Authors: Alice Walker
You are all in black, every day. The first day I came I thought it a little odd, that every single thing you wore was black. But now that I've been here several days I see that black has become a kind of uniform. What does it mean?
Susannah stood quite still. Stopped in her tracks by Irene's observation.
When I left Greece, said Irene, I threw away everything black that I owned. Now I wear green, I wear red, I wear yellow and blue.
Yes, said Susannah, I love your new look. You look like the magical person you are.
It was very hard to cast off the black clothing, said Irene. It was as hard to do that as it was to leave my mother buried there behind the church.
You can have her body moved, said Susannah, envisioning a new grave overlooking the sea and surrounded by colorful windflowers.
I will do that, someday, said Irene. I will bring all my friends. We will bury her and we will dance around her grave, and we will shout to the wind that she was good.
I honestly don't know why I'm wearing so much black, said Susannah. I hadn't particularly noticed it. It just seems that whenever I'm getting dressed, black garments are suddenly in my hand. I seem to feel most comfortable in them. Do I flatter myself that they flatter me?
Irene's breath was labored as they approached Susannah's car. Black, like everything else, Irene noted.
Oh, they do flatter you, said Irene. And the way you wear your hair, so short, so close to your skull. However, I miss the long coil that so beautifully accented your head.
I cut it off one day without thinking, said Susannah. I'd had it so long. I wanted suddenly to be free of it.
I'm beginning, I think, to get the picture, said Irene, quietly.
The picture that the dwarf was getting was one I had been getting for a while. My hedonistic daughter, Susannah, the woman who sweetly, docilely, patiently, and with good manners always did exactly what she pleased, going everywhere, doing everything, tasting all that there was to life, was about to leave this way of being behind her. She was about to be sucked into the black cloth.
That night I came to her in a dream. We were in Mexico. But not in the Sierras, where we had lived. We were in a long valley that ran along gentle foothills before fanning out into farmland as it approached the sea. We were riding on the back of a flatbed truck. She at one end, me at the other. We were looking at each other with longing, with tenderness. Between us, in a huge pile, rose a glowing pile of striped, deep green watermelons. As she watched, I slowly took off my long black coat and wrapped one of the melons in it. I banged the melon against the floor of the truck. Then I unwrapped it. Beckoning to her, I squatted with the Mexicans who were also riding in the truck, which suddenly became a church, and we began to eat.
I dreamed about my father last night, she said to Irene, next day.
Was it a good dream? Irene asked her.
It was, she said. I don't remember much about it except we were in Mexico, very together in our feelings, and very happy.
Do you often dream about your father?
Yes, said Susannah. All the time, now. I didn't for a long time. I shut him out when I was little. I closed the door between us. Nobody ever warned me it would take so much energy to keep it closed! Or that I would feel so lonely on the other side.
What is that cry that you sometimes hear in fairy tales? asked Irene.
There's not enough
father! They both screamed in mock lament.
I didn't know how little there was until I gave mine up, said Susannah. I hadn't realized it was a luxury to have even the tiniest bit.
My father disowned me, said Irene. The littlest bit of such a noxious parent would have been too much.
And yet you inherited all his money.
And his corruption and his enemies, said Irene. The world sees a billion dollars falling into my tiny lap and it thinks I am made whole by it. What nonsense. My father manufactured arms, his company still manufactures arms, which are sold to poor countries so that the people kill each other. He owned brothels in Cambodia and Thailand. He had poor young children bought and then killed for their body parts. Ugh, she said. It is not possible to pass on clean money when the way it is made is so dirty.
Gosh, said Susannah, shocked. I don't envy you at all!
Nor should anyone, said Irene. I use my father's money to see the world, but that is only a fraction of it. The rest I must disburse in a way that does good.
When my parents went to Mexico to study the Mundo, said Susannah, they needed money very badly. No anthropological society would sponsor them. Things were very racist then. Even more than now. What a difference it would have made if someone like you had been around to fund them!
I think it is ridiculous and ultimately insulting to study people, said Irene. I think you would only need to study other human beings if you were worried you were not human yourself.
Susannah laughed. I've often thought what a European trait studying other people is. Other folk who meet strange people want to dance and eat with them, go swimming and talk about what colorful or peculiar wildlife there is about. They prefer to sit around and smoke ganja or the peace pipe, listen to music and just kick back.
That's because they haven't come to steal everything, said Irene.
Do you think Europeans are actually from here? asked Susannah. They don't seem to like the earth very much.
Where else would we be from? asked Irene.
Oh, I don't know. Another planet, said Susannah. A place where the artificial is natural.
We come from here, said Irene. But remember, we suffered the Ice Age. It came on suddenly, as suddenly as the abduction of Persephone. I've often thought the myth of Demeter and Persephone was a metaphor for the abrupt coming of the Ice Age. We were plunged into the most bitter winter, which for countless generations of our ancestors never ended.
Really? said Susannah.
Yes, said Irene. It destroyed something in us. Or deformed it badly. Something human. It destroyed our trust in nature, our belief that the earth loved us, or was even, really, our home. Everything
we loved and relied on had turned on us and treated us with contempt.
Irene laughed, suddenly. And when those frozen Europeans finally stumbled into the warmth that Southern people in America and those in India and Africa had been enjoying while they were freezing, were they mad!
It is so wonderful to listen to you, Irene, said Susannah, because, as you know, generally speaking, white people almost never study themselves. As white people. They prefer to study us and write about how we don't quite measure up.
