Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
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Father Andretti pulls his chair to the front of the room. He flips it around and straddles it, leaning forward like a fat, aging jockey. He has been known to sit this way when speaking to freshmen or transfers, kids whose spirits needed to be broken. Only then he’d be wearing a baseball cap, confiscated from one of the black male students, tilted at an angle just as the hat’s owner might have worn it. He’d be using the kids’ catchphrases—Psych! Oh snap!—with a grin meant to assure that, despite what they’d heard, whatever they’d heard, he could be trusted.

Here, at the weekly faculty meeting that he has come to dominate, he sits this way to suggest something else, Claudine the new art teacher has learned. Not I am one of you, but I am watching or I know. Among adults, Father Andretti is humorless, impatient; his questions have the feel of interrogation. He describes himself as a Christian soldier marching as to war. He looks out the window to the street below, as if their enemies are amassing there—if they are, Claudine can’t see them. “Look, I’m willing to do what most people won’t,” he says. He wants to know of the faculty, especially the lay faculty: are they willing, too? 

From her seat in the back, Claudine has written down, “war!” And then beside it, “war?” She comes to these meetings with her pad, her black fountain pen, her desire to be taken seriously. At her last school, a charter school in Queens, she was branded a flake by colleagues. Branded unfairly, she felt, because of the subject matter she just so happened to teach and the dreamy way she spoke of progressive female artists. At the time, she had been substituting for a woman whose bowel condition was made worse by the strain of teaching thirty children about shading and perspective wherever there was space—in the gym, the cafeteria, the basement. Claudine had been looking to prove herself, but was secretly relieved when the position was cut. She knew what would become of her own intestines if she stayed, but she had never quit anything before.

Her luck, she now found herself teaching at the same Catholic high school she’d graduated from a decade ago. The building just as she remembered it, untouched by new technology or paint. As a student she had resented the administration, but she was almost teary eyed when they invited her back to teach. And flattered! Though in truth, she had been invited for just a semester, her salary well below that of a public school teacher. Any damage she might do would be limited and of little financial consequence.

She was pleased to have started in time for Christmas, which she greeted with more enthusiasm than in the past. It was a good season, an easy season. Where they could pray for peace. And love in a general sort of way.

But now it’s January, a different kind of season, with lines drawn and sides taken. The talk has turned to an upcoming anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The school has added an extra Hail Mary to morning prayers and lowered its flag to half-mast. But the feeling—Father Andretti’s feeling—is that something more has to be done. They’ve gone in circles about it for weeks, though, as far as Claudine can tell, she’s the only one who’s dizzy.

Father O’Brien wants to show a video after lunch, in the auditorium, and bring in a special guest speaker, like that young Guatemalan woman with eight kids the Right to Life Association always used. Afterwards, they could assign a response paper for extra credit, with suggested topics like, “What has this taught you about human dignity?”

Father Creary wants to cancel classes and sing hymns in the gym, like they do for Halloween.

Father Brown wants to let the students vote on the matter by tossing scraps of paper into a shoe box. The Sweetheart King and Queen are chosen in a similar fashion.

But Father Andretti goads them. Father Andretti straddles his chair and tells them, “The spirit of God isn’t a cowardly spirit.” He wants to send busloads of kids to the South Bronx to pray outside a clinic, the school’s two or three pregnant students leading the way. His own belly, a beer belly cultivated in his life before the priesthood, presses against the rungs of his chair.

In the end, since it is cold, such record lows for January that no vigil would last long; since the pregnant students would be made to leave the school, now that they had begun to show; and since the student electoral process has proven corrupt, the freshmen bullied into voting for a Sweetheart King and Queen they did not believe in, it is decided. A video and a speaker. A speaker and a video. The same video that Father Andretti’s peer ministry group has already been screening, about aborted fetuses found in parking lots.

Claudine raises her hand as one of her students would. “Maybe we shouldn’t show the tape?” she says softly. “Or maybe not that tape? Or maybe not after lunch? Maybe we should let kids opt out if they want?” She looks around the room, at the lay teachers, for support, but it’s like they’re at Mass: though they’ve gathered together, they are closed off from each other, caught up in their own prayers. 

“Speak up, I can’t hear you,” Father O’Brien complains. Much of the faculty is new, but she remembers Father O’Brien from her days as a student. He is the same age as Claudine’s mother, who had always been much older than the mothers of Claudine’s friends. His hands tremble in his lap just as her mother’s hands do. Only he’ll never have to go anywhere, while Claudine’s mother has been made to enter a home. She sits there working an invisible needle and thread or partially enacting scenarios Claudine can only guess at.

