One Woman Play, short ~ 2008
Insurance. I apparently yanked it out of his head at some point while he was on top of me; I think I heard him yelp, just before he slapped me hard. When it was over, I kneeled there in the desert night. Watching his tail lights fade into the distance, I wondered where the hell I was. Humiliated. Defiled. Dismissed.
I didn’t know how it was still in my hand when I finally stumbled into some rinky-dink town at dawn. I must have walked 10 miles. Shivering. Afraid to move but afraid to be alone out there with all the unseen creepy crawlies. I stuck to the road. I looked a sight, I know, stockings torn, knees bleeding, the heel on one of my $350 Ferragamo sandals just plain gone. Dammit.
I didn’t know at first why I held on to it, that tuft of hair, balled up in my fist, even as I found the taxi driver, who looked me up and down, then seemed to dig deep and find an ounce of pity. He took me first to the police station where I made a report. Then some woman cop piled me into the back seat of a squad car and took me to the clinic. I didn’t know how that tuft of hair was still there six hours later when I finally got home, how it was still clenched tight in my left fist.
The cops had asked me questions. I didn’t give them answers. Why had I gone there in the first place? What did I think I was gonna get from them? I could not have said. Don’t think he was the kind of man even the cops messed with. Too much money. Too much influence. Too much of every goddam thing.
Alone at last, I felt the cramp in my hand and looked down. I opened my fist, and there it was.
I sighed, deeply, and set it down in the little cedar box on the dresser.
I went to the bathroom, disgust finally rising up in me at the memory of how long his essence had remained on my skin, and I went through the motions of cleansing, standing under the hot shower, lathering and rinsing, lathering and rinsing, lathering and rinsing. I finished with almond oil, and put some in my hair. It almost took the taint away. And all the while I thought about the insurance policy in the cedar box.
I wondered briefly if something in the wood could work on the hair; degrade it somehow. I would transfer it to a little plastic bag, and keep it in a cool, dark place. And, I thought, if by chance a child were to spring to life inside my womb, then I would have to see him again. And I would need that insurance. It would not be something he could buy his way out of. No doctor he could bribe. The child, at least, would get its due. If I could give it nothing else, I would owe it that.
But for now, I’m going to take a smidgen — just a pinch — of that tuft of hair. I’ll take it to the obeah woman who lives off Sargent Road. That woman whom I recognized at once, but never once acknowledged. I recognized her poor woman’s wizened face, framed by her rich woman’s lively, see-everything eyes. And in that recognition I knew that on some level I am still a West Indian woman.
I still have the race memory of my ancestors, and the present knowledge nurtured at the knee of my own grandmother.
And with the obeah woman’s help, I will call on all the women in my family who are dead and gone – those ones with the insight. Those very women whose influence I rejected when I set out for the white man’s concrete jungle. Well, now. Now I’ll consult them for the proper spell, knowing that they will not fail me, or hold past neglect against me.
And I’ll cast that spell into the elements. And, with their wind beneath my wings, I’ll speak a curse upon his every waking hour.
Lighter Than Air, 2010
I know, though I am embarrassingly ignorant of the details, that Washington has seen more than one other such influx, when the then-Negroes descended upon it from “the South” after slavery and during Jim Crow (or would that be “ascended,” since they were coming north?) They were getting the hell away from all those memories. Giving up good land to get the hell away from the memories; although they would not recognize the implications of this for many years.
This is what it must have been like for Washington’s white residents of the late 50s and early 60s. It must have felt like a tidal wave. One night they went to sleep and everything was normal. The next day they awoke to find a tipping point had been reached: they lived in a different neighborhood than the one they had moved into (or been born into). Truthfully, I moved 10 years ago into in a little working class neighborhood in Sunderly Park. It’s “suddenly” about 60% Latino and that’s pretty much how I feel. Like, how’d that happen?
The city itself is getting so that it almost deserves to be spoken in capitals, like San Francisco: The City. I drive through it every day on my commute and have seen it happening, block by block. The white people are back.
* * *
I woke up in the city this morning. (It’s not in capitals yet. It’s getting there, but not yet.) My dude had coffee on by the time I dragged myself out of bed. I could smell it. I thanked God/dess for him once again, which I had lately found myself doing several times a day. He was a cute but skinny thirty-something from some nondescript town in Indiana who had come to DC in the 90’s and found his way into the technical end of TV production. For some reason, he seemed to worship the ground I walked on.
“Morning, babe,” he said, hearing me turn over or something – for God’s sake, the man had a strange radar. Should I be flattered, or creeped out? All this ATTENTION; I wasn’t used to it. I heard his footsteps approach down the hall; his face appeared in the doorway. His locks fell forward to cover his eyes and he brushed them back in an accustomed gesture that I had begun to find touching.
“Hey,” I said, struggling to sit up.
“Coffee’s on!” His other hand came into view around the door jamb and I could see that he held a frying pan with a wooden spoon sticking out of it.
“Smell it,” I said, wiping the crud from my eyes and smiling; forgetting that I hate faking smiles and that I hate mornings, and letting my genuine gratitude show. God forbid I should miss a breakfast I had not had to make myself. I felt under the covers for the woolen socks I had abandoned there during the night and stuffed my feet into them. “Be right there.”
“I’m putting on eggs,” he said, disappearing. I heard his socked feet pad back to the kitchen and the noise in there picked up. I realize he had been keeping it down while I slept. What a guy. I heard volume rise on the TV in the kitchen. Valerie Jarrett was on the Today Show defending the health care bill Democrats were trying to cram through the House of Representatives.
I decided not to shower just then. I hated cold eggs. I followed David, and plopped myself down at the table in front of the newspaper. The headline read:
“Illegal Late Night Drag Race Ends in Tragedy.” What the hell?
I started in on the Washington Post, the first of the three papers I read every day – the Post, the Wall Street Journal – well, the front page anyway, and of course the “great Yankee truth,” the New York Times. This was my life. News.
The phone rang and I answered it.