Monday, March 20, 2017

Fiction Series: Saturday:Chapter 4

If you've been under a rock and need to catch up, lol: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

I'm from the generation of "you good?" text messages. Two words crammed into a gray bubble, wrapped in a prayer that you don't really need shit. Because if you do...they won't be available until 3 pm, next Sunday, because it's the best time for mimosas, "I know you're going through some stuff, but you can use a drink right?"

This. This is how I receive people these days. People I have climbed mountains for, put my rep alongside their resumes, watched their children, edited their college personal statements, loaned money to, let have my shoulder, and more. It's in your moments of weakness that God casts a light on those that are truly in your corner.

& my corner, be filled with ghost-like bodegas, front store apparitions, dominoes and Heinekens suspended mid-air, because we'll get around to getting down. Eventually.

Mask your flaws with adulting or whatever millennial word you've discovered to disguise that we all got some shit to work on, but don't wear your mask around me.
May stared at me like I'd lost my mind, from across the conference room table. 

We'd just finished our morning meeting and our coffee was still hot, swirls rising to the dimly lit teachers' lounge ceiling. 

"You're overreacting. I was with a maaaaaaan, last night," May stuck out her tongue, as she said this, to emphasize that she'd had a good time. 

I rolled my eyes at her excitement. 

"Listen, I'm here now. I'm listening. What happened?" 

"Everything I didn't want to happen." 

May leaned back in the reclining chair and folded her arms across her hot pink blazer. May could dress her behind off. I was analyzing her pinstriped button up underneath and green pants, trying to figure how she'd pulled it off. 

I almost didn't catch that her body language implied that I'd been up to no good. 

"Uh, not like that." 

"So what was it like?" 

"Oh, so you want to hear the aftermath? If you'd have picked up your phone when I called you, this all could've been prevented." 

I grabbed my original documents and stormed to the copy room. 

May followed me, "I would have told you to leave him alone and you would have done what you wanted. I would have told you to go and you would have done what you wanted. Sounds like a lose-lose to me." 

I slipped an excerpt from Chimamanda's short story "Apollo" into the Xerox and requested 20 copies.

May refused to accept that I'd finished speaking, "You ain't mad at me. I'm always here for you. You're mad at your other wack ass friends." 

She was right. 

I was mad at Ebony who only checked in when she wanted to do something "cultural." 

"Bih, where the open mics, jazz clubs, literary thangs, any-thing-I-can-take-a-honey-to at?"

I was annoyed with Ray that always sent me to voicemail and texted immediately after, "What's up?"
I was fed up with Deonna's blabbering, in which she only heard about my life in small spurts.

"Girl. Why you ain't tell me you were sick? I would've brought you something."
"I did tell you."
"I had a rough week. It must've slipped my mind. I got you, next time."

I was frustrated with Ella who was so madly in love with her new beau Evan, that nothing else existed.

I had every right to be upset with these friends. They were flaky, inconsistent, and undeserving of the title. Your late twenties start to feel that way--busy and rushed. In order to slow down, we cut off items that aren't priority and turn our attention solely to our careers, significant others, and children. Although we don't set out to diminish our friendships, they find their way down the totem pole and eventually get lost.

But May was right. It wasn't them, this time. It was me. I'd always sought approval from the folks in my life, before making romantic moves. I didn't consider their own romantic situations or how smooth they'd been in prior relationships. I was a non-believer in my own security and I needed someone to tell me how to maneuver in love, considering I'd never mastered it.

I sighed, "I'm mad at myself, May."


"Because I never trust my instincts. I need everyone to tell me how to move because I've f-ed this up so many times."

"It can't be them, over and over again."

"Why not? Maybe you're just so much damn light in all this darkness, that they can't handle it. Blind mice."

May was always able to make me smile with her wit, deep southern accent, and tell-it-like-it-is tone.

I smiled and she leaned across the copier and whispered, "So, what happened?"


Saturday, February 4th, 10 am
He texted me almost immediately.
"Where and when?"
I smiled once I saw Langston's name on my phone. I guess he wasn't mad after all.

