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Table of Contents

Chantelle

Fiction by D.V. Glenn

You say that instead, we could look out that window. That the Hollywood sky, clouds whipped by Santa Ana winds into a frothy parfait, is nothing like the ashen sky you left behind in Bedford, Ohio. You say that we could stay inside and listen to the romantic murmur of nearby branches, and you remind me that I said I would show you joy. Yes, I did say that five hours ago, when you first emerged from the stale gloom of the Greyhound bus, and it may be that you remind me because you’re beginning to have doubts, though I would prefer to think it’s simply that you can’t see how the scenario I’ve proposed could one day become a rich source of humor and satisfaction for you, a treasure box of retrospection you could plunder during those times when you might otherwise yield to the temptation to rest your chin in the broad palm of boredom and stare into the poverty of empty space, do nothing. Isn’t boredom the arch-nemesis of every teenager – in fact, of every man and woman? Maybe if you try to imagine the details of my proposed scenario: the door to the room I’ll rent for an hour down the hall slamming open upon indecent caresses as I burst in, playing the part of the wolf from streets like wild woods. Try to imagine how you’ll bolt upright off the mattress, your face a surprised window shattered by an assault of stone, the poor john tumbling like a rockslide from the slopes of your body scant seconds before he can fit himself snugly between your holstering thighs; how you’ll clutch wildly at the sheet and pull it up to your neck (behind this salacious bib will dangle the silver crucifix that was a present from your incest-loving father), while I snarl and snap at his sodden crotch before beating him senseless. How will I know when to kick the door in? I’ll know because you’ll take this tiny black box, a simple transmitter, and you’ll press the button a moment before the arrow of his lust finds its target. This receiver I hold will blink its tiny red eye, my response will be instantaneous and brutal. Won’t this be pure exhilaration, and without a doubt the opposite of bloodless boredom?

  • .

It’s true daylight lessens in imminent exit, the hour seems to be latent with the spent sexual immobility you think we could share and not regret. But we need to make money to eat, to pay rent, to establish our modest household … no, none of that, to hell with those lies, little Chantelle. I won’t lie, I’ll just make promises I can’t always keep. For after all, if I could capture the dew of even your most disillusioned of glances in jars, sell them to other sly peddlers, they would only distill them to a stasis of black petals. Should I say that after we peel with our eyes the pastel shadow of that tree beyond the window as though it were an orange, we could pretend to recline in a parlor (for that’s what we could call this room) not filled with cheap K-Mart lamps, our tarnished maimed brass servants? The light is not constructing itself into a fortress, protective impalpable walls of light remote as the moon, terrible as the efficacy of cactus. You have so much to learn, Chantelle. Think back to that first little skin-popping prick of the needle I administered not an hour ago. You’ll come to understand that centuries of alabaster powder now freight our gasping veins, that each drop of sweat on our limbs is like the mournful blast of a locomotive’s horn attempting to warn stragglers away from the tracks. All my way of saying it will soon be time for you to go. The streets are waiting for that red dress you’ll wear like skin, your shadow trailed by mine as I slide along the walls of abandoned buildings, the brass knuckles in my pocket. You now hear music? You want me to say the tunes seem to portray fairies, their ethereal faces, their languid tresses, that the tunes are like something that pours, spilling from vases. I know I twist this language into taffy, it’s sweet when you sink your teeth into it but it doesn’t make sense, that’s what you want, that’s what I want you to want. But I can be accommodating as well. Because I know it will appeal to your adolescent sensibilities, I’ll deny it’s simply a common boombox outside, kicking with heavy boots of bass, that now forces my heart ajar, this door in my chest long closed and held fast by its corroded deadbolt. I’ll deny it and say that it’s you, opening my heart and pouring your music into me, pouring into me.

  • .

