Her faded suede evening glove feels most sentimental and comforted in his red and black plaid shirt chest pocket. There she finds the beat for her red halter dress to flare and sway. Feeling their rhythm, his scuffed, work boots stomp the twos and fours.
In a dream, I saw a young woman in a red, large brimmed sun hat at a desk quickly typing on a golden, glowing typewriter. Every few moments, she would belly laugh about something she wrote.
Curious what could be so funny, I peeked over her shoulder and began to read.
To my horror, I discovered she was writing about me. Private things. Personal things. Things that I had forgotten. Things that were about to happen.
I realized I was in the presence of the one who decided my fate.
She was in control.
So, I strangled her and pushed her dead body out of her desk chair.
The room without her constant chortling seemed very empty and quiet.
I sat to type wondrous things like big lotto wins, true love, a cure for my father’s cancer.
Then, I noticed the keys having been rubbed for thirty six years were blank.
Fear that I would press a wrong letter and ruin my destiny overtook me.
I did not know what to type.
What would my life be like with no omnipresent narration?
What would my life be like with no one in control?
I woke up with the sun that morning with a determined smile and my freedom.
“What would you like me to make you for breakfast tomorrow morning?”
“Wow, haven’t heard that one before.”
He shrugs and turns to walk away.
She likes the cut of his shoulders and how he filled his Wranglers.
“Wait a sec, do you know how to make stuffed French toast?”
The family had no idea that little Luigi would grow up to be a famous war hero.
They thought he would always be the littlest, the runt. They thought he would be the small, irresponsible baby of the family. They thought he would always be theirs.
Now, he belonged to the world. Now, he was a repeatedly decorated Army officer with international acclaim. Now, he was a hero.
At least, that was what the chaplin said as he handed the folded flag with the spent shells to his mother.
How unnatural it was to outlive her son. How unfair.
“Momma! A bee just bit me!” she calls through the open window.
“Bees don’t have teeth. They have a stinger. You were stung.”
“No, momma. This bee had dentures! And, a black top hat!”
Momma smiles but does not look up from her ironing and crossword puzzle.
“What a fine dressed bee. Do you think he may want to come in for a tea party?”
She opens the kitchen door hand in hand with him.
Momma looks up and faints upsetting the ironing board and sending cascades of newspaper to the floor.
When she comes to, her daughter is kneeling over her, alone.
“Where is he?”
“The bee got on a bicycle and flew away.”
She grabs her daughter to her chest. She knows he’s been dead for years. She strokes her daughter’s hair wildly. She knows he’s been dead for years.
“He’s back,” she murmurs into her daughter’s forehead kissing it again and again.
“He’s back for her.”
“I’ll give you thirty five dollars for it.”
“Thirty five dollars! It’s a real MCE! They gave it to me for thirty five years of service.”
“Wow, a dollar for each year!”
The pawn store owner laughs at his own joke, alone.
“There’s just not that much interest for MCE watches outside of Charlottesville. Since, the factory closed, we’ve got plenty of ’em.”
“Ok, ok. I will take the thirty five.”
“One for each year!” he thinks as he leaves the pawn shop. “I nearly went blind working with those gears.”
He thinks back to the pawn broker’s blue eyes so similar to the factory foreman’s who told him to pick up his last check and of the factory closing in the same cold breath.
Lost in thought, he bumps into the local drunk, Jefferson, picking through the garbage.
He remembers how something inside Jefferson had snapped the day he was laid off from the factory too. How he went from a stand up guy to a fall down alcoholic almost over night.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a five dollar bill. He gives it to Jefferson. Jefferson nods thank you silently and continues to dig through the recycling.
He tightens his coat around him, shoves his hands in his pockets, and wonders what time it is.
I hope my note finds you in a time of joy and creativity.
It saddens me to start my final letter to you in such a distant and formal way.
But, that is where we are now, aren’t we?
She deletes and begins again.
I miss you. I still love you.
I remember that first time in the rain, and I am crushed it will never happen again.
She deletes and begins again.
Here’s your mail. Please leave your key on the side table.
She prints, folds, and attaches it to his junk mail and bills.
“They say the fabric ripped down the middle at the moment he died.”
“The sacrifice had been made. We were now invited to God’s house.”
“You’ll be cursed if you sew the hole.”
“You’ll be blessed if you touch the divine shreds.”
“I don’t know any of this. But, I can sew. My child is sick. I need the money.”
“What was it like to touch the veil?”
“It felt like any other thick curtain needing mending. Until, I finished. A wave of despair fell over me. As if God had turned from me or had hid himself. What could I do? I am a seamstress not a priestess. Do you think I will be forgiven for undoing what God has done? Can we ever undo God’s work?”
August 4, 1961
“John Hardy and Travis Britt were beaten by whites when they brought blacks to a Mississippi courthouse to register to vote.”
The Kapi’olani Hospital’s black and white television continues to blare troubling news.
“Beaten just cause they want to vote,” Benford Lee III mumbles.
“Sir?” his assistant, Walter, asks.
He flashes on Car Car, her gap toothed smiling, brown face.
Caroline Johnson had several names. To her boss and other whites, she was “girl.” To others, she was Miss Sugar. To Benford, she was Car Car.
When Benford’s mother tired of his endless questions and loud presence (she wanted a cat more than a son) would lock him in the closet, it was Car Car who would let him out.
“Brought out of the dark by a darkie!” he would think with glee.
One day, he was stumbling over some homework reading at the kitchen table, and he asked Car Car to help him.
She kept doing the dishes and kept saying, “Go on with that, Bennie! Just, go on!”
His sister, Flora, kicked him under the table and whispered, “Stop being so mean, Bennie. You shamin’ her! You know Car Car doesn’t have any learning!”
He was surprised and puzzled, because Car Car taught him all about the Bible and doing the laundry and being nicer to his sister and all sorts of things. She was the smartest person he knew. How could she have no learning?
He couldn’t reconcile what he had just heard to what he knew of Car Car, but he did not ask another question about his school work, because he was horrified at the idea of shaming her any further.
“I want to start a scholarship for colored people… at my old stomping grounds… Columbia and Harvard Law school. I want–” Benford loses consciousness.
Twenty one and back home from overseas, Benford was still drunk from the previous night and early morning.
His father came to his room and looked at Benford with disgust and bemusement. He told him it was time he got up and went to the registrar to register to vote. His father was running for mayor and was telling everyone the same message. This time, however, he had the authority to enforce this suggestion. Benford’s father loved his authority.
Benford buried himself under his covers as his father closed the door.
A soft knock pierced Benford’s fuzzy headedness.
“Bennie, I think you should get up and register like your father said to,” Car Car suggested.
“Why don’t you go register if it’s so damn important?”
“Bennie, you know Negroes aren’t allowed to vote. I…never mind… you’re too young and wild.”
“Never mind what?”
“Well, the other night I had a vision… that we could vote and one day…we would have a Negro president. You don’t know what you have, Bennie. You don’t know what you have.”
“Get me the name of the first, colored baby born today at this hospital. I want it to have the first scholarships. I want to help.”
Walter finds the information and brings it to Benford.
“Ms. Durham had a baby boy just an hour ago.”
“Make up the paperwork!”
“Car Car, wait for me…”
January 20, 2009
“My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.”