“It’s just, I’ve heard that video is really graphic,” Claudine says. “We’d probably need to get permission from parents to show it.”

“There’s a reason people send their kids here,” Father Andretti says. “They’ve already given us permission.” He squints at her and frowns, squints and frowns. He does that a lot. In her first week, she made a joke about the Eucharist that didn’t go over well. (The thing fell apart so easily! She was always getting cheated out of a whole wafer. Too often, she ended up with crumbs. “The crumbs should be enough,” Father Andretti told her. “You should get down on your knees for the crumbs.”) Then, she had been supportive of letting the school’s gospel choir perform during Mass, though Father Andretti said the more traditional choral ensemble was better. Was best. The situation took on ugly racial overtones; the gospel choir, filled mostly with black students, complained that they were being discriminated against. When she carried his “no” back to them, they waited for more from her. A plan of some sort. But she had none to offer.

Because she is younger than the rest of the faculty, Claudine’s students regard her as either an ally or an easy target. In class they like to talk, not about art, but about her life and background, which they’re still puzzled by.

She has told them that she was adopted as a baby and given the surname Marechiaro, which people usually mispronounce. Sometimes, when drinking, she mispronounces it herself. It was the thing to do when she was little, to place foster children of indeterminate race with Italians. There were fewer questions that way. Not questions of her own—those mattered less—but questions from other people, which might be asked rudely or at inappropriate times. Although worse, much worse, than questions were the black girls who told her she was pretty. A compliment that came out as dead and rote as the Pledge of Allegiance. She deflected: No, you’re pretty. With emphasis: I love your hair.

Pretty. When she encounters herself in mirrors she sees only that she never developed as a woman. She is as flat and straight as a preadolescent. Her curly hair disheveled and obstructing her face.


Her students demanded to see her old yearbooks, though she told them she hadn’t kept any. When she finally did track one down in the school library, they asked her: Where are you in this? She pointed to the shadows in the back of some pictures, limbs in the edges of others. She’s waiting for them to grow tired of the topic, but they continue to press her about her life—her real life.

She asks her lover, Kenyatta: What makes them think I have a fake one?

Kenyatta rolls her eyes. She has a whole arsenal of ticks and expressions to indicate her disgust. If not the eyes spinning to the back of her head, then the head cocked to one side, with her tongue poking out of her cheek. Claudine has one face, her default face, which is startled and disappointed.

“They’re just sizing you up, it’s what kids do. Don’t get all neurotic about it,” Kenyatta says.

Claudine’s first relationship with a woman. Or, at least, the first that counted. “God, what did you do before me?” Kenyatta laughs. “Pretend!” Claudine laughs back. But if she ever speaks of Kenyatta outside their small circle, she refers to her as her good friend; her best friend. This woman I know.

“You have to check them on that video,” Kenyatta says. “You know that, right?”

Claudine lies face down on the sofa, as if she might suddenly start practicing her breaststroke. When they fight, this is where she sleeps. The couch is too small, but over time she has learned to adjust.

Kenyatta sits across from her in a collapsed-looking arm chair. Kenyatta’s couch, Kenyatta’s chair, Kenyatta’s one-bedroom apartment near Fordham University, big enough for them both. When Claudine worried that they’d acted in haste, living together so early in their relationship, Kenyatta responded with a joke about U-Hauls and how long it took lesbians to move in; a joke everyone except Claudine had heard before. Claudine smiled and quickly changed the subject, the way she does whenever she is confronted with information she is expected to know but doesn’t.

Kenyatta draws breath as if she has something more to say, but changes her mind. People are always not saying things to Claudine. As if they suspect her internal structures are shoddy. As if they think she wouldn’t last two seconds in a fight, fair or otherwise. She is embarrassed to admit that she has never learned how to throw a punch. She can curl her fingers into her palm, but can’t summon the force required to land a blow.

Kenyatta’s feet are up on the coffee table, in the spot where the ash tray had been. She has decided to quit smoking—because she feels like it, and for no other reason. She would have refused if anyone, especially Claudine, had asked her to.

“The people you work for are crazy as fuck,” Kenyatta sighs. “I’ve been telling everybody and their mamas about that one priest who made a kid cry.”

