PEGGY RAMBACH

 

Days Like This
A Memoir

in-progress
Jahmeilla Tresvant

I

It always rained on days like this and when it stopped the pigeons huddled around the puddles. I heard the church bells ring and leaned around the edge of the pew. Everyone gathered together, walking in one by one. Everyone was stunningly dressed to impress in all black. But there was nothing stunning about their faces. Heads were down and everyone who slowly passed seemed sad.

My chest started to tighten. I sat up straight and leaned back in my seat, placing my hand over my heart and closed my eyes, squeezing them as tight as I could. My mind faded in and out, but my vision was clear. All I could see was my dad sitting in the passenger seat of the car while my mom drove, and me in the back seat. He focused toward the stereo and placed his hand on the nob, turning the music up as loud as he could. He began to nod his head to the beat as he always did when this song came on. I followed along with him, nodding my head up and down just exactly as he did. My dad looked back at me and smiled. His smile always reminded me of the Joker’s. His pearly white teeth his long beautiful braids. I smiled back as we looked into each other’s eyes, mouthing the words to his favorite Tupac song:

Baby don’t cry,
You got keep your head up
Even when the road is hard
Never give up.

Never give up. From that very moment, a day that I thought was going to be good seemed sad. I opened my eyes looking straight at the casket that sat a couple of feet before me.

When everyone was finally seated, a priest stood at the pulpit and spoke. I wasn’t paying him any mind because I barely understood anything he talked about. I just stared down at the obituary that had been passed out to everyone, trying my hardest to sound out the words on the paper. My eyes got tired and I became frustrated, tossing and turning in my seat.

My mother stood up, holding the obituary in her hands and began to speak. Her hair was bone straight and she had on a pretty long black dress that hugged her coke bottle shape. As the words came out of her mouth, tears began to drizzle down her face and her voice choked; and then there were no more words, but only pain painted over her face.

I stood up and walked past my mother to the end of the casket. On top of the casket’s bottom lid, was a bouquet of flowers that I thought were very pretty. I pulled out a rose, that was purple, my favorite color. Then, shifting over to the open side of casket, I looked down before me to see my father.

He was dressed in a suit, something I never had known him to wear. His braids seemed to be the way they always were, but his skin was so dark, darker than I had ever seen it before. I placed my right hand on top of where his hand rested. He didn’t move, flinch or open his eyes. Instead, my hand rested there to feel how cold and hard he was. I felt death, and in that moment I realized this might be the last time I would get to see my father ever again.

With my hand still on my father’s, I lifted my left hand, raising it up to the casket, making it visible. I put my hand on his breast pocket. “Good bye, Daddy,” I said. I turned around to a room full of tears looking at me. My mother walked over to me, towering above. As she wiped the tears from her eyes, she kneeled down to my level, pulled me to her, chest to chest, and wrapped her arms around me. She spoke softly, whispering in my ear, “Everything is going to be okay. Mommy got you.”

II

I leaned back on the leather seat and turned my head to look out the window. I could barely see the outside world. The rainstorm came down so strong everything was a blur. I placed my hands on the back of the seat in front of me and pulled my body up. I poked my head up and stared through the front bus window trying to see where we were. I felt like I was under water with my eyes open. The windshield wipers rocked back and forth and my eyes followed. The bus jerked, knocking me onto my butt. I hit my head against the back of the leather chair. A girl sitting across from me stood up and laughed. She always wore her hair in two ponytails, and always sat in the same place. The bus driver turned around to let her know it was her stop. The young girl bent over to pick up her pink Dora backpack and skipped all the way to the front and off the bus. Although I couldn’t see outside I knew my stop was next because I always got off after her.

I placed my hand between my legs, grabbed my bag, put it on my lap, and unzipped the sides. I scrambled through it trying to find my hat, but it wasn’t there. I left it at school in my cubby once again. The bus driver turned around and signaled to me to let me know it was now my turn to get off. I got up and grabbed my backpack, ran to the front of the bus and down the stairs but stopped on the very last step. I tilted my head downward and saw how the street was filled with deep water. I was so excited. I closed my eyes and jumped of the bus onto the curb.

The splash from all the water soaked my pants. The rush from all the water filled my sneakers and my feet were under water. The wind was so strong it knocked me to the ground and the rain smacked against my face. I could still hear the engine form the bus behind me. Still sitting on the ground I turned my head and watched the doors close, and the bus drive off. My clothes were completely drenched. I stood up and looked around to see where my mother was. I saw a lady coming towards me with a pretty pink umbrella. The lady didn’t stop and she walked past me not even looking at me and then I definitely knew it wasn’t my mom.

I decided to wait for her under a nearby tree. Maybe she was running a little late today. The force from the rainstorm was wild and I could barely keep my balance. I wrapped both my arms around the tree holding it tight to keep from falling over. The beating of the rain against my face was too much to bear. So I turned around with my back facing the tree and slid down with my knees at my chest. I put my face down to my knees and wrapped my arms around my head to stop the rain from hitting my face. I waited for a while and listened to the sound of the rain, the boom of the thunder, and the whistle of the wind, but not once did I hear my mother call my name.

Once the thunder stopped and the winds slowed down I came out from under the tree and started to head home. I knew my way home from here. I was going to take all the shortcuts that my mother and I took when she picked me up from the bus stop. She probably just overslept. I couldn’t wait to get home. I was soaked from head to toe and freezing. I took the pathways through the townhouses.

Being in the rain was kind of fun. I jumped and splashed till I got to my Clubhouse where my friends and I always played. We tied a rope to a tree we would swing on and then roll down the hill. I ran and jumped onto the rope swinging back and forth then I let go and slid down the muddy hill. When I got to the bottom I lay there and closed my eyes making mud angels, listening to the water around me rush like I was in a stream. I sat up and started rubbing the orange mud all over my body and face making a facial and mud cakes.

It began to get dark and the heavy rain, wind, and thunder started again. It frightened me and then I realized it was time to keep heading home. My mother was probably worried sick about me. I stood up quickly and ran down the path behind some townhouses than across the parking lot to where my house was. My mom’s car was outside, so I knew she had to be home. As I ran, the wind pushed me so hard I felt like I was walking on air. When I got to the door I knocked repeatedly, knocking as hard as I could, screaming at the top of my lungs “Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma” but nobody answered. Then I rushed to the window next to the door and tried to pull it open. It was always open but this time it was locked which was weird.

I began to cry worried where my mother could be and scared for her. What if she was dead? There’s no way she would leave me like this. I ran over to where her car was and noticed the door was unlocked. I was relieved that I had some type of shelter. I climbed into the front seat and slammed the door. I sat back and placed my hand on the lever below the seat to adjust it up to the steering wheel. I began to honk the horn. Maybe my mother was sleeping and once she heard the loud honk of the horn it would awaken her. But nothing worked. Instead I just lay there waiting for someone to come rescue me. It was so cold that when I breathed in and out I could see white smoke coming out of my mouth and my teeth chattered. I got up and climbed in the back seat where I could lay down better and rocked back and forth holding myself until I slowly fell asleep.
“OH MY GAWD” a loud voice cried. I jumped up, recognizing the voice that came from outside the car. I saw my mother standing in the rain with and umbrella. I jumped up and into her arms.

“I’m so sorry, Meilla, I was trine to come back in time to get you but stupid Dana had to drop off a rental and wouldn’t drop me home.”

Dana was my uncle on my dad’s side, but was now my mother’s boyfriend. Even though he was my uncle, I hated him. Even though he took care of me and my mother, I still hated him. He was the reason why we lived in Stone Mountain Georgia with no family. All I had was her, and for a moment I thought I had lost her too.

III

The school year was over, but that didn’t change anything. The only difference was I didn’t have to start my days early, and I’d get to play with the other kids on the block longer. My mother never called me in, so when most of the other kids’ parents called them in I’d still be outside playing with my other friends whose mother never cared how late they stayed out.

When the sun set I would hide in a cave that was in a small forest. The forest was at the end of my neighborhood in the center of the two rows of town houses. The trees were tall and kudzu vines wound around them twisting together to shape into a cave. At the opening there were poison ivy vines that I was careful to never touch. Malachi, Heather, Elizabeth, Daren and I would all enter the cave and sit in a circle in the dirt to play Duck, Duck Goose until the bats came out.

I would stare up at the purple sky watching the hundreds of bats in the air. I knew they weren’t birds; birds had a glide to their flap while bats flapped their wings up and down really fast to stay in the air. The bats were small, and all black, and their wings had multiple curves on each side that looked like upside-down U’s. Heather was one of the oldest girls. She told us how if the bats get in our hair that it would get tangled, and our parents would have to cut them out of our hair. We all made sure we were in the cave before they came out because no one wanted bats in their hair.

