My shoulders live above my ears now. As a matter of fact, they just put a dreamcatcher up above their bed. Tomorrow, they plan to make a “thing” out of going to IKEA to look for rugs. They feel good about the move. Just enough room in the back for a compost heap and a vegetable garden. The kids will love it. Me, not so much. I am reeling from sudden, startling change. No one prepares anyone for morphing into a new creature because of a new creature. I’ve been watching lots of animal documentaries at night. They help ward off the nightmares of someone bursting into my home with guns, because, well, that happens a whole lot now. I have come to realize I am living like an ibex. More aptly, a baby ibex who can’t feed itself just yet- but knows how to move just so on big, ashy, flat pieces of rock, so as to evade the dangers of life. In other words, I am a ballerina.
These days, I walk about as if you don’t exist. Please forgive me. I don’t do any of it to hurt you. I made a promise to him, and I want to keep it. Lying is one of the things that will bring a marriage to ruin, much like money problems, or infidelity. I have to keep my word. The closer I get to you, the closer I come to going against it.
Some nights-while everyone else is asleep-when perspiration makes his skin look inky black, and the smaller he is lightly snoring with his lips apart, just so, rosy and face lacking any hint of color, I reach into the drawer where I keep my intimates, and I look for the only hint of you that’s there, hoping no one sees or hears me longing for you. I know I have a problem. I tell my friends about you all the time. They tell me it’s okay, that others have the same problem. I don’t care. I want to be rid of you. I feel like when we have been together, people can see you clinging to me, your smell lingering all over the tiny hairs of my face. I wish I could just quit you. My life would be so much better.
Last Sunday, I ran out to the store. I was supposed to be getting egg whites. My heart was happy because I managed to leave the house all by myself. I missed the baby, but getting in and out of my vehicle without fighting a car seat is pretty nice. I went into John’s, the International market, and immediately started looking for the one thing on my list. I found the egg whites among smiles, and “excuse me’s.” It was such a pleasant day. Easter. Who can be unpleasant on Easter? Whether you believe in the bunnies, or the rolling away of the boulder, logic dictates one should be kind on Easter. I was walking to the register, feeling like the winner of some nameless prize, and I saw a barrel of plums. Blonde plums. I pulled a bag from the roll and let the warmth from my feet rise to my face. He loves plums. I looked them over and squeezed them between my fingers, making sure they would be fit for him. I got to a register behind a man with several loaves of phallus shaped bread, and cantaloupes. “What a boring Sunday dinner,” I thought. To each his own. When there was room enough for me to place my wares on the conveyor belt, I did. Then I turned around.
I’ve never seen you wearing yellow. At least I don’t remember. It looks amazing on you. I guess that’s why you ended up coming home with me. Levi was fussing when I came in the door. That’s how you went unnoticed. He didn’t see you, so there was no argument. Not about us anyway. To be honest, I forgot I was hiding you. I went into the refrigerator today and saw you staring back at me. You are much more attractive than your friend taking up residence in my panty drawer. Maybe you appeal to me because you are a foreigner. Will you speak German to me when we sit down to eat? My Ritter Sport Knusperflakes, I love you to the point of worship. I can’t keep my love for you a secret anymore. Give me an ultimatum. Tell me it’s you or my body and see who I choose. I dare you.
My toes searched for the other end of the tub. The house was quiet, and although I was expecting guests, the usual feelings of anxiety and inadequacy that usually did double-dutch in my mind when guests were set to come must have been taking a lemonade break.
I was calm.
No, better than that. I was placid. My thoughts were a whispering blue, and I sat there feeling strong, ready to smile the varied smiles that one must when met with congratulations shrouded in sympathy for the poor lot of us who endure the most splintering fates. Water in my eyes competed with that of the tub. I had been doing so well.
When the doctor confirmed my pregnancy, I had to brace myself on the examination table. We were not actively trying. In fact, Lionel and I were on the verge of divorce. The therapist at our church wanted us to try a little harder, but something in me recognized the folly of going to tell a stranger how broken our union was, especially since I didn’t care that he was fucking other women. As long as he wasn’t touching me with those hands, the hands that had failed to protect my daughter, I didn’t care who he used them on. I still found him attractive though, and at the behest of Lisa, the therapist-another human being I was faking it for, I had some drinks with my friends, went home, and let him make love to me. Shortly after, I realized that my body was turning inside out.
We moved immediately. The house on Thurston was her hers. We bought it right after the wedding, when we were climbing into each other’s skin from being so in love, drenched in hope and optimism about our future. Lionel had taken her outside to ride her little Big Wheel. There were pink streamers on the handlebars that she loved to run between her tiny, chocolate fingers, and a seat covered in rainbows and flowers. All the good stuff. Nature’s promises. He says he only looked away for a second to make sure the garage had come down. In that one second, or however many it actually was, someone took my baby. What I remember most is the blood between the cobblestones. At first, it caused me to vomit each time I went in the front yard, but since Lionel wasn’t ready to move, I planted some lavender there. When the flowers bloomed, I crushed them between my fingers and put them in my bra. She was there, laying on me just like she used to do at naptime. Anyway, I suppose I shouldn’t be thinking about that. God gave me beauty for my ashes. Another baby girl. I don’t know what we will call her yet.