Father Andretti filled in once for Claudine when she had a sick stomach. The class was supposed to be sketching ferns, but ferns don’t have souls, not like babies do, so he’d set her lesson plan aside and led the kids in a talk about abortion. Somehow, this led to the topic of pets. Because while it was cool—dope!—that some churches blessed them, you couldn’t read too much into that. Cats and dogs, hamsters and birds, none of them were going to heaven. None of them had been made in God’s image. The beasts were going earthward; they didn’t stand a chance.

A girl whose recently deceased Labrador had lain with her whenever her asthma flared up had burst into tears. When Claudine returned, still queasy but afraid to stay away for too long, she sensed something in her students. Impatience; an impending revolt. They would have turned on Father Andretti if Claudine had so encouraged it. She didn’t encourage it. She directed their attention back to the ferns.

As a child, Claudine had a crazy, irrational fear about openly criticizing the actors on even the shittiest TV shows and commercials. Thinking they might hear her and become incensed by her comments. Or press their faces against the screen and sneer at her. “He’s just repeating what the church teaches,” Claudine says. She ventures slowly with Kenyatta, as if crossing an intersection. “Animals don’t have the same kind of souls as people, so they won’t go to heaven.”

“Oh, Coltrane’s going,” Kenyatta threatens. “I can tell you that much.” Coltrane had been a street cat before Kenyatta rescued him. Now Coltrane’s family. But Claudine has been watching him. “He’s planning an escape,” she warned. Kenyatta had laughed, but Claudine wasn’t kidding. “After all you’ve done for him.”

“He’s actually kind of smart, Father Andretti,” Claudine says. “You’d be surprised.”

Kenyatta guffaws. Then she grows quiet. After a while she says, “You are pro-choice, right?” As if they hadn’t been pleased, when they’d first met, that that their views on love, on politics, on uteruses had been the same.

“You know what I am,” Claudine answers.

In the beginning, Claudine used to report on what happened at the school with exasperation, a bemused laugh. Kenyatta had been a willing audience, then. Or at least she had been curious. She would pick Claudine up at the back entrance and wonder about the things Claudine did there, the way she wondered about the cat when it went off to live its other life beneath their bed.

But now the stories annoy or anger her. Now they’re being held against Claudine or filed away for future use. And yet Claudine keeps telling them. She has to.

Kenyatta knows how Claudine grew up: genuflecting with the best of them, and hanging rosary beads from doorknobs and mirrors to ward off—what was it, evil? Claudine wonders. Because there wouldn’t have been real evil, not at her childhood home on Pelham Parkway.

Claudine has tried to be Buddhist and she has tried to be nothing at all. Lately, she has been attending Mass at a Catholic church in the neighborhood for the first time in years. She was surprised at how easily the sit-stand-kneel of things came back to her, until she remembered that even her mother, whose brain cannot be trusted to carry out basic life functions, still knows to hold out her tongue for the Eucharist and cross herself as she swallows it.

“You need something, a little magic in life,” Claudine told Kenyatta. “Some fairy dust, to get by.”

“Wait, are we talking about church or coke?” Kenyatta said.

Kenyatta was something once. Pentecostal or Baptist; whatever brand of Christian blacks from the south typically are. But she got rid of religion, just as she got rid of hair relaxers and even her own family, which she left behind in North Carolina. It occurs to Claudine that Kenyatta’s life is an ongoing process of removal, one thing after another. Like a woman who undresses all the way from the front door to her bedroom. You can’t help but follow the trail. You have to wonder what will come off next.

Kenyatta teaches history at a public high school, the kind where kids sneak in box cutters and belong to gangs named after 80s cartoon characters. Claudine might have worried about her safety—she was just a tiny thing, a thin brown slash in the world. But Kenyatta is both loved and feared by her students. It is accepted, without question that Kenyatta loves her students in return. An epic love. A Lean On Me love. Claudine, feeling defensive, because it is the only way she knows how to feel around Kenyatta anymore, would say: I love my students too!

“I can try to get you a job at my school,” Kenyatta says, with a shrug. Then, seeing Claudine’s face: “I mean, that’s just one option. You could teach anywhere. No one’s forcing you to stay with those people.”

But Claudine has chosen to teach at her alma mater. Although choice implied a conscious decision. She put one foot in front of the other and found herself where she stood. It’s one way to get through life.

The other is to step lightly, clutching a pad of detention slips like a loaded gun with the safety off, which is how she spends fourth period faculty patrol. The school has been classified as “inner city” in recent years, though its cheerleaders have always performed in the Westchester County regionals. There are fences and gates and metal chains across some doors to keep the outsiders out. In theory, it should also keep the kids in. But they are bolder these days. Faster. And never sorry when Claudine catches them trying to cut. Listen, I don’t want to have report you. You can still make it to your next class, she’d say. Or with frustration: How far did you think you’d get, anyway?