One night when the sky darkened and all the bats disappeared, car turned onto our street. It wasn’t the car the loud music pouring out its open windows that caught our attention. As the care rolled down the street its head lights blinded my vision. The closer it got the more intense the light became. I raised my hands to cover my face and block out the light. The car turned in front of the town house three doors away. Heather and Daren looked at each other and then jumped up, first one, then the other. Heather’s eyes popped out of her head and she signaled to Daren to come on. Daren squatted down in front of me and hugged me good bye, then ran after Heather who was already approaching the car.

A light skinned woman got out of the car. Her hair was long and she had on all black. Her clothes fit her like her skin and she had on red heels to match her red lipstick. That was Daren and Heather’s mom. She was beautiful. “Get the fuck in the house! How many times do I have to tell y’all to not leave this house!” she yelled.
Daren and Heather’s mother was never home. She would occasionally come by the house to drop off groceries, but Daren and Heather were supposed to come straight home after school and not come out. Daren told me that they couldn’t even answer the door for anyone. They had to make it look like nobody was home because they weren’t supposed to be home alone. Every so often their mother would come home and they would be outside, playing. Their mother would scream for them to get in the house and they would get spanked.
I could tell that night that Daren was getting beat first. I could hear him screaming and crying for her to stop all the way from where I was sitting outside. Elizabeth and Malachi just stood there laughing at what we were hearing, but I felt bad. I really liked Daren and Heather and didn’t think they deserved that. Plus, Daren was my boyfriend and I wanted him to spend more time playing outside with me.

My stomach started to growl, so I told Malachi and Elizabeth I would be at their house a little later.
My mother found us a place in Stone Mountain Georgia. It was the nicest place we had ever lived, so far. The apartment had an upstairs and a downstairs. Upstairs were my room and my mother’s and in both of our rooms were full walk-in bathrooms. Then downstairs there was a half-bathroom, a huge kitchen, and a nice size living room. My mother decorated the apartment nicely, too compared the ones we lived in back home in Boston.
I could smell my mom’s cooking as I approached the house steps. Barbeque pork chops, cabbage and yellow rice. My favorite. I stepped in the house and my uncle Dana was sitting on the couch smoking a blunt. He turned his head to focus toward me down the hall. He smiled at me and continued to smoke his blunt.
“Meilla, is that you?” my mother said.
“Yes, Ma. I’m home.”

I walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table watching my mother prepare two plates. I’d been outside all day playing. I couldn’t wait to eat.
“Meilla. These plates are for me and Dana. You’re going to have to start pouring your own juice and making your own plate of food. Okay, Mamas?”
“Why can’t Dana make his own plate of food? Why couldn’t you make my plate, too?”
“You’re a big girl. You have to start doing things for yourself. I can’t keep babying you and Dana is my man.”

My mother was right. It was time for me to start doing things on my own, but I hated the fact that she did things for Dana, too. I couldn’t believe she was really with my uncle because he betrayed my father by messing with my mother and he betrayed my dad. He betrayed me too and I hated him for that. He got in between everything and now that he was with my mom, a lot of things started to change between me and her. Just like he slowly took my mother away from my father, he was starting to slowly take her away from me, too.
I made my own plate of food and sat on the counter in the kitchen watching my mother and Dana eat and watch TV. And gaze into each other’s eyes. I remember when my mother used to look at me like that, but since Dana had been around, she hadn’t really noticed much.

My kitchen had an opening where I could see into the living room, I just sat on the counter watching TV. From the kitchen. I didn’t want to be anywhere near my mother or uncle. The thought of them disgusted me.
After a while, my mother got up and collected their plates and walked to the kitchen. Dana got up and followed right behind her with his eyes glued to her backside. My mother walked over to the sink next to where I was sitting and put the plates in the sink. Dana, who was still behind her, grabbed her from behind and started to kiss my mother’s neck, I hopped off the counter and ran out of the kitchen in disgust, all the way to the living room and jumped on the couch face first. I lifted my head up to see my mother and Dana still in the kitchen by the sink, kissing. As I dropped my head back down to hide my face, I noticed something on the coffee table in front of me. I sat straight up on the couch and then slid forward on my knees with my chest against the coffee table. I noticed an all-black gun sitting on the coffee table like the ones I was used to seeing on TV. I glanced back up to look to see if my mother and Dana were still kissing at the sink, but they were not. I stood up and walked closer to the opening where I could see into the kitchen to see where they were and if the coast was clear. My mother and Dana had stepped deeper into the kitchen and were holding a conversation. I knew from where they were that they couldn’t see the coffee table or the couch, so I ran back to the coffee table and grabbed the gun.

The gun was bigger than my two hands and was heavier than I expected it to be. It dropped out of my hands hitting the floor and making a loud crash. I turned around to see if my mother had heard the noise and was startled, but I could tell from the on-going conversation neither one of them heard a thing. I kneeled down on one knee to pick the gun back up. I examined it, flipping it around to one side and the other and I pointed it toward the wall with my finger on the trigger. I felt in control and with this gun the world was at my feet. I closed my eyes and imagined pulling the trigger, making a loud noise and the whole neighborhood would hear it and probably call the police. The police would come and know that the gun belonged to Dana and probably take him away. With him gone, things would go back to their old ways and my mom wouldn’t be mad at me. Nobody ever told me not to ever touch a gun even though I knew I was not supposed to.

I lifted my arms higher in the air with my finger still on the trigger. Nothing happened. Nothing came out. Maybe I didn’t push hard enough. This time I put two fingers on the trigger with my arms still high in the air and pressed down as hard as I could and still, nothing. I guess this stupid gun it broken, I thought. I placed it back onto the table and ran into the kitchen to check the time on the stove. The clock read 10:00 and when I walked in; my mom and Dana were sitting at the kitchen table still talking.
“Ma,” I said.
“Yes, Jahmeilla,” she said.
“I’m going over Malachi and Elizabeth’s house to play.”
“Okay. Well net time you see me having a conversation, say excuse me.”
“Okay.”
“Meilla. Don’t come back in this house too late. Have Malachi and Elizabeth walk you back.””
“All right, Ma!”
Malachi and Elizabeth lived in house a couple of streets down from me on the opposite side of the street. They also lived in a town house like mine. When I arrived, Malachi and Elizabeth were already outside in front of their house playing.
“Hey guys. Was sup?”
“It took you long enough, punk,” Malachi said.
“Yeah, I know.”
“Want to play up on the roof tonight?” Elizabeth said.
“Yeah! Let’s go!”
The three of us all ran into the house and up the stairs to where Malachi and Elizabeth slept. I was the last to walk in and Elizabeth closed the door behind me and locked it. Malachi ran over to the window and was just about to open the door when we heard a loud knock.
“Who is it?” Elizabeth said.
“Open this damn door, girl!”
Elizabeth unlocked the door and opened it.
“What I tell ya’ll about locking this damn door and what I tell ya’ll about bringing company over without asking me first. Hi Jahmeilla. How you doin’?”

Heather and Malachi’s mother was a heavyset woman. Her hair was thick at the roots and straight at the ends. She was a tall dark skinned lady and she wore her clothes baggy. She was sloppy; the house was always a mess. She never did anything and she always wore the same red t-shirt every day.
“Hey. I’m fine,” I said.
“Do yah mama knows you’re over here at this time of night?”
“Yeah, I asked her if I could stay the night if that’s okay with you,” I lied. I knew she wasn’t going to call my mother and ask her anyways, and I didn’t want to go home.
“Yeah, Jahmeilla. You’re always welcome. Y’all have fun and don’t lock this door now.”
When the coast was clear, Elizabeth closed the door and locked it. She knew, just like I knew, her mother wasn’t coming back to check up on us.

Malachi opened the window and climbed on the roof. Me and Elizabeth grabbed some pillows and a blanket off the bed and headed out the window right after. We laid the blanket out and placed our pillows on top. We looked up into the black beautiful sky and counted the stars until we all fell asleep.

IV

I kneeled down on one knee with my hands on the concrete and my head down admiring the new all-white Nikes my mom just bought me. Timothy, who was a little bit on the chunky side, was next to me in the same position, waiting for his little brother, Tyrus to get to the end of the parking lot so we could get things started. Timothy used to be the best at everything they played around here till I came around. So he was always competing with me. We raced every day and I always dusted him, but today was special. He bet his sparkling yellow see-through yoyo, and I had bet my favorite candy bar, Snickers: winner takes all.

