By A. Jarrell Hayes
She steps into the beauty salon smiling. Her teeth are polished ceramic gems, her fingernails clear as glass, and her hair flows like an ebony ocean. Her pumps clank to a halt. Her hand falls slightly to the side of her whimsical dress, and she smiles. This is her first day at work.
The parlor’s proprietor verbally greets her and tells her to enter. Introductions are made. “This is Sandy. Over here is Maria. You already know Tonya. Everyone, welcome Christy, our new receptionist.”
Christy had met Tonya her first night in the city. They had shared girl talk over drinks at the club. That was how Christy found out about the position.
Everyone says in sing-song voices: “Hi, Christy!”
Idle chatter ensues; the four women gang up on Christy, trying to pry secrets and dirt from her. Christy’s teeth act as a marble barricade, and not one slip–Freudian or other–passes from her lips. She doesn’t tell them about her six-month old child she abandoned at home with her mother. Or that her purpose for moving into town was to search for her father, who had abandoned her and her mother ten years earlier. It’s none of their business.
Christy likes being in control, that’s why she’s a career receptionist. She’s worked at salons, lawyer firms, high-rises; anywhere you can imagine.
A receptionist knows everything that happens in the office: who comes in, who they see, when they leave. Did they carry anything with them? Did they leave with anything? Are they important enough for one of the prime slots, or are they able to be bumped down or rescheduled if a major client needs the time?
A receptionist knows more than the boss about what’s going on in the office.
Christy can gain all this knowledge from sitting at her desk by the front window, writing in the appointment book and answering phones. She does this while filtering in data from the fluttering conversations and gossip. Nothing passes the ears of a receptionist.
Meagan, the owner, tells Christy her duties and how to perform them. In the interim between the departure of the old receptionist up until that day, Meagan had assumed the role of receptionist. She gives Christy the appointment book, along with a sheet of regular clients and their peculiarities.
“I know this is your first day,” Meagan tells Christy, “but just relax. You’ll do fine. Listen to what the other girls say; you’ll pick up a lot of the customers’ nuances from their gossip.” She smiles and waves at everyone, then disappears into her office.
Christy takes her advice. When she isn’t busy greeting a patron or answering the phone, she strains to hear the conversation between the stylists and clients, all while filing her own nails.
“Girl, let you tell you about the man I met last night.” Tonya’s velvety voice rises above the others. She doesn’t have a client yet, so she’s talking to Maria. “I met him at 5 Senses, at last night’s Grown & Sexy party.”
“Aye, why you ain’t tell me you was going, mami?” Maria has a spicy way of speaking; every word a challenge to the English language. Christy suspects she is pretending to be a Latina; the elementary Spanish Maria uses is probably something she learned off television.
“Slipped my mind,” Tonya says nonchalantly. “Anyways, like I was saying, I met this man there. He was tall and sexy chocolate. He had on nice clothes, too. I think his shoes were Gucci.”
“Eww. Gucci shoes are ugly,” says Sandy, jumping into the conversation from the manicure table. She’s with a client, but focuses more on the conversation than the woman’s nails. Luckily the customer is a regular, a favorite of Sandy’s, and is just as intent on hearing about Tonya’s adventure as her manicurist.
“Nikes and Timbs are the best,” Sandy says. “Gotta love a man that looks sexy when comfortable.”
“You need to leave them thugs alone,” says Tonya, her voice teasing. “Or you’ll end up spending all your tip money on bail.” She and Maria laugh.
Sandy sucks her teeth and rolls her eyes. “Whatever, bish.” She remembers she’s with a client, and says to her, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Johnson.”
“Don’t stress it, child,” says the older woman. A grin forms on her lips and she shakes her head.
“Anyways, back to my man.” Tonya begins to go into greater detail of her encounter at the club. At the same time, the salon receives a call that Christy has to take. She can tell by the broad-lipped grins on the faces of the women that she’s missing a juicy tale.
Christy gets off the phone with the customer just as Tonya wraps up her story. “His name is Tyrone or Tyrese or something with a T. And–mmph–is he a T: tall, thick, and talented.” She sticks her tongue out and briefly mimics cunnilingus.
Maria pushes her playfully. “Mami, you are so nasty. Giving up the coochie and not even knowing papi’s name.”
“I like them thugs but at least I ain’t no ho,” says Sandy. Christy can’t tell if Sandy is joking or not, but everyone else in the shop assumes she is.
Christy would have to rethink her employment status if a fight broke out on her first day.
“What you say?” says Tonya. “At least I can get a man. You always wearing them knock off jeans. You need to get you some style.” She glides her hands down her outfit: a pink blouse and yellow skirt. “You got to learn how to dress sexy. No man gonna want you, dressed in sneaks and caps all the time.”
