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The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2021

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NOV 2021 Issue
Fiction

Market Basket

The voice in Tassity Johnson's original short story, "Market Basket" is instantly captivating. The story's protagonist, Yvette, is caustic, funny, poetic, and vulnerable. It's an unconventional love story, to say the least, unlike any other I've read, and you won't see the ending coming.



*



This is years ago. I get home and Harold is still on the couch, in his drawers, looking at some part of the paper I am sure is not the classifieds. Though he claims he has a job.

“They gon’ put me on the insulation crew. I’m building buildings, Yvette. I’m putting down the floors you walk on, the roofs over your heads.”

“I got me a floor, Harold,” I tell him. “I got me a roof. I don’t need you to put nothing down. I need you to get up out of here.”

But Harold isn’t listening, not to me, I know. He’s looking out at the street, which he can see even slumped all down into the couch.

“The kids out there?” Harold I don’t think can tell time, not other peoples’.

“School don’t get out ‘til 3,” I say, and I’m moving over him, to get at the ashtray that’s all piled up with his butts, and the empty glass he keeps setting down right on the glass table, letting it sweat all over. “You’d know that if you ever went and picked them up.”

“I will, ‘Vette, I will. When I get off my job I will.” And he’s looking at me now, and reaching for me. I get down and let him pinch me, start to unhook me. Then I get back up and get my purse and head to the door.

“Yvette,” he’s going. “Yvette!”

But I’m already out the house. I’m going to work.

At work I wash all fifteen of Mrs. Fisher’s doors. Doors for bathrooms, bedrooms, living, dining, den. All kinds of rooms to be in, in her house. But Mrs. Fisher just stays in one, what she calls the TV room. It’s got a couch and a little TV and a raggedy old chair that I am sure Mr. Fisher died in. Mrs. Fisher sits all bunched up in it all day, like he left it warm.

Mrs. Fisher don’t tell me nothing about Mr. Fisher, or herself, or anybody else but me. All day she stay worrying me about what I’m doing. Did I get to sweeping back behind the fridge, she say, did I get to dusting under the beds, did I get to washing these damn doors. She don’t never go in no rooms but this one and the bathroom from what I can tell, but she say she can’t get comfortable in a dirty house, she can’t sleep unless she knows everything is clean. “Y’vette,” she say, “a house isn’t clean if the doors aren’t clean. I just can’t stand to think about touching doors with everybody’s fingerprints all over them.”

I only got a handful of doors—front, back, two bedrooms, one bathroom—but I know what she means. Sometimes I sit in the bathroom for as long as I can get away with, just staring at the walls with nobody fussing in my ear. That’s when I start to see the dirt that I don’t ever see when I’m just going about my business. Stains on the shower curtain, hair stuck in the bath mat, toothpaste spots on the mirror. Fingerprints all over the doors, dark as footsteps in mud. Sometimes it bothers me enough that I get to washing the doors after I’m done with myself. But the way me and the kids and Harold stay going in and out the bathroom, and the way Harold stay going in and out the front door and back, it don’t make sense to even try. Harold treats the front and back doors like those revolving ones at the bank. In and out, going to work, lying about going to work. In and out, going around me and the kids in circles; laughing at us looking around for him, looking dumb.

I’m in one of Mrs. Fisher’s bedrooms, washing down a closet door. In the room all around me is junk, on the bed and the side tables and at my feet. I keep Mrs. Fisher’s house cleaner than I can keep my own, but she still keeps it junky. She got unopened boxes of kitchen stuff, pots and pans and things you plug in the wall, stacks of sheets and quilts and rolls of fabric and string and yarn, piles of clothes with the tags still on, for bodies Mrs. Fisher ain’t never had and people she ain’t never been—work clothes for grown men, church and school and bed clothes for little kids. I guess she expected Mr. Fisher to live and grandchildren to visit. But Mr. Fisher been dead, and from what I can see her one son don’t come around often if ever, and if he do, he don’t have no kids for these clothes, or the kids he have don’t want them.

