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See Emily Play: A Story

Emily And Marie

 

Dedicated to my nephew Samer Diab, this story was written while mourning his passing

“da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, dad….”
-Cole Porter

Part One:
Emily Smith Young
February 14th, 2041

“What? What? Why?” He looked down at his arm, the one I had just shot off its hinges moments after he laughed at the thought of me using his own gun against him. “Why? Why?” Early Pink Floyd emerged out of the soundsystem and mingled with his cries of pain. It is May 2049 and a random act of violence turned on its back and showed its underbelly.

I could understand Syd’s confusion, my pet name from the early Pink Floyd blaring over his state of the art sound system, was the theme to a one night stand that had gone as good as could be expected and ended with extreme prejudice. The psychedelic weirdness and guitar melody of my theme away from home, building to an organic prog jam keyboard and yet still a song that I always loved and took as my own a long time ago. The only thing my daddy ever left me. Syd’s blood mixed with his black designer sheets making a purple mess that began to pour off the side onto the floor, dripping like a water faucet: it was unscrewed and he was losing blood quickly. It would take about two hours if I let him bleed to death… but who could be bothered watching?

“Why? Why? Why?”

“You want a reason?” I sneered. “Because you’re a fool who gave me the opportunity and I decided to take it.”

We were in his bedroom, part of a high rise in the East Village near Houston Street that towered in perfect and private luxury. There was something both hidden and in your face about the building, it didn’t appear to be rich man’s weather but it was. His terrace looked up towards the 59th Street bridge and was bathed in sunlight in the morning. There was security on the grounds but none leading from the underground carpark to his private elevator.

He was going through pain, trauma, and yet still he believed he’d survive. “You’re going to regret this.” He said. “You don’t know what I’m capable of…” I shot his thigh and he screamed in agony. About now he began to get the idea. “Not half as much as you are, Syd” I said with a smile and the sound of Syd Barrett a substitute for his cynicism. I shot him again in his other arm. Watching the effect on his body was nothing like the movies, well, something like the movies but not the same thing, the inside out of his arms, the muscles spilling out over his skin. “Please Emily,” he cried out, the blood draining out of him in three places.” And then he gasped in pain. “You’re crazy, you’re insane. Why are you doing this? Please call an ambulance, do…” I began to laugh, first a quiet chuckle at a life that led me here, and then a cackle almost angry in its loudness. “I want this to last a little longer, Syd. I admire your pain so much… But… I have a matinee today so I really have to go. Thanks for a wonderful night and better morning…” I cashed in all those years of rehearsing and I shot him through his forehead cleanly, completely, the bullet entering his skull and exciting onto his feather pillow which was awash in red flight and watched his brains escape his body and an expanse of blood on his white rug, I jumped out of the way before my shoes got splashed.

I wasn’t lying, I didn’t kill him from hate as much as from malice, a sort of lesson for men everywhere that not everything is the way it seemed, as I took a quick shower, put his coat over my head, and disappeared into his private elevator and into a sparkling late Spring morning in New York City. I walked towards the AirBNB the producers had provided off Time’s Square, and with the sun shining down I saw New York City come to life on a Wednesday morning and sang to myself “It’s not the same, takes two to know, two to know, two to know, two to know. Why can’t you see?” It is Wednesday 15th, 2049 and I am twenty eight years of age…

But this is neither where I begin, nor where I end. This is the story of the day I murdered a man, but it isn’t only, or even especially about murder. It will end elsewhere, and I myself will continue who knows where and when.

I killed because I am capable of it and because I didn’t love him, and because what can a young girl do? I blame my father for my being a woman capable of doing terrible things.

There are only three types of women in the world:

1 – those that loved their daddies
2 – those that hated them, and
3 – those that never knew them

And two of those are me.

Fathers are the presence for girls that mother’s can’t be, between Elektra vibes and lesbian subtext, daddies set the pace for what men can be to a woman, to me. An absent dad and a bad dad, and I had both, leaves you paranoid and non susceptible to sweet talk. You daddy is every single daddy in the world.

I am super down with women who hate their daddys especially, and I am so down that my feeling for dads affects not just my relationship with men but the way in which I view the world. Men are unjustifiable, I don’t care what anybody says.

I could begin this anywhere in my life, I could begin this after I had moved to LA, I can begin it the day I committed murder in New York City. Or the first time I had sex, in that fucking awful prom dress with the even more virginal Duane Brentel. I could put my life in front of you like the storyboard in a superhero movie, and you could look at it and choose what you choose to choose from it and where. Maybe I should start six months before I was born, when my dad disappeared.

But I’m going to begin it here: it is my birthday, February 14th, 2041 and I am twenty years old and I am lying on the sofa where I live with my Mom Gloria and my half-sister Jacqueline, and my daughter, Marie still pigging out on placenta (named after my Grandma except nobody called Grandma Marie, she was known as Birdie) and Grandpa Willie. I had yet to meet my father’s family.

I live in Knightdale, North Carolina; a lower middle class hub where we existed off Mom’s part time work as a nurse, and Grandpa WIllie’s disability pension from the railroad he had spent his life working for, and that was about it. I quit work once I started showing… for the most part…

My real daddy, hereby known as Tommy Young, disappeared during a protest march for a black man murdered by a police henchman twenty odd years ago, months before I was born, and if that wasn’t his fault, it certainly didn’t help me; my step-father Sergeant Christopher Johnson came to investigate and ended up investigating my Mom, Gloria. Chris was a drunken, asshole cop who ignored me and beat Mom and beat me as well till I learnt to mind my own business, and then left when my half-sister Jackie was five years old and I was ten. He never did what I wanted him to do, he was never the father figure I had been promised came with my Catholic upbringing, stepdaddy himself didn’t care about god, anyway. He didn’t care about my mother, my sister, or me. He just cared about policing the streets and getting drunk with his fellow cops…. And getting violent with women and children who couldn’t physically protect themselves, including me, who learnt early not to get between a man and his wife. At home he was a monster of toxic white and blue privilege, while the streets of North Carolina were his days waiting for the night where his stressful job exploded with the Choirboys -his fellow police brothers, the only folks who understood him, in police bars with police groupies and police friends in a giant blue wall of silence. I know he hated me, maybe racism (at least that’s what he screamed at Mom: “that nigger girl isn’t right”), maybe something else as well, something to do with my disappeared daddy. But at least he never had any physical interest in me when I ran and hid from him.

If I could have found a way to get away with it, I would have murdered Chris. There were industrial strength weapons all over our house, it might have been easy and I was seriously considering it when he stopped hating me, or beating Mommy, or ignoring his daughter unless he was drunk when he would hold baby Jackie and sway in the moonlight and I would crouch nearby ready to swoop in if he dropped her…. He stopped considering us. We got lucky. Step-daddy fell in love with another woman and dumped his entire family. Mom had to sue for support and support from the HR department of the Raleigh Police Department smoothed it out and the family lost half its income. We were suddenly not doing all that well. But at least we were rid of the rat.

Mom didn’t talk about my real dad until my fake dad left us, and then she wouldn’t shut up about him. I didn’t believe a word of it. She told me about how she had been madly in love with Tommy and how they planned to marry before I was born, and how she just knew it was clearly murder, and it was very close to time for marriage and how he didn’t leave her but disappeared and she had no idea how, but daddy would have never just left her. And then she began to cry and I was eleven and my sister Jackie was six and understood absolutely none of it. “Your father was different,” Mom said. I got sick of her getting drunk on a Friday evening and waking me up and weeping, as though two men leaving her had opened up the floodgates to her sorrow. Anyway, I believed it as much as I believed in Santa Claus, even less. At least a Sugar Daddy was a variant on Santa, with a resemblance of giving out gifts, a dad with no sugar did nothing of the sort. I have an instinct about people, I don’t know why or how, but I have an intuition and I didn’t believe this Tommy guy ever existed the way Mom claimed he had. Even at eleven I didn’t buy it but as I grew older and understood men better, I believed it less. In my experience, and it goes to the heart of the war between the sexes, all relationships are based upon the one who loves least -he or she wins, and I have no doubt knowing Mom as I did, she did anything but love least. She treated men like babies in their cribs and smothered their love to death.

Mom’s problem is that she is a serial sop, she sops from one guy to another, from Tommy to Chris back to Tommy: she needed a man who loved her more but instead she was caught between two men who weren’t there at all. When she had Johnson, she couldn’t deal with both at the same time and so she dropped Tommy, and the result was she lied so much to herself, and to Jackie and me, that we couldn’t tell what was real and neither could she.

All of which made me the opposite of a daddy’s girl, I was anybody but daddy’s girl, or Mom’s, or anyone’s. I belonged to no one at all. I didn’t believe in the sanctity of family though without my Mommy I have no idea how everything would have worked out even as it begs an answer to the question, wasn’t taking care of us her responsibility, even if no one else shared in it? I didn’t believe in the common decency of men, they hit me as small brained monstrosities, easy to manipulate and hard to care about. Women are needy wrecks but when it matters most they protect their families.

There is another type of man and it proves my point: my Grandpa Willy, already retired from the post-office due to an invisible disability by the time I arrived, defined uxorious. And Grandma reacted to his love by treating him disrespecfully, by treating him like he was less than a man. Grandpa was a sweet irrelevance, I was very kind to him but kind in the way you are kind to a child, I didn’t take his opinions seriously and even if I did, Grandma would shut him up before he offered them at any length. He was one of those henpecked men you find from time to time, and Marie Birdie Smith, my Grandma, ruled over him. Mom ended up selling the house we had with Johnson and moving back into our Grandparents home, then I moved out of Grandma’s when I was seventeen but since getting pregnant I’d given up my apartment, paid through ill gotten gains, and was back home with Mom, Jackie, and the Grandparents.

I knew by now who the baby I had carried for six month’s father was. It was always going to be either Duane Brentel, my childhood bestie with benefits and current, presumptive, baby daddy, or another guy I’d been double dipping with, Augustus Brooks -who sounds like a professor at a Southern state university but was actually a doofus who spent his life smoking weed and playing games on Twitch, and was the whitest black kid ever, whiter than me. Gus and I met at a rave when I was eighteen and I started sleeping with him soon after because, because -well, because he is hot and I was drunk and when I’m drunk I like to fuck. There were other guys, Brood, a part of my High School friends boy posse, and an older guy I knew from my job as a waitress at the country club, a sugar daddy and transactional, who would help me with living expenses and who I would help with physical intimacy, and another older man, also transactional, two guys who between them went straight into my bank account. … but the timing for the former wasn’t close enough and the latter was all s&m roleplay. I had hoped it was Duane not because he is easier to manipulate, and not because he isn’t black -my dad, Tommy, not the cop, was black and I am mixed but the fairest skinned mixed in the world and I passed for white always (I looked like a mix of Marilyn Monroe without the voluptuousness and Jenny Leonard of “This is Us” sequel “This Is Them”, I couldn’t look whiter if I joined the KKK) but I wanted it to be Duane because I knew him better and I figured he was at least partially in love with me, which might give him a sense of responsibility towards the baby. Gus is an alright guy, emotionally retarted of course but I don’t know one single guy who isn’t. Not even the fifty-two year old widower who paid me to meet him after work at a hot sheets motel, so he could pretend I really loved him as we roleplayed a form of necrophilia desire. He showed me a picture of his dead wife, and I did look a little like her, especially when I left my hair down, and I would tell him I loved him and cared about him, and would never leave him and never die on him, and he went down on me where his salty tears stung my open lipped pussy. Men are all insanely selfish and scared, they all want to be mothered between strokes. So I might have lied about who the father was when I found out but I haven’t because I DON’T CARE THAT MUCH. The moment I knew it was Augustus I fessed up and if there is a lamer man than this child Gussie, I don’t know who it is. Drag him away from his Playstation and his hip hop and you are stuck with the emotional maturity of an eight year old. I’ve had people, men, call me a sociopath -that my cruelty, indifference, hardness, is a character disorder…

And it is my 20th birthday. Happy birthday to me.

So I was lying on Grandma’s sofa, looking very pregnant, rubbing my stomach, and wondering “does it matter that she will be black?” I asked the question aloud, said to the TV screen, shaking my head in a mix of wonder, nausea and my standby mode: indifference.

“Just because a baby has a black parent, it doesn’t mean the baby will be black” Grandma said, putting down her knitting to point a needle at me. “It is possible a baby born of mixed race parents, isn’t born black at all….”

There was a silence and Mom looked over at Grandma, “It has been known to happen”.

“It’s true…”

I just shook my head in irritation at the obfuscating of the clear cut truth: a half black child can look white.

“Augustus is a good kid…”

“Yes, but I get a feeling my other friends won’t be inviting us around for tea any time soon,” I interrupted, having been abandoned by all six of my High School posse.

“Duane, I know…”

“We’ve stopped talking…”

My kid sister Jackie was laying on the carpet, watching a YA romcom on Netflix and sucking her thumb… “I don’t care what color she is…”

“I think we should call her Marie, after Grandma…”

“What does Augustus think?”

“Gus doesn’t get a vote for a lousy $200 a month…”

Augustus isn’t all bad, he loves his mommy, doesn’t that count? Wow, how he loves his Mom and not as though I blame him because I would love someone who does everything for me and leaves me to snooze through life unperturbed.

To my mind, though not my Grandparent’s opinion, it makes no difference what color my daughter will be. In the deep south, my family is the middle ground on southern hostility to black folks, we don’t use the n word in public. I like Duane more but not for racial reasons and not because I love him, but because I have a comfort level with him I don’t share with Augustus… but I don’t love him, I’ve never managed love at all. Not love the way my mom discusses my angelic, invisible dad, the only person I love, or at least take responsibility for, is my half-sister and it gives me hope I’ll discover an ounce of maternal instinct when the baby drops.

When I was young I daydreamed about how loving people feels like, how I might find a way to care for my family because despite being thick as a brick, Mom really cared for me, for people, in ways I don’t. It infuriated her because I was neither sulky nor disrespectful, but I also didn’t listen to her and didn’t care what she thought of me. When I was twelve we would have had a blow out as she screamed at me for disappearing for a night. I was at my posse’s leader Ernie’s home while his parents were away for a long weekend, leaving his eighteen year old sister to babysit us, though she was gone the moment her parents left for the casino cruise. I spent the night and played the kissing game. Mom flipped out when I got back the following morning. She screamed, she cried, she sighed, but she couldn’t move me and I remained sorry but stoical.
“I told you I was spending the night,” I said in a monotone”

She got right in my face, “How do you think I feel after your father? All I can think is what if something happened to you? I couldn’t live.”

“You have my cell phone, you have the address…”

“You didn’t answer the phone.”

“You wouldn’t stop calling and texting…”

“You were with a boy…”

There was nothing else to say. I knew she would have loved to have slapped me hard but she knew better. As for me, I didn’t care what she thought. I would just smile blandly and nod my head and do whatever I wanted to. Why would I listen to this woman who let men treat her like dirt?

“You don’t fool me, Emily,” she screamed in my face. “I know you just pretend to listen, you never listen to anyone. You are just a little liar who appears as whoever you want to. You should become an actress, use your inability to have a heart…” Then she went for me and Jackie stepped between us and bit mom hard and the first round ended there.

“You can’t browbeat me, Mom. You can’t force me. I am free and you can do nothing about it so stop interfering in what doesn’t concern you.”

“You do concern me.”

“Oh, is that true? Lemme tell you something, if you had protected me when Chris hit me, well, maybe you’d have a talking point. But any person so callous and scared that she would let her husband beat her daughter, she has no say in how I live my life.”

So Mom started crying and Birdie comforted her and gave me a dirty look, and Grandpa Willie stared at me for a moment, blinked his eyes, got up with a struggle and a limp -a lasting gift from the railroad, and said “You look hungry… young ladies need their nourishment….” I followed him to the kitchen where he cooked one of his specialties, a Western omelette, and he nattered on frisking the eggs “not too much cream, Emily,” he warned as I helped, just enough to ensure it will be fluffy but not bland.” I watched him as he moved throughout the kitchen chopping onions, cutting up bacon bts, and green peppers… I closed my eyes as he spoke and suddenly I felt at peace with the world.

Then Mom came back in and started round two and Grandpa turned and said, “Please be quiet, you’re upsetting her.”

“Me? Her? How? She said I let her be hit when I always stuck up for her… when Chris calmed down I’d tell him not to do it again and he stopped” That is true, but he had stopped because I stopped trying to stick up for mom not for anything she said. “If it wasn’t for Emily, we would still be together.”

If we were never that close before I was twelve, that ended our mother-daughter relationship, at that exact moment what little hold she had over me, she instantly lost. I think she lost a lot of Grandpa as well, and she was very lucky Jackie wasn’t in the room or she’d have lost her and how.

Mom continued to talk but now Willie and I both ignored her, and after awhile she gave up and left the kitchen.People are only capable of what they are capable of, that goes for Mom, and it goes for Grandpa, but his strength was quiet and secure, and I closed my eyes and relaxed as I waited for breakfast.

What else? Oh and neither Duane nor Augustus have a penny to their name.

I last saw Duane six weeks ago, as I sat him down in my bedroom after an hour of moderately inspirational fucking and told him he wasn’t the dad. I was kinda surprised, no way Duane, like me, a signed up member of Generation-19, wanted that type of responsibility so I thought he’d be relieved. But I watched him fall apart at the news. He began to softly cry on my shoulder, then he turned his back, got out of bed and put on his jeans, “How could you do this to me?”

“Do what?”

“Betray me with another man, make me your fool…”

I would have no problem lying to a man, lying to anyone, but that wasn’t the case with Duane. I didn’t answer at first because it was clearly nonsense. Sixteen years after we met in kindergarten, if he had wanted to corral me and burn my tush with his branding iron he should have said something a long, long time ago. Which was my reply.

“You’re a liar,” he replied, tears running down his face, snot on his nose. “My love for you was clear to everyone but you… don’t tell me I didn’t love you or want you when every time I tried to, you shut me down and up… I loved you.”

And I noticed the past tense. I looked Duane over, when we first fucked he was a prototypical whiteboy, like he was a grubby version of a country rocker, there was no southern flags or KKK’s, but there was an endemic jeans and tee and flannel shirt, longish, greasy hair, and a look of perpetual worry. He looked like that singer who killed himself, everything about him drooped (nearly everything). He was attractive in a sense, most teen boys wouldn’t mind the mix of thin with just a little muscle and white corpse walking look, but he grew up pretty well. Dropping out of High School at sixteen, he git a job working construction with his father and three brothers, and it both ravished him and pumped him the fuck up. Duane had always been successful with girls and by the time he was eighteen he had a list of lovers this long. I didn’t care, I had no hold on him and more importantly didn’t want one.

Duane didn’t like his life, construction work wore him out and while he was now a muscular guy replacing the sad sack of all, he was still the sad sack inside and over time he killed off much of the sweetheart and replaced himself with a clone of his brothers: working all week and drinking all weekend, and pursuing girls with me the sure thing who wanted nothing off him. Like a mantra he would claim, “I want to do something with my life, Em, I want to be that person…”

“You don’t think Duane, it’s like you’ve got something against using your brain. You have options…” And as I spoke he’d turn up the country drinking songs on Sirius and I didn’t care, he could listen or he could spend his life struggling with his body to make a living and die young. What the fuck ever.

Duane took my virginity when I was fourteen, and I’m twenty today. A business acquaintance whose name slipped me as I pocketed the $500, was my 26th male lover and there is another five women, not including Christina, a married woman with a taste for pussy I am having sex with now, so that makes six.That’s my dick and pussy count and while it isn’t a professional hit list, it wasn’t all fun and games either. I thought I wanted someone with money to take care of my daughter and myself, but that isn’t reality. The men have never supported us, we are all about the women. Men are playthings, they are not to be trusted. Hell, Christina has given me much more money than Augustus can ever afford. Christina is a doctor in her mid-30s (her nickname is Dina, Dr. Christina) with a residence at Duke University Hospital and a husband and tween boys, and who needs little excuse to pursue her passion for girls. She’d make a good father to my girl, not that she has any interest in being one. I’ll tell you exactly who will love my girl:

Jackie
Grandpa
Mom
Grandma

That’s it, not even Augustus’s Mom gives a shit though, to be fair, I don’t know if Gus told her. Not even me. I wish I wasn’t pregnant but sadly, raised in the church and stuck with a belief in God, I couldn’t bring myself to have an abortion. And even if I could, that means taking a trip to the coasts where I could actually get one. Yes, we Southerners don’t believe in killing babies unless they’re Black, or Asian, or Latin American.

I googled Planned Parenthood and there were three chapters and while it was a trot, and also very difficult, I considered an abortion. I am not sure when life begins, but I sure don’t believe it is at conception. Surely, there is a three month period of grace. Anyway, I hate being told what to do… by anyone, and that includes those who would tell me I have a choice.

O don’t think my needs out of life are complex, essentially I just want to not be fucked with whether the fucker is Duane or my father or stepfather, I won’t give up my life to fools at all.

I leaned over the side of the sofa and threw up in a bucket, wiped my mouth with the sleeve of my hoodie, and closed my eyes. I never knew my dad, my Mom lost both her Granddads before I was in kindergarten (-one after the other, a double whammy for Mommy), and none of us can go back even two generations of this ripe family tree, not helped by not being welcomed by either dad or step-dad’s family in the slightest. We are Southerners but not those Southerners. I listen to hip hop and dance and some teen stuff, we have black friends and lovers and that isn’t just post POTUS Kamala Harris -we were always like that. People on the coasts miss this, of course. I never understood why I can’t fuck men from all spectrums of society. On the other hand, my boyhood friends have stopped calling because… because they are racists? Not quite racist but part of my relationship with them revolved around my promiscuity, I like to fuck and I fucked five of the six over the eight years (and made out with all six) and because of my coldness managed to maintain the same relationship (people fuck for many reasons, I do it for physical pleasure and money).. .No, they stopped calling because women intimidated them and pregnant women intimidated them more than most, showing the way to a future with responsibilities they didn’t care to imagine. And they don’t like fucking pregnant women. But they’d be back soon enough, and it’s not as though I really care.

The first time I had sex was, to put it non metaphorically, anti-climatic. You know why, right? It did improve with time though it was always a less than perfect meeting: either he was too big and hurt me, or too small and got lost in there, and unless I was really drunk I couldn’t get off. Masturbation worked some of the time and through a long series of orgasmic give and take, I realized that if I let somebody go down on me, it would bring me close to the edge and sometimes over the edge. It was classic nymphomania, fucking, being left unsatisfied, fucking again. On top of which, I simply didn’t like men very much though not a misandrist as such, more a misanthrope, my hatred for people of all genders ran silent, ran deep. The move from disliking men to wanting more than minimum wage was simple and not moral, financial. If you can go from minimum wage to $500 an hour, what moron wouldn’t? By the time I was sixteen I had a sexcam gig and by now I have bumrushed prostitution and have thought about when this is over, I might try escort. You can make 20K a night in New York City with my looks, and if I can kill my southern drawl. Whatever I decide, I know I can’t live like this, my Mom and Grandparents can’t feed another mouth, we have no money and money is what we think about all the time.

For me, it started with clothing. A gold, taffeta, nightmare of bellowing, second hand uncomfortable cheapness that made me itch. That fucking homecoming queen dress had gone from my cousin to her kid sister to a friend of the family and back to me, being nipped or added to every step of the way until it looked more like a birthday present with a big bow on top of a nearly hot fourteen year old with braces that scraped Duane’s dick when I blew him. The dress billowed in the wrong places. No wonder I fucked Duane that night… anything to get the damn dress off as soon as I could. When I remember it, what I see is as though from a picture far above, as though the grass below me and the sky above had opened up at exactly the same moment and all that was left was the golden dress like an eagle’s wings soaring, and me the rider on my back on its back trying to reach my cell which kept ringing with an old Metallica chime, “Enter The Sandman” gift that Grandpa Willy had bought for me because he was a heavy metal fan in his youth and couldn’t think of another way to share it. I bet Willie had been a white Gussie, I bet he got married because he couldn’t hide the way Tommy Young did.

I should have realized when it didn’t matter more, when fucking Duane didn’t make me love Duane, that love was gonna be a problem. Duane loved me but I never gave him an emotional attachment, I never bonded with him at all, and it made him feel insecure. I’ve heard about how couples bond post-coitus alone together in bed. I never have bonded. Oh, I’ve cuddled and if drunk enough, even fallen asleep in a man’s (or woman’s) arms, but I did it for them, not me… I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of them without overplaying my isolationism when I was drunk, when I was sober it was easy. And while Duane may have been my friend in Junior High, he wasn’t in High School when Brood and his crew were mine, as far as I was concerned there was no way I wanted to ruin my High School experience tied to Duane, tied to anyone. Not even Danielle -my best friend now but she had a big time crush when we were seventeen and I let her get me off, was allowed to get in my way.

Mom sat down next to me on the sofa, my head in her lap and my sister Jackie lay on the floor watching a reboot about a girl who makes out with her best friend’s brother in a kissing booth.

Who thought that pulling out early is a form of birth control? It isn’t. Why did I do that? I didn’t consciously want a child, I just figured it was worth the risk and it wasn’t. I am not in love, I’ve not been in love… it is all a transaction, whether for money or not, for folks as poor as I am. Whoever I choose to fuck better have something to give me in return, I deserve it.

I can’t help but feel that poverty has its own set of rules. How poor is poor? Compared to what? There are the rich guys – a strata of rich kids at NCU, and another strata of blue collar good old boys I’ve known all my life, but boys are boys. I did meet a guy with money last spring before I got pregnant. I knew he was slumming, Noah Friedman… I knew it, but people don’t know what they want until they get it. I wasn’t very attracted to him but so what, at least he wasn’t in college or retired, but an attorney trying to get into local government… I couldn’t pull it off, I missed something he wanted in a wife; perhaps a little too Southern, drawly, white trash-y? I was nineteen and he was twenty seven, we met at a bar in Chapel Hill where I was with Danielle getting sloshed after hours at class and hours at our shift at Target -the money going from a to b, in theory. Until Noah, a nerdy looking guy like if he grew a beard he could be Hasidic. There aren’t many Jews in North Carolina, less than 1%, and they don’t precisely assimilate. But the younger ones do, and Noah was certainly friendly enough. He looked like a cliche of sorts, like a man in pursuit of a shiksa. I was going to fuck him that night, but his car was so fancy, a self-drive BMW, and I rode shotgun, and there was something so rich and also, so unsuspecting about him: Noah looked as though he didn’t expect me to fuck him and I made a note that if I wanna marry him for his money, I should hold off on the sex.

We dated for a couple of months but I couldn’t maintain his interest, I never met his family, and it soon became clear that I wasn’t the sort of wife he wanted -at least at first sight, though given a coupla months more I could have faked it. He stopped calling and I didn’t pursue, pursuing men is a waste of time… that wasn’t how to get what you want. Anyway, how does his money help me? My Grandparents, the Youngs, are very, very rich, they haven’t provided me with a fucking dime.

I work at a country club three days a week as a waitress, the clientele are 90% former captains of Raleigh industry, and they have money. I can see it in their eyes. I can see it as they look at me. The uniform waitresses wear are very conservative but the bodies inside the uniforms are anything but, we are on the lookout. I worked with the same three girls till I started to show last month, and while we didn’t say it, we knew it. Being a waitress like this has its own set of rules and pursuits and it is the pursuit of tips. I was always on the lookout for older men, really elderly, 60s – 80s, who looked lonely and I… I don’t think I quite flirted with them but I smiled and I stood in such ways as to imply there is more to this, that I can be had. Sometimes I was had…

The weather in North Carolina is completely freak right now, it is February and we have already had a smash of 20 feet of snow and the start of a heatwave. And the baby is so heavy, it is like walking around with a backpack strapped to my stomachall the time.

I think that’s another thing -when you don’t know your real father there is this sense where you don’t know all of yourself, you don’t know what you are capable of because you don’t know what your DNA has done. I think I could have shot Chris dead, but could I? Jackie feels that sense of uncertainty because her dad was just this horrible fucking guy. “Em, I wish you were my daddy,” she used to cry after one of her dad’s periodic meltdowns. “Well, I am Jackie,” I’d reply, making room for her in my bed where she cuddled close to me and listened to Mom crying and step-dad screaming at the top of his lungs. Jackie is one of a handful of people I’ve ever been truly close to, if I wouldn’t call it love precisely, it was as close as I ever got to loving. We’ve gotten even closer since I got pregnant and moved back “I am glad you’re here,” she said when I unpacked in the bedroom that was mine and is hers and now is mine, “but I miss hiding out at your place…” You would think she’d hate me for intruding in her room but she loved having me nearby. “I’ll get another place for us,” I said and her eyebrows upped quizzically, she seems to see me slipping away though that isn’t really true. I am certainly a part of the Smiths (Mommy’s maiden name) family tree of purveyors of useless men lovers, or at least acknowledgers, my dad, Mom’s dad, Grandma’s dad, Chris, Duane, Gussie, the High School posse, businessmen and lonely incels… the list is a riddle of poverty and a fight against it. It feels as though the men are useless financial donors who completely refuse to take responsibility for anything but cash money.

“No, no, no, Emily” Mom almost shouted as I sneered in quiet loathing. “You don’t know your daddy…”

“I know he isn’t here…”

“Your daddy is the exception, he didn’t run away, he disappeared…”

“It doesn’t matter if he is dead…” I replied shaking my head, I know the stories. I know something happened and we don’t matter enough to be told what it is that happened, if any one even knew. But I also know the RESULT is the exact same as if he went out and never came back. Because he did. Maybe he is dead. Maybe he has another family. I can imagine him, tearing off his pandemic necessary facemask and making a peace sign, as fire bombs and rubber bullets explode around him. Streets is watching as he turns and leaves us, to Africa, to Europe, Egypt, anywhere not here with a nagging fiance and me in the oven and his life a full stop the way Marie will make my life an end. I used to wonder if that was what was said all the time to him, if he felt responsible for his black extended family the way the Youngs were not and did not take responsibility in their upper middle class splendour. Was he rebelling against his parents, against us, his family, was he lynched, was he escaping? Did he jump or was he pushed?

I couldn’t really imagine him, not the way I could clearly imagine Jackie’s father. Sergeant Johnson is a monstrous man, a bully, a weakling. I hate him. Hate him. I can remember the stench of his breath and the stale cigarettes, his loudness, and abrupt temper flares. When (step) dad walked into his home after a day on the beat and hours with his buddies, drinking to nothing, the entire house was suddenly on high alert. The scary thing was that there was no way to protect yourself, no protection at all; anything could set him off.

The day I discovered I was pregnant I was four and a half weeks along, mid September 2040, I had just started my freshman year at NCU, and I was ready to play and instead games kinda ended. So I called Danielle and we went to Club Latex after school, a place where girls get in for free and the study of IDs are perfunctory at best, and there are lots of boys to help you drink the night away. It is all mirrorballs and EDM, very loud, very toxic, and I wanted to drink the baby away. I was wearing a glittery mini-skirt and heels, and I had my Emily look: it is all cool self-confidence and sexual deliverance, I looked like a ruffled promise where intimacy meets innocence, and all are punished. I looked like I could deliver a man simultaneously to and from evil: I was up for it. Danielle and I were talking to a coupla guys who were keeping us company and keeping us in vodka gimlets, middle class frat boys, and we started kissing each other because we were drunk and it turned the boys on. And when I came up for breath there was a woman standing by my barstool smiling down at me. It was dark enough for me to be unable to make a clear declaration of age or hotness but light enough for her boobs to leave a lasting impression.