“As a matter of fact,” Sandy retorts, moving her head upon her neck like it is trying to walk on marbles, “I do got a man. And I know his name, too. It’s T-Bone.”
“T-Bone? Like the steak?” Maria bursts into laughter, and out of her fake accent.
Tonya soon joins in the revelry. “Tells us about steak man. Is he well-done or rare?”
Sandy grunts, rolls her eyes, and concentrates on Mrs. Johnson’s nails. “I got nothing to tell you heifers.”
“Chill out, mami. Wes only playing, damn,” says Maria.
Sandy relents easily, because, honestly, she wants to gloat about this man. “Well, I met him at the bus stop. He was driving this silver Caddy, sitting on 24s. Yeah, it was a fresh ride. He a little older than me, but I like ‘em older. They gots more experience. Know how to treat a lady.”
“Then what is he doing with you?” says Tonya. “You ain’t no lady.” She giggles.
“He drove me home,” Sandy snaps back.
“Did he ‘drive it home,’ too,” asks Maria, cutting her eyes at her coworker.
“No, he did not. I don’t give it up on the first day, like some people. But yeah, he coming by after work to pick me up and take me to dinner.” Sandy looks at the hand she holds, moving her head back to get different angles of her handiwork. “Well, Mrs. Johnson, it looks like you’re all set.”
“Thank you, child,” says Mrs. Johnson as she rises. “See you next week.” She takes out her wallet, retrieves a handful of bills, and leaves them on the table.
“Heifer got nothing better to do than to get her nails done every damn week,” says Sandy once Mrs. Johnson is out the door. She sneers as she counts her tip money. “I need a man that’ll let me spend all his money like that.”
“What does T-Bone do, anyways? Don’t tell me he works at Applebee’s; maybe he’s on the menu.”
Sandy turns to Tonya. “I don’t know for sure what he does. I think he sells dope.” She shrugs. “But he don’t seem like one of those low-level hustlers. He gots paper. What about Mr. T?”
Tonya flips her hair. “He said something bout being an executive or something.”
The conversation lulls at this point. More customers enter and, spurned by the show TMZ playing on the shop’s flat screen TV, the subject changes to celebrity gossip; the supposedly cautionary tales of women with fortune, fame, and beauty still falling prey to no good men.
Christy listens half-heartedly to the television. She’s heard all these yarns before. Instead of Rihanna, Kelis, and Fantasia being the heroines in the stories, she’s witnessed the lives of Trisha, Fatima, and Mercedes: her mother, aunt, and sister. Her mother was abandoned by her husband, her aunt raped by a childhood friend, and her sister was in an abusive relationship. The struggle against men from the women in her family had taught her to depend on no man. But still she feels the urge to find the one man that walked out on her. The one she shares blood and DNA with. If only to ask him, Why?
The end of the work day slithers closer, hiding in the shadows of the sinking sun. Meagan finally re-emerges from her office to tidy things up so her employees can go home at a decent hour. The “open” sign dims. The money in the register gets counted.
As she cleans her chair and work area, Tonya says to Maria, “Have you heard from Tajo yet? Or is he still ditching your child support?”
“No, mami, I haven’t seen his old ass. And that punta is still three months behind on payments. You know how these men be.”
“Dogs, every last one of them.” Tonya shakes her head. “That’s why you gotta use them before they use you. We gotta use the power of the pussy to our advantage.”
“I agree,” says Sandy. “That’s why I don’t give it up on the first night. Make him work for it.” A horn honks outside. “Ooo, that must be my ride.” She wiggles her booty.
Before Sandy can gather her purse and jacket, a man appears at the shop’s door and raps upon it. He is nearly as tall as the door, with skin the color of chocolate. He is handsome and built like a man two decades younger. His salt-and-pepper hair, cut low, betrays his age. He wears an emerald suit specifically tailored to match his frame.
Sandy, Tonya, Maria, and Christy all turn to see who is at the door. They simultaneously say:
Author Bio: A. Jarrell Hayes is a poet and fiction writer. “Four Women” is from his short story collection, Popular Television, coming summer 2012. He invites you to visit his website at http://www.ajhayes.com.
Words = Life.
TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET
Her kidnappers told her not to move, but how else was she supposed to keep the blood circulating through her legs?
Sometimes she’d be sitting with her knees bent close to her chest, and when that starts to feel uncomfortable, she’d stretch her legs flat out, ankles touching. It wasn’t like she could spread her legs into the splits… the closet she was held captive in was too small for that.
The fact that her hands were cuffed behind her back was uncomfortable, too. And they were furry cuffs, like somebody’s sex toy or something. But this wasn’t some sex game taking place. Her kidnappers were serious business. They proved it after she insanely kicked on the door screaming for them to let her out, and a gut in a ski mask yanked it open and told her to shut the fuck up after he punched her in the face. Blood was still dried up under her nose.