Sometimes she lets me take her real junky junk—I got a broke lamp from her, and an old toaster, and a comforter with holes all in it. I’m too proud to think Mrs. Fisher’s junk is something better than junk, but not too proud to take whatever junk she offers. I grew up in a shack with nothing in it but people and a cot and pot between us; no room and no money for junk.

I press too hard and the door pops open, and all kinds of stuff comes falling out. Then Mrs. Fisher comes calling after me. I hear her climbing out of her chair, dragging her feet down the hallway. She’s not that old, but she is lazy, unless she thinks something’s going on with her junk. I try to kick some of it back inside the closet, but that just makes even more come down. Stuffed animals and puzzles and a doll as big as a girl, little sacks of marbles, and a bunch of other old toys the kids don’t seem to want neither.

She waves me away from the closet. “You’ve messed up my organization,” she say, but she don’t seem to be mad. She starts pulling more out of the closet, carrying a new pile to the bed. “You might as well take everything out, so you can wash these shelves down. I’m sure they’re plenty dusty.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I say.

Now she’s looking over her new pile. “Oh, the house.” She picks up a box. “Mr. Fisher started on this, a long time ago. Supposed to be a dollhouse for a girl we were supposed to have, but that girl turned out to be a boy.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I say. What she’s calling a dollhouse looks to be a wood box with a few cutouts, I guess for doors and windows. No house paint, no window glass or shutters, no roof, no door to open and shut. Just a box with holes, like something you put an animal in to keep it alive.

“I recall him finishing this, with beautiful pink and white trim, and real glass for the windows, real doors.” She sticks a finger through a hole that’s supposed to be a window. “Evidently I recall wrong.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I say.

“Do your girls still play with dolls?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I say.

“If you think they’d like this dollhouse, you can take it.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I say. “Thank you, ma’am.” I’d take it even if the kids wouldn’t like it. Growing up I didn’t have no dollhouse, no doll box, no dolls. All I had was the people coming in and out of the house I lived in. I used to watch them and pretend like I was making them do what they did, like I was moving them from room to room, putting clothes on them, bending them in and out of chairs. I learned to do what I could with what I got, with what was given to me. That was being somebody’s child. You got the toys you got, the food, the house, the family. You didn’t get choices.

Harold is at the door when I get home, but he’s opening it for me, not leaving. “What’s this box you got,” he say, taking the dollhouse out of my hands.

“Mrs. Fisher say it’s a dollhouse.”

Harold sees what I see. “This ain’t no doll house,” he say. “Where the furniture at? Where the paint? Where the windows and the doors? That old white lady gave you a doll shack.” Then he knocks his head back and laughs.

Judee and Tita hear him and come running up to us screaming, holding their dolls, pulling at Harold for the house. But Harold still laughing. “I’ll get you some potato sacks you can make dresses from,” he tell the girls, “give your dolls some little hog maws to fry up.” Then he puts the house down and pulls Judee up, and starts dancing her and her doll around, humming a church song. Judee puts the doll in front of his mouth like a microphone.

I tell Tita to go get her headscarf, and when she brings it to me, I wrap it around her doll’s head. “Just some po’ country li’l dolls,” I say, and me and the girls and Harold keep laughing.

Jackie comes in laughing without knowing what anybody’s laughing about. “Where Jackie toy?” Harold say, booming. “Mrs. Fisher didn’t have no tin can jalopy for him?” I go to the kitchen and give Jackie a can of peas to roll around. He gets on the floor and starts honking.

After dinner I watch Harold go get his coat. But he don’t get his coat. He walks past the coat rack to where Judee and Tita are playing with the dollhouse, picks them up, and carries them on to bed, with Jackie behind them. I stay in the front room and put the dolls and the dollhouse away.

Growing up I got tired of not having a choice about anything I got. That was why I got with Harold. If you got with someone you could go out and make your own family. And the one you made was one you got to choose to be in, with people you got to choose, too. It wasn’t some hand-me-down but something you picked out everything for, the wood and nails, windows and doors.

