"My legacy is that I stayed on course...from beginning to the end because I believed in something inside of me."
(Queen rotates in cycles of the three main characters: The Cop, The Tranny, and The Girl. This is the first section of 3)
He’d never hurt a baby. The list of people he’d battered and worked over was long, but it had never included someone so young or so helpless. He’d convinced himself it would be no different than manhandling the old codger who’d caught him stealing from a dresser drawer during an investigation. No different than pummeling the junkie housewife who’d pulled a knife on him when he responded to a domestic disturbance.
In some ways, bruising a baby would prove far easier than either of these things. Though it wouldn’t matter if it was or not; it couldn’t be helped. There was no room for uncertainty. He reminded himself of this fact as he sat there in the dark, unable to bring himself to move.
If someone were to have driven by at that precise moment to see him idly sitting in his patrol car, they’d have dismissed him as just another cop clocking speeders or sitting comatose wasting taxpayer’s money. The latter would be the closest thing to the truth. The only thing he was accomplishing was staring at Lara’s house.
The same house where, as a teenager, he’d gone to more keggers than he could count. The same house where he’d tried to kiss her. Where she’d hastily turned her cheek, and informed him she was in love with Tom. Where he’d gone to her mother’s wake. The house she lived in now without Tom; the sole monument to her troubled childhood.
The house where he and Tom had celebrated their being hired on as official law enforcement officers. Where they shot their guns out back as onlookers marveled at their marksmanship, and skill. The same house where he’d spent the last two Christmases with the two of them just after they married. “Tom and Lara” forever engraved on the cake knife next to their wedding cake. The very knife he’d made a point to slip into his tux pocket at their reception. The one he’d listened to her go on about once she became aware of its absence.
" Who’d want it what with our names on it an all? ” She’d asked him as he sat slouched on their couch. The same couch where he sat once a week, if not more, watching football. He’d only responded with a shrug.
As he sat there Monday night after Monday night, he wondered what it was like to live there. To watch her do the simple, day-to-day things like the way she got dressed in the mornings, and how she fed their baby. He’d closed his eyes many a time, and envisioned himself lying next to her in their bed.
He’d watched closely as she’d presented Tom with a jersey from his favorite football team on his birthday. They’d often kiss more heavily than most would in public, allowing him opportunity to speculate about how it would feel to have her tongue in his own mouth. He’d never know. That one thing he was sure of.
Lara was one in a long line of unrequited loves. In fact, if he took the time to trace it back to when his losing streak began, the origins of his love of girls who did not love him, he’d have gone all the way back to grade school. All the way back to little Lisa Lawson to whom he’d confessed his undying love to by the slide one recess.
Even at the age he was, when a woman rejected him, he replayed the answer she’d given him over and over. As if by uttering it all those years ago, she’d put a hex on him. As if the declaration of a young girl held any weight in the dealings of adults.
" You’re strange.” She’d stated very matter of fact as though it was something everyone knew like 2+2 or the alphabet.
“What do you mean?” He’d demanded with his hangdog look that, even then, he couldn’t seem to shake.
" I don’t know...you’re just strange. You’re always following me around like you don’t have anywhere else to go. Every time I turn around you’re there. You’re like a puppy or something.” She’d gone on to explain.
As he sat there in his cruiser, all those years later, so properly dressed in his uniform, this lingered. There he was, more than a decade since that transpired, still wallowing. He wasn’t a self -actualized person by any means, but he was intuitive enough to feel ashamed that such playground ruses continued to define him.
He wasn’t entirely sure what had become of Lisa Lawson. Why, the last he’d heard tell around the restaurant her father owned locally, she’d moved to Florida after graduating high school. She’d quit college soon after starting to then waitress at a restaurant with some guy she’d taken up with. Some guy who was a fraction of the man he was to be sure.
Sitting there listening as the calls came over his radio, he took them in, though they were indistinguishable to him. The only discernible words, were hers, “You’re strange...” And in his mind he checked this off as one of the reasons Lara too was not his, as possibly the singular reason he remained a bachelor.
It was the only reason he’d need not to miss any sleep over having to hurt the baby. He would bruise his arm a bit. That’s what he and Tom had agreed on; only bruising an arm. No, he’d never hurt a baby. It had never come to that, but he’d hurt a lot of people. Why should age make any difference?
‘Pain is pain.’ He theorized as he placed his hand on the door handle.