So she hadn’t kicked or screamed again. She thought about it, but then the pain in her nose made her think otherwise. The last time she had her nose made her think otherwise. The last time she had her nose busted was when her then best friend Janet Finley caught her in the act with long-tongue Brandon, Janet’s dusty boyfriend at the time. That was two years ago, prom night, Hickman Mills High School.
Maybe this was karma. Not for fucking Janet’s man—she already got her karma for that—but a new karma for fucking her current best friend Tracee’s husband, a money-getting drug dealer named Blue Rock. Yeah, this could definitely be considered some kind of bad divine intervention. Because she had been abducted at Blue Rock and Tracee’s home. Right after she got done riding Blue Rock’s hard dick, right when she was getting dressed and had only to put on her socks, a team of three masked thugs barged in the room pointing guns at them. The big kind of guns, too.
They took her. She didn’t know what they did with Blue Rock, but they took her and threw her in the trunk of a red box-style Chevy. Kansas license plates, she remembered, with the first three letters XTY. Then after a bumpy road trip, the next thing she knew she was being pulled out of the trunk into a messy garage, furry cuffs were slapped on her wrists and she was led through a door into somebody’s humble kitchen. It wasn’t until she was ushered into the empty living room and up the rickety stairs into an empty bedroom that she realized she was in a vacant house. They stuffed her in this closet, where she’s been for at least forty-five minutes.
It was pitch black in here, not even a ray of light shining under the door. Of course, the room beyond this closet was dark as well, and she had seen a little moonlight coming through those curtainless windows before they shut the door on her. She lived in darkness now. Just her and the cobwebs. Cobwebs came with creepy spiders, so it was just her, the cobwebs and probably some hungry brown recluses.
She wasn’t supposed to be in here. This was a case of mistaken identity, she surmised. The kidnappers had apparently thought she was Blur Rock’s wifey, Tracee, and took her for ransom. But she was prettier than Tracee, taller and thinner and didn’t have to wear a girdle like Tracee; she was Kiera Franklin, queen of opulence.
Kidnappers were dumb, though. Too inattentive. But when they found out she wasn’t the wife, that she was just Blue Rock’s secret side piece, they would surely let her go.
So the question was: How long would it take them to find out?
Tracee was probably at her grandmother’s nursing home right now, where she routinely visited every Saturday around 9:30 p.m. Sometimes the girl spent the night there. And that posed a problem. If Tracee didn’t go home tonight, then she wouldn’t discover kidnappers kicking her husband’s ass and she wouldn’t be rightfully captured; thus, they wouldn’t come let Kiera go with an apology. If Tracee didn’t go home tonight, Blue Rock’s scandalous butt would let the kidnappers believe that Kiera was in fact Tracee, and he would refuse to give up his drug money. That would leave Tracee safe at the nursing home; leave Blue Rock with his money—and leave Kiera dead.
It wasn’t going down like that. Kiera had to tell kidnappers who she was.
Swinging her legs up, she beat on the door with her bare feet. The raggedy wood rumbled loudly. “Hey, you dummies!” she yelled, kicking fast like she was in a grape-smashing contest. “Come get me outta here! I’m not Tracee!”
It took a moment, but then the door was snatched open. A kidnapper in a black ski mask and gloves hunched in grabbed her by the chest of her T-shirt and—
“Don’t hit me!” she said immediately.
Lowered his fist first, but still had a hold of her shirt with his other hand. “I told you to quit fuckin’ makin’ noise,” he growled. “Now I’ma hit you one more good time, but if you kick this door another—“
“I won’t kick it again, just don’t hit me and listen to me. I’m not who you think I am.”
“I’m not. I’m serious. My name is Kiera Franklin. Yall lookin’ for Tracee Cooke; that’s Blue Rock’s wife. She’s at the nursing home off Holmes Road. I’m not her .”
The kidnapper cocked his head as if considering her story. Then he stood up straight, placed a hand on the edge of the door and stared down at her through the mask. She couldn’t see his eyes—it was too dark, even with the moonlight behind him—but she could tell he was staring, likely trying to assess her facial features.
And then he did something odd: he started to chuckle.
Just as oddly, Kiera chuckled back. “Grabbed the wrong girl,” she said understandingly. “It happens. Once, I thought I picked up my niece from day care and it turned out to be—“
He slammed the door. She could hear footsteps leaving.
The bastard didn’t believe her, she thought. But she could prove that she was Kiera Franklin. One phone call to her mom would verify her name, her address, and even her social security number if they wanted it.
She kicked on the door again. “Come back! I was tellin’ the truth! All yall gotta do is—she battered harder—“ call my damn momma!”
