fading along with the cold colonials. In time, the sidewalk shrinks into the shadows of the empty-night loneliness. In the morning, the street will appear the same to those dry, brown faces who do not see the perfect sadness lurking behind those cold, cold colonials.
Mourning for Moaning The day Mrs. Stevens became agoraphobic was the day that her dearly beloved husband, Mr. Stevens died. For twenty-five years, Mrs. Stevens always had the same dream: that a robber was waiting at the bottom of the staircase to steal her costly jewels from her wooden jewelry box. Her nightmare became true on a Sunday evening and her husband died of a heart attack the very next evening. Here’s how it happened and then the aftermath of her sad life: For twenty-five years, the Stevens’ ritual included wine, cheese and crackers, and Mr. Stevens walking in his silk pajamas to the bottom of the stairs and calling out, “Is there anyone in this house that doesn’t belong here?” When no reply came forth, Mr. Stevens called out to Mrs. Stevens, as if she were his shipmate, “All clear, dear. There’s no one at the bottom of the stairs.” Still, that didn’t stop Mrs. Stevens from having the carpeting pulled up so that she could hear the sound of footfalls on the stairs. This ritual went on year after year until finally one evening, Mrs. Stevens dream came true. The doorbell rang. Mrs. Stevens carefully tiptoed over to the window and looked down. She assumed that it was Publishers’ Clearing House arrived to announce that the Stevens’ had won ten million dollars. As she was preparing her makeup: eyebrow liner, a little blush, pink lipstick on her faint lips, Mr. Stevens made his way downstairs in his silk pajamas to open the door. She called out as he made his way down the stairs: “I know it’s Publishers Clearing House. I see a white van and who else could it be? A door-to-door salesman. Well, tell him we’re not interested. We’re trying to save money, invest it in something worth a return on a well-worn dollar.” Mr. Stevens opened the door and saw no one standing there. He assumed that the door-to-door salesman had gotten impatient and decided to move onto the next house. He closed the door, only to turn around and find the barrel of a gun pointed at his head. A dark voice called out, “I wanted to surprise you. I came in through the back. Well, you’ve got company now, but I can’t stay long, so listen to what I have to say, and listen carefully.” Mr. Stevens nodded his head. He wasn’t sure whether to wet in his pants at the surprise invitation he just received or cringe. “Is there anyone else in this house?” the voice called again. “I didn’t hear you come in. You would need to throw a rock to break in. How on Earth did you get in?” Mr. Stevens asked bravely. “That’s easily. I reached up my hand through your dog door. Fluffy didn’t give me a hard time. That’s a shame for you.” “Her name is Sasha and she’s not trained to deal with the likes of you,” Mr. Stevens cried. “Look, I’ve no time for banter. Is there anyone else in the house besides you?” the voice asked again impatiently.
“Yes, my wife, Martha. She’s upstairs. She’s got a sixth sense about these things. For years, she always waited for you, and here you are. Come to rob us. Please don’t hurt us.” “Hurt? That’s not my style. Now, move upstairs but turn around first.” The voice placed a blindfold on Mr. Stevens, and the two of them headed up the stairs. Mrs. Stevens hadn’t heard the conversation between the voice and Mr. Stevens. She looked out the window but didn’t see the door-to-door salesman headed back down the driveway. She called out, “Harry, what is it? Well, I guess we didn’t win after all. Perhaps another evening.” She opened the bedroom door with one hand and with the other hand, she began wiping her wasted makeup off. Her eyes drooped in surprise as her husband’s slippers grated softly against the wooden stairs as a man in all white with a surgeon’s mask came up the stairs. “A doctor? What is a doctor doing up here?” she asked. The voice shoved Mr. Stevens into the room, knocking him into Martha. He didn’t turn on the light. Mr. Stevens whispered, “A gun. He’s got a gun. Oh, Martha. Your dream has come true. But not the one we quite imagined,” Mr. Stevens cried as the voice shoved him onto the bed. “I’ve come for one thing only. I don’t know you. I haven’t studied your house so please be assured that I haven’t cased your place. I picked your house because I was at a party and someone made a joke about you. They said that you’ve feared for over twenty-five years that someone was going to break into your house. That your biggest fear was that someone was going to break into your house and take your valuables. Only thing is that I’m a writer in need of inspiration. You're writing my next book right now. What happens will determine if you live or die.” “Who are you? Why are joking like this? We’re the blunt of someone’s joke and you need inspiration. Where is Publisher’s Clearing House? Where is Candid Camera? I’ve heard enough!” Mrs. Stevens cried. She went over to the top drawer of her Victorian-style drawer and removed a musical box. She began playing a song from the Nutcracker. “It’s not Christmas, dear,” Mr. Stevens said flatly. He sat on the bed. “Actually it is Christmas. See, on Sundays, I am a writer. On Mondays, I’m a painter and on Tuesdays, a researcher. I happen to know for a fact that Mr. Stevens is a wellrespected member of the community and Mrs. Stevens is a socialite. So, what have I come for? To start a new party!” He snapped his fingers. “Take off your clothes,” he said. “This isn’t funny anymore. Mrs. Stevens and I would like to know how you found out about us. This can’t be real. You can’t be real.” “Oh, but I am. You see, I’ve developed a habit too and you’re going to pay for it,” the voice said.
“But how did you find out about us?” Mr. Stevens asked. “It’s funny about small towns. I read in the newspaper about how your wife was afraid after that other house was robbed. You see your mistake now. And the funny part about it was that it wasn’t even me. It was some other guy that goes by the name of Craig. He’s a painter. But me, my name is Oliver and I’m a writer. See, the other house, I needed inspiration so I painted on the walls while the family was away. But then, I saw your wife on the news, talking about how she’s been afraid for years that something like this would happen on her block. Now, I was having a one-man party. Now, we’re having a threeperson party. Now, I was a bit nervous at first because this is the first party I’ve ever had with other people too. But I want to write a story and I need your help. See, it’s about this married couple that gets robbed by a psychopath. How does it end? Maybe it’s a choose your own adventure story? I’ve heard from you,” the voice said, pointing at Mr. Steven, “I’d like to hear your input. How should this story end?” The voice asked, pointing at Mrs. Stevens. “You rob us, we call the police, and then you go away!” she cried. “No?” the voice asked. “Well, then, I guess you’ll have to tell me.” “See, with that other home, I just painted a picture. The news said that the place was robbed but they exaggerated for dramatic effect. I did no such thing. That would be a crime. Instead, I ate in their refrigerator and told them that I would be back someday. Only I don’t like them as much as I like you two. See, that family has kids, and kids have a tendency to get in the way of things. Grown-up things. Fun things. Are you getting a better understanding of how things operate?” The Stevens stood there in their master bedroom with shocked looks on their faces. “Apparently not. But you will. I happen to know the human condition on loneliness is a vicious cycle. One that requires understanding, obedience and humility. I don’t want your jewels, honey,” the voice said, reaching over and squeezing one of Mrs. Stevens’s breasts. “What do you want?” Mr. Stevens said. His mind was racing; he immediately thought of sex. He looked around the room for some type of covering for his wife. “Sex comes later,” the voice said, almost as if he were reading Mr. Stevens thoughts. “What comes first then?” Mrs. Stevens asked. “Your telephone number. It’s listed in the directory but I thought this would be more fun. Asking. Our first date.” “You want our telephone number? For what? To keep in touch,” Mrs. Stevens said sarcastically.
“God bless her. Ain’t she great? I see why you want to protect her,” the voice said, “What do you want from us? Because we’re going to report you,” Mrs. Stevens said. “Why? I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t stolen anything. I didn’t break anything. I just wanted to talk. In fact, I’ve got a monologue in mind. But you sourpusses are too much for me. Still, I think we should read it. But first, should I tie you sir to a chair and make you watch while I have sex with your wife?” “Sex with my wife? Sex with my wife! Why, you bastard!” Mr. Stevens said, getting excited. He stood up but then a sharp pain in his chest pulled him back into his bed. “This is too much for you? Perhaps a rain check is in order?” the voice said. “Oh, my god!” screamed Mrs. Steven,” My husband is having a panic attack or a heart attack. Call 911. Please,” she cried. “I didn’t mean to overexcite you. I was just kidding. I think I’ll be leaving now,” the voice said. He skipped over to the stairs and flew down the banister. Mrs. Stevens called emergency but it was too late for her husband. He was having a heart attack. The voice cried out, “Good-bye, Mrs. Stevens. Didn’t mean to frighten your husband. But we’ll be in touch. I’ve got to go now before I get in trouble.” Mrs. Stevens was on the phone with the emergency personnel but it was too late for her husband. The shock of the voice announcing that he was going to have sex with Mrs. Stevens was too much. By the time the paramedics arrived, it was too late for the husband: he died the next evening. One would think that having someone break into the house, banter with the Stevens’ and make cruel jokes would be enough for Mrs. Stevens to want to put her house up for sale. No, instead, the event had the exact opposite effect on her. She no longer wanted to answer the door. She stopped looking for Publishers Clearing House. Her doctor said that she had a panic attack of her own. The news crew from the local television station came around again to make Mrs. Stevens a local celebrity but she was paranoid and on edge. After all, that was how the voice had discovered her. She began to subscribe to Weekly World News, investing her time in reading about conspiracy theories and aliens giving out greeting cards made on other planets. She simply didn’t have time to go outside of her house to talk to a local reporter or try to guess who the voice was based on his shape, his voice, his build in the darkened master bedroom that fateful evening. She began sleeping in the den. Of course, the telephone rang nonstop. This she actually answered. There was some anxiety in her belief that it had been a practical joke gone bad. After all, the man hadn’t taken anything from then. He hadn’t taken anything from the last house he “broke into.” Life took ordinary steps. Two weeks later . . .
It was a Tuesday evening. The funeral for her husband had already passed. Martha Stevens was getting used to living life without her beloved. She enjoyed her evenings: watching Wheel of Fortune, frozen television dinners, a phone call from her sister in Birmingham. She began to think of it as a dream gone bad, a nightmare that ended with her husband’s death but she was safe, or so she thought. That evening, Martha laid in bed, rubbing herself down with cream. She put on her night mask and kissed the picture of her dearly departed husband, said her prayers, cried a little, drunk a little champagne (a mourning ritual), and climbed into the bed in the den and fell asleep. At three o’clock in the morning, the telephone began to ring. Martha decided to ignore it at first. After five rings, the telephone stopped ringing. Martha breathed a sigh of relief but then, one minute later, the telephone began ringing again. Martha was unsure whether or not to get the phone. It could be a relative calling to announce that someone else in the family had died. Middle-of-the-night phone calls always alarmed her. For a split second, Martha fantasized that it was her late husband. Calling her to tell her that the whole robbery was a practical joke, that him dying was a fluke, that he was still alive and the whole thing had been planned as a part of an upcoming surprise. After all, Martha hadn’t planned on losing her husband so close to her birthday. Against her better judgment, Martha answered the telephone. “Oh. Oh, yes. Oh, yes, baby. Right there,” the voice said. “Who is this?” Martha asked. “You know who this is.” “I can have this telephone called traced. I can find you once and for all,” Martha said. “Sorry about your husband. So sad to read such sad news,” the voice said and hung up. That one particular telephone call jolted Martha right out of her bed. She wasn’t sure whether to start laughing or crying or both. Then, she came to her senses. She looked at the clock. He had been on the phone with her for less than a minute. Could the phone call be traced? Martha began to cry. True to his word, the robber was back into her life. Martha called the police, who told her that she was being paranoid but if the telephone caller called again, they would place a tracer on her phone. The next day, Martha decided to invest in a gun. Friends told her to change her telephone number and she did. Weeks passed and nothing happened. Martha began to fear again that he might break into her and Harry’s home again as retaliation since he could no longer moan on the telephone. On a Wednesday evening, this time around seven o’clock, the telephone rang, She answered the phone, only to hear the sound of heavy breathing. Martha screamed into the phone, “Stop harassing me! I’m old enough to be your mother! I don’t leave my house much because of you. You won, okay, young man. You won. Now leave me alone!” she said and slammed the phone down.
That night, she decided that she was going to have an actual conversation with the young man. Perhaps if she talked with him, he would eventually go away. Martha had to admit that since Harry died, she was lonely too. She had enough of the young man’s loneliness. Again, the telephone began ringing in the middle of the night. Martha was fed up with the man’s desperate cries for attention. “I decided to invest in a gun because of you,” she told him. “Why such violence? I just want to have a little fun on the telephone. Now, have I touched you?” he asked. “No, you haven’t,” Martha said. She began to hear moaning outside the den on the ground floor of the house where she slept now. She peeked out the window. No white van. Just cats mating below her window on the ground behind the bushes. “I heard moaning outside my living room. I looked outside and two cats were mating. Get a cat!” Martha said and started to hang up. “Oh, Martha. I just want one opportunity.” “One opportunity? One opportunity at what? Sex? Well, I’m not that kind of girl. The only man I slept with is gone. Gone, gone, gone. I’m just not interested in intimacy.” “Martha, I’m lonely and I know you are too in that big, old house by yourself. Just on the telephone. That’s it. Just this once and then you’ll be free. I’ll be free. Everything that I have to offer is free,” the voice said. “Free? Look, I’m tired and I need some peace. What can I do to make this over?” “Scream. Moan. Banter with me on the phone. Make my dreams come true.” “Okay,” Martha said and began moaning along with him.
