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Authors: Melanie Rae Thon

In This Light (5 page)

BOOK: In This Light
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My brother and I were the last of my father’s line. Your blood spilled on the ground and flowed like a river to the sea. Ours dried in my veins. You died for my silence. Untouched by a man, unloved by a child, I never mourned the slow death of my body, but now I see this is your just revenge.

All day she sways in the wind, her body light with age. By night she roams the streets. Her bare feet leave no mark in snow. I have seen her often and prayed she would not know me. Tonight I duck into an alley. Garbage is piled high; the shadows are alive, crawling with rats. Lize follows. She has no age, but I am a fleshless woman, bones in a bag of skin.
, she whispers. I am too frail to flee.
I see you watchin’ your daddy and me.
She pins me to the wall.
You don’ say nothing’.
Her knee jabs my brittle pelvis; the bones of my back feel as if they’ll snap.
You kill me, and my child too.
She holds my arms, outstretched. I dangle in her grasp, toes barely touching the ground, legs weak as clay pocked by rain.
You take Abe’s ears
, she says.
I can’t find them.

“No, Walkerman tacked them to his wall,” I say.

You cry to your mama, tell your lies.

“No, that was Martha.”

Whitewoman, you all look the same to me. You all kill us with desire.

I crumple to my knees, alone in the alley. “I never touched him,” I say. “Only in a dream.” The wind whistles down the canyon of brick, repeating Lize’s last word. I sob between two garbage cans. The smell is sweet and foul, gardenias rotting in the heat, but I am cold, so cold.

I curl into a ball, tight as a fist, small as an ear. The snow is falling. Rats sniff my ankles and scurry away. I am not even food enough for them. Voices hover. Hands stroke my face, hands softer than my mother’s hands, fingers tender as Beulah’s—Mother never touched me that way. Soon enough the voice is human. The hands shake my shoulder, call me back from the dead.

“Honey, what you doin’ in this alley? You lose your way?” The woman’s dark face is close to mine, her breath warm with whiskey. “Let Ruthie help you, honey,” she says. “Tell Ruthie where you live.”

At first I am afraid, Lize. I think it is you in disguise, come back fat as Beulah to torture me again. But no, this woman knows nothing of my crimes. She is condescending and kind. In her eyes I am harmless, my white skin too withered to despise. She helps me find my way home, half carries me up the stairs, sets me in my chair by the window and covers my legs with a blanket. She asks if she can heat some soup, but I say, “No, please go.”

From where I hang, I see all the brown-skinned children. You think your death can save them? Your father’s blood runs dark in the veins of my children. Your father’s blood clots in the heart, bursts in the brain. Your father’s blood destroys us all again and again.

“Forgive me,” I whisper. The fog of my breath turns to frost on the windowpane. Chill has turned to fever. I cannot kneel or stand, so I sit at my window and wait.

Listen, Lize, I am a desiccated shell of a woman, a cicada you could crush with one step. Put your weight on me, and be done with it. I am old enough and prepared to die.

She does not answer. Her eyes are always open, bulged and blind. She never looks at me. At dusk, Abe comes and cuts her down. I follow her all night, calling her name down unlit alleys. I hear her breath when she stops to rest. But she is a cruel god, she who becomes flesh only to be crucified again and again. At dawn, I am still alive. At dawn, Walkerman ties a noose. Everywhere the silent snow is falling, melting on bare trees until their bark is black and shiny as wet skin. Soon, the men will drag Lize down the road, haul her up, and let her fall. I will see her wrists tied, her blouse torn; I will see her bruised and battered feet. And I will sit, just as I do now, mute witness to her endless death.




First, Body

Nobody’s Daughters


. My tongue hurt. I’d been telling lies all day. Lies to the four Christian teenagers who thought they could save me. My first ride, Albany to Oneonta—they sang the whole way. More lies to the jittery pink-skinned man who took me north. He offered tiny blue pills and fat black ones. He said,
It’s safe—don’t worry—I’m a nurse.
He said,
I’ll make you feel good.

I think I had a sister once. Everywhere I go she’s been before me. There’s no getting out of it.