I drew my knees up in preparation to leave the tub and noticed a flutter of fabric through a crack in the door. I was the only one at home. This was to be a small shower. Each person was bringing a dish. Lionel was out picking the elders up to bring them over. Just me.
I walked out of the tub, heading for my room, and there she was. Every hair on my body stood up. I could feel my neck and hands starting to perspire. Big, urgent drops of sweat made their way down my fingertips and onto the carpet. I waited for her to say something, since I had no idea what type of decorum was required in these encounters.
Her face was as soft and innocent as it had been at three years old, only now it was a little slimmer. She didn’t look dead at all. The skin on her face shone like there was a flashlight at the base of her neck. Her hair was a black pile of unruly corkscrews, and her mouth was still delicate and perfect. Her father’s eyes inspected me before she spoke.
“Victoria called me here for the party.”
“Yes, you called me Nile, and she wants to be called Victoria.”
What do you say to your dead daughter, now seven years old, outfitted in a ghostly gown when she says she’s coming to your baby shower? I wanted to drop to my knees and shout some nasty things to The Universe for her shitty timing. How could she? 20 minutes before the guests were set to arrive? Instead I said, “What’s her middle name?”
So far, America was terrible.
Cindy put her feet on the ground. Her toes were greeted with dried up rice grains. The grooves in the carpet told tales of pacing, and gross neglect. People had clearly cried here. She struggled to sleep that first night, until the woman who ran the house, Winsome came in and snuck her some whites. It burned her chest to no end, but it calmed her down for sure.
Going to America sounded like a good idea at first, but as soon as she got off the plane, and took a look around, Cindy realized that she may have made a huge mistake. Sure, this place was supposed to be full of endless opportunities, but what about the fact that the racism was thicker than the freshly baked hard dough bread she had sworn off years ago because it went straight to her thighs?
How would the white people treat her here? Perhaps the same way they treated her in Jamaica. Like a piece of furniture, or in certain cases, like an exotic animal that was to be gawked at here and there, but was still considered dangerous.
She dressed nicely yesterday, thinking that she might see some beautiful movie star, like Morris Chestnut, or Denzel Washington, and he would be so smitten with her that she would never have to take one of the menial jobs she came for. Instead, she would be whisked off to some beautiful home in Beverly Hills where there was a maid, instead of being the hired help herself. Alas, the black dress, and flat sandals she wore didn’t garner any attention from anyone but the young boys hired to handle the luggage. Winsome sent one of the other house girls to pick Cindy up. The car was a modest Ford Focus with a couple dents on the passenger side door. When Sharon put the window down, and stuck out her arm to get Cindy’s attention, Cindy whispered under her breath,
“A dis mi come to?”
In that very moment, she heard her mother’s admonishment.
“You tink seh yuh too nice, sitten a guh reach yuh true yuh so red yie.”
If Mama could see her now.
Using her perfectly manicured hands, Cindy gently brushed the debris off her feet, and shuffled to the bathroom. There was someone in there already, so she would have to wait. Cindy propped herself up against the battered wall of the hallway. The girl in there was on the phone sobbing.
“ Mi nuh like di place. It too dutty! Lawd Jesus me shoulda stay a mi yaad. Mi nevah know seh Merica did stay so. I cyaaaa believe!”
Cindy realized this call was going to last a while. It was highly probable that the young lady was going to speak to everyone in her home before she got off of the phone. Instead of continuing to wait, Cindy made her way back down the hall. She scoffed at the comments being made by the girl. Cindy figured she must be young. Probably left her child back home to come and work. That was the immigrant way sometimes. Cindy didn’t have anyone. Only Dwayne, and they had kind of agreed to just cut ties.
“Yuh soon gone a foreign. Waa di sense we try fi mek tings work. Yuh soon find a money man.”
Cindy thought of his bronze shoulders, and kind eyes. He was the only man she had ever been with. She had no plans to come here and meet anyone. Cindy’s dream was to work, save enough money to purchase a home, and put herself through school. She wanted to become a professor. UWI was an option while she was at home, but staying in Jamaica wasn’t. She had no parents, no siblings, no one to take care of her. Once Auntie Patsy caught her husband looking at Cindy when she was around 18 years old, she made it clear that Cindy had to “find someplace guh.” After moving to a rooming house with an older woman who was a good friend of the family, Cindy worked day and night to get enough money saved for a plane ticket. A bandulu hook up for a Visa sealed the deal.
Winsome was a lady who used to live in her parish, and had started a little village of sorts for Jamaican girls who didn’t want to live in New York, or Florida.
California was a world away from Jamaica, but that might actually be a good thing. It was a totally fresh start in a place where so many people wanted to be.
“Woooiii watch hot gyal Cindy! She soon deh pon tv! Yes, Goodie! Walk out!”