“May I buy you a drink?” She said. I clocked her wedding ring and raised my eyes towards her. “Just a drink or five, I promise” she said and I laughed and she squeezed out the guy and made her pitch. It was a good one and I needed something. And I also needed money so how did I make her know that? It was a tricky contradiction. But one thing I was clear about, I wasn’t a prostitute or escort or anything, though I think I’ll try it once Marie is born just for banking money…. The thing is: resources… I had no resources; a straight “A” student, with a partial scholarship in Mathematics from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I am in my sophomore year and driving the half hour between the two cities. I was a defining welfare mother making a better lover, with a love of numbers, and I wanted more and if part of that was some form of, let’s call it give and take, so be it. I have two things and I really felt as though I have to use: I am smart but that is for the future, and I am sexy and that’s for today.

I realized I was sexy at a very young age and thank man, the born predator, for chasing me whether a family friend or a far flung science teacher, from when I was eleven. I got lucky, I got that sex gene at the age of eleven, if I had gotten it when I was ten I have little doubt that my disgusting father would have found it easy to rape and then beat me.

Dina bought me a drink and then another, but anybody can buy you a drink and what I wanted was a steak dinner, and when she said she was hungry I followed her Tesla 2040 in my beat up old Honda Civic, which I got for $500 and put on my Mom’s insurance, because I had to get back and forth from Chapel Hill, and we went to Raleigh’s best steak house. We sat in her car getting double faded, we kissed more than a little but that was it until I had a meal, and so went in. It was 1030pm and the restaurant was thinning out and I got everything, appetizer, huge steak, sides, dessert, the lot, safe in the knowledge I would eat half and doggybag the leftovers for Jackie. Jackie is a wild at heart omnivere, and a good kid. I can’t overstate the case, I swear, A kid sister isn’t like anything else at all.

We sat in the exact middle of the room like a commercial for better living through science as couples paid up around us. I could tell Christina was aching to touch me, wanted to hold my hand, but couldn’t. I ordered a gin and tonic and then another and then another, and my breath smelled of perfume and rot gut, and I was getting my buzz on as she rubbed my leg with her foot beneath the table.

“Why did I get a table facing each other?” she complained.

“I know,” I answered in a conspiratorial whisper, “You could be fingering me now”. And I smiled that smile, full of promise and not written yet. She smiled back and now came the hard part, getting down to the business at hand. How to approach that if she wants a hot nineteen year old blonde she would have to pay? And why shouldn’t she? Dina (her full name is Dr. Christina Giovanni, a nice contraction) isn’t ugly, a little overweight but big boobs and (as I would find out in time), when she was drunk she was both effervescent and very horny. She’s not in my league, looks wise, the way I was nowhere near her financially, we had to meet in the middle. Money. I wanted her money, if she wanted me she needed to pay to play.

It is sad I guess, I don’t feel as though “oooh, what a pity, I have to fuck to make a decent living…”. It just is. That’s the Christian in me, I have a form of obedience to God and take much pleasure in Mary Magdalene (was that the right Mary? Is it Mary Of Bethany?) and go forth and sin though when I’m ready, when I’m cool financially, I’ll go forth and sin no more. Not now. Now I had a baby and no resources to protect us. Also, and I really believe this, if God didn’t want me to use my gifts, my natural beauty, sultry innocence, baby doll heat, why give it to me? It is part of His great plan, or maybe He is just another guy… ?

Dina was chill and having fun, I was two people in one, smiling sensually and with interest and inside I am trying to maneuver her. Maybe two years ago, I was trying to get this guy in Myrtle Beach where I was on Spring Break, and I am kinda implying money and it seemed alright with him, we went back to his motel 6, did a whole lotta coke and we fucked for so long I thought I was gonna fall asleep mid stroke, but then it was over and I went to leave and not a penny. Sure, he paid for the drugs but that wasn’t what I needed. I knew this wasn’t gonna happen this time and I knew how to move from asking how she did so well in life, to telling her about how I was studying at NCU, and working two part time jobs (Target was the other) (three if you include my transactions) and it usually worked: “I’m so busy, you might never see me again after this,” I said with a tight smile.

That caught her attention. “That won’t happen, I’ll help you find the time…”

It was enough, really, so why I pushed Dina a little further I really wasn’t sure. “If I stay out much later, I’ll have to miss school tomorrow”.

She had a Louis Vuitton bag, I wasn’t crazy about it, it looked like brown wallpaper, and it cost more than my net worth including my car, and I believed her when she said, “I’ll make sure you don’t lose any money when you’re with me.”

“I didn’t mean that,” I said, although that was exactly what I meant.

“I know you didn’t, but I do…”

She excused herself and I checked my cell, some guy I had an off again, on again arrangement with, and four from Duane Brental. Then a whole lot from my posse, and two from Jackie who was fighting with Mom, and that was it. Dina came back and slipped me an envelope and I didn’t check how much. She must have gone to an ATM, which made the notes all $20s, and from the weight maybe $300, $400. I didn’t count it, I’m not a prostitute and I’m not gauche, I’m a slut who needs money. Later on, I’d gotten it wrong, $1000… I would have fucked her for $200 without coming back for more, at $1K? I was interested.

I know it all sounds a little drab and iffy, and it wasn’t. I enjoyed the sex, didn’t love it, not the best ever, and I never came with her, but I absolutely enjoyed her incredible into-me-ness, she looked at me as though she couldn’t believe her eyes, my slim, tight attractiveness had her holding her breath and she was so overwhelmed with desire for me she began to shiver. I took her home and into my room, double locked the door.

I was hoping to hear from Gussie today. Valentine’s Day and my birthday and I’m carrying his baby so the least you’d expect is a car or a call. Dina sent me flowers, money, a phone call, she wanted to see me tonight but I was getting tired and I put her off till tomorrow. The truth is, it was Gussie on my mind. He is my age and still a child, he couldn’t handle a baby, he couldn’t even handle a girlfriend. This proved it.

I never told him that. I never told any of my guy friends that while I might fuck em, while they might think they are getting off easy in a friends with benefits manners, they weren’t at all. I didn’t love anyone that much and I definitely was not going to let them have my love if they weren’t doing at least as much as my Grandma did for me. I know there are no jobs out there, I know we are the intelligent face of zero sum finances, and I didn’t expect better. But sex was not a good enough reason to put more trouble into my life. But… I was carrying Augustus’s baby, the least he could do is anything at all.

We’d had an argument the other day, I’d just been laid off at my waitress job and he said I should sue them because they clearly let me go because I’m pregnant and I just shook my head and I could have told him that I made $20 an hour and at that sort of bucks it just wasn’t worth it unless I’m getting big tips, and if I’m pregnant I’m not getting any tips. I’d be welcomed back when I had the baby. Instead, I called him an idiot and turned my back on him, leaving him in limbo. “If you’re wondering whether to stay or go, let me help: Go”. And that was nine days ago, so whatever.

I think there are only two people really happy about this baby (MARIE YOUNG -he doesn’t get to give her his last name, either). Mom is one, Jackie is the other. Jackie is my dry run for Marie, I loved being a big sister so much that Jackie called me Mummy Emily, a name she still uses from time to time. I loved being a big sister so much I could easily mistake it for loving her period. Maybe that’s a difference between the sexes, I enjoyed being needed on that level, it meant everything to me in my preteens that daddy might be an asshole but family is as family does. That’s something I expect Gus to never grasp… I don’t know any man who quite gets it. Maybe Dina’s husband, who is a psychiatrist. I picked up my cell to ask her and put it down again.

So anyway, I’ve been seeing Dina for five month, a couple of days a week. I thought she’d dump me the moment I told her I was pregnant but it didn’t seem to phase her at all. Lying on my bed, getting very post-coital, you know, me drunk, she cuddly, and I figured I could have left it another coupla weeks before telling her and I really, really needed the money (we were all saving like crazy for the big arrival) but once she knew, Dina touched my stomach with a lot more delicacy than she had half an hour earlier, sort of rubbed it and her eyes became warm. “I remember with my boys,” she said. “I enjoyed being pregnant”. I enjoyed the attention and I enjoyed the feeling of my life in motion, becoming larger and more intricate and maybe deeper, but I didn’t define myself as a potential mother. I didn’t want a baby. I didn’t tell anyone that but I knew it, and if I had really realized how little of a mother I would feel,I would have aborted. The truth is, in Raleigh you can’t abort after six weeks, which really gave me a week and a half to decide. Too late now. Thanks for nothing, God.

No, I wasn’t that into Dina physically though I can always rise to the occasion, sort of will myself wet, but I did like her comfort factor. I am tall (five seven) and thin, like all my family, and Dina was smaller and round,she looked like she could be a mother, maybe my mother. I didn’t prefer her to Duane -I’d been friends with Duane since kindergarten, but I much preferred dating her; when I got flowers and some really pricey chocolates called sublimes I didn’t doubt for a moment it was from Dina. The problem with the Duanes and Gussies is they are emotionally stunted, they don’t know how to express their true feelings and sure, I could read em, I know just how far and how deep it all goes, it was still a drag not being regarded. Duane was in awe of me, Gus had no idea what to make of me.

Mom didn’t know what was going down, and the truth is it was a typical Mom move, it didn’t add up but we needed money and so she didn’t question how I got so much money on minimum wage; she saw life through pink colored glasses and didn’t deal with what she didn’t want to deal with, she didn’t much care as long as money kept coming in, nothing meant more than being able to afford the baby, with KamalaCare taking care of most of the expenses. I would go to sleep and wake up and the baby was always there, always in my thoughts, and she was changing me in some ways. Always poor, always alone, always having to handle life for ourselves, me and Mom never shared a disbelief in human nature, in help, aid, giving: Mom took all the happiness she could get from my birth. When Jackie was born, I sorta noticed what Mom shared with me, I stood close, I protected more, I felt Jackie was my responsibility. After her dad left when I was ten, I just certainly felt even more responsible for her happiness and both Mom and I spoiled Jackie as much as we could. In the household I could tell that Jackie gave Mom what I refused to, Mom wanted to be loved and respected by her children, and one of us did and that one was loved more in return. And now, that feeling I have for Jackie is illuminated in what I will feel for Marie. It’s important. We aren’t like those families on television, there is no man to bail us out. When I got my apartment, Jackie was devastated and only recovered when I let her spend half her life in my place.

Look, is Dina and I just a john and a hooker? No, it wasn’t that. Hookers tend not to invite you to meet their Moms. But it was financial, and I wouldn’t bother with her without money. Also, I bet Dina wouldn’t bother me without money either because it keeps me away from her practise and her family. She calls Mom “Gloria” and mum calls her “Dina” and when they talk there is a sense where they both talk through me. Mommy is a nurse and they can get a little technical, they actually work at the same hospital but it is a huge place and they don’t know each other from there. Mom has a certain chill when it comes to me, she doesn’t ask questions where she doesn’t want answers and her interest in me is there but oblique. She wanted me to become a nurse and at first was training me, but as it became clear I was an idiot savant when it came to maths, she stopped trying and I know she wanted me to bring her back in again to my education, I knew she loved it when I asked her questions, but I didn’t allow her back when I stopped needing her. When I told her I was pregnant I thought she might flip out (she wasn’t gonna kick me out because I wasn’t living there, though if she hadn’t let me back it might have proven a problem), but after the initial shock she was alright with it. I think it pleased Mom, she thought I was good at everything I attempted and this mammoth failure made me human. Everytime we get on to any subject I can almost see Mom’s mind ticking over and I know who she is thinking of: my never to be known real life dad Tommy Young, the alive or dead disappearing dad, in the long run he was worse than Sgt Johnson.

And then she’d start in about all the opportunities and how life would have been so much better but I shut her up with an, “If Dad had lived we wouldn’t have Jackie so I’m happy he’s dead”. And I can see her getting upset and I can see eyes tearing up again. For fuck’s sake, get over it woman, I wanna say but I don’t. We know where the pressure points are.

My life goes into three sections

Before Jackie
After Jackie
After the yet to arrive Marie

Mommy’s goes:

During Tommy
After Tommy
During the Sergeant
After the Sergeant

Jackie’s goes:
Chris
After Chris

It’s surprising how completely in the way men can be and I know Mom thinks that my Dad was special because he was studying at NC State to be a civil rights attorney and responsible and they were really getting married. But if he was so special why has what remains of his parents and family never even once seen me? I mean, just out of nosiness. My mom never talks about what happened after his death (if he died, etc), but I am pretty sure his Mom took one look at the fairest of them all, yours truly, and walked right out.

But they were wrong and if they hadn’t been so mean to Mom she’d have proven it (I have no doubt at all, Mom isn’t Suzie Slut, I have the promiscuous gene all to myself). And anyway, you can’t mourn for somebody for decades on end without being serious about it.

I think Mom hopes that having a baby will soften me but I don’t need softening, I need hardening if anything: I don’t want to live my Mom’s life, I don’t even want to work in a University on math theory all my life, I don’t want a sterile life, and I certainly don’t want to be a nurse so much either. What I want is money and if all anybody can see when they look at me is a hot chick, then fuck it, I will be that hot chick.

Some children are worrisome, some are wild, I was neither. I tried to blend in, probably to get out of my step-father’s way as best I could. I was this small, fragile, alabaster doll with blonde hair. We were less poor then, Mom’s salary as a part time nurse and daddy’s as a full time asshole maintained our lifestyle, and if daddy didn’t spend so much on drinks and drugs we would have been solidly middle class. After the epidemic, around the time I was born, Mom had really had enough of nursing but she still needed money so once she got knocked up with me, she stopped working full time. When I claim the Smith family were poor, I don’t mean we went hungry but rather, a shambolic home we sold, and a creaky, hoarders home belonging to Grandma Marie where we still live in Knightdale, hand me down clothes from our cousins, two cars (but not nice cars), an inexpensive, integrated school district. Liberal to a degree. It wasn’t the worst place for a child and it wasn’t the worst for an adult.

From my earliest age I remember my parents like an incessant roar in the back of my head, a slamming, banging, violent and nerve wracking environment. I slept in my bedroom with the door locked when they were going at it. I must have been six, maybe seven years old. I would take Jackie out of her crib, and we would hide under the comforter, me sucking my thumb, closing it out, and Jackie no longer crying from fear but immediately falling back to sleep as they fought. I would close my eyes and imagine I was somewhere else, sometimes Disneyworld, and levitate out of my body, or at least that’s how it felt. I still do, if not that exactly, something similar when I go to sleep, I can’t fall asleep if I am not under the sheets. It makes it hard to sleep with other people and they get the wrong idea when I throw them out after a shot of coitus, or leave them at their place and drive home. Unless I’m drunk of course… and I drink a lot. I got my first fake ID when I was sixteen (for a cam gig), and have upgraded ever after. In one year I’ll be legal. Nobody cared… Mom couldn’t stop me.

It was when I was four that I became friends with Duane, a brown haired, nondescript boy who followed me around the classroom and protected me from the other kids. Duane was also a lower middle class income home, neither of us had much money, but we both had bikes, and Knightdale is a nice and safe area. Duane and I spent all summer long in the parks, riding round and around. Those earliest years, when the world was bigger, and we thought it would never change, changed when first Jackie arrived, and next when I was seven and ready for the relentless horrors of first grade.

There is a relentless horror in life, from the moment you can learn you are being given stuff to learn in daylight terrors: sleep through the night, drink your bottle, don’t cry, don’t fuss, potty training, and then leave home for kindergarten… all this and we haven’t learnt about two of the biggies (sex and death). I can’t remember this stuff as well as I might, I do remember Mom walking me to school the first day and then me following her all the way back home. Though maybe I don’t remember it, I’ve heard about it so often it is part of who I am. I do remember Duane and I being part of a duo and that remained the same until High school when I drifted away. I became friendly with the posse and I was lucky in that while we were both at Knightdale High school, we weren’t in the same class. I was fourteen and later that first year Duane took me to the prom because no one else asked me -dating didn’t really happen, it was more hanging out with friends and seeing what develops. The decision to fuck Duane first is best describe as an act of fear, I didn’t know what I was doing but I knew on some level I trusted Duane more than most guys. And now we are broken up.

In one sense I don’t blame him but in another way, we were not a couple and neither of us were monogamous, so he dropped me not for cheating but because he wanted something that wasn’t. I didn’t realize how tricky it was, even as I replay it and notice how I waited a couple of days to say anything. I waited till my house was filled with Jackie and her friends, and Mom and Grandma and Grandpa and their friends… a quick head count and there were ten people at home when I lead Duane to my room (we moved once my asshole stepdad left) and he held my hand with a softness of touch I will never forget. Ever since he had learnt I was pregnant he allowed his eyes to shine with a love he had always tried to hide from me and while on one level I didn’t care (do I love him? No. In love? No way). I knocked back a fifth of vodka and we fucked and spooned on my bed and maybe I had done it the wrong way, maybe he needed a little distance to make it real. I think he misunderstood, I think he thought I was going to tell him he was definitely the father, and as he left the room he turned towards me and now he was sobbing, and he put his hand in his pocket and threw a small box at me and stormed out. An engagement ring. I wondered if it was worth any money.

I sat on the edge of my bed wondering if I cared and replaying the afternoon again… We sat there so close, breathing softly in each other’s ears, a little bump not a big one, like I had a pot belly. I could feel him pushed against me and I could imagine his face, so at peace, his brown hair with a floppy fringe, and his legs, as long as mine, rubbed against mine, his green eyes sparkling. I didn’t love him, no, but i kinda liked him: it is easy to care for someone who adores you if they aren’t a needy pain in the ass. After fifteen years of deep friendship, Duane knew me and knew when to push, and when not to. We were friends with benefits, yes, but because I wouldn’t commit, and then, discovering I was pregnant, he thought I would commit. But I wouldn’t have even if he had been the father and when I told him it was someone else (he didn’t know Augustus) I realized I was right not to feel that deeply about him. At first he said “what?” And settled back. And then he said “Wait, hold on…” And settled back. And then he jumped out of bed.

I thought he was going to hit me, three years of construction makes your arms like irons even if it doesn’t do much for your brain, and perhaps he was but I put my hand under the bed and pulled out my baseball bat from when I used to play in High school… “You don’t need that,” he said with all feeling but hatred drained from his voice. I didn’t respond. “I’m not going to hit you.”

“No, you’re not,” I said. And let me tell you something right this second, I had a guy hit me once and I said nothing, but in the middle of the night I took his beloved guitar and smashed it against the wall of his bedroom, and ran out with him chasing me. I never saw him again, and I want to tell the world that if anyone puts a finger to me in violence I would break it in two. As for Duane,well, I wasn’t surprised. “I owe you nothing, Duane” I said.

“And I owe you less.”

“Whatever, I have nothing to say about what has happened.”

“I do. Raise the bastard yourself.”

“That’s very funny, as though my entire family have ever had a man to help us. Never, ever. All dead or gone. Do you think I expected anything…?”

“Good because you aren’t getting anything from me, fuck you you whore.”

Once it gets to the “whore” level of discourse there is only one thing left to say: “Get out”.
So whoops, there goes the ring again, and he stormed out of my room and two days later he rang but I didn’t answer, and texted but I didn’t even read them. A week later he was waiting for me outside my house as I went to my other, other part time job at Target and ran towards me as I walked towards my battered, home away from home, Honda Civic. I didn’t even look at him, and if he had tried to pull me by the arm it would have been ugly. I don’t expect much from this world and, perhaps oddly, I thought we had been so close for so long, I didn’t expect Duane’s reaction. I wasn’t hurt, I was angry that even my quote unquote best guy friend didn’t care about me so much.

In the car park he approached, “I decided to forgive you,” Duane claimed. I said nothing. “So, is that it?” I still said nothing. “Three quarters of my life and you’ve been the center of it, are you ready to end it just like that?” I kept walking to my car and that was the end of Duane. If he had known me for so long, one would have thought he’d have known my reaction. I’d like to claim I miss him, I don’t. I don’t miss anyone, ever. I am alone.

Before kindergarten, before Duane, I hadn’t really known boys. My life was surrounded by Ma and Grandma and Grandpa was not a male the way you think of one, and that is who life was. Days at Grandmas and nights at home, though I have no distinct memory of it. I do remember going shopping, and being made a fuss off, and I have zero memory of anything else except the loudness when my step dad came home drunk. I remember though I don’t know how I remember my cot in my room and my mom on the sofa holding my hand through the railings. I have no idea how a sofa got in a bedroom.

Mommy dressed me up in the most girlish manner possible, all ribbons and bows, like an explosion of pink puke (at least that’s what I think of those old pictures in files upon files in Grandma’s PC). By the time I got to first grade I had become a tom boy.

I got lucky in first grade, Duane and I were in the same class so immediately the seriousness of first grade was less serious with a friend. Though it led to our first falling out and also a realignment of our friendship… and my first kiss!! My first two kisses!!! Talk about the future written large!!! I didn’t really, or at least I don’t remember quite understanding that I was a girl and Duane was a boy, and I thought I looked very much like an every boy. I guess I didn’t come across that way because immediately boys took interest in me.

I had no interest in girls, and while the girls around me made friends with other girls, when I could get away from Duane I started making friends with boys.I knew right away that it wasn’t the same as other things and I knew enough not to be one of the girls except for physically, mentally I was one of the boys and when Ernie -who would be a ringleader of the posse five years later, the most aggressive kid, in my class kissed me it made me smile and I liked it. Not sexually of course, yet I must have had a deep yearning to be wanted and when Duane saw us kissing he pushed Ernie, and I stepped between them and told them to stop. Later that day (blurry memory, I do think this is how it happened), Duane was at my home and we went for a walk and he asked to kiss me and I said yes. So that was my second kiss. Under a tree in early November. But not my third. When Duane came in for kiss number two I said no, and I slapped him and as he touched his face I laughed and ran off home.

First grade was fun, and I was very popular, with a ton of guy friends, all in the same class, I wasn’t being crossed too often. How this all changed into something else was another question. I could jump straight to Middle School as life just kept on going and we went to Durant Road Middle School and it was there that I started to have friends who were girls, and friends who were black, I smoked weed, and graduated to coke and vodka, and was lucky I didn’t have an addictive nature so none of it was a huge problem at all. After school, we would ride our bikes to the park and play till dusk, and then rush home.

I know I’ve said we are poor and we are poor, once Chris left we were a family of five with one income and Grandpa’s pession, and never enough to go round. But I was much happier without my step-dad, I remember him slamming the door and disappearing, a drunken mess, in the middle of the night and praying he takes his terrible attitude and never comes back. Even Jackie didn’t like him. I lay on the sofa, my eyes wide open, Jackie must have done her usual and joined me, and I can feel him leave and then everything was just take a deep breath calm and I was happy and I don’t know if I did this but I’m pretty sure I thought it: “You are safe, Jackie, we are safe now”.

As much as anything, we were safe.

And I spent my life on my bike, and with Duane and with my friends, going every inch and all over the Rail Park, and then, if we wanted to play softball, over to the community park. It was a wonderful world, and Knightdale was a place for kids, I much prefer it to now. Now, I am always in my car on the way to Raleigh or Chapel Hill, but back then, I didn’t go that far away and spent my days with friends and I was the center of attention. Even at fourteen, especially at fifteen.

There was something about those years that feel like a fantasy of childhood, a dream world of energy and playfulness, of school and friends, of running and standing still. My friends claimed that childhood was a nightmare but it wasn’t a nightmare for me, I was free to come and go, to play all day long: see Emily play, as Mom would say referencing my Dad’s psychedelic and peculiar taste in music that lead to my name -I didn’t realize black guys loved Pink Floyd… That’s why I was named Emily. I didn’t mind, I didn’t care, I didn’t feel the need for a past or a future, I loved the moment I was living in.

Because I got it, I understood the difference in the sexes. I felt it the way I understood that my friends who were guys wanted me even while they didn’t know what that meant. There was Ernie and Brood, David Davidson, Tennyson – a great looking guy who was always fending off girls, the four leaders, then Alf, who was overweight, and Denny who I realized early was gay. Except for Denny they were always looking at me, especially once I traded my jeans for skirts. And I felt a certain power, a power that remained until I began to show after I got pregnant, and then it ended. Yes, after being best friends for eight years, I lost all my friends once I got pregnant. I didn’t care. I was already a little tired and very cynical. I had slept with four of em before I was sixteen, and I was an ultimate friend with benefits because I gave sex on only my terms. And we all knew they’d be back.

I can’t remember when we started the kissing game, I would hide in the deep grass at the park and whoever found me got to kiss me. I must have been eleven at the time. The good news was none of the guys ever discussed it, never changed towards me, never bragged. It remained a quiet game of have and have not. I kissed each guy eventually and not just kissed but we made out till we were found by Ernie or David or another guy and they switched places, except for Denny who never seemed to find me. I really loved those early days, in many ways it defined me as a girl willing to be like a guy, enjoying kissing many guys, enjoying touching and being touched. I never felt there was a moral aspect, I went to church every sunday, and I was aware of God and very much so, and I knew this was exactly the type of thing our Pastor was warning us about but I didn’t really believe that Jesus could care if I liked kissing boys.

I see the first years as a move from having a father to being rid of him, to losing my virginity with Duane after the prom, to getting in an accident on my bike and spending three months rehabbing at sixteen … then back at school with a scar going right across my knee.

The accident wasn’t my fault, I was riding back from school the way I often did, and a car took the corner too close and just tapped me. I do remember sailing through the air and thinking “This could be the end Emily… that was too fast, I can’t die now…” My helmet, which I hated, saved my life and the mangle was on my knee when the last of me landed. It was really scary because I had never been really sick or anything, the most traumatic experience before that was a handful of bad colds and covid-19, both quickly answered with vaccines. I’d never spent a night in hospital in my life, and, of course, I got emergency to Mom’s Raleigh State Hospital. I remember Mom staring down at me as I was rushed to the operation theatre, and feeling, “okay, good, I wouldn’t die” because she was all business and then I went blank.

Mom and Jackie and Grandma and Grandpa were at my bedside when I awoke.

And that is my family, my real family, the heart of my story. Three girls, and a good man who hated confrontation, and a baby girl, and that is everything I even vaguely care about, not love but responsibility. Duane proved his true self to me. I have no doubt that even those closest to me would do the same. My theory is anybody is capable of betraying anyone and justifying it. I have no doubt that if the world could see inside my head, the world would betray me. And men were worse. I wish I didn’t love dick so much because if I didn’t I would go full time lesbian. I want somebody there for me when I’m not there for me, I want someone to surround my life with care. At twenty, is that too much?

I lay in bed for three days, then they started rehab on my knee, and then they wheeled me out. I felt not so much transformed as self-consciously vulnerable, it was very bad. It’s not that nothing bad ever happened to me but that nothing like this had, where my body could be broken. It made me weary. Weary and wary of a world that is up to its neck in doing nothing for me, by guys who just won’t even consider growing up, good for sex and good for money when they are, and that’s it.

And my first clunker, I had a learner’s permit and I spent as much time as I could with a guy name Trev from England, who let me drive him to his college dorm and fuck him.

I first met Trevor after noticing him in Church one Sunday, and following him outside; with red hair, freckles, and pale as fuck shading, much paler than me, Trevor wasn’t really my type but he looked so not North Carolina I was intrigued. So I followed him to where he was leaning against a hideous lime colored but otherwise a nice looking Jeep Wrangler. I liked his accent, he’d moved here a year ago and was at NC State, but he was a little odd, his voice a strange mix of clipped veddy english, and more a sort of street slang. Sometimes his accent was so deep I didn’t understand him at all and a couple of weeks after we first met he told me he was insane over my southern drawl.

We hit it off at once, but when I have an interest in a guy I tend to hit it off right away. He asked to drive me home after church and sitting next to him, he leaned over and traced the scar on my knee with his finger.

But he ended up being just another guy, he was just incapable of taking anything seriously except for weed and Call Of Duty # 571. When I’d go to his room, he’d lock the door and sure, sometimes we messed around, but for the most part I was on Tik Tok and he was playing video games, it was an entire world and one he shared with his real friends, his guy friends. On a Friday afternoon, it would be me, another girl and maybe ten guys, drinking beer, and playing video games. Clearly, it was unsustainable, it wasn’t real: we were like trophies in that Drake song. There may have been affection, and admittedly I wasn’t faithful for a second, but even so me and the other girl (Jana -we never became close), were the outsiders, and we kept out of everything. Jana was impressed because the guys were older than us, I was really bummed because I assumed college men were, you know, adults.

Maybe they are real men, every guy I ever met was exactly like that, they didn’t deserve women with a brain and worse, they were not reliable. Gussie, the worst baby daddy ever, was not reliable. The only man with even the slightest proof that the male sex didn’t define toxic were Grandpa Willie and my real daddy, if you can pretend that what what Mom says is true, he was really cool and Grandpa loved me nd I could tell.. But unlike Grandpa, Tommy did the exact same thing as all men: he disappeared.

I wonder what I would have done if Marie was going to be a boy not a girl? I would have been stuck between wanting him to be a real man and not wanting him to be considered a weirdo. I would have named him Thomas after my daddy but not for me, for Mom, she would have lost it if I’d done that, I wanted to give her something long gone.

And what if I was a lesbian? A mix of Trevor and porn got me looking at girls with much more sexual, if not emotional, interest. I wasn’t the girl who had crushes but was crushed on by latent dykes who followed me around. I thought of hooking up with one of those girls, just as a lookie look, but I was worried about the devastation after I reject them. So instead, I let my softball coach seduce me (Danielle was my second lesbian thingy). It was very pleasant and since I really didn’t care much about her it was completely painless for me. Last year, I heard where she was in prison after finding another fifteen year old though this time one of whom was deeply infected by it. It is very tricky fucking teachers, somewhere someone is going to get into trouble and I stayed away from the teachers who wanted to fuck me -and every year there was a new one, because I didn’t want them to take it too seriously. I didn’t want it to end up in the public pavilion of shitty taste. As far as I am concerned, I don’t want anyone to really know my business. What difference does it make. I couldn’t lose my lesbian virginity to girls my own age because they would flip out on me, I didn’t know any older girls, so she seemed perfect. It started at a school Christmas Party she was chaperoning, and a drive home after the party was over, and lasted to the end of the school year where she went home to Boston and we fell out of touch. The following year I wasn’t interested and she probably found a replacement. Clearly, sooner or later, her luck would run out and she’d choose the wrong girl.

Since then I had a half dozen sexual encounters and one more relationship, but otherwise it was all dick all the time.

Except for Duane, I had never been dumped by a guy, it was always my choice. But once I did get pregnant, really in the past month, I stopped being one of the boys and my position as the posse member you most wanted to fuck was suddenly in serious jeopardy. Tennyson,, who was the fourth guy I ever fucked and the third most aggressive member of the posse, spelled it out to me. “Widows and the pregnant unmarried are the unfuckable, it is too creepy,” he said.

“But so what? We are friends first, we’ve been friends for eight years, now we aren’t friends because you don’t want to fuck a pregnant woman?” I laughed to myself as I said that, mostly because we were fucking while we were talking.

“No, no… once you have the baby things will go back to normal but it is like you did something we don’t want done…” I didn’t understand. “You’re forcing us to be grown-ups…”

“Well, gosh how shallow can you get?”I replied as he climbed off and zipped up.

“Now you make me feel like an asshole…”

“You are an asshole. What’s the reason for friends if they are not there when you most need them?”

Which brought me to Danielle. Danielle was my first and best female friend ever, from when i was 14 to 18, we remain as close as close can be and I think I would put her on the I actually loved category, if I actually loved any one. But she hasn’t been around since I stopped hanging out and I can’t say I’m shocked.

Loved(ish)
Jackie
Grandpa
Grandma
Ma
Danielle
Marie (my daughter!!!)

Didn’t love
Everyone else

I think, maybe, that didn’t love is something almost ingrained in snuggling. For the most part I didn’t snuggle after sex… occassionally with Duane but no: when I fucked David or Ernie, or Dina, when it was over (I didn’t say when I come, that is still a battle), unless I was drunk I got up and left or kicked them over. Jackie wants to snuggle? Fine. Dina? Not so fast.

