Claire stood in front of the mirror, right eyebrow arched, black hair twisted into neat rows of one inch braids, brown skin smooth and visible even with the bathroom lights off. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror and without feeling afraid or foolish, she whispered “Candyman.”
Claire waited and nothing happened of course. But she didn’t like how her voice had sounded. It didn’t reflect the confidence she felt inside. So she repeated it this time without whispering.
“...candyman, candyman, candyman, Candyman!” the last in an operatic sing-song shout. She counted to ten and slowly opened her eyes.
And no one was there. No blood soaked horror hiding behind the bathtub curtain. No tall and imposing black man with a hook for a hand and bees swarming around his unforgiving face. Like most of the men in her life, the Candyman had failed her. In this case Claire supposed considering who he was and all, that was a good thing.
The baby began to cry. A mournful but reassuring sound to remind her that she lived in a concrete reality without candymen. The year was 1992. A time to wash away the excess of eighties silliness with hard work and of course common sense. “I’m coming.” she muttered. She flipped the bathroom lights back on officially ending the Candyman ritual and then hurriedly went to Little Anthony, the child she was babysitting, the baby who was most definitely not hers. A good thing that was too. As her Aunt Marie often told her, sixteen year olds had no business being mothers.
Claire crossed the small, tastefully done living room decor and picked up Anthony from the bassinet. (The child who is not yours, her mind whispered to her yet again; And what of it? Claire replied.) Anthony belonged to her next door neighbor. She would be paid five dollars an hour for caring for him and that money would be put into her college fund.
He cooed appreciatively, his arms reaching towards her and as she sniffed him for signs of a dirty diaper, she thought about what had driven her to such Candyman silliness in the first place. It couldn’t be that she just wanted to impress her friends though she was looking forward to seeing them tomorrow at school and casually mentioning “I played that Candyman game y’all. Nothing happened!” She would wither their would be giggles with her hard, unyielding stare. It was one of Claire’s little enjoyments in life to remind her friends, that unlike them, she was a sixteen year old who was going places. She had grand plans for her life.
At the moment she lived in an area of Chicago called Cabrini Green. Run down and segregated the buildings seemed to actively scream poverty and despair over all it’s residents. But Claire did not belong there. She was not Cabrini’s child. From her apartment with the white washed walls in dramatic contrast to the black painted exterior to her brightly lit bedroom decorated with old copies of high school exams that she had taped to the walls. (“A plus! A plus! A plus!” the papers screamed as if they were stop signs protecting her against an uncertain future.)
All of that was proof that she was getting out. She was going to college. She would become a doctor or perhaps a lawyer. A true life example of the tv family the Huxtables. Hell, her name was even Claire just like Mrs. Huxtable. So when when she became pregnant a few months back, she dutifully and without any hesitation went to get an abortion. Her Aunt Marie who financially supported her might not have been proud, but Claire knew she would have understood and appreciated the necessity of it.
She put Little Anthony back in the bassinet to change his diaper and as she struggled with with the squirming baby, (Anthony enjoyed diaper changes about as much as he enjoyed his spinach and peas baby food for lunch an hour ago) Claire couldn’t help but notice how much he happened to look like Tony, her ex-boyfriend. They both had the same dark colored skin and intense mocha eyes. Most likely Tony was Anthony’s father. Not that she gave a shit. Tony was a boy she used to get rid of that dirty little thing called virginity. Proof that Claire the Good was capable of having fun too, of being what she considered was a normal teen. She remembered her and Tony’s clumsy mating in a back street alley, her back pressed against the hard, unyielding wall and the odor of rotting vegetables and urine surrounding them. She watched the studious expression on his face as he came as if wrenching out the last bit of information out of an algebra textbook.
So this is sex, Claire thought. When she sat on the toilet only a month and a half later solemnly observing the double lined bar on her pregnancy test she smiled ruefully to herself. This was the cost of being a typical teen when you were destined for purposeful-ness in life. In her case the price was pregnancy.
Anthony, finally realizing that he had lost the battle of the diaper change, began crying weakly, rubbing his tiny fists into his eyes. This was Claire’s signal to soothe him back to sleep and so she rocked his bassinet back and forth while humming a made-up lullaby.
Yep, all he was missing was Tony’s glasses and Anthony could be his exact clone. She tried to work up some jealous feelings because that was also on her list of what being an average teen was about. A normal teen would be jealous if she knew she was observing, hell, even held the very proof of her boyfriends’ infidelity in her arms. And she did feel some form of jealousy, a sort of rumbling anger burning almost on the edges of her subconscious. But it was the wrong kind of jealousy. Or to be more precise it was pointed in the wrong direction.
Did she want to have a baby? Of course not. It would ruin her life. She was in complete agreement with her Aunt Marie on that. So why did she feel so ...angry? Anger at her sixteen year old mother who disappeared into a drug black hole never to be seen or heard from again. Anger at the man who she just knew in her heart was her father only to be told; How do I know you’re mine? Your mother slept around with a lot of dudes. All I know is I’m not paying any more child support. You can tell that bitch that.
She heard something crash in the bathroom interrupting her thoughts. A dramatic crash, the music of shattering glass then silence.