Tyrus finally got to the end of the parking lot and I looked over at Timothy and gave him a smirk, letting him know what was about to go down. By the time I looked back up, Tyrus screamed, Go! And I peeled off, looking ahead with my head held high. My legs moved rapidly and stretched out so long, it was like I was leaping down the parking lot, my arms shifting up and down, moving as fast as my legs.
Timothy wasn’t next to me or in front of me. As I ran, I twisted my upper body around to look back while I still moved at the same pace to see that Timothy was far behind me, and slowing down like he was about to give up. I smirked at him again, getting closer to the finish-line. I could hear the neighborhood kids tease Timothy, who was bent over now, with his hands on his knees, gasping for air. I walked to him to claim my prize Timothy looked up at me, with fire in his eyes. He stood up straight with his fist balled. His eyes were beet red and his face started to shiver.
“Timothy! You just got beat by a girl!” Malachi said.
“Meilla always wins. You can’t beat her, Timothy,” Daren said.

I held my hand out in front of me, smiling and proud. Timothy’s chest pumped in and out and I could hear the deep breathes he took. I watched as he gradually began to open his hand. But there wasn’t a sparkly yoyo inside it. Instead, Timothy shifted his hand far away from his body, swung it around and open-hand smacked me in my ear.

“Aaaaah! I said, closing me eyes and grabbing the side of my face, covering my ear with my hands. My ear was burning and started to ring. Then I saw that to the left of me on the sidewalk was a pile of sticks. I ran to the curb, picked up a stick from the top of the pile, ran back and hit Timothy in the face with it and then hit him again and again. Timothy screeched and screamed for me to stop but I couldn’t hear him. My eyes were burning and I could no longer see him curled up on the ground. I felt the snap when the stick broke, but that didn’t stop me. It only made me more enraged. I only stopped hitting him when I got tired.
“I’m telling my mother,” Timothy said, as he stood to his feet.

Timothy’s face was all scratched up by the stick and he had welts all over his arms and legs. He ran toward his house. I ran towards mine. I entered my house and ran upstairs to find my mother, who was in her room with Dana. She was lying on her back while Dana was resting his head on her stomach. She was stroking his head, gently. They were talking, about what – I have no idea. I told her what had happened and showed her my ear that was still red from the smack.
Then we heard the doorbell. My mother, Dana and I went downstairs. My mom stood on her tippy toes to look out the peephole, then opened the door to Timothy and his mother. Timothy’s mother was short, dark-skinned with a cute short haircut, but she was fat, just like Timothy.
“Look at what your damn daughter did to my son.”
“That’s what he gets,” my mother said. “He should have never put his hands on my daughter, bitch!” My mother moved closer in on Timothy’s mother.
My mother had always been a fighter, whether I was there or not. She’d throw down in a heartbeat, and then would keep it moving. And by the look of her body language, I knew something was about to go down. Dana stepped in between the two, laughing.
“Dyka. Get in the house. This is over,” Dana said.
We all went in and Dana slammed the door in Timothy’s mother’s face.
“Meilla. Don’t play with that lil boy no more,” Dana said.

I knew going outside again that day wasn’t an option, so I went into my room and played for the rest of the night with my crazy kitten Jasni until my mother opened my door. She told me she was going to be gone for a couple of days because she was working her airplane job and Dana was going to watch me. My mom hadn’t worked a day in her life and I knew she didn’t have to work on any airplane job. I had never been left alone with Dana before and wasn’t too happy about spending a couple of days under his supervision.
The next morning, lying in my bed, I woke up to the smell of bacon. Dana was in the kitchen at the stove, cooking.
“Ma!” I said.
“She already left. It’s just us. You hungry?” Dana said.
“Maybe,” I replied.
“Well, there’s bacon and eggs and these pancakes are almost done. After you eat – if you decide to eat – get dressed. We got to go,” he said.
“Nah. I’ ma stay here.”
“Your mother said not to leave you in the house alone, so you’re rolling with me until she gets back.”

I couldn’t believe my mother left without saying good bye. Then she had the nerve to leave me with Dana. After I was finished eating, I went back upstairs to get dressed. I brushed my hair into a neat ponytail on top of my head. I had so much hair my puff was bigger than my head. I put on my favorite all-white dress with ruffles at the ends. I loved that dress because it came up high above my knees. Then I slipped on my brown Mary-Kate and Ashley cowboy boots.
“Meilla when you’re ready, I’m waiting down here,” Dana shouted

I sat on my bed then lay back staring at the cracks on the ceiling. My mind told my body not to move, giving me that early morning feel of not wanting to get up. I really didn’t even want to be or even go anywhere with Dana, but I had to. Dana was already waiting. I could tell because the smell of his strong cologne lingered up the stairs. I followed it down to where he was.

He had on a brown leather jacket with the leather pants to match – real leather with some alligator shoes. He wore a gold watch and a couple rings on his fingers and chains around his neck. Dana was a fly guy with a lot of money. He was a big time drug dealer and in the trafficking drug business. He was also a pimp. He used females as mules, and even though I didn’t know it for a fact, I think he used my mother from time to time as his mule to. At least that’s what I overheard my grandmother say one time, who despised him. My mother was probably out there now trafficking drugs on a plane and I had to spend the day with Dana.
Dana opened the front seat car door and stepped to the side. I placed my hand on the rear door handle to get in the back seat.
“You want to drive?”
I got in the driver seat instead, and Dana got in the passenger. He reached his hand over me to move the seat up close enough so I could reach the pedals.
“Your right foot, the one closest to me is the gas. That’s how you move the car. The bigger pedal is the break. That’s how you stop the car.”
I placed my hand on the wheel and looked forward. I could see, but barely. Dana leaned across me to pop the trunk and got out to get two yellow-page phone books for me to sit on.
“Now put your foot on the brake and hold it”
He shifted the gear to the D which he explained was short for “drive”.
“Now put your foot on the gas lightly, keep your eyes straight and hands on the wheel”
I tapped the gas with the tip of my boot and the car started to move straight out of the parking space. Then Dana helped me turn the wheel to the left onto the street. I slowly made my way all the way to the top of the street.
“Okay, stop.”
I looked down at the pedal and pushed down hard and fast on the brake making the car and the both of us jerk back. Dana laughed. Then I couldn’t help but laugh too.
“Okay we got to go. Get in the front seat and put your seatbelt on and don’t tell your mother I let you drive or get in the front.”
I smiled and jumped out the car into the front. I took a deep breath in, then exhaled loudly. Dana looked up and smiled at my sigh of relief.

***

My body rested in the tilted back seat as drool poured from my mouth. I could feel the car stop but was too tired to respond. Probably another run Dana had to make, I thought
“Meilla?”
I opened my eyes and sat up looked over at Dana and wiped the drool off my face.
“You hungry?”
The thought of food made my tummy roar.
“Oaky lets go we gon get you something to eat in here”
We walked up to the town houses that were sort of similar to mine, just different coloring. Dana fumbled through his pants pocket trying to find the key. When we walked in, I saw a light-skinned woman with long hair, skinny and tall. She had on slippers and black skin-tight leggings with a tight wife beater tank top. The woman came running up to Dana, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders and he wrapped his arms around her waist. There was something real awkward about this woman and Dana, but I couldn’t really tell. Maybe she was one of his prostitutes, or maybe she was just a friend. The key to the door, the hug, something wasn’t right, and I was going to keep my eyes open to what was going on.
“Who’s this?” the woman said
“That’s my niece, Jahmeilla” Dana said
“Hi Jahmeilla. Nice to meet you. I’m Anna. She so cute!”
“She’s hungry. Make her something.” Dana said
“How about spaghetti? Do you like spaghetti?”
“Yup” I replied.

Anna went back into the kitchen to start preparing me food and Dana showed me to the living room before he went back into the kitchen. I already knew where it was. The house was exactly like mine except it was a one-bedroom apartment with no upstairs and down stairs. The apartment was at all one level. I sat back on the couch and flicked through the channels. Anna’s house was spotless and she had nice things. The setup of her house was real nice, nicer than at my house.

Anna soon came in with a pencil and paper and sat with me and taught me how to draw faces of cats, dogs, and rabbits. She was a nice woman but I felt something funny inside about this situation. The smell of the boiling pasta spread throughout the house tickling my noise and making my stomach growl even louder. From the smell I knew it was almost time to eat and I was past due for my next meal.

As I gobbled down my food I turned the TV down to see if I could hear a conversation going on between Anna and Dana, trying to get the drop on what was going on. Then I looked up into the kitchen area and I saw Anna and Dana kissing. I looked down, back at my plate so that neither of them could see that I saw what just happened. By the time I looked back at them they weren’t kissing anymore, and everything after seemed normal, so I knew Dana hadn’t seen me looking. I just couldn’t wait till my mother came back, so I could tell her all about it.