There was a small coffee shop down the street from my school and it was heaven. It was called "Library" and it was stocked with large mahogany shelves and books. The coffee was horrendous, but they had muffins that melted in your mouth. They were also the bottom floor of an apartment building, a terrible location, so they didn't really get as much foot traffic. The tenants of the building kept them afloat.

After making my copies for the following week, I made my way to the coffee shop to grade. Langston said he didn't know the exact time he'd be free, but he'd try to make it over in an hour or so. I played it off casually, telling him that I'd be there for the rest of the evening getting work done and it was "whatever."

It had been an hour when the waiter came over to ask me if I wanted another Americano. I nodded yes, also making a firm decision that if Langston wasn't here in a half hour I was headed home. The moment I had this thought, he was walking through the door. He'd changed. He was wearing a white tee, a hoodie draped over his shoulder, and a pair of jeans.

Before I said hello, I blurted out, "Aren't you cold? Where are your clothes?"

He laughed, "Dang. Hello to you, too. I parked right out front. I ran right in and I have my hoodie, just in case the temperature drops."
It was not hoodie weather. I shrugged, "It's your health."

He smirked and asked the waiter for a latte.
"I guess I'm just reckless all the time, huh?"

"About that...I'm sorry. It's not my place and it's truly not my business.."

"You're absolutely right. It's not your business."

This is the moment I usually clam up. I have an issue with men that exert their masculinity in the middle of my vulnerability. I waited for my body to react, for my tongue to take everything I'd just said back. It didn't happen. Instead, it was replaced with a softness and even worse an excitement. His tone was firm and his chiseled face hardened. He had a look of disappointment on his face and all I wanted to do was wipe it away.

"Again, I'm sorry."

"You were right. I did kiss the woman I stepped out of the car with. She's someone I was seeing, but she couldn't handle Zora being back in my life."

"Wow. That's kind of selfish."

"Exactly. The other woman was a new client. She has a day and time for her appointments, but she refuses to follow the schedule. She shows up whenever she wants. It's people like her that make me want to move my practice out of the house."

"Sounds like a good idea. She was at the school the other night. She's one of my student's parents."

"And she has a child in Zora's class? Yeah, that's a little too close to home for me."

"Well, at least you're rectifying it. Progress is all that matters."

There was a pause as soon as the waiter brought over his latte but it wasn't caused by the service. We'd created it before the cup hit the table. The last five words that left my lips hinted at us. He was thinking the same thing I was, I could see it in his eyes.


"Indeed. Did you just come to apologize or are you feeling the kid?"
"You're cool, but I did come to apologize. I also came to grade this huge stack of work," I pointed to the mountain of papers that sat on the chair next to me.

He stood up, walked around the table, took half the stack of papers, and sat back down. He was so audacious. I wanted to yell at him, but he always made me laugh.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm helping you grade. Pass me a red pen."

"Sir, we use green pen. Red does something to the student psyche. Also, you don't know anything about citing evidence."

"Oh really? Did you read it in high school?"

He licked his lips, while smiling, and brought the papers back down to the table, "Trick question. This story was in the New Yorker a few years back. I most certainly was in high school then, but I do have a psychology degree and some common sense. Trust me.
I gave in, "I'm trying."

We spent the next hour talking smack about Brooklyn's evolution, how the blocks where we had our first kisses had turned into millennials, beers, and expensive bodega sandwiches. He made fun of the fact that I had a rubric for every assignment I graded, while I poked fun at his hairline. He touched his scalp and acted offended, while I packed away my papers. I finished at a much faster rate, considering I had help.

We were building, effortlessly. When I can interject, without offense, finish the sentences of a prospective lover, and I cannot stop the lines of my face from curving upward, I am stuck.

Like a fly to wallpaper, I watched him throw out our items, grab his things, and pay the bill, without missing a beat. He told a story of Zora falling off of her skateboard and his pride when she jumped right back up.

We walked to the door and then it happened. It's the way we all want it to happen, but don't wait for our mind to catch up with our hearts. I kissed him back, before I realized what I was doing. His arms were suddenly around my waist, he'd opened the front door and as I walked out he pulled me in. I didn't have time to protest. It was only the cough of someone that needed to enter the cafe that halted our lip lock.
"Excuse me."

