A Space for Women of the World
She flinches. We might be reaching for the saltshaker or leaning past her to grab the remote, and she flinches. A quick movement. She blinks, and for a moment, fear walks across her face making us remember.
She kept a bag packed. Always. She didn’t think we knew, but we played hide and seek in the closet, under the bed. We found things, opened things, but we never mentioned the small suitcase behind her winter coats, in the way back of the long musty closet where she kept her yesterdays.
It was full – panties, two bras, and four shirts – all white, a pair of jeans, a yellow sweater, and a baseball cap – Yankees. Ten fifty dollar bills in an envelope that she’d stuffed in the tip of one of the sneakers. We never asked where she was going or when or why there was no bag for us.
Sometimes she couldn’t hide them. They started as a purpulish blue that turned to yellow, and after five or six days, an orangey color that reminded us of creamsicles.
She wore long sleeves even in summer, and once, when we were in the fourth grade, sunglasses as she bowed her head and sipped from the communion cup, and in the grocery store, and at the dinner table.
She cried a lot in their room. At night. We could hear her blowing her nose, and in the morning, her red puffy eyes scared us.
One week the November we turned seven, she sang every day while she cooked supper and we did our homework at the kitchen table. He hugged her and called her baby. She smiled at him. They laughed together. It didn’t last, and we hoped the daddy she sang for would come back.
He drove a Cutlass – low and easy, but it broke down all the time and his brown eyes dared her to say something when we had to walk six blocks to the house carrying groceries, and the ice cream melted.
We looked like him but didn’t want to; we hoped we didn’t become her.
He combed our hair on Saturday afternoons after she went to work, and our braids stuck out like horns. He boiled hot dogs and toasted the buns for breakfast because we liked them. He let us eat brownies for lunch because he said every girl needed some sugar in her life, and we wondered when her sweet would come.
He had small hands that rubbed lotion into our faces in the morning before we left for school and they didn’t feel like they could hurt.
He tickled us and we tried not to laugh because of the crying and the creamsicles.
She hid things – knives, hammers, screwdrivers – all around the house – in the bathroom, their bedroom, under the cushions in the couch. We never asked why and we did not move them.
It was dark and the bedroom door was closed. We heard voices. Loud and shrieking; low and whispering, screaming, cussing, calling names. The tinkling of glass breaking. The thwack of a hand meeting flesh. We wanted to help her. We tried to hate him.
We held each other under the covers – shivering even though it was not cold. Thunder rattled the windows and lightening flickers through the blankets – just enough so we could see each other for a second. We counted – 1, 2, 3, 4 – between the booms, the light, and their screaming.
We wanted to turn on the radio so we could drown them but she’d always told us no radio, TV, or phone during a storm, and so he taught us to count between the booms, flashes, the raging.
We crept into the closet – hiding, hoping.
The sky rumbled and woke us. We cracked the door and listened to her crying into silence and morning as rain danced on the window.
We found her in the living room. On the couch.
Her dress was torn. She did not move. A necklace of fingers wrapped around her skinny neck. A couch cushion lay on the floor next to three teeth, and she held a knife in her hand. Seven small red footprints walked across the floor and stopped in front of her.
A groan rose from behind the couch, and followed it. His eyes were closed, his hands were open, and we screamed.
They took us away and to our aunt’s house. We did not speak.
It took two days for him to die. We did not visit him, and they would not let us see her. When they let her come home on the third day, her eyes reminded us of the night sky – deep and forever.
We would not go to his wake, but she did, said she needed to be sure, needed to see him in the box.
At his funeral, we cried because we missed him even though we were glad he was gone.
She flinches. We might be reaching for the saltshaker or leaning past her to grab the remote, and she flinches. A quick movement. She blinks, but at night, she doesn’t cry anymore, and the bag is gone. We checked.
If Lisa could be any literary figure, it would Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God because she inhales life and is a perfect literary imagining. Lisa grew up in New Haven, CT and secretly adores 19th Century Brit literature. Right now she’s really into young adult fiction either by southern writers or that takes place in the south because her novel in progress, One Summer, follows a group of teenage girls in a small Georgia town during the civil rights movement. She earned her MFA in English & Creative Writing from Mills College and possesses a BA in English from Spelman College. She has done workshops with the Voices of Our Nation’s Foundation and the Fine Arts Work Center, and last year shivered in VT for a few weeks for a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Links to her literary musings appear on her blog The Randomness of Me at http://www.randomnessofme.tumblr.com/. Her work will appear in Mission at 10th Literary Journal and the online edition of Generations Literary Magazine this spring. Lisa’s short fiction, memoir, and poetry have also appeared in the Spelman Spotlight, and she is a contributor for Yahoo Voices. Lisa is African-American with a smidgen of Montauk mixed in.