The Far Side of the Room Dullness is Wisdom breaching, trembling, C R A C K I N G under the foundation of a woman scorned by many tolls bleeding shades of desolation over and over again, popularity that F A D E S away tranquilized by buttered-down power that grabs the wickedness of a serpent's spite, giving life in fragmented reckonings with vain pleasure. I know the ballad of a woman you've probably met: It doesn't end the way you might think with a fat prince's kiss with a wicked slipper with a golden apple champagne on the wall and piano-plump behinds scratching in their seats and antique, solitary gowns with smeared-down lipstick on her hands. That woman, communed with her heart saying, "Look, what I have attained . . ." (fill in the blank) with the bread of silence pulling on her chest without mercy, without privilege and prick her fingers against thorns as she escapes into the syrupy-sweet of lost dreams to the half-deserted, swallowed quiet keeping her awake thereafter until she lays her distresses against morning, to pamper the sacrilege of her tear-flooded bed and stained-sorrow tissues dashing her floor. She is clumsy, a medieval, maimed cancelled plan that crashes surrended affections against a dwindled gaze that never cuts the jazzy-flavored paradise like complex, glowing scars. She runs, she walks, she smiles, she freezes like . . . a cake splattered on the ground and blotted, dreaded, smashed sincerity
covering a blank mind in a state of shock and screams alone and praises the illiterate barricades of tomorrow: the unexpected, imperfect messengers welcome her to the tangled road of uncertainty.
Grayfield South 01. I received your letter. Tonight, at midnight, I will fulfill your request. Of course, the fence outside prevents me from ever reaching you. I wrote a last letter to my parents that won’t be sent. They don’t visit me. They never understood me quite like you did. I doubt they ever will. We cannot choose them, our families. I think that was my biggest mistake. If I had to do it over again, I would have held you and told you everything would be all right, even if it was the greatest lie of our lives, I still would have told it. I say to my mother that I am leaving. She asks me where I am going. I am going to get away--To my favorite seat in the corner where I can watch and observe but on this day, it is crowded. All of the tables are filled except one . . . So, I ask him if I can sit down next to him. He politely says yes. And those eyes. Those brown eyes. They beg me not to move away. I turn away. Books. Miles and miles, rows and rows of endless books that moves up and down the library walls like a fisherman moving on a dock to catch bait. I turn back. It does not seem like it is going to happen, and then it does. An open table becomes available, and neither one of us moves. I am stiff and he transforms the image I have of myself. I no longer see the Medusa in front of me. I no longer see the serpents that are spitting venom in my cup, swirling around like a pipe player in paradise. I turn away again. A painting. In front of me. The serpent’s eyes. Art is surrounded by an empty universe of coffee drinkers who ignore its beauty until I bumped into it. Hi. Hi. Isn’t it hideous? No. It’s art. I don’t believe art is supposed to be hideous. Well, I do. There are no other seats in here. Can I sit here with you? Sure. I’m Sterling and you are? Gray. Grayfield South. That’s an unusual name. I’ll bet you’ve never met anyone quite like me. I don’t know. Time will tell. What’s in a name, right? Exactly. Twelve months later . . .
02. I got a rough start off in life. I never really knew my father. So, I took all of that aggression and put it into boxing. I kept hoping that if I could make it as a boxer, he might come back. I started off in minor boxing matches, sometimes fighting for my life, other times fighting for enough money for a motel room, a girl and a chicken dinner with a bottle of Hennessey. But no matter how many fights I won or lost, he never came. The more I expected him, the more I was disappointed and the more I began to lose more fights than I won. So, I quit. Got disillusioned. Took a job in a factory. Married Sunny because she was the emergency room nurse who stitched up my nose after I almost got killed in a shady Twelfth Street match with a German. I just didn’t want to be alone but now I am alone again. We are all alone in some way. My family is full of them—lonely people. We moved to Detroit from Georgia when I was a little boy. The house we lived in was perfect. One family lived up, the other family lived down. We were always surrounded by people but my ma hated it. She thought our family better than that, above that. She thought her newness made her different. But there ain’t no camels on our backs, I overheard one of my uncles say. In other words, we should be so grateful. It was cheaper to pack us all in the house like a deck of cards, one on top of the other. But those people drank and smoked themselves to death before Gray came. By the time she came around, I wasn’t close enough to the ones that were left and Sunny’s family hated me so they kept their distance. And then there was Sunny. I never wanted kids. I raised eight brothers and sisters, half of whom were dead by the time I was grown and I wasn’t looking for a family. Sunny and I didn’t date but two months before she became pregnant and we got married. I wasn’t optimistic in those days and she knew that Jack had caused me problems. I couldn’t help it, though. I loved liquor. I even put it in my bathtub like they used to do in the old days and on my wounds and hell, even in my food. It aged me but I didn’t care. It made me fight with my wife and pushed her away from me. After Gray was gone, I saw no need to stay there anymore. We had nothing in common. I saw then and understood why my father left. Two fighters don’t belong in the same house. Besides, there were too many fences that needed repairing. I received a letter not too long after that from Sunny. She was getting her tubes tied. Me, I didn’t care. Wherever my sperm landed, I didn’t plan on being around long enough to find out where it landed. Jack sent me to jail, where they made me repair the very fences I tried to break from. They said I could mend fences or write letters to Sunny. In jail, I mended wire fences but outside, I mended wooden fences. I liked those better. For one, I could be alone. Two, they didn’t tear up my hands. I knew they might need repair at some point and I needed to know that I was going to come back some day to fix them again and again. 03.
I was born to Claudia “Sunny” and Souder South. As a child, I hated being named Grayfield. It was so unusual. But my mother and father were traveling when she was pregnant with me; they were traveling on the highway, coming back to Michigan from Ohio when the car got a flat tire on the road. They pulled off the main road. My mother saw a beautiful lake behind a fence in the field. She wanted to take a swim and got out of the car. At first, my father thought she was losing it but he said there was such beauty in that field so the story goes. She apparently took all of her clothes off and went swimming in the lake. She swam under the water and when she came up, I was born between her legs, just under the water on a gray, rainy day in a field just south of the highway. When I was eight years old, I was playing downstairs in the basement of our house. I was having a tea party with my stuffed animals. I could hear my parents upstairs arguing. My mother came downstairs screaming. She had my little brother in her arms. I remember her hair was in a beehive. I remember the Tigers had won the World Series. Her pink dress was covered with a brown liquor stain. Her red lipstick was smeared across her face and I could not tell the difference between her mouth and the blood and mascara caked on her. She held this brown bundle wrapped in a white blanket. My father was right behind her. He had her cornered in the basement. I saw him with a bottle of bourbon in his hands. She wanted me to call my grandfather, who was alive at the time but when I headed toward the telephone, my father stopped me. He slapped me across the face so hard that I was knocked back into my chest. I think that was the day I developed asthma. She kept telling me the numbers but my father told me not to move so I didn’t. The crying was too much for me so I closed my eyes and pretended she was singing. The louder she sang, the happier I felt. The next day, she was in the kitchen like normal. I had just arrived home from school. The school bus had dropped me off in front of the house. I was in my snowsuit. I wanted to come in, make myself a snack and head outdoors to play. She has a beautiful face like an art teacher. She is making dinner but there are tears running down her face. Then, I realize she usually is not home so early. I ask what’s wrong. She says that she is mad at me. Why, I ask her out loud. My mother says because I did not call my grandfather yesterday. I ask her if I can have my snack and she says no. It was then that I realized that there was a part of myself that needed to be free. I walked away from her, hearing her sing. Her voice was not too bad; the song was not too loud. I stopped playing with dolls that day. They reminded me of myself: I screamed at them and they said nothing. I ran off and they didn’t chase after me. I threw those dolls away, over our back fence where they laid next to crushed leaves, whose soft dirt slowly decomposed them.
04. I wrote a letter to you but I will never mail another one because I never heard back from you. I receive dozens of letters from people across the country. I have even received pictures of you, me, Gray, her home and the backyard where it happened. How did it all happen? That’s what my friend sitting across from me had asked me. What is her name again? Her name is Grayfield South. I met her in the city. Grayfield? What kind of name is that? Where is she from? She was named after a place. Where she was born. In a field. It’s weird but I don’t care. Oh, yeah. What does she look like? Is she pretty? I know she’s a brunette, right? Yeah. Oh, and what colors are her eyes? Are her eyes blue, gray? They’re brown, or black. What’s wrong with you? You’re not acting like yourself. I’m in love with this girl, she’s beautiful, but . . . But what? If my parents find out . . . So, you won’t tell. Right. But that didn’t change things. I lived in two different worlds. At home, we ate what everyone else ate. I longed for something other than being like everyone else. Everyone had school had predictable names and faces. Mine, the most predictable of them all. Once, I had seen these two people on television kissing. One of them looked like me and the other looked like Gray. My parents were in the kitchen and my mother turned off the television in disgust. She shook her head but never said anything. In public, she acted the same way. My entire family did. Lies. We were living the American Dream. We drove the nicest cars, we always wore the nicest clothes and yet, we ate dinner in silence. I told her not to call me. I called her, though. When my mother received the phone bill, I just told her that one of my friends, from one of my classes, lived in the city. She assumed this friend was male and I let her keep that assumption. I moved through my life as restrained and reserved as I was expected. I knew when Gray told me what she had done that there was no turning back. I had blood on my hands and I wasn’t even there. I lived in a near-perfect world where too much was expected of me and now I was colliding with her dysfunctional world. I think we both realized then that we had gone too far. I told one of my buddies, Aaron, a little bit about Gray. He said to leave it alone but I didn’t listen. I had previously worked as a camp counselor. I had told my kids that they would never have to worry about trouble and soon, I was sure, they would see my face on television and know that I was wrong.
05. I look out the window. The snow is falling on the ground. I always seem to reflect the most when there is whiteness in front of me. I am a wanderer of my mind. The only visitor who is brave enough to swim through the vultures is the homeless woman I befriended. She warned me over a cup of tea about all of this but I didn’t listen, not then. His name is Sterling White, and I met him at a coffeehouse. Sterling? What kind of name is that? Who are his people? His name is Sterling like my name is Grayfield. It’s part of him. It’s his story. Why are you looking at me like that? Cause I know you, and I know somethin’s up. I can feel it. Your number came up today. What did my number say? It said you are playing a game you are going to lose. Where does this boy live? He lives on the other side of Eight Mile. Outside the city? Yes. That’s not a good sign. Why? Because your number came up. So? Your number wasn’t eight. I don’t care. Well, care about this. I see something else. (Under the tree where the leaves fall.) What? A young woman, she is free, was born in a field. She was born when every ray of the sun extended its arms to welcome her here. She has eyes that feel like the wind, burning down fences across fields until there is nothing left but land. And? (More coffee, please. Thank you.) She thinks her duty as a daughter is to stand behind that fence while her father holds it up. She dare not cross that fence. She doesn’t want to know what’s on the other side. What is on the other side? She goes on the other side and there is a mirror. She stands in front of the mirror. The Medusa image is shattered. The snakes fall on the ground and wither away but she realizes that she will not look at herself. If she sees her face, she will surely turn to stone. So, what does she do? That I cannot see. That is up to you, my dear. I have not told anyone what I am feeling inside. When we are born, we are alone. There is no else who is naked except us. Our bodies need the touch of others in order to survive. I should have listened to that woman. She could see the real me. I wanted out of this body
that I am in. She said that I had to wait and be patient. I thought I was going to be trapped. I listened to my mother because I didn’t love it and I didn’t want it. 06. The other day, my daughter came home and told me that she was going out with this guy. I had warned her before. I told her that it was going to cause a lot of problems. She even brought him home. My wife had all of us take a picture and he looked awkward. I invited him outside for a beer, my first in many years. The sun was out. We stood up against the fence in the backyard. Below was the creek and beyond that, forest, even in a place like Detroit, wilderness. I invited him to climb over the fence, but he refused . . . I asked him how often he traveled across Eight Mile. He said not that often, just to see Grey. I see, I said. I tried to be as patient as possible. I tried to remind myself that it was 1984. It’s going to be a test, my daughter said. No one will be able to see them. Everyone’s eyes will be closed. You know I could still use help fixing that fence? No, thanks. Why not? Don’t know how? Well, I could teach you. That’s all right. I have a better idea. Okay. Wait here. I go into my house and return with a baby rabbit. I went to the pet store and bought the animal with the full intention of killing it. I bring him and my gun out of the house and into the backyard where Sterling is sipping on a cup of coffee. The baby rabbit is hopping around its tiny cage but that doesn’t stop me from tossing the cage onto the ground. He looks down at the animal and then at the gun in my hand. His flush cheeks turn red with anxiety. Did you think we only killed each other? Sir? When I was your age, I lived down South on a farm. Interesting. We hunted all kinds of animals whether we liked them or not but sometimes, they run off. I had to go after one animal by myself one time. Did you catch it? Yes but I had to hop over several fences and travel into unmarked territory in order to do it. But when I found it, I also found a dead dog and I didn’t leave it there. I didn’t know whose it was but even if I suspected, I wouldn’t have just left it there. I buried him right. So, I’m asking you, son, what would you have done if you were in my position? I don’t think I would have hopped over that fence. I think I would have been too scared.