With Dani, it reminded me a little of Jackie, as though she was my kid sister. I appreciated her huge respect for me, you might have thought I was slut who enjoyed fucking. Yes, but I was more. I did enjoy men, I really did, but always on my terms. I use men for

1 – physical benefits
2 – financial rewards

As guys obsessed about me and as I taught them that while they might well believe if I fuck them, they win, I lose, that they’ve taken something from me. It simply wasn’t true. I swear it, men, people, anyone, takes nothing from me I don’t care to give. And it wasn’t simply about fucking but also about personality, about how guys are reacting to me.

Dani took her lead from me and between us and the guys we were an easy going amoral, innocent connection who did a pretty good job of being both close and far apart. Of them all, I honestly felt Ernie had real love like feelings for Dani and that if the gang weren’t in the way they would have dated seriously because Dani definitely preferred him, but she loved me more and wouldn’t sign out of the posse for love.

These years, I had an inkling of self-doubt. I kept on thinking to myself: “Em, you love no one” and yet, that isn’t exactly how I acted. Perhaps I had empathy, perhaps I had the level of empathy where I cared for those I cared for but I didn’t really think I had it at all. It was strange, like a zig zagging emotional crux as to who I was. I needed, I insisted, on being only my own person and when I was more than that it was because it was easier to pretend love than to show indifference.

There is that about me that simply does not care. I can’t care, I have to live my life. Perhaps it was the idiot savant in me, that I saw love like an equation that needs to be balanced on both sides. I kept looking at my Mom and wondering how, if she loved Tommy Young so much, why did she not mention him for ten years? If she could do that to the man she loved most, why not do it to me?

She who doesn’t learn from her mistakes is doomed to repeat them, when I thought of Mommy all I thought of was a mistake that turned my childhood into a living hell, only a fool would not learn from them, would not see in her a person who could fall in love again with another terrible man, and throw me over with ease.

Me, I think I’ll call it my sociopathy based upon experience. I think that if I wasn’t deeply distrustful I would have had to have been a true sociopath. And I was a good actor, I didn’t show how I really felt, I kept myself hidden in view, I never showed how I felt, I don’t know. I have a terrible, ferocious temper, which I keep in check at all times and I am the only one who knows that if I am pushed the wrong way, I can be dangerous.

In those Senior High years I felt as though I was the person I wanted to be, I denied love to men the same way my dad and step-dad denied it to me. I was happy to hang out, talk, play video games, let my friends practise on me as I practised on them, and was never hurt or confused by it. I didn’t feel as though any man had power over me. In a world of cheap cars, walks in the woods, endless summers and drives to Myrtle Beach, we were free, or perhaps I was dreaming? Maybe I should say I was free, except how was it freedom? Freedom to be very, very guarded?

One weekend, a coupla years ago, everyone was elsewhere except for me and Alf. I hadn’t fucked Alf because he wasn’t my type and because he was so shy and introverted I’m still pretty sure he is on the spectrum. We had made out during the kissing game. You know how in any group you get the leader, the second in command, the quiet one, and the clown. Alf was the quiet one. And I could never be bothered to draw him out. It was hardly my job. Alf has blonde hair but straw like, as though it had been over conditioned, and a belly, he didn’t exercise and he smoked pot day and night,I’d known him for years and never so much as saw him on a single date as he tried to define Incels for soon to be adults.

So I seduced him.

It wasn’t very difficult and it also really tempted my patience. I’d been at a party the night before and ended up in David’s car, I sucked him off and then threw up and then we fucked and went back to the party and slept on a mattress on the floor. And then we fucked again. I had a session planned with a guy for $300, a tricky 40 something, at 11am, so I drove home and slept some more and showered and drove to the trick’s house, and spent 75 minutes but more than half of it discussing my career -I had just about decided to follow in Mom’s footsteps once I graduate, if I didn’t get the scholarship… which I did. I hoped to end up at CalTech or M.I.T. after my sophomore year if I could transfer. Anyway, after the trick I went home and back to sleep. Around 4pm I was awake and bored and the thing about Alf was he was always looking at me and his eyes were like lasers and I wondered and wondered: should I do it?

I texted him:

“You looked cute last night”

“You didn’t even notice me”

“Yes I did, you have kind eyes”

“Don’t play with me, Emily”

“What do you mean????”

“It confuses me when you are kind…”

“Haaaa, maybe when I’m hungover I become gentle”

“Did you get drunk?”

“And how… I was so drunk I would have let anyone hit me up, even you…”

“You would have?”

“Maybe, if you had gotten me in the right mood”

“It’s not too late…”

“You are attracted to me? You never show it?”

“How can I when you are always surrounded by guys?”

So we met at the bowling alley “Tens” but we didn’t have a game, we sat at a table, drinking beer, watching the pins fall. One thing I liked about Alf is he wasn’t a talker and after figuring this was a date so he had to talk and gave up after my, count em, fifth grunt as a reply. I had another beer and he suggested we go back to his place. “Do you have any booze?” I asked, weed wouldn’t be enough with this guy. We went home and killed a bottle of wine, and it wasn’t enough. I sent him out to get another bottle as I lazed on his bed. I was half asleep when his father walked in, Alf, being a moron, hadn’t locked the door. He looked at me, alarmed, maybe in shock, and said, “Oh hello, Emily, I didn’t realize he had friends over…”

“Alf is off to get supplies, I hope you don’t mind me hanging out, just hide all valuables,” I joked. He laughed back and gave me that man look… you know what I mean, the one that is like a creepy compliment, I was in leggings and a hoodie, looking like a sleek, sleepy cool cat, and it is one of the great joys, and also uh ohs, of my life that I can just exude hotness. He sat on the edge of my bed and then moved closer, I didn’t care and when he moved to kiss me I let him. Just like a dumb fuck guy, his wife was downstairs and his son could return any second, and he couldn’t control himself. Needless to say Alf walked in and his dad pulled back and Alf couldn’t believe his eyes and so he didn’t.

The sex was terrible, Alf was undoubtedly a virgin so that makes three cherries I’d broken at a minimum and not something I particularly want to do. Speaking of threes, three strokes and he was done. I didn’t mind. I didn’t care. I now knew something I hadn’t known about him, and also, I think I helped turn himself around a little. He has a girlfriend now.

I took a shower, wouldn’t let Alf join me, and drove home. Jackie was on the same sofa I am on right now, sucking her thumb, and watching MCU’s latest movie. I pushed her over and she snuggled next to me, Grandma and Grandpa and Mom were natterring and Mom brought out a chocolate cream cake and we cut it in five and said less. I assumed Alf would tell the guys but I didn’t care. They weren’t things that could particularly hurt. As it happens, maybe because he was so lousy in bed, he apparently didn’t tell the guys.

Five of six, that day, I had finally gotten around to fucking five of them and the sixth was gay.

Then Mom started talking about “Tommy,” the father who never returned and I truly wish she wouldn’t. The truth is it is much easier to love a man, a Tommy Young, when he wasn’t around. And Mom’s stories had the feel of myth preserved, as though it wasn’t what really happened. Grandma didn’t interrupt her but I wasn’t in the mood for it and I didn’t believe a word of it. So I asked Grandma, “Is that the way you remember him?”

“That’s a good question, I don’t know for sure what happened to Tommy but I do agree with Mom that something happened, and that it was covered up because a man like your father doesn’t walk out on life…”

“Every guy I’ve ever known has walked out…”

“You didn’t know Tommy,” Mom interrupted.

I just glanced over and then closed my eyes. As I did now, Valentine’s Day 2041.
Waiting for baby Marie.

So I was lying on Grandma’s sofa, looking very pregnant, rubbing my stomach, and wondering “does it matter that she will be black?” I asked the question aloud, said to the TV screen, shaking my head in a mix of wonder, nausea and my standby mode: indifference.

“Just because a baby has a black parent, it doesn’t mean the baby will be black” Grandma said, putting down her knitting to point a needle at me. “It is possible a baby born of miscegenation, isn’t born black at all….”

There was a silence and Mom looked over at Grandma, “It has been known to happen”.

“It’s true…”

I just shook my head in irritation at the obfuscating of the clear cut truth: a half black child can look white.

“Augustus is a good kid…”

“Yes, but I get a feeling my other friends won’t be inviting us around for tea,” I interrupted, having been abandoned by all six of my High School posse.

“Duane, I know…”

“We’ve stopped talking…”

My kid sister Jackie was laying on the carpet, watching a YA romcom on Netflix and sucking her thumb… “I don’t care what color she is…”

“I think we should call her Marie, after Grandma…”

“What does Augustus think?”

“Gus doesn’t get a vote for a lousy $200 a month…”

Augustus isn’t all bad, he loves his mommy, doesn’t that count? Wow, how he loves his Mom and not as though I blame him because I would love someone who does everything for me and leaves me to snooze through life unperturbed.

To my mind, though not my Grandparent’s opinion, it makes no difference what color my daughter will be. In the deep south, my family is the middle ground on southern hostility to black folks, we don’t use the n word in public. I like Duane more but not for racial reasons and not because I love him, but because I have a comfort level with him I don’t share with Augustus… but I don’t love him, I’ve never managed love at all. Not love the way my mom discusses my angelic, invisible dad, the only person I love, or at least take responsibility for, is my half-sister and it gives me hope I’ll discover an ounce of maternal instinct when the baby drops.

When I was young I daydreamed about how loving people feels like, how I might find a way to care for my family because despite being stupid as a brick, Mom really cared for me, for people, in ways I don’t. It infuriated her because I was neither sulky nor disrespectful, but I also didn’t listen to her and didn’t care what she thought of me. When I was twelve we would have had a blow out as she screamed at me for disappearing for a night. I was at my posse’s leader Ernie’s home while his parents were away for a long weekend, leaving his eighteen year old sister to babysit us, though she was gone the moment her parents left for the casino cruise. I spent the night and played the kissing game. Mom flipped out when I got back the following morning. She screamed, she cried, she sighed, but she couldn’t move me and I remained sorry but stoical. I fell asleep at a friend’s house. There was nothing else to say. I knew she would have loved to have slapped me hard but she knew better. As for me, I didn’t care what she thought? I would just smile blandly and nod my head and do whatever I wanted to. Why would I listen to this woman who let men treat her like dirt?

“You don’t fool me, Emily,” she screamed in my face. “I know you just pretend to listen, you never listen to anyone. You are just a little liar who appears as whoever you want to. You should become an actress, use your inability to have a heart…” Then she went for me and Jackie stepped between us and bit mom hard and it kinda ended there.

What else? Oh and neither Duane nor Augustus have a penny to their name.

I last saw Duane six weeks ago, as I sat him down in my bedroom after an hour of moderately inspirational fucking and told him he wasn’t the dad. I was kinda surprised, no way Duane, like me, a signed up member of Generation-19, wanted that type of responsibility so I thought he’d be relieved. But I watched him fall apart at the news. He began to softly cry on my shoulder, then he turned his back, got out of bed and put on his jeans, “How could you do this to me?”

“Do what?”

“Betray me with another man, make me your fool…”

I would have no problem lying to a man, lying to anyone, but that wasn’t the case with Duane. I didn’t answer at first because it was clearly nonsense. Sixteen years after we met in kindergarten, if he had wanted to corral me and burn my tush with his branding iron he should have said something a long, long time ago. Which was my reply.

“You’re a liar,” he replied, tears running down his face, snot on his nose. “My love for you was clear to everyone but you, don’t tell me I didn’t love you or want you when every time I tried to, you shut me down and up… I loved you.”

And I noticed the past tense.

Duane took my virginity when I was fourteen, and I’m twenty today. A business acquaintance whose name slipped me as I pocketed the $500, was my 26th male lover and there is another five women, not including Christina, a married woman with a taste for pussy I am having sex with now, I can add to that. So that’s my headcount and while it isn’t a professional hit list, it wasn’t all fun and games either. I thought I wanted someone with money to take care of my daughter and myself, but that isn’t reality. The men have never supported us, we are all about the women. Men are playthings, they are not to be trusted. Hell, Christina has given me much more money than Augustus can ever afford. Christina is a doctor in her mid-30s (her nickname is Dina, Dr. Christina) with a residence at Duke University Hospital and a husband and tween boys, and who needs little excuse to pursue her passion for girls. She’d make a good father to my girl, not that she has any interest in being one. I’ll tell you exactly who will love my girl:

Jackie
Mom
Grandpa
Grandma

That’s it, not even Augustus’s Mom gives a shit though, to be fair, I don’t know if Gus told her. Not even me. I wish I wasn’t pregnant but sadly, raised in the church and stuck with a belief in God, I couldn’t bring myself to have an abortion. And even if I could, that means taking a trip to the coasts where I could actually get one. Yes, we Southerners don’t believe in killing babies unless they’re Black, or Asian, or Latin American.

I leaned over the side of the sofa and threw up in a bucket, wiped my mouth with the sleeve of my hoodie, and closed my eyes. I never knew my dad, my Mom lost both her Granddads before I was in kindergarten (-one after the other, a double whammy for Mommy), and none of us can go back even two generations of this ripe family tree, not helped by not being welcomed by either dad or step-dad’s family in the slightest. We are Southerners but not those Southerners. I listen to hip hop and dance and some teen stuff, we have black friends and lovers and that isn’t just post POTUS Kamala Harris -we were always like that. People on the coasts miss this, of course. I never understood why I can’t fuck men from all spectrums of society. On the other hand, my boyhood friends have stopped calling because… because they are racists? Not quite racist but part of my relationship with them revolved around my promiscuity, I like to fuck and I fucked five of the six over the eight years (and made out with all six) and because of my coldness managed to maintain the same relationship (people fuck for many reasons, I do it for physical pleasure and money).. .No, they stopped calling because women intimidated them and pregnant women intimidated them more than most, showing the way to a future with responsibilities they didn’t care to imagine. And they don’t like fucking pregnant women. But they’d be back soon enough, and it’s not as though I really care.

The first time I had sex was, to put it non metaphorically, anti-climatic. You know why, right? It did improve with time though it was always a less than perfect meeting: either he was too big and hurt me, or too small and got lost in there, and unless I was really drunk I couldn’t get off. Masturbation worked some of the time and through a long series of orgasmic give and take, I realized that if I let somebody go down on me, it would bring me close to the edge and sometimes over the edge. It was classic nymphomania, fucking, being left unsatisfied, fucking again. On top of which, I simply didn’t like men very much though not a misandrist as such, more a misanthrope, my hatred for people of all genders ran silent, ran deep. The move from disliking men to wanting more than minimum wage was simple and not moral, financial. If you can go from minimum wage to $500 an hour, what moron wouldn’t? By the time I was sixteen I had a sexcam gig and by now I have bumrushed prostitution and have thought about when this is over, I might try escort. You can make 20K a night in New York City with my looks, and if I can kill my southern drawl. Whatever I decide, I know I can’t live like this, my Mom and Grandparents can’t feed another mouth, we have no money and money is what we think about all the time.

For me, it started with clothing. A gold, taffeta, nightmare of bellowing, second hand uncomfortable cheapness that made me itch. That fucking homecoming queen dress had gone from my cousin to her kid sister to a friend of the family and back to me, being nipped or added to every step of the way until it looked more like a birthday present with a big bow on top of a nearly hot fourteen year old with braces that scraped Duane’s dick when I blew him. The dress billowed in the wrong places. No wonder I fucked Duane that night… anything to get the damn dress off as soon as I could. When I remember it, what I see is as though from a picture far above, as though the grass below me and the sky above had opened up at exactly the same moment and all that was left was the golden dress like an eagle’s wings soaring, and me the rider on my back on its back trying to reach my cell which kept ringing with an old Metallica chime, “Enter The Sandman” gift that Grandpa Willy Smith had bought for me because he was a heavy metal fan in his youth and couldn’t think of another way to share it. I bet Willie had been a white Gussie, I bet he got married because he couldn’t hide the way Tommy Young did.

I should have realized when it didn’t matter more, when fucking Duane didn’t make me love Duane, that love was gonna be a problem. Duane loved me but I never gave him an emotional attachment, I never bonded with him at all, and it made him feel insecure. I’ve heard about how couples bond post-coitus alone together in bed. I never have bonded. Oh, I’ve cuddled and if drunk enough, even fallen asleep in a man’s (or woman’s) arms, but I did it for them, not me… I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of them without overplaying my isolationism when I was drunk, when I saw sober it was easy. . And while Duane may have been my friend in Junior High, he wasn’t in High School when Brood and his friends were mine, as far as I was concerned there was no way I wanted to ruin my High School experience tied to Duane, tied to anyone. Not even Danielle -my best friend now but she had a big time crush when we were seventeen and I let her get me off, was allowed to get in my way.

Mom sat down next to me on the sofa, my head in her lap and my sister Jackie lay on the floor watching a reboot about a girl who makes out with her best friend’s brother in a kissing booth.

Who thought that pulling out early is a form of birth control? It isn’t. Why did I do that? I didn’t consciously want a child, I just figured it was worth the risk and it wasn’t. I am not in love, I’ve not been in love… it is all a transaction, whether for money or not, for folks as poor as I am. Whoever I choose to fuck better have something to give me in return, I deserve it.

I can’t help but feel that poverty has its own set of rules. How poor is poor? Compared to what? There is the rich guys – a strata of rich kids at NCU, and another strata of blue collar good old boys I’ve known all my life, but boys are boys. I did meet a guy with money last spring before I got pregnant. I knew he was slumming, Noah Friedman… I knew it, but people don’t know what they want until they get it. I wasn’t very attracted to him but so what, at least he wasn’t in college or retired, but an attorney trying to get into local government… I couldn’t pull it off, I missed something he wanted in a wife; perhaps a little too Southern, drawly, white trash-y? I was nineteen and he was twenty seven, we met at a bar in Chapel Hill where I was with Danielle getting sloshed after hours at class and hours at our shift at Target -the money going from a to b, in theory. Until Noah, a nerdy looking guy like if he grew a beard he could be Hasidic. There aren’t many Jews in North Carolina, less than 1%, and they don’t precisely assimilate. But the younger ones do, and Noah was certainly friendly enough. He looked like a cliche of sorts, like a man in pursuit of a shiksa. I was going to fuck him that night, but his car was so fancy, a self-drive BMW, and I rode shotgun, and there was something so rich and also, so unsuspecting about him: Noah looked as though he didn’t expect me to fuck him and I made a note that if I wanna marry him for his money, I should hold off on the sex.

We dated for a couple of months but I couldn’t maintain his interest, I never met his family, and it soon became clear that I wasn’t the sort of wife he wanted -at least at first sight, though given a coupla months more I could have faked it. He stopped calling and I didn’t pursue, pursuing men is a waste of time… that wasn’t how to get what you want. Anyway, how does his money help me? My Grandparents, the Youngs, are very, very rich, they haven’t provided me with a fucking dime.

I work at a country club three days a week as a waitress, the clientele are 90% former captains of Raleigh industry, and they have money. I can see it in their eyes. I can see it as they look at me. The uniform waitresses wear are very conservative but the bodies inside the uniforms are anything but, we are on the lookout. I worked with the same three girls till I started to show last month, and while we didn’t say it, we knew it. Being a waitress like this has its own set of rules and pursuits and it is the pursuit of tips. I was always on the lookout for older men, really elderly, 60s – 80s, who looked lonely and I… I don’t think I quite flirted with them but I smiled and I stood in such ways as to imply there is more to this, that I can be had. Sometimes I was had…

The weather in North Carolina is completely freak right now, it is February and we have already had a smash of 20 feet of snow and the start of a heatwave. And the baby was so heavy, it is like walking around with a backpack strapped to my stomach, all the time.

I think that’s another thing -when you don’t know your real father there is this sense where you don’t know all of yourself, you don’t know what you are capable of because you don’t know what your DNA has done. I think I could have shot Chris dead, but could I? Jackie feels that sense of uncertainty because her dad was just this horrible fucking guy. “Em, I wish you were my daddy,” she used to cry after one of her dad’s periodic meltdowns. “Well, I am Jackie,” I’d reply, making room for her in my bed where she cuddled close to me and listened to Mom crying and step-dad screaming at the top of his lungs. Jackie is one of a handful of people I’ve ever been truly close to, if I wouldn’t call it love precisely, it was as close as I ever got to loving. We’ve gotten even closer since I got pregnant and moved back “I am glad you’re here,” she said when I unpacked in the bedroom that was mine and is hers and now is mine, “but I miss hiding out at your place…” You would think she’d hate me for intruding in her room but she loved having me nearby. “I’ll get another place for us,” I said and her eyebrows upped quizzically, she seems to see me slipping away though that isn’t really true. I am certainly a part of the Smiths (Mommy’s maiden name) family tree of purveyors of useless men lovers, or at least acknowledgers, my dad, Mom’s dad, Grandma’s dad, Chris, Duane, Gussie, the High School posse, businessmen and lonely incels… the list is a riddle of poverty and a fight against it. It feels as though the men are useless financial donors who completely refuse to take responsibility for anything but cash money.

“No, no, no, Emily” Mom almost shouted as I sneered in quiet loathing. “You don’t know your daddy…”

“I know he isn’t here…”

“Your daddy is the exception, he didn’t run away, he disappeared…”

“It doesn’t matter if he is dead…” I replied shaking my head, I know the stories. I know something happened and we don’t matter enough to be told what it is that happened, if any one even knew. But I also know the RESULT is the exact same as if he went out and never came back. Because he did. Maybe he is dead. Maybe he has another family. I can imagine him, tearing off his pandemic necessary facemask and making a peace sign, as fire bombs and rubber bullets explode around him. Streets is watching as he turns and leaves us, to Africa, to Europe, Egypt, anywhere not here with a nagging fiance and me in the oven and his life a full stop the way Marie will make my life an end. I used to wonder if that was what was said all the time to him, if he felt responsible for his black extended family the way the Youngs were not and did not take responsibility in their upper middle class splendour. Was he rebelling against his parents, against us, his family, was he lynched, was he escaping? Did he jump or was he pushed?

I couldn’t really imagine him, not the way I could clearly imagine Jackie’s father. Sergeant Johnson is a monstrous man, a bully, a weakling. I hate him. Hate him. I can remember the stench of his breath and the stale cigarettes, his loudness, and abrupt temper flares. When (step) dad walked into his home after a day on the beat and hours with his buddies, drinking to nothing, the entire house was suddenly on high alert. The scary thing was that there was no way to protect yourself, no protection at all; anything could set him off.

The day I discovered I was pregnant I was four and a half weeks along, mid September 2040, I had just started my freshman year at NCU, and I was ready to play and instead games kinda ended. So I called Danielle and we went to Club Latex after school, a place where girls get in for free and the study of IDs are perfunctory at best, and there are lots of boys to help you drink the night away. It is all mirrorballs and EDM, very loud, very toxic, and I wanted to drink the baby away. I was wearing a glittery mini-skirt and heels, and I had my Emily look: it is all cool self-confidence and sexual deliverance, I looked like a ruffled promise where intimacy meets innocence, and all are punished. I looked like I could deliver a man simultaneously to and from evil: I was up for it. Danielle and I were talking to a coupla guys who were keeping us company and keeping us in vodka gimlets, middle class frat boys, and we started kissing each other because we were drunk and it turned the boys on. And when I came up for breath there was a woman standing by my barstool smiling down at me. It was dark enough for me to be unable to make a clear declaration of age or hotness but light enough for her boobs to leave a lasting impression.

“May I buy you a drink?” She said. I clocked her wedding ring and raised my eyes towards her. “Just a drink or five, I promise” she said and I laughed and she squeezed out the guy and made her pitch. It was a good one and I needed something. And I also needed money so how did I make her know that? It was a tricky contradiction. But one I was clear about, I wasn’t a prostitute or escort or anything, though I think I’ll try it once Marie is born just for banking money…. The thing is: resources… I had no resources; a straight “A” student, with a partial scholarship in Mathematics from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I am in my sophomore year and driving the half hour between the two cities. I was a defining welfare mother making a better lover, with a love of numbers, and I wanted more and if part of that was some form of, let’s call it give and take, so be it. I have two things and I really felt as though I have to use it: I am smart but that is for the future, and I am sexy and that’s for today.

I realized I was sexy at a very young age and thank man, the born predator, for chasing me whether a family friend or a far flung science teacher, from when I was eleven. I got lucky, I got that sex gene at the age of eleven, if I had gotten it when I was ten I have little doubt that my disgusting father would have found it easy to rape and then beat me.

Dina bought me a drink and then another, but anybody can buy you a drink and what I wanted was a steak dinner, and when she said she was hungry I followed her Tesla 2040 in my beat up old Honda Civic, which I got for $500 and put on my Mom’s insurance, because I had to get back and forth from Chapel Hill, and we went to Raleigh’s best steak house. We sat in her car getting double faded, we kissed more than a little but that was it until I had a meal, and so went in. It was 1030pm and the restaurant was thinning out and I got everything, appetizer, huge steak, sides, dessert, the lot, safe in the knowledge I would eat half and doggybag the leftovers for Jackie. Jackie is a wild at heart omnivere, and a good kid. I can’t overstate the case, I swear, A kid sister isn’t like anything else at all.

We sat in the exact middle of the room like a commercial for better living through science as couples paid up around us. I could tell Christina was aching to touch me, wanted to hold my hand, but couldn’t. I ordered a gin and tonic and then another and then another, and my breath smelled of perfume and rot gut, and I was getting my buzz on as she rubbed my leg with her foot beneath the table.

“Why did I get a table facing each other?” she complained.

“I know,” I answered in a conspiratorial whisper, “You could be fingering me now”. And I smiled that smile, full of promise and not written yet. She smiled back and now came the hard part, getting down to the business at hand. How to approach that if she wants a hot nineteen year old blonde she would have to pay? And why shouldn’t she? Dina (her full name is Dr. Christina Giovanni, a nice contraction) isn’t ugly, a little overweight but big boobs and (as I would find out in time), when she was drunk she was both effervescent and very horny. She’s not in my league, looks wise, the way I was nowhere near her financially, we had to meet in the middle. Money. I wanted her money, if she wanted me she needed to pay to play.

It is sad I guess, I don’t feel as though “oooh, what a pity, I have to fuck to make a decent living…”. It just is. That’s the Christian in me, I have a form of obedience to God and take much pleasure in Mary Magdalene (was that the right Mary? Is it Mary Of Bethany?) and go forth and sin though when I’m ready, when I’m cool financially, I’ll go forth and sin no more. Not now. Now I had a baby and no resources to protect us. Also, and I really believe this, if God didn’t want me to use my gifts, my natural beauty, sultry innocence, baby doll heat, why give it to me? It is part of His great plan, or maybe He is just another guy… ?

Dina was chill and having fun, I was two people in one, smiling sensually and with interest and inside I am trying to maneuver her. Maybe two years ago, I was trying to get this guy in Myrtle Beach where I was on Spring Break, and I am kinda implying money and it seemed alright with him, we went back to his motel 6, did a whole lotta coke and we fucked for so long I thought I was gonna fall asleep mid stroke, but then it was over and I went to leave and not a penny. Sure, he paid for the drugs but that wasn’t what I needed. I knew this wasn’t gonna happen this time and I knew how to move from asking how she did so well in life, to telling her about how I was studying at NCU, and working two part time jobs (Target was the other) (three if you include my transactions) and it usually worked: “I’m so busy, you might never see me again after this,” I said with a tight smile.

That caught her attention. “That won’t happen, I’ll help you find the time…”

It was enough, really, so why I pushed Dina a little further I really wasn’t sure. “If I stay out much later, I’ll have to miss school tomorrow”.

She had a Louis Vuitton bag, I wasn’t crazy about it, it looked like brown wallpaper, and it cost more than my net worth including my car, and I believed her when she said, “I’ll make sure you don’t lose any money when you’re with me.”

“I didn’t mean that,” I said, although that was exactly what I meant.

“I know you didn’t, but I do…”

She excused herself and I checked my cell, some guy I had an off again, on again arrangement with, and four from Duane Brental. Then a whole lot from my posse, and two from Jackie who was fighting with Mom, and that was it. Dina came back and slipped me an envelope and I didn’t check how much. She must have gone to an ATM, which made the notes all $20s, and from the weight maybe $300, $400. I didn’t count it, I’m not a prostitute and I’m not gauche, I’m a slut who needs money. Later on, I’d gotten it wrong, $1000… I would have fucked her for $200 without coming back for more, at $1K? I was interested.

I know it all sounds a little drab and iffy, and it wasn’t. I enjoyed the sex, didn’t love it, not the best ever, and I never came with her, but I absolutely enjoyed her incredible into-me-ness, she looked at me as though she couldn’t believe her eyes, my slim, tight attractiveness had her holding her breath and she was so overwhelmed with desire for me she began to shiver. I took her home and into my room, double locked the door.

I was hoping to hear from Gussie today. Valentine’s Day and my birthday and I’m carrying his baby so the least you’d expect is a car or a call. Dina sent me flowers, money, a phone call, she wanted to see me tonight but I was getting tired and I put her off till tomorrow. The truth is, it was Gussie on my mind. He is my age and still a child, he couldn’t handle a baby, he couldn’t even handle a girlfriend. This proved it.

I never told him that. I never told any of my guy friends that while I might fuck em, while they might think they are getting off easy in a friends with benefits manners, they weren’t at all. I didn’t love anyone that much and I definitely was not going to let them have my love if they weren’t doing at least as much as my Grandpa did for me. I know there are no jobs out there, I know we are the intelligent face of zero sum finances, and I didn’t expect better. But sex was not a good enough reason to put more trouble into my life. But… I was carrying Augustus’s baby, the least he could do is anything at all.

We’d had an argument the other day, I’d just been laid off at my waitress job and he said I should sue them because they clearly let me go because I’m pregnant and I just shook my head and I could have told him that I made $20 an hour and at that sort of bucks it just wasn’t worth it unless I’m getting big tips, and if I’m pregnant I’m not getting any tips. I’d be welcomed back when I had the baby. Instead, I called him an idiot and turned my back on him, leaving him in limbo. “If you’re wondering whether to stay or go, let me help: Go”. And that was nine days ago, so whatever.

I think there are only two people really happy about this baby (MARIE YOUNG -he doesn’t get to give her his last name, either). Mom is one, Jackie is the other. Jackie is my dry run for Marie, I loved being a big sister so much that Jackie called me Mummy Emily, a name she still uses from time to time. I loved being a big sister so much I could easily mistake it for loving her period. Maybe that’s a difference between the sexes, I enjoyed being needed on that level, it meant everything to me in my preteens that daddy might be an asshole but family is as family does. That’s something I expect Gus to never grasp… I don’t know any man who quite gets it. Maybe Dina’s husband, who is a psychiatrist. I picked up my cell to ask her and put it down again.

So anyway, I’ve been seeing Dina for five month, a couple of days a week. I thought she’d dump me the moment I told her I was pregnant but it didn’t seem to phase her at all. Lying on my bed, getting very post-coital, you know, me drunk, she cuddly, and I figured I could have left it another coupla weeks before telling her and I really, really needed the money (we were all saving like crazy for the big arrival) but once she knew, Dina touched my stomach with a lot more delicacy than she had half an hour earlier, sort of rubbed it and her eyes became warm. “I remember with my boys,” she said. “I enjoyed being pregnant”. I enjoyed the attention and I enjoyed the feeling of my life in motion, becoming larger and more intricate and maybe deeper, but I didn’t define myself as a potential mother. I didn’t want a baby. I didn’t tell anyone that but I knew it, and if I had really realized how little of a mother I would feel,I would have aborted. The truth is, in Raleigh you can’t abort after six weeks, which really gave me a week and a half to decide. Too late now. Thanks for nothing, God.