The wood shook with increasing looseness, and she got the idea that if she kept kicking, the old door might come unhinged. She felt a prickle in the sole of her left foot and knew it was a splinter, but that didn’t stop her from trying to get free.
“My name is Kiera! Let me go!”
The door swung out fast. And not because she broke it off the hinges. There was a different kidnapper holding it open, a shorter one who looked down at her without a ski mask.
“Last warning, bitch. And I’m not playin’. I’ll tell them to come up here and shoot you dead right now and get it over with. Because I don’t care about the money, or you.”
Kiera was horrified. “Tracee?”
“Don’t act surprised. You made yo bed, now it’s time to lie in it. And I hope you had fun suckin’ and fuckin’ my husband. Because now it’s time for you to pay.” Tracee slammed the door.
Kiera was plunged back into total darkness.
Jordan Belcher is the author of Tre Pound. For more information visit Jordan’s page or follow on Twitter.
Gone with the Wind
She breathed her last at the dawn of a New Year. She was ninety-five.
“I will live to be a hundred years,” she used to say, when anyone asked about her health. She had a great passion for living.
She had married an army man at a tender age of fifteen; he was twenty-one then. He roamed from one battalion to another until he retired. She single-handed raised the five kids that survived.
The twins, whom she bore at her late age, expired at birth. The incident haunted her ever thereafter.
She had a happy family. It broke up when Grandpa died.
Of the three male offspring in her family, the first two moved away from the house one after another. The eldest son left home in the pretext of starting a business. The second eldest son took up a job elsewhere. They took away their share of the parental property when they parted.
The youngest son stayed with Grandma. He was the apple of her eyes.
Two daughters chose to marry distant relations while Grandpa lived.
Grandma had thirteen grandchildren from her five children. She was one of the luckiest grandmas to have seen a great great-grand child in her lifetime.
Grandma first developed an irresistible pain in her stomach six months before her death. The pain continued off and on.
She first tried all sorts of things she knew to cure the ache on her own. Nothing worked. She then invited home healers to advise her. Those who came gave differing names and treatments to her ailment. None of them could put her right, though.
She never fell so sick before; nor was she taken ill for so long ever!
She soon lost her appetite and started to live on water. She turned paler and thinner day-by-day.
It had been too late when her youngest son took her to a hospital in Kathmandu to see if she could be helped. The man in mourning, as she would describe a doctor in white coat, said he felt sorry for her. She was sent home to die.
Her health continued to worsen. She exhausted her speech first. Then her eyes began to play tricks on her. She sank into a coma soon after.
The wind blew fiercely the night she struggled with death. The dog in the house howled loud and long.
At ten in the night, Grandma lay in the courtyard, gasping for breath. Her dear ones surrounded her. Mama moistened her mouth with water. Papa wiped the fluid dribbling out of her mouth. Children sobbed. The priest sat on a straw mat, chanting hymns from a holy book as loud as he could!
Neighbors and relatives soon started to tread in—the news of Grandma’s terminal condition had spread fast. Many came prepared to go to the funeral. Some ran back home to leave a word. Several went and came back with a change of clothes. A few dashed home to grab some food.
Celebrations had well begun in the vicinity with firecrackers rocking the surroundings. The New Year had just begun.
Tears soon began to run down Grandma’s eyes. She did not want to die.
Everyone wept, knowing what was to follow. It was a waste of tears though—she had to go.
The wind went wilder. The dog barked even louder. She soon started breathing harder.
The moment had come! She once looked around, as if to bid adieu to everyone.
A sudden gust of wind swept her away—she had gone with the wind!
A hush fell. Inactivity reigned. People looked at each other before they began to cry.
Soon the dog stopped barking. The wind ceased blowing. Grandma had fallen into a ‘wake-less’ slumber—she had gone away with the wind!
Then began the unusual rush—everyone had a thing to do!
Some went for green bamboo poles. Several ran for the yellow Ramnami sheet of cloth. Some headed to get flowers and vermilion powders. Several ran door-to-door to borrow things that were not readily available at home and a few sat back to console the bereaved family.
Things soon started to fall in place with everybody giving a helping hand.
Grandma lay over the rough bamboo handcart, clad in the sacred yellow cloth with golden imprints all over it—Haré Rama, Haré Krishna. Thick garlands draped her neck and chest. Red and yellow vermilion powders covered her body. Her face glowed against the night skylight—gorgeous she looked as ever before!
The procession started from the house well past midnight.
The priest led a group of funeral processions, reciting rhyming prayers; others repeated them in tandem. He tossed a mixture of coins and white rice grains over the passageway once in a while.
A small fraction of funeral precisionists aided the priest. Some lighted the way for him with kerosene lamps. Several carried ritual stuff for him. A few chased away stray dogs.