I think I would have just let things happen. Yeah, I know. That’s what worries me. 07. The hardest part of this whole ordeal was telling the Judge. But I had to tell them the truth, my truth. I told Gray to bury our secret in her backyard. I am guilty, I say. And then my mother slapped me and I turn the other cheek. She calls me names, I do nothing. He calls Gray names, I say nothing and then there’s that word. I aim towards him, and everything goes black. I wake up in the living room and he’s standing over me. Son. The Judge took her side, I think they might be related or something. You are not above anything . . . and I can’t listen anymore. My mother says nothing. But her voice says the same words as my sister: Those eyes that will bring tears to mine. And to Gray: You are not welcome here. I watch the door slam in her face and her eyes lock. Gray looks at me thereafter strange. She draws a picture of me and mails it to me when I stop seeing her. I am on a blank canvas and my face has no color. The only thing you can see about me is the smoke stacks blowing out of my mouth. I correlate that image with the Medusa image in my mind and then we disappear. I am standing in front of the Book. Its gold letters are shining on me. I open the book and turn to the right page. Even if I swear I find something to justify what has happened, they can just as easily find something to convict me but I realize that the Judge was wrong. I have broken no law, just my mother’s heart. I didn’t know but who really does? I am being sent away where I cannot plant any seeds anymore. My father doesn’t really say anything. He never really does. I stand in front of him and the words just coming pouring out: Why. Do. You. Allow. This. To. Happen. He looks at me. I look back at him. I am twenty one years old. I did commit a crime. But let me see her. Let me go with her to the cemetery. There will be cameras there. Don’t put that kind of pressure on her. It’s not her fault. It’s not us. It’s how people are. . You don’t understand.. No, we don’t understand. I am leaving. No, you can’t. Why not? Because where will you go? Besides, you knew about it. I am going away from here. Away from the fence that keeps us apart. What fence? The one surrounding us. We can always tear that down. Can we? Yes, we can. I don’t think so. Why not? Because I can’t build a fence by myself. It takes more than two hands to build one.
08. We are taught by our children to hate them. I hate my son. I’ve never said that out loud. I guess I was afraid to admit it but it’s true. I never liked children, which is why I had three of them. Two boys and a little girl. I didn’t like my oldest, Sterling, so I had two more. I thought if I had kept having children, eventually I would like them. I thought after having my two boys that if I just had a girl, things might change but they didn’t. After I had our daughter, I told my husband I wasn’t having anymore children. But it was too late. The damage had already been done. My children wanted from me things I could not give them. They wanted hugs. The girl child came to me once for a hug but her fingers were dirty so I made her wash her hands. Then, she came back and I asked her what did she have on? She said that she had on a costume. I told her that costumes for people who didn’t get enough attention. She still didn’t quite understand. Another time, she came to my bedroom and my head was hurting. She had on a princess costume and asked me if she looked pretty. I told her she looked ugly with a smirk on my face and then she stopped asking me questions after that. I had children because I was pregnant and I got married because I was pregnant. I never really thought about anything else. I came from a long line of women who married into wealthy families so when I found out who Sterling was sneaking around with, at first, I was glad that he was not a homosexual but then that was not enough. He had to go and embarrass us. I tried to talk to him but he would not listen to me but I knew he would listen to the Judge. I was young too once. As a young woman living at home with my parents, I was expected not to share my true feelings but I was normal. He was the son of the butler. I came onto him. He tried to push me away as he was studying. I ran my fingers through his coarse, curly hair. I placed his hands on my breasts and I kissed his soft, pretty lips. I let him rub against me but I never let him inside of me. It’s like my mother always said: In order to maintain a girl’s figure, if you must indulge in greasy, fried foods, always chew, then spit out. I couldn’t understand why I was punished with such an indulgent child. All of my children were like that but especially Sterling. I wished he could have come to me so I could have rid of it. I would have buried her secret in the ocean or beneath an oil ridge or even a football field. Years later, this could have been a joke, an ink stain on Sterling’s clean, white record. But then he had to go and speak on television. He said he was doing it for them. Now, I have two children left: one boy and one girl. They are so much younger than him they might not even remember him or this incident. We are living off of our savings. The public can be so brutal sometimes. I draw pictures now to help me cope. I read in the newspaper that the girl’s father builds fences. So, I drew a picture of a flock of vultures hovering over a forest. There is smoke coming from the forest and you can see a black man building a fence at the end of the forest. I showed the picture to my daughter and asked her how she liked it. She said she didn’t. I hadn’t yet earned the approval of a five-year-old. I took the canvas outside and dumped it into a garbage can on the side of the house. I lit a match and watched my vision dissolve before my eyes. I went around back and took off all of my clothes. I dived into the pool for a late-night swim. As I swim under water, I see the flash of a bulb through the water. There is someone watching me. I decide in the morning to talk to my husband. I believe I read in that same newspaper that some developers are building a new, gated community.
09. I thought we were over. I thought she was out of my life. Then, she called me and I could it in the background. I asked what that noise was and she told me. I dropped the phone. I asked when it happened. She said just a few hours ago. I asked what she was going to do with it. I told I wasn’t ready. She said that she wasn’t either. I panicked. I didn’t mean too. It’s just I thought of the Judge. He’s up for reelection. I thought of the pain I might cause everyone. So, I drove over there but when I got over there, it was like a bad dream. I didn’t see anything; I couldn’t hear anything or smell anything, it was like it was over. Like it never happened and I wanted to pretend it did. I thought no one would ever find out. Her parents didn’t know. And they wouldn’t have been happy anymore. Her father was a former friend of those men in those suits; you know the ones with the bow ties, and the black spectacles and magic carpets. We thought it was just us. And we hated our lives. I hated living a lie but it evaporated like sugar in my coffee. I didn’t ask anything else from her but we grew apart after that. She became nervous, irritable. She said that she was becoming like her parents. Sickly, like her mother and drinking like her father. They seemed normal to me. Sometimes at night, I’d sneak out of the house. I’d go over to the spot. I even camped there, right in the forest behind her house. She said that her father was building a fence. He never really liked the idea of not having a fence behind the house. She said that I should help him build it but I never really felt comfortable with that. I never thought anyone would find out. But the family next door to Gray, they bought a dog. Actually, they rescued it from a shelter. A former police dog. Gone blind. But Old Trusty still had his sense of smell. He was drawn to Gray’s house from the moment he entered that street. He kept running into their backyard and digging. They, the neighbors in their weirdness, thought he was trying to dig to China like that old game we used to play as kids. He kept digging and digging. I didn’t know about him because I was here—I mean I am here. Gray is in a place like this now. That’s why I got sent here in the first place. She hadn’t even gotten her period yet when we first got together. She liked to hang out in those type of places and I just assumed. The neighbors thought he had run away but he took what he found back to his old home. And then his old owners followed him all the way to her backyard and there was our secret buried in the backyard. Gray had originally intended on throwing it out with the garbage but thought no one would look in the backyard. She was upstairs in her bedroom when it happened. She rocked back and forth in her chair. That kind of secret you should never keep to yourself. But it was our black-and-white secret. Until now. 10.
I tried to raise my daughter to be a good girl. I guess my problem was that I raised her to be too independent. See, I believed what those women’s groups told me about girls. But my daughter was different. I could tell from the time that she was a little girl. She used to sit on my lap when she was a little girl and asked me to teach her every word in every book that she could get her hands on. But I had my own problems. My eyesight was failing me and I couldn’t steady my hands without them shaking. One night, my baby boy was crying in his crib and I tried to carry him downstairs but I couldn’t really see that well. And there was a toy on the top stair and I didn’t see it and I slipped and I could feel myself going down and I had a choice: hold onto myself or drop him. It was a split decision and I shouldn’t have done it. I let him go. He went flying through the air and landed on his head. She screamed for me and when the police came, he told them that he had dropped the baby. We lost that baby permanently when Souder was in jail. They even took her away from us. They said we were bad people. I thought God was punishing us, especially me because my left side began to hurt, especially when it rained. They brought her back to us but by then, I hated her. I hated her for having me around. I hated her for calling me Mommy. I hated the way my husband drank and then hugged her too much. The way he encouraged her to dress up in those fancy, Disney costumes with the fedora, floppy hats and the feather boas and dance for his drunken friends on Sunday afternoons and wink at them until they bought old tapes of his boxing matches so he’d have extra drinking money, I think maybe I encouraged both of them. I was sheltered as a child so I did the exact opposite with her. I didn’t want her to have to think about anything. I think she even told me about it before it happened. She came to me and asked me what I thought about secrets. I asked her what she meant. She asked then what are we supposed to tell and reveal. I told her I then that we hide everything and reveal nothing. I was scared, you see. I found her the previous day in the attic. She was going through my private things. I was worried that she had found out my secret and she did. I don’t think she could hear me because she was in the attic and when I found her, I was at the entrance. She had her back to me and I was hidden by the stairs. I had kept it because it was the only way I could cope. I didn’t keep all of it, partly because of the smell and partly because I didn’t need to. Just the foot. I didn’t even keep it in a cooler. Just in a plastic bag. It wasn’t even white anymore. It was brown and didn’t even look like it had once belonged to somebody. I then confronted her. She tried to put it away but I made her look at it. I knew her secret then. That time I went to the hospital with the belly ache and came out with no stomach was the first secret I kept from her. She asked me why? Because while Souder was out building fences, I learned how to step outside of my world. She asked me if her dad knew about it. Of course not. His way of making it in the world was by building fences. I told her that me keeping that foot was a mistake. It was a vicious cycle. My mother abandoned me because I was too dark. But this foot is white, she said. I know, I said to her but you are my one and only. I told her that I kept the foot in a box. It was my way of protecting myself from a mistake. The same way her dad built that fence after the neighbors’ dog found it in the backyard. I told her not to have any secret too close to home but she wouldn’t listen. I knew then that we were more like enemies, that we would never truly be close. 11. Sterling White is dead. I don’t think I’ll ever fully appreciate that. I never really knew that
part of him that could love someone or something else. But once he was gone, there was no way to spin this. I pretend sometimes that he’s gone on vacation and he just didn’t want to be a part of our lives anymore, which was true. Thank goodness that the public has not punished me. I remember when he was small, we were coming back from his school on a winter day. It wasn’t even evening and we couldn’t see outside. The sky was dim and it was raining heavily. Sterling was sitting in the front seat with me. I had turned my head slightly to look at me. I didn’t even see the man. His body crashed into the car and crumbled into a pile on the ground. I had taken a shortcut from the main road. We lived inside of Detroit then. It was pretty much safe in those days. I got out of the car and so did Sterling. We were both almost in tears as the lifeless body in front of us slowly became more real to us. He took his magic wand and flapped it against the body, not understanding at the age of five what he couldn’t really do. I went over to the man and noticed that he was dirtier than he should be; he was homeless. I could hear a police siren in the distance and my entire career flashed before my eyes. I took an old dog blanket from the trunk and I carefully lifted the man and placed him on by a sidewalk. An old black man in a tweed suit with a guitar in his hand watched us from a rundown house. That man said that I needed to take the homeless man to the hospital but I wouldn’t listen. All I could think about was my desperate need to go into politics. There was all this pressure on me to follow in my father’s footsteps. We left that man there. Sterling kept saying over and over again, we can’t leave him there but I left him there. My father was the only person I ever told what happened on that street. He had to hear about all of this in the newspaper, and his first reaction was that I could use this to my advantage. I felt sorry for Sterling but I wasn’t about to give up everything I worked for to save him. He’s rotting in a jail cell now. Along with the young lady who did it. I hear her parents are splitting up. I think that’s love to me. Her father building fences; her mother taking care of other people’s babies. My wife and I have never talked about it. That’s not what we do. I bought her a bracelet. I look away when I smell gin and other men on her breath. I’m sure she’s smelled them on mine. I heard my daughter crying the other day. I think it was about this whole ordeal. I bought her a new puppy and she’s over it. She’s better now. 12. A girl tried to stab me in the shower with a razor. She called me names. She said that I was a bad person. They say that she is from Africa and that she was circumcised as a little girl. She came here, starving and eats and eats but she can never be full. They say that her stomach will always be empty. I keep to myself. I am a legend, though. I am Grayfield South. They still show my face on television. I know now that I have disappointed my parents. I haven’t seen them once and it’s been a year. I know that my father is probably out building
fences. I know when he was young, he wanted to be a boxer but I don’t know what happened with that. For as long as I can remember, he worked in a factory during the day and came home at night to build fences. On the weekends, he worked, sometimes even when the football game was on. Some people asked me the question of why I did it but never my parents. I knew in the back of my mind what was wrong with me. I had friends at school but I was bussed to the suburbs, across Eight Mile and everyone knew that I was a city kid. They resented me being there like I was an unwelcome ant at an outdoor food party. I talked to some of them in school but I mainly kept to myself. Outside of school, there was Sterling. He never called from the same phone number twice and for me, I just needed something. Sometimes, it was food, sometimes, it was him. But then, it stopped being about him. He violated me. He could go on so carefree and I was being left behind. My parents had done the same thing to me. As a child, my father briefly went to jail. He kept being arrested for speeding on the highway, for running red lights and for not paying his parking tickets but he was really arrested for having a bad temper. When he went to jail, it was just me and my mother. I thought there was no mystery to her until I found a human white baby’s foot. I knew that she worked as a nurse so I assumed that she had been attached to a child at the hospital where she worked at. But no, she said it belonged here. I asked her where it came from and she said nothing. She refused to answer me. For quite awhile after that, I woke up sometimes drenched in sweat. I dreamed of funerals that I would never attend. Here, I thought I knew my parents. I was wrong. I knew I wasn’t ready when the time came. I pretended like I was in a fantasy world. I heard movement and laughter but I pretended it was coming from some other place. My father would build another backyard fence, this one sturdier and stronger, and then we would move on with our lives. But then an animal, a dog, somehow found his way into our backyard before it was built. Funny, my father always spent his free time building fences for other people, waiting to build ours. I think he also knew about the foot. My mother worked in a hospital. She worked long hours in a maternity ward. She had requested to be placed there after my baby brother died. It was the only way she could cope. My father told the police that he dropped the baby. I used to think it was because he didn’t want her to go to jail but I know now it was because he had found out about that foot. He had asked if she had an affair. My mother had gotten pregnant right after my brother died. When asked if that other baby’s father was white, she denied it. But something locked in my father. He had turned his back on the boxing ring and turned to alcohol. She refused to give up that baby’s mementos. I didn’t understand until I saw the picture taken right after it was born. The baby’s face was the color of an icy blue storm. My mother blamed my father because he refused to name it. Said when Jesus wept, he didn’t ask for names. She didn’t ask of him anything else when he went to jail. She said that we were cursed. Even though she had no proof, she believed that the water she swam in, the lake where I was born was contaminated with pollutants that caused our agony. After that, she began to spend less time at home.