No, I wasn’t that into Dina physically though I can always rise to the occasion, sort of will myself wet, but I did like her comfort factor. I am tall (five seven) and thin, like all my family, and Dina was smaller and round,, she looked like she could be a mother, maybe my mother. I didn’t prefer her to Duane -I’d been friends with Duane since kindergarten, but I much preferred dating her; when I got flowers and some really pricey chocolates called sublimes I didn’t doubt for a moment it was from Dina. The problem with the Duanes and Gussies is they are emotionally stunted, they don’t know how to express their true feelings and sure, I could read em, I know just how far and how deep it all goes, it was still a drag not being regarded. Duane was in awe of me, Gus had no idea what to make of me.

Mom didn’t know what was going down, and the truth is it was a typical Mom move, it didn’t add up but we needed money and so she didn’t question how I got so much money on minimum wage; she saw life through pink colored glasses and didn’t deal with what she didn’t want to deal with, she didn’t much care as long as money kept coming in, nothing meant more than being able to afford the baby, with KamalaCare taking care of most of the expenses. I would go to sleep and wake up and the baby was always there, always in my thoughts, and she was changing me in some ways. Always poor, always alone, always having to handle life for ourselves, me and Mom never shared a disbelief in human nature, in help, aid, giving: Mom took all the happiness she could get from my birth. When Jackie was born, I sorta noticed what Mom shared with me, I stood close, I protected more, I felt Jackie was my responsibility. After her dad left when I was ten, I just certainly felt even more responsible for her happiness and both Mom and I spoiled Jackie as much as we could. In the household I could tell that Jackie gave Mom what I refused to, Mom wanted to be loved and respected by her children, and one of us did and that one was loved more in return. And now, that feeling I have for Jackie is illuminated in what I will feel for Marie. It’s important. We aren’t like those families on television, there is no man to bail us out. When I got my apartment, Jackie was devastated and only recovered when I let her spend half her life in my place.

Look, is Dina and I just a john and a hooker? No, it wasn’t that. Hookers tend not to invite you to meet their Moms. But it was financial, and I wouldn’t bother with her without money. Also, I bet Dina wouldn’t bother me without money either because it keeps me away from her practise and her family. She calls Mom “Gloria” and mum calls her “Dina” and when they talk there is a sense where they both talk through me. Mommy is a nurse and they can get a little technical, they actually work at the same hospital but it is a huge place and they don’t know each other from there. Mom has a certain chill when it comes to me, she doesn’t ask questions where she doesn’t want answers and her interest in me is there but oblique. She wanted me to become a nurse and at first was training me, but as it became clear I was an idiot savant when it came to maths, she stopped trying and I know she wanted me to bring her back in again to my education, I knew she loved it when I asked her questions, but I didn’t allow her back when I stopped needing her. When I told her I was pregnant I thought she might flip out (she wasn’t gonna kick me out because I wasn’t living there, though if she hadn’t let me back it might have proven a problem), but after the initial shock she was alright with it. I think it pleased Mom, she thought I was good at everything I attempted and this mammoth failure made me human. Everytime we get on to any subject I can almost see Mom’s mind ticking over and I know who she is thinking of: my never to be known real life dad Tommy Young, the alive or dead disappearing dad, in the long run he was worse than Sgt Johnson.

And then she’d start in about all the opportunities and how life would have been so much better but I shut her up with an, “If Dad had lived we wouldn’t have Jackie so I’m happy he’s dead”. And I can see her getting upset and I can see eyes tearing up again. For fuck’s sake, get over it woman, I wanna say but I don’t. We know where the pressure points are.

My life goes into three sections

Before Jackie
After Jackie
After the yet to arrive Marie

Mommy’s goes:

During Tommy
After Tommy
During the Sergeant
After the Sergeant

Jackie’s goes:
Chris
After Chris

It’s surprising how completely in the way men can be and I know Mom thinks that my Dad was special because he was studying at NC State to be a civil rights attorney and responsible and they were really getting married. But if he was so special why has what remains of his parents and family never even once seen me? I mean, just out of nosiness. My mom never talks about what happened after his death (if he died, etc), but I am pretty sure his Mom took one look at the fairest of them all, yours truly, and walked right out.

But they were wrong and if they hadn’t been so mean to Mom she’d have proven it (I have no doubt at all, Mom isn’t Suzie Slut, I have the promiscuous gene all to myself). And anyway, you can’t mourn for somebody for decades on end without being serious about it.

I think Mom hopes that having a baby will soften me but I don’t need softening, I need hardening if anything: I don’t want to live my Mom’s life, I don’t even want to work in a University on math theory all my life, I don’t want a sterile life, and I certainly don’t want to be a nurse so much either. What I want is money and if all anybody can see when they look at me is a hot chick, then fuck it, I will be that hot chick.

Some children are worrisome, some are wild, I was neither. I tried to blend in, probably to get out of my step-father’s way as best I could. I was this small, fragile, alabaster doll with blonde hair. We were less poor then, Mom’s salary as a part time nurse and daddy’s as a full time asshole maintained our lifestyle, and if daddy didn’t spend so much on drinks and drugs we would have been solidly middle class. After the epidemic, around the time I was born, Mom had really had enough of nursing but she still needed money so once she got married, she stopped working full time. When I claim the Smith family were poor, I don’t mean we went hungry but rather, a shambolic home we sold, and a creaky, hoarders home belonging to Grandma Marie where we still live in Knightdale, hand me down clothes from our cousins, two cars (but not nice cars), an inexpensive, integrated school district. Liberal to a degree. It wasn’t the worst place for a child and it wasn’t the worst for an adult.

From my earliest age I remember my parents like an incessant roar in the back of my head, a slamming, banging, violent and nerve wracking environment. I slept in my bedroom with the door locked when they were going at it. I must have been six, maybe seven years old. I would take Jackie out of her crib, and we would hide under the comforter, me sucking my thumb, closing it out, and Jackie no longer crying from fear but immediately falling back to sleep as they fought. I would close my eyes and imagine I was somewhere else, sometimes Disneyworld, and levitate out of my body, or at least that’s how it felt. I still do, if not that exactly, something similar when I go to sleep, I can’t fall asleep if I am not under the sheets. It makes it hard to sleep with other people and they get the wrong idea when I throw them out after a shot of coitus, or leave them at their place and drive home. Unless I’m drunk of course… and I drink a lot. I got my first fake ID when I was sixteen (for a cam gig), and have upgraded ever after. In one year I’ll be legal. Nobody cared… Mom couldn’t stop me.

It was when I was four that I became friends with Duane, a brown haired, nondescript boy who followed me around the classroom and protected me from the other kids. Duane was also a lower middle class income home, neither of us had much money, but we both had bikes, and Knightdale is a nice and safe area. Duane and I spent all summer long in the parks, riding round and around. Those earliest years, when the world was bigger, and we thought it would never change, changed when I was first Jackie arrived, and next I was seven and ready for the relentless horrors of first grade.

There is a relentless horror in life, from the moment you can learn you are being given stuff to learn in daylight terrors: sleep through the night, drink your bottle, don’t cry, don’t fuss, potty training, and then leave home for kindergarten… all this and we haven’t learnt about two of the biggies (sex and death). I can’t remember this stuff as well as I might, I do remember Mom walking me to school the first day and then me following her all the way back home. Though maybe I don’t remember it, I’ve heard about it so often it is part of who I am. I do remember Duane and I being part of a duo and that remained the same until High school when I drifted away. When I was twelve I became friendly with the posse and I was lucky in that while we were both at Knightdale High school, we weren’t in the same class. I was fourteen and later that first year he took me to the prom because no one else asked me -dating didn’t really happen, it was more hanging out with friends and seeing what develops. The decision to fuck Duane first is best describe as an act of fear, I didn’t know what I was doing but I knew on some level I trusted Duane more than most guys. And now we are broken up.

In one sense I don’t blame him but in another way, we were not a couple and neither of us were monogamous, so he dropped me not for cheating but because he wanted something that wasn’t. I didn’t realize how tricky it was, even as I replay it and notice how I waited a couple of days to say anything. I waited till my house was filled with Jackie and her friends, and Mom and Grandma and Grandpa and their friends… a quick head count and there were ten people at home when I lead Duane to my room (we moved once daddy left) and he held my hand with a softness of touch I will never forget. Ever since he had learnt I was pregnant he allowed his eyes to shine with a love he had always tried to hide from me and while on one level I didn’t care (do I love him? No. In love? No way). I knocked back a fifth of vodka and we fucked and spooned on my bed and maybe I had done it the wrong way, maybe he needed a little distance to make it real. I think he misunderstood, I think he thought I was going to tell him he was definitely the father, and as he left the room he turned towards me and now he was sobbing, and he put his hand in his pocket and threw a small box at me and stormed out. An engagement ring. I wondered if it was worth any money.

I sat on the edge of my bed wondering if I cared and replaying the afternoon again… We sat there so close, breathing softly in each other’s ears, a little bump not a big one, like I had a pot belly. I could feel him pushed against me and I could imagine his face, so at peace, his brown hair with a floppy fringe, and his legs, as long as mine, rubbed against mine, his green eyes sparkling. I didn’t love him, no, but i kinda liked him: it is easy to care for someone who adores you if they aren’t a needy pain in the ass. After fifteen years of deep friendship, Duane knew me and knew when to push, and when not to. We were friends with benefits, yes, but because I wouldn’t commit, and then, discovering I was pregnant, he thought I would commit. But I wouldn’t have even if he had been the father and when I told him it was someone else (he didn’t know Augustus) I realized I was right not to feel that deeply about him. At first he said “what?” And settled back. And then he said “Wait, hold on…” And settled back. And then he jumped out of bed.

I thought he was going to hit me and perhaps he was but I put my hand under the bed and pulled out my baseball bat from when I used to play in High school… “You don’t need that,” he said with all feeling but hatred drained from his voice. I didn’t respond. “I’m not going to hit you.”

“No, you’re not,” I said. And let me tell you something right this second, I had a guy hit me once and I said nothing, but in the middle of the night I took his beloved guitar and smashed it against the wall of his bedroom, and ran out with him chasing me. I never saw him again, and I want to tell the world that if anyone puts a finger to me in violence I would break it in two. As for Duane,well, I wasn’t surprised. “I owe you nothing, Duane” I said.

“And I owe you less.”

“Whatever, I have nothing to say about what has happened.”

“I do. Raise the bastard yourself.”

“That’s very funny, as though my entire family have ever had a man to help us. Never, ever. All dead or gone. Do you think I expected anything…?”

“Good because you aren’t getting anything from me, fuck you you whore.”

Once it gets to the “whore” level of discourse there is only one thing left to say: “Get out”.
So whoops, there goes the ring again, and he stormed out of my room and two days later he rang but I didn’t answer, and texted but I didn’t even read them. A week later he was waiting for me outside my house as I went to my other, other part time job at Target and ran towards me as I walked towards my battered, home away from home, Honda Civic. I didn’t even look at him, and if he had tried to pull me by the arm it would have been ugly. I don’t expect much from this world and, perhaps oddly, I thought we had been so close for so long, I didn’t expect Duane’s reaction. I wasn’t hurt, I was angry that even my quote unquote best guy friend didn’t care about me so much.

In the car park he approached, “I decided to forgive you,” Duane claimed. I said nothing. “So, is that it?” I still said nothing. “Three quarters of my life and you’ve been the center of it, are you ready to end it just like that?” I kept walking to my car and that was the end of Duane. If he had known me for so long, one would have thought he’d have known my reaction. I’d like to claim I miss him, I don’t. I don’t miss anyone, ever. I am alone.

Before kindergarten, before Duane, I hadn’t really known boys. My life was surrounded by Ma and Grandma and Grandpa was not a male the way you think of one, and that is who life was. Days at Grandmas and nights at home, though I have no distinct memory of it. I do remember going shopping, and being made a fuss off, and I have zero memory of anything else except the loudness when my step dad came home drunk. I remember though I don’t know how I remember my cot in my room and my mom on the sofa holding my hand through the railings. I have no idea how a sofa got in a bedroom.

Mommy dressed me up in the most girlish manner possible, all ribbons and bows, like an explosion of pink puke (at least that’s what I think of those old pictures in files upon files in Grandma’s PC). By the time I got to first grade I had become a tom boy.

I got lucky in first grade, Duane and I were in the same class so immediately the seriousness of first grade was less serious with a friend. Though it led to our first falling out and also a realignment of our friendship… and my first kiss!! My first two kisses!!! Talk about the future written large!!! I didn’t really, or at least I don’t remember quite understanding that I was a girl and Duane was a boy, and I thought I looked very much like an every boy. I guess I didn’t come across that way because immediately boys took interest in me.

I had no interest in girls, and while the girls around me made friends with other girls, when I could get away from Duane I started making friends with boys.I knew right away that it wasn’t the same as other things and I knew enough not to be one of the girls except for physically, mentally I was one of the boys and when Ernie -who would be a ringleader of the posse five years later, the most aggressive kid, in my class kissed me it made me smile and I liked it. Not sexually of course, yet I must have had a deep yearning to be wanted and when Duane saw us kissing he pushed Ernie, and I stepped between them and told them to stop. Later that day (blurry memory, I do think this is how it happened), Duane was at my home and we went for a walk and he asked to kiss me and I said yes. So that was my second kiss. Under a tree in early November. But not my third. When Duane came in for kiss number two I said no, and I slapped him and as he touched his face I laughed and ran off home.

First grade was fun, and I was very popular, with a ton of guy friends, all in the same class, I wasn’t being crossed too often. How this all changed into something else was another question. I could jump straight to Middle School as life just kept on going and we went to Durant Road Middle School and it was there that I started to have friends who were girls, and friends who were black, I smoked weed, and graduated to coke and vodka, and was lucky I didn’t have an addictive nature so none of it was a huge problem at all. After school, we would ride our bikes to the park and play till dusk, and then rush home.

I know I’ve said we are poor and we are poor, once Chris left we were a family of five with one income and never enough to go round. But I was much happier without my step-dad, I remember him slamming the door and disappearing, a drunken mess, in the middle of the night and praying he takes his terrible attitude and never comes back. Even Jackie didn’t like him. I lay on the sofa, my eyes wide open, Jackie must have done her usual and joined me, and I can feel him leave and then everything was just take a deep breath calm and I was happy and I don’t know if I did this but I’m pretty sure I thought it: “You are safe, Jackie, we are safe now”.

As much as anything, we were safe.

And I spent my life on my bike, and with Duane and with my friends, going every inch and all over the Rail Park, and then, if we wanted to play softball, over to the community park. It was a wonderful world, and Knightsdale was a place for kids, I much prefer it to now. Now, I am always in my car on the way to Raleigh or Chapel Hill, but back then, I didn’t go that far away and spent my days with friends and I was the center of attention. Even at fourteen, especially at fifteen.

There was something about those years that feel like a fantasy of childhood, a dream world of energy and playfulness, of school and friends, of running and standing still. My friends claimed that childhood was a nightmare but it wasn’t a nightmare for me, I was free to come and go, to play all day long: see Emily play, as Mom would say referencing my Dad’s psychedelic and peculiar taste in music that lead to my name -I didn’t realize black guys loved Pink Floyd… That’s why I was named Emily. I didn’t mind, I didn’t care, I didn’t feel the need for a past or a future, I loved the moment I was living in.

Because I got it, I understood the difference in the sexes. I felt it the way I understood that my friends who were guys wanted me even while they didn’t know what that meant. There was Ernie and Brood, David Davidson, Tennyson – a great looking guy who was always fending off girls, the four leaders, then Alf, who was overweight, and Denny who I realized early was gay. Except for Denny they were always looking at me, especially once I traded my jeans for skirts. And I felt a certain power, a power that remained until I began to show after I got pregnant, and then it ended. Yes, after being best friends for eight years, I lost all my friends once I got pregnant. I didn’t care. I was already a little tired and very cynical. I had slept with four of em before I was sixteen, and I was an ultimate friend with benefits because I gave sex on only my terms. And we all knew they’d be back.

I can’t remember when we started the kissing game, I would hide in the deep grass at the park and whoever found me got to kiss me. I must have been twelve at the time. The good news was none of the guys ever discussed it, never changed towards me, never bragged. It remained a quiet game of have and have not. I kissed each guy eventually and not just kissed but we made out till we were found by Ernie or David or another guy and they switched places, except for Denny who never seemed to find me. I really loved those early days, in many ways it defined me as a girl willing to be like a guy, enjoying kissing many guys, enjoying touching and being touched. I never felt there was a moral aspect, I went to church every sunday, and I was aware of God and very much so, and I knew this was exactly the type of thing our Pastor was warning us about but I didn’t really believe that Jesus could care if I liked kissing boys.

I see the first years as a move from having a father to being rid of him, to losing my virginity with Duane after the prom, to getting in an accident on my bike and spending three months rehabbing at sixteen … then back at school with a scar going right across my knee.

The accident wasn’t my fault, I was riding back from school the way I often did, and a car took the corner too close and just tapped me. I do remember sailing through the air and thinking “This could be the end Emily… that was too fast, I can’t die now…” My helmet, which I hated, saved my life and the mangle was on my knee when the last of me landed. It was really scary because I had never been really sick or anything, the most traumatic experience before that was a handful of bad colds and covid-19 quickly answered with vaccines. I’d never spent a night in hospital in my life, and, of course, I got emergency to Mom’s Raleigh State Hospital. I remember Mom staring down at me as I was rushed to the operation theatre, and feeling, “okay, good, I wouldn’t die” because she was all business and then I went blank.

Mom and Jackie and Grandma and Grandpa were at my bedside when I awoke.

And that is my family, my real family, the heart of my story. Three girls, a weak man, and a baby girl, and that is everything I even vaguely care about, not love but responsibility. Duane proved his true self to me. I have no doubt that even those closest to me would do the same. My theory is anybody is capable of betraying anyone and justifying it. I have no doubt that if the world could see inside my head, the world would betray me. And men were worse. I wish I didn’t love dick so much because if I didn’t I would go full time lesbian. I want somebody there for me when I’m not there for me, I want someone to surround my life with care. At twenty, is that too much?

I lay in bed for three days, then they started rehab on my knee, and then they wheeled me out. I felt not so much transformed as self-consciously vulnerable, it was very bad. It’s not that nothing bad ever happened to me but that nothing like this had, where my body could be broken. It made me weary. Weary and wary of a world that is up to its neck in doing nothing for me, by guys who just won’t even consider growing up, good for sex and good for money when they are, and that’s it.

And my first clunker, I had a learner’s permit and I spent as much time as I could with a guy name Trev from England, who let me drive him to his college dorm and fuck him.

I first met Trevor after noticing him in Church one Sunday, and following him outside; with red hair, freckles, and pale as fuck shading, much paler than me, Trevor wasn’t really my type but he looked so not North Carolina I was intrigued. So I followed him to where he was leaning against a hideous lime colored but otherwise a nice looking Jeep Wrangler. I liked his accent, he’d moved here a year ago and was at NC State, but he was a little odd, his voice a strange mix of clipped veddy english, and more a sort of street slang. Sometimes his accent was so deep I didn’t understand him at all and a couple of weeks after we first met he told me he was insane over my southern drawl.

We hit it off at once, but when I have an interest in a guy I tend to hit it off right away. He asked to drive me home after church and sitting next to him, he leaned over and traced the scar on my knee with his finger.

But he ended up being just another guy, he was just incapable of taking anything seriously except for weed and Call Of Duty # 571. When I’d go to his room, he’d lock the door and sure, sometimes we messed around, but for the most part I was on Tik Tok and he was playing video games, it was an entire world and one he shared with his real friends, his guy friends. On a Friday afternoon, it would be me, another girl and maybe ten guys, drinking beer, and playing video games. Clearly, it was unsustainable, it wasn’t real: we were like trophies in that Drake song. There may have been affection, and admittedly I wasn’t faithful for a second, but even so me and the other girl (Jana -we never became close), were the outsiders, and we kept out of everything. Jana was impressed because the guys were older than us, I was really bummed because I assumed college men were, you know, adults.

Maybe they are real men, every guy I ever met was exactly like that, they didn’t deserve women with a brain and worse, they were not reliable. Gussie, the worst baby daddy ever, was not reliable. The only man with even the slightest proof that the male sex didn’t define toxic was my real daddy, if you can pretend that what what Mom says is true, he was really cool. But then he did the exact same thing as all men: he disappeared.

I wonder what I would have done if Marie was going to be a boy not a girl? I would have been stuck between wanting him to be a real man and not wanting him to be considered a weirdo. I would have named him Thomas after my daddy but not for me, for Mom, she would have lost it if I’d done that, I wanted to give her something of what she’d lost.

And what if I was a lesbian? A mix of Trevor and porn got me looking at girls with much more sexual, if not emotional, interest. I wasn’t the girl who had crushes but was crushed on by latent dykes who followed me around. I thought of hooking up with one of those girls, just as a lookie look, but I was worried about the devastation after I reject them. So instead, I let my softball coach seduce me (Danielle was my second lesbian thingy). It was very pleasant and since I really didn’t care much about her it was completely painless for me. Last year, I heard where she was in prison after finding another fifteen year old though this time one of whom was deeply infected by it. It is very tricky fucking teachers, somewhere someone is going to get into trouble and I stayed away from the teachers who wanted to fuck me -and every year there was a new one, because I didn’t want them to take it too seriously. I didn’t want it to end up in the public pavilion of shitty taste. As far as I am concerned, I don’t want anyone to really know my business. What difference does it make. I couldn’t lose my lesbian virginity to girls my own age because they would flip out on me, I didn’t know any older girls, so she seemed perfect. It started at a school Christmas Party she was chaperoning, and a drive home after the party was over, and lasted to the end of the school year where she went home to Boston and we fell out of touch. The following year I wasn’t interested and she probably found a replacement. Clearly, sooner or late, her luck would run out and she’d choose the wrong girl.

Since then I had a half dozen sexual encounters and one more relationship, but otherwise it was all dick all the time.

Except for Duane, I had never been dumped by a guy, it was always my choice. But once I did get pregnant, really in the past month, I stopped being one of the boys and my position as the posse member you most wanted to fuck was suddenly in serious jeopardy. Tennyson,, who was the fourth guy I ever fucked and the third most aggressive member of the posse, spelled it out to me. “Widows and the pregnant unmarried are the unfuckable, it is too creepy,” he said.

“But so what? We are friends first, we’ve been friends for eight years, now we aren’t friends because you don’t want to fuck a pregnant woman?” I laughed to myself as I said that, mostly because we were fucking while we were talking.

“No, no… once you have the baby things will go back to normal but it is like you did something we don’t want done…” I didn’t understand. “You’re forcing us to be grown-ups…”

“Well, gosh how shallow can you get?”I replied as he climbed off and zipped up.

“Now you make me feel like an asshole…”

“You are an asshole. What’s the reason for friends if they are not there when you most need them?”

Which brought me to Danielle. Danielle was my first and best female friend ever, from when i was 14 to 18, we remain as close as close can be and I think I would put her on the I actually loved category, if I actually loved any one. But she hasn’t been around since I stopped hanging out and I can’t say I’m shocked.

Loved(ish)
Jackie
Grandma
Ma
Grandpa
Danielle
Marie (my daughter!!!)

Didn’t love
Everyone else

I think, maybe, that didn’t love is something almost ingrained in snuggling. For the most part I didn’t snuggle after sex… occassionally with Duane but no: when I fucked David or Ernie, or Dina, when it was over (I didn’t say when I come, that is still a battle), unless I was drunk I got up and left or kicked them over. Jackie wants to snuggle? Fine. Dina? Not so fast.

With Dani, it reminded me a little of Jackie, as though she was my kid sister. I appreciated her huge respect from me, you might have thought I was slut who enjoyed fucking. Yes, but I was more. I did enjoy men, I really did, but always on my terms. I use men for

1 – physical benefits
2 – financial rewards

As guys obsessed about me and as I taught them that while they might well believe if I fuck them, they win, I lose, that they’ve taken something from me. It simply wasn’t true. I swear it, men, people, anyone, takes nothing from me I don’t care to give. And it wasn’t simply about fucking but also about personality, about how guys are reacting to me.

Dani took her lead from me and between us and the guys we were an easy going amoral, innocent connection who did a pretty good job of being both close and far apart. Of them all, I honestly felt Ernie had real love like feelings for Dani and that if the gang weren’t in the way they would have dated seriously because Dani definitely preferred him, but she loved me more and wouldn’t sign out of the posse for love.

These years, I had an inkling of self-doubt. I kept on thinking to myself: “Em, you love no one” and yet, that isn’t exactly how I acted. Perhaps I had empathy, perhaps I had the level of empathy where I cared for those I cared for but I didn’t really think I had it at all. It was strange, like a zig zagging emotional crux as to who I was. I needed, I insisted, on being only my own person and when I was more than that it was because it was easier to pretend love than to show indifference.

There is that about me that simply does not care. I can’t care, I have to live my life. Perhaps it was the idiot savant in me, that I saw love like an equation that needs to be balanced on both sides. I kept looking at my Mom and wondering how, if she loved Tommy Young so much, why did she not mention him for ten years? If she could do that to the man she loved most, why not do it to me?

She who doesn’t learn from her mistakes is doomed to repeat them, when I thought of Mommy all I thought of was a mistake that turned my childhood into a living hell, only a fool would not learn from them, would not see in her a person who could fall in love again with another terrible man, and throw me over with ease.

Me, I think I’ll call it my sociopathy based upon experience. I think that if I wasn’t deeply distrustful I would have had to have been a true sociopath. And I was a good actor, I didn’t show how I really felt, I kept myself hidden in view, I never showed how I felt, I don’t know. I have a terrible, ferocious temper, which I keep in check at all times and I am the only one who knows that if I am pushed the wrong way, I can be dangerous.

In those Senior High years I felt as though I was the person I wanted to be, I denied love to men the same way my dad and step-dad denied it to me. I was happy to hang out, talk, play video games, let my friends practise on me as I practised on them, and was never hurt or confused by it. I didn’t feel as though any man had power over me. In a world of cheap cars, walks in the woods, endless summers and drives to Myrtle Beach, we were free, or perhaps I was dreaming? Maybe I should say I was free, except how was it freedom? Freedom to be very, very guarded?

One weekend, a coupla years ago, everyone was elsewhere except for me and Alf. I hadn’t fucked Alf because he wasn’t my type and because he was so shy and introverted I’m still pretty sure he is on the spectrum. We had make out during the kissing game. You know how in any group you get the leader, the second in command, the quiet one, and the clown. Alf was the quiet one. And I could never be bothered to draw him out. It was hardly my job. Alf has blonde hair but straw like, as though it had been over conditioned, and a belly, he didn’t exercise and he smoked pot day and night,I’d known him for three years and never so much as saw him on a single date as he tried to define Incels for soon to be adults.

So I seduced him.

It wasn’t very difficult and it also really tempted my patience. I’d been at a party the night before and ended up in David’s car, I sucked him off and then threw up and then we fucked and went back to the party and slept on a mattress on the floor. And then we fucked again. I had a session planned with a guy for $300, a tricky 40 something, at 11am, so I drove home and slept some more and showered and drove to the trick’s house, and spent 75 minutes but more than half of it discussing my career -I had just about decided to follow in Mom’s footsteps once I graduate, if I didn’t get the scholarship… which I did. I hoped to end up at CalTech or M.I.T. after my sophomore year if I could transfer. Anyway, after the trick I went home and back to sleep. Around 4pm I was awake and bored and the thing about Alf was he was always looking at me and his eyes were like lasers and I wondered and wondered: should I do it?

I texted him:

“You looked cute last night”

“You didn’t even notice me”

“Yes I did, you have kind eyes”

“Don’t play with me, Emily”

“What do you mean????”

“It confuses me when you are kind…”

“Haaaa, maybe when I’m hungover I become gentle”

“Did you get drunk?”

“And how… I was so drunk I would have let anyone hit me up, even you…”

“You would have?”

“Maybe, if you had gotten me in the right mood”

“It’s not too late…”

“You are attracted to me? You never show it?”

“How can I when you are always surrounded by guys?”

So we met at the bowling alley “Tens” but we didn’t have a game, we sat at a table, drinking beer, watching the pins fall. One thing I liked about Alf is he wasn’t a talker and after figuring this was a date so he had to talk and gave up after my, count em, fifth grunt as a reply. I had another beer and he suggested we go back to his place. “Do you have any booze?” I asked, weed wouldn’t be enough with this guy. We went home and killed a bottle of wine, and it wasn’t enough. I sent him out to get another bottle as I lazed on his bed. I was half asleep when his father walked in, Alf, being a moron, hadn’t locked the door. He looked at me, alarmed, maybe in shock, and said, “Oh hello, Emily, I didn’t realize he had friends over…”

“Alf is off to get supplies, I hope you don’t mind me hanging out, just hide all valuables,” I joked. He laughed back and gave me that man look… you know what I mean, the one that is like a creepy compliment, I was in leggings and a hoodie, looking like a sleek, sleepy cool cat, and it is one of the great joys, and also uh ohs, of my life that I can just exude hotness. He sat on the edge of my bed and then moved closer, I didn’t care and when he moved to kiss me I let him. Just like a dumb fuck guy, his wife was downstairs and his son could return any second, and he couldn’t control himself. Needless to say Alf walked in and his dad pulled back and Alf couldn’t believe his eyes and so he didn’t.

The sex was terrible, Alf was undoubtedly a virgin so that makes three cherries I’d broken at a minimum and not something I particularly want to do. Speaking of threes, three strokes and he was done. I didn’t mind. I didn’t care. I now knew something I hadn’t known about him, and also, I think I helped turn himself around a little. He has a girlfriend now.

I took a shower, wouldn’t let Alf join me, and drove home. Jackie was on the same sofa I am on right now, sucking her thumb, and watching MCU’s latest movie. I pushed her over and she snuggled next to me, Grandma and Grandpa and Mom were natterring and Mom brought out a chocolate cream cake and we cut it in five and said less. I assumed Alf would tell the guys but I didn’t care. They weren’t things that could particularly hurt. As it happens, maybe because he was so lousy in bed, he apparently didn’t tell the guys.

Five of six, that day, I had finally gotten around to fucking five of them.

Then Mom started talking about “Tommy,” the father who never returned and I truly wish she wouldn’t. The truth is it is much easier to love a man, a Tommy Young, when he wasn’t around. And Mom’s stories had the feel of myth preserved, as though it wasn’t what really happened. Grandma didn’t interrupt her but I wasn’t in the mood for it and I didn’t believe a word of it. So I asked Grandma, “Is that the way you remember him?”

“That’s a good question, I don’t know for sure what happened to Tommy but I do agree with Mom that something happened, and that it was covered up because a man like your father doesn’t walk out on life…”

“Every guy I’ve ever known has walked out…”

“You didn’t know Tommy,” Mom interrupted.

I just glanced over and then closed my eyes. As I did now, Valentine’s Day 2041.
Waiting for baby Marie.

Part Two
Gloria Smith, 2020

Gloria stood outside Tommy Young’s home, crying, crying, her mask was wet and falling down her face and heavy with child, with Tommy’s child, the tall, attractive girl, just eighteen demanded what from her baby daddy’s family?

“Nothing,” she said. “I want nothing…” That was into the intercom, “I just want to know he’s alright.” And then she could feel the heat get to her and a wave of nausea mingled with a heaviness not from the baby, but from an unanswerable fear. It was a week since Tommy had kissed her goodbye while she lay in bed, contented, aware that where she was is where she wanted to be. They had discussed marriage, Gloria wanted to be married and so did Tommy though not quite at the same time. Tommy wanted to graduate first. After Tommy graduated, Gloria could be the housewife and mother she’d always wanted to be and Tommy could save the world as a civil rights attorney. They wouldn’t be rich, not at all, but even with just one salary it would be enough… and anyway, not everything he did had to be for the greater good, there was money to be had.