What does a fourteen-year-old know of love? I won’t patronize you, Chantelle. You are a pretty girl with an angelic face the color of the dark-hued spaces between stars, but your teeth are picket fences planted in the otherwise verdant dell behind your lips, where the spaces of your mouth smell like rain, a green meringue of meadows. Your father – you called him Daddy, didn’t you – said that he would put you in the capable hands of an orthodontist, if only you would leave your bedroom door ajar and camouflage his moans with the sounds he instructed you to produce in imitation of a young girl waltzing with nightmares after midnight. If your mother heard from her bed of echoes at the bottom of the empty vodka bottle where she slept, she would stir briefly as though to cast off her woolen blanket of booze, then return after a begrudging moment of besotted half-wakefulness to sleep, having convinced herself that what she heard was the sound of a daughter waltzing with nightmares after midnight, a girl too old to require the comfort of a mother’s arms. But you see that piggy bank there on the dresser, the one I’ve stuffed with soiled bills? You see the words written in magic marker on its pink flanks? What does it say? It says, For Chantelle’s Braces.

  • .

You remember the sword of an autumn river, the Ohio river, sheathed by a scabbard of glittering banks. Are you forgetting that the glitter was simply the kiss of sunlight on discarded, uninhabited condoms? Down the raw scar of the road was a pier. Standing on that pier, regarding travelers flowing by in liquid vehicles, you saw their faces peering at you from behind rolled up windows, like faces peering out from the frames of portraits that hang slightly askew on the wall. The compulsion to straighten the frames of portraits with a fingertip’s tap are always akin to the cruelest of temptations. Such faces, when glimpsed in their trailing scarves of speed, always seem unique and dispassionate. Piers rise from their wave-lapped pillars and regard the smug little pretenses of travelers touring quaint places and in that knowing way of wooden things declare by the uncompromising hereness of their presence that coming and going, the fatuous rapture of destinations, is all the same thing. I think that even then you suspected it’s only the things we run from that amount to discernible differences, the kaleidoscope of shifting circumstances through which eyes ricochet from tragedy to tragedy in tragic technicolor. Perhaps you saw my face, Chantelle, I would like to think so. Maybe I had just fled Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where the checks I recklessly wrote without money in the bank bought me the things I thought I needed, or maybe I had just launched myself, a restless rock, from the slingshot of Orlando, Florida, pursued by the 3 Russians in a black BMW who were intent on collecting money I had borrowed and refused to repay. They were moths mourning the vitality of my flame, pursuing the residual sparks of my dishonor as I sped through the striptease of winds before me. There are words in other languages that mean nigger, and I believe they must have shouted that word, building it up into a stack of blunt square alphabet blocks that rolled off their clacking mother tongue. But they did not realize, as we do, that America is the luminous nigger of the world, a place that built itself from nothing, from scraps of invisibility, and that to find me would be as difficult as finding and clutching invisible things. So there you stood, I believe I saw you as I went zooming by, and you must have been growing weary of the daily losses you always felt shivering through your body in gradient temblors, and you glimpsed my eyes, which haunted you with my own vulpine presentiments. I imagine the rest: that you were driven to enact parables, that you scooped a handful of sepia water you held in interlaced fingers, racing back to your house and opening the trapdoor of your hands above a bucket; that you carried the bucket to your father, told him you had captured the wild heart of the river. He laughed at you, Chantelle, and told you that since the water in the bucket no longer flowed, you had forfeited the right to call it a river. He was a brutal one with a fondness for pressing the tip of the pin to the rainbow bubbles of childhood, but not altogether wrong in certain of his observations.

  • .

