H E R M E N E U T I C C H A O S J O U R N A L
Jennifer Maritza McCauley is a Ph.D. candidate in creative writing at the University of Missouri. She is also an editorial assistant at The Missouri Review, a reviews editor at Fjords Review, and an associate editor of Origins Literary Journal. Her most recent work appears in or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, Split this Rock, Puerto del Sol, The Feminist Wire, New Delta Review and Literary Orphans, among other outlets.
B Y J E N N I F E R M A R I T Z A M C C A U L E Y
Don’t talk about my life: carved red on Abeje’s wrist-bones, cursive curls like Mrs. Zeze taught her in the special kids class. Abeje was private: she told us, I’m a private girl.
The day before she died, my twin and I saw Abeje, big-bellied, wandering ‘round the schoolhall after sixth period. Abeje was saying things like “I got a bad stomach and hate, got my Daddy too much around,” then she got dark-eyed and went to the bathroom and Mrs. Zeze had to carry her away.
We knew Abeje. She lived with her Daddy in Lavender Flats, room #31, right below our family. We remembered her Daddy’s beast-groan, her fear of pushing out sin or her father’s chunky blood. We knew these things about Abeje, but her life scared us. We were little girls, then, afraid of everything.
We stamped by her corpse on the way out of Lavender Flats the next day, that body: oaken and shining, tucked in a tangle of sweetspire. We watched Important People shove oldfolk shoulders and rose-dotted waists. We punctured the halo of tenants, and they were pointing: at the dead blackgirl with the egg-stomach, her back bent like a downspout. The crowdfolks said Abeje tipped off the roof on her own. She flew. Some said her death was pretty to watch, if you didn’t know her.
Then, sirens spun and sang, and her Daddy rushed in, stocking-footed, in love an hour too late. We kept walking and focused instead on soft thoughts: our lunchtime lunches in tin boxes, Mama-made. We thought about our butter cakes and naked yams, and ignored the red on Abeje’s knees and dress-pleats.
When we came home that night, our parents asked us what we knew about the girl from #31. We said, “Not much.” They asked what we saw and we said nothing to tell, and they asked us if Abeje was our friend. We lied and said yes, knowing we didn’t like talking to that private girl, because we were still little, afraid of everything.
Our parents hugged our corduroy bodies. They said, “We’re here to talk, please do,” as if they were worried about how we would be raised. We said, don’t worry none and we remembered Abeje’s flattened belly and white pupils. We remembered her banged up body again and we threw up later, while our parents were sleeping.
We were little girls, then, becoming private.
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