I hear the kids asking Harold to tell a story. “I don’t know no bedtime stories,” I hear him say, but then he starts telling them that one about the pigs and the wolf trying to knock down their houses. Tita and Jackie too old for this story, but Harold don’t know and they don’t tell him. And I don’t go tell him neither. I let him go on, getting the story all wrong, telling the kids the wolf was just trying to see who had the strongest house, the pigs asked him to do it, the houses were all falling apart anyway, the wolf whispered and they all fell down. And then the wolf got hungry and just wanted a little bit to eat, and the pigs had told him they would feed him but now their kitchens was all messed up, and what was he supposed to do, not eat? The pigs knew he was a wolf when they met him.

Harold was the wood, and I was the nail. Harold was the door, and I was the lock. Harold was the wolf, and I was just dumb, looking out the window and hoping he was something else. But if you broke the lock on what we built, pulled out the nails, stole the doors and windows, blew the whole thing down, the scraps would still be ours and us.

Harold is walking around me. This time he gets his coat. “I’ll be back,” he say, but I don’t ask when, or where he off to. I ask Harold to stay, he go, I ask him to go, he go.

I go to the door and hold it open for him.

“You kicking me out?” he say, smiling.

One time he told me it’s me that got stuck in one place, not him; told me that’s the ways of women and men, since Eve and Adam; told me he didn’t write that song, he just sing it. I nod.

“I don’t want you dirtying up my door.”

I watch him go until I can’t make him out from the street. We don’t got no streetlights, so it don’t take long before he looks like he’s gone.



^^^^^^



This is after that. I’m in Market Basket checking eggs for cracks and finding a crack in every carton I pick up, when somebody taps me. I turn and on the other side of me is some woman. I know most of the people I see in Market Basket when I come, and even those people I don’t know, when I see them, I say hello. Her I don’t know. I’m keeping my hello.

“Yvette?” she asks. “You stay over on Iowa?”

I tell her I do.

“Delores,” she say and puts out her paw. I’m still holding a carton of eggs, and I don’t put them down.

“I just wanted to say hello and to thank you.” She pulls one of her eyebrows up like I said something interesting, or like I’m about to, but I didn’t, and I’m not. I just let her keep going. When crazy people start talking to you, it’s best not to stop them, it’s best to just let them go until they run out of whatever it is they have to get out.

“You let Harold go like you should have, and he found me, like he should have, and I’m so glad for it. I’m so glad.” This silly woman looks like she’s got tears in her eyes. I hold up the eggs a little closer to myself and think about running.

I ain’t heard from Harold in years. I stopped counting. First, I thought he was just giving my couch a break by going to work and spending his nights drinking up the little money he was making. I figured he’d be back soon enough with some little nothing to show for the work he’d been doing, some old-time cup-and-ball piece of junk for the kids to fight over, some plastic plates made up to look like glass for me, some “I missed you ‘Vette. I love you ‘Vette,” to smooth things over between us. This I figured was about to happen every day, for the first few months. Every day I woke up, went to bed, expecting him.

Then the months went on without him. I stopped expecting. Started dreaming of him instead. Him coming back. Every day I woke up, went to bed, full of shame.

Unkept, this woman looks. Hair looks like she just got tired of combing years ago. Hips so wide I sure hope she has kids she can blame them on. And the nerve to be wearing lipstick, looking like this.

“I hope you glad too,” she say. “Harold say he miss Jackie, Tita, and Judee.” She say the kids’ names real slow, like they news to me. “I’mma have him call you, alright? Set up a time for us to be by there.”

This messy woman is smiling like she stole something someone wanted. She thinks I care. I hand her the eggs I’m holding.

“None of them is broke,” I tell her.

As I walk out the store I see Harold, smoking next to the dime race car ride the kids always want to go on. It’s like one of those bumper cars at the fair that goes back and forth when you put a dime in. I never let them get on it. I don’t have dimes to be wasting.

Harold’s got the whole thing in his smoke. He’s keeping the kids away.

“Don’t have your woman coming up to me, Harold. Tell her to keep you and her to herself.”

“I told her not to go in there, ‘Vette. She do what she want. You know you do the same.”