He told himself it was for a good cause, for his friend. A show of loyalty…and Tom had lied for him. Yes, in the fall of last year, Tom had done his part when that whole underage girl catastrophe had threatened to sear their world in two.
This reasoning didn’t make his footsteps any less heavy or guilt laden, as he trudged up to her door. He didn’t like this. He didn’t like anything that resembled reluctance. Lifting his feet a bit higher, he all but stomped up the last of her front steps.
The curtain on the window to his left parted slightly. The door remained closed. She knew why he’d come. After she and Tom separated, he’d taken Tom’s side. She knew he wasn’t there to watch a game or shoot the breeze.
Knocking again, far more loudly for effect, produced an irritated Lara frowning at him through a thin slit, chain still fastened at the top of the door.
“Ain’t you got anythang better to do, Carter?” She accused, a feeble attempt at masking her fear.
“You know I’m coming in. Only thing up to you is how long that takes.” He decreed.
She looked behind her, assessing the situation. There wasn’t as much risk for her as there was for the baby. He hated that she did this. It reminded him of what a good mother she was. A much better mother than his own had been. With a deep sigh, she unfastened the chain, opening the door to him.
In a quick swooping motion she crouched, scooping the baby out of his playpen and into her arms. Balancing him on one hip, holding him firmly to her, they stared at him.
“I know he sent you. Motherfucker thinks he can send you to do his dirty work. Same ol’ same ol’. Shit! He tell you he’s tryin to get custody? You know he’s wrong on that one. A baby belongs with his momma.” She prattled on.
He stared back at them, picturing how it was to go. Picturing grabbing the baby without causing him to fall onto the floor. That would leave far more than a bruise. That was not the deal.
“Might be true most a the time. Not in your case.” He icily remarked.
The baby wriggled in her arms, innocently reaching out to Carter.
" Why not?” She demanded. “Why don’t he belong with me?”
By pure coincidence a picture on the wall behind her caught his attention. It was of the three of them at their wedding along with a few of their friends. Yet there she was in front of him, barely a trace left of the bride on the glossy paper.
Too thin from the stress of all that had transpired. A look of weariness as if she’d lived a century in what had only been a brief two years since that day they’d danced and toasted to their future. It made him question his loyalty. It made him consider taking her side, and enfolding her in his arms.
The baby giggled loudly, unaware of the events that teetered on the brink of happening or not. This pure sound jolted Carter back to attend to the matter at hand; the purpose of his visit. Most of all, the untimely interruption reminded him of what Tom knew. There was that… the matter of what he’d done to the girl. Yes… he resolved to see the thing through.
“Ain’t a judge in the county that’d give you custody. Not with you bein in A.A. and not once they see what you’ve done.” He stated, the calm certainty of his tone dissipating to a harsh sterness.
Her phone went off signaling that she had a text. In an effort to demonstrate how little he intimidated her, she walked over to the counter, picked it up and looked it over.
“Yeah, well I just got another chip. I’m doin real good. Best I been in a long time. Go to meetins least three times a week over at First Presbyterian. So you can tell him that right there won’t tread water. What the hell else is he sayin I’ve done?”
A smile formed on his lips. The type of smile that if he had been sitting up to a bar, might have fooled an inebriated girl into thinking he’d be just the kind of guy to take home. Though it was the kind of smile that in his best friend’s house, with him on the brink of doing what he’d been sent to do, rendered him sinister.
“You grabbed him, shook him, bruised him up good.” He told her, in an eerie monotone.
Her phone dropped to the counter. Glaring up at him, she foolishly sauntered over.
“How long you know me, Carter?”
He crossed his arms, remaining silent, composure in tact.
“I’ll tell you how long. Forever! You known me since we was knee high. An you know full well I wouldn’t never hurt him. No judge’ll believe that neither. You tell him he’s crazy if he thinks...”
With swift precision he reached out, snatching the baby by an arm, jerking him away from her. Instinctually, she lunged forward. He stuck out his free arm, sending her backwards to the floor. The baby’s scream climaxed into ear piercing squalls. Carter gripped the tiny arms in his hands. He made sure to squeeze one more tightly than the other. The baby’s cheeks turned bright red.
Lara cowered beneath him, demanding he give her back the child, then cursing him when he did not instantly comply. Done with the task he’d come to perform, he obliged her. Leaning down, he handed the baby over. She cradled him to her chest. His shrill crying persisted. Her eyes never left Carter as he walked to the door.