Claudine’s mother has a degenerative disease. Or as Mrs. Bandana, the tiny Filipina aide who works in the dementia ward, puts it, “The mind is gone. Gone.” She makes a noise to describe its departure. “Pshooo.”

Claudine can’t think of it that way. Instead, she thinks of her mother’s brain as having wandered off into a thicket and gotten lost. It needed directions or a good map.

She plants a kiss that, meant for the cheek, lands on her mother’s soft, downy ear instead. The dementia has improved their relationship, though Claudine will never admit this. It is almost pleasant now to embrace her mother, who had never been one for niceties or affectionate gestures. Claudine had once gone a year without speaking to her. But she always came around, exhausted by the effort of trying to find people to eat with during the holidays, or friends to call when she had good news or even bad.

This is how Claudine remembers her mother: suspicious and fearful of sudden movements. She was the kind to enter a room where Claudine might have been playing quietly with dolls and ask, “What are you doing?”

But now, her mother looks with excitement towards the door when she comes to visit and allows herself to be hugged. Confused excitement, an indiscriminate hug that would have been offered to any one of the nurse’s aides, Kenyatta says.

Claudine’s adoption had not been her mother’s plan but God’s plan; He had spoken to her mother while she was baking a pie. There are few details beyond that. Claudine noticed that most people, when recounting what God has so ordered, rarely give the full blow-by-blow. Claudine assumes her mother meant to imply that the adoption was fated, but all Claudine took away from the story was that her mother had other plans for life, which she had been forced to drop. Later, Claudine would realize the push had come, not from God, but her mother’s relatives, the cousins and aunts who considered her mother an oddity. Never married, no children of her own. In the habit of collecting strange garden gnomes that lived in the house as well as outside of it.

Her mother sits shrunken and concave in her wheel chair. With her socks pulled up high on her shins as they would be on a small child. But she’s still strong! Claudine has trouble trying to push her down the hall. Her mother will grab hold of something, a rail or doorknob, and refuse to let go.

To appease her, Claudine brings gifts—a music box, a bright red lollipop. During the last visit: a fluffy stuffed bear dressed in a vest and little boots that she found in the gift shop. The bear’s attire is supposed to suggest fun and freedom. He doesn’t make Claudine smile, though she can see why he should.

When Claudine plopped the bear into her mother’s lap, her mother clutched it against her middle, like a shield, and mumbled hello, but didn’t look at it.

“She seems to like it,” Claudine said. She clasped her hands together.

“Please, she doesn’t even know what she has,” Mrs. Bandana replied. “Sometimes they do things like that. Sometimes they don’t.”


The weekly faculty meeting has been moved to a new room on another floor, but Claudine goes to the old one without thinking. She stumbles around, walks in circles, before she sees Father Andretti, with the sideways cap that means he has met with a student. He says he knows just where to go. He says she is lucky to have found him. He has a new target for his rage, which he launches into with her and then again with the group, though the topic of discussion should have been the leaks along the third-floor corridor. Water stains that had been amassing on the ceiling for weeks bubbled and threatened to burst; the whole thing could give way at any minute. Claudine hates to think of where she might be when the bursting happens. The school has begun to feel surprisingly delicate, as if she walked too hard in the hallways chunks of it would break away.

Father Andretti has heard that neighboring high schools, St. Raymond’s and St. Claire’s, have nothing planned for the Roe anniversary. They intend to treat it as an ordinary day.

“If we’re losing, this is why—there’s your answer,” he says. “Our side’s not even trying. Ten years ago we would have been all over this.” He flips his chair and leans forward. “I told them, look guys, we’ve got the Rosa Parks of the Right to Life movement coming in to speak to our kids.” The Guatemalan woman was out, and a black woman with five kids from Harlem was in.

Claudine raises her hand. “Weren’t those schools on the verge of being shut down? Just months ago?” she says softly.

“Well, that’s because St. Raymond’s is a disgrace,” Father O’Brien chimes in. “You would have a time trying to find an honest-to-goodness Catholic on staff. And then you look at the students. The boys walk around like hoodlums, the girls too. A uniform is a uniform. It isn’t supposed to look like street clothes.” He is wringing his hands. Before she started hanging out in a nursing home, Claudine did not know this was something people actually did.