^^^^^^



This is later. One month it rains every day and night. It rains so much outside the rain comes in. I waste good pots and buckets on catching drips. Jackie, Tita, Judee say it’s just water, let it dry up. They say mama, let it run. It ain’t raining on nothing they care about. I let it rain on the floors, I’m the one that’s got to mop them up. I let it rain on the beds, I’m the one that’s got to wring the sheets out. I put a pot in the tub, and they laugh at me. They say the tub is a big pot. But somebody got to be the one to drain the tub, and somebody ain’t none of them.

Jackie say he don’t live here no more anyway. He just come by every now and then to steal food from my fridge. Rest of the time he do the same thing to some dumb girl I’m sure is still living with her mama. Tita and Judee say they on they way out, too. They still share a room, but now sharing means if one of them is in there sleeping, the other one’s in the streets. Running after boys like they brother. Bums. Jackie, Tita, Judee, I say they wild. They talk back, say they grown. Eighteen, seventeen, sixteen. “We grown, mama,” they say, “and about to be gone.”

They say “about to,” but they been gone. They say rain is just water, but then they say, a leaking house ain’t civilized, mama, it ain’t fit for us children to live in. So they leave, Jackie to his girl, Tita and Judee to their boys. They say call us when you tell the rain to stop.

So the drips keep me company. The sound of them wakes me up in the morning, puts me to sleep at night. I get so used to them that whenever it stops raining for a little bit, the quiet sounds like noise.

Then one of the drips breaks out just over the toilet. Which means I can’t complain no more about losing pots. But when I go to sit, there’s a tap on my shoulder, taps in my hair, taps down my back.

I go look through the closet for something to put over the toilet, or a umbrella to hold above me when I go. I don’t find nothing but another leak, and a puddle with a pile of clothes in it. Harold’s clothes.

Now Harold is just somebody I knew once. I can’t say I’d call him to come pick up his rags if I had his number. But I don’t have his number. And I don’t know who to call to call him. Only his women are listed in the phonebook, and none of them have last names, not ones I know.

Only number I got is his brother Billy’s, so I call him.

“What I’mma do with some wet clothes,” he say. But he’s at the house in a minute. He must be womanless, ‘cause that’s the only time I see him. “You the only one left that’ll put up with me,” he tell me. But I don’t put up with him. I don’t cook for him or wash his drawers. I talk to him if he talk to me, and I don’t if he don’t. Though according to him, he’s looking after me. “You think you mean enough to keep the killers and robbers away,” he tell me, “but they don’t know you mean like I do. You need me to tell them to stay away.”

Nosy people like to talk about me and Billy, like the only way they know how to talk about a woman who got left is to talk about the next man about to leave her. Make me jealous of widows. People know how to talk about widows so well they got a name for them. No name for me.

As soon as Billy comes in, he hears the rain inside. “Drip drip,” he go, walking through the house. “Drip drip. Holes all up and through here.” Then he looks at me, like I’m the one with nothing. But all Billy got is his self, and that ain’t much.

“Your woman threw you out?”

“I left.” He ain’t looking at me now, not when he says that. He runs to the toilet, so he can put a door between us.

“You got to leave after somebody throws you out,” I tell him through the door. I don’t feel sorry for him. It ain’t like he living on the street. He just alone.

Then he opens the door, laughing. “You ain’t see the ceiling in here? Looking like it’s about to fall into the toilet?” I follow his finger up to a big yellow bump. Then down to where it pokes me, in my side, just above my hip. “You need you a handy man in here. Or a man that’s handy. Somebody.”

People talk about need like they forget don’t nobody need nothing more than water and something to eat to keep living. “What store they sell that at?”

“Market Basket got a bunch of men hanging outside, go smile at one of them. See how fast they run.” He’s smiling down at me like we both laughing, like I ever laugh with him.

“Run from me, I bet. You handy enough, you fix it.”

He shakes his head, still smiling down at me. And then the smile go, and he’s just looking down at me. I hear what he ain’t asking. Do I need a hand? Or something else.

What do I need?

He ain’t asking because he knows the answers. I look up at him, to see if he might give me a reason to change them. Harold and him used to have the same eyes, brown and barely open. I look to see if Harold is still somewhere in Billy’s face, but I can’t find him, not in the eyes or anywhere else. But then I don’t know that I know what kind of eyes Harold got now. I can’t see him in my mind, not anymore. Even when I try, I don’t see nothing but the three little moles he got on his forehead, like a side of dice.