“He’ll better see the papers by mornin.” He threatened making sure not to look at her, not to fold in the last few seconds of the game.
Their cries had the potential to turn him soft. He ran his hand over his .45, just the hard cool feel of it against his skin prompting him to remain “on point”, as they had called it back in the academy. He stepped out the door out onto the porch.
" If not, I know a social worker who’ll be chompin at the bit to pay you a visit.” He persisted. “Got one who owes me a favor. Cain’t stand young ones bein mistreated. Be a shame. Specially in the next couple days or so. A shame for em to get pictures a that arm. An when me an Tom tell em you been back on the bottle,hell, might make it so you wouldn’t see hide nor hair of him til he turned 18.”
Clutching the baby tighter, she jumped up, darting over slamming the door in his face. He let it lie. Though he knew he could make the night far worse than it had been already, he turned and strutted back to his vehicle.
" There’s a 350 in progress. A 350 in progress. Over.” Dispatch sounded off over his radio.
As he situated himself back in the driver’s seat, he pressed a button on his radio. The light on Lara’s porch went off. For some reason, this caused him to lose all his words. A lump formed in his throat. Swallowing hard, he managed to speak.
“I’m on my way.”
My brother’s always said he thanks the Lord above that our mother died without ever layin eyes on me the way I am now. Long before she woulda ever had to see her baby boy turned into a girl at the hands of some money grubbin surgeon. This is one a the few thangs me an Jarvis ever agreed on. Probly the only thang we ever will.
Bless momma’s heart. Bet she’s up there thankin the good Lord for herself that she never witnessed, any a my transformation; my metamorphosis from her lil’ baby boy, Jermaine Nathaniel Braxton to Queen; Queen Mae Braxton to be exact. Cause you know royalty’s got to be called by its rightful name. Mmmm hmmm thas right, baby.
There’s a part of me that knows momma was well aware a more than she let on. How much more, I’ll never be sure, but she was a perceptive woman. Sometimes, I swear, she knew what I was gonna say for the words ever left my mouth.
When I brought girls home for dinner, she never once asked me if we were datin or what my intentions were. She’d be sweet as pie to em an treat em nothin but good, but she knew the deal. On the other hand, soon as Jarvis walked in with a cute thang on his arm, well, now that was a whole nother story. Then it’d be “What’s her family like?” and “Is she a church goin girl?”
Then there was that one time. That time we never dared speak about when she caught me in the dress I’d borrowed from my friend. I know she saw me. Opened that bathroom door an there I was plain as day. A blue velvet spandex mini dress huggin every curve I was ever born with an some I whatin. She pulled that door shut quick as she could an flew down the stairs fast as her little bird feet could carry her.
Stayed hold up in my room as long as I could that night. A million thangs runnin through my mind. Like whether or not it’d be best to just go on ahead an end it all. Wrote a letter to that affect. Laid it out on my desk. Draped the dress over my chair beside it. Got halfway cross the room to the bathroom to run a tub full a water so I could soak for a while, make my wrists tender enough to slit, for my thoughts got the better of me.
Stopped me in my tracks imaginin momma’s face if she was the one to find me, an more than likely she would be. How she’d wail an carry on when she read my note. The more I pictured it, I knew I couldn’t do it. There was also the knowledge that I’d be buried in a suit. That was right up there on the list a thangs that kept me grounded to this world. Imagined myself laid in that black box without a stitch a the makeup I’d taken to experimentin with or one a the dresses I kept hidden under my dresser, an I caved.
Whatin long til my appetite got the better of me. Slunk down to the kitchen. When I tiptoed in I was sure I’d get an earful. She never said a word; not one word. Just smiled as she took my plate out of the fridge, warmed it up an slid it to me. Went on to tell me bout how the youth group was goin on a retreat that next month. She’d already signed me an Jarvis up.
She always did say Jesus was the answer for anythang ailin a person. Guess she figured the more a him I got the less I’d need that dress. There were times, I wished she was right. Woulda made life a lot easier.
“Itn’t bein a black man in this here world hard enough without your addin all ‘that’ to your load?” Jarvis asks me from time to time, like I got some choice in the matter.