 

 

My First Love
Tarneisha R.

Like the common bum I think of drinking life,
but I am burnt, even by the hot stream of its juices.
I am eighteen.
Marie Barnus “Eighteen”

I only made about $600 a month via work study and I was considered a ghost to the creditors which in some cases is worse than having bad credit. So I went to a shifty dealership. Morton Street Cars. The electrical sign was dingy when lit. There was one line of flags along the fence that encircled the cars. When the wind blew you could hear the blue, red and yellow flags snap. There were potholes in the tar-spotted lot.

The owner knew my family, but that meant nothing. I was the youngest of four. I had two sisters and one brother. Most people didn’t know that my mother had an eighteen year-old daughter. People like my uncle from California who would send Christmas cards every year with money in them for everyone but me. I asked my mother why, and she just said, “Juney sent your money in my card.”

I didn’t know how to use the transit system, so my father picked me up from school. On our way home we’d pass Morton Street cars and that’s where I spied the two-door Celica. It was a stick and it had low mileage. It was old, old as dirt. 1989, but I thought of it as vintage.

It was summer. One of those summer days where there’s sun and breeze but all you can feel is the hot, hot searing sun. It was as if a spotlight from the sun shone especially bright on the Celica’s grey exterior that was coated lightly with yellow dust, pollen left over from spring. It had not been one of the cars placed out front. I didn’t see any price on a sticker, so I went into the office. I introduced myself simply as Ms. Reynolds, not Pat Roberson’s daughter, and asked for the keys. I was told by the receptionist to have a seat and wait for the owner.

I decided to stand. The vinyl chairs were old office chairs ranging in color from green, brown, and the color of worn. They were cracked in different places and looked as though they were waiting to bite my bare legs. The office smelled funny too, like a mixture of motor oil and flea market. The lighting was dim and the window could not look any brighter even if you cleaned it.

Jean, the owner was short and stubby, dressed in brown twill slacks and a long-sleeved button-up with a tie, way too hot for this weather. When I asked for the keys to the Celica, he hesitated. “It’s a stick,” he said.
“How’s the clutch?” I asked him, hoping this would give him the impression that I drove a stick, but in reality I only knew about the clutch because my mother had burnt it out in the Ford Bronco. I’d always be forced into the back that was made for cargo, but reserved for me, the youngest. It was always cold and hard or hot and hard. Blankets failed to keep me padded or warm and I always scraped my knee on the harsh grey rug or the scratchy grey plastic that was worn and well-used, a result of one of my mother’s latest projects around the house. There was never enough air; even in the winter. Never enough air.
The owner still hesitated, so I offered to get the keys with him.

The door stuck. The car had not been opened for a long time, but I noticed the tread of the front left tire sitting in a puddle but still able to hold a quarter. I could at least remember what I heard and watched my father do when he fixed on other people’s cars. I asked him to teach me, but he preferred to teach my brother who could have cared less. So I had watched from a distance. Same with my purchase. My father, I had decided could watch from a distance or not at all.

I popped open the door and out came even more heat. I stood there and waited. “It’s hot!” I said. I waited another moment. I smelled a familiar smell of old and time. The Celica had cloth and leather seats. Even more perfect! I hadn’t expected leather and cloth. Now I could really call it vintage and believe it. I got into the car and realized I needed Jean, the pudgy poorly dressed owner to help me start the car. But instead I sat, the seat burning my thighs. I wished I would’ve listened to my father when he had told me, “Put on some clothes!”
I knew how to start from neutral, I thought. So I tried pressing the gas and clutch simultaneously. Nothing. I tried again, adjusting the dusty stick. It jumped. “Jean?” I called out. He was with a customer. “Jean! Hi. I’m waiting and I need your help. Thanks!” He called for someone to come move the car for a test drive. I couldn’t do it. I got nervous. What if he didn’t let me buy it? I couldn’t even start the car! What if he thought I was a waste of time. I didn’t even know the price yet and I only had $915 and the rest was for the insurance and the rest was for the registration. Just look confident, I told myself.

I went back to the car, as if to prepare to start it again; it simply jumped. I noticed I had no real trunk space and in my excitement I didn’t look-over the car. Okay. I got this, I thought. You know a bit about cars. So I did a 360. I made sure all the power stuff worked, power doors, power windows, power locks. Sunroof-check. Was he sure this thing was an ’89? There was a lot of power in here. Both doors opened and closed without a squeak. Tires looked almost brand new, has oil and fluids at level, just dusty and needed cleaning.

Jean sent over his mechanic. He was wearing a grey-blue outfit that had a name on it, but by the look of his features, it was not his. He was young, early thirties, brown mocha skin and jet black hair. He was what most would consider attractive. He came to sit in my Celica with his greasy grey-blue and now black-brown uniform and right before he plopped down in my car, I asked if he could put something in the seat to sit on. I sighed and rolled my eyes. I got in too and he said, “Okay. Let’s go,” in a thick Latino accent. I sat there, hating that the smell of grease that was wafting bout in my car. I tried to start it again and another time. Finally, I asked the mechanic if he could do the test drive for me. “You should drive the car to get the feel of it,” he said.
“I’ll feel it while you drive,” I said.

When he drove us back onto the lot, I was beyond excited. The Celica was sporty, fast, powerful, yet fragile. But when I heard the price, my heart sank. $2,900.00. Bartering and name-dropping got me nowhere. Now I was stuck with a broken heart and a 1994 Hyundai Excel 2-door. Let’s check power windows. No, manual. Power locks. No, manual. Power steering? No. No power anything! How could this be? The love of my life was right there looking at me, asking me why aren’t you taking me home? Why are you looking at that inferior thing? The Celica was just waiting for me, nobody else. Just me!
It had been the greatest and quickest first love affair ever.

It Started With Cricket
Tarneisha R.

My mother is a mixed breed of Native American, Italian and Caucasian. She’s white skinned with green eyes and blonde hair. My father is African-American. My siblings and I are a mix of hues. My brother, light brown and dirty blonde hair, green eyes that change color depending on the outfit he’s wearing. My sister is brown, dark brown thin hair and brown eyes. My eldest sister has a different father, Leroy, my mother’s first husband. Leroy was one-hundred percent Native American. He was black as coal with long wavy hair that fell below his waste. My eldest sister was dark until she bleached herself and her hair was dark and beautiful. My mother, father and siblings have similar features: keen noses and thin lips. And that leaves me, the youngest: light-skinned, brown eyes, full lips and a black nose, brown hair that was long and very very very thick.

My mother didn’t know what to do with my “nappy” hair. So my sister would spend painstaking hours parting and braiding my lovely locks into box braids, then placing strings of beads in my hair, all white, finishing the ends with a clear bead and a rubber band. I learned then, that pain really was beauty. My mother would always fuss about my hair, and say how she “didn’t know where this nappy mess came from.” And how she wished she could “cut all that mess off.” She’d make me wear hats in malls and stores for hours on end. It was hot under there.

I couldn’t figure out why my hair was such a problem. I’d look at it in the mirror and it looked okay to me. But it wasn’t just me and my hair, it was everything black. At the age of four or five, I knew there was something wrong with the way my family looked at the world.

At home it started with hair, and on the television, when there were black people. My mother would say they looked or acted “niggerish”. I couldn’t have black dolls because they had big lips and noses. When I saw them, I didn’t see me, but related to them because of the familiar terms my mother used to describe them, “Look at those ole ugly dolls with their nappy hair and big lips.” So I decided that I would launch a campaign against my mother. I would ask for every black doll regardless of whether I liked it or not and I was not going to play with any white dolls ever again. It was a risky decision seeing that Christmas was right around the corner.
I decided to start small by holding onto a Raggedy Ann-like doll in Woolworths. I picked up the black one who was an exact match to the white one with the exception of color. I held onto that doll for all the hours we were there. My mother said, “No.” I cried. She said, “Get the white one.” I cried. She asked. “Why do you want that black thing?” I cried. We left the store, African-American doll in tote. Every time my mother went to the store she brought back little toys, dolls, rabbits [yes, live rabbits]. Whenever she’d bring me a white doll I refused to play with it or even take it out of the box. This was very frustrating for my mother. She called me ungrateful and would go on name calling about the black dolls I did want. It didn’t bother me. I just continued rebelling.
And then I saw it. The toy of all toys, doll of all dolls. Cricket! Not only did Cricket come with her own director’s chair with her name on it, she was interactive. She read to you! Oh my goodness! This was amazing! I had to have her! When they aired the commercial, I ran to get my mother as fast as my four or five year-old body could have carried me. “Cricket! Cricket! I’ve got to have Cricket!” My mother acknowledged me and not the commercial, so there I was, trying to tell her how much I wanted this doll and she thought it was just another doll. Every time the commercial aired, I would rush into my mother’s room to show her. Finally, one night we were all watching TV in her room when the commercial for Cricket aired. She said “Oh. I see why you have been having a fit,” she said. Yes! She agreed that Cricket was as awesome as I thought. “I want the black one!” I yelped out and to my surprise she said, okay. I just knew it would be the best Christmas/Birthday ever because my birthday was on the 26th.