Billy don’t got nothing on his forehead but lines, too many to count. He leans to my ear, to whisper. “Smile, Y’vette,” he say. “I won’t run.”

Then he huffs his hot breath on me. Hits me like a feeling I ain’t felt in a long while. Like a summer day after years of snow.

What I need is to need what I got and what I been given. Nothing else.

“Don’t you be blowing in my ear,” I say back. Need more than that, somebody’ll just take whatever you get, if you get it at all.

Billy pulls away and turns back to the ceiling. “Get me a broom and a bag and a stool.” He pokes the broom end into the yellow bump, and a chunk of ceiling comes down, into the bag he’s set up in the toilet. Water comes down too, almost too fast to see fall. Then he gets up on the stool and stands through the hole in the ceiling, until he’s almost gone.

“I can’t find no leak up here.” He peeps his head down from the hole. “And no drip neither.”

I check the window. “Cause the rain stopped. You can take the clothes and get out.”

But in the bedroom, he picks up a shirt from the pile and wrings the water from it right onto my floor. Then he throws the shirt back down. “I ain’t getting my car seats wet with those old fonky clothes. Call me when they dry.”

“Get out then,” I tell him and lead him out. Outside everything still feels wet, even without the rain.

“I’mma be back tomorrow to fix that leak. Just need to rain again so I can find it.” He comes up right behind me. “I’mma fix up that ceiling too. Be your handy man for free.” He squeezes me when he says it but this time, I don’t look at him. I look out at the yard and see little green lights go on and off in it. “Lightning bugs,” he say, taking his hand away. “I’mma catch you some, help you keep your lights on.”

“I keep my own lights on.”

Billy sticks his hand out and snatches one. He makes a fist. When he opens it, all over his hand is the green light and a crushed-up bug.

Inside I lay out Harold’s wet clothes. Four dingy t-shirts and a suit he bought off the street for two dollars. He brought the suit home like it looked like something other than what it was. “How much you think I got it for,” he kept asking. “How much?” He asked the kids, and when Jackie said fifty dollars, Tita and Judee said it too. They thought fifty dollars was the most anything could be. “Wrong!” he said, and when he said it, the kids fell out laughing. “How much, Y’vette? How much?”

“Look like they had to pay you to take it,” I said. And it did. Harold didn’t like that answer, and I didn’t care. And I don’t care now, if he was mad at that. Some people get mad if you lie, get mad if you tell the truth. I think some people just like to be mad.

Next morning it rains again and the clothes still wet. They smell up the house, so I throw them out and tell Billy not to come. Then I take the stool into the bathroom and watch the hole in the ceiling like TV. Outside the rain comes down heavy, but don’t nothing drip the whole time I’m there watching the hole. I stand up on the stool to see if I can see where the rain came in from. To see what all is up there to see. But ain’t nothing to see but the dark.



^^^^^^



This is too soon. Debbie Eddie, who I see whenever she feels like getting up out the house to come to church, comes up to me Sunday, crying a little. I step back from her grabbing little hands all on mine. “You drinking on a Sunday?” I ask her, and that makes her a little mad, so she backs up from me, and straightens herself up like she’s got a reason to be offended. “You better keep yourself together, Yvette,” she tells me, in that sour note she’s always trying to sweeten whenever Pastor Ray has something to say to her. “I just came over to say I was sorry to hear about Harold. You make me sorry I was ever sorry enough to say it.” Then she huffs off.

Debbie Eddie’s a cow. I’m not crying to see her leave. But maybe I should be. Because I don’t know what more there is to this story about Harold she’s sorry about than what she’s told me.

I call Tita and she say she ain’t heard nothing. “But when’s the last time you saw your daddy?” I ask her. “Mama, how I’m supposed to know? You think I mark it on my calendar? You think it’s something to remember?”