You are my Salome of profits, of small future freedoms and luxuries: the caviar of dope we’ll both feed on with our exquisite hypodermic implements, the limousine of bliss we’ll ride in over the freeways of our pharmaceutical blood. There is no reason for you see those dances you’ll lie down for on sweat-braided linens as anything more than a means to that end. I may even buy you veils, an array of silken garments, a silver tray on which to display the useless heads that will roll from men’s shoulders after I have hacked them off with my rusty blade. There is no reason to pity the men who will come to you in cringing concupiscence, those supplicants of the god of lust and loneliness. Their wives will miss them for a time, until the insurance checks arrive … now what is it, Chantelle? You say you don’t feel well, you are retreating to the bathroom. Is this another form of playing hooky? I know that you despised the 9th grade, that jungle of mediocrity you were banished to each day, the girls who roamed the barren veldts of public-school education and watched you with roaring eyes, those lionesses of adolescence who lankily stalked you through the hormone-reeking halls, tossing their shrill and jealous manes. It was not your fault their boyfriends, mere dogs bounding through the fields of their tumid fantasies, sniffed at your skirts – did you wear skirts, or refuse them for fashionably mangled Calvin Klein jeans? – inhaling the listless odor of the progenitor’s seed. You could not stop your father and so you betrayed him (that was the cyanide logic you swallowed at any rate) leaving through the back door of the gymnasium in the middle of homecoming dances with this or that gangly youth, someone else’s date, ordering them to pull down their pants behind the bushes in the parking lot, then fondling the penis, which held you in its jerky aim, an executioner’s rifle. But one day those girls caught up with you, Chantelle, made you drink down the quarts of outrage you had distilled in them, and in some corner of a building hidden from the hazy eyes of teachers, did things to you with a broom handle turned phallic, an assault which symbolized for them what they imagined you wanted. The blood blazed down your smoky thighs and when your mouth yawned open like a sewer lid to flood their ankles in pestilential pools of laughter they feared you, angling away from you in a coterie of flight. But you were too smart for school anyway, Chantelle, what could they teach you from books that you had not already read in the unexpurgated pages of everyday life? You have no reason to play hooky now. Now, you are the teacher and your pupils want only to learn the ways of a stern and pitiless heart such as yours.

  • .

You must be feeling better, Chantelle, you are out of the bathroom, your complexion as flawless as the dark velvety button embedded in dandelion’s fringe, your face just as round and budding with youth, but you are beginning to sound like a CD scarred into repetition by a clumsy scalpel of laser. Out there is a tree, you insist it displays chandeliers of branches, you keep claiming you would be content to watch them for all eternity, even though with each passing moment you find it increasingly difficult to refute my insistence that eternity only exists in the veins that tunnel through our bodies and carry us off to that timeless rose-tinted underground we would reside in forever if we could. One of us must go and do what needs be done. If you loose me upon the world, I can’t promise you the turns and twists of my odyssey will ensure my swift and speedy return.

Let me tell you something.

When I was in prison, the guards, zebra-striped by shadows leaping off the bars of my cage like acrobats from trapezes, tried to mock me with the odor of freedom that starched their uniforms, but the scent of my memories was a crowbar of pungency that pried open my nostrils, the scent of my remembered iniquities overpowered that mockery and made me patient as Job. No prisoner was more willing to serve his sentence than I was, for I had so much to savor, so many vivid condiments to sprinkle on the leathery roast of tedium they hoped I would chew and then choke on. Other prisoners through the bars of the cages see their array of daydreams – crooning faces, the friends and families and lovers they had disappointed – and are reduced to infantile fantasies, see themselves at the end of their incarceration borne aloft on parade floats, waving to bystanders who would no longer see them as convicts, for they would emerge scrubbed clean by the hard bristles of rehabilitation. They would be ferried off in plumed carriages, waving gratefully to well wishers, they would ride in comfort, covering their regrets, as though they were cold buffoonish knees, with the shawl of anticipated journeys to other faraway places. But I went nowhere, did not imagine the benevolence that would greet me when I was set free, I wallowed like a sow in the sludge of blood I had spilled. Yes, there were white men I slaughtered because their eyes, like irons manufactured by Black & Decker, steamed me to a creased crisp, forcing me to move as though I occupied a faded zoot suit lifted moth-eaten from some battered trunk. There was something outdated and absurd about the image of menace they dressed me in. It was as if I had no right, in these days accelerated and sanitized by computers, to feel the old dirty rage whose seeds they had planted in me centuries ago. And yes, I killed black men too (only those to whom it would never occur to acknowledge me with a perfunctorily mumbled “brother” and that quick guillotine-blade of a nod when they passed me on streets, though I elect to be brother to no man ) because of how easily they had been led, like foolish mules, to drink from the well of self-hatred, and now pecked at the keys of computers, machines that forget history the faster they are made to function. Downloaded from negritude, they think, into digital emancipation. One particularly gratifying memory, like dust released from nasal cilia by the small tornado of a sneeze, strikes me now with most excellent force. There was a black professor of semantics whose splendidly appointed Soho apartment I once broke into, and I never intended to find him there that night, a night that had let down its sable Soho hair to be combed smooth with white rain, though that detail now smacks of theatrical additament, it’s quite possible I made it up, because I do so love rain, its mellow or raucous polyphonies, I never told you that, did I? That I would have invented rain if I could? Looming shadows in dimly lit rooms fall on observers and they feel the commotion of gothic secrets, minute presages of all the transgressions they’ve committed and tried to forget – have you ever noticed that, witnessed the act when it occurs? The professor shifted guiltily in his sleek office chair on its trident of rotating wheels and touched the back of his neck as I wisped closer, never taking his eyes off the dungeon-dull glow of the monitor he stared into. When finally he turned, he saw me standing there, rigid, a column supporting his structure of terror, I could tell by his eyes it was familiar architecture. He knew me with nameless intimacy, he knew he had struggled against strangling odds all his life not to become me. And then, do you know what he said? Now this is a delectation, an éclair of irony, delicious to bite into. He said, Please, brother … and raised his hand, a feeble gesture, in a salute that stayed frozen above his eyebrows, as though to coax me into visored focus. Put the light on me, I said, pointing to a frightened Ikea desk lamp with one of those snaking necks of ridged aluminum that are wrenched this way and that by seekers of illumination. He obeyed with a ductility he seemed to absorb from that neck, and I rewarded him with a long weighted look before I knocked it from his hand, which moved like jagged encephalographic spikes, then struck across the blunt bridge of his nose with that baseball bat you see propped there in the corner of our room. I tell you this because I want you to know that I will always protect you. But I think you know that already.