When the pink nurse stopped to piss, my sister Clare whispered,
Look at him—he’ll kill you if he can.
I hid in the woods by the lake full of stumps. I didn’t move. I let the sky pour through me. He called the name I’d said was mine. Sometimes I heard branches breaking. Sometimes only rain. Finally he yelled at me, at who he thought I was. He said,
No more games.
He said,
Fine, freeze your ass.
His voice cracked. I could have chosen him instead of you, but Clare breathed on my hands. She said,
He doesn’t have anything you want.

You were driving toward me, your blue truck still hours away. Cold rain, cars whipping water—only my faith made me wait. I swear I knew you, your soft beard, how it would be. But you never imagined us together. You never meant to stop for me.

This I won’t tell. This you’ll never know. Mick says I’m fourteen going on forty. I’ve got that dusty skin, dry, my eyes kind of yellowish where they’re supposed to be white. It’s the rum I drink, and maybe my kidneys never did work that well. Mick, who is my mother’s husband now, says I’ll be living on the street at sixteen, dead at twenty. He says this to me, when we’re alone. Once I paid two dollars, let Mama Rosa read my palm to see if he was right, and she told me I was going to outlive everyone I love.

I know I’m strange. I drift. Maybe I’m smoking a cigarette, leaning on the bricks. Somebody’s talking. Then I’m not there. I’m a window breaking. I’m pieces of myself falling on the ground. Later I wake up in my own body and my fingers are burned.

Clare says,
Just stand up.

She’s careless, my sister. She gets drunk. She puts other people’s blood in her veins. Her skin’s hot. She goes out in the cold without her coat and waits for her lover to come. Wind drives snow in her face. Ice needles her bare arms. Some night she’ll lie down in the woods and he won’t find her. Some night she’ll lie down in the road.

It’s November. I know because there are Halloween men rotting in all the yards, snagged on fences, skewered on poles. Pumpkin heads scooped hollow—they stink of their own spoiled selves. One boy’s stuck in a tree. His head’s a purple cabbage. You could peel him down to his brainless core.

I know some men downtown, Halloween men trying to walk on stuffed legs. Rags on sticks, pants full of straw, foul wind blowing through them to scare the crows. I think they made themselves. They have those eyes. Carved. Candles guttering inside their soft skulls.

They live in a brick house you can’t blow down—boards instead of windows, nails in the doors. They tell me,
Come alone.

They have dusted joints and I have seven dollars. They have pockets full of pills and I have pennies I found in the snow. I know how easy it is to go down the steps to the basement, to stand shivering against the wall. Nothing hurts me. Earl says,
Pain is just a feeling like any other feeling.
He should know.
Knife, slap, kiss, flame.
He says,
Forget their names and they pass through you.
Earl has wooden arms and metal hands. His left ear’s a hole, his nose a bulb of flesh from somewhere else. He sits in the corner and smokes. He holds the joint in his silver claw. His long feet are always bare. When he whispers in his half-voice, everything stops.

No money the night before I found you. One of the Halloween men said,
Come with me.
He had pink hearts and poppers. He knew I’d need them. He said,
It’s dangerous to sleep.
I looked at Earl. I thought his lips moved. I thought he said,
Nothing lasts too long.

This speedboy with poppers was the whitest man I ever saw. When I closed my eyes he was a white dog bounding through streets of snow. I tried not to think of his skin, all of it, how bright it was, how his body exposed would blind me, how his white palms blazed against my hips. I thought of Earl instead, smooth arms, cool hands, Earl who only burned himself, hair flaming around soft ears, holy angel, face melting into bone.

Clare said,
Nobody will find you.

The whiteman was in me, close enough to hear; he said,
Not even God.

God doesn’t like to watch little girls pressed against basement walls. God doesn’t like little girls who swallow pills and drink rum. God’s too old to get down on his hands and knees and peer through the slats of boards. Glass broken long ago but shards still on the ground. He might cut his palms. If he ever thinks of me, maybe he’ll send his son.

I never slept with the whiteman.

I mean, I never lay down and closed my eyes.

Clare said, There’s no reason to go home. She made me remember the trailer in December, a ring of Christmas lights blinking its outline, red and green and gold, the wet snow the first winter she was gone. She made me remember the white ruffled curtains on the windows and the three plastic swans in the yard. She said she hitched two hundred miles once to stand outside, to watch us inside, the fog of our breath on the glass. She said our mother had a new husband and two sons. She said we were nobody’s daughters. She said, They all want you to go.