“And you should see how they dress for Mass, when they even bother to go,” Father O’Brien says. “In my time, women covered their heads before they entered the sanctuary. But of course, that was when the priests were still celebrating the right way, in Latin.”

Claudine remembered taking Father O’Brien’s Latin class. All of the sentences they’d needed to translate were about a farmer or groups of them, as if no other kinds of people existed. The farmers carried, the farmers walked, the farmers drank. Those farmers! Agricolae sunt. Somehow, Claudine had grown fond of them. She scored the highest on the final, dreaming up predicaments the farmers might get themselves into, pretending to be one of them. Father O’Brien had scrawled good across the top of her paper.

“Those were the days,” she sighs. Father O’Brien looks at her appreciatively. “Yes,” he says.

Afterwards, he pulls Claudine by the elbow as they leave the room. When he leans in and declares, “You know, I can really see you here with us,” drops of water from the ceiling hit her cheek, the tip of her nose. It is either a miracle or a sign of the apocalypse, she thinks. Rain indoors.


“Why is it that every time a black woman gets involved in something they start comparing her to Rosa Parks?” Claudine says. She throws her hands up in a fairly decent imitation of Kenyatta.

“Ha! Did you say that to them?” Kenyatta asks. But already she looks as if she’s prepared to be disappointed.

“Sure,” Claudine says. “Sort of. More or less.”

She told Kenyatta once that she suspects her birth father might be black or part black. Maybe mostly black? To which Kenyatta, shaking her head, had said, “That’s the thing about you. I swear you could be anything.”

“I just don’t know how you do it,” Kenyatta says now. “Scratch that. I just don’t know why you do it.”

“I like how they understand devotion,” Claudine sighs. “When I was a kid I once saw Father O’Brien spill some wine at Mass and get down on his knees to lick it up. I’ve never forgotten that.”

“Girl, please, I’ve seen alcoholics do that in much filthier places. It loses its appeal. “

“I don’t want to fight.”

“Shocker.” Kenyatta sounds winded. Suddenly she looks small and exhausted; it makes Claudine want to hug her. Only Kenyatta doesn’t want to be hugged. Giving up cigarettes has left her cranky and brimming with new oral fixations. She’s been eating chocolate chip cookies by the box and raiding Claudine’s stash of granola bars and trail mix—snacks Kenyatta once dismissed as hippy and unsubstantial. Kenyatta spends her mornings now bent over and braced against the bureau while Claudine zips her in and out of clothing. There was a time when such a visual might have appeared sexy or funny or both, but neither of them smiles over it.

Otherwise she chews on things—toothpicks and straws and the caps of pens. Claudine has realized their life together is suddenly full of teeth marks. So much to fill the one void.

It doesn’t help that there are smokers in Kenyatta’s group of women-friends, who all come in varying shades of brown and tan, like swatches of paint. These women call the house or sometimes come over because they want to have sex with Kenyatta, at least in Claudine’s estimation. They hustle to out-talk each other in the hopes of winning an mm-hmm from Kenyatta; everyone knows that when she makes noises in her throat she is moved beyond measure. Does Kenyatta want to sleep with them too? Claudine tries to read Kenyatta’s body language, but she is all twitches and jerks without her cigarettes.

These women talk about Newports like old lovers, in a way that embarrasses Claudine. “You don’t know what it’s like,” one of them told her. “It’s a nicotine thing, you wouldn’t understand.”

“What?” Claudine asked. “What wouldn’t I understand?”

Though Claudine is always on edge when Kenyatta’s friends are around, it’s better, so much better, than the nights when Kenyatta doesn’t come home. Those nights, Claudine takes to the couch and watches black-and-white movies, or tries to trick the cat into loving her. She gives Kenyatta the silent treatment for days afterwards. “Jesus fucking Christ,” Kenyatta tells her. “What are you, twelve? Just say whatever the hell you need to say.” She mm-hmms herself.


They met outside a bodega, on one of those rare citywide half days of the school year. Claudine had just stepped off the train and gone inside the store for coffee. She nearly spilled it on herself when she looked up and found that a crowd of children from one of the junior highs had formed in front of the door. They were cheering as two girls pummeled each other. One of the girls’ shoes landed near Claudine, and when she picked it up, the children sensed she might become a nuisance and tried to block her from getting involved. She stood paralyzed, holding the shoe, thinking about things to say, things she knew would sound ridiculous once she said them. Things she had heard on talk shows or read in books about self-esteem and pride. The fight continued around her.