By the time my father made it out of jail several years later, they were both changed. My mother was distant until one day, while looking for an old photo album, I happened upon my mother’s secret. My father took turns drinking and building fences. I turned to Sterling but even that feeling was temporary. I called him in a panic that one evening. It all seemed so perfect. Just like his life. I knew he’d know what to do. My father was out mending a broken fence and my mother had called and decided to stay late to care for a sickly newborn. I was alone and scared. The answer seemed so perfect. It was like it didn’t happen. My father did the same thing when he drank. At the end of the drink, he started over and when he was halfway through the bottle, he took the rest and used it as his bathwater. I thought putting my secret into a trash bag and then digging a hole to dumping it in the backyard would solve everything. I even prayed that night. The next day I was starting over. Of course, it was several days later that I found out that God was a liar. I began to hunger more. Sometimes for food, sometimes for him. When there wasn’t food in the house, I began to eat paper. But then, one night, my mother discovered me eating paper with salt and ketchup. I read somewhere that your mother draws pictures of everything. That was okay but when I found out that was being used against us in the upcoming election, I was upset because no one really cares about me, not even my daddy. I originally started going to that coffeehouse because I found that foot, which made me sad and my mother said that was the perfect place to meet other depressed people and I met you. Funny, though, that I should find myself in the same place again. I got your letter when I was standing on top of my chair, alone. I pushed the chair away. My neck hurt and I could see my secret in the distance, watching me, waiting for me. For I will always be remembered in that special, wicked way. There is darkness surrounding me. I don’t see you and I don’t think I ever will. I am truly alone.
The Other Side of Me I die on a Sunday afternoon. It is not in a conventional kind of way but slowly, over time like marshmallows on top of hot coffee. I listen to my therapist sometimes but she is a shitty bitch that I don't want to look up to. Funny, in the end, I become just like her and she becomes less like me. She moves away from me and I move closer. We meet in the middle but she is still whole and I am broken. Neither one of us is ever really sociable but she is able to hide it better. She hides her pain behind a veiled mask and grins for everyday folk, smiles at their lies but I know she isn't really interested in hearing the truth. No, the truth is for fairy tales, adventure stories and soap operas. I am tired of pretending to be something I am not: normal. If only I could go back in time and shake myself silly and beg myself not to make the mistakes that ultimately surprise and destroy me. If only I could look at my younger self in the mirror. Maybe my twin self might scare me but I think eventually, I would get over the shock of becoming someone else. I would tell myself to be more like others: less emotion but less communication as well. However, then I would not be true to myself and inevitably, I would be forced into a corner, placed in a box where hundreds of years from now, people will walk into museums and look at me through a glass case like a bad science experiment. They will debate what they think that I am thinking right now. I am the product of being taken from one environment to the next in order to see my reaction. Can I adjust? That question is the story of my life and sometimes the answers are like opening Pandora's Box and letting all of the secrets out but then again, I don't believe in that. Of course, by the time the world really understands how I think it will be too late for me to respond because I'll be in a pine coffin with hard dirt and worms running through my ears. Or I'll be moving toward a better place, playing harp music with a white toga and eating lots of grapes. But then, I realize that I am back on the couch and her bright eyes are waking me from my dream. She is asking me all of these questions, none of them I have the answer to. She says that I am no better than people on television, that are hypnotized and become chickens. They do anything that they are paid to do and the audience claps and reality is suspended for a moment but then, there has to be an end and that's what I hate the most. Those people talk about how their lives change and it makes me want to gag. My life will not change though because, for one, I won't let it, and two, I am too stubborn to resist anything that I can't see, touch, taste or feel. See, I am like a mathematician. I believe in reason but this philosophy is only hindering me. Maybe if I believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, my life might be a little better but I am scared to embrace anything that's not physically in front of me. So I grow up to be the opposite of the kind of woman that I promise myself to be as a child. You know the kind of women in the movies that get popcorn thrown at them because they never really grow up. But I am not big on being around other women. For one, I can't understand the need for sharing. That is the kind of woman that I am and that is why I hate everybody but other people's laughter, their crying, their wanting to push some kind of feeling onto me other than sadness and anger. Anything else in my life comes through in
spades and tastes like old, churned butter. I approach life like I do a soap opera and prepare for the twists and surprises, which begin the Sunday morning of the day that changes my life. I begin my day like any other. I wash my face, comb my hair and brush my teeth. I have my standard breakfast of oatmeal, orange juice and fruit. My food begins to speak with me. It tells me what I am doing wrong with my life but I only half-heartedly listen. See there is a good and bad side to me that pulls me in two different directions. One side is the sweet part of me, the good in me that wants to make the most of my day and do a little writing. But the bad side of me will contemplate everything's that wrong in my life and why this day is no different from any other. I dress and head to my appointment with my therapist. It is our last together. After today, I am on my own. I try to tell her that I am hearing voices in my head but I can tell that she doesn't believe me. I look out the window and see a woman playing tennis in the courtyard. It is raining and I am shocked that she is so stupid and I tell my therapist my opinion. She responds by saying that she is disappointed that I don't live my life like a free woman, not afraid to do the unexpected. I ask her if she thinks my behavior is predictable and she says yes, that I allow myself to be swayed by mathematics and technology, living like a robot that does the same things day after day. My therapist then asks me if I would like to take a moment to think about what she has said. I say yes. She offers to fix me a glass of water and I say yes, only she takes the water and dumps it on my head. Apparently, it's some kind of experiment to wake me up but I am upset because I spend all day Saturday fixing my hair for our appointment. So, I point outside to some kind of bird in a tree and when she turns to look, I slap her with the back of my hand. Her blonde hair flies in one direction and her face in another. Her nose is bleeding and she begins to cry. She starts cursing at me, saying that I am hopeless. I respond by knocking her books from her shelves to the ground. I begin throwing entire rows of books on the floor. My therapist surprises me then by throwing candy and then dog biscuits (a wonderful treat for pregnant women) at me. I bark a little and start laughing. When this doesn't stop me from destroying her office, my therapist does the unthinkable: She tries to pepper spray me but I duck my head and she misses. I try to grab her hand but then she bites me. I scream and retaliate. I push her really hard and she falls backward into a chair and lands on the floor. I take her favorite pair of shoes and pull my pants down. With my back to her, I begin to take a golden shower inside her shoes. At first, I tinkle a little pee on my pants but then I concentrate, focus, and aim. It splatters all over her warm, black pumps. She is in shock and ready to call the police on me. I stop long enough to hop over to the door where she is quickly running. I tell her that I need attention and if I don't get it, I'll take a dump inside her shoes and then on her couch. I really am not afraid of the impending poop stains on the back of my pants. A red flag is waved but I know what she is really flashing before my eyes. I sit back down. I know that I will leave her office and go down the street or even across town and find someone else to talk to. I can't bear the thought of being dead for too long. It's
too much for a nonbeliever. My therapist picks herself up off the floor and reaches into her purse. She lights a cigarette, which she tells me to not to let anyone know that we are sharing. We sit there and puff. Maybe she has some marijuana somewhere. Perhaps she has a little champagne to share before I go or even another story.