“We don’t need them…” Gloria said, referring to the Young family and their black post-antebellum wealth. “We don’t need anything, Tommy, you’re gonna save the world and I am gonna save you and the baby…”

“I can’t believe it, I’m so excited. Sometimes, I just want this world, I want this family…. I want to go to work and save people who are being hurt and come back home and kiss you and be with you. That’s it, Gloria. I feel as though I’ve found it all and the reason is you,” he replied and it seemed like a truth revealed to Gloria, like words she had waited her life to hear and she began to well up with tears, with happiness, with the sense that while life’s a bitch it doesn’t matter: you can have it all. “I can’t wait, Gloria. I can’t wait for my life to really begin and I can belong to someone, somewhere, where money doesn’t matter, and my parents don’t matter. I love them but…” Tommy went quiet, a quizzical expression crossed his face as though he had no answer whatsoever for what he wanted from his parents.

“If I could change color…” Gloria mused….

“Would you become black for me?”

“I would love to, if it made your life easier…”

“What if the baby is black?”

“What if? What if it is white? What if… It will still be yours…”

Tommy hugged her hard and kissed her hard and she could feel that wavering of love that seemed like the indicator on a car, that if he was confused and a little scared, she knew he loved her with all his heart and she believed that was enough, and that was a week ago. The fifth night of protests had ended up with Proudboys interfering and #BLM angry, and fighting on the streets of Raleigh. Gloria had been snoozing in bed when her mother came in. “Turn on channel nine,” Marie said and the screen was filled with dust and masks, and a battle scene raging through Raleigh. Mom looked worried and the worry began to seep through Gloria, a terrifying sense of horror. She picked up her cell phone and called him.

“I’m alright,” Tommy said. “It’s scary but it is what we live for, to really manage to answer back…”

“I don’t care, darling. Let’s fight another day, get back to me…”

“Soon, darling. I’ll come home soon.”

“I love you,” she replied and he didn’t hear her, he had put the phone down on her.Her famous last words

And then slowly, from her anxiety being put away it began to race away, an hour and then a day. Gloria had Marie called his family, and the conversation was short. They were in touch with the police and they would come back with information and that was that. The next day was filled with an overwhelming silence, as though he had gotten lost somewhere and everything was stopped once and for all. Gloria moved from her bedroom to the living room, her ears like radars listening for the phone, keeping her cell phone charged and looking at the screen all the time,. Everytime anybody called, it was like a heart attack and for one moment her eyes would glimmer… “he’s back,” she would say, “Tommy is back and he must be safe in hospital. Where can he be?”

Marie and Gloria closed up the world that day, Marie moved into Gloria’s room and held her as she cried and cried. Marie couldn’t really read it, it felt as though perhaps Tommy had escaped, she knew his family, the definition of black upper middle class worried that without Trump they’d come for their money, didn’t want miscegenation, didn’t trust or need white people. Tommy had two brothers and a sister and except for Tommy they all planned to join Young Manufacturing, making affordable knockoffs of casual wear for the sodden classes -a series of five factories so strong that even a pandemic which had closed down the factories, couldn’t knock the Youngs off their perch of luxury. Abraham Young was the new black business leader, he worked from a position of so much money and strength, rising from middle class to rich, where racism couldn’t much hurt him, that he didn’t so much forget his roots as much as have nothing to do with his roots.

Abraham had spent his youth in full rebellion from his father, Tyrone, who had spent two years in prison after running a red light and having a scary altercation with two policemen. Tyrone went before the judge still bruised and beaten, and while he couldn’t get it down from a felony to a misdemeanor it was abundantly clear what happened. He punched the cop after being thrown out of his car and onto the road and pummeled. The two years was a favor to the truth.

Tyrone was furious and well beyond anti-white, he looked around him and all he saw was men and women abused the same way he was and once he was out of prison he spent hours on end lecturing his only son on the horrors of white america. He died of a heart attack at the age of 47, and Abraham knew he would not go out that way. The hatred of white folks had eaten at Tyrone, “this is a stain,” he told his wife and kid. “It makes us no better than rappers and drug pushers when we are outstanding members of the community. We are America and they want to change us into defeated criminals.

Tyrone had had a steady job before his incarceration, and Abraham dropped out of High school and got a job as a salesperson, going to the poorer community clothing stores and selling leisure wear at cut rates. His father had not done that, his father had remained on the main drag of Raleigh and his ten regulars, Abraham ran with the idea back to his father’s roots and sold in the areas white salespeople wouldn’t go to. His success was immense and intense and within five years had bought the entire business off his boss and renamed it Young Manufacturing. To Abraham’s mind, it proved that you could not play the game and you could make money.

Yet he didn’t really believe it at all, Abraham tried to hide his children from the effects of institutionalized, and illegal, Jim Crowisms, even as he embraced and made a fortune by selling to the black community exclusively. Tommy considered it the height of hypocrisy being told to make money off poor black folks and still ignoring their trials. And yet, he didn’t entirely care, part of him remained cold towards the black experience.
The closest he came to the black experience was being enrolled in public school, a 90% white public school.

There was no one Tommy trusted enough to discuss his feelings with, he didn’t even explain it properly to Gloria who simply considered his interest in civil rights a normal occupation for a rich, black, man. And Gloria’s inability to to understand was an irritation.

Sitting in her living room with a movie about the Black Panthers streaming, he tried to express his contempt with all sides of the equation. “We are 10% of the country,” he said, shaking his head, “and if you include the liberal caucus there is no reason why we can’t protect ourselves. It is infuriating. Something must be changed from the inside out, it must be done behind the scene and quietly with the hidden. There are people who are hidden and they run things and that is exactly who we need to reach out to…” Gloria stared at him with love and with respect and admiration but without much understanding and it drove Tommy crazy. “Why are you looking at me like that?” he snapped back and he scowled so while Gloria was too in love to notice, a third party might have found his reaction worrisome.

Tommy was one of three most popular boys in the school, a position he maintained through diplomacy and humility. While his two best friends swaggered, Tommy never did. He was kind to the younger kids and circumspect with girls, always careful, never pushing, always concerned that, as his mother Trellie would put up, “he wasn’t being set up for a lynching”. He didn’t even date Gloria till he had left the school.

His two best friends would talk about conquests and gossip about everyone, but Tommy knew better. One of the great lessons in life: if you don’t want people to know something, don’t tell them. This was especially true of sex, where Tom would say to himself silence begets legends and anyway, he looked better when the girls gossipped about him and not vice versa. It was also a lesson he learnt as he got in touch with the antifa, loosely connected protests, to remain quiet. In Raleigh he had some cachet with the brothers who would have loved to have involved Abraham Young in the movement. Speaking with a team leader when Tommy first approached the Antifa, he was made aware that they were aware that his father had gone to prison, and they were also aware of what happened to his mother. The movement had gone to Abraham Young for financial support and had been turned away, as far as Abraham was concerned, two years in prison had taught Abraham one thing, to keep his head down. He had lectured all four of his children: “Politics doesn’t feed you or keep you safe, only I do that. Keep away from the politics of racism and let money and family protect you.” Tommy had thought, “Well, perhaps it will but it did nothing to protect daddy.” He wasn’t aware of why Mom hated white people so much, but his knowledge of his hard as nails Mom Trellie suggested that at the very least she had good reason.

In High School, his skin pigmentation was a mark against him, but his skill at sports and physical attractiveness, and lack of aggression, more than made up for it. While Abraham was a Herman Cain, Tommy was a Barack Obama: he took angry black men and he turned it on its head, and was made head of the student council where he was born to reach a compromise on all matters: he was a naturally politician. Both of his parents hated it, it was too public and too unnecessary, but his friends knew he was born to the role of peacemaker.

Or not.

It was easy for Tommy to connect with the black underground in college, his friends connected him up, he went to meetings, he listened to the rhetoric and he joined in almost as part of his ongoing attempts to decide how to live in a racist USA.

At meetings for #BLM he became a spokesperson and the voice of reason, he recruited (both black and white) college friends and reached out to Latin Americans still smarting from losing Texas, nd the AIPC community where the elder statesmen saw no mutual ground but the next generation of K-Pop loving math students sure.25% of the nation were other, and of hr other 75% more like 40% were liberals, that gave him 65% of the country on his side if he could only reach them.

Tommy told nobody in his family about his growing connection to Antifa, an Alice going underground, multi-layered political action and business action leadership that worked behind the scenes. Hefelt as though he was nearing a place in the world where he could be free of racism and expectations, where he only thing that mattered was goals.

The other lesson he learnt was that as a black man in far from a post-racist moment of time, he was less human and more a role model for black men succeeding in a white world.. As people go, Tommy had it all except skin pigmentation and when he was in his early teens, attempting to blend in, he would daydream about being exactly the same only with white skin. The most clear manifestation was his loathing for the entire original gangsta boom bat post-modern rap music, he preferred white boy prog rock. His teammates considered it a funny eccentricity and when he had “See Emily Play” on the loudspeakers before every at bat on the baseball team he championed he even got through to the parents..

Both Tommy’s father and mother wanted and expected great things from their youngest. The other three kids were better behaved but they weren’t charismatic, they weren’t grandly loved by all, they weren’t being groomed. They lacked charm and they didn’t demand the respect that came to him without him even asking.

Tommy wasn’t sure when he became completely disillusioned with his family, but it came down on him like waves of depression that he kept hid from everyone. Sometimes, he thought he wanted to save his race from the white devil, and sometimes he was the white devil. Sometimes he acted his age and other times being big man on campus didn’t matter in the slightest. By the time he met Gloria he was in his senior year and slowly and carefully had made his way through cheerleaders and prom queens, friends, lovers, his teammates… he was so self-aware he read his affect on people and reacted to what he didn’t realize he knew.

“I’m warning you,” his father had said. “Keep out of it… somebody somewhere must matter but for you, it doesn’t. Close ranks, Tom, have your money be a buffer. Learn business. Learn money.”

Tom didn’t answer but simply nodded his head, something most people took as agreement but wasn’t at all. Deep in thought he predicted a middle ground that occurred elsewhere in the set of true power… if he could only get there.

Perhaps that was Tom’s greatest secret, for a football star he was a deep thinker and believed himself not a contrarian but a man obsessed with what chuck D one called the man beind the man paying the man…

Gloria first noticed Tommy when he was quarterback for the football team at her High school, way out of Gloria’s middle school league, he was an incredibly handsome and strong godlike figure. Gloria in the last row of the High School Football stadium, cheering in the distance and Tommy on the field throwing three touchdowns and one interception,and losing the inter-Carolina High School championship. The very next day, Gloria was walking to class with her girlfriends when they passed Tommy. They all had a crush on him, of course, in the battle of hotness Quarterback didn’t matter if it was Quarterblack. Gloria was in the choir at school and part of a production of a light opera: “Nothing venture, nothing win…” and then as she walked past Tommy she stopped in stride, right in front of him and she said the words to him, though she assumed it wouldn’t mean anything… “Nothing ventured, nothing gained, you are our hero, your self-respect is our success.”

Tommy stopped, and, thinking back to six years,he had a glimmer of something that wasn’t quite reflected in Gloria yet. But it would be. He just stopped as well and the other guys, his friends, walked by. He smiled at Gloria and said, “Your first year…?”

“Yes, everything is so… you were great…”

“Thank you but sadly not good enough, we’ll get them, though I won’t because I’ll be at NCU.”

“I admire you more for the way you lost…” This made Tommy, there is no other word for it, giggle. “Not on the inside…” he laughed.

Gloria smiled up at him, “You know it’s all alright, things will work out, I promise.” He blinked and kissed her on the cheek then ran and caught up with his friends. It was March, 2014 and everything was before them.

Gloria and her Mom didn’t leave their home that week, because of the pandemic, true, but mostly because they kept imagining Tommy walking through the door and back into their lives. Even the baby, Gloria was already calling her Emily in her head because when she was discussing babies names with Tommy it was the one that stuck, took a break from her constant kicking. Tommy listened to mostly 70s funk and r&b tilt somewhere he got a taste for progressive rock and first heard David Bowie’s cover of “See Emily Play” and then the original. He took a deep dive into Pink Floyd, and when he came up for air he had his daughter’s name with him.

Marie Smith hugged her daughter Gloria, both of their masks taken off, as they sat in the afternoon light of a scorching summer with the air conditioner whirling weakly in the background and Grandpa in a deep sleep while Netflix played Black Month every Month tales from the crypt of the USA. Marie was 18 when she had Gloria, and was 36 years old as she and her only child waited for nothing to happen. Tommy Young had been at the protests a week before and never came back.

Tommy Young thought often about his responsibility as a well off black son, his great grandparents were slaves, but the Young family, his grandfather, put that behind him. Daddy had spent his life teaching his children that it was up to people of color to improve their lot. It was something he understood completely and for the longest time adhered to personal responsibility before a pre-Gloria girl widened his perspective and his father’s stint in prison narrowed himself as he re-considered Jim Crow. Did he love his fellow man, did he want to give them the life the white devils had stolen? Part of Tom was wanting to be a superhero, to change the fabric of the very world he lived in by any means necessary. And part of him agreed with his Mom, that trust shouldn’t be given, and that you can’t negotiate with European and white former slave owners who had purged the country of native Americans as they broke every treaty they ever signed.

His twin older brothers agreed with Daddy, that they should be insulated from both the black and white communities, and his kid sister believed that change could happen from within the system and Tom would’ve noticed he had more in common with her than anybody in his family, except he had no interest at all in her. But Tommy wasn’t like any of them. He suffered from an excess of empathy and also the opposite, he couldn’t see how he could save anything, how protests, how politics, how anything was left for his community but bread crumbs filled with cyanide. And he would blame his Mom for that. The twins had each other, and his sister was the baby of the family, but the ties that bound Tom and Mom were strongest of all. His softness, so in contradistinction to his strong physique, moved his Mom to tears sometimes. And it was Mom who showed how what his father would say was weakness was another strength entirely.

From a child, he was enthralled by his parents’ stories of how the family lifted off the shackles and made the roots strong. How his Great-Great Grandfather ran away, and ran away, and ran away, and finally they caught him for a fourth time and whipped him and strung him up for everyone to see. His Great-Great-Grandfather on his father’s side was a legend. And in one way, he was like his Great-Grandson in that he ran away despite the danger it brought to his family, he ran away for himself first, he had to be free.

The stories would fill Tommy’s brain and he would daydream himself to before the antebellum, and imagine he was saving his relations from slavery, buckling them into a flying saucer and shipping them East, or Africa, or the United States Of Africa. It is a story he told himself before he went to sleep every night, of heroism where the hero isn’t tortured to death. Then, as he grew older, he saw all the ambiguities in the story, all the question marks, and engaged in another question: is he free even now?

His father considered his family completely free and his run in with systemic racism didn’t change Daddy’s opinion. Yet, somewhere, sometimes, racism seemed as clear as clear can be and Tommy realized that people, white people, often didn’t see him. Even his closest friends. They didn’t get the movements that occurred for people of color, they didn’t hear it or notice the looks of strangers, the feel of being observed because you are not a good person. It was a stigmata that they refused to acknowledge.

Except Tommy couldn’t hide from it, always tall, his body size was imposing and misleading, he wasn’t the person he looked like. Tommy was sensitive to everything, he was sensitive to racism, to people’s fear of him, and mostly he was sensitive to a life he didn’t love or respect. In a High School that was 85% he realized immediately what the other was and why, and he adapted his personality and that made him a loner in his early teens. But he was good at sports, and good at complex thoughts, and he was popular with girls and he was popular with the football team as he worked his way up.

It was a carefulness that lead him through three serious romances, a white girl, a black girl, a Puerto Rican girl, before he was sixteen, and a less serious dabble with same sex. There was a gay boy in the same class that everybody teased and Tommy just thought he was quite brave in refusing to be intimidated by his peers. Tommy liked that, it was the way he wanted to be: Tommy wanted to refute racism by humanity the way his friend Tony did anti-homosexuals. Tony was flamboyant yet sweet, he managed a very difficult plank to walk between being who he both was and was seen as. Tommy started hanging out with him and when his friends questioned him explained it very straight forward: he wanted to learn how to stand up for himself and Tony knew how, plus he liked Tony. True. Tommy left this semi coming out till he knew his reputation could withstand it, but he did it nevertheless. Tommy was alright with the some of the mechanics of gay sex, he let Tony give him a blowjob and they gave each other handjobs, but their one attempt at anal sex didn’t come off: Tony was too tight and Tommy kept losing his erection. They drifted apart and Tony hooked up with a deeply closeted tall boy (Tony’s big thing as it were). Tommy was privy to the romance and while it wasn’t really discussed, the teasing stopped.

For the girls, Tommy was empathic and interested but it made him appear a little weak, girls say they want good guys and they might, but with Tommy only up to the place where they were and not more. All three girls ended the relationship, two of the girls dropped him for friends of his. Tommy’s gentleness with the girls was effective till it wasn’t. Girls wanted him to be jealous, wanted him to notice that other guy’s wanted them, and he did yet not all the way. They wanted to be wanted more than he wanted them. The truth was that perhaps true love would have changed him and yet true love, even puppy love, even infatuation, was not for him. He tried to intellectualize it away but it wasn’t till he met Gloria again two years after he graduated at a party that something that hadn’t been there was suddenly there.

Why Gloria?

Why did Gloria get through?

The truth was, she didn’t, not really. He recognized her at a post-school dance, the school hangout in Raleigh, who were always one complaint away from having their liquor license revoked. The place was loud and crowded with a steady diet of pop music filtering through the sound system, and teenage desire on the floor, and in the corners. Tommy was three beers in, and, at sixteen, Gloria hadn’t had a drink. He approached her with a shout of, “I know you…” Gloria suddenly wanted nothing more than a hard drink. Ever since the day they met she had noticed Tommy but she was in the wrong group of friends, in the High school pyramid Tommy had been on top. She shouted back “Vodka Tonic” and Tommy took her hand and led her down to the quieter basement bar and bought them drinks. She liked to remember that date as an immediate meeting of minds, but even in the basement it was too loud so Tommy took her to the coat room, deep inside, among the coats lost forever, he pulled down a few and lay the on the carpet, they were close to each other and Tommy went in for a kiss and was shocked when Gloria pulled back with a sharp, “I’m not that girl, Tommy. You should go and find someone more that speed,” and she got up to go.

“Woah, girl. What offended you?”

“What offended me was you think I randomly make out with guys I’ve just met.”

“We haven’t just met…”

“Really? Where do I live…?”

“Nearby…”

“What’s my name?”

“Gloria Smith”.

That stopped her in mid-momento… ““How do you know that?”

“You never missed a game that baseball season, and after we talked that time you would be someone I would look for…” Gloria wished she had a mirror, she didn’t think she had but maybe she had blushed. Tommy was one of several crushes that pushed Gloria through High school, but Tommy was the most serious crush and she would daydream about him noticing him at a game and shouting, “That dinger is just for you, sweetheart…” Sweetheart? She had never heard anyone call anyone sweetheart… “So do I get my kiss…?”

Gloria had no idea why she admitted this to a twenty year old, but she had to tell someone. “I’ve never kissed, I mean kissed kissed, anyone before…” It was too dark for Gloria to notice but Tommy’s smile lightened, and suddenly, after all these years, he could feel himself giving into a deepness that he had never felt before. It might have been craziness to imagine that true love could appear in a moment of strange intoxicated words. Tommy never thought he could be shallow enough to care whether a girl he liked had been with other guys, he assumed it, and yet her innocence was exciting, sexually and romantically exciting. Also, she might well be someone he can have without having to answer to as he decided upon his life.

Sitting on the coats in the back of the cloakroom, Tommy moved his face closer to the sixteen year old, “May I kiss you?” he asked. Gloria moved back just an inch, and then moved close as she nodded her consent. For Tommy it was a moment of romantic love, he felt more manly, more caring, more saviorish and also hidden, lying, hypocritical, for Gloria all the lust she ever felt seemed to boil over in the kiss, it was the most exciting sexual moment of her life and she breathed in his smell, vodka and boy man, firm and soft. She pulled back and said “Oh, my” and then she looked at Tommy and thought it over and said, “You may kiss me again”.

It would be a year before she gave him her virginity and three years before she was pregnant, but after that second kiss it was over. All Tommy wanted was the enraptured sexuality of Gloria, the way she reacted to him as though he was a God of Love. They were inseparable, she was his date for everything. And while Tommy still hung out with his friends, he stopped looking for girls, stopped pursuing them, he had exactly what he wanted -the perfect cross-pollination for a black politician -a white wife would answer every question about whether he represented all Americans. And a quiet, worshipful, not keeping up with him white girl was even better.

Proving that to his parents was another matter. They didn’t mind miscegenation in theory and yet despite the cloak of the middle class that covered the Young family, they simply hated white people. Abraham Young was a borderline alcoholic, who went through a bottle of Scotch a day, mostly during the night, he’d turn on some sitcoms from the 70s, The Jeffersons, and empathize with George’s borderline ferocity. “This is true, this what they don’t tell you about making it in the States, it is much more difficult for the black men attacked on all sides” And Trellie would listen quietly but she was, if anything, angrier with white people, white men. Mr. Young had lectured a sort of trust but verify list to whiteness, he had white friends, and a sexual relationship with a white woman at his country club, that he managed to maintain discreetly for nearly a year before a cash payment got her and her husband off his case. But for his own children, the two eldest and his daughter were groomed for upper middle class black family life, and seemed fine with it. Mr. Young had certainly assumed Tommy would be even more rigorously segregated as he proved himself a student of black life in the USA.

Abraham had been if not pro-Trump in 2016, not completely against him either, while Young considered Trump- anti-Latin Americans, he didn’t quite see him as racist at this time, and voted for him. “Better the devil you know,” he’d warned his son. You can always see the GOP on its way… but the Dems are hypocrites and will stab you in the back… “I would rather be hated than patronized. The fucking Dems treat us like children and expect our loyalty but everything is window dressing with them. They think we owe them when they owe us, and as for the black community… don’t get me started”. But he despised getting taken for granted, hated that the Democrats took his vote for granted. Mrs. Young felt the same way in theory, in practise when the time came she felt she couldn’t vote for Trump and voted for Hilary. The twins followed Daddy, his sister didn’t have the vote yet and in 2016 Tommy missed it by thismuch but had no doubt he would have voted for anybody but Trump.

Trump arrived when Tommy Young was at the precise place he needed to be to want to become an activist, to use his brains to defend the defenseless, to right the wrongs. . By 2016, this was a daydream. He thought of maybe getting into politics but the one time he he ran for head boy he didn’t enjoy the way it put him back on his heels, made him at the service of people in a way he didn’t want to be. And it took away from an equally great love, sports. Young disliked politics, he disliked business and didn’t want to follow his brothers into the family car dealership, he didn’t want to proselytize and didn’t want to become a journalist, but he knew what he wanted to do more than anything else on earth and that is hide behind the scene and direct huge changes.. He wanted to serve without servitude, and not from the Church, the pastor, anywhere but something deep inside of him. He wanted to save people and mostly save himself from an ordinary world with what Janelle Monae called a crazy classic life, like Janelle he believed all of his friends were kings except… he didn’t have such close friends. “I have a Jesus complex” he said to Gloria a few weeks after that first kiss, after Smith, though only sixteen, knew she wanted to be a nurse and leaving Tommy sensing himself on the wrong end of their four year difference.. “Nice try, hon, but Jesus wasn’t black…” she replied. Tommy had a sudden rush of anger, who thought there were no black Jews? Of course there were, and he wanted to answer, to snap at her, but he stopped himself.

They were sitting in Tommy’s BMW outside PDQ Raleigh, eating shakes and fries and chicken sandwiches, Gloria so relaxed and as happy as she had ever been wiping Tommy’s chin with her napkin. And Tommy so oblivious to everything but the ticking of his brain. “My feeling is that there is a society in place and I can find a way to work within it. Racism is so lazy in North Carolina that I can’t help but feel a different way exists for black men and women, a way where we are at one with the rest of the USA… maybe I am daydreaming of it, yet I can see how I can be more than I am. I don’t need the world ‘s approval and I don’t need the world to see me do it, but I need it done…” ” Gloria just beamed and Tommy smiled back. “You think it’s a good idea…”

“More that a good idea, Jesus can save people’s souls, I can save their bodies, and you can make sure that the bodies I save are worth saving…”

“That would make us matter, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, we would matter and our children will matter. We want to make a difference and make a difference is all that matters to us. We have that one thing that stabilizes us, me, Tommy, we have true love. We know that hole in other people’s souls are filled in ours, with us. We have each other, Tommy, we aren’t alone, we are safe from life in each other’s arms and so something that kids waste all their time worrying about doesn’t happen here at all.”

Tommy stared at her steadily and he said something he had said for the first time merely days before but now he said with a certainty that was like the opening of his inner being, his inner meaning, and everything he was. “I am in love with you,” he said and Gloria began to cry tears of real joy just as she cried tears of real fear and horror the week after Tommy had disappeared, into the silence of the Young Estate through the intercom, till Trellie set the dogs on her and her Mom.

Trellie knew Tommy, wherever he was, would have wanted her to comfort the poor girl, and she wanted to even within the terror that possessed her, but she couldn’t. Every time she went to speak to the Smiths her hands shook and she fumed at the mess Tommy had left and she was terrified for him, because she knew what it meant.

If Tommy had ever met his mother as a child, he wouldn’t have recognized her. I don’t mean physically, physically her oval shaped face was as much a signature as a fingerprint, but her demeanor, her intense pleasure in her secure, loving household, was nothing like the mother he knew. An only child, and the center of family life, she wasn’t spoiled and had to work her Mom to get her own way… but she always got it. . Her Daddy called her Princess. “Daddy, am I your Princess…” she’d ask him with a false questioning look she had to exert superhuman powers into not making a huge smile.

“Yes, you are the world’s Princess…”

“And nothing will ever, ever hurt me…?”

“Nothing will hurt you but mom might get mad if you don’t do your homework,” he’d reply, moving her off his lap and back to the floor. And nowTrellie would giggle and laugh, secure in her world, her orbit. Scared of nothing… Though Mom would call her too sassy for her own good and that made her laugh as well.

Trellie Devout was born in the mid-1960s, the third attempt by her mother to have a child, and there would be one more miscarriage before Angelou Devout settled for for a smaller family than the one she hd hoped for. She made up for it by being the South Park’s go to midwife.It was a job she loved as much as being a housewife to her husband James. James was one of the most cheerful men, a bus driver well known on his route and a lover of his family, consisting for James of Angelou despite her moodiness and Trellie, named for the grandmother she never knew.

It was a home home, from her earliest days Trellie played all day long in their backyard and on the streets in the childhood neighborhood teeming with kids her own age. By the time she graduated kindergarten she ruled her home and she ruled South Park, her life was filled with people who loved her, friends, families, teachers, they all responded to the sweet natured girl and nobody more than her daddy, a gentle giant of a man who never raised his voice to Trellie and when Mom shouted, James would lower his voice an octave and shake his head. “I’m so disappointed in you” he’d tell her and down came the tears. Angelou would get mad at how easily Trellie played on her father but James loved Trellie’s love and the two were inseparable best friends.

There were children her own age all around her and during the summer the streets were filled with playing street rules games, like you could not be caught when a car was on the road, everything stopped till it went past. In winter, she would nest at home, sitting with daddy, watching saturday morning cartoons. Life was food, Wednesday was meatloaf, friday baked chicken, Saturday pizza and Sunday the Grandparents visited and leg of lamb fed them all. These were the happiest days of her life but Trellie would forget them, even when her dad died from diabetes while she was in her second year of college, she didn’t remember him or her earliest days. She didn’t bring the skills of love her father had instilled in her to her own marriage and children.

When Trellie first went to kindergarten, Mom walked her there but dad changed his bus timing so he always picked her up at the bus stop outside the school, it was another way that her life was where she wanted it. Sitting behind the big wheel of the bus, James was in charge of his small world and Trellie was in charge of him. Whatever else might be going on, the sight of her daddy driving towards her filled her with love and hope, dreams of a life that would never be anything but blessed.

This ended at the age of twelve.

The Trellie that Tommy knew arrived on one very hot summer afternoon in 1979 as she rode her park from South Park to Knightsdale . A year before the walkman arrived, Trrllie had her transistor radio in the basket on her bike, and disco music blasting, along with dollops of funk and r&b, as she sped down the street with one eye on the cars surrounding her but without a fear in the world, she’d been riding her bike since she was six, she knew how it was done. Her childhood ended as a twelve year old who ventured out of South Park on her bike and riding randomly through Knightsdale, she was being tailgated by some white guys in a pick up truck, tailgating where one nudge would kill her.

Wearing flaired and fadedv jeans, a rainbow colored shirt and braids, Trellie wasn’t scared, she waved carelessly to the boys in the flat top and they waved back, yes, they were white, but she wasn’t in Alabama and Trellie was essentially an innocent, she didn’t think anything bad would happen to her because nothing bad ever did and anyway, daddy would save her.

Trellie looked old for her age, but not that old, and she was aware people, men, were looking at her differently. Still her parents, her family, her world, was where it should be. And who would harm her? Trellie was always biking, the constant movement left her at a peak of fitness, and with a self confidence she had worked on all her life, and this summer came to a magical fruition, it was 730 at night in July and the sun began to set as she biked away from the white men in their confederate shirts and flags, and towards her home in South Park.

But they kept on following her, and Trellie realized that the shouts coming from the flatbed were not particularly friendly.She felt a new and unpleasant sensation, a shot of adrenaline that made her body tingle with self-awareness and her ears prick up, her large brown eyes flit from side to side, she swept up and sped up, turned direction mid-street, and she gripped the handlebars till her knuckles were red, and still the men followed her, sometimes behind her, sometimes in front, guys in the late teens and early 20s with long hair and country rock blazing from a cassette player, sounding aggressive and welcoming the boys to further levels of outrage as they shared a six pack and smoked pot, laughing loudly on the quiet urban street, folks driving by them paying no attention to the enfolding story. She could make out features and memorized the license plate and she thought maybe if she warned them, but she had reached a small side street and rode in, and there, in the middle of an empty street where garbage bags waited patiently for people who couldn’t reach them, she stopped her bike and took her a deep breath. Her hands were shaking and she felt as alone as she ever had. For a moment she tried contacting daddy telepathically but it didn’t seem to have any effect. She thought she could wait there and maybe they would go away. Or maybe they’d follow her down the street by foot.

The driver and the other four men had had enough, but the ringleader, Spencer, a hollow, Aryan monster not yet 25, wouldn’t hear of it. “She’s ripe for the fucking, I bet she’s a virgin. I’m telling you, we will never get this chance again.”

“What if she goes to the police?” a younger member asked.

Spencer laughed loud enough for Trellie to hear them and wonder what they were doing. “Do you think anybody gives a shit? Ha, if she goes to the police she will end up in jail…”

And so things stood, she heard more talk and thought it through, if they came to her they’d
be on their feet and she might be able to bike past them, or if she biked out they could only be at one end and she would guess the one she came in. With no urge to patiently await her fate, she decided to make a dash for the further exit to the street and biked as fast as she possibly could, her curly pony tail swinging back and forth with frush sound and as she got closer she couldn’t see them, she’s out guessed them. Trellie looked around her with relief for one moment before the flat bed was back in front of her forcing her to break and all she could hear were the men laughing and then coming for her.

She didn’t cry, she didn’t speak, she closed her eyes and waited for it to be finished, feeling soiled and desperate.