What do you mean, why would they let a man like me who had killed go free from prison? They had no choice, Chantelle. I walked out because I grew weary of remembering and longed for new diseased adventures. I walked out wearing the clothes of the expert consultant who had come that day to recommend hermetic enhancements for their unassailable and vicious security systems.

You also want to know why, if I did not expect the man to be home that night, I carried the bat? When you are young I suppose it’s natural to somersault in and out of gymnastic assumptions. Very well, it was not mine, Chantelle, it was his. That is, it was in his apartment, leaning, like a leg that had surrendered to amputation, against the wall, so responsible with its book-shelved tiers, in the doomed silence of his bedroom.

But I know all these questions are just tactics. You want stories because they delay the inevitable, we all want that, and for that reason I’ll refuse to be angered. Given time and the proper atmospherics … the dimness of this room, the REM-state shadows thrown by those somnambulant branches, the muted and buttery voices of the tenants above and below us smeared by the sponge of these walls into something that rejects the harshness of reality … given this watery montage of seductions, you are hoping I’ll do what I haven’t done before, that I will fall into your dark and virile arms, as though I were a member of royalty, a prince or king, who is seized in an uprising and led into alarming milieus outside the perimeters of the castle, then thrown into the arms of a swarming peasantry. My Chantelle, you girlish heart opens its pink pages and invites the exotic calligraphy of silvery signatures, I know that you desire pretty things because the day you drifted down like an ebony rose from the Greyhound bus where you had sat rooted to the seat for long hours, the landscape blossoming in and out of your awareness with that hypnotic monotony of moderately regulated speeds – yes, you drifted down and in your hand you carried nothing but a dog-eared volume of high-school poetry, it was Wordsworth, I remember. No, I won’t begrudge you the sweet morsel of my denial in its fragrant diamond of cellophane wrapper: Kings, princes, royalty, so I have said, and now I’ll continue in that vein – between your brunette thighs you would like me to find my throne, you would like me to startle the air with decrees of regal ecstasy, the comets and shooting stars of my moans spreading in a constellation throughout the crown of twilight settling on this room, my scepter ensconced in the deep sleeve of your voluminous desire, which would envelope me like the turquoise wings of a robe. But if I let this happen, if I close my eyes and evaporate into your dream of entwining limbs and allow my lips to frame a smeared dazed portrait of your kiss, would I be any different from your father or the men who would stretch their bodies before you like puddles absorbing the litter of lost pavements? Those brief aneurysms of pleasure you seek with me are nothing more than the vaporous gestures of the flesh. You’ll find as you grow older that yearning is far superior to consummation, that even the sheerest of velleities, if left untouched to simmer above the splintered matchsticks of your imagination, will ignite in a tinderbox of time to become a shapeless structure of conflagration, throwing off a radiance so intense that it remains unapproachable; and thus you’ll find that what is unattainable is a victory, a postponement of death. In your unfulfilled longing for me resides my eternity and yours, though you feel it as something corroding your marrow. I know that I have to feed those flames a little, and that is why I now touch the trusting tautness of your neck, pull my finger across it like a bow that journeys across the lowest string of a cello. Give me your arm, Chantelle, let me fortify the remote promise that my touch sustains with compensatory pleasures injected through the tip of this needle, pale in comparison to what I want you to continue to imagine – my flesh one day scrolling over yours – but a foretaste nevertheless. Do you feel it now? This rush (observe my own eyes if you wish, see how they roll back in their hooded recesses) is a roller coaster lifting us up at quicksilver velocities, or it may be that it’s everything else that slows, as if we have risen to our chemical apex and fling down the world, which spins like a yoyo on a string once it reaches the bottom, hesitating, awaiting the jerk of the index finger where the string is noosed before that whirling orb can ascend to socket solidly in the palm of the hand. It seems that you’re whispering to me, Chantelle, that the words I hear you saying are yes, joy.

