Archive: May 2006

Excerpt from “To Be Real”

While she was at Wal-Mart that night, Alison couldn’t help but remember the change in Sandi’s looks. Alison had never considered it could be that easy, just deciding to change it, not just it but also to change how people treat her. She had spent the day thinking about what change dye would bring to her. She wasn’t sure if anyone would notice or if they did notice, she didn’t know if would change anything. As she stared at the shelves, she decided she was thinking too much about it. She always thought too much and did too little, so she hid the “honey auburn” box in her cart underneath her tofu and ice cream. The aisles were empty except for the graveyard shift workers restocking the surrounding shelves with shampoos, conditioners, and body wash. She scratched the dye off her list.

[…]

After removing her glasses, she put a towel around her neck. She was sweating when she squirted the red goop in her hair. It was too red like fake blood from a horror movie. She sat on her toilet watching her clock as she let the dye sit in her hair for its 15 minutes. She closed her eyes and thought about sleep to ignore the slight stinging.

When she opened her eyes, she could see a light under the door from the hallway. When she tried to move, her muscles were heavy and senseless. Everything hurt. She sat still, wondering why she and her muscles were asleep in the bathroom. She scratched her head and put her hand down on her lap. Seeing the mess of red dye and hair stuck to her jeans, she scrambled into the shower water that burned her raw scalp as she frantically rinsed. The dye came out along with her hair. Like spider webs, it tangled around her fingers and lay in clumps in her palms, and her shoulders, and on top of the drain.

Excerpt from “August on the Patio”

Brandy didn’t hate church exactly. It served a purpose like most things in this world. Since her parents lived in the whitest city on the coast, it was her connection to blackness. It wasn’t the blackness she saw on TV with big grandmotherly types and wily old men. It was blackness like her, medium brown, yellow, burnt, red, coastal Mississippi, sans twang but with the slight drawl that only tourists heard. The blackness her father had passed on to her.

“Black folk got to stay together as long as we aren’t holding each other back,” he would tell her. “I know it’s not easy on you going to this white school, baby girl, but this here is an opportunity for you. Here you won’t be distracted by boys and drugs, and you’ll be able to make something of yourself.”

He’d tug on her coarse pigtail as he dropped her off for class.

Looking around the 7:45 congregation, she saw the grown-up faces of the children who were never her friends. Being black didn’t make her cool in Sunday school like it did Monday through Friday when her classmates asked if her parents were drug dealers and if Master P. was her cousin.

At church, Michael Brown and his friends hadn’t asked her anything since they were six, and he had asked, “Why you talk funny? Do you think you white or something?”

She remembered how the red lines raised across his face after she had scratched him. While she waited for Rev. Aidle to come in with a switch and beat them both for acting up in church, she sat on the pew scratching her own arms wishing she’d see something besides the white ashy lines. Since then, Michael ignored her until she was 11. That was the year her mother began standing over her in the half bathroom, wetting washcloths with steaming water and then placing the cloths on her face to bring the puss out. Once the white head appeared, she’d squeeze her skin with plastic fingernails, and the white thick puss would pop out and little drops of blood would gather on her checks. When she’d go to Sunday school, Michael would whisper about the scars and the zits that occupied her forehead and cheeks, and the kids would smile at her and say she looked pretty before bursting into laughter.

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