Her heart seemed to rise from her chest and then expand in her neck. For a moment, Claire thought she might choke on it.
Candyman, her lips whispered without her consciously being aware of it.
I really ought to see what happened in the bathroom.
But she didn’t want too.
The mirror cabinet just fell off the wall. It was bound to happen some time. Everything is cheap as fuck in this apartment. Don’t be chicken shit. Go check it out.
Undoubtedly that is what happened. Quite logical. But she couldn’t bring herself to move her feet, open the bathroom door and note the absence of the Candyman because there was no such thing as Candyman. He was just some made-up boogeyman shit her Aunt Marie and most likely many parents used on their children in Cabrini Greene. A black man who was punished for falling in love with a white woman during a time period when such things were not acceptable. Some of the town folk of the newly formed cIty of Chicago (aka Some of the white men of the newly developed city of Chicago but it felt safer even in the 1990s to refer to them as townspeople) hung him on a metal hook, burnt him, covered his dead body in honey and then burnt him some more. He was said to roam Cabrini's streets with the very hook used to hang him now encrusted with a burnt mixture of blood and honey. A walking, breathing vestige of rage from his cheated life. So eat your vegetables child, stay in school, earn good grades. Move out of the projects. Or the Candyman will get you. He loves to eat up bad little girls who don’t play by the rules.
Claire shuddered, noted the goose bumps dotting her skin and hating herself for that reaction. Damn it, there was no monster lurking in the bathroom ...and she didn’t want to see it.
“Fuck you, Candyman,” she whispered and then went to the bassinet to pick up sleeping Anthony because no matter what was behind that bathroom door, the baby would still need protection. It wasn’t that she was trying to garner strength and comfort from snuggling an eight month old child, Claire told herself. Nope, not at all.
Now equipped with the sleeping infant, she went to the bathroom door, turned the handle and then kicked it open like one of those badasses from the Terminator movies she so dearly loved.
Yes, the mirror cabinet had indeed fallen onto the floor. It cantered to the side so she couldn’t see the contents but there were shards of glass glittering everywhere and a smear of cream from a broken container on the rug. Where the cabinet mirror was once attached there was now a large black hole probably leading to the opposing apartment that was not rented out yet. The lights were flickering as if an invisible film director had ordered, Okay, everyone let’s get those lights going. It’s time for Arnold Schwarzenegger to make his grand entrance.
She laughed out loud almost dropping Baby Anthony who remained sleeping in her arms. Her amusement was quickly followed by shame and and she wiped her eyes with her free hand. Was she going to give Candyman credit for all of this?
As Claire and her friends grew up their image of the Candyman seemed to grow with them. He was no longer a fearsome, unknowable monstrosity, but a romantic figure. Still dangerous of course, but good looking, even sexy and he punished the wicked on your behalf ...the evil boyfriends, the father who refused to acknowledge you were his.
But Claire was not in awe of him even in her friends’s imagined seductive form. She didn’t believe in the Candyman of course, but she liked to think that if he did exist she would kick his ass. Just like she kicked the ass of one Jeremiah Jones who had pinched her butt while she waited for the elevator in her apartment. Gimmie some of that sweet ass, he had said and then groped one of her jean encased butt cheeks. Without thinking, Claire slammed her fist into his face knocking him to the ground. She then whipped off her ten pound book bag and proceeded to beat him with it all to the great amusement of his hoodlum friends. They laughed and looked at her with admiration. Damn girl! She bruised Jeremiah and his ego pretty badly that day, she thought with a grim smile. Folks knew not to fuck with her. And that could apply to a Candyman too.
She snorted laughter again and then tried to figure out what to do with all the damage. The maintenance here was impossibly slow when Claire became aware of a curious sizzling sound.
Puzzled she glanced down at Baby Anthony assuming that he was snoring. But no, his chest rose up and down silently as he continued his sleep. Sizzling was the wrong word anyway she thought while still standing at the doorway. This sound was more like buzzing. Like the flies buzzing around the stinking garbage cans while she was being fucked by Tony Mendelsohn. But flies wouldn’t create this particular sound either. Something was menacing about it, more heavy. The buzzing of bees. Yes, bees swarming lazily around a hive hypnotizing you with with their slow and weighty movements right before they decided to attack you. To kill.
She saw a gloved hand stretch itself lazily from the broken cabinet, even though the cabinet could only of had a depth of three inches at most and certainly wasn’t longer than two feet. The hand that was attached to an arm reached towards the ceiling, growing impossibly long and then grasped the outer edge of the cabinet obviously intending to haul the owner of the arm and hand out. Only one hand, leather gloved and obviously male.
Claire pushed the bathroom lock then slammed the door. She felt like as if she were standing on wooden stilts, legs that were no longer connected to the ground. With her stilt legs and sleeping Anthony still in tow she walked briskly towards the front door, her mind unplugged and unthinking. All she wanted was out. Escape.
The door wouldn’t open.
Sudden fury filled her, similar to the blind furry that she had felt towards Jeremiah and she attacked the door, kicked it, beat at it with her free hand. How dare it? The door who’s only responsibility was to allow her access to and from the outside world had now betrayed her. Anthony woke in her other arm and added his screams to her.