Like I woke up one mornin an it suddenly came to me that shavin my head an my legs every day, buyin women’s clothes, havin everybody an there brother includin my own kin thinkin I’m a freak a nature, an eventually gettin my balls whacked off was somethin to aspire to. Never has ceased to amaze me how people assume by lookin at you that you’re the incarnation of all your hopes an dreams. If it itn’t true for the fat housewife whose ended up with four kids an a husband who spends all his wakin hours at the office, then chil, why would it be true for me? We all do the best with the hand we’re dealt. Sometimes we do the dealin; sometimes I swear the devil his self’s shufflin the deck for he passes em out, mmm hmmm.
The only answer I ever give Jarvis when he gets to askin fool headed shit like that is silence. My only intention is to keep on keepin on. “When you ain’t got the words, you got your actions” was what momma used to drill into us. Jarvis always was the one to have a way with words.
That blue spandex get-up was the last time I dared wear anythang but my manliest a outfits in momma’s house. The last time while she was livin anyway. Til that night a her funeral when Jarvis gave me the task a gettin a head start on sortin through what she’d left behind.
He’d headed on back to Shreveport for a work meetin. Said there whatin no way around it an seein as how I didn’t have a job, it’d be a good use of my time. My singin an callin out numbers in bars while I “gallivanted around in women’s under thangs”, as he put it, didn’t qualify. Thas how he is, wouldn’t dream a takin a break to grieve our mother. Mmmm hmmm. An to hear him tell it, I’m the one who needs their head shrunk.
There I was all alone in the house where we come up. The house where I’d sat on my mother’s lap while she shucked corn. The house where I’d climbed the stairs on those balmy Florida nights to lay with her when the nightmares pried their way into my peaceful sleep. My feet walkin on the same floors where me an Jarvis played cops and robbers an army men. Movin those plastic figures around, all the while, knowin I whatin much for it. Feelin, even then, that I’d missed the day when the good Lord gave out that man’s handbook Jarvis seemed to know by heart.
I always was a momma’s boy. Helped her out in the kitchen an tagged along with her to church. When you’re different you’re gonna get singled out. Ain’t but a matter of time. How my older cousin sensed my differences I’m not sure, but he did. It was his noticin that made him ask me if we could go up to my room to play that day.
It led him to take the opportunity to show me what men liked the same way his uncle had showed him. Right there in my room it went on with the whole Braxton family settin outside my window eatin fried chicken from cardboard buckets at their annual reunion. Lickin that grease off their fingers while I lay there on that hardwood floor havin my first sexual encounter. To this day, I still can’t so much as drive by a KFC or a Popeye’s without my mind goin back there.
These are the thangs that lingered as I made my way through each room of momma’s house. Some of em resided there without momma knowin or givin permission; these thangs Jarvis left me to sort through. The thangs that reached out like ghosts lightly grazin my arms with their wispy fingers tryin like anythang not to be forgotten. Lord knows I wish I could forget.
That night, I lay in my old bed in my old room. Closed my eyes tight an prayed for sleep. Hadn’t talked to God in years, but I figured he might remember me even if I had gone an gotten myself a vagina. Sleep didn’t come. The man upstairs never showed up. He was as silent as the grave.
I lay still, acceptin the thang I feared most; that he’d been done with me for a long time. Pulled the covers up around me, reminded myself I’d be alright just like I had to every other time the Almighty crossed my mind. After a while, I got up an wandered down the hallway to momma’s room. I stood at the end of her bed, ran my hands over her pretty spread.
I’d been with her the day she bought it at the consignment store. Mmmm that woman loved to go thriftin! We went by this one place least once a week after school. Jarvis always made sure she dropped him off at the house first. He whatin much for shoppin but me, I was always game. I’d act like I was doin momma a favor by goin when really, I loved every bit as much as she did.
I’d let her do her lookin, while I roamed around. The back room was full a vintage dresses. It’d never fail. Didn’t take long for I’d make my way on back to that room, rubbin the silky fabric of those dresses between my fingers til momma’d call for me.
Layin down on that pink floral spread, I reached out for her. Took me a minute to recall she was in the grave. That I’d seen her lowered down in the dirt that very afternoon.
Imaginin her holdin the hand a her Lord was of little comfort. I wanted her there with me! I was mad as hell. God couldn’t have her yet, specially if I was doomed be burnin in hellfire an never see her again. I needed more time.