Barefooted, Papa and three others carried the handcart with each of its four ends resting on their shoulders. They changed shoulders every fifteen minutes they walked.
The funeral processions engaged themselves in various activities, including walking. A number of them shed tears. Some talked to each other. Several yawned even while they marched.
Many held battery torches in their hands. Some carried lanterns.
Someone in the procession took a head count. It was a group of forty-three—Grandma was counted out!
The procession reached the cremation site at two in the morning. An advance team had booked a crematorium by the stream. Firewood was arranged. Two helpers were appointed. Things that were not available back home were obtainable for money there!
The funeral processions queued up to pay their final respects to Grandma—the ruling the priest had given was one at a time. Her body rested on the firewood pyre, put up over the crematorium. Thick logs of wood intersected one another from all sides of the pyre.
Papa paid his last homage to Grandma, as the priest read verses from the holy book. Papa then moved round the pyre three times, pouring the holy water on the ground from a silver jar.
He lighted a tiny piece of shaving with a flame of straws on ghee. He torched Grandma’s mouth with it, tears flooding down his cheeks.
Papa set the pyre on fire through the hollow spaces underneath it. The two helpers rearranged the firewood by turn. Grandma’s body soon started to burn.
The funeral processions started to assemble in groups. Adults broached the conversation whilst youngsters listened—they had enough time to kill.
The youngsters soon started to giggle softly—the chatter had begun to matter!
Some elders dozed off, as they watched the blaze sweeping across Grandma’s body. Nothing else—the warmth of the flames was to blame.
The logs crackled—the fire had started to show its pitiless face. Grandma’s body was soon charred to ashes.
It was all over. Papa returned home with his head shaved!
The ritual mourning commenced with Papa going into quarantine in a vacant room on the ground floor. He dressed in white from head to toe.
Those who missed the funeral came home the following morning. Many offered bouquets of flowers to Grandma’s portrait, which hung on the wall by the entrance of the house. Some burnt incense sticks. An earthenware oil lamp lit beneath her picture—Grandma looked as if she was watching everybody!
The priest came every morning to guide Papa do the rites—special timing was important for each activity.
He ate one meal a day. He slept on a bed of straws. Someone escorted him every time he went out of the chamber. A group of people guarded him all the time. The ritual demanded that none – not even animals – touched him!
Visitors to the house started to grow in number. Those who came asked when it happened. Some asked her age. Some asked if she had been unwell for long. Curiosity had raised its head after her death!
Everybody, who came home from the third day, brought baskets of fruit. The house soon became full of goodies, piled over the corridor. Grandma lived no more.
Her eldest son arrived home on the fourth day. He grumbled over the belated information that came his way. So did the second eldest son, who joined the mourning on the fifth day. The two daughters reached home on the sixth day—they had had similar things to say!
The mourners observed the day of cleansing on the thirteenth day of Grandma’s death.
Women in the household woke up in the wee hours of the morning to clean the house. They had done all the washings the day before.
Men gathered at the backyard of the house to cook a feast. The household expected a big number of guests that night. They had built a shed of tarpaulin over the courtyard the previous day.
The priest came in early that day. He soon began to check gifts against the wish list he had himself prepared the other day—it was full of items that Grandma needed in her heavenly abode!
The priest’s wife soon joined in. She had to stand for Grandma that day!
Papa lighted the sacred fire of dry shavings, as the priest rehearsed hymns from the holy book. The blaze flared up every time Papa hurled a mix of ghee and barley over the fire.
The priest then began the religious procedure of gifting of things. Papa handed gifts out to the priest’s wife, one after another, as the priest chanted verses. A heap of presents soon lay near her feet—Grandma must have been very happy!
The pungent flavor of bamboo shoot soup punched one’s nostrils. The feast was now ready.
The household first treated the priest-duo. Then they sat down to eat. Children first.
Papa took salt in thirteen days. It began to work on him before long. His tongue went numb; he felt drowsy.
Invitees kept coming and going till late in the night—time was not a barring factor. Those who had attended the funeral showed up in majority.
The family sat together to eat again, when everybody had left—one did not keep the leftover for the following day anyway. They talked about Grandma while they ate—everyone had a story to tell!
The gossip changed its course, when they started to talk about ‘what next’ for Grandma.
The eldest son in business offered to erect her statue. The second eldest son volunteered to establish a revolving fund in her name. The two daughters decided to organize religious undertakings for her. Papa undertook to perform annual rites in her memory.
When it came the turn of younger generation siblings to speak, all of them promised to be good human beings in their lives. Some vowed to set up charities in her name. Several vouched to build her memorials.
One of them pledged to write a memoir on her life.
Grandma was dear to all when she lived. She was dearer once she was gone!