  • .

Caged things, panthers for instance or men, or perhaps all things in cages, are far from decrepit, though their movements as they pace mirror a constricted form of loss, like something that requires the aid of a cane. Eventually that pacing evolves into preening and they strike stances resembling attractive apparitions, for they see the ghost of freedom reflected in the pupils of spectators and siphon it away like efficient thieves. Some of these spectators, the more sensitive among them, can feel what is happening and are diminished by it, lose themselves in daily decrements, until the despised creatures they observe mock the spectator with that regurgitated freedom. One of the prison guards observed me with the dread of a man in a foreign country who attempts to explain an urgent need but is not fluent in the language, he was aware on some submerged level that a transaction between us was taking place and that he was being cheated of an essential currency, therefore he wore sunglasses, hoping to deflect my taunting appropriations. To justify wearing sunglasses indoors, he told himself and his superiors that his vision was deteriorating, that the glare of fluorescence and of computer screens struck flinty gray sparks across his field of vision, that the glasses filtered those dull pins and needles. Finally, he avoided looking at me altogether, asking to be transferred to another wing. Do you hear what I’m saying? Those streets out there that you fear are a cage are simply your opportunity to reduce others to blindness.

  • .

I listened to you recite the lush free verse of your past as we sat at the counter at Denny’s and you devoured the Grand Slam breakfast with the medieval disdain for etiquette that celebrates gluttony, like those bloated kings in movies who tear into gargantuan turkey legs and toss the remains to dogs surging under the table. Such was your hunger, Chantelle, but the food you ate was only a measure of the fuel you needed to set your story on fire with two hours of words. Had you been bolder you might have recited the hackneyed poem of your days and nights as though offering up robust blasphemies no listening stranger could have ever dared pretend to pity. Though your appetite was admirable in its savagery, you were in actuality a shivering wet poodle of dejection, waiting for kind words, a pink towel, a pat on the head. But I refused to give you that because we live in a rottweiler world, and it is better to sink your teeth into the boot that kicks you in face than to lick the hand that feeds you scraps. Why did I bother to listen at all? I listened because the world is a head without ears, and my ears are always hungry for stories that toss back my own in a warped ripple of funhouse refractions.