Nighttime Babies "Moral filth is such a problem with this country, and to celebrate on such a night," said the television evangelist. Josiah shut off the television and rolled his eyes but then he thought about what the man said. He hadn't had a night off on Sundays in a very, very long time and couldn't understand the big deal about a couple of high school kids. Other than greeting tourists, lost travelers, moving mannequins and nighttime babies, Josiah sat at his plastic Formica counter, listening to music such as Brahms' Hungarian Dance No.6, reading National Geographic and watching everyone else celebrating the local high school's BIG football win. Something else was bothering Josiah. He though to himself, 'Why is our town always being singled out?' Detroit was a two-hour drive up I-75 cutting through I-24 and down toward Toledo. That was miles away from where he was at and Josiah said to himself, "Oh, I wish someone would push me away from boredom," he said. The town folks listening to him would just nod their heads. With those thoughts tucked loosely on his tongue, waiting for the next traveler to arrive, Josiah quietly fell asleep. He tried to remember later if it was the putter of soft gas circles that wafted through the chilled air and tickled his crusty nostrils or if it was the putrid sound of a car clunking, the annoying bird-like screaming of a woman's accented voice and the cursing that followed that jolted Josiah out of his sleep. Her heels smashed into the crunch of gravel as her head bobbed and her lithe body darted in his direction. The town was nowhere near this and Josiah felt his heart racing. She slammed open the door. "My husband's after me," she said. Yellow eyes beckoned him to respond. Josiah did what he thought best. He handed her a tissue. Patches of smeared makeup dripped down onto her black raincoat. "Well, I hope it's not about money 'cause that's usually what people fight about in these parts and I don't make enough to move out of this seat unless you have a key," Josiah replied. She rolled her eyes. "You're a wise one. Do you come with an instruction manual?" she asked. Josiah chuckled and shook his head. " No but I should have been a hitchhiker. Read On the Road eleven times in high school. Didn't do shit for me," Josiah said in a whisper. "Oh, don't worry. I won't tell the dry balls in town that you speak more than the King's English." "Great, darling. Now all I need is some of those football game baked beans and a little Pepto Bismo for afterwards.â€? "And all I need is a little male protection while I go over to that farm beyond yonder and get back the bag that my husband took. Lot of money," she said. With the exception of her two bridged together eyebrows, and the mouse-looking facial hair on her mouth, cheeks, and chin, she was an attractive-looking woman. "I don't know. With road people . . ." his voice trailed off. "I'll make it financially worth your while, " the woman said. "How much?" Josiah asked. "Oh, about half," she said and smiled. "Half? Of what? A dollar," Josiah said. He straightened out his glasses and returned to his magazine. "No, man. Half of ten thousand dollars. Won't take you that long and if my husband shows up, you just hold his arms while I kick him in the balls," she said. Josiah straightened up his pants. His slight belly felt smaller. "I can't leave," he said. "Oh, you really do belong in this town," she said and continued,
"Look, I'm giving the money to you and once you touch it, it's not dirty anymore." "Hon, I've eaten dirt sandwiches before. My issue is we haven't been introduced. I don't go anywhere with strangers, just mannequins," Josiah said. "Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. By the way, I'm Tequila." "Spanish or from the South?" He asked. "Neither. >From Detroit. And you are?" Tequila asked. "Josiah. Josiah Tuttle,” replied. "That's some name. Biblical aspirations to be the second Jesus?" she asked. Tequila bent over to straighten her fishnet stockings. "Some might say," he said. Josiah reached behind him to put a sweater on. "I like you. Come on," she said. The shivering chill of a November evening entertained them into the night. Josiah glanced down at her ragged fishnet stockings and sleepy eyes. If she was deceiving him, he would take the blame. He clutches the motel keys and locked the front door. Josiah placed the Be back in a minute sign that his boss had given him to use in the event of an emergency in the window. Tequila scurried across the parking lot like a scavenging squirrel. Josiah commenced to point at the green monster sitting in the obscure and mostly empty parking lot, among rows and rows of superior-looking cars. Josiah stowed the keys in his pocket. But Tequila gripped his arm and pinched him. Josiah appeared to turn around again. He thought he saw a shadow moving behind him. They darted in between a car in the middle of the two-lane highway. A white 1980 Chrysler parked on the other side of the road was their safe haven. It was lying partially in the sewage strewn ditch, and partially on the side of the road. Josiah was surprised that the car had not fallen in. Tequila snuck by the passenger door and opened the car. She insisted on him being on guard for her husband. "What's his name?" Josiah asked. "Teddy," she replied. She was pulling an oversized black duffel bag from between the seats. At one point, the bag seemed to be stuck and Josiah had to come around and yank the bag out, which caused him to fall feet first into the ditch. "Shoot," he said, as he looked down at his almost-ruined penny loafers. "Them things are ugly. You can get new shoes," Tequila said and when she saw the crumpled look on his face, "Big baby. Baby need a pacifier. Waah!" she laughed. "What's so funny?" he asked. Josiah climbed out of the ditch. Tequila tossed the bag to him and Josiah barely caught it. She took off her red pumps and went barefoot into the ditch. Josiah found himself almost lifting her out of the ditch. They bumped into each other. “Thanks,” she said. She gave him a halfsmile and put her shoes on. “What’s so funny?” Josiah asked again. “I’m going to call you Baby. Sounds a hell of a lot better than Josiah,” she said. “What will Teddy say?” he asked. Tequila motioned for him to give her the bag. She began walking through the bristly grass that tickled his skin. Josiah stopped. He heard a car horn or no, maybe it was a truck horn, and then, the bright lights of the truck were staring him down. “That’s Ted. Gotta go. Been swell, baby,” she said. He heard her voice but when he departed, he saw nothing in front or behind him. The truck lights were on him and then off him when the person behind the wheel of the truck, whom he assumed to be Ted, saw that he was moving back across the street. He ran, leaping over the ditch, barely able to prevent himself from being hit by the truck. Across the street, a few motel patrons were standing outside their rooms. ‘I should go back, right?’ Josiah asked himself. He patted both sides of his pants. “She took my keys. By golly, I’ve been had by a woman named Tequila. Now, here’s a story for afternoon tea time,” Josiah said, this time, out loud, even though he knew no one was really listening.
“Wait!” he called out. The truck stopped. Josiah ran up to the driver’s door. “What do you want?” the man asked. He had a scruffy-looking face along with scruffy-looking hair and a snarl for a smile. “Your wife, sir. She stole my keys and I desperately need them back.” Josiah coughed as cigarette smoke swirled in the air. “Desperately? Can’t you just get another pair?” Ted asked. “Those were my keys and they are very expensive to replace. A master set. Very expensive.” “At that fleabag?” the man named Ted said. He briefly nodded his head and continued, “You don’t have squat for money in the desk or anywhere?” “Your wife has the money. I could report you both,” Josiah said. He rested his hands on the inside of the passenger side window. “I could shoot you. Ain’t nuthin’ to me,” Ted said. He sighed. “Was plannin’ on hangin’ out here couple of days. I kind of like it out here. Reminds me of a Hallmark movie. Figured with the town celebrating the football game, we could remain anonymous.” “That’s the exact opposite of how I feel. I need some adventure, new friends. I was only kidding about the tattling. I won’t tell,” Josiah said. “All right. Hop in,” Ted replied. The two new friends drove across the scattered prairie. The rain had begun to fall. The field was a maze of wild flowers, elevated grass, and excessive twilight that carried on with the presage of an ancient map. Ted lit a cigarette and played country music softly. Glass beer bottles were thrown all over the dashboard, along with Monopoly and counterfeit money, strewn in between the seats. As they rode along, Josiah kept his window partially down. Silence saluted them and Ted flashed his headlights but the woman they both were looking for was nowhere to be found. The answer came as Ted’s tire marks crushed the corn stalks, knocking them down as the truck dragged over the fields. Tequila was standing on the porch, her rain-soaked hair in a ponytail. Her makeup was clumped; her face was ashen brown and Josiah thought that perhaps she had been crying and deliberately smeared her makeup. He gave her a sympathetic look. Josiah hopped out of the truck before Ted braked and rushed up onto the porch. One sole porch light hung dimly from the entryway. “Where’s the mistletoe and eggnog for the party?” Josiah joked. Tequila shook her head. “Ain’t no party here. Money’s too tight.” Her arms were folded across her scanty chest. “Well, perhaps, I might hire you as my trainer. You got here very quickly,” Josiah said. He came up on the porch. Tequila raised her eyebrows. Ted’s truck rattled past them and onto the side of the house. He got out of the truck, spitting tobacco on the ground. “Why in the hell you run away like that, girl?” he asked. “You damn near woke up the whole goddamn town with all that racket?” Ted asked. “Oh, would you just simmer down, Teddy Bear? I made a mistake, okay? I thought that by being l-o-u-d, no one would notice us? And no one ever really has, except your friend here,” she nodded in Josiah’s direction. “Who, him? That rat don’t play on my team,” Ted spat. “Well, he’s here now. I picked him,” Tequila said. She came over and gave me a little tuck on the arm. “We stole your motel keys,” she said softly. Josiah nodded his head. His eyes beamed widely. “I thought I saw a shadow behind me,” he said, turning to Ted. “You knew? You knew, huh? How ‘bout that?” Ted picked up a duck that had flown onto the railing on the porch and threw it out into the yard. He contemplated this new discovery in his head and walked back and forth on the porch. Tequila reached from off the ground and picked up a glass beer bottle, took a swig of the sweet, brown liquid and then quickly spat out the substance. “Tequila, that beer tastes flat. Damn, girl, did you leave it out on the porch? I’d rather drink fresh milk from a cow’s utters
than that cheap crap.” Ted slinked down to the ground. “Crap? I don’t buy crap. It’s the town,” Tequila said, glancing sideways at Josiah. Ted held up a green bug between his two fingers that he had picked up off the ground. Josiah watched as Ted studied the bug with one eye closed, as if he were a scientist. “Put that thing down,” Tequila cried. Ted popped the green bug into his mouth, and then stuck his tongue out. Tequila began to cough. “Bug killer,” she said. She began to pound her arms against him until she stumbled into his arms. They fell into a pile on the ground, laughing and him cursing under his breath. Ted finally looked up at Josiah. “My apologies, sir. To you and Mother Nature.” Ted offered Josiah a piece of tobacco from his pocket. Josiah shook his head no. “I’m sure the other bugs are planning the wake now,” Tequila muttered. “Hey! Who remembers to buy bread to feed the birds when we go to the park? I do!” Ted shouted and then gawked at Josiah. “I ain’t got to justify myself to you. You’re getting paid too. A motel clerk,” Ted shook his head. “I stumbled upon this job, sir. Yes, this situation reminds me of a famous quote. I believe it goes, ‘Remorse is memory awake.’ Came here when my car broke down. Stayed at the very same motel that I work at now. Lived for awhile in the room right in front of my eyes. The owner had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window. Long story short, I was young and on the road. My dull existence had found meaning: Long hair, long road trips, longing for a drink. Only it was the ‘70s. So, I went into town, this town, got drunk, and then my wallet was stolen. All on the same night. The job seemed sane. Kept me from hitchhiking. But the car broke down.” “What’s wrong with hitchhiking?” Tequila asked. “Yes. But I didn’t want to leave my things behind. I thought I was ready to go for broke, but I began to look forward to my weekly check. Was tired, damn tired of relying on other people’s scraps. Finally, car died and after that, I stayed. The grieving widow, I am,” Josiah said. “Why?” asked Tequila, “That seems so dumb.” “Took it as a sign,” Josiah replied. “Oh, man. Don’t tell me you’re one of those holyrollers. Here we go with the signs,” Ted said. “You don’t believe in anything, do you?” Josiah asked. “Nope. Ain’t got time. Neither does Tee,” Ted said, nodding in Tequila’s direction. The night air was filled with the breathing sighs of whiskey coming from Ted’s breath. He was drinking from a flower vase. The three of them stood there, passing the vase around until their throats were sore. Just when Josiah was about to faint, Tequila said, “We stole your motel keys. And now, you’re coming with us.” They both laughed at each other. “ I followed you out here, boys and girls because you said that you were having car trouble. How ironic, huh?” Josiah asked. “Ironic? Don’t believe in that either,” Tequila said. “I do believe, dear, that you are a natural comedienne. Now, back to the keys. Why did you take them?” Josiah asked and when she stared blankly at him said, “Surely, somewhere in town. A restaurant . . .” his voice trailed off again. “Do we look typical to you? I mean, are we studying art or making a drawing?” Tequila asked. “Yeah, I thought reading was your pleasure,” Ted said, with his arms folded. Tequila tilted her head to the side. She kissed her fingers and then wiped smeared lipstick on Josiah’s cheek. “Halloween on a Sunday night. You think God can protect you?” she asked. “Should I start singing? Or dancing?” Josiah