Rollin over, I caught sight of a nightie hangin on the back of her bathroom door. A white lacy nightgown she got from Aunt Lynn couple Christmases ago. I remembered thinkin when she opened it that it was awful bawdy. Seemed like a strange gift to give an elderly woman who hadn’t dated in years an, to hear her tell it, didn’t plan on ever doin so again.
Said our daddy had done her in far as men went. That the day he died a part a her died too. Always told us boys we were the only men that had any space left in her heart. Told us we were all she needed.
She’d commented to me later that evenin, when Aunt Lynn was out of earshot, an we were washin up dishes that she was gonna donate that nightgown to the Salvation Army. She was gonna be sure an drop it by in their drop box. Wouldn’t want a soul to see her with it she’d said. Yet, there it was, still on the back a her door.
I walked over, took it down from the hook. Holdin it up to my nose, I breathed in her perfume. She’d been wearin it! The fact that my mother had paraded around in such a garment made me smile. I took off my t- shirt, let it fall to the floor. Her nightgown felt like a soft baby blanket slidin against my skin as I pulled it on over my head.
Standin in front a the mirrored door a her armoire, I couldn’t help but cry as I looked at myself. If I’d a had my wig, I’d a been the spittin image a momma when she was about my age. I cried not just cause I felt so outta place, there in momma’s room, not barely an ounce a the man she’d known, but because I didn’t have my wig to complete the picture. I cried that I’d given in to Jarvis’s request to wear a suit an tie to the funeral an leave all a what he refers to as my “tranny junk” back at home.
Under those other dark reasons for all my blubberin, I unearthed an unexpectedly glittery one. Like a quarter down in the pocket of an old pair a jeans. A swan elegantly glidin it’s way across a pond a gray goslins. I was cryin cause I felt beautiful.
Up to that point, I could’ve counted on one hand the times I’d felt that way. The first, was the day I got the balls, even though I wouldn’t keep em long, mmm hmmm honey, to strut my stuff up on stage an spin that wheel, call out those numbers in my fuscia sequined jumpsuit. I’d taken the surgical tape I’d nabbed at one a my doctors appointments an wrapped my “package” up tight. I was the hottest Miss Thang to ever step out on the stage a that little hole in the wall bar, mmm hmmm I was.
The second time was when I went to buy my first pair a hot pants. It was right after my reassignment. I’d always been partial to dresses, most a the “gals” are, specially if they don’t have the dyin need or the money for surgery. I’d slipped on those tight black pants an zipped em right up without havin to worry bout catchin em on a thang. Felt right. Felt like a place I’d always wanted to travel to an finally I’d arrived.
Once Jarvis got back to momma’s, he relieved me a my duties. I took the first bus back to Lisa. When I unpacked, I held up the nightgown for her. Gave her an earful about wearin it an how pretty I’d felt. How close it’d made me feel to momma.
Lisa listened. She made over it some, but she didn’t understand. I could see it in the way she went on with her cookin while I was talkin . This happened a lot when I spoke about thangs that had more to do with me as Queen an less to do with me as Jermaine.
She always reminds me she’ll stick with me long as I’ll have her. Tells me she loves me to the end a this earth an back again. Cain’t imagine life without her. She’s the only person to ever accept me as Queen and Jermaine. Only person cept Jarvis who’s known us both. At the end a the day, when I think about what it’d be like to be with a man, I know I could never bring myself to betray Lisa. Wouldn’t never be worth it.
I don’t get my panties in a wad over it. Shit, spent way too many years not bein able to wear panties. Sure as hell ain’t gonna wad em up now that I can. Please, honey, mmm hmmm, you know thas right.
No blame can be put on Lisa for missin Jermaine. She knew the better parts a him. Met him when he was still able to peek his head out, prop himself up an play “man” with the best of em.
She didn’t know the Jermaine who got teased all growin up. The one who outran the boys in fifth grade when they threw rocks at him just cause he was the best dancer in music class. The one who’d sucked his cousin’s cock an let him return the favor at first because he had to, but later because he took a likin to it. The one who couldn’t remember what it felt like to walk around without feelin ashamed a just about everything he was or wanted to be.
No, Lisa whatin real acquainted with that Jermaine, but I was. Had been for too long. Thas why when I got my chance to let the other part a me, the funnier, sweeter, prouder part a me come out, I took it. Unlocked the door a that closet, let her right out an named her Queen.