Tita’s got the worst attitude I’ve ever met, though Jackie is just as bad. “You know since daddy went off, he don’t have nothing to do with us,” Jackie tells me. “I think the last time I saw him he had the nerve to ask me for a quarter. What was he about to do with a quarter?” Judee I don’t bother even calling. She don’t even live out here, and my thinking is she moved away because she didn’t want to know, didn’t want to ever be asked.

I don’t know why I don’t think Harold’s dead, with the way Debbie Eddie said her sorries, but I don’t. And he ain’t. When I get off the phone with Jackie, Billy calls to tell me Harold’s in the hospital.

When I get down there, Harold’s asleep. The doctors seem to be too, because there’s not one around to answer any questions. And I just have the one. I ask Billy.

“Nothing good. Showed up at my door a week ago, coughing blood all over my stoop.” Harold is an old man and now he looks like one.

Billy keeps going. “I was about to throw him out with all his coughing, keeping me up at night. He lucky I found him on the floor this morning and thought to bring him up here. I’m lucky you here.” Billy lifts a hand I think he’s going to lay on me, but he just leaves.

Leaves me with this. This Harold. I walk over to his bedside and count the moles on his forehead. Three little black moles right by his eyebrow. Same number. No new ones, no old ones gone. The only thing the same about him. Without them I wouldn’t know how to tell him from some other old dried-up man.

It’s cold enough for a coat in the room but his body don’t seem to agree. I don’t know where all his sweat is coming from. I soak it up with tissue until a nurse tells me to go home.

I go to see him after my housekeeping shifts. I clean up the dust from the window sills that don’t nobody on the hall seem to be concerned about, feed him ice chips, wipe the sweat that he keeps making.

And I talk to him. I start with my day. “I went into Mrs. Fisher’s living room and she had all these towels and tissues balled up all over the floor, like she just used them and threw them down there. Just nasty. I keep my gloves on all day in that house.”

Then I tell him about the week. “Pastor Ray came by with his empty bowl. I don’t think he ever even buys food, just begs.”

And then I tell him about the year. And then I start on all he missed. And all the while Harold just goes in and out of the room. I can see it. His head dips like he can’t help himself from falling asleep but his eyes are open; and then sometimes all of him just shakes like he’s eighty, ninety years old. But he don’t say nothing. I ask the nurse what this is that he has, that he can’t talk, and the nurse just say, “He can talk.”

I bring Tita with me on Tuesdays because she don’t have a car. She only comes on the one day because she say she don’t have nothing to say that can’t be said in one day a week. Jackie comes sometimes, sits near the tv and looks for the football channel. Judee don’t come at all. Say she can’t afford the bus trip out here. She had a husband I believe had a car, but he left and the car went with him.

One day Harold finally has something to say.

“Angie,” he pushes out. “Where Angie.”

“Ain’t no Angie here,” Tita tells him. Ain’t no Angie ever here. Never at his bedside here, not beside him, not that I’ve seen. No Delores neither. Just me dumb as all creation, worrying after some sick man who don’t even know my name.



^^^^^^



This is today, just a minute ago. They have Harold propped up out there, in a cheap box the cremator gave us for the wake. They put up a few flowers and sheets to hide the seams in the box, but you can tell, if you’re looking. You can see what little is there. I would not have done it like this if I had a choice. But Harold got sick and died in what felt like a day and what was a few weeks and that was not enough time to find the money for something better than this.

I’m in the restroom not looking at myself. Thankfully there is just the one toilet in here, not all them stalls, no having to hear people do their business, no having to have them hear me. On a day like this, with everyone checking me for tears, I don’t think I could stand to be somewhere with other people coming and going. Debbie Eddie I saw out there during the service, trying to peep at me. I could have bit her.

I’m not looking at myself while I wash my hands and I’m thinking, “Make it smooth, get him up there quick if he’s going, if you’re letting him in.” And when I turn to the paper towels, there is Harold sitting on the little couch they keep in here.

“Yvette,” he goes. “How you been?”

He’s wearing a too-big suit covered in dust, some scraps Billy dug out of his closet.

“What you doing in here, Harold? Get on out of here!” I’m not mad but I say it like I am because madness is my old feeling for him, the feeling for him I know. But what I’m really feeling in the moment I’m not sure I can name it, not sure there is a feeling for it.