They can't believe how out of synch they are, said Irene. They can't figure it out and they're afraid to find out how different they are from the rest of the world's peoples. Rather than risk humiliation and have to own up to an inferiority complex, they've spent the last several millennia trying to prove there's something inferior and wrong about everybody else.
Irene snorted. They've catalogued their deviant behavior faithfully, however, on television. It is there for the whole universe to see. Every moment they are destroying something, killing women, and you can't look at the set without having a gun pointed back at you.
What would Tibetan television be like, for instance? said Susannah. Remembering how, in Kalimasa, the puppet show that had once amused crowds of villagers as they gathered around the tiny stage in the middle of the market, had, with television, simply been televised, and that was what the people still loved to watch. Except, eventually, Western movies and TV shows had begun to trickle in, and the scantily clad natives sat in horror as giant buildings exploded before their stricken eyes, and men killed each other over piles of money, and women prostituted themselves for fun, and everybody carried a gun.
The other thing that Europe lost, said Irene, was her mother. Her strong mother.
What do you mean? asked Susannah.
I mean that the men who controlled the Christian Church during the Middle Ages burned her at the stake. The witch burnings, remember?
Susannah sighed. Yes, she finally said, battling an unexpected wave of despair. Imagine your strongest, best, most spirited womenâ
And wisest, Irene interjected.
And best men, too, continued Susannah. Because the best men always love women. Imagine all of them captured, tortured, and systematically put to death, over a period of centuries!
And then these Christian sons of the Inquisition “discovered” us heathens, strolling about in a warm climate, our mothers still respected as midwives and healers, our parents still wise in the ways of plants and the earth.
The Envy! sighed Irene. It gives me gooseflesh just to imagine it. Better to chop off heads and cut Indian babies in half, or destroy black families in Africa by brutalizing and enslaving themâall of which they didâthan to realize that much of the “uncivilized” world, unlike Europe, had not been forced to kill off its mother and made to shrink its spirit to half its size.
Like my mother, who was always peering into my father's soul through the aching mist of his love for her, I am always peering through the mist of my orgasm itself. I too am seeking what is essentially beyond it.
Lily Paul looked troubled. To her what was beyond the orgasm was, hopefully, only a brief respite from orgasmic bliss.
No, said Susannah, this does not mean you have failed me as a lover. Quite the contrary, girl. You have been wonderful. You have been the lover to take me closest to the door of my own locked closet.
Susannah laughed, saying this, and met a glimmer of ironic humor in Lily Paul's limpid brown eye.
Thank you, said Lily Paul drily.
Yes, said Susannah. Without our relationship I would never have known how far away I was from what could be. What heights of spirit one might reach through such a physical act. No wonder the church has demonized it.
Thanks again, said Lily Paul. I guess.
Oh yes, said Susannah. I am grateful.
But you do not want to marry me?
If we wanted children, said Susannah. And at our age, what would we do with them?
Ugh, said Lily Paul.
It is astonishing to me that women still have them, said Lily Paul.
Not everyone had your childhood, darling. And even you are happy you had a son. By the way, is it my imagination, or is it true that all pregnant lesbians give birth to sons?
They have more than they'd planned on, said Lily Paul. That's for sure. And there we all are, she sighed, praying for girls. It's enough to make you doubt the Goddess. But aren't you at least curious? she asked Susannah.
About having a child? No, said Susannah. I'd like to have given birth, the same way would-be writers would like to have written. For the experience. I wonder, though, how men can stand it, she mused. Knowing the experience of giving birth is permanently beyond them. Must be quite a blow to the ego.
They couldn't stand the pain, scoffed Lily Paul; they'd faint at the sight of blood.
They've walled themselves off from woman's blood, said Susannah. But how they must miss it! It's what they're made of, after all.
That's why they go to war, of course, said Lily Paul. Why they kill each other.
To see blood? asked Susannah.
To see blood. To experience the awe, the terror, the mystery of it.
They should have just let us continue to drip, said Susannah.
No, said Lily Paul. Birth was too powerful a ceremony. It is the mother of ceremonies for good reason. A trail of blood leads you
directly to it. If you erase the trail you can keep people from discovering the ceremony. You can pretend it isn't even happening; or, if it
happening, that it isn't really important. You can pretend your ceremonies were not copied from it.
I would be open to a ceremony honoring our true relationship, said Susannah.
And what is that? In your estimation.
You have been my teacher, said Susannah. You have taught me a freer and much deeper expression of sex. I am your student, she said, reaching over to kiss Pauline's hand.
Pauline snatched her hand away. Goddess, she said, sometimes you are so annoying!
It is my nature, Susannah said, and laughed.
I have learned a thing or two from you, too, said Lily Paul, after several minutes of silence.
Oh, said Susannah, becoming serious.
Yes, said Lily Paul. True education is never a one-way street.
Ouch! said Susannah.
Oh yes, said Lily Paul. I can study just as hard as you. And what I've learned from our years of mutual cramming is that I can neither have you nor be you. Nor can I have your childhood instead of my own. I'm stuck with who I am, she said, twirling a silver lock with her finger. I'm trying to learn that that's not so bad.
Not so bad! laughed Susannah. Not so bad! Darling, it's wonderful! You're gorgeous, rich, a great lover, and a very good cook. What else is there?
A life with you, said Lily Paul, stubbornly.
Susannah sat calmly, smiling into Lily Paul's eyes.
A life with me would be like living with the wind.
Blow, said Lily Paul.