Two weeks later, she awoke in hospital surrounded by her parents and still scared and hurt and brutalized. All she could think of was revenge of getting these monsters and killing them with her bare hands. She remembered what they looked like, she remembered the license plate. She would go to court if she had to, she would see them in hell. Zdad would see to that.

Nothing came of it.

The police all but blamed her for instigating the rape and showed no interest at all in following up on the license plate.And her father, he didn’t want a confrontation either and just like that, her favorite person in the world ceased to matter.

Trellie didn’t hide her contempt for her father, “If it was my daughter I’d track down them down and kill them all” and she daydreamed about doing so, about exacting revenge. She couldn’t figure out what to,but daddy should have -even if it cost him his life. James was less scared and more paralyzed, murder isn’t easy when you aren’t used to it. If James had seen one of her rapists, he would have pulled his head off his head but he didn’t, he’d need to find them and he couldn’t. James tried to explain himself and Trellie said nothing, just stood at the door of the living room, her eyes wide and her mouth in a downward spiral that was her default setting ever after. “I don’t care if I die killing those bastards, Trellie, but I do care about you and Mommy and even if I could find them, they’d come after us, no doubt. You’re young, you don’t understand how these things work…”

Trellie walked out the door as James continued speaking, she didn’t turn round and she never forgave him. “It is like being abused twice, I am his Princess and he is too scared to protect me…” she thought to herself. She couldn’t stop replaying it. In the air were their shouts of racist abuse and comes on, and on her radio was Chic and the songs mixed with Lynyrd Skynyrd in a mixing that didn’t fit but were also inseparable; laying on her black motionless, disconnected.
She could hear them calling down: “We’re waiting here nigger girl…” the words floated towards her, not one voice but several and none any nicer than that. “Come and feed on white dick like your slave nigger Grandma before you…”

At first she thought she’d recognize them and for a while every white guy she saw she recognized as one of them. It took years of therapy and even then she never came all the way back. That first time, maybe a month after the violent rape, she was walking down the street with her girlfriends when a white teen, around the right age, smiled at her from the opposite direction and she wanted to scream, wanted him arrested and nearly collapsed all in a split second, and then she recognized him as a friend from Junior High and she held her breath and breathed out and smiled back. In a practical sense, she realized not every white man wanted to rape her, but it didn’t help when you figure that one in four black girls are sexually abused by the age of eighteen.

All those numbers just fundamentally changed Trelle, from an outgoing, trusting girl to an attentive and hidden girl. She hated her parents for lying to her and her father for not protecting her, and it never changed. She didn’t have one proper conversation with him again. Not even when he was dying. There was a disconnect between what she said and what she thought. And when Trellie looked at Gloria she saw the daughter of her rapists and told her to get away or she’d call the police.

Gloria was devastated but not surprised. She had been dating Tom for two years before she met his parents and he might not have even done that except Gloria refused to give him her virginity until he did. “My parent’s opinion means less than nothing to me, it is totally irrelevant…”

“Really,” she snapped back. “How many times have you been to my home?”

“It isn’t the same…”

“It couldn’t be closer to the same…”

“No, they would upset you. You’re right, they are bone deep haters of white people and they would completely resent you. I don’t care, G, it doesn’t matter. I would laugh in their face. But why would I put you through that? Why would I let them be cold and unwelcoming and indifferent? I can’t do it to you…”

“Then you can’t get laid… I must know your family…”

The evening wasn’t a disaster, his parents weren’t rude and his brothers weren’t disrespectful, but there was an ice cold atmosphere and a distance that seemed to go straight from Trellie’s eye’s to Gloria’s hearts.

Driving past the gates, they had driven by the family mansion before, she wasn’t intimidated, but ones she got into the grounds Gloria found herself holding her breath. She had never been near real wealth before and the green rolling grounds, the tennis courts, swimming pool, man made lake, you looked around herself in complete awe at how it looked. Tommy took his hand off the steering wheel and squeezed Gloria’s thigh, “It’s nothing, G, it’s just money”. The money hadn’t phased her before, Tommy had made sure she understood they wouldn’t be getting any of it, anyway, so what did she care? But knowing your boyfriend’s family are rich is one thing, seeing it up close is another. There were gardeners gardening, maids scurrying from one part of the estate to the other, pool boys, security people patrolling with vicious looking dobermans, a huge yet unlived in grounds. It wasn’t ostentatious, it wasn’t theVersailles, it was strictly utilitarian, and without affectation: plain and sturdy, sexually neutral, even color blind with nothing that might point to the daily being people of color.

Then she noticed and asked Tommy, “those maids, are they white or…?”

“They are or….” he responded. Latinx, from South America, Trellie employed only people of color and if they were undocumented she got them documents. “Let’s get a majority of anyone other than white people, let’s overwhelm them with us, let’s take it over…” she would tell James and James would just nod.

She realized almost immediately as she sat alone in a huge dining area with his brothers and sister and his parents led him elsewhere. There was no shouting but the whispering was furtive and negative.

There were people serving them, housekeepers like Miss Havisham impressionist treating Trellie as though she was the lord of the universe and Trellie neither negative nor positive, just, there was a sense of privilege and also, this was something Gloria noted as possibly what could not possibly be fixed under any circumstances, a superiority mixed with inferiority. Once the family sat down, his dad took over and went right into a well practised lecture, started from the midway and now we are here. Young Textiles was a major provider of inexpensive but sturdy clothing for the poorer neighborhoods, “my jeans, my suits and sweatshirts don’t fall apart after a washing, you buy them and they remain yours.” Within the Knightdale community he was a legend. “And I’ll tell you why, young lady,” his daddy said. “Because they trust me, even white storeowners, even department stores come from all over Raleigh to buy from me. I give them the best deals and I give them better than the best clothing. They hear my name and it rings with confidence made from the 40 years of hard work, respectable work. Do you believe in hard work. Gl, Jan… er?” James blanked on her name.

“Gloria Smith,” his wife interrupted., and Gloria looked aghast at Tommy, who didn’t say anything at all, just smirked as though he was enjoying every one’s discomfort

“Yes, Gloria. They see my name, they see Burton Young…”

“Except Burton isn’t your given first name, “ Tommy noted, rolling his eyes.

“And Burton Young is something all the money in the world can’t buy, it is a name you can truly trust and a name my family is proud of.”

And… he didn’t give the punchline but she could hear it in the back of her mind, like a mantra, “and it is a name you will never be a part of.”

It was a sad, soul crushing meeting. And any dream Gloria had of her being accepted in the family died on the vine. Still, it was important to Gloria to understand Tommy, important to know that the scarred from racism Youngs were not the scarred by racism Tommy Young. She didn’t believe anybody got through life without being tethered to abstracts that had nothing to do with who they were and she saw in Tom, perhaps always had, somebody who lived right through the abstractions to the other side, ignoring what she didn’t want to see. “It’s not wrong if part of his love for me is to teach his parents a lesson. It is a good lesson about, well, acceptance, and joining together.”

After meeting his parents she could see the opposite of her mother’s open house policy, a standing invitation to be with one of the greatest parents of all time… Gloria’s parents didn’t divorce but her Mom, known not as Marie but Birdie to one and all, didn’t practise monogamy and all Gloria’s life there had been a succession of lovers appearing and disappearing and at least subconsciously, Gloria’s refusal to be promiscuous was her own act of rebellion. Birdie’s succession of men, hidden in the open, scared Gloria and made her feel insecure, as though the foundation of her family life was faulty. Birdie let Gloria know what she was doing because she needed her for cover, while Birdie wasn’t scared of her husbands reactions she was smart enough to know that people had their breaking point.

Abraham Young knew what was going on but he didn’t want a divorce, didn’t want the break up, and as long as he wasn’t forced to know he pretended he didn’t know. But it made Abe very sad and Gloria felt the power of his sorrow in her very bones and speaking with her girlfriends about love made a vow to never pointlessly hurt anyone. Abe had blonde hair turning gray and then white, he had a droopy face and a smile that seemed to edge downwards. He remained quiet, spending his days reading crime novels while listening to 60s jazz. So quiet he could go a day without saying a word. Gloria adored her father but she couldn’t respect him and the household wasn’t loud or violent, it wasn’t like Tommy’s and his families brittle anger, but it was a depressing childhood.

After the dinner with his parents they went home and Tommy took Gloria’s virginity in a pleasant though not earthshaking first time. Afterwards Gloria wanted to discuss the dinner but Tommy wouldn’t and while she ignored his refusal to open up, and, indeed, would forget about it, it was another sadness that was patiently awaiting her.Tommy wasn’t one to open up, he kept his council but Gloria just knew he loved her. Another question that would arrive soon: Would Tommy tell the Youngs about his daughter, would he keep it a secret? How difficult, “People all have their sorrows” she would say to herself.

Tommy didn’t know how he felt, he just knew that Gloria was not his intellectual equal and while he didn’t love her he way he claimed, he planned to his life tethered to the unremarkable woman. In bed with a member of the antifa management, Tyrese Jones, he tried to explain why it made sense to marry Gloria, “I need the right woman so I can hide in plain sight, if I’ve learnt anything this past six months I’ve learnt this, don’t say a word so you can work in he background…”

Tyrese was a nerdy but cute black kid, who believed in armed conflict with the white America. When they first met, Tyrese and Tommy argued often about their roles in the war with the USA. “They have alll the strength,” Tyrese claimed not without reason.

“Yes, but we have the stealth, we are behind the scenes, they don’t see us coming and they have no idea where we are going….”

“It’s more complicated than that.”

“It isn’t really,” Tyrese answered testily.

“If some form of Antifa has been around since the black man was shipped, who is to say there isn’t someone else behind them, if there isn’t something, somewhere, pulling the strings…”

“We need to answer violence with violence…”

“There is something we aren’t being shown, something to do with power well beyond our race wars.”

Tommy shared none of this with Gloria but he didn’t have to because she believed that his presence in her home and in her life was answer enough and then he cemented it.’She got a true answer just a week before Tom disappeared, when he went to her dad and in an act as profound and old fashioned as losing your virginity to the man you plan to marry, Tommy asked for her hand. Gloria wasn’t entirely part of his life, but he preferred her family to his own, and he wanted to be a part of her home life. In his sophomore year at Duke University’s School Of Law, he lived on campus because his parents could afford it, but listened to his law books on an audible variant, during the hour he spent driving between Gloria’s home and the campus. He wasn’t particularly faithful and used sex aas a tool, still he didn’t love anyone, and in that sense loved Gloria more than he loved any one else.

Plus, Tommy couldn’t resist the backstory, couldn’t help but adore how it read.

Gloria had cried at his graduation, happy tears and also sad tears. She was very worried that even an hour away might end their relationship, she could see a possible end in sight, this was October 2016 and it wouldn’t be the first relationship where distance made the heart go colder. Tom didn’t ignore her feelings, he didn’t know her feelings; Gloria didn’t mention them, didn’t pout, her only outside showing of emotion was just pride. And it soon became clear that her biggest problem would be falling asleep at night while Tom studied all night with her Spotify Premium playing neo-R&B all night long. The low buzz of SZA and the bright table light were new accompaniments to her life and she really enjoyed it, as a seventeen year old girl in love, it deepened her everything knowing that he could be at his parents home and he could definitely be living in the dorm, and he always came to her, always stayed with her, he loved her so much he went to her to study because it was a calm, quiet haven, something he knew through intuition if nothing else

Before March 2020 when the pandemic hit, he’d organized himself that were like an iceberg and it all happened under the surface, his politics a private thing, a way to change the world or at least cash in on it.

.Depending upon the day, Tom would be home by late afternoon, Gloria would vacate her desk and let Tom take it over, she would lay on the bed doing homework, than they would join her parents for dinner, an arrangement tha, after some arguing, paying rent and getting his meals with the family.

It actually took a real argument for the Smiths to agree to any form of payment, Birdie’s insistence that he was part of the family and shouldn’t pay towards the house 9although Gloria did, waitressing twice a week). Once the pandemic hit, the money became a God send.

The Smiths liked Tom a great deal, he was quiet but not the way Willie was quiet. “Don’t talk,” Tom would tell himself when he found their kindness racially patronizing. “Let them talk, they don’t know. They can’t know…”

After dinner, Tom would go back to her room and she would hang out in the living room, watching movies, or call her girlfriends and gossip, and by 11 o’clock she would be making love in her bedroom. Tom would then go back to studying and Gloria would go to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night he would join her between the sheets and she would wake to his breath in her ear and snuggle close and wide awake before rising for the day.

These were the happiest days of her life and what made it even happier for her was she knew she was very happy. There had never been a day that Tom hadn’t made her happy but that first year of college was the happiest of them all. What made it so magical for her was how she grew to trust her feelings and trust him. The daily joy of studying and loving and caring for Tommy had no blemish to it. No, not even the Young’s who might have thought they were affecting her son’s relationship but were only deepening it. The Youngs couldn’t see what was obvious to the couple, there was a real joy to Tom being at the top of his class, and also, Tom having everything he needed to build a perfect life, even while the sense of change was like a disease in the air. He had a vision of the future and he worked towards it through school and through his growing position in the antifa and where the antifa lead. How wonderful it felt to be able to afford to ignore his family. Though they didn’t cut Young off financially, where he actually lived on money he’d inherited from an Uncle and shared with the Smith household while studying on a full scholarship (instead of $61K a year) and just how everything will be great, his life will be great.

When the pandemic hit Tom was already studying remotely to buy himself the time he needed for the life he wanted. He would get in his car every morning and answer Gloria’s questions as to where he went explained how he listened to his books while driving through the empty streets.. It became a little more difficult to keep his life in different compartments but for who he wanted to be it was very important. And even so, he hadn’t returned home and the Smith’s had accepted him as just another one of their children. This fueled Trellie’s hatred of Gloria. It was one of the twin brothers who would interrupt Trellie as she railed against Gloria Smith. “Really, I wish I had a woman like Gloria for myself, I wish I had someone who loved me that way.”

“Don’t be naive, she saw his father’s money and jumped, just like all those white girls.” she turned to both boys as she said this. “Because what half way decent girl would get between a boy and his mother? How dare she? She manipulated him and put a wall between him and the most important relationship he has ever had.” The twins rolled their eyes at this. “How is he better with that white trash family? Everything in that world is cheap and tawdry and shameful. I know Tom doesn’t mean it, I know he will realize his mistake and come back to me, to us. I worry about him”

The end result was his brothers visiting Tommy at Duke, and being re-directed to Gloria’s house where they were welcomed with open arms by the Smiths if not the Youngs, and saw with their own eyes how happy he was.. “What do we tell Mom,” they discussed between themselves as they drove home.

“Tell her, tell her Tom misses her and loves her and is top of his class…”

It was their only move and it was the wrong move, and the end result was Trellie dismissing Gloria instead of rushing over to her house the second Trellie heard of Tommy’s disappearance. At first Trellie mistook what was happening even on the surface. Her son was probably just escaping from the pressures of a life he didn’t want, was probably off with another girl, a woman of the same ethnic hue. Maybe he was just driving to Myrtle Beach to blow off steam, maybe, maybe.

As the days went by, the Smiths were hounding the police to find out what happened and getting no response. Five days after his disappearance they showed up at his parents house and for the Youngs the truth began to sink in.

If those five days were indifferent for the Youngs, they were terrible for his fiancee. She knew he was dead or at least somewhere else, in a hospital somewhere maybe. But she knew it was serious. The entire household had no doubt it was very serious indeed. Gloria couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t stop sighing, deep, soul sighs as though her heart was coming out of her mouth. It seemed as though something was going on and she just couldn’t grasp it, it was like a thought and then a thought within a thought, that the disappearance was death. She daydreamed. She was at the protest with Tommy not at home with morning sickness, she had insisted he didn’t go, she went there and saved him though she couldn’t guess what from. Sometimes his brothers went with him, sometimes his parents were normal, sometimes they all went and sometimes none went. It was like there was a moment within a moment, a second, a decision she could have made and if she could just retrace her life she could fix it and Tommy would be back with her. She did. In her mind. Gloria played with the moments to him leaving to the late afternoon protests, the police disbursements but all injuries were on the minor side, and then…

Nothing.

Just nothing.

Gloria stopped eating until Birdie warned her that her daughter needed nourishment, without makeup, her hair greasy and messy, Gloria forced herself to pretend to be alive while her heart was gone somewhere, nowhere… where?

Sleep was the only thing that eased the pain, dreamless sleep, unconsciousness in a place like death where there was no Gloria to feel pain. She would take a couple of barbiturates and pass out worrying about Tommy and when she awoke, tussled on her sheets, there would be no break between waking and Tommy: you opened her eyes to his face and the words “where, where, where” and that’s where she remained all day long, day dreaming he was back with her, that he had amnesia but it was over and here he was in her arms, wrapped in his fiancee and the gestating Emily’s second hand embrace.

As time went by, Gloria changed her daydreams. She didn’t care if he left her, the way his repulsive mother thought, as long as he was alive. Let him just live somewhere. As days turned to weeks, as prayers turned to dirges, as the pandemic went on and she got closer to Emily’s arrival, all there was was a sinking feeling. Perhaps, if Gloria had proof he had died, she could not go forward exactly (she would never go forward from the past few years, they’d always be very near), but at least she could concentrate a little on the upcoming baby, on what was life and the living. But Gloria couldn’t, she couldn’t find a way to abdicate one life for another and one future later for a past that isn’t over, and a world that isn’t for a world that against all odds, suddenly is all was. Gloria woke up tired and slept in tears, she worried about the embryonic daughter and yet her mind wasn’t on the baby. “I wish she had never been born, why didn’t I abort her so that Tom would still be here?” And then in a terrible second leap, “The baby killed him, I will never love her, never.”

Oddly, it was one place where Gloria and Emily’’s soon to be Grandmother agreed in totality. Trellie blamed Tommy and the bastard baby for stealing the most precious thing in the world, stealing her son. The best of her family. The best of her life. Trellie seethed and seethed. She never spoke to Gloria again, never got in touch or answered the phone when Gloria or her Mom called, because the police wouldn’t tell them anything.

But Trellie became sadder and sadder, she’d start crying for no reason and lock herself in the bedroom pouring over old pictures of her lost son, and then she would relive her gang rape in agonizing detail, tears welling up as she closed her eyes and fell into the ripping apart of her by one white monster after anothern, and then, a moment within the rape that was so bewildering it was beyond scary.. A young, tousle haired boy, younger than the other rapists but looking like a member of Hitler Youth, on top of her, and he was crying and saying “sorry, sorry, sorry” and it was just worse and worse.When the boy finished the white racists dumped her out of the car near the park in Knightdale, drove off laughing, secure in the awareness that there would be no justice

She stared at her PC, at Tommy as a toddler when she was his world. Because, Trellie loved her four children all but she was in love with Tom. Tom was the outsider, the difficult child and the one who did exactly what he chose. Beholding to no one much, her husband Booker Young took offence at his lack of appreciation for Booker’s success, that it was done through hard work and ambition, Tommy seemed to prefer loser, regenerate antifa jerks. They had argued and slowly Booker lost his son, and then he disappeared, and the loss was enough to make Booker angry. When Booker and Trellie discussed Tom after he disappeared, Young held on to a concept fantasy Tom left to New York to handle life by himself. “Clearly, he didn’t want to be a part of that girl’s life and so he ran away…He is out there changing the world…”

“No, not like that, he wouldn’t do that, not a chance,” the twins would answer back and Trellie would snap at all three before breaking down again, and again. “I will never get better,” she said to herself. “This is too much, I can’t take this sinking feeling. I know he is gone., I can feel his lack of being. I did it, I did it…” And she closed off the Smiths, closed off the Youngs as well, she wouldn’t hear about Gloria, on whatever level she blamed herself and her family, she blamed Gloria equally. It was a form of post-traumatic stress, when Trellie closed her eyes she could see the foul smelling boys taking her, hurting her, and then she could see Tommy, also hurt, also screaming. It broke Trellie in two and she failed to recover, locking herself away, never talking, never smiling, just waiting for something.

The only thing that saved Gloria was a Sergeant Johnson, a handsome Irish man not yet 30 who found Gloria immediately mesmerizing and then, for no better reason than his interest in Gloria, told her what she might have guessed -there was no information whatsoever. Tom went to the protest alone, though met up with two friends from Duke, who joined a larger set of Duke friends, in masks, in tandem, they marched to the middle of the city as the sun began to set. Surveillance tape finds Tom here and there but then not at all -he was simply out of the picture, there he was, arm in arm with his friends of all pigmentation marching in solidarity and then he wasn’t, maybe he was somewhere there but so small in the distance and among the many that it simply doesn’t seem possible to find him. In a world where you can’t hide, he was hidden.

These were the very worst of times for Gloria, once Emily was born in the winter of 2021 she would slowly begin to come round, and when she started dating Sergeant Johnson the following year she turned round further and found a way back to her life. Speaking with her parents she’d express it as follows: “I’m never going back to normal, nothing is normal and I refuse to go there. My old life was incomparable. But I am ready for a new life, I’m ready to live again for Emily. She doesn’t need a zombie for a mother and I won’t be that zombie…”

It is a subject she returned to, “… because if it was me who went missing, Tommy would not grieve this way not…” and she teared up, as even the thought of him sent her to the deepest well of sorrow. “If Tom is out there and comes back,” she mused two years after he went missing, “then I’ll be here, even if I’m a Great-Grandmother, I will always be there for him. But I will have lived my life….”

Sergeant Johnson wasn’t what he appeared to be. As they got closer his other Sergeant Christopher Johnson arrived, a borderline white supremist, a hater of blacks and whose true feelings came out with his Cop friends, “Who cares, really. With all that’s going on, the guy is just one more dead n—-r, but I can’t tell her that,” during Choirboy Practise, a name they lifted from a police novel when the blue thin line stressed out yet again, blew off steam as only men (no women invited) on the frontlines of quite literally anything bad that happened in Raleigh N.C.

“Dude,” he said, “I don’t know if I’d bother with a woman who fucks n—-s, it ain’t natural.”

“Look, did she make a mistake? Yes. Is it fixed? Yes. That’s all. Nothing else is changed in her. Gloria is a very good woman. You know, that’s the only man she’s ever slept with. That’s right. So, yeah I wish she hadn’t? Of course I wish she hadn’t, but there is no judgement on my side.” None of which ended up being true, sure Chrisopher would blame Gloria for sleeping with a black man, sometimes with his fists.

Gloria was adrift in her life, spending her days and nights at home with her mother Berdie and pop Willie, in a mental fog and veil of tears that was much like a fog, it blurred her mind. Gloria couldn’t get past him, from waking up with a click of her brain that simply said: he’s gone and continued relentlessly, the lizard part of her brain had taken over and like any addict her grief became an addiction. She couldn’t stop it, she couldn’t get out of it, and when Gloria felt better for even a length of time, talking about the upcoming Emily with her grandmother, the other Emily, that lizard part of her brain would be behind the scenes pulling her back into depression, sorrow, grief, and loss: an intoxicated downer of momentous proportions.

“The problem is,” Gloria would tell herself as the days dragged onto months, “I can’t end it, it has no end. This sort of pain is like a phantom limb, it is like something has been chopped off and it is still there anyway. He hasn’t gone and he isn’t here, and as time goes by it’s as if the threats of life that connected him to the outside world are being cut, life goes on resolutely without Tom but Tom is part of life indefinitely. If I forget him, who remembers?”

Here was Gloria, and her Mom Birdie, though oddly not her father and grandfather, beyond life’s fake constructions of happiness and sorrow, beyond a joy in finding in life love is finding in post-life, that it has in its own way of maintaining control of you. To lose track of that love is something Gloria would not do, could not do, and in her grief she thought life had no intrinsic meaning beyond remembering Tom. Her soul was injured.

The end of the Youngs was swift and painless. Emily was mulatto but she appeared to be white and while nothing would have been any easier than a DNA test to prove the father, Gloria knew that his family would never accept their Granddaughter and Gloria just couldn’t deal with her a law suite or a court case, or whatever it would take to prove paternity. The Smiths could use the money but it just didn’t matter, “I’m not going through with it”, Gloria snapped when her father raised the question for a third time. “I’m not turning the only man I will ever love into a get fast quick scheme. I can’t. Tommy deserves better and it won’t even matter, we might get the money but Emily won’t get the family. That isn’t what she needs. She needs to be surrounded with love.”

Willie was the quiet type and he longed for a quiet life, he didn’t argue and he didn’t provoke so it shocked his daughter when she snapped right back, it was a bright June day and they were walking to the shops with Emily in the pram, when Willie snapped back. “You’re only thinking of yourself, of your ego. Not even thinking of Tommy, who has every right to provide for his daughter and who you won’t let do it. The Young’s money can get Emily everything in life, a college education for one. And you won’t force them to do it because you care too much for how you think it looks. For goodness sake, Gloria, it is all he has he can give her, let him, let him.’

Gloria stood in the middle of the sidewalk, looking down at Emily, and sobbing. “I know Daddy, I know but I am too in pain, I can’t, can’t…” Willie took her in his arms and stroked her hair. “You’re not alone, child, I loved him too, I was always close with Tommy…. I miss him as well.”

ForGloria, and for the world, Willie was a cipher. Though muscular and distinguished, with a beard always neatly trimmed,and a presence that was always equal parts invisible and second, if Gloria had thought about it she’d have realized she didn’t know her daddy, she loved him yet she didn’t respect it. Except this once, like a curtain rising between the daughter and father, he took her hand and spoke. “I knew Mommy was too good for me, too smart, too beautiful, and the only way I could keep her was in deep background, an unobtrusive person who was like a hidden crutch, someone she could lean on without having to push it. And then we had you and if i thought you were being rised badly, if i felt I needed to save you then i promise you that I would have. For you, I would have ruptured my love for Birdie, i would have destroyed my home if you needed that from me.

“I saw you every day and i could see you were a fine child and a fine adult, i could see you were a perfect person, decent, Christian, respectable. And the only man you had in your life, who was the son of one of the first families of Raleigh, had just asked for your hand. It wasn’t broken, why would I fix what was good?

“But now I am worried for you, for your missed chances, for your broken heart, and i want to save you from yourself. We did too good a job on you, you are too decent to insist upon your daughter’s inheritance. And it isn’t yours, it is Emily’s, and is yours, our responsibility to take care of her, to protect her… It is my job because i love you both more than, well, more than anything in the world…”

Gloria began to sob in the summer heat and replied, “Oh daddy, we will daddy, we will protect her from this I promise.”

Emily was a beautiful and healthy baby with a set of lungs that drove the entire household to distraction. As a baby, Emily Young was lovely and not the least temperamental -everything she did had a purpose, yet, oddly she wasn’t a tender baby. From the start, from the moment she became a part of her greater world, she wasn’t very loving, wasn’t as needy as other babies, she wasn’t a cuddler. Amazingly, with blonde hair and a white hinting at Italian complexion, blue eyes that slowly evolved to green and then back to blue, she didn’t look entirely white. Maybe a little Jewish except her face had less contours and more a giving roundness, though certainly there appeared little African in her. Emily looked like Gloria to a degree, yet even prettier and not the eyes, Gloria’s eyes are brown, Tommy’s eyes were brown and Emily’s eyes were blueish green depending upon the sunlight and the time of day, they were wide and innocent yet hooded and unrevealing. Gloria and Birdie discussed it but they couldn’t understand it, though if they had known the Young family tree better than even the Youngs did, they would have found a Great-Great-Grandmother named Hetty, house slave who had been raped consistently by her master till she eventually took Master’s son, her little boy, and ran away; she was caught but not before she managed to push her son into a woman’s arms.

Back in masters bed after Master raped her again, he began to lecture Hetty: “You are my property, Hetty, and if you weren’t important to me you’d be dead now and I’d be hunting for the rest of my problem, your son. So you can consider yourself very lucky in that…”

Hetty looked down on Master and she was enraged at this person who had used her for all her fifteen years, how had slept with her since she was nine years old, and the smug whit devil infuriated her and her mind completely snapped, with an insane persons strength she put her hands around his throat and pushed and master thrashed but couldn’t get out from under hands. At first he found it amusing but soon it wasn’t funny at all, as she continued to block his oxygen Master began to panic, till the relentless pressure crushed his windpipe. He died soon after.

Hetty was lynched and left to die as a lesson to other slaves though it didn’t work that way, to the other slaves Hetty was a hero and a local legend. And Emily was like a reincarnation, she was more like Hetty than anyone else in the family, Hetty the avenger.

It was with the other woman that Hetty’s son became a member of the Youngs and survived his trip to the Northeast, to the storefront churches of suburban Chicago and finally Harlem. Twenty years later, the Youngs returned to Raleigh and her Grandson had the same eyes as the Master and Emily had his eyes and his temperament, to a fault. Staring at Emily during the early morning feed, Gloria would see Tommy clearly in her daughter’s eyes and yet not, she could see in her daughter’s eyes all that they didn’t have in common, and any thought of maternal filicide was simply not possible. 18 months after losing Tomas, she found him reborn, in some ways, to a degree, in a sense.

All of which lead Gloria to Christopher Johnson.

Gloria misread the situation completely, she thought Tom was pushing her to Chris from beyond, she couldn’t articulate the thought though it was clearly a mistake and a fault. Johnson had remained in contact, first using any excuse to show up in uniform and discuss the case that could not be resolved. And then, in late 2021, gave up on searching for an excuse and simply showed up at her door in uniform and he was so charming and direct and he had been so kind that when Johnson invited her to the Policeman’s Christmas Ball as his date she said yes, then nearly cancelled. Her father muttered “Edward Murdstone” but the name didn’t ring a bell.

Christopher saw the beautiful young woman as a physical perfection of white glory and, oddly, almost subconsciously, a woman to be saved from the clutches of the black nation rising to overthrow the white culture and replace it with rap and hard drugs. But this was stuff he would reveal as time went by, the first date was a joyous thing. 18 months after Tom’s disappearance it was the first time Gloria thought it was even possible for a romantic life to continue. The party was filled with uniformed men and their significant others and the alcohol flowed, and the food flowed, there was a mix of country and dance on the speakers.

Christopher gravitated her to his friends, and they stood in a group. Uniformed officers concerned themselves with the true thin blue line and the desk jockey’s were considered paper pushers. Outsiders didn’t see this, and when the outside world poked its nose in, mostly interested politicians, the department closed ranks. But the party was the inner workings of police and family and Gloria could feel the atmosphere of fun and righteousness that permeated the evening. The sense that, everything else going on notwithstanding, they considered themselves guardians of a certain strata of the USA.

At first, Gloria felt overwhelmed with shyness but even as the friends sexually disintegrated into cliques she began to feel as though it was a type of home.

The women had what she noted was a specific order of preferences

Wives
Girlfriends
New Girlfriends
One night stands

And Gloria was a new girlfriend. Head wife Aoife and second in command Frankie were not unpleasant leaders, and though Gloria wasn’t entire aware of it, the women had ascertained that Gloria was a Catholic and while Tom Young was clearly considered a black mark they were also aware that Emily was white -or looked white, and decided that it was probably not the entire story and more than possibly Tommy had run away because he wasn’t Emily’s father and didn’t want anything to deal with them. At their local hairstylist, an Italian run establishment, they discussed Gloria Smith in whispered words and decided to give her a chance, at least because everybody loved Christopher so much. The word went out and Gloria was allowed in and she made a very good impression. Pretty, shy, conservative, always glancing over at Christopher, she was the picture of a Sergeant’s wife, and she would fit in very well.

Gloria had a glass of white wine, and then another, and then stopped. She felt like it was her nursing final exam again, even though she and Chris were not an item, hadn’t even kissed. She could tell when she was being examined. But it didn’t matter. And in many ways it was better than being alone on the first date. Chris turned to her and as the music went from country rock to big ballad, they joined the dancefloor. Chris was tall and fit and he held her with care, with tenderness, and it was Gloria who danced a little closer.

