(to Bridgette McGee)
The lipstick smelled and tasted rancid but felt better than dry, bleeding skin. Better than the taste of bile that had been oozing into my mouth from the thought of May 19.
“Can’t do any more than this,” said Jody, rouging my cheeks with few more uninterested sweeps of an ancient brush that bit and poked at my skin. “No one’s taking your pictures there, girl.” I didn’t feel pain. She was only working with what she had, working on what I wished for. I stared at her nails caked in dirt, wet and dark brown like the mud set inside the soles of Miz Emma Walker’s shoes that afternoon five years ago.
Lying on her back in the yard soggy from heavy overnight rain, Miz Walker kicked and bucked. But couldn’t overcome the newfound strength in my hand bearing down on her pale neck that turned dark like caramel as I pressed. A sense of joy prevailed on sighting death in the eyes of my former employer, on finally unshackling the intent that burned in me for two years since Father died.
“Now put these on, yourself.” Jody thrust her hand in my face, in her grip a fluffy white diaper. I stood still. “Do it, don’t force me to pull your pants down and pin you to the floor. Not today.”
Today was May 19. Jody’s eyes looked as dispassionate as Miz Walker’s. Only Jody was black and doing her job; she could be feeling different behind that visage.
Unlike Miz Walker who felt no sin or shame telling the white officers that Father had tried to rape her. I know it wasn’t true. I know because I was the one, an innocent fifteen-year old, who ran a mile on gravel road and handed her note to Father, because I was outside the bedroom as they made love. I was hiding behind the credenza when Miz Walker’s husband came home early from work and caught them exchange moans, arched into each other. The last time I had seen Father so quiet and helpless was when he sat next to Mother’s bed and stared at her still body. Other than the regret of being a willing messenger, the only thing about that note that stayed inside me like gnawing shards of glass was the way it was signed off – love, E.
“You haven’t looked better.” There was a rare comfort in Jody’s voice, probably from relief that she didn’t have to strong-arm me into slipping on the diaper, which was cold between my legs. I felt no anger towards Jody or the tasteless food she often forced into my mouth or the iron rod that came down on my back for refusing to clean my cell. As if all my anger, carefully heaped and squirreled away in those three years between Father’s arrest and death, had been emptied out that afternoon on Miz Walker. Even as she lay motionless on the grass and the men in uniform cursed and dragged me, I didn’t feel I had done anything wrong, my rage now cinder.
“We’re almost there.” That was the last time I heard Jody’s voice. Listening closely to the pitch of the clipper running on the crown of my head, I passed out.
The next time I opened my eyes I could smell the metal on my head, feel air through a slit in my prison pants, and the tightness of my hands secured to the side of my body. My chin felt the cold patch of drool soaked through the shirt. It was not until I saw the rusted straps and coiled wires, the older man to my side with a black hood in his hand, and Jody standing in one far corner, the only other black woman in a room filled with hateful white eyes and bitter nods of approval, that I finally felt like a murderer. Father would have probably suffered the same denouement sitting strapped in this old wooden chair. Except that he was not guilty.
Ajay Vishwanathan is mesmerized by the power of words, more now when he sees his two-year old twins form them. Two-time Best of The Net Anthology nominee, Ajay has work published or forthcoming in over seventy literary journals, including elimae, The Potomac, DecomP, Toasted Cheese, and Stymie Mag.
© 2010, Ajay Vishwanathan