So the hunt was on for Cricket, the interactive book-reading-director’s-chair doll in black. Not bad. This was the 1990’s, the closest thing to Cricket was Teddy Ruxpin, but unlike him, Cricket’s mouth,when she read to you, looked and moved like a human’s. The doll was about two-hundred dollars. I only knew because I remembered my mother complained about not finding any Cricket dolls anywhere and how she thought they were overpriced everywhere. “Well, Nuddy,” she said to me, “I don’t know if we’ll find that doll before Christmas. That’s the fourth place we’ve been.”

I sat in the back seat of my mother’s Chrysler New Yorker, still smelling of French fries from McDonald’s. I was squished between my brother and older sister. My eldest sister was in front in the passenger seat. I just remember feeling smaller than everybody else. Not only was I the youngest, but I wouldn’t have my new friend to sit and read with. I had my days planned out with Cricket. Nights in a pillow fort with the rabbits, stealing Teddy Ruxpin from my brother for tea with the girls – only to be told that all of the hunting for her was done? About halfway down the road from Ames, I started balling uncontrollably. Life as I knew it was over. My mother looked at me and told me it was okay. If I didn’t get her for Christmas, I could get her in the summer. I cried louder. My sister and brother who sat in the back with me were annoyed, but Shawn rubbed my leg and said she’d check at Bradlee’s again where she worked.

My mother must have felt horrible because we went to Dedham Mall to Woolworth’s and she asked if I wanted anything. We went to the toy aisle. I was still sobbing. It was snowing and Woolworth’s delivery truck was late. Some lady came and asked a few questions and there were people around her. My mother left me in the cart with Shawn, my eldest sister and spoke to the cashier. She hurried back and told my sister to wait there; she only went a few steps away, and there it was, a Tiffany blue colored box. It was big! I couldn’t see the pictures yet. The associate pointed to my sister with the shift of his eyes. My mother and he headed back to us from the associate.

It was like a drug drop or something illegal. There it was! Cricket! My mother was holding Cricket! The box was old, but it smelled like new. I didn’t say anything. My mother asked, “Now are you happy?” with a smile. I turned the box over and she was…white.
“Mommy! I wanted the black one.”
My mother took the doll and put it in the carriage.
“Mommy! I wanted the black one!”
The associate looked at my mother. My mother looked at the associate.
“Ask him, Mommy. Ask him! I want the black one.”
My mother looked frustrated. She asked. Now this was what I don’t remember. I could have sworn he brought out a black one, but I don’t remember. “I don’t want that one.” It was just before Christmas and I’d gotten the doll I wanted but she was the wrong color. Of course she played the same cassettes and sat in the same director’s chair and yes, she moved her lips with the same motion as any other colored Cricket doll. But she wasn’t black.

I hated her, not because she was white, but because she wasn’t black. She had bleached blond hair. I had black hair. Her hair was manageable. Mine wasn’t, [according to my mother]. She had blue eyes. Mine were brown. She looked more like my mother than she did me.

Wasn’t it a toy’s job to relate to the child in some way shape or form? For instance, Ninja Turtles: they’re turtles, but they practice Martial Arts. What child has not practiced Karate and played dress-up by tying his or her mom’s stockings around his head? See? Relatable.
Yes, I read books and so did Cricket, but that was it.

All those weeks before Christmas, I hoped that my mother would realize that Cricket wasn’t simply the wrong color doll; she was so much more than that. By purchasing the white Cricket, my mother wasn’t just ignoring my request, she was dismissing my campaign, and she was yet again, rejecting me. My mother seemed to have hated everything about me: my hair, my eyes, my nose, and my lips. She rejected me by association with my likeness to the dolls I wanted but that she didn’t want me to have.

If not for my strong will, I would have succumbed to her rejection, but I fought, even at such a young age, and I rebelled. Looking back, I can only thank God for the family he gave me. My mother may never know what she created in me, but I will always be grateful for the rejection that I suffered because it has forged the person that I am today. It shaped me by showing me what diversity was not. In my adulthood, I’m a person of acceptance and non-judgment. I can appreciate all shades of beauty in any and every race. I tell my children that they are to value themselves and that diversity in every spectrum should be invited and appreciated. I don’t call my children’s hair “bad” with the implication that their hair is bad, nor have I taught them terms like “pretty for a dark-skinned girl”, as if beauty plays tag with a select few dark-skinned women and even men. I’ve taught and am still teaching my children beauty comes in all sizes, hues and textures.

On Christmas day, there she was, propped up in her director’s chair, waiting with her book in her hand – Cricket, the white one. I left her in the living room, sitting by herself.

 

Cinder Blocks
F. K.

Too heavy to lift
So many, they lay
side by side,
connected in some way.
Resembling a life I portray,
a pattern on display.
So hard to hide
no matter the disguise.

 

Snow
Tarneisha. R.

It’s cold out
but not too cold for snow.
I’m wrapped in a blanket,
warm enough,
my feet in plush
fur boots.
I like the sounds.
Stillness.
The crunch of compacting
snow as slow and cautious
cars trudge by.
No one can see me
standing on the 2nd story porch.
remembering snow days at home
with my brother.
How he threw me in
when I was wearing only jeans and a t-shirt.
Snowball fights.
It’s freezing.
My thoughts keep me warm.
I hear stillness.
A most precious sound.
Close the door.
I’m not ready yet.
Close the door.
I’m not ready.

 

Miss Lady
a short story in progress
Amanda H.

Beautiful Friday morning, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping. A woman passes by pushing a stroller. Baby crying, “Shhh love, Mommy’s right here.”
Ugh, How I hate the mornings.
The streets are busy, bumper to bumper traffic. I feel like I’ve been walking forever. My feet are killing. I think I’m lost. What’s new? I never did know my way around.
I begin to sweat. It drips off my forehead. Finally, 1007 Myrtle St. It’s a tall red brick building. I swing the glass doors open, aggravated. There’s a silver dial pad on the left. I type 1515. It starts to ring. A deep voice answers, “Who is it?” I'm hit by relief. “It’s me.” He buzzes me in. I catch the door.
The carpet is black and linty. I push “up” on the elevator. In the lobby there’s a wall made of glass. When I look in it I think, Damn! I’m a mess. I’ve been up for days. I fix my hair a little. The elevator doors open. It stinks like old people. Floor 5, the hallway smells like chicken and a different welcome mat is in front of each apartment door.
I wipe the sweat off my forehead and rub my arms to warm myself up. Door number 509, Knock, knock, knock. “It’s open.”
I walk in past the kitchen right into the parlor. There he is sitting in his nice leather couch with his foot on the glass table, watching music videos on his huge HD flat screen. “What’s up ma?”
“Damn it’s smoky in here.” I laugh. I light up a Newport and sit. I throw him some cash like always.
He asks, “Same as usual?”
“Yup!” I head to the bathroom.
“When are you going to cut the shit out?”
I laugh and say, “The same day you do.” In that moment I realized I have no intention of stopping. I am in love with the quick fix.
Now I feel so much better, invincible. Now all my guilt is washed away. I don’t have to hear that little voice telling me to get clean and go home. I'm going to be up for another week! I’m ready to party! As my phone rings, I dig in my MK purse to find it! Damn thing won’t stop ringing. “What’s up Coco?”
“I didn’t think you were going to answer. Are you on your way?”
“Yes. Let’s make this money!”