A City Night by Kathy Graves
The inscense burned a light musky scent in the room. The TV screen flashed images and voices flittered in the air. Another average night at Daniel’s apartment and she was there. Lisa exhaled the smoke from her lungs and watched Daniel put the blunt out. The ashtray was from her last trip to Miami, and it was the most hideous thing she had ever seen. But the little brown Rastah man lounging on the marijuana leaf made her think of no one but Daniel. And he certainly made good use of it by the amount of ashes and roaches it held. Daniel choked on the exhale, reached for his signature rum and coke and took a slow swallow.
Lisa relaxed into the groaning couch, her head feeling light, her mood mellow. She sighed, feeling calm and at peace in his studio apartment. Her eyes too in her small sanctuary; the green leather loveseat she relaxed on in the living room; a tan office chair; the cherry wood entertainment stand with a large flat screen TV and shelves full of miscellaneous junk; a light colored wood desk that looked homemade and a small green and white area rug. His queen size bed swallowed the space next to the one person kitchen. She chuckled knowing it was there for convenience because he can reach the refrigerator when laying there. The walk in closet, with all of his clothes hung neatly, a dresser tucked in the back and shoes spewed across the floor was right next to the bathroom. Anyone else would feel trapped but Daniel didn’t care.
It was simple and cozy, and to Lisa, that’s what made it so nice. It stood as a reflection of him, no pretense. You get what you see, nothing more and nothing less. That is what drew her to him, his complex simplicity. Daniel was unlike any man she had known or been involved with. For that reason Lisa always found herself right where she was that night.
“You know how to play chess?” He asked pulling Lisa from her hazy thoughts.
“Huh? No. I don’t even remember how to play Chinese checkers.”
His mood flipped and he looked like a kid fresh off of punishment. His eyes were wide and eager.
“Well I’m gonna teach you.”
“Are you serious?” She laughed at how much his eyes lit up.
“Yeah. It’s easy, and you’re a smart girl so you’ll catch on.”
He pulled himself to his knees from the floor and reached for a box beneath some dusty books on the dusty shelves. From the thick layer of dust on the box, it looked like it hadn’t been played in years. His biceps peeked out from his shirt and his muscles contracted as he maneuvered the box out. His contorted body looked unnaturally graceful and languid, and heat rushed through Lisa. He had that affect on her; the way he moved, his voice, looking into his eyes made her stomach leap in circles. And when she was high it was so much more intense. He crawled over to the couch and placed the box on her lap and she couldn’t contain her amusement.
“Ok, red or black?” He asked, setting the board up on the cushion beside her.
“I don’t care.” Her voice rose and fell like a bass line, “Whatever you want. I can’t believe you’re for real right now.”
“You’re red, I’m black. This is how it works.”
His mouth started moving but Lisa couldn’t grasp his words. He was explaining how the pieces move and her mind was gone. Daydreaming about them being in bed, kissing and touching made it impossible for her to listen. His words sounded like gibberish and hung in the air in front of her.
“What?!” Her face frowned in confusion, “I don’t even know what you’re saying.”
“Look and listen. Damn, girl, I swear you are slow sometimes.” His deep laughter fell over her like a snowdrift.
“I agree! Which is why you are so wasting your time.”
A heavy knock sounded from the back door and Lisa’s paranoia instantly kicked in making her heart race. Daniel looked out the corner of his eye and laughed out loud. She looked like she was about to jump out of her skin.
“That’s the weed man,” he chuckled. “About damn time, I’ve been waiting since like five.”
He rose slowly, turning the corner and his flat feet slapped the linoleum floor. Six steps and then the blinds crinkled open. Daniel peeked through to see his neighbor on the other side. He mumbled what may have been English, but Lisa couldn’t tell, and opened the door.
“What up man?” They shook hands.
“Nothing,” he said, dropping his head. “Dude, somebody got shot out front.”
“What the fuck?” Daniel’s head snapped up.
“Yeah. You didn’t hear it?” He crossed his arms over his chest, “The police are out there now.”
“Naw, man, I didn’t hear nothing. Let me get some shoes and I’ll come check it out.”
Daniel rounded the corner and slid his feet into his Nike sandals. He looked at Lisa, surprised to see her eyes almost bugged out of their sockets and her mouth hanging open. He could see the water pooled in the corner of her eyes and avoided her gaze.
“I’ll be right back.” He turned quickly.
Before Lisa could form words in protest, he was gone. Double footsteps trotting down the three flights of wooden stairs rippled through the air until they sounded like faint echoes. Oh my god, what is he thinking? What if something happens to him? Her breathing became heavy and her nerves made her legs antsy. If he gets hurt what will I do, what can I do? Nobody even knows I’m here! Her high had her brain fuzzy, making it hard to focus. Unconsciously, she slid the chess pieces into the box, folded up the board and put it away.