So tell me if I have it right: Long before you began to dream of running away, you were already bruised by abandonment, a peach left to wither on the windowsill of your mother’s melancholy moods. She took long strolls from her bedroom to the living room and then to the kitchen, circling back then to the bedroom, while a vague parasol of isolation floated over and above her, immovable, casting off the light that seemed to fall unobstructed on other women, women whose husbands were not stricken with the sense of their of own inadequacy or failure. You grew accustomed to being ignored, and anyway there was always some never-flaccid schoolboy you could float away with on a misty zeppelin of marijuana and sangria … but one day you found a photo album encased in its sarcophagus of dust on a shelf in the garage, saw your mother at the age of fourteen, her face as vulnerable and smooth as an apple sliced in half, sweet and heart-shaped and brown as though from oxidation, as yet untouched by the abrasive tongue of the future, which would soon lap away at her innocence until her features melted into an acrid cider secreted by the shriveled core of manifold disappointments. How horrible it was for you to see what your mother had not yet become, to know that things would go so wrong for her. And who can blame a daughter for trying to hold up a shield to deflect the hurl of days and nights that were certain to arrive in her own life like a head-on collision, headlights glaring and horn shrieking on some vehicle of random lamentation, while at the same time striving to absorb some of the sorrow for foregone possibilities that assaulted the mother, for you were convinced that you could slice through the charred flank of loneliness laid out on the platter set before that older version of yourself, drink down the stale rumpled gravy that ran over the edge of your mother’s sad plate. Yes, you tried to help her, Chantelle, even when she fell in love with another man, a fellow who called himself a “tax specialist” and worked at Sears in a corner of that moribund store set aside as an outpost for H&R Block. On a Monday that limply shrugged its shoulders in its threadbare garment of rain, dreary in that saturating way that only a rainy Midwestern city can be, she stopped to pick up the W2 that the man had prepared for your family, and on Wednesday evening they stood together in the parking lot as though leaning against the railing on a balcony of wistful but dilapidated moments, their eyes sweeping the horizon like windshield wipers as they awaited obscure signs and portents. Sometimes a stranger is the archway to a vast coliseum of rapacity and need, and when we enter their lives we do so as gladiators ready to take what we require and give what is demanded of us in dances of mortal combat, brandishing tears and laughter as though they were daggers, unsheathing the stories of our lives in slashes, parries and thrusts that will ultimately result in bloodlettings or the pleasurable exchange of bodily fluids. They entered that archway and discovered an arena of morbid commonalities, with tacit understanding agreed to travel to the sinful purlieus beyond the commercial district where motels like so many gigantic tombstones surrounded the Amtrak station. Later, your mother revealed her secret to you and I know her pupils must have shone with diamond points of zirconian happiness that desperately mimicked authentic light, just as I know that you felt obligated to help her establish the logistics of her fretful assignations. For we all want happiness even though we come to realize that lasting happiness is an impossibility, we want it for ourselves and for others, we want it beyond reason and above all things. Thus were you inducted by your mother and assumed your rank as general leading an army of her lies to do battle in the war of clandestine happiness she waged. You lied to your father each time you left the house in the evening with your mother, telling him that you were both taking hatha yoga classes at the YWCA downtown. Sitting in the car parked in back of the motel, you waited while your mother went to the room that the tax man rented, shifting your eyes from the lines of the poem you were reading, Wordworth’s “Ode to Intimations of Immortality,” up to the window where you saw their shadows drifting together in a choreography of dire entanglement and embrace. It was fascinating, wasn’t it, Chantelle, to watch those shadows perform a slow-motion aikedo of clutch, release and eager realignment, gliding across the coyly lowered shade. And at a certain point the shade lifted and your mother, clad only in her bra, threw open the window and leaned drunkenly on the sill, calling you, calling your name, beckoning you with an exuberant gesture of her arm, and you rose, answering that call, your body an elevator rising through the shaft of your mother’s voice as it lifted you on cables of intoxicated laughter, until there you stood. There you stood, in the room, your mother now naked, lewd pearls dangled from her neck, a gift from the naked man standing behind her, his arms encircling the latex sag of her waist. You did what you were told, lifting the videocamera from the bed, fitting the cold cup of the viewfinder against your eye, taping them in their dissolve of intertwined flesh, zooming in to capture the startled and ferocious look on her face as she rode a sleigh of coarse moans and ululate sighs up and over the slippery slopes of her orgasm, his orgasm, hers again. For this was to be her library, she explained, a record of stolen moments that would fill the empty screen of her life and offer her perverted consolation for the escape she did not pursue, the flight she would otherwise have embarked on that would have severed the bonds to that house, that husband, and you.

  • .