I hail a cab. “Take me to 10 Alston Street.” The cab pulls up to the curb and I see Coco on the porch already smoking a Newport.
I pay the driver.
I walk up the brick stairs. Coco puts out her cigarette and opens the door.
“So did Chico stop by yet?” I ask.
“Na, I been waiting for your ass.”
I laugh as we walk up to the 3rd floor. We walk down the hall. I see her neighbor’s kids running back in forth playing tag. One almost runs me down! I look at Coco and smile.
The apartment smells like jasmine incense. I love it! We walk down the narrow hall. There are pictures of butterflies on the wall. They are beautiful. The hall leads to the parlor. I remember painting the walls light purple when she first moved in. The parlor has a nice flat screen with a surround sound. We used to watch movies on it all the time. Now we don’t have the time for movies anymore. The kitchen is off to the side. Marble floors, black granite counters. We both sit at the glass kitchen table. I go back into the parlor to turn on some music. Moses by Future.
“Call Chico and see where he’s at,” Coco says.
“Hey, are you close by?”
“Are you at the spot miss lady?”
“Yes!”
“Ok I’m on my way now.”
While we wait me and Coco jam out to some music. Knock, Knock, Knock. I peep through the peep hole and there he is looking fly as hell. Chico is Puerto Rican and he has long braids. His gear is always on point.
“What’s up Ma?”
“Nothing, come in.”
We all sit at the kitchen table. He pulls out his stash.
“Damn C, that shit smells strong.” It was white as snow and sparkly like glitter.
He chuckles. “I got some knew shit, fish scale. I’m going to let ya’ll try it.”
Me and Coco look at each other. “Ok!” we say. He scoops some powder with a piece of Newport box in a dollar bill for us and we split it up. Once we are done, we are flying. Eyes huge and my heart races like I ran a marathon. We pick up some of that, let Chico bag up at the house and we bag our shit up too.
It starts to getdark . After Chico leaves, we take showers and get fly. The night is when we make most of our money. We flipp molly and coke all night to the college kids at the clubs.
The fast money is what we love. It is how we live.
Unfortunately it is also how I got caught up in the dope game.


Wicked Ride
by Yamiley M.

He calls through the night
The monster underneath my bed
“I’ll make all your dreams come true
Just come play with me,” he says.

“Grab my hand and promise me
That you’ll always be mine,
And I’ll give you you’re every need
Until the end of time.”

I’ll bring the fairies out to play
Then we’ll fly with the birds.
I’ll never leave, just follow me
And listen to my words.”

I backed away until he grabbed my hand
And pulled me close
And then he said, “You act as if
I’m trying to take your soul.”

I looked at him with trusting eyes
To see what I could see.
I thought that I saw something strange
But I just let it be.

I let him pull me off my bed,
And gently to the floor.
To my surprise beneath my bed
I saw a little door.

“Excuse me Mr. Monster,
But this door’s too small for me!”
He said, “It fits just anyone,
If only they believe.”


I crawled into the tiny space
And was blinded by the sight,
Unsure whether to jump for joy
Or give into to my fright.

I looked around this wonderland
Confused by what I saw
A dog riding on a lion
With fins instead of paws.

When I saw a merry-go-round
A smile came to my face.
We both took off running
Into a full-on race.

I got there first and on the horses
I tried my best to jump.
But when the monster got there,
He still had to help me up.

After showing me the ropes
He fastened in my feet.
I had the ride of my life
Which after, I was beat!

I sat a while to catch my breath
Then tried to get back down.
I saw I couldn’t move my feet
So I began to frown.

I looked over at monster,
Searching for his help
But monster only stared at me
While smiling to himself.

“Monster, help me out of here.
I think I’m stuck!” I cried.
By then I saw his face had changed
He looked at me and sighed.

I screamed, “Hey, I don’t like this game
No, I don’t want to play.”
He smirked at me and then replied,
“Well, you are going to stay.

You silly little human child.
Don’t you get it one bit?
I know you’re stuck, I put you there,
And now you’re part of it!”


Now, I try to scream for help
But I can’t make a sound.
Forever stuck in statue form
On his merry-go-round.

 

The Essence of My Melody
Josephine S.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be famous. I wanted to travel the world as a performing artist showing the world who I could be and what I loved. As far back as I can remember I loved to sing and dance. Something about hearing the melody of the music with its instruments in tune made my feet want to jump around like I had ants in my pants. When it came to doing the Running Man, I could out run anyone in any competition. Was it hearing the sweet words of “Can You Stand the Rain” from one of my favorite boy band groups that had me melting just like an M&M in the palm of my hand even on the coldest winter day? I would sing along with the song like I belonged right alongside Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige or Janet Jackson at their next concert. Maybe it was the combination of song and dance. One could not exist without the other. Music fed my soul and without it my world would be madness.

Screaming in my house was routine. Sometimes the screaming would be accompanied by my formal name interchanged with that of farm animals. I noticed it happened more when the house was filled with strangers, men and women of all shapes, colors, and sizes. I could smell their stale cigarettes and the cheap perfume and cologne, so strong it reeked as if they bathed in it. Sometimes the strange people undressed me with the bedroom eyes of someone else’s lover, someone who smelled like cheap whiskey and urine. I would name him “Chester the Molester” because in my eyes that’s the name he was making for himself. I’d listen to the sounds of playing cards being slapped on the table while someone else debated whether or not their opponent reneged. It created a picture in my mind of just how this fight was going to be different from the ones before, all because they were fighting over money. A white powdery substance was all over the kitchen counter and on a plate with rolled up one-dollar bills alongside it. A Tupperware container filled with a green plant substance accompanied the plate, both of them set out like hors d’oeuvres. Someone would be passed out on couch while two others were making out on another couch moving to the rhythm of a Marvin Cease song. This was my world.

Music was my escape. It expressed the emotions and feelings that I couldn’t express, describe, and sometimes understand. I tried to imagine why the artists chose to write or sing their song. Were they hurting just much as me? Had they been through the same pain that I was experiencing? Did they know that somewhere in the distance was another soul, a little girl named Josey, who also knew music as an outlet? Maybe all artists know that their work has a profound and universal impact. It was the one thing that made me feel safe; like I could strap on an armor of headphones to my favorite portable Disc Man, insert my favorite artist of choice for theme music and navigate through the battlefield of my household filled with confusion, indifference, and despair.

Years have gone by and I have yet to make an album or become a recording artist. I never became the next Fly Girl rendition from “In Living Color”. As John Lennon said, “Life happens while we are busy making other plans.” I lost sight of my dreams and aspirations to become the next Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, but I’ve never lost my belief in the power and profundity of music. Music taught me how to look within to find the strength and resilience of the Bengal Tiger, to face adversity at all times. It also taught me to metamorphose like a butterfly, changing and growing every single day to a newer freedom. Music was and always will be an instrument of Love in my life.

Mi Wayz
Marla. W.

Give back to me my face in the mirror
Change your wayz from riding on my desire.

The way I walk is meant for me.
Find your own way to sway in these streets.

Mi hairstyle is wild. I rocked it for miles.
Choose yours; stop mimicking me.

A star’s profile shines skin deep.
Love springs from beneath mi feet.

To the crown above mi head
I hold up high as I walk on by.

Every day I shout victory, victory, glory for mi.

This is the real mi no time for fake sheen,
Life has enough challenges so let me breathe.

Can’t erase mi color off of me.
For you this is true; don’t blame my shame.

It’s all in the game.

 

The Cocaine Confessional
Kelli D.


I cook my coke in holy water. You can ask Jesus.
Therefore, the first rock I smoke is the cleanest.
Fiends become followers as communion is passed out.
Funny how church is their new favorite crack house.
Donations are welcome to stay for the feast
As they bow to the altar and pray for a piece.
And when the priest throws rocks at their feet?
A true sign of God or the mark of the beast?
Thousands of years after creation of life,
the symbol of the cross is replaced by the pipe.
The Bible becomes nothing more than a book,
The Ten Commandments instruct you on how cocaine is cooked.
Father and Sisters are high, come join their club.
Even the altar boys will sell you a dub.
Now religion is a thing of the past.
Our backs turned to God in return for a blast.

 

The Ride
a short story
Kelli. D.

The shimmering lights of the upcoming Tobin Bridge flickered softly across the windshield. On the two-lane blacktop, Dennis handled the Mustang with an expertise that Kelli admired, but he drove too fast.

“You’ll get us killed,” Kelli said.
“My mother has rules about being late for dinner.” Dennis said.
“Being late is better than being dead for dinner.”
“You’ve never met my mom, she has rules.”
“So do the Boston Police.”
Dennis laughed, “Sometimes you sound just like her.”
“Who?”
“My mom.”