We separated and I walked out into the cold, but I was warm everywhere.

"It was good seeing you. Can I take you home?"

He lived right next door. Of course, he'd ask to drive me back, "I...I'm going to walk back. I like to walk and think."

He laughed, "Don't we all?"

I said goodnight and he opened his mouth to say something else, but my feet had already moved me to the corner and into the crosswalk.

"Momma, I met someone."
She held her two fingers close to her lips as if she held a cigarette in them. She rocked back and forth to a memory I couldn't get her to divulge.

"He seems nice, but I don't know if I can go through this again. I'm so sick of heartbreak.

My mother rocked back and forth in her chair, ignoring me or listening intently. I couldn't tell, she wouldn't respond when prompted. I pushed my hands through the rails of her headboard. I peeled the blue paint of the wall, revealing that it's last caot of paint was green. The hole was larger than it was the last time I'd been there. Momma must have been picking at it too.

I peeled things when I was nervous. When I was little I would intentionally put glue into the palm of my hands, just so it could dry and I could peel it. Other kids did this too, but my habit wasn't born of boredom. It gave me a sense of control. Dried glue soon became the cuticles around my fingernails, fingernails became the skin under my feet. One day I'd been so anxious that I peeled my feet raw. When my father saw me limping, he made me sit in a chair and lift my feet.
"Bessie, you've been peeling again?"
"I'm sorry. I can't stop. I don't know how and sometimes I don't even know when I'm doing it."

I often caught my momma peeling things too, back then: wallpaper, the leather on her belt, healing scars.

When she was sent away, I tried to fight the urge to peel. I didn't want to end up like her, but I was rocking Langston's kiss in my mind and the sway of my abdomen and peeling the wall all at once. I was her mirror, in this moment.

"His name is Langston, momma."

Momma stopped rocking in her chair and responded, " and the girls talk about him sometime."

"Momma...what girls?"

"They think I'm crazy and stupid, but I'm not. I read Langston all through school. He had a way with words and he believed in us simple folk. The girls in this hall read him too."

"Momma, you have friends?"

She slapped my arm and laughed heartily, "Hell yeah I got friends. Don't you?"

I thought about May, Ella, and a few others. I wondered what the interactions were like with her "girlfriends" in this place. I wondered if they'd ever grow apart like we'd begun to, or if they were able to grow together in a place that was all concrete.

"Mary stays right across the hall. She got a little girl waiting on her at home. Donna used to be down the hall and she batshit. I don't know why the hell anyone would let her out of this place. She's a good actress, though. She might end up in a movie."

I smiled, "Wow. You're not alone in here. I'm glad to hear that."

Momma was quiet. She stared out of the window, as if I wasn't there, once again. Her rocking chair started to move. I yearned for the days that she was lucid. I missed the mother that slipped between the cracks of her high, the one that would decide to make pancakes every now and then, the one who tucked me in and whispered poems about strong black beautiful girls, in my ear.

I felt my eyes fill with tears and I knew it was time to go. I got up to leave when I noticed that the room across the hall was wide open. I walked up to it and peeked in. A young and beautiful woman was painting on her bed. Her skin was so dark it seemed like it glittered when the sunlight pushed through the blinds. She had a canvas laid out in front of her and was pushing gold paint forward with a small brush. She didn't even notice me.


She was focused on her art and didn't even look up. The room looked exactly like my mother's, blue paint and all. The only thing that was different was a small bulletin board next to an easel with another blank canvas. The bulletin board was filled with quotes, pictures, and what seemed like letters. A familiar face popped out from the collage of photos. It was a small round face, almost identical to the woman that painted in front of me: a little girl, with multicolored bubbles in her hair, smiling and looking toward the sky. It was Zora.


Erica B., formerly “Rivaflowz”, is an author and arts educator based in Brooklyn, New York. Erica writes fiction and memoir that elaborates the experience of the millennial woman of color. She’s written/published three books: (Intention, Boroughs Apart, and Of Micah and Men). She’s an HBO Def Poetpoetry slam champion, and content & arts education strategist for bloggers/writers/companies.

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