It was inevitable that one night while your mother was reliving the bedroom scenes you had taped, your father, unheard, would enter the sewing room in the rear of the house at an hour when he should have been sleeping, your mother’s earplugs of vodka muffling his approach. And everything else that followed now seems the gaping of inevitable surreality, like hands long epoxied together in prayer stickily unclasping: your father calling you to the sewing room, arranging the chairs in a semi-circle before the television to promote optimum visibility, your father disappearing to the kitchen and returning with a large bowl brimming with misshapen skulls of popcorn, the air a garden of buttery scent that encouraged seeds of saliva to bear their anticipatory fruit, against your will, in what would have otherwise been your fear-parched mouth. There were tall mugs of Cokes with mushrooming foam that released an applause of fizz that he thoughtfully set on TV trays for father and daughter, more vodka and pulp-free orange juice for Mom. No one said a word, Chantelle, what was there to say? Denials of your involvement would have been useless, the volume was turned up on the television, and your name could be heard as the couple exhorted you in the execution of bold, experimental angles. The three of you watched the grappling bodies, you were a member of an audience that seemed lazily suspended in hammocks of silence, until the last image succumbed to snow and snarl, the sleet of cathode oblivion, the terminal weather of exhausted technology.

  • .

Were you angry, Chantelle? And if so, who or what was to be the plank for that chain-saw of anger revolving in your buzzing brain? When your thoughts extended their flailing arms and embraced wild notions of fires that would be impervious to the blandishments of rushing waters, who did you see imprisoned in cellblocks of flame? Each time your father brought his male coworkers home, and took them to the sewing room, served them ham and cheese sandwiches with ice-glazed pitchers of beer, then dimmed the lights in the room as though it were a theater, playing the tape of your mother and the tax man from Sears to the audience your father had assembled, the men watching at first as though bludgeoned by an appalled mallet of silence, then lifting their voices in a chorus of revelry encouraged by the cuckolded husband … each time, your heart expanded with the volatile helium of anomy. And that the men he ushered into that room were white was your father’s inspired stroke of punitive genius. Until then, you had that attitude of benign indifference toward race which is the hallmark of the duped and ignorant generation of middle-class black youths to which you belong. You believed that others saw, as you strode down the street, only the color of the jeans you wore that you had seen lavishly displayed in MTV advertisements, commercials purporting to celebrate “multiculturalism” in the exotic faces of teenaged models from India, the Middle East, Asia and Africa, faces that reflected for the masses a colonialized and newly discovered third-world beauty exploited by Western marketing moguls – as if such beauty had not existed until receiving monetary sanction. Money is green, Chantelle, not black or brown, and the merchants who snatch it from your outstretched hand are only too willing to greet you with smiles that lull you into thinking the color of your skin is inconsequential. But when you saw the faces of those white men roll through a roulette of expressions, first shock, then deep undisguised fascination, and finally smug appreciation, you realized that some corpse of suspicion and contempt reluctantly buried beneath the thin topsoil of politically correct sentiments had risen gleefully from its grave in triumphant resurrection. You knew that they did not see what you had seen as they watched your mother thrash about on the bed and floor, a woman made grotesque with grieving, with sweet nepenthean cocktails. What they saw was a black whore who, with the exultation of one smothering finally flinging aside impediments to breathing, had freed an insatiable animal nature tenuously tamed by civilization, a creature amoral, carnal, palpitating with the percussion of internal jungle drums, devoid of higher faculties. For their eyes seemed to proclaim, I knew it, I was not wrong in suspecting as much. And you were your mother’s daughter, younger but just as black, and so by association, their judgment extended to grip you in deep-sea tentacles. Oh Chantelle, that look on your face disappoints me, it’s a mask of placation whose sole purpose is to grant a madman his delusions and thus avoid a scene. You think I’m injecting my own serum of bile into this cancerous body of facts? Then tell me – and don’t lie, because a master of improvisation is always able to detect a wrong note, no matter how quickly it may be woven into the quilt of the music – did one of them stand, turn away, his back bowed under the weight of so much sorrow on exhibit? Did just one of them leave that room, that house, or even place his hand on your father’s shoulder, ask him to describe the pain he had gripped in his hand like a stickshift, to explain why he brutally rammed it forward so that he sped down that desolate avenue of ugly revelation? I didn’t think so, Chantelle, and I wish I could say I’m sorry. But you must use the eyes God gave you to see the rich proliferation of ugly truths he has created for you. Just know that if I were God, I would have created a race capable of navigation without sight to inhabit this inexcusable planet. I can only do the next best thing, weave the black lace with which this world may be efficaciously shrouded. Are you weeping? I never intended to made you sad … ah, but now you’re beginning to understand – you’re holding your arm out to me. I’m here, Chantelle, and I will always have what you need if you’ll just honor me with your trust, step forward with me onto this stage without benefit of a script, bow deeply, allow the curtain of your eyelids to descend upon the proscenium of sight, while the hands of the opiate applaud us, a mellow encore ringing in our ears.