Bracing herself as Dennis took a curve too fast, Kelli said, “Well one of us has to be a responsible adult.”
They had left New Hampshire to take a four-day break from classes at the University of New Hampshire where, in the spring, they would earn master’s degrees in Psychology. Dennis hadn’t been delayed in his education by the need to earn his tuition and living expenses, but Kelli had spent the last ten years attending classes part-time while working full-time as a waitress. First, in a Friday’s, then in a 99, and most recently, in an upscale restaurant with white tablecloths and cloth napkins and fresh flowers on the tables and customers who routinely tipped 25 to 30%. The visit to Dennis’ house in Boston would be the closest thing to a vacation that she’d had in a decade.
“You think your Mom and Dad will like me?” Kelli asked.
“Of course they’ll like you. You know what I worry about?” Dennis asked as they raced toward the top of an incline.
“Apparently not death.”
“You. I worry about you.” Dennis said. He glanced at Kelli and his expression was uncharacteristically serious.
“I can take care of myself,” Kelli assured him.
“I don’t doubt that. I know you too well to doubt that. But life isn’t just about taking care of yourself, keeping your head down, getting by. Life is about living.”
“Wow. That’s deep,” Kelli said sarcastically.
“Deeper than you think,” Dennis said. The Mustang sped along, but ahead of them was an older model Buick, cruising well below the speed limit. Dennis cut their speed by more than half, and they pulled behind the other car. Kelli could see the round-shouldered driver was a white haired, elderly man. They were in a no passing zone. The road rose and fell, turned left and right, rose again, and they could not see far ahead. Dennis switched on the high beams, hoping to encourage the driver of the Buick either to increase his speed or to ease over where the lane widened to let them pass.
“Take your own advice, relax”. Kelli said.
“I’d hate to be late for dinner,” Dennis said.
“From everything you’ve said about her, I don’t think your mom’s the type to beat us with wire coat hangers.”
“No, my mom’s the best.”
“So relax,” Kelli said.

Ahead of them the old man in the Buick checked his rearview mirror. The white hair in the headlight beams, the angle of the man’s head, and the mere suggestion of his eyes reflected in the mirror, suddenly gave Kelli a powerful sense of deja-vu. For a moment she didn’t understand why a chill came over her, but then she was cast back in memory to an incident that she had long tried unsuccessfully to forget, another twilight, over twenty years ago, on some lonely highway.

“Oh Jesus,” she said.
Dennis glanced at her, “What’s wrong?”
Kelli closed her eyes.
“Kelli, you’re as white as a ghost. What is it?”
“A long time ago…when I was just a little girl, maybe seven or eight years old…on some lonely highway, two narrow lanes, so damn empty and lonely…” Kelli had been with her mother and Jimmy Guns, they called him, a Boston drug dealer and gun runner with whom they had lived now and then, for a month or two at a time during her childhood. They had been on a business trip and had been returning to Boston in Jimmy’s vintage red Cadillac. It was one of those models with massive tailfins and with what seemed to be five tons of chrome grillwork. He was driving fast on the straight highway, at times, exceeding a hundred miles an hour. They hadn’t encountered another car for almost fifteen minutes before they roared up behind an elderly couple in a tan Mercedes.

The woman was driving. She was bird like, close cropped silver hair and at least seventy- five. She was doing forty miles an hour. Jimmy could have pulled around the Mercedes, they were in a passing zone and no traffic was in sight for miles on the dead flat highway. “But he was high on something,” Kelli told Dennis, eyes still closed, watching the memory with growing dread as it played like a movie on a screen behind her eyes. “He was most of the time high on something. Maybe it was cocaine that day. I don’t know. I don’t remember. He was drinking too. Both of them were drinking, him and my mother. They had a cooler full of ice, bottles of juice and vodka. The lady in the Mercedes was driving real slow and that drove Jimmy crazy. He wasn’t being rational. What did it matter to him? He could’ve pulled around her. But the sight of her driving so slowly on the wide-open highway infuriated him. Drugs and booze, that’s all. He was so irrational when he was angry – red faced, arteries throbbing in his neck, jaw muscles bulging. No one could get angry quite as totally Jimmy Guns.

His rage excited my mother. Always excited her. So she teased him, encouraged him. I was in the back seat, hanging on tight, pleading with her to stop, but she kept at him. For a while Jimmy had hung close behind the other car, blowing his horn at the elderly couple trying to force them to go faster. A few times Jimmy had nudged the rear bumper of the Mercedes with the front bumper of the Cadillac, metal kissing metal with a squeal. Eventually the old woman got rattled and began to swerve erratically, afraid to go faster but too frightened of him to pull off the road and let him pass by. “Of course,” said Kelli, “he wouldn’t have gone past and just left her alone. By then he was too psychotic. He would have stopped when she stopped. It still would’ve ended badly.”

Jimmy pulled up alongside the Mercedes a few times, driving in the wrong lane, shouting and shaking his fist at the white-haired couple, who at first tried to ignore him, then stared back wide-eyed and fearful. Each time, rather than drive by and leave them in his dust he had dropped behind again to play tag with their rear bumper. To Jimmy in his drug fever and alcoholic haze, this harassment was deadly serious business with an importance that could never be understood by someone clean and sober. To Kelli’s mother it was all a game, an adventure and it was she who, in her search for excitement said, “Why don’t we give her a driving test?”
Jimmy said, “Test? I don’t need to give the old bitch a test to see she can’t drive for shit.” This time as Jimmy pulled beside the Mercedes its matching speed.

“I mean see if she can keep it on the road. Make it a challenge for her.”
To Dennis Kelli recalled, “There was a canal parallel to the road, one of those drainage channels you see along some highways. Not deep but deep enough. Jimmy used the Cadillac to crowd the Mercedes onto the shoulder of the road. The woman should’ve crowded him back, forced him the other way. She should’ve put the pedal to the floor and got the hell out of there. The Mercedes could’ve outrun the Cadillac, no problem. But she was old scared and had never encountered someone like this before. I think she was just disbelieving, so unable to understand the kind of people she was up against, unable to grasp how far they’d go, even though she and her husband had done nothing to them.

Jimmy forced her off the road and the Mercedes rolled into the canal.
Jimmy stopped, shifted the Cadillac into reverse and backed up to where the Mercedes was swiftly sinking. He and Kelli’s mother had gotten out of the car to watch. Kelli’s mother insisted that she watch too. “Come on you little chicken. You don’t wanna miss this, baby. This is one to remember!” the passenger side of the Mercedes was flat against the muddy bottom of the canal while the driver side was revealed to them as they stood on the embankment in the humid evening air. They were being bitten by hordes of mosquitoes but were hardly aware of them; they were mesmerized by the sight as they stood gazing through the driver’s side window down below them.

“It was twilight,” Kelli told Dennis, putting into words the images behind her closed eyes. “So the headlights were still on. Still on, even after the Mercedes sank, and there were lights inside the car. They had air-conditioning so all the windows were up and neither the windshield nor the windows had shattered when the car rolled over. We could see inside because the windows were only a few inches under the water. There was no sign of the husband. Maybe he was knocked unconscious when they rolled. But the old woman…. Her face was at the window. The car was flooded, but there was a big bubble of air against the inside of the glass and she pressed her face into it, so she could breathe. We stood there looking at her. Jimmy could’ve helped. Mother could’ve helped, but they just watched. The old woman couldn’t seem to get the window open and the door must’ve been jammed. Or maybe she was just too scared or too weak.”

Kelli had tried to pull away but her mother had held her, speaking urgently to her, the whispered words on a wind of breath sour with vodka and orange juice. “We’re different from other people baby. No rules apply to us. You’ll never understand what freedom is if you don’t watch this.” Kelli closed her eyes, but she had still been able to hear the old woman screaming into the big air bubble inside the submerged car. “Muffled screaming. Then gradually the screaming faded…and finally stopped,” Kelli told Dennis. “When I opened my eyes twilight had gone and night had come. There was still light in the Mercedes and the woman’s face was still pressed against the window but the breeze had risen, rippling the water in the canal and her features were a blur. I knew she and her husband were dead. I started to cry and Jimmy didn’t like that. He threatened to drag me into the canal, open the door to the Mercedes and shove me inside with the dead people. My mother made me drink some orange juice with vodka. I was only seven! The rest of the way back to Boston, I lay on the backseat dizzy from the vodka, half drunk and a little sick. I was still crying but quietly, so I wouldn’t make Jimmy angry, until I fell asleep.”

In Dennis’ mustang the only sounds were the soft rumbling of the engine and the singing of the tires on the blacktop. Kelli finally opened her eyes and came back from the memory of that long ago humid twilight on a lonely highway. The old man in the Buick was no longer in front of them. They were not driving as fast as before and evidently he had gotten far ahead of them. Dennis said softly “Dear God.” Kelli was shaking. She plucked a few Kleenex from the console box between the seats, blew her nose, and wiped her eyes. Over the past two years, she had shared part of her childhood with Dennis, but every new revelation – and there was still much to reveal – was as difficult as the one before it. When she spoke of the past, she always burned with shame, as though she had been as guilty as her mother, as if every criminal act and spell of madness could be blamed on her, though she had been only a helpless child trapped in the insanity of others.
“Will you ever see her again?” Dennis asked.
Recollection had left Kelli numb with horror. “I don’t know.”
“Would you want to?”
Kelli hesitated. Her hands were curled into fists, the damp Kleenex wadded in the right one. Maybe.
“For God’s sake, why?”
“To ask her why. To try to understand. To settle some things. But, maybe not.”
“Do you even know where she is?”
“No. But it wouldn’t surprise me if she were in jail. Or dead. You can’t live like that and hope to grow old.”