His crying also woke her up. Brought her back to her senses somewhat. Her mind was like a trapped bird fluttering in a cage that was slowly being submerged in some sort of slime ...honey if you will.
Candyman’s in there! Candyman’s going to kill me!
No. It’s just your imagination Claire. There’s no such thing as Candyman. You ...you just hallucinated some shit because you freaked yourself out so bad thinking about Tony and past shit. You’ve gone insane.
Sure, except she wasn’t sure if being nuts was any better then the existence of the Candyman.
Go back, open the damn door so you can see for yourself that you just made shit up and then call the local mental institution and get yourself committed.
No, but that phone call seemed like a good idea. Call the police and have them shoot that fucker down. She would enjoy watching that. With wailing Anthony still in her arms (but her legs at least had lost that horrid disconnected feeling) she went to the kitchen where the telephone hung against the wall.
“Hello, this is 911. Please state the nature of your emergency” a pleasant but obviously tired female voice answered the phone.
“I ... I uh?” What could she say? Excuse me but a Candyman has infested my bathroom. Could you come over and kill him for me please? Thank you ever so much.
“There’s a crazy man locked in my bathroom. I think he’s going to hurt my child and me. Please help me.”
“Ma’am, I can hardly hear a word you say. Could you please quiet the baby?”
“Anthony shut up!” her spittle sprayed his face. Startled Anthony temporarily stopped crying and ogled at her. Oh you’d make a great mother, Claire. That’s for sure, she thought bitterly. Anthony began screaming again, all the louder in protest to Claire’s earlier shout.
She put the baby down by her feet and he clung to her legs still wailing as she returned to the phone.
“Okay ma’am. Did you say an intruder broke into your home?
“Yes. No. He’s locked in the bathroom.”
“In the bathroom,” the voice repeated “Do you know the identity of the intruder? Did you invite him in?
Did you invite him in? Something mocked inside her. Did you say his name five times in the mirror Claire?
“No, I didn’t invite that fucker! He came on his own.”
“And you never met this man before?”
“You answered the door and he forced his way inside?”
“That’s right. Are the police coming here or not?”
“Other then the intruder and the infant is there anyone else currently in the home with you?”
“Give me your name and address.”
“Claire Buckley, twelve hundred North Larabee. Apartment one-thirteen.”
“Twelve hundred North Larabee in Cabrini Green?”
The operator asked this innocently enough but Claire understood the underlying context. The emergency that had brought some pep to the operators voice was on the verge of becoming mundane again. Not terribly important. And It wasn’t because Claire was Black and the woman on the phone had possible racist feelings towards her. Hell, the 911 gal might be Black too. It was the combination of being a Black teen living in Cabrini Green. Those two things combined were the secret ingredient. That was what divided the respectable Black people in the minds of many Chicagoans and the Cabrini-Greeners; the dangerous, drug-addicted, gang-banging Negroes. A whole slew of Candymen who deserved no better fate but to kill each other off. It was the reason her auntie was so desperately pushing her to become a member of the educated, respectable Black people. At all costs she must be better than, better than, better than.
Better than what?
All of this was in the background of her thoughts like barely noticed static (or like Anthony’s screaming, clutching her calves, wetting her pants legs with his tears). Claire felt heated resentment towards the 911 operator with a mixture of confusion because she wasn’t quite sure if her anger was deserved. But it was enough to cause her to reply “Yessss ...” in a vicious hiss.
“Okay. I’m sending help immediately. In the meantime you have to get you and the child out of the apartment. Keep the phone off the hook but you leave immediately. Got it?”
Claire drew in a long shuddering breath. “I can’t leave.”
“Bitch, are you stupid? Get your ass off of your fucking high-horse for a moment and listen to me!” Claire had a bad habit of cursing out whoever was in her vicinity whenever she was frightened. It didn’t matter if they were family, friend or foe. It had cost her test grades in school and even some friendships. Don’t let it cost you your life. She tried desperately to reign herself in. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have cursed at you. But he locked the door, see? I can’t get out. If I could I wouldn’t have needed 911.”
The operator’s voice was notably colder. “I’m not understanding you, ma’am. How could he lock the door from the inside?”
“I don’t know. He just done it.”
And didn’t you say he broke the door down?”
“I never said he -“
“Either way if he broke the lock to your apartment door or if you invited him in then there is nothing wrong with your door. There is no reason why you just exit the premises. If this is some sort of joke or if you’re making a mock call ...”
Because Claire did not belong in Cabrini Greene, she gently put the phone handle back onto the receiver. Then she picked up the handle again and this time smashed it into receiver. She did this several times ripping the cord from the phone in the process. She was punishing the phone, like she punished the door earlier. She wished she could have reached into the phone and slap that high-tone bitch too! Wipe the imagined hauteur ass look off her face with a bruise in the shape of her hand. At last she leaned against the wall and the phone breathing heavily.
She was left alone in a locked apartment with the Candyman.
No such thing as Candyman. No such thing ...no such thing.
Okay, she was left alone in the apartment and she was crazy as fuck.
Anthony clutched at her legs and wailed.