From the forthcoming novel “Good Mourning”
All I kept praying was that she didn’t hit me in the face. Anywhere else would’ve been just fine. At least that’s what I told myself. I’d never been in a real fight before. Unless you count that time with my cousin Tina, which I didn’t. (I still hid in my room every time she came over.) And having managed to live almost sixteen years without a fight was impressive. I’d learned to shut the hell up before altercations turned into fights. Until Leneve Anderson came to Southeastern High.
I heard rumors that she’d gotten kicked out of every other school she’d been in. Maybe it was because she looked more like a twenty-nine year old woman than a sophomore, or because she spent more time in the backseat of cars with the janitors than she did in the classroom. I wasn’t sure, but I prayed every, single day that she would drop out, get hit by the Mack bus or somehow retreat back into the hole I swear she climbed out of.
“You had all that mouth in second hour, what you got to say now?” She asked in an exaggerated boxer’s stance. She looked every bit of the professional I felt she was. The crowd that grew around us egged her on. There were shouts for her to ‘beat the bitch’ and kick my ass.
My mouth felt like cotton and my hands were so drenched in sweat, even wiping them on my jeans didn’t help. I was about to offer to do her algebra till the end of the school year, or let her cheat off me during the next quiz but she beat me to it. Her fists were swift; her punches landed in a quick succession that told me I never stood a chance.
I couldn’t stop my brain from replaying the moment over and over again like a broken VHS tape. I told myself it didn’t matter anymore, that she didn’t matter anymore. Me and the beating I took, which I heard had become legendary, would all be a memory once I did what had to be done.
Stripping down to just my beige panties and bra, I fashioned the noose out of one of daddy’s old belts. From the hook I swore must have remained from an old chandelier, I twisted the leather until it could go no further, then kicked the chair I was standing on. It imagined I was jumping off a mountain into the cool ocean that waited down below. And then the goddamned belt broke.
“Get your ass up from down there!” Ginny walked in wearing only her underwear and nude stockings that made her look like sausage stuffed into casing. “It’s too damn early for all that nonsense. You got twenty minutes till you gotta be to school.”
“You think I’m going to school like this?” I got off the carpet and tilted my face showing her the black eye that had grown exponentially since yesterday. “And it’s Friday, what’s the point?”
“Point is, you gettin’ outta here. We got work to do ‘round here. This a funeral home, not a daycare center.”
Grandma Ginny was never one to tell somebody what they wanted to hear. ‘I work in the death business, I don’t sugar coat shit’, she’d said more times than I thought was cute. I grabbed a wrinkled shirt and a pair of jeans and pretended to get ready. She wanted me out the house, she didn’t say I actually had to go to school.
In the parlor, mama was already dressed and vacuuming. I tried to sneak past her but when the roaring of the Oreck she’d been tricked into buying stopped, I knew she saw me.
“Let me see that eye.” She touched my face lightly, it still felt tender and sore. She didn’t have to say it, the bruising only made my dark face harder to look at. I looked in her and daddy’s face and never saw an ounce of resemblance. “Put some more ice on it to bring the swelling down,” was all she said. And with that she was back to vacuuming. Daddy fished through papers on his desk, while I thought of a place where I could go to die.
Maybe I would jump in front of a DDOT as it dropped off kids for school. Or maybe I would walk the few miles it took to get to Belle Isle. I imagined my body perched on a rail then tumbling to the rocks below with a splat. If I was lucky, no one would ever find my body.
I didn’t have a plan except to walk until my feet hurt. Then I’d know I’d come far enough. I cut down Lemay Street so that no one would see me, then walked east down Goethe. I was buried in my thoughts when he came up behind me. He’d been quick and silent. I wouldn’t have known he was there except for the fact that I smelled him first. Maybe it was the heat that made him rancid; the smell of malt liquor and sweat rolled around and filled the small space between me and him.
“Scream and I will blow your mutherfuckin’ head off.” He was missing teeth, I could tell. I had to catch myself from begging him to get his salty palm off my mouth. I didn’t want to say a word or make a sound. With the small gun pointed at my back, he led me around a corner into the darkness of an abandoned house.
There were no doors anywhere, but I was too afraid to get out. The stranger pushed me to a pee stained mattress and stood over me while he undid his belt.
“Young girl like you should be in school. What you doin’ walkin’ ‘round here this time of the morning?” Now he was a freakin’ truancy officer.
Again, I caught myself. I heard Grandma Ginny telling me ‘a shut mouth get more done than a hollow one do any day.’ I wasn’t sure what that meant, but with that gun nearby, I wanted to choose my words carefully.
“Sir, I’ll give you whatever you want. We can go to my house right now. You know the Sparks’ Home for Funerals? That’s me. I mean, my family owns it. Anything you want, they’ll give you.”
“I don’t want nothing but you right now. Do what I say, things gonna work out just fine, okay?”
After he pulled down my jeans and panties, he picked up the gun again and pressed it against my temple. His sweaty body rested against mine and his weight became unbearable. Forcing his way inside me, he pressed the lead harder and harder until I was sure a bullet would come out. I pulled together a quick prayer asking Jesus to get me out of there alive. I would go to church with mama every single Sunday and actually put money in the collection plate. If this man who smelled like the inside of the city dump spared my life, I would never think another terrible thought again. And then I saw it. The broken piece of cinderblock had been sitting there the whole time. When he was done ripping my insides apart, I finally took a breath, exhaling louder than I probably should’ve. I waited for him to turn his back to me.
“You did good. Must’ve been your first time?” And the bastard had the nerve to chuckle. I knew I only had a second to get to my feet and do it. I pulled up my pants and sat at the edge of the thin mattress. Something told me he’d done this before, he’d gotten comfortable too quick, taking his eyes off me for way too long. The rock was heavier than I thought, it should have taken two hands to hold it steady. In one swift motion, I aimed for the back of his head and hit him like I wanted to hammer him into the floor boards.
It caught him by surprise and he fell to the floor. Even though the crimson oozed from him, I didn’t feel safe. I picked it up and hit him again and again, harder each time until I heard crushing that I knew had to be bones in his skull. I lost myself, I kept pounding and pounding until it was my arm that grew tired before I did. And only when I knew for sure that he was dead did I leave the house the same way I’d come in. Looking both ways to see if anybody saw me, I walked first to not look so obvious. And when I was a few feet away from the house, I started running. With bloody hands and a shirt wet from the stranger’s blood, I ran like my life depended on it. I ran towards the Sparks’ Home for funerals like there was no place better on earth.