Kenyatta had been walking up the block with packages in one arm. She didn’t bother to put them down as she dove into the fight, yanking the girls off each other with her free hand, telling the children to go home before she started taking names. “Y’all ought to be ashamed of yourselves. What are you even fighting over?” Kenyatta took the shoe from Claudine, leaving her to stand there with her palm empty and open.

Afterwards, Kenyatta rested a hand on Claudine’s bare shoulder. Claudine could feel the warmth radiating through it. “Thank God we were here!” Kenyatta said. “Can you imagine what these fools would have done to each other if we weren’t?”

“I know, right?” Claudine said, grateful for that we. Excited by it. And relieved that Kenyatta had seen whatever she had wanted to see in her, and that it had been enough.

But that was the summer, before things started to get confusing.


The aides at the nursing home find the bear even less charming than Claudine did. Less charming and possibly dangerous. Her mother has smacked the glasses off of one patient and bopped another in the nose. The bear, with its now-sticky fur, its now-sickly odor, is to blame for the trouble, Mrs. Bandana says.

Claudine saw the old woman who got bopped; her nose still looked bloodied, even after the nurses had cleaned it. Claudine considers apologizing to her, on her mother’s behalf, but the woman stares past her, oblivious. Claudine wonders: Does she even realize she’s been wounded?

“My mother has never hit anyone before. I don’t think she even knows how.” Claudine says.

“Oh, she knows,” Mrs. Bandana says.

So now Claudine’s mother sits in the exile of her room, still clutching the bear to her middle as she did when Claudine first gave it to her.

“She doesn’t like when people touch it. She bites if you do. Try and see what happens,” Mrs. Bandana offers. Claudine doesn’t move. For a second, it is possible to see the bear in a different light. To see the shiny black eyes as nefarious, plotting. But the moment passes.

“So what now?”

“We’ll throw it away while she sleeps,” Mrs. Bandana says. “She won’t remember it.”

“Oh no, we can’t do that,” Claudine feels a wave of compassion. “Remember the day that I brought it, how happy she was? I mean, what else does she have?”


Kenyatta has a new friend in the neighborhood, a woman she met at C-Town. The two of them have a funny story of how they’d backed into each other with their carts. Kenyatta can’t get over the fact that the woman looks just like Lisa Bonet from The Cosby Show. “Lisa Bonet was the first woman I ever wanted to fuck,” Kenyatta says. Claudine had watched The Cosby Show with longing, but not that kind. A tidy looking family, a whole and complete family, whose problems were solved in between commercial breaks. That’s what she lusted after.

Lisa Bonet takes her place among Kenyatta’s group of friends, as if she’d always been there. Then Claudine comes home late one day and finds that Lisa Bonet has taken her place on the couch as well. She sits beside Kenyatta, cigarettes dangling from their lips. The pack is nestled in the small crevice of the couch where Claudine lays her head.

“Oh Kenyatta,” Claudine says. The disappointment is so thick in her voice it sounds like someone else’s. 

“I only had one. It was like Vietnam at school today. These kids, I swear to God.”

Claudine bends over and picks up the pack. “You kept these?”

“Sorry, those are mine,” Lisa Bonet says. “I’m the bad influence. It’s all my fault.” She waves her hands to get Claudine’s attention. But Claudine has a trick she uses with water bugs or large spiders, things she is afraid of. She’s found that she can pick up the dead ones if she doesn’t look straight at them. If she looks instead to the side.

“See,” Kenyatta says. “It’s her fault."

“I’ll throw them out.” Claudine doesn’t wait for permission.

Dropping the cigarettes like little missiles into the toilet, watching each one leave her trembling hand, Claudine thinks about the flash when she opened the door that must have been limbs untwining; the clothes that seemed slightly wrinkled, as if they’d been pulled on and off and on again. She hears them turn on the TV, surfing through sitcoms. Probably looking for an episode of The Cosby Show for laughs.

“Hey, I went to the store and bought some more of those granola bars you like,” Kenyatta calls out. “More than enough. We’re probably set for life.”

“Thanks,” Claudine murmurs. When the pack is empty, she sets it on the counter and ventures as far as the hallway. She leans against the wall.

She can see them well enough from there. Lisa Bonet is trying hard to focus on the screen, as if she’s been drugged or is sleepy. But Kenyatta is staring right back at Claudine. With her head cocked to the side, her tongue sticking out of the side of her cheek. Her eyebrows raised in challenge.  end  

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