Got that name cause I felt partly like royalty, an partly cause momma’s favorite Bible story was about lady named Queen Esther. She’d held fast to what she believed God worked it all out in her favor. Used to look at Esther’s picture in momma’s Bible. One page showed her in an old brown robe out in a field an the next one had her in a glamorous gown with a crown on her head.
Now I knew the minute I put on a dress, God whatin gonna be interested in workin thangs out for me. I knew I whatin gonna have no Boaz come along an redeem me like Esther did. I knew I was gonna have to be my own knight in shinin armor. Knew I was gonna have to work thangs out for myself. That it was me against the whole heterosexual world. I figured with name like Queen, I couldn’t lose, an if I did, at least I’d make an impression.
The other part a why I’m who I am now is the fact that my idol, Miss Tina Turner is called the Queen a Rock. Lord, that woman sure went through the ringer an came out shinin! Saw her on T.V. for the first time over at my Aunte Geneva’s house, singin on a lit up stage in a big concert on HBO. Couldn’t a been no more than ten at the time. Back before even half a all the bad that was headed my way had peeked it’s head out from under my bed.
I can still see her up there on that stage sportin that short white mini dress, her big hair wavin around. She was beltin out “Proud Mary”. First time I’d ever seen a black woman doin what she was doin. Struttin her stuff, actin like she whatin even black, like it didn’t make a hill a beans difference that she was. I didn’t just want to be like her. I wanted to be her.
The name set well with Lisa when I told her. She said when we decided it was time to adopt a child they’d blow their teacher’s socks off at school talkin bout their daddy who got himself turned into a momma an named herself Queen. I laughed when she said it.
There we were standin in line at the county clerk’s office waitin to get my name changed legal. I’d laughed at her sayin this, but down deep I felt a sadness creep in. It made me wonder if Lisa’d be on the first bus outta town when I finally confessed I whatin never gonna want to adopt nobody.
Shit, somebody needed to adopt me. Specially after momma passed. Didn’t need to be takin on another livin soul. Sides, we were gettin ready to move back to her hometown. Stuffy ol Murfeesboro Tennessee. Mmm hmm,ain’t a place I ever saw myself. Not in a million years, an I whatin about to drag some poor chil’ there either.
I threw her off the scent by tellin her if we were gonna be livin in her daddy’s old place, tryin to put his restaurant back on the map, we didn’t need to be havin any kids tyin up our time just yet. Hell, I hadn’t seen but one person a my “persuasion” in that town. Saw this dyke in the grocery store with a husband trailin behind her, a chil’ in a stroller, an a baby on the way. The way she looked Lisa up one side an down the other, I knew she whatin battin for the right team. Mmmm Mmmm. Some people can sure keep up those facades. Rest of us gotta live honest. All this to say,I knew from the get go we were gonna have our work cut out for us.
But I spoke too soon. Went an ran my mouth for we’d laid eyes on Lil Miss Thang. That Rodrigo, our Chihuahua, the only macho one in our anythang but conventional family, got it in his mind he was sick a mine an Lisa’s bein the only two faces he got to see. That day I left him out a touch too long while I was unpackin. On that day he saw himself a chance an took it.
It was like he made up his mind he wanted to find a girl to dote on his lil’ ass an poof! She appeared outta thin air. Just a settin out on her porch eatin candy that her size two momma’d tan her hide for even takin a whiff of never the less puttin in her mouth. All dressed in black like one a them goth, vampire lovin kids. Downright pitiful and depressin, mmm hmmm, honey. There she was...and who coulda known then that sadsackin little white girl’d be the closest thang to a daughter me an Lisa’d ever have?
Freshman year of college, my creative writing teacher gave us a list of topics to write about. Upon first glance, I was less than enthused about any of them. However, upon closer inspection, two of them stood out as though they were placed there just for me. I asked my teacher if I could weave them together as I couldn’t see how to adequately write about one without writing about the other.
The first was “the most beautiful thing you ever saw” and second, “the worst thing you ever did”. The words instantaneously flooded my mind. I saw her clearly and all at once; the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen to this day and how just her knowing me nearly sent her to her grave. That first image of her has never lost its vibrance. It’s stayed with me, always accessible,like that compact mirror you carry in your purse; the one you hardly ever pull out, but you know is there waiting for the right occasion.