Singing Christians, pink nurse, rain—I waited, saw your blue truck at last. I had a dream once of your body, damp hair of your chest, my fingers in it. As soon as you stopped, I remembered the hunting cap on the seat between us, the rabbit fur inside your gloves.

I surprised you. I’m the living proof: unknown father’s daughter. Tall bony Nadine. Dark-eyed Nadine. Girl from the lake of stumps. Water swirling in a mother’s dream. His face rising toward her. Shadow of a hand making the sign of the cross.

I pulled the blanket from my head and you saw the holes in my ear—you counted the tarnished hoops, nine, cartilage to lobe.

Later I’ll show you: the holes in my ear never hurt like the hole in my tongue.

You were amazed by the space I filled—long legs, muddy boots; you had no reason to let the wet-wool, black-hair smell of me into your warm truck. Moments before, I looked small and helpless, a child on the road, no bigger than your own daughter, ten years old, her impossibly thin arms, all her fragile breakable bones.

I closed my eyes so you wouldn’t be afraid. I was just a girl again, alone, but the smell—it filled the cab; you breathed me; I was in your lungs. I was your boyself, the bad child, the one who ran away from you, the one you never found.

Later there was fog and dark, the rain, heavy. You didn’t know where we were going. You didn’t know where to stop. The lights of cars coming toward us exploded in mist, blinding you. I said,
Pull over.
I said,
We can wait it out.

And it was there, in the fog, in the rain, in the terrifying light of cars still coming, that I kissed you the first time. It was there parked on the soft gravel shoulder that I stuck my pierced tongue in your mouth and you put your hands under my shirt to feel my ribs, the first time. It was there that you said,
Careful, baby
, and you meant my tongue, the stud—it hurt you—and I thought of the handcuffs in my bag, stolen from the Halloween man, the last one, the white one—he was cursing me even now. I could have cuffed you to your wheel, left you to explain. I imagined myself in your coat, carrying your gun.

But I loved you.

I mean, I didn’t want to go.

The rain slowed. Fog blew across the road. You drove. I wore your gloves, felt the fur of the animal around every finger. I stared at the lights till my eyes were holes.

You were tired. You were sorry. It was too late to throw me out. You said we’d stop at a motel. You said we’d sleep. You said,
What happened back there—don’t worry.
You meant it wasn’t going to go any further. You meant you thought it was your fault.

I disgusted you now. I saw that. Your tongue hurt. My sour breath was in your mouth.
, you thought.
Not with her.
Dirty Nadine. Nothing like my pretty sister. Pale half sister. Daughter of the father before my father. Not like Clare, lovely despite her filth, delicate Clare, thin as your daughter—you could hold her down. You could take her to any room. You could wash her. You could break her with one blow. You would never guess how dangerous she is. You can’t see the shadows on her lungs, her hard veins, her brittle bones. You can’t see the bloom of blood. Later I’ll tell you about the handprints on all the doors of the disappeared. Later I’ll explain the lines of her open palm.

Is she alive? Try to find her. Ask her yourself.

is the car door slamming.
is the key in the lock, the Traveler’s Rest Motel, the smell of disinfectant, the light we don’t turn on.
is the mattress so old you feel the coils against your back when you fall. My tongue’s in your mouth. Your cock’s hard against my thigh.

Clare has a game. We strobe. She grabs my hand, sticks the wire in the socket. She dares me to hang on.

I’m a thief. It’s true.

I turn you into a thief. It’s necessary. You’ll think of that forever, the sheet you had to steal to get out of the motel. You’ll remember your bare legs in the truck, the cold vinyl through thin cloth, the white half-moon hanging in the morning sky, facedown.

Days now and hundreds of miles since I left you. You wear your orange vest, carry your oiled gun. You follow tracks in snow. I follow Clare to the road. She wants me to find her, to feel what she feels, to do everything she’s done.

When you see the doe at last, you think of me. You’re alone with me—there’s no one you can tell about the girl on the road, her sore tongue in your mouth.
, you said,
, but you twitched under her, blinded by the flickering in your skull. No one will understand. You thought her hands would turn you inside out, but you held on. There’s no one you can tell about the wallet she opened, the cash and pictures, the pants she stole.

BOOK: In This Light
13.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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