  • .

I had no idea, no idea it was so late. The sun has relinquished its hold on its burden of mauve and saffron, slipped off its pedestal like a woman in narcosis who forgets the vertebrae’s purpose and slides from her settee to the wild dark floor. You’ve been murmuring, your infant words on rubbery legs attempting to stand. In your present state of wide-eyed sleeping you are laughing and mumbling, and now I know why you’ve been staring at the tree stretching ledger lines of branches across our window, tracing tones across the glass as though it were some distant clavichord of memory. It’s not unlike the tree that grew outside your bedroom window in Bedford, that’s what I’m hearing with difficulty as your clumsy mouth chews pebbles of speech, the tree your father planted from a single acorn the size of a large brown man’s knuckle, and told you it would grow tall and strong, a marvelous analog for your own budding heart. You were five years old, but still, still you remember. Years later you listened to those branches when your father entered your room that first night when the last member of his audience had reluctantly left, and he fell across the bed you sprawled in, exhausted by wickedness, and you felt the hot apology of his tears brand your cheeks, and you didn’t know whether to hold him or vomit, and then, and then, and then, and then, and then he sank into you as though you were quicksand, and what did you do, what were you thinking, speak louder Chantelle, what were you feeling, they were nonfeelings, weren’t they, what was the name of the fleshy spike between your thighs, what dream did you construct that refused to offer you refuge, what did you do with your hands, what was your name, when he called you Sylvia as he tumbled into the cave that you had become, Sylvia your mother’s name, what echoes did you hear, what were those stalactites dripping in your eyes, what recourse did you have, what scraps of unauthored texts floated through your mind, what did you feel you owed him, and then that night a week later when he promised you the braces you knew he would never pay for, what did you grip with your hands, why did you not close your eyes, why did you not swallow your tongue, why did you not pull your hair out by its roots, what did you do, don’t whisper, Chantelle, you must learn to shout, what did you do, where did you hide the sheets, there was only that tree, you anointed it with gasoline in the middle of the night, there were only those flames, skipping down the branches, playing hopscotch on the shingles of the roof, what was that thing that sounded like a siren in the distance, how had you become a victim, why did you not ask yourself why rather than how you had become a victim, why not utter that vinegary quintessence which astringes the lips with why me, why did you not laugh when you saw the house burning as you ran down the street with only a book in your hand, why that book and not another, why Wordsworth, why inutile poetry, why Hollywood, such a fucking cornucopia of questions, I had them too, I had them once, I was once a child, things happened to me, I too had trees, I too had books, like you perhaps I read so many books and found so few answers, a man such as I, black from birth and blacker still when the husk of childhood was peeled away by those pale eyes we know so well, such a man does not bother to read, that’s how they looked at me, as though I would never think during all those years behind bars to pick up a book and read, and for some reason it now occurs to me I haven’t even told you my name, you don’t know my name but I know yours, it’s Chantelle or Mercedes or even Mary, it’s amazing how long I’ve been able to glide with feline resource and cunning about the alleys and dumpsters of this world with not a single soul knowing my name, and now it’s too late for that, Chantelle, you appear to be asleep on the floor, how long have you been sleeping, I hope that’s what it is, are you dreaming of the money we lost tonight, if you are don’t dream that I’m angry, because tomorrow will be here soon, like the next breath waiting to be drawn, when you’re awake I’ll burn that tree, I promise we’ll watch until it anchors itself in ashes, and eventually, the next day or the day after, there will be time enough for more words like these, more stories to tell, time enough for me to remember anew to withhold from you my name.

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