As I sat down to write the essay, I looked out my dormitory window. Even though I was miles away from my childhood home, there she was all those years later, unaltered, the same as she was when I’d seen her that very first time. She’d stood in the middle of our subdivision, a skin tight pink dress that barely covered her shiny black thighs. Hair blowing in waves around her face. She frantically called her Chihuahua, Rodrigo, like the world would end if he ran past the end of their driveway.
I had never seen anyone like her; skin dark as night, showgirl makeup, and an athletic figure that, upon meeting her likely made any other woman secretly wish she’d drop dead. I blinked long and hard to make sure I hadn’t conjured her up out of sheer boredom. When I opened my eyes, there she was; the woman I came to know as Queen Mae Braxton.
Before this sighting, I could’ve counted on my hand the number of black people I’d even seen in our whitebred Murfeesboro. None of them had been men who were trying to women, which I wouldn’t have realized about Queen til mother pointed it out as soon as she caught me gaping from our living room window. I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she and Mr. Lawson’s daughter, Lisa, unloaded their car. The way she navigated the sidewalk in her stilettos, every move like that of a movie star; sure of every step.
“You’re not to talk to him. ” Mother cautioned as she tried to pick her jaw up off the floor. “And you’re most certainly not to go over there!”
“But we always take cookies to the new neighbors.” I reminded her.
“That’s when we want to get to know them. I already know his kind.” She retorted storming off to start dinner. “Now come away from there!”
I obliged her, yet shortly after, I snuck up to my bedroom where I could get a better view. Questions whizzed through my brain, colliding into each other like bumper cars at a carnival. How could my mother, of all people, know him already? How in God’s green earth had she even known that striking person was a man? Had she met many men in dresses, and if so where? He had certainly fooled me.
As I parted my curtains, and peered down, I hoped for the clues that had come to mother so easily. Queen took the last bag from her trunk and lifted up her little Rodrigo. She rose just in time to catch me gawking, all wide eyed with shock. Her hot pink lips simply broke into a smile. With full arms, she managed to raise the Chihuahua’s paw in a wave. I ducked down, huddling against the wall.
“You can always tell by their hands.” My mother informed us as she spooned one of her latest Weight Watcher concoctions onto our plates. “They can wear what they will and have whatever they want ‘added or removed’, but they’ll still have a man’s hands.”
I looked over at my Daddy’s hands as he lifted his fork and then his glass. I had never noticed how big they were compared to mother’s. It started right then and there: Queen’s presence alone, causing us to notice things we never had.
Much to my mother’s chagrin, I picked at my food while I waited for Daddy’s response regarding this “undesired” interruption on our normally picturesque street.
“Charlotte Grace! You will eat those Brussels sprouts. You cannot just eat carbs, and leave the rest. Baby fat will not drop off all by itself. Now stop your playing and finish up.” She ordered.
Daddy nodded in my direction, petitioning me to comply for the good of the both of us so she would move onto other business. I popped one of the putrid green things into my mouth and grinned at them.
Though Daddy was seldom home, I was his girl. Mother had served only as the vessel by which he and I had been united. I worshipped him the way most Southern girls tend to worship their fathers, placing him on an impenetrable throne of my own design.
At that time, he was the D.A. for our county. This caused him to spend much of his day at his office working hard to lock up the dejected and degenerate, as he often referred to them.His attendance at dinner was only a once or twice a week occurrence. For this reason, it was evident that he was withholding his opinion in hopes that the conversation wouldn’t continue to revolve around a man who wasn’t a man any more and the extra baby fat that had long been my archenemy.
“If Mr. Lawson knew his daughter would move a man like that into his house, he’d have rather seen it burned to the ground. Wouldn’t you agree, Bill?” My mother persisted.
Clearing his throat, Daddy sipped his water, looked at his plate, and breathed deeply before weighing in.
" I can’t say what the man would’ve wanted. In all the years he lived over there, he didn’t utter three words to me.”
This didn’t set well with mother. She went on to further prove her position as she regularly felt she must; a side effect of marrying a lawyer.
“That’s a shame. Why I, myself, had a very nice chat with him one afternoon last fall while he was raking. It wasn’t long before he passed. I got the distinct impression he was a conservative sort of gentleman and most definitely a Republican.” She stated with the eloquence and poise of a political candidate.
I took it all in, choking down a couple more Brussels sprouts. Mother went on to slice her steak into tiny bites. This was, as she’d reminded me on numerous occasions, one of her tricks for keeping her figure: small, digestible bites.