asked. “Not funny, motel clerk. And stop dancing with no sound, baby,” she replied. “I just want the keys back. I was wrong. Wrong adventure, wrong lifetime, wrong everything. Took a chance. Like playing the lottery,” Josiah said. “A gambler? Not smart, baby. I mean, gambling? Never pays much. This is more fun,” she said. “How? The register doesn’t have much money,” Josiah said. “We were not looking for you. We were looking for them,” Tequila said, shaking the motel keys in her hand. “You see, Josiah,” said Ted, “people are going to keep their most valuable possessions on or near them. Plus, one thing I know about travelers. They are not going to have their guard up at a motel or at a home. But in town, they will. That’s why we dress up.” Ted unzipped his jacket to reveal a custodian’s uniform. Tequila unzipped her jacket to reveal a maid’s uniform. “Uniforms? I don’t understand why would you need them?” Josiah asked and took another swig of whiskey. “Keys get us into the rooms. The uniforms are just a front,” Tequila said. “Once we get into the rooms, we look for valuables. Then, once we’ve gotten enough, we move onto the next town,” Ted said. “But how did you get into the house?” Josiah asked. “Which house?” he asked. “This one,” Josiah said. “We were told to come here. But don’t worry, we won’t be staying long,” Tequila said. “Yeah, we’re planning on going on. As soon as we rob your motel. That’s why we needed your keys,” Tequila said. “My keys? And how were you planning on getting into the rooms?” Josiah asked. “With our costumes,” Ted said and continued, “Which ones would you like to see? Daytime or evening?” Tequila asked. “What’s the difference?” Josiah asked incredulously. “Oh. You’ll see,” she said. She went into the house and produced two uniforms, covered in plastic. Through the plastic, Josiah could see a maid and janitor’s uniform. “These are our daytime outfits,” Tequila said and tossed them on the swinging porch bench. “And nighttime?” Josiah asked. She held up one finger, and then her thumb, almost as if she were motioning to shoot him. Ted ran past Josiah, sticking his thumb out and tongue at the same time. They opened the door wide, and it banged shut. Josiah could hear the soft scratching sound of animal feet clawing at the pebbles on the ground. He could hear them moving around inside the house. Whistled, folding his arms across his chest, and then placing them behind him. Kicked the ground as if he were kicking a man, and walked over by the cornstalks. A scarecrow stood up on a metal stake, his straw arm pointing in an easterly direction. Josiah brushed these items aside, the whip of wind tickling his face, urging him to take a nap. He found a meager pile of old, discarded cornstalks, their tips were broken, and the outer layer felt rubbery. But he was sleepy, and strangely, Josiah needed them, Ted and Tequila, to find them. It was his test for them. “I should get them back,” Josiah said, yawning, thinking of the master set of keys. However, his body yearned for rest. “First, though, a nap and then a little sherry or perhaps bourbon. Anything but tequila.” Josiah closed his eyes. The mild kick against his head awakened him out of his sleep. Two peculiar-looking creatures were standing behind him. They both had bronzed skin, silky, black hair, snaggled, prominent teeth, bird feathers adorning their wrists, painted-on eyebrows, gold scarves, and brown shirts with matching pants. The woman blinked her eyes twice and Josiah realized who she was. “Sleeping like a baby. So sorry to disturb you,” Tequila said. “Also, dreaming like one. A baby,” Josiah replied. “We’ve been looking for you. Thought perhaps you decided to slither like a snake,” Tequila said. “Or dressed up for a party. What’s the
celebration?” Josiah asked. “That’s what we like about you. Your radio antennae is wired,” Ted teased. Ted tossed Josiah a beer. Josiah, who had been lying down, leaned into a sloped position on his elbows to catch the can. He chuckled and sipped half the can. There was an awkward pause for a few moments. Tequila finished her drink, belched, and tossed her can in the air behind her. “There, now. That business is finished,” she said. Josiah looked at her with a questioning gaze, so she continued, “This is our nighttime business. Devoted to being ourselves, devoted to our warrior race and each other.” “Yourselves? So, you both just parade around in costumes, huh? Is this how you get your kicks?” Josiah asked. “This isn’t a joke. We’re waiting to be taken home. We read in the Weekly World News that this town is where our masters will appear when they come back to Earth,” Ted said, “They’ll beam us up into their ships and light will appear all over the galaxy.” Josiah began laughing. Giggling poured out of him as if he had been holding it inside of him for all of his life. “You dare to laugh at us. You, who works at a motel. A minimum-wage motel clerk,” Tequila said, her voice spiteful, and raised with a snarl. “That beats what you’re doing. At least I’m honest and at least I don’t sneak around and hide behind some ridiculous costume,” Josiah spat. He was howling with delight. Wanted to clap his hands, ignore the pained looks on their faces, throw pennies at them, tell them that the three of them should join the circus. Didn’t realize that he was on their farm, on their territory. Tears began streaming down Josiah’s face. “Sounds like someone doesn’t appreciate our efforts. Probably wants to steal our costumes too. Like we’d make him wear it. Perhaps a trip to the doghouse should do it,” Tequila said. “Yeah. It isn’t often that we find someone worthy to be in our company,” Ted interjected. “Your company? You stole my keys, could cost me my job, and I can’t leave this stink of a place without it. Besides, this is my town and you people are just sojourners. That’s right. Visiting little twerps that quite frankly, are being overly sensitive. Do you really think that extraterrestrials from another planet are coming here, to this dumpy little farm to rescue you?” Josiah asked and when they both nodded their heads, he continued, “I mean, why you two? Wouldn’t a great king or Jesus’ brother be better?” Josiah asked. Her hand pinched his nose. Felt the slap of four pairs of hands against him. Tequila held onto him as if they were a couple holding hands, and Josiah were about to stumble. Blood trickled down his meaty arms and off his backside. What had they wacked him against the head with? A shovel? A gardening ho? He whispered goodbye to Mr. Scarecrow as the sky dimmed to a frightening black ray of hope. Hours later, Josiah awoke with pieces of catfish in his mouth. Garbage was strewn all over the enclosed space. Only he was lying on top of a pile of discarded eggshells, brown paper scraps, a half-empty bottle of ketchup, leaves covered with syrup, an old pair of tennis shoes, and a broken mixer. “A well? They threw me into a well?” Josiah asked himself. He chuckled a little and looked up. Scanned the sky, a tiny spot, miles away, and crushed a fly buzzing past his head. Josiah picked up an eggshell and threw it up to see if it could make it over the top of the well. It did not and instead, landed in the space between his legs. “I guess I’m all alone now,” Josiah said, “Hmm? What shall I do for the rest of the evening? Digging for trash? Oh, the possibilities . . .” Josiah began digging through the trash as if he were looking for China. He kept digging until his arms were waist-deep and then Josiah happened upon a magnificent find: a crossword puzzle with
only a few marked pages. He yelped with delight. But then, he realized that he had no pen or pencil. Also, some of the puzzles seemed foreign to him. Particularly, the entertainment puzzles with their questions about television shows that he neither watched nor cared for. The rain began to plunge down in torrents. Josiah snatched a long piece of brown paper, and covered his head. Raindrops fell like tapping fingers and Josiah needed something to take his mind off of his growing hysteria for movement. His legs stiffened; he spit into his hands, rubbing his legs furiously so he could feel them. Josiah’s eye then caught a shiny, silvery metal object out of the corner of his eye. A whistle. His lips were wet and stiff but Josiah believed that if he could whistle loudly, blow into the whistle’s mouthpiece, Ted and Tequila might hear him, might forgive him for his unkind words. Neither one came for him, but the rain stopped. Hours passed. The small, murky puddles of brown water around him sloshed against his legs. Josiah’s fortress-home was almost quaint. But he knew that he needed to get out of there. Knew that by morning, he would need a little food in his belly. He continued to whistle, and as the sun began to creep up over the well’s opening, Josiah began to feel hopeless. By noontime, he cupped the liquid in his chapped hands. Despite its appearance, his lips tasted a slighty sweet concoction. After all of the water surrounding him was gone, Josiah began digging through the soggy piles of garbage. He discovered an old carton of Kool milds, and kept digging. Still, Josiah found nothing. Evening came. Josiah blew into his whistle. He laid his head back on the well’s wall. Blood seeped down from his head. Black blood. “Must have been from when they threw me in here,” Josiah said and sighed. He asked himself one important question: Was this the end? Josiah was snoring when the fire sparkles began dancing over his head. They moved through the air, and the world seemed to stop, waiting for him to reappear. He called out, cried, and the shadow of a woman appeared above him. She looked down at him. “Oh, it’s you. We figured you went back to that motel, baby.” “Tequila, dear, how was I supposed to get out of here?” Josiah asked. “Well, let me help you, Josiah. I’ll throw down some rope, we’ll tie it to the back of Ted’s truck and yank you out of there. Just hold on now.” This time, both Ted and Tequila kept their promise. True to their word, they helped him escape from the well. Josiah’s first inkling of the nighttime sky brought him face-to-face with Tequila. They were still dressed in their costumes and when Josiah’s feet finally touched the ground, he cried with the air of a complacent baby. She wrapped her arms around him. “There, there, Josiah, we’re here now. We only did it because we love you. You can’t be loyal, going around saying bad things about us. Remember, we could have forgotten about you, but we didn’t. You should be so grateful, okay? Baby,” Tequila said and opened her arms wide. She gave him a soothing rub on his back. Josiah was so overwhelmed that he didn’t whether or not to punch and kick the ground as if he were two years old, or if he should start sucking his thumb. Instead, Josiah found himself bawling his eyes. He allowed himself to have a good cry. Blew his nose into her shirt. She continued to whisper sweet words of kindness into his ears. Ted stood off to the side, nodding his head. A stray dog ran around their little circle. Tequila gently coaxed Josiah to follow him over to the porch steps. She chuckled and said, “That’s all we wanted. Get to know you better and help you, help us too. Baby, I’ll bet you gotta a lovely gal.” Josiah said, “No, I’m single.” She replied, “Single? Hmm. What about family? I know we can’t be the first ones to make you cry.” They were sitting on the porch, arms
linked together. Ted ran into the house, brought out a blanket, tucked around Josiah’s shoulders, and stood in the background, swatting at flies. “Actually, I grew up in an orphanage. But they couldn’t contain me. Climbed walls but there weren’t enough beds. Ventured around. Came to a motel, not unlike this one, one night for a high school party in the banquet room. Fell in love with the atmosphere, you know? I could finally climb walls and walk freely. Wasn’t about religion. Just about me,” Josiah said, turning to face her. She took a tissue and wiped away his tears. “Family? You and Ted have family? Any little ones?” Josiah asked. “Nope. Just us. Sometimes, Ted gets upset about that. ‘Cause I don’t want any babies. Least not with him. Hell, we don’t even have the same last name and it’s lots of things. Mostly Ted’s temper. I ain’t bringing no baby into this mess. He don’t like me saying that. But you can’t change a woman’s heart. Just don’t tell him that. He just goes off . . .” Her voice slightly cracked. “That’s what I like about my job. Casual clothes, fast-food lunches, get paid in cash. Simple,” Josiah said. “ I tried that. But I was always too tired for my real life, this life after. Sometimes, though, I wish things could be different. This ain’t even our house. None of them ever are,” Tequila said. A sob escaped from her lips. Now, Josiah wrapped his arms around her. He thought to himself, ‘You want my sympathies now, you childless bitch.’ But he said nothing, stared at her, a deer-in-the-headlight looks. Through the mirror he saw her, broken, vulnerable, and pretty but not beautiful. She picked up on his sentiments and replied, “I hated you the other night. Hated what you said, and yet, even now, I find myself strangely attracted to you.” Tequila and Josiah kissed. “If your name wasn’t Tequila, what would it be?” Josiah asked. She was so fascinating to him, all he could think of was how he was going to remember the million other questions in his mind. “I don’t know. Something plain like Jane. I don’t want to talk about that,” she replied and they kissed again, a long, passionate kiss. Josiah pulled away and nodded in Ted’s direction. “He’s not a bother but a bore,” Tequila said. At this statement, Ted burped and ran past them. He gave them the thumbs-down sign with a jealous look in his eyes. Grabbed a fishing pole from the nearby tool shed, near a field of trees, and headed toward the well. “Where’s he going?” Josiah asked. “Oh, just going fishing for treasure. See, when we’re traveling around, sometimes we’ll go through other people’s garbage bags, and put their stuff in our own garbage bags. Since we’re here for awhile, figured we’d dump everything over there and then look later. Makes it easier for us to move around.” She nodded her head and then patted Josiah’s knees. “I’m surprised no one’s spotted us. What will you do if someone from town sees us?” he asked. “Oh, we’ll be gone by then. Ain’t nothing here. ‘Sides, we only squat at night. Life’s simpler that way. Ain’t got to deal with people, you know? Now, we’ve met some other characters. Lots of people try to join our club, league. But they’re not like us, get it?” Tequila asked. Josiah shrugged his shoulders. “This is the adventure I’ve been looking for and you people took me, so I have an excuse. Can’t rightly blame . . .” Josiah paused. “Not even the Queen of England,” they said together in unison. “You want to come along with us. That’s what you are saying?” Tequila asked. “I’m not saying anything else,” Josiah said. “Okay, then. I like the way you speak. So proper. And you don’t whine. But we’re characters with costumes, the way you said. A motel clerk ain’t a costume.”
The words hung in the air. “I have an idea. When I was inside the well, I found a neat little whistle. Must have dropped it when you pulled me up. I could be a banjo player or a whistleblower,” Josiah said. “That might get you in trouble,” Tequila said, flatly. “All right, maybe not. Now, there’s a neat little Scarecrow out in the fields. He could have my wet clothes, and I could take his dry ones. I don’t think he’ll mind.” Tequila’s mouth dropped open. “Hank? Mind? Did you ask him? I mean, should we ask him? Give me a break.” The question floated and danced in the air for a few minutes. “Never mind. I’ve got an idea. Wait here.” Tequila ran up the dusty stairs and into the house. She came back to Josiah minutes later with two items in her hands. “What’s this?” Josiah asked. She shook his head and motioned for his clothes. One Hour Later . . . Ted whistled Josiah’s whistle. Twirled a broken necklace around his fingers. Continued whistling until he came to the front of the house. He whistled a hearty, piercing sound through his lips at the sight of them. Josiah was sitting on Tequila’s lap. He had no clothes on, except an adult-sized diaper and a matching bonnet. She had him in her lap, spanking him with a wooden spoon. “Josiah, what on Earth are you doing?” Ted asked. “Gaga, googoo,” came the reply.
