ART BY JOHN THORNTON
MUSIC BY GOODMAN CARTER
When I asked him why he was with me; me being a very average-looking sistah with long hair and split ends, lop-sided breasts, nondescript ass, shapeless and nameless clothing; he took me to see his mother. I didn't know it at the time. He said, "Walk with me." A half-hour later, we were in the hood outside of a bodega watching a skinny, white lady. She walked with bent knees, slightly sloped shoulders, and stiff back; taking short, quick steps, as if her balance was always in question. She muttered to herself and lapsed into silence with a sunken mouth that puffed out as she breathed. He pointed to her and said, "That's my mother."
My mouth dropped. For one, I knew he was light-skinned but didn't think he was mixed. And two, damn, that lady was a crack-head. I waited for him to wave to her, walk toward her, whistle for her: he did nothing. His eyes went cold and distant. All he did was watch.
The woman looked in our direction. She tugged on her faded shirt, and spoke with someone who wasn't there.
I lifted my hand to find his. He'd tucked his hands into his pits, crossing his arms. I patted his bicep, a symbol of his strength as he held himself over me in my bed. "Is that why you're with me? Really? You can have any girl you want and none of them would mind about your mother."
"You don't get it," he growled quietly. "You just see what she is today. You have no idea what it's been like." He sat down on the curb and propped his size 15 Nike ball shoes on the yellow parking block.
I sat next to him and tried to ignore the foaming spot of mucus someone had spat near where my flip-flopped feet rested. "Then tell me."
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. I didn't know if he was hiding tears or traveling through time. "When I was about five, she took me to a park, not too far from here. You probably been past it a bunch of times and didn't know because of the tall, concrete fence hidin' it and shit. Well, she picked me up and put me on top of that fence and smiled real big. She had a pretty smile back then, and she could go days, weeks, without gettin' high or drunk or disappearin'. She put me up on that tall-ass fence and smiled and put her arms out like this," he put his arms out, palms up, elbows locked, and welcoming. I could see the pretty blonde smiling, offering herself to him wholly. "And she said, C'mon, jump, I'll catch you."
I closed my eyes and I saw her, too. So sweet and loving. I wanted to jump into her arms. Maybe she'd toss me up into the air and catch me again. We'd laugh and laugh, and run for the swings, or the merry-go-round. She'd let me win our little race.
"Come on, baby, she said, I'll catch you, I'll catch you. And she smiled and held her arms out and I stood up even higher, wanting to catch all the air as I flew like a superhero into her waiting arms. I jumped. I jumped, reaching for her, giggling and everything, I reached, but she stepped back."
His voice cracked, startling me out of the wonderful vision I thought we were sharing. "She, she what?"
"She let me fall. I landed belly first into a bunch of leaves. It knocked the air out of me. I fought to catch my breath, and when I did, I felt pain everywhere. I was five and I fell from a high wall, dammit. It hurt. And I cried."
I put my arms around him, wanting to catch the little boy who'd been falling for fifteen years. "Why would she do such a thing?"
He let out a laugh that was nothing but nasty. "She said, That'll teach you to trust a woman. Now, stop crying you little pussy. She didn't help me up. Nothing. She went over to one of those metal horse things on one of those big, muthafuckin' springs, and she just rocked back and forth with a dead face. I mean, there was nothing there. She rocked back and forth on that thing but she might as well have been washing the dishes or taking the bus."
I didn't know what to say. What the hell could anybody say to that?
"So, I'm with you because I trust you. Your heart opens up bigger than my mother's arms ever coulda. You hard on yourself thinkin' you ain't pretty and what not, but, I see you. None of these girls got anything on you. That's for real."
With all that he'd said to me, what I heard was, "I love you."
Tuere T. S. Ganges writes in Baltimore, Maryland when her husband, two children and two pets do not have other plans. Tuere has a BA in English from Hampton University, a MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, and is a June 2009 recipient of the Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker Foundation Scholarship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown; her work has won prizes at the Philadelphia Writers Conference; and has appeared in Shine: The Journal, Flask and Pen, Milspeak Memo, and in the inaugural issue of Mythium Literary Magazine. She also has stories slated to appear in Wigleaf and Shape of a Box in the coming months.