Cindy sat on the edge of the bed, and bit the nail of her thumb. The bed made a squeak as the weight of her body forced it down towards the drab carpet. She was thinking about her last outing with her girlfriends before flying out. Abigail, her best friend, and had organized a small going away party for her. She mused that it might take time to find new friends in America. This scared her a little bit, although she didn’t come here to play. She came here to work, and get an education. Nothing was going to stop that. Maybe it was better that she had no one in this world. More motivation to ascend to the top. Prove her mother wrong, and herself right.
“Ah cyaaa boddah. Me nah guh ah nuh bomboclaat wuk todeh! Move from side ah mi!”
There was commotion in the hall. Cindy jumped up off the bed, and ran to the door to peek out. The girl from the bathroom was stomping by, her orange hair askew. She got to her room and slammed the door. Winsome was standing at the bathroom door with her hands on her hips. She was wearing bedroom slippers, and a house dress. Her hair was beautifully coiffed. She had a clay mask on her face. It seemed like the girl’s tirade had interrupted her morning routine.
“Cho! Mi nuh know why dem hot gyal always come up yah an gih trouble.”
“Merica ah no no raas paradise! Somebody need fi tell dem before dem waste plane fare.”
Cindy used this opportunity to gain access to the shared bathroom. She walked slowly towards Winsome.
“Mawnin Ms. Winsome. Can I use the bathroom to get ready?”
Winsome gave her a slight smile. It was warm, but formal.
“Yes, Dawlin. Please hurry and get ready so Ramone can tek unnuh to work.”
“Mi mek some tea already, so as yuh finish put on yuh clothes, meet me inna di
“You sleep good last night? Mi know seh tings different from yaad, but yuh aright. Nobody nah trouble yuh. Jus save yuh money, ah wuk yuh plan. An no breed fi one a dem dutty niggah weh nah care dem pickney. Tie up yuh foot.”
“Yes, Ms. Winsome. I slept well.”
Cindy ignored the woman’s other commentary. She wasn’t her mother, after all. Just a woman who had reached America before she did, and somehow secured this house as a means of reaching backwards, and helping young women who had situations they needed help from. Cindy had no plans to meet anyone and let them impregnate her. That’s all Jamaican women think about. That and cooking for the idiot they make the babies with, knowing full well that he is making babies with other women too. Cook, iron, wash, walk with your chest out because the same man has been breaking your heart for most of your life. A great life indeed. Cindy had been rejecting this plan since she was a young girl. Her mother would slap her for saying she wasn’t getting married or having kids.
“ You waa be a whore den? If a so-yuh need fi come out.”
I guess Mama sort of spoke it into existence.
“I’m glad we finally got out, Clo. Things have been crazy between us. Tonight made me realize we need each other. I don’t ever want to be without you again.” Gregory bent down to touch his wife’s face. She looked up at him in agreement. They had been separated for a month, thinking maybe their relationship was over. Growing apart, they called it.
After gently stroking her cheek, he kissed her. She showed acceptance by closing her eyes and allowing her body to fall into his. It was a subtle display of forgiveness. They stayed there for a few minutes, languishing in each other’s scent, and reading the other’s thoughts about the evening. Once they were completely full, their arms fell, hers from his neck, his from her waist. They locked fingers and walked back home to their apartment, using the thick cloud of amour they were floating on as their own little magic carpet. Once inside, they were both overcome with passion. Familiar love clogged their nostrils.
Clover woke up in the middle of the night, parched and searching for a glass of water. In their haste, she must have forgotten to pour one. She looked at her phone, checking to see if her sister, Sarah had sent any messages. Clover was staying with her while taking time away from Greg. Sarah knew about the date, but it hadn’t been established beforehand whether or not Clover would be staying out. When Clover pressed the home button, the bright light clawed at her eyes. From what she could tell by the quick glance, no one was looking for her. With her eyes and throat both screaming, Clover slid out of bed and walked into the kitchen. She thought for sure she was still asleep when she realized her and Gregory weren’t the only living creatures in the apartment.
As her eyes fully adjusted to the light, she walked away, thinking her consciousness was stuck in a dream and she ought to just go back to bed and make things right.
Curiosity won the fight.
Clover walked back into the kitchen. The creature was standing at the stove mixing a bubbling pot with a wooden spoon. He gazed at her cooly before offering a somber “Hello.” His voice was like molten gold. The word reverberated around the room and slid down the walls. Her feet got warm first, the heat steadily rising to her face. The curls close to her temples were dragged down with the weight of her sweat. Clover was frozen. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. A man, with the body of a majestic horse, stood in her kitchen making what appeared to be a very late pasta dinner. He had a long white mane, and wispy eyelashes she was sure she had seen before. They were like little fans on his face. His eyes looked kind and inviting. She wanted to be afraid, but wasn’t.
“Clover, do you remember when I used to take you and Sarah to the field by your grandmother’s house? We would run until we couldn’t breathe. That was freedom. You always had the most peaceful smile on your face afterwards. That’s how you looked tonight. He loves you. Trust him. Accept him.”
She looked at the centaur and nodded weakly. Cool tears fell down her cheeks. Her father had been gone since she was seven years old. An accident on the ranch. Trampled. Clover used the sleeve of her robe to wipe her face and took a seat at the dining room table.
“Daddy, can I have a little bit of whatever that is you’re making?”