They drove off the exit ramp into the city. Eventually, Kelli said “I can still see her standing in the steamy darkness on the banks of that canal, greasy with sweat, her hair hanging damp and all tangled, covered with mosquito bites, eyes bleary from vodka. Dennis, even then she was still the most beautiful woman you’d ever seen. She was always so beautiful, so perfect on the outside, like someone out of a dream, like an angel…but she was never half as beautiful as when she was excited, when there’d been violence. I can see her standing there, only visible because of the greenish glow from the headlights of the Mercedes rising through the murky canal water, so ravishing in that green light, glorious, like a goddess from another world.”
Gradually Kelli’s trembling subsided. The heat of shame faded from her face, but slowly. She was immeasurably grateful for Dennis’ concern and support. Until him, Kelli had lived secretly with her past, unable to speak of it to anyone. Now, having unburdened herself of another hateful, corrupting memory, she couldn’t begin to put her gratitude into words.
“It’s okay.” Dennis said, as if reading Kelli’s mind. They rode in silence. They were late for dinner.


Can Anybody Else Say
by Angeliea Brown

Can anybody else say they yearned for love?
Can anybody else say they still look
for mother’s comfort and hugs?
Feeling not fit for this world of
destruct.
To keep looking when there’s nothing
left.
Can anybody else say that they
gave their all just to be set up
for a major fall?
Can anybody say that they
put up your pride to say you were
hungry with tears in your eyes
just for them to look at you with
shriveled lips and sighs, evil grins
with plotting eyes.
Willing to do what it takes
to make ends meet.
In your mind doesn’t matter
as long as your children eat.
Can anybody else say you would
have done anything for him, yet
instead he had it out for you
in the end.
Can anybody else say they looked
death in the eyes, except this
time you were willing to
fight, thinking did it matter
now that you’re in cell 9?
Can anybody else say?

 

Life of Leaves
by Kim D.

If lines on a human hand can tell
a person’s life,
what do the lines say on a leaf?
Could they tell where it came from or where
it has been?
Perhaps it could tell about its roots or how it got
its color.
Maybe they could tell us from which tree it
fell and how long it has been
lying on the ground.
I’m sure they could also tell us how much longer
it has left
before it’s no longer moist and dries
up before the winter heads in
and on the leaf
there are no more lines.

 

The Shack
excerpt
Javone M.

Now this guy comes along, sweeps me off my feet on words and promises, alone. When the mask was removed and I revealed my true self, he told me how he loved my eyes, the color of my hair. He uttered “sweet nothings” in my ear that he was infatuated with the scent of my perfume. When I walked, he loved the motion of my hips. He caressed my arm and said he loved my touch and that he wanted to be the only one touching me.
He held me in his arms and as I embraced his embrace; it was promising to the touch, inviting with the feel, warm with the passion and believable with every stroke.

I made love to him in the dark in an old empty shack on an old bed that was left behind by the family that had lived there nine years ago. In the midst of all, I could hear the winds and the hay blew with the wind that brushed lightly up against the window panes and the old wooden doors. Light rain drops tapped on the roof, coinciding with lustful moans that came along with the trusting which pleasured me so much from this man who had made me feel so loved and needed a half hour prior to the events that were now taking place in this seclusion.

 

This Time
by S. Estrada

I touch the softness of the red and black velvet curtain and peer through the slight opening and watch the snow fill the parking lot outside the cheap hotel room window. For all the clanking and banging coming from the radiator, you would think it’d be hot as Hawaii in this room, but it’s not. All it’s doing is working my last nerve.
I see the reflection of my glossy eyes in the glass and gently close the curtain. With a shaky hand, leaning on the window frame, I bow my head and let the heavy tears that have filled my eyes spill down my cheeks. I feel the hot rush of embarrassment and shame run up from my stomach to my chest like a flame hit by lighter fluid. I feel weak, like I can no longer stand, so I pull out the squeaky wood and cloth chair and balance myself on the little round cherry wood table and drop into the chair like the lifeless person I feel like and begin to cry. Not one of those loud hysterical cries. No, this cry has traveled from so deep within, through layers of shields and protective walls, that by the time it reaches the surface, all that comes out is a quiet squeaky moan left by a love’s end.

Holding my head in my hands, I rock back and forth as memories of first moments flash through my mind like little mini movies. I can still remember the first look my lover gave me that sent the feeling of fluttering butterflies through me and tickled my womanhood. The first gentle, touching caress which felt so foreign because I never felt that safe or wanted before the first spat over the toilet seat that ended quickly and quietly complete with a kiss and an apology.

My lips quiver as I sniffle and inhale long and deep, trying to regain some sense of control. I grip both hands on the armrests alongside me and push myself out of the chair and walk towards the mirror and sink. As I walk by the t.v. I click it on and hear some reporter talking about a murder-suicide in some small town I never heard of. I let out a sigh of sadness because of what happened and relief that it wasn’t me. “Wonder what set him off,” I say quietly to myself, turning the knob for the hot water and placing a round rubber stopper in the sink. I close my eyes and let the heat vapors cloud around my face and breath in.

My mind drifts back to the lesson I was still trying to learn from the “discipline”, as my lover calls it, and to thoughts of him holding me still by the back of my head, my curls were wrapped around his fingers so tight that I thought he’d pull them out by the roots. His fist smashed so hard into my jaw that I spat out little pieces of broken teeth that stabbed my tongue with a sharpness that made me wonder if I had taken my razor out of my mouth when I came in from hustling. I remember trying to pull forward and shake my head from side to side to free myself from the hold he had on me. I felt paralyzed from the look of hate in his eyes. Sweat outlining his face as he placed it nose to nose with mine, yelling his favorite, “You dirty bitch!” line at me.

My knees buckled under me. I brought my palms together in a prayer position, intertwined my fingers, laid my thumb flat against my index finger and with all my strength, I swung my hands upwards into his face, hoping it would explode. Ripping his hands out of my hair, he swung me loose sending me with my arms raised crashing into the dresser with a loud crack. Stumbling backwards into the wall with his hands over his face, he yelled, “You maggot bitch!” The echo of his voice startled me and reminded me that I was alive and I still needed to get away. I pressed at my throbbing side, hoping my ribs weren’t broken, leaned forward and sprinted towards the door. I grabbed the doorknob yanked at it, then almost felt defeated when I realized that I was trapped by the chain. I slammed the door shut, and with lightning speed, I slid the chain out, praying it wouldn’t get stuck at the end, and swung the door open so hard I sent it slamming accidentally, but with some satisfaction on his fingers before he could reach me to snatch me back into the room

Suddenly, I feel my feet are wet and open my eyes and realize the water is overflowing from the sink. I turn the knob and shut it off, wave the vapors away from my face and wipe the fog off the mirror. I can hardly recognize myself through the puffiness. I take a deep breath to get up enough courage to wash off the cover-up I put on my face to hide what I’ve become. This isn’t the first time I’ve been here alone crying in some cheap hotel room wondering how to stay away after a date with some fat guy named “John” of course, who was kind enough to leave me the room after he was done doing his business.

I can still recall how relieved I was when I caught the date after putting on the cover-up, lipstick and eyeliner I stole from Walgreen’s, to fix my face, to look as normal as possible. I waved him down, winking and blowing a kiss, and as his car passed by I looked over my shoulder, trembling, praying, I could get in the car safely, without my so-called man getting to me first.

Now, I am here with my shaking hand washing my face, staring at my new bruises, begging myself not to go back there, this time.


Author, Peggy Rambach, runs creative writing workshops in community education settings for the Healing Arts in health care, correctional facilities, ESL programs and immigrant support centers as well as offering assistance with lesson plans in professional development presentations for middle and high school teachers. She teaches memoir writing in medical schools as part of the curriculum in Narrative Medicine and Medical Humanities. Ms. Rambach is conveniently located for teachers, students and participants from throughout New England including the Vermont (VT) cities of Bennington, Burlington and Montpelier, the Maine (ME) cities of Portland, Gardener, Kennebunkport and York, the New Hampshire (NH) cities of Portsmouth, Concord, Manchester, Dover, Nashua and Rochester, the Massachusetts (MA) cities of Boston, Newburyport, Amherst, North Hampton, Salem, Beverly, Lawrence, Lowell, Haverhill, Gloucester, Plymouth, New Bedford, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Marblehead, Rockport, Hyannis, and Falmouth, the Rhode Island (RI) cities of Providence and Newport and the Connecticut (CT) cities of New Haven and Hartford.