The Hotel Window I. His hands touched her breasts but they weren’t really there. See, she believed that the human touch could evaporate without reason and beyond the possibilities of eternity. But, when she told this to others, they refused to look at the marks on her breasts. But didn’t want you want to touch her? Didn’t you want to see inside her head and wonder how God made naked bodies that hide behind foggy windows? And believed that if she had pushed herself hard enough, she might have floated away to Neverland and never had to do anything imagined. II. His eyes made her cry but they didn’t speak at all. See, she believed that if we could make words from not speaking anything at all and she cried while the world dropped tears from her eyes. If this had not happened, she might have had nothing to look at when staring outside. She might not have told their secrets, yes, theirs, without ever having made a telephone call. Just lied in bed and dared someone, anyone to knock on the door. That would have brought us to the center of the stage but the lights were off and she didn’t care to turn them back on. But not that it would have mattered, she wouldn’t have opened the door. She wouldn’t have moved past the cheap floral bedspread to the television. Nor would she have turned on the television to watch old wrestling shows from the ‘can’t-kill-me-80’sera.’ No, but she wouldn’t answer the door if anyone knocked. She’d rather run and hide from him. She’d rather make him believe that she had flown away. Those eyes that she imagined about when she sat and waited. She would rather do anything than watch those eyes over and over again. Didn’t you want to destroy her? Didn’t you want to not say a word and wonder how the hell God made bodies that won’t float, eyes that won’t cry and knees that won’t plead? And you didn’t believe her when she said that she pushed herself to stay. She suffered. She fell. She bled. Everyone else had known but you. Everyone else had watched and waited. III. His heart escaped from in between her legs but it was never his to give in the first place. See, she believed that if she waited, he would allow her to be a free woman but she was wrong. The window won’t open and she would have to hurt herself to fly away. She dreamed last night that you destroyed some other woman and that it was she standing outside, next to the telephone booth, with a pink scarf and blue lips, waiting. The ring flew out of the window. The knock on the door came again but nothing stopped her from putting those big hands around her throat as you dared her to look away from you. She stood there smoking a cigarette, laughing as her dreams crumbled before her eyes. She bleeds, she dies, she rumbles, she shakes and the world goes on. Didn’t you hear her? She called your name. But no, you want to watch her watching you and wonder how God made bodies but God didn’t make minds? And you didn’t believe her, so you pushed her down, again and again. You could never imagine the possibilities so she floated away with both of our hearts, yours and hers.
IV. His lies were the reason she waited. She tuned everything out. Even in blood, even in death, she kept her promise. She clutched it like a purse and kept it locked away. It was found again in this room, amidst the smell of dried sex, Chanel No. 5 and one lit table lamp. The room was empty. The serving tray in the hallway covered with half-eaten food and she waited. The telephone rang but she knew it was coming from across the street. The train not stopping, the best of the worst, the sound of a man’s voice. All she could hear was the faint sound of glass breaking. If he made a promise, he didn’t keep it that night. But she was ready; her lines rehearsed: Didn’t you want to lie? Truth be told, didn’t you want her to wonder how God made bodies? And he didn’t believe her. He pushed her away. She fought back but he broke her. He lied. He killed her. So, she destroyed the one thing he loved. With the curl of a hand, she welcomed his lies. Two become one and not three. V. He sat by the window and she walked by. He winked at her but she was not sitting next to him. She watched the eyes, all four of them. Two pairs of eyes smirked. It was the not first time that had happened. She was used to being in third place. Ten days later, she saw him again. It was six blocks away. She had asked for the time; it was all she could think to say. Seven o’clock on the dot. They stood near a flea market where a Cambodian woman walked by and offered them eight-legged spiders, cooked to a crisp. As the rain dropped, silence engulfed them until he told a joke that made her blush and five fingers went over her mouth. It took him all of twelve seconds to apologize. She smiled and he noticed a gap, separating eleven of her teeth on the left from eleven on the right. That happened right across the street. She didn’t remember, not until that night. By then, she was crying. But no one could tell. The window covered her sorrow the rain covered her tears. He walked by again. She decided that she wasn’t going to wait again. She knew what she was going to say: Didn’t he want to wait for her? She had waited all this time, all these years to hear from him. Locked away like broken hair follicles, she needed water to break away. Didn’t he want her to be happy? But that was in her mind. Still, she believed in happy endings. With that, she opened the window, called out to him and floated away. To the land of happy endings. She believed that he would rescue her, that he would catch her. So she closed her eyes and hoped that he would catch her.
Brown-Faced Little Girls Little girl. Long beautiful jet black hair. Your Mama say you lucky that your hair so long and thick. You little so you don't realize this. Lots of people like to rake their fingers through your hair so only your Mama can comb it. Little girl. You take all these activities that you really have no heart into. You in ballet and wear your hair up into a bun with little curls falling around. Your Mama put your hair up and pray that your barrettes don't break. Rubber bands and ponytails don't break off. Hair won't look right. Your Mama says that a woman's best asset is her hair. Yes, Mama, I know. You in Girl Scouts, actually you a brownie and you have to wear an ugly brown uniform and matching brown hat. Little girl. I'm glad that my grandmother don't make don't make me wear nothing hideous like that. Your Mama let you wear
your hair down so everyone can see how long and beautiful her hair is and what a great job she does taking care of it. Before my momma went to jail, she says that your Mama is stuck on herself. Little girl. Your hair don't look so great. And while you gone to Girl Scouts; I play with your dolls. Lots of beautiful dolls from all over the world. I play with them until I get bored with them, your Mama says to put them away but I don't listen to her cause she not my real Mama. Little girl. If your Barbie's hair itch my hands, I chop the hair all off. And if those dolls talk back, I chop off their hands. And then I throw them away. Don't cry. What you cryin' for?! Oh! So you gonna go tell your Mama like a punk. Headless Barbies?! What is the world coming to? Why would you do that? Stay away from those scissors and don't cut your hair! Little girl. Your Mama did a good job
with her hair but she tried to cut my hair. Said I had dead, split ends. I told her if she tries to cut my hair, I was going to come with a pair of scissors and cut up her hair when she sleep. So she said that I gotta go back. She scared of me. Say she wasn't the one that let that old, blind woman give me a perm. Little girl. Your Mama says that I'm looking on the wrong side of a twosided mirror. Little girl. You got to tell your Mama to let me stay. If I go back, who am I going to talk to? Whose uniform am I going to make fun of? Don't you want me to stay? No? Well, I don't like you neither. Dang! You cryin' again? I was just kiddin'. Wait: one more thing: Little girl, you cryin' but you lucky. You lucky cause your Mama never let anyone burn your hair off and you lucky cause you have your Mama around. I envy you Little Girl. You
and your life, cause I wish it were mine, and I wish your Mama was mine. But I guess not.
Three Different Ways to Tell a Lie I hear my father, a painter, speaking in the background. My father only speaks on the telephone when he is making business calls or if there is trouble. He does not know this, but today is my last day at home. I am afraid for my parents, but I am more afraid of their reaction. My mother is talking about leaving, but that is just talk, and my father believes preachers and church folks don’t tell the truth. I know that’s not true, but I cannot argue with him. See, he’s from down South, way down where sometimes my girl cousins molest me against my will and my grandmother fixes chitterlings and swears it is not pig meat but something else. Some say it tastes salty, but I am the wrong person to ask; I am a vegetarian. I am very excited about my quest. I am painting a portrait of Factory Worker City. A paintbrush that guides my hands is under my full-size canopy bed. I plan to pull it out tonight after my parents are asleep. I expect that they are going to want to see the portrait of her. I am prepared for that. My wrong address is going to lead them down the wrong street. The next time my parents see me, I am on television. The black woman news anchor with the Spanish name and the red freckles is interviewing me, and I am famous. A painter. That is why my father is talking with my mother, telling her to get home. She is a muse, but especially for my father. My mother cries when I paint her, and I am proud of myself. I finally did something to get her attention. I understand my capabilities, even when others cannot. II. She is sitting still while I read her letter. I paint over that image of my wife with my paintbrush. With the stroke of a bristle, she disappears, and I am happy. I go into his bedroom a first time the other day to see what he paints, and all I see are gloves, a ski mask, a crow bar, and lots of purses. He says that it is a part of his work. My son claims to be a famous painter. I go into his bedroom to see his paintings, and I find my missing dames in a corner. His bedroom reminds others of a treehouse filled with black dolls. They have painted faces with upside down clay smiles. He models them after the ones I have seen at Hudson’s. He calls them inspiring; they represent the familiar side of this city. Their breasts are shaped from his hands, and I am scared of him. The purses’ owners were the models, and he was the artist. Portraits of still life, I like to call them pictures. I am not Picasso, but I know they were intended for me. I am not upset. These are the words that I tell you will be my last today. III. The very first time the father-husband learned how to paint across his wife’s face, the son was only two years old. The son wept without tears and took his anger out on his mother’s breasts. He bit into her purple-brown chest with his baby-yellow teeth and grabbed tufts of her hair with his hands, his fists. She responded by giving him sips of red wine.
The son crumpled like paper when she weaned him off her breasts with sips of red wine. She responded to her son by encouraging the wearing of long nightgowns; his teeth bit down on leftover, baby dolls. As a child, he learned to take this allegiance, thus becoming a gatekeeper of secrets between painters, a muse, and dolls. His first drawing was twelve dead babies, ten for each Christmas he had been on Earth and two for those he had not; he had failed his mother. The father loved to study his son, who loved to study his mother dressing up in beautiful gowns. The son painted makeup on her cheeks and listened with her to the vulnerable black diva with the collapsing singing on the record player. One night he awoke to hearing his father painting across his mother’s face, and he decided to learn how to paint. Only his colors were a mix of reds, browns, and yellows. The mother encouraged her son to smoke cigarettes with him and was even proud of his interest in her breasts. The hired one, a painter, liked to play with the son too. The three of them would hop into bed and pretend to be a family while the father was away. They took turns painting across her face with a blank canvas. As a young man, the son believed that he could become a famous painter. The first portrait was easy. He walked up to a woman waiting for a taxi in front of a loft building on East Jefferson that reminded him of a painting he saw once. He told her that he was an artist, and he would like to sketch her portrait. “How much is this going to cost me?” she asked. “Nada,” he said. They walked to the edge of Belle Isle Park and sat down on a graffiti-sprayed bench. He took a cigarette from his pocket, huffed and puffed, and began to tell his story: I am not actually an artist, but I am a magician. A bottle of red wine and two glasses magically appeared. My father has said not to come back home until I could prove something. He did not actually say these words, but that is what I am getting from him. Will you help me? The young woman said yes and closed her eyes and parted her lips. With the slip of a tongue, he kissed her, and they locked fingers. “Your eyes are beautiful,” she said. “Yes, that’s what people tell me,” he replied, cried, and began to paint. His father asked him about the young woman, but he said nothing. His father’s friend asked about her, and he replied that she was a secret, a woman hidden behind a smile with perfect breasts, but she was no dame. He winked at his mother when he said this. She looked at him and knew what he meant. “Just like the painter, I will always be your muse,” she said and nodded her head. The night after she took those photographs with the other painter, he mysteriously followed a bunny out of the house and disappeared. That was the year her son had been a magician. He simply went into the wine cabinet and pulled out a bottle of Merlot. He poured the drink into a magical glass. The son stood up and looked at the group. “I think that it’s time for me to change professions. You know, I’ve always wanted to be an inventor.” His mother took a sip of wine and his father looked at his son. The father replied, “Yes, of course, but first, I am going to paint on your face.”
The Factory Workerâ€™s Daughter After a lifetime of grease and sweat, the man wiped his hands, and climbed out of the car. His eyes were old; they had seen too many sunrises and sunsets. His hands were weathered; they had broken many noses, and smoothed many backs. His feet were dirty; they had outrun and outlived those white boys down in Caldwell County, North Carolina. Hell, that was back in the 50's. They wouldn't sit by him, they made fun of him, so why should he work for them? They chased him in that red pick-up truck, but if he could outrun Mama's belt, he could outrun the Green boys. His head was sore; those boxing bouts helped him, Mama and Baby Shirley move from rural North Carolina to Baltimore's slum ghettos. His nose twitched; he had smelled blood in the alley, and catfish from Smokin' Joe's. His ears were ringing; they hadn't stopped since he had taken the train to New York City. Hell, that was back in the 60's. New York City had brought him college, gang life--when gangs took your money, not your life---and Margaret, a beautiful white girl. His mouth was dry; he was speechless when her rich daddy told her it was either the family or her nigger-ass boyfriend. His heart was broken; how could she break up with him? How could he ever trust white folks again? His stomach was jittery; the first time was when his estranged father told him about these factory jobs in Detroit. Hell, that was back in the 70's. It was either that or stick around for the draft. The traveler became the factory worker. The grease and sweat still fell and became puddles on the dry cement. A cigarette took its place in between his lips as he looked at the children. One pretty brown face stood out among them. He walked forward, watched the children play in front of the school. The factory worker, who was always so proud of his working-class life, hesitated. He watched as lawyers and doctors and accountants made their way over to their children. His eyes were red with tears; he could have made more of his life. The choices he made: to take this job; move to Detroit; to settle down with a nice girl: they bought a house together, and had this sweet little baby girl. Hell, that was back in the late 70's. It was now 1984. Reagan was president; Michael Jackson was still a household name; and people were proud to be Democrats. The children stopped playing as he
slowly moved forward. They held their noses, while parents and teachers rolled their eyes. She slowly turned around, to see what her friends were seeing, and watched with disbelief as his hand waved at her. Everyone watched the little girl as her eyes narrowed until they became slits. She slowly turned around as if nothing had happened. Today the little girl was no one's daughter. The factory worker climbed into his car, and slowly drove away. That was 14 years ago, and he eventually forgave her because Hell, that was back in the 80's.