Lisa tried to look through the blinds but his apartment was in the back on the third floor, giving no view other than the building across the courtyard. She stood in the living room absorbing the quiet. Then suddenly it was too quiet. The thud of her heart and her thoughts reverberated off the walls. Distant footsteps came from the stairs, louder, louder, then he opened the door breaking her trance. It felt like hours had passed and she breathed for the first time.
Everything in the room slowly came back to life. The voices from the television murmured the light in the bathroom buzzed, and the refrigerator hummed. Daniel entered the living room with a somber face.
“The police are everywhere. He was just a kid, they think like sixteen. All I saw was his feet.”
“Wow.” Lisa fell onto the foot of the bed, watching Daniel pace in front of her.
“I know. You should probably wait a little bit before you leave. They have the street blocked off.”
Daniel sat on the bed, so close she could feel his body heat. Neither of them spoke; what could be said? Daniel reached for her hand and she held tight to it. Neither could comprehend the thought of a dead body laying on the ground just outside the big iron gate they walked through every day. Daniel kept thinking that the young man had a mother and a father, maybe even sisters or brothers, and he wanted to punch something. It made him sick to his stomach. Made him angry at society and the system that let young men fall through the cracks. He saw kids every day, had their best interest in mind eight to ten hours a day. It was his job, but at the moment it was so much more.
“You ok?” He squeezed her clammy hand.
“Yeah, I guess. Just shocked. What if I had been leaving when it all happened?” She looked at him, “I don’t understand it.”
“That’s why I don’t want you walking to your car alone.” Their eyes connected and the air became charged with emotion.
“Ok, but then you have to walk back here alone. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“You know I’ll be ok Lisa, I’m a grown ass man!” He laughed, trying to ease her angst.
“Even grown men get shot,” she sighed and lowered her gaze. “You can walk me to my car, but if I’m far I’ll drop you back off.”
“Ok. If it will make you feel better.” He shrugged.
Lisa smiled past her trembling insides. Daniel let go of her hand, wrapping his arm around her, pulling her closer to him, against him, and squeezed. He should have told her how he felt but the words never came, so he made the choice to show her. In the way he cared for her, looked out for her; in the late night intimate calls filled with laughter and conversation. Or the secret nights they spent in his apartment. In his mind Lisa knew because his actions told her more than any words ever could.
Daniel had always said their situation was complicated. He was involved with another woman and Lisa had recently ended a three-year relationship. Their relationship was easy, comfortable. Each finding a piece of themselves in the other. There was an undeniable, unspeakable magic that both had finally stopped fighting. And it was the way it all fit and felt so right that made it hard. Hard to not blur the lines and confuse their fantasy with the reality outside of those walls.
Lisa stopped asking questions and pushing for answers about them. Daniel had begun to let down his guard and expose himself. He told her to relax and let it flow. And now they were best friends, each others confidant, and lovers. Daniel feels something deep, an emotional river, running through him. She relaxed into him and he smiled.
Their mood weighted heavier with sadness and time ticked at an agonizing pace. Lisa sat up, adjusting her shirt when he leaned over and kissed her. Her breath caught, allowing him to devour her mouth with his. Their lips parted and neither spoke, the silence speaking their thoughts. He interlocked their hands and pulled her body closer, touching his lips to her cheeks, ears, neck, momentarily escaping the thoughts that haunted them.
“I should probably go,” she said in a whisper. “I need to get my mind and my papers ready for tomorrow. Can’t let the kids know I’m a mess.”
“Ok,” he pulled back, “where’d you park?”
“Right across the street.”
They sat for a moment, fingers locked, breathing in sync. Breaking the connection, Lisa grabbed her purse from the chair and walked the few feet to the door. Daniel came up behind her, touching his body to hers. Lisa leaned back resting against him, wanting to melt into him.
“Come on,” he said, nudging her limp body out the door with his chest.
Walking down the stairs Lisa felt like she was headed towards the unknown. Something in the air said life would be very different after this experience. They stepped into the courtyard to see the blue and red lights from several police cars flashing against the buildings. Lisa hoped it was the last of everything, but as they stepped quietly closer to the gate it was clear things were just beginning. Although it appeared as if the whole neighborhood was outside, it was absolutely quiet. The trees would not have even rustled if the wind blew. He pushed the heavy gate open and they walked through, letting it slam lightly behind them. The street and sidewalks were filled with people. The coroner’s truck was parked on the corner, halfway in the middle of the intersection, just under the viaduct. The street was still blocked off on either end by unmarked police cars.