They went home and Chris parked the car outside her house. Kept the country Sirius on Channel 56 – all Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs, and turned it down low as they sat in his car and the moonlight illuminated everything it touched and Chris mumbled”I’m a luna-tic,” and Gloria giggled, touching lightly the fist she would learn to know, on the steering wheel.

“Why her?” Chris thought to himself, four years after his last serious relationship, a casualty of the Choir Boys, ended. Try as he might, he couldn’t see why it was Gloria he loved so much. It was a mix of barely grasped Oedipal desire and messiah complex. He thought he was saving her, changing her, breathing life on her, , Instead he turned towards Gloria as they sat together, alone, the world humming in the background and her right there at the heart of it, the heart of love, and Gloria knew what was going to happen, the official second man she had ever kissed. She waited there in suspended animation, and in her mind she heard one door opening and another door closing.

So he kissed her.

And he kissed her very well and she responded, couldn’t help responding, she responded as though this kiss proved that life moved on, as though in his kiss she could simply come back from living nowhere since he disappeared. “What if Tommy comes back?” she thought to herself. “What do I do then?” But as they kissed and kissed the idea seemed to dissipate for all time.

It wasn’t a terrible mistake because it would lead exactly to her second daughter Jacqueline, who would have the natural affection Emily kept to herself. But it was still a mistake that most romances on the road to destruction staggered from one disaster to another. Nobody ever asked her, but if they had Gloria would have told them the moment she knew she had made an error in judgement, something a woman smarter with men would have realized. The wedding had been perfect and though not yet three, Emily had been the flower girl. The wedding ceremony was something like the very thing that she would have never had with Tommy, both sides of the family represented, both sides of the family loving and caring, and a whole lotta police, and Gloria’s friends from the hospital, 500 people in all. And then the roses of love, Emily staying with Grandma while they spent three weeks in Honolulu. A glorious honeymoon, with plenty of love making and plenty of closing ranks into a world of two. And while Chris got a little exasperated when his wife called home to check on Emily, it wasn’t enough to put a pall on their time together.

But back home it went wrong very quickly and Chris knew where to lay the blame: it was Emily’s fault, Emily was a good baby and a good toddler but any crying, any teething, anything would upset Chris and he would think to himself, “It’s the n—-r in her.” Within two weeks, the working day had its own rituals in place. They were both uniformed people, and as Chris put on his police clothes, Gloria wore her nurses clothes -the ones that had got her through some frontline time in the pandemic. Gloria would dress Emily and would hand her off to Grandmother Birdie. One morning in the middle of this, she handed Emily to the stepfather still undressed and Emily pee’d on his uniform. Gloria had to restrain him, had to beg him to stop as he went to smack her on the bottom. “Chris, stop. She’s a baby. She doesn’t know any better. Please, please, please….” Chris had hinted at a bad temper but this was the first time he lost any control at all. “FUCKING N—-R GIRL” he screamed at the top of his lungs as Gloria picked up her daughter and ran to the bedroom and Chris followed, “I should have never married a n—-r lover,” he roared. “What sort of degenerate does that? Disgusting….”

Then it went quiet and she waited another fifteen minutes and he was gone.

Things were never the same.

For Gloria, this was a terrifying betrayal, as though the cloak of life that she knew existed because, if nothing else, Tommy’s family had festered and invaded her life. And though the couple would remain together through the birth of Jackie Johnson, when Emily was five, and for an additional five years till Emily was ten and Jackie was five, Gloria not yet thirty, Gloria was worn out and far from in love with the brutish man. Then Gloria got lucky for the first time since Tommy disappeared. Chris fell in love with another woman.

In the end, Chris wanted something from Gloria she couldn’t give: her absolute devotion. Between his racism, infidelity, and drinking with the Choirboys, he wasn;t the superhero he wanted her to see him as. As hard as Gloria tried, she couldn’t get past his brutality and weakness, couldn’t get past the simplicity of his not harnessed vision of American and whiteness. Fourth generation policeman, Chris had a vision shared by his family, that what he did was frontline protection of all people plus white culture. His marriage to Gloria was proof to himself that it wasn’t racism he suffered from but too much self-regard in a job that sent him to the black communities of Raleigh where though he could on the beat tell the difference between the black middle class and the black poor, in the heat of the moment it made no difference.

When Chris tried to explain his job, tried to explain himself, he realized that Gloria didn’t believe him, didn’t buy genetic superiority, couldn’t look past Tommy and Emily, and it began a rift that seemed to quiet down during her pregnancy and then explode again. Like many a young married couple, they both believed a baby would change things for them and quickly cover the distance between them. From the beginning of the marriage, Chris saw no reason to change anything to accommodate his wife. In his mind, he was risking his life every day and that gave him the right to selfishness in all aspects of his life. With two children at home, he was never there. Either working, or going to all night drinking sessions with his brothers in blue that tended to include local prostitutes and strippers, as well as police groupies. He couldn’t bring himself to commit and had left home for good within three years.

Gloria began to wonder if Chris was with her due to guilt, if he was, perhaps, in some way, responsible for Tommy. But he wasn’t. He wasn’t even in the city the night Tom disappeared, he’d escaped to Myrtle Beach with his girlfriend at the time. Gloria had always believed the police were behind Tom’s disappearance, that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and somebody somewhere used too much force. Yes, it could be the counter-protest, some QAnon guy, but the question remained: if it was, how did they cover it up so thoroughly. However, if she had thought for a moment Chris was behind it she’d have never gone near him.

So baby Jackie didn’t change her father and Gloria was the same as always, but Jackie changed Emily. Raised in a house of brutal arguments, sometimes violence, always coldness, Emily might have grown up jittery and scared, but she grew up cold and self-conscious. Though Gloria would have never told Emily this, she reminded Gloria of her mother-in-law Trellie. Even physically, she had Trellie’s mix of sensuality and cruelty in her visage, and, like Trellie, Emily was distant from everyone. Before she was out of diapers she was wary of everyone, and hated her step-father before she knew what the title meant.

And then Jackie arrived and Emily found someone you could love without reservation, someone who had never hurt her, and someone who clearly adored her. That tug at the heart started very early between them. While Emily would never remember it, her mother did and noted it. Jackie was crying in her bassinet in the middle of the night, Chris was out with the choirboys, and Gloria was tossing in bed next to her youngest when she heard the door creek open on its hinges. Some movement. And Jackie went quiet. She turned on the light to find her daughters spooning in the crib.

That was it for Emily, she became Jackie’s protector at all times, taking her to her room when Chris was screaming and Gloria was bawling her eyes out again. Emily considered it a duty to make sure Jackie felt what Emily never had:felt really: safe.

Jackie was a very sweet tempered baby and toddler and even by a level of sweetness that made her the anti-Emily, the sisters were close. At the age of seven, Emily was buzzing along and had a sense of right and wrong and her step-dad was wrong, her sister was right, and she didn’t think much about the relationships that were most important to her, her Grandmother and mother. She took them both for granted and withheld herself, as if the first seven years had been so alarming and loud she blamed them for it while realizing it was her stepfather’s fault. But she understood that a stepfather was not a father, and after hearing her stepfather saying how much he hated Emily, and how Gloria should just admit she was a mistake, she was glad he wasn’t. And, after not hearing her mother deny it, she figured that all the stuff she had heard in kindergarten, all the at least partially happy families that surrounded her, were not hers at all. If Gloria had stood up for her daughter, Emily might have let her inside her mind, would have let the natural love between a mother and daughter flourish instead of fester.

When the bottom fell out of the marriage it fell out like a trapdoor beneath a hangman’s noose, and it just fell completely. One night they were fighting, the next night he didn’t come home or the next. He emailed Gloria requesting a divorce and he got it. Chris had found another woman to torture and it was the right woman this time..

Jackie missed her father but neither Gloria nor Emily did. It would be tough financially, though Gloria did get child support and still worked at Raleigh State Hospital, it always felt like a struggle and Emily got her first job babysitting at the age of twelve, and by 13 was working at Regal North Hills, a job she kept till she graduated High School. And around this time, Emily began to play with her body, figure out the pleasure zones she got from males, and also the way in which her sexuality could manipulate the people around her. As the only female member of her best friend posse, she slowly became aware that the boys responded to her differently, how some of her closest friends checked her out and made her a sexual being. Emily couldn’t discuss it with anyone and just accepted that it was something she liked and also a power over the boys that they really had no defense. The four boys all obsessed over her and she responded by laughing at them, refusing to be pushed and pulled, and, after Duane, she thought them play things sexually: to be turned on and off. Sex was inevitable but Emily was smart enough to realize that love was the dangerous part of all this, that by remaining emotionally distant she could regain the power from the powers that surrounded her.

But with the distance came arrogance and with the arrogance an unnecessary carelessness and, pregnancy, and the end of one Emily and the birth of a different one, the soiled goods, secondhandess on a pregnancy with no father in the middle. Just another mouth to feed. And her fucking mother still discussing Tommy, still daydreaming about her father. Emily kept her mouth shut for the most part but underneath all her mother’s speechifying one thing remains. He wasn’t there. She never knew him. She didn’t know what happened and it didn’t matter although, if nothing also, the approaching baby Marie meant that DNA mattered to some degree.

Part Three
Emily Young
2043

Why had I ever bought a white comforter? What sort of moron with a new born baby buys anything white? It was a mix of yellow and brown and all the washing in the world couldn’t change it. I will throw it away and buy another, maybe, but maybe I should wait till Marie is further in single digits because till then she is just an eating and shitting machine with crying in between. Jackie was lying next to me in bed, cuddling Marie, basking in her glowing brownness, in her mix of other and the same, and staring in amazement at Marie’s beautiful big, green eyes. “They are your father’s eyes,” Mom had told me, except my father’s eyes were brown, but they were certainly my eyes, I guess, they shone from her and while I wasn’t overflowing with maternal love for sure I had my mother and grandmother and kid sister surrounding Marie with so much love that I felt myself calming down at last. I felt as though I’d done something important, that I’d rebuilt a family destroyed before I was even born. Happy?

I called Duane a month after Marie arrived and if he had been a jerk I wouldn’t have explained myself, but he broke down crying, which is what he was meant to do. “I wasn’t unfaithful, Duane, if you wanted a monogamous relationship you should have said so.”

“I wanted both, I wanted everything, I wanted… I don’t know what… I didn’t want you having a baby with another man, I promise you.”

“You couldn’t deal with it…”

“I couldn’t… I felt like less than a man, Emily. It’s not fair but I felt completely betrayed. I’d loved you all my life.”

“No, you hadn’t…”

“Yes, you just didn’t want to know about it but I was in love with you always. You aren’t the only one who lost their virginity…”

“I shook my head, “You are lucky about that fucking dress, you know, you really are… I would never have gone all the way if I hadn’t wanted to rip it off and burn it.” And the moment under the bridge returned to me in a traumatic flashback. I can remember the mathematics flicking through my mind. If not Duane, who? If not one on one what point to two on one. I fucked Duane to free myself from worry about it, whatever fucking Duane might be, it wouldn’t be scary. That much I knew about him after all those years.

“I lost my virginity because of your prom dress, and that is what should have let me know that whatever I felt was mine and not yours. That all those years and I still never got through to you, how could that be Emily? How could you hurt me?”

It was a good question and since I might as well tell Duane the truth, I had no intention of seeing him again so why not. “I loved you in my own way,Duane, but you don’t get to betray me twice. This is just to say goodbye now, this is just to tell you that I am fine.”

“And the Emily Pack?”

“I haven’t heard from them sinceI got pregnant, but if I know Ernie and Freddie, the moment I’m around again we will hook up.”

“Because they don’t love you, they don’t care.”

“This is why you don’t have the courage to remain my friend, and to be accepted as my friend. You never understood. I am not defined by male desire, I am defined by female help, by those who understand at least that I am not heartbroken over you or anyone else. That I am me and I do what I will.”

Duane would never quite get it, it didn’t fit into his worldview in the slightest, he just assumed white girls wanted to marry white boys, and that he was the gift at the end of my searching. What would have happened if Marie was white instead of black? Like my step-father, would he have convinced himself that Marie wasn’t what she clearly is and I clearly was: a skin pigmentation away from rape, defiling, slavery… Is that what she would have been?

I wanted to visit my Grandmother, I wanted to speak to Trellie, I wanted her to accept what I am and what my daughter is. And I wouldn’t hear no.

So I told my Mom and she blanched. “You don’t know this woman, Emily”. She warned me, “You don’t know how horrible she is, how much she hated me and how she never accepted me at all. I was never welcome, never.”

I tended to blow off mom when she started talking about my father, she turned it into a fairytale of which I had no place, and it always ended the same way, with my brutish, racist step-father. It was villainy on villainy and one of the two heroes of the story was no longer there.

Marie was born on June 25th, 2042, and was a little over one when I brought her to visit a family that didn’t want her. Why? “Closure,” I told Mom but it wasn’t true, more like nosiness. Her Grandparents were the first family of Knighdale and we were existing on relief, food stamps, and paycheck to paycheck. I wanted them to also see how they had failed in their responsibilities. It took me thirteen months to get it together and I brought Jackie along with me in case Marie acted up and drove to the Young’s family house. I rang the doorbell and waited and waited and then my Uncles opened the door and I was let in.

Why is money so intimidating? The entire visitors area was done in Louis XVI ambulance viewing, off with their heads blandness, all gold and wood furnishings and chandeliers that shined their light like a mirrorball without the ball and mirror, it smelled unlived in and unfamiliar. My home, especially since Marie made her appearance, smelt of stale milk and poop and food simmering in pots. I thought about it as the air was wretched with disinfectant and air conditioning, and everything was spotlessly clean and everything was expensive.

The twins looked what I imagined my father would have looked, but if my dad had been a rebellious man who went his own way, there was something about the brothers that seemed cowed, and nervous, making certain that at any given moment they’d annoy their mother, the patriarch, aka as Grandpa Abe wasn’t there , “Even in his 70s, my husband works a full day,” Trellie explain, and one of the twins noted that they would usually be with him but sometimes took the day off. Coincidence? I guessed that My Mom had gotten in touch to warn them of my intentions. The daughter watched me with intense interest, I guess because she was my Aunt and also Marie’s Great-Aunt. She reached for Marie and Jackie gave her a dirty look but I nodded my head and she was gone oohing and ahhing. “She would love my family, we would make such a fuss of her,” she nodded, “Wouldn’t you? You would…” and Marie gurgled in pleasure. “My youngest would adore her,” she said to Jackie.

Tommy’s sister and my sister hit it off big time, and later Jackie would fill me in. Janelle -known as Jelly to everyone, and whose married name is Washington, was the hidden factor in the world of Tom Young. The youngest member of the family, Jelly just about hero worshipped her brother and while Tommy was good enough as brothers go, he didn’t really notice her. When Tommy disappeared, Jelly did what she had learnt to do in a household where a father was a workaholic and the mother was a bitch matriarch who ruled everything, she did nothing at all. Jelly had hoped and prayed her brother had made it out clean and started another life where everything was being compared to everything else and the four children were left feeling as though nothing they did was good enough. Jelly felt inferior and when her mother snapped at her would hold back tears with a trembling lip, unlike Tommy who laughed in her face. “How cool he is,” she would think to herself. “Why can’t I be fearless?”

When Tommy disappeared Jelly was a tall, pretty teenage girl just out of high school, with an afro and a slim physique where what she wanted was a big tush like the Kardashians. But guys liked her, and while that helped with her self-esteem, the moment she realized Tommy wasn’t coming back, she plotted her escape into marriage. Early in her relationship with John they discussed children. “I won’t do to my kids what our parents did to us… I am going to make them safe and proud of themselves, I’m not going to criticize every second, I am going to shower them with love. Jelly told all of this to Jackie, who told me. Jackie became friendly with the family. She is just one of those people that other people love.

I could deal with all that but even I was intimidated by Trellie. A large, imperious woman of 77, her face was cracked with age and sorrow, clearly she didn’t believe in face lifts but she was slim enough for her jaw to remain square and her eyes to be a vicious denouement to upstart white girls like yours truly. She sat back in her tapestry embroidered chair that looked as though it cost more than all my worldly possessions combined, and she was unfriendly by design and also character. I held my breath and handed Marie to her. “Your Great- Granddaughter” I said and then, I think to all of our surprise, Trellie held her close, and stared into Marie’s green eyes and I could see she could see it, I could see her lose herself in Tommy. She always knew he’d come back and, finally, Tom had returned to his mother. Trellie started crying, crying for the son that she had lost and the family she had rejected. That if Trellie had truly loved Tom, how could she have neglected his family, ignored them totally, ignored me, the person through whom he lived on. The pretty little white girl who never was just that. Trellie’s children looked on in shock, as if they had never seen Trellie cry before and for a moment I believed that I had worked a miracle and connected my dad back with his mom. It wasn’t to be.

My Auntie went online and retrieved a file with long gome pictures of the Youngs, that included Tommy as a toddler as well as Tommy as a football hero and Tommy as a college student, how he must have looked while he was with my Mommy. Marie and Tommy could have been twins. They looked identical. Jackie sat next to my Grandmother and my Aunt, and they poured over pictures while I remained my usual aloof self.

I would love to claim that our families were reunited but they really weren’t. Trellie thought I wanted money and so did her husband Abraham, who hadn’t bothered to show and to whom Trellie now referred. “Why bother with DNA tests,” she snapped, herself again. “My husband has told me to give you an amount I consider suitable for your false claims and end this farce once and for all..” And then, like the lead prosecutor to the members of the jury, she turned to her children and Jackie and added, “Our Tommy’s daughter could never be white…” To be honest it was tempting to just take the money and write it down as yet another time where my sociopathy and the world’s psychopathy met,, I was truly sick of existing from paycheck to paycheck and arrangement for money to arrangement for money. It would have been lovely to share some financial obligation. But I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t trade in Marie for money, and I didn’t want to share her with a family that hated my Mom and completely ignored me. I couldn’t quite trade in Marie’s DNA. Later Aunt Janelle invited us to her house for dinner, I didn’t go of course but Jackie did and claimed it had changed her, twenty years after his leaving her, Trellie seemed to be emerging from the sea of grief. The meeting that took decades to happen had fulfilled itself. Jackie explained how Trellie reacted to the disappearance of her family with a mute fury to everything and everyone that didn’t allow her to recover. “She made our home, never the most cheerful place, a constant misery. She didn’t speak to us, or to daddy. She closed down business, she closed herself down, sitting in her study with the door closed and if you wanted to talk to her you simply couldn’t . You’d open the door and she would be sitting there, completely still, her eyes blank and staring into whatever. The hope is that at sometime she would recover and get back to the nasty bitch she always had been but she never did.”

There was to be no rapprochement and it ended where it began, two families with nothing left to connect them. I was deeply insulted by the offer to pay me off, and finally gave it to her, gave her exactly what my mom was too pathetic to do for me. In a terse email i wrote:

To The Young Family:

You annoyed my father so much he left you and you insulted me and my daughter and now we will follow Daddy’s lead and leave you where you were. You disgust me.

Perhaps not tongue lashing I wish I could write, but bad enough for people who had never been told no.

Within three months of Marie’s birth, I went back to work. The Girlfriend Experience reborn as a 21 year old girl who would do everything under a mist of deception. I had had a stable of five clients, and three didn’t return after I gave birth… but two did. I didn’t tell them about Marie. I didn’t tell them about me. Instead, I told them a fantasy, and not entire fantasy, of sexual desire and money, of holding hands and sneaking into Days Inn. Of money, going from one hand to another.

Am I a prostitute? Well, if fucking for money is prostitution, then clearly I’d been doing it for four years before Marie arrived. And I need to do it more. I couldn’t provide for my daughter and myself on $20.00 an hour, I needed money and I needed a job that provided much more. GFE was giving me anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 a day, though it never amounted to more than a coupla grand a month.

Nobody knew.

I considered it somewhere between an acting job and a superheroes secret identity. I didn’t feel a moral clause at all, rather using my skills to improve my life. It was not unlike getting in touch with the Youngs. I didn’t feel soiled but smart and preserved, I felt as though my sexuality was not like my Mom’s at all: it was more extreme, pleasurable, indifferent to screeds of promiscuity, and a way in which I could enhance the lives around me till I pay graduate from nursing school and then, even then…

My form of prostitution is not moral turpitude but much more a case of the theatre of the real, it was performance art taken to a degree and used as a way to act out different sexual scenarios with men (never women, and despite learning the skill set with Christine, I failed to follow it through. I went to some lesbian bars hoping older dykes would get the idea but it was entirely different and where I went it wasn’t an option). Of the two middle aged men I saw every month or two, the first was an incestuous roleplay deal where we acted like father and daughter just about always, and not always entirely sexually. And this is why I was so good. I let him into parts of my life, my job, my friends, even my mother. He became a father figure of sorts and we acted out a truly incestuous roleplay where I fought with him like his daughter, reacted to him as his daughter, requested money as his daughter, and fucked his brains out as his daughter. Perhaps I was considering him my dad, the sort of dad I certainly might have had, and, to be totally vicious, it might have helped me if my step-dad had been attracted to me instead of violently distracted by my very existence. My sugar daddy took me shopping and in public never dropped his guard, was always very father-daughter,, and when finding me in the dressing room at designer houses, stared at me changing into a cocktail dress (that I had not that much use for but…), staring at me in my bra and panties.

I smiled at him, “What do you think of this look?” I asked with a knowing smile.

“Wait, wait, wait…” he said, his thinning hair combed down to his furrowing brow, “let me think…” And yeah, he bought it for me and I thought about finding an expensive escort service, a $5G a nighter that a dress like this would help me play the part.

I liked a more slutty look myself, leggings and skin tight wife beater and expensive sneakers. Both had their effect and both had him paying out the nose to live a real time incest fantasy.

I couldn’t really imagine sleeping with my own dad, and as for my step-father… His reign of terror over my mother, sister, and myself, didn’t entirely lead me to being a sexual cosplay participent, but it clouded my vision of life. Chris was the first person I realized didn’t like me. I was maybe seven or eight, when I noted that every rage against my mom became a rage against me and the only good thing about that was it let me protect Jackie. Coming home at 2am a couple of times a week, if he was in a good mood, or in that drunk stage melancholia, I would hear him in in my room, picking Jackie up and rocking her in his arms while she snuggled against him the way only Jackie would and I stared at them, scared he would drop her. It was a moment of tenderness only I ever saw. Most nights, he was banging into furniture and cursing the dark and then when he finally got his bearings and turned on the lights, cursing the light with equal vigor. Those were the nights that scared me, those are the nights that I keep with me as a reality of father and daughter relationships. Not the actual racist screaming at Mom and then at me, culminating in a punch that would knock Mom down. That was sex and love and harmony, for me. That was what it looked like and I just seemed to know that it was the effect of love. Mom loved and I paid.

I needed to protect myself and I did, I didn’t let it touch all of me, I cut off love and sex as something personal that I wouldn’t share emotionally, and fear as something that I shred as I could and yet never let myself give in to. As far as Mommy was considered, I was an impenetrable shell who just didn’t consider her a serious woman. How many times could she make do with the same lack of responsibility? Remember, on purpose or otherwise, both Tommy and Chris left Mommy. She was the poster child for abandonment and left Jackie and me as first runner up and I really don’t care because that was her and it was a male stigmata and I would never, ever wear those wounds. When Duane claimed I betrayed him I wanted to beat him up. We never had a monogamous agreement, he hated me for holding up my end of the bargain.

The other GFE was a little less roleplay and also more. I did find it difficult though not impossible. And I should preface this by noting that in 2039, 2040, when I was testing the waters on a website, I did try the extremes where violence against me was allowed. That was dangerous stuff, all very rapey and because a rape fantasy can easily go out of control. I wanted to try that stuff, I wanted to be beaten, smacked, slapped, that kind of stuff, and I did it until the thrill ended and I disliked it entirely. I never got into that again. But my s&m wanted to worship me while I smacked his tush, or tied him up, or… that kind of stuff. It was really the s&m stuff that made me think of something else and I considered acting properly. Local acting, commercials, dinner theatre. I began to snoop around. I knew how it worked because I knew how men worked, and I had no problem fucking myself to the very top. Why shouldn’t I? All those things that nauseated “good girls,” didn’t nauseate me. I took advantage and in the summer of 2041 it began to come together. Yes, through a mix of skill and subterfuge I became an actress.

Around the time I was born there was an entire movement to get women off the casting couch and all it did was make the casting couch further underground. Women would spend years becoming professional actors and then their entire career hung in the balance as the corridors of power became exactly what I was: on their backs. Some men were caught and most learnt their lesson and the trading of work for sex was subtler but no less prevalent, even in Raleigh.

I slept with casting directors, producers, fellow actors higher up the pecking order, I used sex as just another skill at my disposal, not as a form of prostittion but as a form of resume building. Here, women did come into play, and I slept with both sexes indiscriminately. All a little horrible when seen from afar but for a woman like me it’s a sure way of getting there. I am young, beautiful, taking acting classes, and honing a true skill whether modeling for department stores, taking on the masters (though who knew Ophelia was such a small role?), getting into local commercials, and finally being invited to LA for a small role on a sitcom.

A big sitcom. A regional commercial I made had a campaign on Atlanta TV and a big time casting agent named Frida Jones couldn’t get away from it last summer while visiting her in-laws. She got in touch with my local agent, who got in touch with me, and next thing I knew Jackie and I were in LA, i left Marie with my Mom, and just flew up and a meeting turned into two week’s work on one of the most popular dramas “This Is Them,” where I played a three episode arc love interest that ends when she returns to the South (useful right? I didn’t have to learn the twang) .

It was a vacation for Jackie and I, and, except for summer trips to Myrtle Beach, our first vacation ever and our first trip out of the State. We rented a car and drove around Laurel Canyon listening to Fleetwood Mac. I could have gone clubbing but I remained close to Jackie, I could have gone on dates but I wasn’t gonna runaround Sunset Boulevard while my kid sister was stuck in the hotel. It wasn’t going to happen.

Actually, turning down not one but three big time celebrities (two of whom were women, and one of the women was, wait for it, Amber Green -I know, I can see why sleeping with the matriarch wouldn’t have been a great career move on a family drama), helped in Paramount’s decision making process. Life was complicated enough without more offstage romance and, as Frida had noted one afternoon before we left as she looked up from giving me head: “Just say little, do nothing, like your acting save you, don’t fuck anyone -you already have the job, that time has passed for right now. Let your quietness speak for you and be comfortable, clear, charm the camera and you’ll be fine.”

“How big is this?” I asked

“Very big, it is winning the lottery big, it is change your life big. ‘This Is Them” might make you a household name…”

“And my past?”

“It could be dug, Anything might be. You can get away with prositituion and being half black is a plus if anything. You can’t get away with other stuff, but other stuff is the complete opposite of what you are.”

“Marie?”

“You have an agent, he might help those decisions, but if you do well and I believe you will light up the screen, get a manager and build a narrative…”

“A backstory…”

“It’s a pretty good backstory, it might sell exceedingly well…”

“You think I’m going to be a star…”

“I’m very good at this, I think you are going to be the star of 2043.”

In LA, Jackie and I were complete unknowns adrift in the industry town and very much enjoying it. The showrunners assistant hooked us up to see Tanya Rubelesque at the Hollywood Bowl, great seats, backstage passes. I’m not crazy about her genre bend but Jackie is a huge fan, I am drinker druggy to an extent -very blue collar work all week and blow it off and how on the weekend, and not when I am with Jackie, with Jackie I try to be the big sister she needs, or at least wants me to be, but if I expected backstage hi-jinx I was in for a disappointment: the staidness of the backstage waiting area was immensely depressing, with all of us milling around waiting for her royal highness. It was so irritating, there was no refreshments and certainly no alcohol or drugs. I was dressed as casual as imaginable,in a “Raleigh City Of Oaks” blood red tee, waist high blue jeans, Nike white high heel sneakers, my hair pulled back in a ponytail, zero make up, but Jackie was in a black cocktail dress and heels, neither of us made the slightest impression and after half an hour of nothing I wanted to leave but Jckie wouldn’t here with it. It was another year before Tanya showed and she was much shorter than I imagined, I’m five eight and I towered over her even with her five inch heels. But there was something oddly endearing about her, with her slight spanish accident and delicate delicateness she walked through the waiting area with two bodyguards on either side and you wanted to cradle her, or at least go down on her. Tanya had been at the center of a number of minor controversy’s, nothing special just upgrading boyfriends to someone higher up the fame pecking order and working with the top producers in the world of pop who helped her create hit over hit. She had never done for me though in person I could see why she was such a big star, she only spoke to us, to Jackie really, for a minute or so, and posed for a selfie with a smile, but her charm cut through the palaver and showed a quick mind and a real charm.Then Tanya urned to me “You don’t want a picture with me,” she asked with a grin. “Perhaps that’s not a bad idea because you clearly tower over me… but I’m not proud…” That made me laugh and we found a seat and she pressed my hand and put her arm round me. I don’t know why I interested her, who can tell these things? She asked about my tee shirt and i told her about my two weeks on “This Is Us” and that we were going back home in a couple of days.. “I knew you were an actor, you have that look”. Tanya turned to an assistant and asked for a pen and, asking the same assistant for it, wrote her number on the back of my hand. “Call me next time you’re in town,” she said conspiritall Then she was gone and I immediately realized there was a backstage hidden behind the backstage that we would never see

Jackie was in awe, jealous, and on Instagram in a second and I just laughed and hugged her as we left back to the hotel.Jackie doesn’t need a mother, she has a good one, but she is such a sweetheart that she needs someone to teach her the bending places of accommodation. She needs someone to show her that she doesn’t have to be so kind to people, so generous with her spirit. I never told her my thoughts in so many words but I did show how limited I found it. The problem with Jackie is she levelled off her heart so everybody gets the same gentle hope that makes none of it exceptional. And I am the near opposite, my interest is always self-interest, however you make that thought process.

I started fucking at the age of fourteen, for fun and leverage though not love, and upgraded to college boys and 20 something white collar pros by the time I was sixteen. It was a small step to making sure I never paid a penny on a date to monetizing sex. There are websites for arrangements for money, that girlfriend deal, and you had to be eighteen to join though no one checked anything. I was careful, a little wary, I had Danielle as my wingman, and slowly and carefully picked up a selection of, well, I guess clients. While it was nothing new for me to have sex without feelings, I actually found I did have feelings for the guys, for the 54 year old divorcee here, the married father of four there. Not anything like love but a simple regard for the nature of the transaction. I didn’t like them, but I didn’t hate them either though I realize you might, and would guess Jackie would.

Jackie and I didn’t bond in LA because Jackie and I were already bonded, as we drove around LA Jackie expressed fears I knew she had though I couldn’t understand them myself. She was “in love” with a guy who was leaving for college and she didn’t want him to, the sort of teen problem I didn’t share for one second. But I didn’t tell her what I know about boys, some people have lucky lifes and if she didn’t have to know the loss was no loss, why should I tell her.

“He is going to have all those girls around him, he is going to be surrounded and he will forget me and how do you keep what is yours? How does anyone keep what is theirs, Mom sure didn’t.” That was the sort of thing she would never tell Mom though I had told Mom exactly that a great many times when I was a teen.

Once my step-dad left, Mom wouldn’t stop talking about my dad and I just felt “wow, where did this come from?”. If it is so true, if Tom Young was so great, why was he only so great now? Why wasn’t she telling me that while Chris was calling me a nigger slut? Why wait till it was too late? People are human, I get that now, but people need to decide what they stand for and standing for your dead boyfriend a decade after he left is not that at all, it is cowardly.

I’m many things and a coward isn’t one.