Before I Leave You leave me again. I see through your eyes and beyond to the emptiness inside me. A fire blazes in front of me and again on the television. It reminds me of the failures of my life. I first run away from home when I am seventeen years old. I am out of prison for a crime I committed. I didn’t care to go looking for my mother or my grandmother or anyone else. I simply walk out of prison and no one is waiting for me. Other people have family members and friends waiting for them; I have nothing but the promises I make to myself. The girls in there didn’t believe me when I tell them that I am going to be famous. No one in prison has left there to really do anything with their lives but I feel different about the world. I start having dreams about you. The other girls say that you aren’t real and to get over it but I love you from the moment you appear to me. We have so much in common. You are faceless; a transplant from another part of me. I spend days waiting for you to come back, praying for your return. Anything I think I need to see you; I sell my soul to the devil to get. You have demons yourself. Most people on television portray themselves like saints and not sinners, just like the girls did in prison, smiling and grinning in front of our “fathers,” and then killing each other, tearing ourselves down behind their backs. You are real. I write you letter after letter, tearing them up before completion, knowing that it is impossible for you to feel the words of sorrow running through me. You do not know who you belong to, and I don’t either. You are different. I have written letters to you, asking if we are our own worst enemies. Only that letter didn’t make it out of these walls. “Daddy” decided not to send it. He is a drunk, an alcoholic who decided to make an example out of me behind these walls. He came into my cell at nighttime to bother me. The girl across from me lets anyone have her. She is too far gone; she lets this place get to her. She eats their food and lets the water cascade in waterfalls down her back. I only knew her for a short time. Most of the time, I am alone. When they came for me, I start to claw at the wall and rip my uniform. I drink water from the toilet and shit in my pants. When “Daddy” came for me, I didn’t break. I told him that I was saving myself for you. He didn’t believe me. He came for me and I scream so loud, they send me away by myself. I scream the entire time I am in there. I drool on myself so they will leave me alone. I eat without forks or knives until they threaten me and stop bringing me food. I tell them that I only want you in my world and no one else. No women, no men, no mothers, no daddies, no sugar daddies, no friends, no playmates, no music, no food, no water on my body, no nothing except you next to me. I spend my entire life waiting for you. I walk out the prison, and stick out my thumb. A man is heading in my direction. He asks me if I am on something because I am sweating and nervous and I need to see you again before you leave. He is struck by the color of my eyes and said that it is a shame that a beautiful girl such as me has wasted so much of my life behind the walls. He offers his hands to me, and I take them in mine. I let his hands throw me against the sky and I fell back again. I was spinning with the smell of roses at my feet. He was smiling. This is the story of how I came to be: You are an actress. He is the director reading the script. You drove there by yourself. It was going to be a surprise for Momma. She thought you were dead. You didn’t want to see her again until you are successful. You ask him for his name when he comes to the door. He says that his name is Jesus Cross. Even though he doesn’t look like Jesus or even a Jesus, you say nothing. You ask why were you asked to meet him at a house? He comes up with the ultimate excuse: He’s shooting the movie here in Detroit. He wants the rest of the world
to experience the raw deal and not cut-and-frame shots of Chicago and Toronto, though you agree they are far better-looking cities. The house is where the film will be located. What better way for you to become intimate with the script than to perform there. You look around. The house has graffiti on the walls. Years later, the house will look the same. It is the same matchbox house on every block with stupid Christmas ornaments that will light the night sky. It is cold outside. There is another man in the house. His chapped lips worry you. You offer him Vaseline but when he takes it, he begins to eat it. You look at Mr. Cross in confusion. He tells you the man is a ghost, a boat person and he doesn’t exist to you. Okay, you say, you get it. You are playing a mother in a role suited for one. He briefly yells cut and then starts the scene again. You forget your lines, then you remember, then you forget again. You can feel the sunlight across your eyes. Then you remember that you are a failure because there is no audience around and you start to cry. The director puts his hand on your shoulders. He puts the film away and says that you are better than what he has to offer. He’d rather you be looking through a mirror with no one looking right at you, than immortalized. Once, that happens there is no looking back, no mistakes, no coming to me crying. Don’t worry, he says, this is just for pretend. It’s not for real. That’s why he has to travel around so much because of who he is. He’s famous, you know that. He says that you remind him of the last one. You are the one he says. You are too beautiful for anything except the frame he captures your face in. It’s a shame what happens to young ladies that don’t make it, you say, to try to make him feel better. You hear a noise coming from beside you. He kisses you and a pill from his mouth falls into yours. Swallow it, he says. That’s what the actress you want to play would do, he says. What’s it for? You ask. Oh, just to take the edge off of you. You swallow and laugh. He shoves you into the couch. You are different, he says. You have an exotic look. You do what you are told. No, the world needs more of your kind around. Your look actually saves you for once. The room is double-sided; one side belongs to him and the other side belongs to you. He says then that he has a confession to make. It’s the aspirin he gave you earlier. No, it’s something else. But you don’t care. Let’s play a game, he says. There is laughter in the background coming from someplace other than you or him so you guess it would be all right. Okay, you say. So you invite him inside you. He climbs up; you go down. He lifts you up and turns you around. You are now looking at the world from upside down. The floors are dirty with dust, gray spiders and you can see too many cracks in the floor but the ceiling is perfect. No one can touch it and even the cracks in the foundation have only touched the walls. It is an old house, common in Detroit. It was built a long time ago when houses were built with care. Each brick was a piece of the bricklayer’s hands. He patted them down softly, just like that wall built across Eight Mile Road. You reach up towards it but it’s too far away. Your head is being knocked against the floor until your head threatens to explode but you can’t catch your breath long enough to scream ‘stop’ or even ‘fire!’ What pretty eyes you have, my dear, he says. You noticed them for the first time. How did we get to this point? Was it by chance? Or perhaps we should move to a room with no furniture except a couch, nothing in the refrigerator except milk with no razor blades for Mr. Cross to shave his back and towel to cover the blood staining this house, making it acceptable to destroy this perfect house. Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth we go until you are born again and he screams out that you are what he’s been looking for. After that, he gets real excited. He tells you to go home and pack your things. He says he just needs to call the newspaper and cancel the ad that you answer. You find this all
to be new and amazing. Who will think that lady luck is on your side? There is a low laughter in the background but you ignore it, as you have done very times before. He kisses you again and says that he needs you to come back tomorrow and he says the two of us will conquer the world. You believe him, being in love and feeling safe. You leave that scene, that house and you are alone again. When you never see him again, the laughter that you push into the background comes back this time and it’s deafening. You can stand naked in front of him and you are invisible unless you are naked on the street corner and hundreds of hands are on top of him, with you underneath trying to protect their precious city from the sinners like myself. I travel by bus the week before to visit my mother. She does not remember me but I have finally found her, though I am a failure. There is only an old gatekeeper now in the garden. Complete silence surrounds the trees and the birds and nature that you haven’t seen in years. She is sitting down on a blanket next to a picture of my grandmother. They are both in a place that I know I won’t be going to. I am a product, catalogued and enveloped in a package that does not represent who I am. People follow me. It seems like everyone wants me to go away. They take my mistake and put it next to my mother. There are now three of them, and then there is me. We both have something in common; we both refuse to go back to prison. A place where failures go because they forgot why they were there in the first place only for much longer and the other prisoners will no longer look upon you with sympathy. There are flowers all around and death is calling once again. There are tears running down your eyes but no one will see that. All they will see is the blood found in the car. That image over and over again. You know what they are thinking: What kind of mother leaves her baby in a car? They say that only bad mothers do that . . . No one loves anymore. You are disgusted and disappointed that you ever came home. You destroy your letters now. You are broken. You are a sick woman who kills her baby by leaving her alone for twelve hours with no food. The baby is not yours, you say. You have that baby with you when you need to give it up, you say. Silence is the answer. You escape from all of the madness. No one even recognizes you. You follow this path from the end of your day to the beginning of your life. You follow this path to the house party where everyone ignores you. You are watching yourself once on television and you say that you like to remain anonymous in public. They are playing music, drunk and loud with the deafening noise of synthesizers. You are in the corner smoking a cigarette and eating a ham sandwich. Someone offers you a drink filled with love. You refuse. They offer again. You refuse. It’s not that kind of party, you say. You follow redemption, or so you think up to the third floor, past the Victorian-lace curtains and the picture of the Madonna crying on the wall. You are dressed up like a dark bride, only you cannot recognize this because of the celebrating and you are stumbling over furniture, trying to make it to the bathroom before anyone sees the slow-dry vomit fall from your lips. Someone cups their hand on your shoulder and helps you into the bathroom. You look up with blood-red shot eyes and simply say, “Thank you.” You start to cry because your life is falling apart and you are crying because life is just beginning. You’ve waited your whole life for this moment. Something climbs on top of you but you push it off and shake your head no. You say no again. Louder. There is a slur to your voice. You slap away black, fingernail painted hands and push against your breasts. You feel the weight of your fingers leaving indentation marks where the needle has entered the skin again and again. You push it away, down into the bathtub and run out slamming the door behind you. You are desperate to get away; you
push back but you fall into the bathtub on your own accord. The house looks familiar. The walls are covered with human interaction beyond recognition except for that face on the wall. Rescue me, you once say but the face doesn’t stop the needle from going further down into your skin. You knew the faces of those people at the party. They let you in and you didn’t even have to give them anything. They owe you that much or they know you have money. There are mattresses all over the house, even one in the kitchen. Every night, you are with a different man. After someone came after you with a knife, you start sleeping in the closet. You are too far gone to go away. You put boxes near the closet door so you can hear them if they try to come near. You deliberately pee on yourself for added insult. They call you dumb but you don’t mind. You move to try to open the door and it is locked. You know who it is. You don’t know faces but your heart senses something uncommon: a woman who looks just like you. You are both from black-and-white worlds and no one understands you. You scream and leave the house party full of people, some dressed in leotards and one-hand gloves with Jheri-curl juice leaving seep-stained imprints on rented white room furniture. These people are not to be here at this house tomorrow. The grass remains uncut, and other young girls will live on in dreams where they lie down on soiled mattresses and spread their legs for boys who get to remain free for far less than what you have. Momma is actually destroyed by those pictures, though I didn’t learn this until years later. After that, that director promises her money and more opportunities to be in the pictures if she just puts a little peroxide in her hair, then a small kiss with another woman, and shares a little drink with him. She drops out of school. I know that I disappoint her by not finishing school either but if you listen to me, you’ll see why it is so important for me not to be overshadowed. My dreams come true, I am famous, and now I have my wish. People hear my name when you read my letters. You are followed around. You have suspicions about this. You tell yourself about a woman who haunts you and see in the mirror someone who has forgotten where to go next. You long to escape from this city. There are days when you sit so close to the windowsill that you can see the hairs on your body. You are claustrophobic. You find out these things by reading the newspaper and listening to the radio and hearing what people say about you. One famous story is that you were playing with some friends in a different neighborhood as a small child. A game of Spin the Bottle is being played and you are teased for not wanting to go into the closet with a well-developed boy. You are afraid because he is older and you wear a leg brace that you keep as a souvenir to this day and you have braces and wear Cokebottle glasses held together with glue. He begs you to go into the closet first and when you go, they lock you in the closet against your will. You scream and cry and finally began to have a panic attack. There is not a key for the closet door and you are stuck in there for many hours and when they finally get you out, you vow never to stand still again. You are claustrophobic too. I tremble as he touches my breasts, longing for more. I get out of bed. Clothes register feelings of complacency. I watch him put on a hat and a ring. The hat: black, feels like felt with no feathers but the man feels like singing. A familiar tune plays on the record player about a man and a gun. Breakfast with a silver reflection; mirrors with a broken spoon looking back at a bloody plate. My nose is bleeding but I wonder can someone hear them? Can the people driving down the street see them? Once again I am overshadowed. Racing along tree-lined streets looking at black, angry faces out the window, a car floats by. My hands across him, the sharp sting of a hand around his face. And then those words: I’ve
got a secret. I am pregnant and going to tell. The last thing I feel is his hands now around my throat. And then, I am quiet. A year later: I told you to leave me alone. To stop haunting me. You could feel the dropping of my eyes from the effects of sour-whiskey on my breath. The matches in between my fingers, ready to throw everything away. I recall the conversation between me and him: “I need you. Do you think you can love me?” His sick, sad reply, “No. I don’t think I can.” There were voices far away inside my head when he said that. Telling you about distance and blight. Making you leave—all eight hundred and ten different worlds in Detroit burned that night. Every time a match was lit, your spirit traveled away. Not one of them was you. Someone had been shot. I guess two people were shot that night. Or three. Or maybe four. Who knows? Sparky Anderson, where are you? A woman, a child, a ghost, a devil, a pair of eyes is watching you, waiting for you to return.