The sky was silky navy blue, and so clear the stars looked like glass teardrops. In the still darkness, the air was sat heavy with sadness. Daniel led her through a group of people whispering about the dead boy on the sidewalk. Two more steps and she paused, jolting Daniel to a stop. Her eyes focused on the sidewalk and he followed her gaze. The body looked like a life-size ragdoll thrown to the ground. There was a frenzy of activity around the body and he lay lifeless. The bottom of one white gym shoe and the other leg bent inward at a right angle with a white sock stood out against the backdrop of people buzzing around it. His pant legs were up, and Daniel was thankful that they couldn’t see more from where they stood. Trembles rolled up and down Lisa’s body and he put his arm around her.
A loud wail came from the corner and drizzled over the crowd. More people, family Lisa thought, began to huddle in a group screaming and crying. Daniel tried to pull Lisa along but she wouldn’t move. He wanted to get her in the car and was angry with himself for not making sure the scene had been cleared before bringing her out. As Lisa pried her feet from the cement, the back of the coroner’s truck opened and two men hopped out. She and Daniel stopped paused knowing what was happening next. The Red Line chugged by slower and quieter than normal. It too seemed to be having a moment of silence.
A soft breeze floated through as the officials unfolded a blue tarp. It crackled and snapped with the wind picking up and flowing around it. More cries pierced the clear sky, shattering the calm that had settled. Two men held the front corners and walked with it open, flying in the wind like a flag hanging listlessly on a pole. The gusts of wind came stronger and more frequent and the artificial material is howled. It’ screamed to the heavens in unison with the family. The sounds bounced off each other, sending the yelping cries one way and the ripple of the tarp another. The cloth was restless in their hands, trying to escape them. Like it was protesting the life that had been taken too soon.
Daniel tightened his hold on Lisa. If he were not the man that he was, trying to be strong at that moment, the tears clinging to the whites of his eyes would have fallen down his cheeks. His face was stone looking toward the scene, not willing to crack. Not wanting to break that damn of emotion that was wavering inside of him. Lisa stared up at him, touched by the sadness in the lines above his eyes. The tarp blew in the suddenly endless wind, now cool and sharp, as the officials cover the body. A high pitched scream caused goose bumps to travel over Lisa’s arms and she tucked her head into Daniel’s shoulder. Her mind tore through images of the kids she saw at the high school. The kids she tried to put on the right track so they wouldn’t end up in the street or another statistic. Faces and names popped up like fireworks behind her eyelids and she sank deeper into Daniel’s chest.
Daniel led her to the car and stopped. She wasn’t sure she could feel, or breathe again. She wasn’t even sure she was thinking. Then he hugged her tight to him, kissing her forehead lightly. It was like a drizzle of rain on a sunny summer day, making her aware of the present. She blinked up at Daniel peering at her. Looking at her. Inside of her.
“Hey,” his voice a soft, husky whisper of concern.
“Yeah,” she squeaked, trying to smile, her resolve dissolving as she stared into his eyes. “He can’t be more than sixteen.”
“I know. This shit is fucked up. They’re saying it might be gang related.” He tilted his head back and gave a sad smile, “This is not for me. I need to move from over here.”
“I agree. This is too much.”
Daniel hugged her again, and Lisa wished they could always be that way. They had never been closer, and she hated to leave. She closed her eyes and breathed him into her. The tarp gurgled, doing the wave over the body. The cries hiccup through the sky and their grip on each other tighten. She wanted to tell him she loved him, she needed to. Her mouth opened but words escaped her. She was stuck, just clinging to him, not wanting to let go. Daniel leaned down the six inches, kissing her lips gently, longingly. He took her key, unlocked the door and opened it.
“Call me when you get home. As soon as you get in. Don’t be waiting like you usually do,” he ran his thumb down the side of her face.
“Ok. I promise,” she nods, eyes still closed.
Daniel grabbed her hand and gently kissed her cheek. He has never been this affectionate and Lisa is very aware of his closeness. She decides that it’s the mood of the night that’s causing him to act this way. Whatever the reason, she was grateful. It was a small glimpse of his feelings but enough for her. These occasions of raw emotion were few and far between, so she didn’t push the moment any farther. He had comforted her and she had to bank on that.
Lisa folded her body into the car and he closed the door. Daniel motioned for her to lock it, winked and walked away. Waiting for the roadblocks to be moved she watched him pause on the curb, look down the street and drop his head. His shoulders slumped like the weight of the world was on them. If she had the strength she would have jumped out of the car and run to him. She shook the thought from her mind. Her life was no movie and would never play out like one, or have that happy ending.
Exhaling the roller coaster of emotion from the night’s events, Lisa took one last glance back at him. The stars illuminated his skin, making his bald head glow a polished chocolate brown. She licked her lips trying to taste what remained of him. When he approached the gate, he looked back at her and smiled quickly, a flash of white stopping time.
“I am so in love with him,” she whispered aloud for the first time.