“I’m curious, Melanie, exactly how does a Republican go about raking?” Daddy asked struggling to keep a straight face. “Short, quick strokes?” He snickered.
Though I wasn’t altogether sure what was funny about his remark, I snickered with him out of solidarity. Mother didn’t dignify his comment with a response, but proceeded onto another subject, one particularly “near and dear” to my heart…the subject of the Miss Gaffney Peach pageant. She, herself, had been runner up two years in a row. Then when she was seventeen, she achieved her life’s accomplishment of being crowned Peach Princess.
As was custom for all former Princesses, mother continued to serve on the board for all further pageants. It was understood she’d do so until she died, or disappeared off the face of the earth. I found myself praying for either to happen; whichever would serve to deliver me from the hell that came with competing.
“If you stick to your diet, I think you’ll be able to get into that purple dress we had taken in in no time.” She rallied like it was easy as pie.
“Why’d Ms. Leery have to make it so small?” I mumbled, mouthful of prescribed green sludge.
“I told her it would be a good incentive. Besides, you have more than enough time, miss.”
I glanced at Daddy off and on for the remainder of the meal in hopes that he’d finally break the news to her. Explain to her that I was a different sort of girl. The kind of girl who loved to read, and write stories. The kind of girl who was far too smart and possessed far too many skills to be wasting time on frivolous pursuits such as pageants, but he’d only sat there. Likely he was preoccupied, sorting through case files in his mind.
This was the nature of things in our house. From an early age, I accepted that I was the sacrificial lamb on my mother’s altar. My Daddy, grateful to me though he was, would never intervene on my behalf as he knew full well that my mother was the type of woman who demanded a sacrifice. If it wasn’t me, he would have been the next in line.
At times, I found myself hoping for a sibling, someone to share the abundant “wealth” of my privileged Southern aristocracy. Then at other times, slumped on a bench in the dressing room of one of the dress shops my mother frequented for example, I’d be grateful that I was to be the only victim of her obsessive whims. Daddy hardly had time for me as it was. There was no question he’d have ignored any predecessor altogether.
The longer I live, the more I see that this is the way of it in most families. The parent who would have the best effect on the child has the least time. The parent who should’ve never been put in charge of anyone but themselves has ample time. The better candidate thinks that the other must be doing a good job purely out of time devoted. The worst one agrees that they’re superior for the very same reason. Everyone suffers under the weight of these delusional assumptions.
That night after dinner, I found myself again peering out my bedroom window. It was pitch dark out, and I don’t know what I thought I’d see, but I was hopeful. That in and of itself was enough for me. Before spotting Queen, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been truly hopeful or curious about anything.
I had ceased being hopeful that mother would let me forego the peach princess sham, or that Daddy would select a birthday gift for me on his own. He’d managed to do it one time that I knew of, yet it’d been so memorable it ignited a hopeful spark that carried over every year after.
It was a journal, a light gray one. On the cover there were teal butterflies flying away from a black tree. Part of me knew there had been little thought to the purchase of it. That he’d simply picked it up in an airport on his way home from interviewing a witness for one of his cases.
This fact was of no consequence. It hadn’t stopped me from talking myself into believing he’d looked at it on the shelf and had been reminded of me. That as he ran his fingers over it he’d felt those butterflies represented us both; dying to get away from the lives we were forced to lead in our finely decorated cage.
The front door of their house opened slightly. I pressed my face to the glass, hoping…hoping...only to see Rodrigo scratching his paws against the welcome mat before wriggling back inside. The door shut again. All the lights went out. That was to be it for the night.
Lying back on my bed, I closed my eyes and listened to the familiar sounds coming from within my own house. Daddy turning off the television downstairs. Mother’s muffled voice as she mistook this as her cue to begin her list of demands for the following day. The heavy steps against our wooden stairs as Daddy climbed them to turn in. The light quick steps of my mother fast on his heels. Their door shutting. The creaking of floor boards as they made their way to the bed.
For the first night in a long while, I found it hard to sleep. My heart raced with the anticipation of what could transpire. The questions of when, where, and how all warbling around in a swarm of unprecedented thoughts. I lay there envisioning it. Seeing myself, Charlotte Grace Danby, walking right up to my new neighbor that very next day, sticking out my hand and saying “Hi.”
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