“Where I’m going, Yvette? Where I got to be?”

“This the ladies, Harold!”

“And? What other ladies in here, besides you? Who else coming in here? I think I seen you enough times I can stay.”

He looks like a big bug in Billy’s old green suit.

“Don’t you have some place else you need to be?”

“Wherever it is I’m supposed to be, ‘Vette, I don’t want to go. Tell you the truth, I ain’t interested in none of that.”

“Heaven, Harold, you ain’t interested in Heaven?”

“Heaven!” Harold rolls his eyes. And his eyes are still there, and they don’t look dead. They don’t look like you can reach through them. They look like you can touch them, and the moles on his forehead, which are still there. No new ones, no old ones gone.

“You act like you so tough, Harold, but what you ever did to not get into Heaven? Huh? Being a bum ain’t enough to keep you out, I don’t think.”

“You read that in the book, ‘Vette? That’s what your pastor say? I didn’t hear him say that when he was out there singing all over me like he knew me. I came in here to get away from all that mess.”

“Well, I got to get back out there, Harold. I got to hear it. What I look like hanging out in the toilet during your wake? What that look like for a widow?”

“That’s right,” Harold smiles. “You my widow. With that veil on you, it’s like we getting married again. We in the church and everything.”

But we didn’t marry in a church. We didn’t really marry at all. I was 14 with Jackie still in me, and Harold and me just stepped over a broom in the back of Billy’s house. And after Harold told me, “That don’t mean anything. I love you ‘Vette but that broom stuff don’t stick.”

“I got to get back out there, Harold. I got to go.”

“For what? Pastor done with his speech. Ended it real quick too. When he got to the blessings and amens and all that I almost wanted to jump out of that casket. I couldn’t believe it. I just kept thinking, that’s it? Where’s the rest?”

“Of what, Harold? You didn’t do much of nothing with your time.”

“I should get more time then. You see Billy still out there living, and grinning and laughing like somebody just been born.”

“Don’t nothing work like that, not that I heard of.”

“I ain’t going, Yvette. I ain’t.”

It’s not that I want to see him gone. I never wanted to see Harold gone, not even when I told him to go. Not one of those times. And when he left, I never believed it, that he had. I would have turned over every rock on this earth if someone I could believe had told me I would find him under one. “I don’t think it’s up to you, Harold.”

Harold’s at the wall, looking up at a window. “Help me up,” he tells me.

But I don’t. I leave him on the couch. I go back out to the wake and sit down in the aisle.

The pallbearers pick me up. Some other people push Harold into an oven.

After, somebody hands me a tin that feels like there’s nothing in it. “Your husband, ma’am.”

I shake it. “Just this?” I ask them. “Is this it? Where’s the rest?”



^^^^^^



This is now. I’m at the house. Harold died.

I set my things up in the back of the house. I lock all the doors around me. I leave all the other rooms to Harold.

I hear him stomp around. I hear him talk but he talk too low. I hear him open and shut cabinets and doors. I don’t know what he’s looking for.

The back of the house faces the front of a school. I spend all day looking out at it. Looking at girls looking after boys. They go by arm in arm, hand in hand, foot on foot. They stomp all up and down the street, all up and down each other. Some of the girls fall, and some of the boys do, and the other ones they with just walk all up and down them like they sidewalks.

I ask Harold if he can see them. I ask him what he sees from the front. I tell him to stop all his whispering and mumbling. I tell him to talk so I can understand him. I put my ear to the door to hear what he has to say to that.

I hear him, but he sounds like he talking to somebody else. He telling somebody else the fact of his life. I hear him tell them I put them spots on his head. He say they came up where I kissed him one time. He say I voodooed them onto him.

One time we tried to cut them off, but they came right back at night. Like some mushrooms in a rained-on yard. I used to think mushrooms was poison. I used to step on any one I saw. I didn’t stop ‘til Market Basket started selling them.

I never bought any, though. I had barely enough to get enough of what I could trust.

Contributor

Tassity Johnson

Tassity Johnson is from Houston, Texas, and lives in Washington, D.C. This is her first publication.

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The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2021

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