This left my relationship not tattered but not average, when I see how close Jackie is with Mom I don’t wonder why I can’t have that. I can’t have that because my Mom needed to stand up for my dad and by failing to do so when it mattered most, she lost my dad and she lost me in the bargain. I love her but I don’t respect her.

I don’t respect men either.

But I did learn a couple of things, about men, in fact about people: let them speak to you. Listen, even if you’re bored. Don’t be disagreeable. Don’t teach them better. Let them teach you. This is true of everybody and anybody at all. It was true in LA between Jackie and I, even with my kid sister I didn’t try to push her in any specific direction. I left her exactly as she was and rather than saying what I thought, “You won’t keep him like that” and just when I got to the place where it seemed to work she turned right around and asked: “why won’t you be a big sister, Em? Why won’t you spell it out?”

“Because in romance there are too many variables, one size doesn’t fit all.”

“No, in fact one size does fit all and you have never gone through the torment that I have, that Mommy has, you are always calm and you always get your own way.

“I didn’t get Duane…”

“Did I miss when you wanted Duane? You never mooned over him, I just… my brain short circuits, I go like I am someone else. And you just don’t care, people come and people go and why are you in such great control of emotions. Watching Dave Charleston hit on you between takes, you were demurely indifferent. Used to women climbing over dead bodies to reach him and you were just calm about Dave. You turned him down so sweetly, you pointed to me, you expressed sincerely your regret…. I would have fainted.”

“Yes, but it would never work for you. I mean, it isn’t something I turn on and off, it just is. For you to try to be who you aren’t won’t work, Jackie. If you aren’t who you are, who can you be? If you lose love because, to quote the bard, you loved wisely but too well,’” Desdemona in summer stock last year, “so be it. Pay the price because you have no option and one day it will be good for you because one day it will be right for you, but if any love is right for me I won’t know because I don’t care.”

“Oh, Em. stop being a great sister….”

It was a magical two weeks. A part of the set of a major Television show was thrilling and strange, despite what the stars might consider the tedium of acting that goes with the excitement, Jackie and I sat around with our mouths open in a state of extended awe. With no partying because Jackie was there, no beach because I couldn’t show up with a suntan, we drove around the LA suburbs with the GPS humming.

The Saturday before we left, my love interest Christian Peterson (yes, THAT Christian Peterson) invited us to his very own, surprise, all day birthday party and the house was… it was bigger than my Young Grandparents, a mansion upon a mansion… you know the sort… and everybody was there and Jackie and I expected to go unnoticed in the Hollywood Hills but Hollywood is a small town, the people who mattered had seen the rushes, and there was a swell of interest about me that was a lot more thrilling than true love. There were also a handful of guys I’d already fucked on my way up but I had learnt a trick from the actress playing his mother. I saw her do it and it was a mark of coolness I copied immediately, I’m not saying she was doing it to the suit and ties from corporate, I’m just saying she was doing it: When you fuck someone on your way up and you meet again, keep your eyes completely indifferent: don’t snub them, don’t embrace them, don’t show one second of emotion and that is easy because there isn’t one second of emotion. As one particularly clever rung on the ladder noted back in North Carolina: “Keep it businesslike…” I am not the only actress to fuck for roles, but I am one of the most succesful at it and in Hollywood we all point to the Marilyn Monroe’s and, well, more than one child actor, as examples as to why there is no stigma.

Before the birthday party and after the filming there was two days and I got invited to meet in private with a big, big, big guy, bigger than the showrunner. I called my agent and she agreed, this was the one where fucking someone made so much difference I simply had to do it. This man, who was the epitome of fat and ugly white man, could sign me to the show, was considering me for the show if the viewers liked me enough and we all knew they would. I wasn’t a voluptuous sex star but I have a look that implied more than it said, my face left the impression of equal parts unsullied and all knowing innocence.

I knew what to expect and I got what I expected but he got more than he expected, he got a woman taping the entire meet and fuck and keeping the lines of business very clear. There could be no mistaking that it was for a recurring role if… and he said so. I had no intentions of blackmailing him or even telling him I had the tape, I planned to leave it till the last possible second.

It is sad that despite #metoo efforts a coupla decades ago, the casting couch is part of the screening process, more or less. Often enough for beginners. There remains an underground of powerful execs, and they want girls, boys, and children. It is a careful and secretive thing, so much so that every time you hear about it, it sounds like the first time. But it was something I understood instinctively. In bed with my casting agent, having her service me as she pleased, and which I did enjoy to a degree, I took the service and I wanted the advice. “No one will tell anyone if you fuck to to appear in a commercial, those that do or don’t simply won’t tell.. It doesn’t have to be done, you might get the role anyway, but much like a presale code to a concert, it will help.”

“How should I present myself?”

“How did you present yourself to me?”

“Carefully,” I responded and we began to laugh because I wasn’t so careful that I responded to her question about my life on screen with a loud “yes, of course,” to whether I would kiss a girl on film. I realized immediately that this was perfect for a woman like me, a woman who is not convinced anybody anywhere approaches telling me the truth. I am the opposite of Jackie, I am the opposite of the majority who played their game by their rules. I saw it not like a presale code, but having one number in a six number lottery number given you. That’s what the, for want of a better word, casting couch meant to me.

And once you knew it was easy to do, once I knew that sex helps for fuck’s sake I was gonna use it. That wasn’t a question I really had, not a conversation I had with myself. I was easy sexually. I enjoyed it and however hard the ties wanted me to believe I was being used, I actually wasn’t.

I understand my sisters-in-arms consider it a beaten frontier of sexism, violence, and abuse of women. I understand and I disagree with them TOTALLY. For me, it is just another weapon in my fight to do what I want, where and how I choose. And it wasn’t why I got “This Is Them” -except for the long way round, because I used it to get to LA anyway.

The thing about acting, big time acting, is that there is too much competition, so many actors are better and hotter than I am, and if I want to make it, it would be insane to have ignored the reality. I am really physically attractive, always have been, and I have never been afraid to use it to move on negotiations. Some actors are actors, some are Marlon Brando, but others are James Dean -handsome and with a price tag despite his greatness. My greatness as an actor is secondary to my hotness, to the wayI hold people’s attention on the screen and stage, how they are drawn by my lush sensuality. I look like a girl who has a price, as the head of the studio whispered in my ear behind locked doors in his office. “Yes,” I replied “Yes, I’m not free…”

I knew that line, I practised that line when I was in bed with Duane and Gussie -the best friends who shared me in a game of Russian Roulette inverted with my womb. I moved my body between the two in a motion like waves of coming. But only one could be daddy, Duane -who might have wanted to make an honest woman of me, lost. The other, who got stuck paying $200 a month for life, didn’t.

I wasn’t that famous till “This Is Them” hit Paramount Plus, but from the start fame was quite an intoxicant. I had to stop arrangements cold, or raise my prices through the roof, I didn’t like the occasional flicker of recognition, it creeped me out. But in Raleigh, in North Hills, I began to get noticed, smiled at, and selfies and when “This Is Them” hit, the fame monster bit me.

Today, on another Valentine’s day, a better Valentine’s day, my house was filled with flowers and my gmail filled with love and good wishes. Lazing about on the big new couch now that mom had gone for a third marriage with a man who made zero impression on me, I kept Jackie and Marie. Somewhere among the studio flowers and anonymous admirers were posies from both Duane and Gussie. Jackie was on the floor with Marie, crawling on all floors and toppled over a fair to middling hangover after being round the clubs all night with the cast of “Tis A Pity She’s A whore” and one of whom I was sleeping with, and a couple of whom I’d already had short lived affairs that ended very well, three years after Marie arrived on a Valentine’s Day, she was up for a celebration though I wasn’t.

Anyway, it had to be done, of course. I ended by first and last two arrangements when I returned from LA. Less a conscious decision, back not yet two weeks when the incest guy cancelled because he was ill, and a week later I received an anoymous tip to google his name. He had died from a heart attack. The other guy I had a farewell s&m session with and told him I was retiring.“Even with me?” he asked, as forlorn as you can imagine a man locked in handcuffs facedown on the bed with blood steaming from whip lines, might be, “How can you?” he cried. I wouldn’t have minded being kind at that exact moment, I wouldn’t have minded lying to him. And I would have except it was the very last thing he wanted, even just post ejaculation. It is difficult to mistake aspects of arrangements with relationships.

I lay down hurting, getting ready for Marie’s guests in a coupla hours, sipping on scalding hot tea, gobbling Tylenol. My email binged and I had been ignoring it for an hour so i opened it and found an email from the studio, ccing my agent now manager, telling me I was offered a recurring role on “This Is Them” -the “This Is Us” offshoot I’d acted in last summer, in its 22nd season

Then my cell started going crazy.

February 14th, 2048
Emily Young

It is July 28th, 2020 and there have been eruptions of protesting since George Floyd’s murder on May 25th, 2020. They come in flits and starts, outbreaks like wildfire and responses by the police somewhere between too much and the National Guard. Tommy Young had been going to the protests, not every day but sometimes, and he twice took his fiancee Gloria when she was two or three months gone but stopped after that, over and above her morning sickness receding, he couldn’t bring himself to risk her getting Covid-19. We had seen it:

Gloria: “Darling, I don’t care, I just want to be with you, I want to protect you.”

Tommy: “I want to protect you too,” he said, kissing her eyelids, kissing her lips, gently touching her stomach, “I will protect you, I will always love you”.

Tuesday, July 28th, he spent the first ten hours of the day studying, washed, showered, dressed smart for the revolution, had a bite to eat (defrosted pizza and salad), climbed into his dark blue Corolla with a picture of Tommy and Gloria on the dashboards, and schoolbooks he should really unpack now everything is being done from him in the trunk, parked his car on the outskirts of raleigh, in a parking garage, where the employees showed him picking it up at around 830pm. Nothing unusual, not running, not sweating more than the weather allows for me, smiling. Calm. And then he was off.

The outskirts of Raleigh can get tricky and he didn’t bother to set up his GPS so, probably buzzing from the protest, he got lost. Which was bad. And then his car stalled on a quiet side street where the night sky was filled with stars, watching for Tommy, watching and glittering and a full moon shone and the evening calm was only interrupted by the sound of his engine sputtering through the thick evening air.

This was before global warning had changed us all, and yet there was a heaviness in the air that seemed like a harbinger of everything to come. Looking around him, Tommy felt that he had tumbled through into a multiverse where the Confederates had won, he could note US and Southern flags on grass lawns behind picket fences in a world where Jim Crow wouldn’t be enough and, as Dylan McCann, sitting on the porch watching Tommy, had said just the week before, “We did it to the fucking Indians, let’s rid ourselves of the fucking niggers…” Staring into the darkness of the night, uneasy for some reason he couldn’t quite understand but certainly something to do with what was happening in the country he loved for the people who built it, McCann was itching for action and then he discovered he had stumbled on to it. The last month of eruptions of rioters and looters, and rapists, was deeply disturbing, at the age of 32 he considered his first duty to his family and he protected them by force if necessary. He looked again, listened to the car thoroughly stalled. He called his brother, “I think we have a problem, Pat. You warned me, you said it would happen and guess what? It has happened.” Pat was a good cop and if he hadn’t been at the protests he might have managed to calm the nonsense down. Unable to reply, Dylan got tired of waiting and called his friend James and James was a hot head.

Meanwhile, unaware of this in particular, Tommy felt very worried himself and knew he had to get out fast, gave up trying the ignition and decided to call a friend for a tow but his cell wouldn’t connect. He called and called and then he just sat there baffled as to what to do. James roared down the street in his mustang, with two more friends in tow, and a baseball bat in hand, saw Tommy’s car with the light flashing in the serious moonlight, and jumped out the car at Dylan’s house, with bat in hand. “It’s a nigger looter, we saw him, didn’t we guys? He came to the wrong place to do his looting and robbing, he made the biggest mistake in his life. Hurry, let’s go after him, let’s make him pay.”

“Are you sure that’s why he is here?”

“I’m certain, Dylan. He is just waiting till honest folks go to sleep and then he is coming after us…”

“But why are the lights on in his car?”

“He’s probably jerking off while he waits…”

The night is quiet except for the four men, readying themselves. They speak in hushed and earnest whispers as the last American patriots might. They hunch their shoulders, they walk in a line, two with AK47s, two with bats, both in the muggy air that is filling their vision with the heaviness of violence. The four surrounded Tommy’s car, and Tommy thought of running away but it was too late, the engine wouldn’t ignite, and so he wondered maybe he could smooth his way out of it, but he rolled up the window instead and he awaited because there was nothing he could do but wait what he knew was going to happen. He spoke aloud: “I will miss knowing my daughter, I’ll never marry Gloria, I’ll never make peace with my family, gone and gone. Such a stupid way to…”

He was interrupted by the sound of a baseball bat smashing his windshield and shards of glass spraying, lighted like diamonds in the midst. “What are you doing, nigger…” Dylan said. With a snarl, trying to open the driver’s door, which was locked. Tommy just thought maybe they can be reasoned with even though he just knew this was it and he was nauseous with fear. “Good evening gentlemen,” he said, in his best middle class, no OG impression. “Can you please help me! I’m stuck and lost….” A claim he made even as a gaping hole in the windshield got wider.

“Sure,” James replied. “I’ll help you all your life, come out here and let me really help you, you piece of shit. I’ll help you the way you help me….”

And the director shouted cut,

It was a live shoot, not even in Raleigh but on a Hollywood backlot. I was there with my Grandma, not Grandma Marie, Grandma Trellie, and Mom, I didn’t want Marie (my kid!) around for this, or Jackie, and I sent them home. My best friend Tanya Rubelesque was watching. And Grandma wanted to see it even though it wasn’t necessarily what happened. The truth was never pieced together, though the possibility of being in the wrong place at the wrong time seemed real enough, and if there was a police connection to the people who killed him, well that made sense as well.

We made it up.

That’s what happens when you are a big star and I am as big a star as there is. Really, from “This Is Them” onwards I was a major celebrity.

I am not sure why, I don’t know why I had something the camera loved, luck of the draw I guess, an instant lottery card to life. Those who know me consider me cold, even with Marie I am not the warmest mother in the world, with men I am callous. I just like fucking sometimes. With family, I love Jackie, she’s mine and I share Marie with her. Jackie has better maternal instincts than I do, I am one of those Moms who treats her kid like one of her possessions. If i went for a drive, even today, I’d stick Jackie in shotgun and Marie in the babyseat and set off. As though they were my cell phone and purse.

The turnaround was when I won the role of Iron Woman, that was so big. It was huge. I followed that by leading The Avengers, and the second Iron Woman is inpre-pre-production, so my career is pretty much set now. The money is amazing, I received $65M for the avengers and $120M for Iron Woman 2. Money is nice and it grows, I have good money management… I am invested in my future!!!

The scene continued: I sat and I watched as my daddy’s car stalled on a deadly quiet street in a white suburb of Raleigh where Tommy Young’s attempt to return to my Mom was ended as he tried to drive away from the protests 28 years ago. I watched as not a policeman, which is the various powers that be have agreed upon are probably guilty of a stop gone real, real wrong, but various QAnons, surrounded him, pulled him out of the car. It felt like real life, it felt like a Rodney King film come to life. I stood in thought and disbelief as they beat him with sticks, and fists, and feet, as he lay on the floor and they just wouldn’t stop and then the director shouted cut again and we repaired straight to my trailer and we started drinking though I probably didn’t need it. It wasn’t real. It was all conjecture and why not?

I did it as a favor to Mom and Grandma. I did it because I had the power.

It’s one thing to be a TV star, good, celebrity, famous, but not there yet. But the moment I became the new Iron Man four years ago, it was over. I had become something you wouldn’t suspect, a superstar. I can’t go out in public without my bodyguards, and I live with my family in a private community. Everybody is there. My sister and her fiance who is in charge of security, my Mom and husband number four, Grandma Birdie, now that Grandpa is dead, and also my Grandma in law, Grandpa in law and step brothers and sister, and me the matriarch of matriarch. The star of stars. The Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner (the Grammy for a spoken word album of black poets -that was my mother-in-laws idea, the Tony as a female Atticus Finch for six months on Broadway).

On Broadway I started dating the director and we had a long distance relationship because he was always off directing except for today, on my 28th birthday, and Marie’s seventh, and my main attraction directing the brutal denouement of my parent’s early life.

Why can’t I change? Why don’t I care in the slightest? All this #BLM stuff is bullshit, nothing matters, the world is exactly where it was in 2020 only everybody now is super careful to hide it more. Like the casting couch. It never really changed, people became more careful but sex and racism are the lifeblood of our nation and not for a moment do I believe that just because I won the lottery of life, life was better for anyone but me.

As for my dad… I just can’t find a way to find him and watching Edward portray him, I don’t see my daddy though I can tell from mom and Grandma that he has caught something of my dad’s essence. Mom said I got something about her as well, though that is really acting because there is something weak about Mommy, needy, that I don’t feel about anything at all. To be honest, I am just like Trellie, I have the steeliness I can see in her, the anger that simmers about her. I am not even hot enough to be angry, I am cold to life, cold to experience, my love is both alive and long dead.

I think that is why I am a good actress, because I feel empty and then when I have a new role I fill myself back up. I think I let myself become someone else because I am not all there. Perhaps a tragedy that happened during my lifetime might change it, but Trellie had two and it didn’t do that.

Acting out Mom’s role, I imagined how I might actually have reacted. In retrospect, everybody should have been much louder in discovering the mystery behind my dad. From nearly 30 years distance, why didn’t they push harder for answers? Why all the moping, and hating, and boring. In my life, I got what I wanted, always. Could I have discovered the truth in 2020 if I’d been around? Certainly, more than this fictional account ever shall. That first day after he disappeared, maybe his trail wasn’t so cold after all. But nobody bothered. Nobody did it.Grandpa had influence with the police but he didn’t raise the hammer down, he didn’t insist. I think there was a sense of fatalism that had to do with being black in the USA.

We were driven back to my estate by the company guys, and I waited with a strong sense of anticipation for the double birthday celebration. He’d be working all day turning night for day, and didn’t have to participate in the chicanary of anniversaries. I was less brooding and more, not worrying, just… Marie’s daddy Gus and wife showed -I let them in. Who would have thought Gus would be the more loving parent? Marie adored her dad, I think she’d have been happier with David and Jackie as her parents, instead of me and my significant other Ten Jones, a great director, and a perfect match for me since his indifference towards us as a couple was way high, but he wasn’t a father at all to Marie and Marie wasn’t fond of him. Marie did love Tanya, who had maneuvered through the inevitable downturn of pop stardom, and was back at the top with a recurring role in “This Is Them” as my best friend.

It was Ten who invented See Emily Play -from an old classic rock song though Ten didn’t see it as a psychedelic whatever that I was, but rather a form of how I act, how I played myself to play someone else. It was during the “To Kill A Mockingbird” gig on Broadway, the way I turned on like a light bulb when it was time to be Atticus. “You go through a change, Em, I swear,” Ten nodded responsively,” I can see you go through a mental gymnastics and stop being you, it is like a magic, it’s like you are a woman playing a woman playing a man, and the real Em disappears while the woman being something else becomes something else.”

I guess Ten is right though it is the only insight he has into me, it is one more than anything and anyone else except for Tanya and Jackie.

My relationship, I mean friendship,with Tanya was more important than Ten anyway. I called her when I first moved to Laurel Canyon, but she had changed her cell phone number (something I also do now, it is another part of fame). We ran into each other in a traffic jam, and she left her chauffeur and joined mine. We hugged like long lost friends and I could feel her breasts rubbing against me. I was definitely into her like that, while she seemed not so into it (it would take me a year to get her in bed), but she had a rare ability of being simultaneously talkative and secretive. She natterred on and I gave her about 20% of my attention, it was clear to me she wasn’t saying any much and after a while it became clear to her as well. “I don’t need to do this at all, do I?” She asked her, her long black eyelashes batting third.

“It’s all good,” I replied and she slid my arm around her shoulders, put her thumb in her mouth and slept in my arms. That’s the way friendships start some time, and we slowly became close and if you added in Jackie we were inseparable, navigating the cesspool that is LA but not our LA. Yes, Los Angeles and the movie business is terrible except once you reach a certain ratified air place, it isn’t any more. My Los Angeles was like that boy who everything he wants to happen happens, it is scary and yet both Tanya and I are lucky in the exact same way: we don’t need the world’s approbation, it doesn’t go to our head. For Tanya, because if you think it is bad for me fucking to the top, for a child actor-singer it is heinous and much of what happened would get Joe Six Pack in prison for twenty years. It was like there was a child prostitute underbelly on every tween program.

Tanya had a family that wasn’t right for her. One was the picture of a stage mother gone wrong, the other a complete creep who just past the surface was incestuously in love with his daughter. Her Mom made a band decision, she should have had Tanya emancipated at the age of fifteen, while she still needed her Mom, and instead waited till Tanya was eighteen. The first thing she did was fire her mom and warn her parents if they came one step closer she’d have them arrested even if it meant the end of her career. That tough mindedness is something I had, I didn’t use it on my own family because whatever was wrong with my mother, it wasn’t meanness, it was weakness. I didn’t forgive her but I did pay for her and let her move in at the Young estate.

For my birthday, a big party was planned. My mansion was crowded with people, a mix of Raleigh family and my casting agent turned manager extended family, and actors from “The End Of Action” (naff name for Dad’s movie, we will change it before the release). I understand Ten pretty well, he wants to be Spike Lee 2050 but will settle for anyone else. We don’t love each other but we have a world of sex games and threesomes, and we are helpful business wise. Ten gives me legitimacy and I give Ten studio backing.

Marie was having so much fun, it was kinda nice to watch her with her friends and family, I thought, crossing from one house to another, where no one but me had access. I had no interest in any of it. No joy. No games to be played. No illusions about this stuff whatsoever. If you think adults are hypocrites when you’re a child, wait till you meet them when you are a borderline two billionaire (I figure if I sold everything that’s just about how much cash I’d have). They can’t see you for the dollars. All they can see is money. It is the American way.Is it worth mentioning that money is the great revealer? Nothing is hidden from money, nothing matters but money.

I went to my home, I locked the door, and I screened it out. I guess I have many questions about the way I am the woman I am. About how I don’t have the ego to be a pain in the ass celebrity and not because I am such a nice person but because I don’t care what people think of me. I have neither positive nor negative reflections, I am politely indifferent when I am recognized not because I secretly admire myself but because I don’t care whether I am my daughter’s hero, let alone other people’s daughters. I am not that person. I am… well, where do I come from? Where is the coolness coming from, maybe my Grandma, certainly not from my mom’s half of the family. Mom would love to love me, but I am not really loveable. I am selfish and self involved and I want what I want in life and it comes from nowhere but it has always been. I know why, I know why I leave them to celebrate me when I don’t want to be celebrated. I know who I am. I am just like my father.

Not that fictional whatever we are filming, not that fake bullshit story of him being murdered by QAnon -none of that. I never bought in, people can’t disappear like that unless they want to disappear like that. Something was missing and then it was found.

You can’t understand fame unless you are famous, imagine for a moment you have a Facebook wall and everybody you know comments upon it. Then imagine that when you walk out of the house, you are a Facebook wall come to life. All we want from actors is back stories and once I signed on to “This Is Them” I became an instant back story. And it was a very good one. Dad and Mom were Romeo and Juliet, his parents were Macbeth variant on King Lear, and it an age where decades after Intafa became real and QAnon became real, the #BLM of it all made my dad’s “tragedy” play exceedingly well.

And I was a good star, a smart star, I allowed everybody to mistake indifference for sadness, always. Only Jackie and Marie saw through me, and only Tanya was the same way. I didn’t miss anything really, except my Grandpa Willie who, as I grew older, I began to see his quietness as similar to mine: a placating of everyone to hide how tired he was. When I got the role, Grandpa didn’t follow me to L.A. even for a vacation and when I came back to close up and return to Raleigh he was dying from diabetes and at the hospital, when I stopped by for what we both knew was the finishing end, he propped himself up in bed and at first he seemed simply confused, he didn’t recognize me and was having a long talk with his own mother, who had died some fifty years before. But slowly he got used to me and beckoned me closer. “You are the only thing I’ll miss about this world, Emily,” he said, in a hushed voice. “Don’t let them overwhelm you with love, it is not to be trusted. And then silence, and I thought he might have fallen asleep, but it continued. “Find out what happened to Tommy,” he said. “That’s the key for you.” He was right that I should find out what happened to my dad, he was wrong about it being in any way revealing.

Grandpa Willie simply never knew that I was not what I appeared to be. I was worse. It is a magical evil I feel over me, and it is a good thing Marie had Jackie because if she only had me she might have assumed it was her not me. In my own way, I was like my father in that I wasn’t entirely there, not maternal really, not a mom as I saw Marie turn to Jackie from crawling to falling, she went to Jackie and that was exactly how I wanted it.
Whenever Marie has turned to me, I’ve done the bare minimum. In school, in play, whatever she wanted, I studied it and either passed or approved as though Jackie was an agent selling me a script and where I got final approval.

Maybe I loved Marie without really knowing it, wherever I went I took her along, like a cell phone or something. She is nine

Being a star of the biggest show on TV was big at the least of times, but following it with a period English drama that caught on, and following that with my first movie and winning the Oscar (which didn’t help) and also the most popular movie of the year (that did), mattered a lot. Ten directed it and that was when we first fucked. Ten was a bit more like me, and he appreciated the open ended relationship.

Yeah, I know that as well. I had a reputation of being sexually active but for a reason I couldn’t quite figure, I never got caught. It was an industry secret that I liked to fuck, and that is always helpful, but never that I was a prostitute and that was odd. Now, I know why of course, but at the time I just guessed that I got lucky. Nobody stepped up. Indeed, the two regulars were both dead and buried around the time I left Knightdale for Laurel Canyon, for good.

It is one of life’s great mysteries that a woman with no interest in fame and acting should become a celebrity, praised for raising from a tough childhood to the center of the known world. Everybody loved me. Blacks embraced me as one of there’s, whites, even supremacists, had some sort of theory where I was a white superstar portraying a woman with a black background. Clearly, some searching occurred but there was nothing hidden that much, just some hooker stuff that never got all the way out, aided by fortunate deaths and I swear I thought it was tricky myself. Two men who could have easily reported on my secret life died: one in a plane crash, a dual engine disaster where they just completely cut out, the other was walking home from a strip club in the dead of night and was mugged and killed for peanuts. Nobody figured anything out. And don’t look at me, I had nothing to do with it I promise you.

All that time, all my life, I felt as though there were huge parts of the story missing. Nothing anyone told me made any sense. For one thing, if Tommy Young was studying to be a civil rights lawyer, where was his extended family? Mommy never met any of his friends, and when I got to know Trellie, she didn’t know any of his friends either.

While legend has Tommy as one of the good guys, there was a reason why his sister and the twins didn’t obsess over his loss: he wasn’t really likable, and he made his indifference for his family clear. Even worse than me. I could be convinced to be kind and I did the right thing mostly because I couldn’t be bothered. Tommy didn’t. He thought his family were repulsive and bourgeois and a shame to him and to his black brothers. Who nobody knew at all. In a quiet conversation with his sister, she believed me when I said I can deal with the truth of my dad, told me the truth. He was a loathsome big brother, while the twins helped her in High School, Tommy ignored her, and all my mother’s stories of him being a loving and legend in High school were not entirely accurate.

It is as though the things Mom said Tommy was were refractions of false memories. He wasn’t kind, not generous, not faithful as such. And he was also smart in the tough as nails smart I owned.

When we first moved into the estate, Jackie spoke to me as seriously as she ever could get me to be. “Why aren’t you happy, Em? You have everything , anyone could want. The world adores you, I adore you. Why don’t you adore us back?”

“I don’t know why you think I need to explain myself, if I didn’t love you then maybe I would be incapable of love… but it isn’t true. I do love you and therefore… It must be them?”

“I don’t care about your loving Mom and Grandma and Grandma, there is only one person who has an absolute call to your love. Who deserves it as a birthright.”

“I don’t see myself in her, I see Mom in her, and you. It is so strange, but kids aren’t clones. At least most kids aren’t.”

“You don’t love her because she reminds you of people you love?”

“I wouldn’t quite say that. My job is protection and I protect her. But I can’t open up to her, I’m sorry. She will forgive me…”

“I wouldn’t bet on it, she is at an age where she knows something is missing…”

“Sorry but…. She got from me a lot more than I got from my dad at eight years old.”

“Your daddy died…”

“No, he disappeared… that’s all you know.”

As it dawned on me that I had hit the jackpot, everybody changed towards me. I was treated like royalty, even my step-father apologized and asked for a dinner between the two families. I asked Jackie what she wanted and she said it would be nice and so I did it. His second family, and his police family, and his relations and buddies crowded into a dinner at a family restaurant famous for being owned by a former police chief. We crowded in, maybe sixty of us, and this was the place, just after it was announced I’d been signed to play Iron woman, so not at the heights of fame I’d reach but already I was growing too big for Knightdale.

Chris was different, everyone was different, I could feel eyes upon me, I could hear their over enthusiasm when I cracked a joke, I could see Chris’s wife reaching for Marie, and me handing her over as she coo’ed in her ear and kissed her cocoa skin as an opposite of Chris’s vicious and vacuous racism. I didn’t care, I kept Jackie by my side and made it certain that everybody knew that Jackie and I were close as close can be. Though even Jackie seemed to change a little, it’s impossible not to. It is impossible to know what a truly famous person is like. I appeared to her different because I was different. I wasn’t given to the assholeness of celebrity, I wasn’t rude and I wasn’t demanding, my coldness had always been there. But I was almost regal with the Johnstons, I treated their glow in my presence as my due, I was the Princess of Raleigh, I was the most famous person to emerge from Raleigh ever. I was discussing this while filming my four movie, just after Ironwoman, with Evan Rachel Wood also from Raleigh.Like me, Evan got out early, and one night we went out to dinner, and got drunk, and ended up in bed, and, story of my life, she wanted to explain how Raleigh was a place where you lose the accent, and you lose the racism and the stigmata to middle class liberalism, but you try and try to hold the charm of your southern roots, of the way your American is part and not apart from the greater America.

Fucking the famous is part of being famous yourself, naturally. It is thrilling being in bed with someone you’ve watched on the silver screen, or listened to, for years and years. And then… you are the notch on other people’s bedpost. But I wasn’t like Evan Rachel, that was not where I came from, because I am black, and my daughter is black, and my father is black. I was a trick baby par excellence, fame gave me forgiveness for being a nigger.

She rubbed my back and nuzzled my ear and called me a newly formulated nickname: Bob.

“Bob? That makes no sense…”

“Bob because when I’m near you all I can think of is Blonde On Blonde…” she replied, with a glistened intelligence that all but proved we wouldn’t last long.

Given everything I had going for me, it really helped that I was so hard to cancel. For fuck’s sake, my black father was gone before I was born, and not in a cliched way of running from his responsibilities, but fighting for his people. No one could find a line of attack, nobody could wonder what I was. Nobody dared open the box and see if the cat was alive or dead, they could only take my word that a quizzical, somehow both innocent and sexy smile can express all the needs in the word.

And yet in the early years, when I was first a regular on “This Is Them,” and working on a small indie movie that would get picked up at sundance, and become a huge hit, as those two things were happening, only Jackie and I shared what was happening to me, it was like a metamorphosis: I became changed, like a particle of light that changes while observed and also when not observed, the act of watching me change me. I drank less. I fucked less. I was less cold to the world, at least ostensibly. I appeared less cold to the world. And only Jackie saw it as a thing that was always there, that I had the instincts of a serial killer and an indifference (though no pleasure in) human suffering. Jackie knows I am a sociopath and loves me anyway, and helped me to hide it which, along with my money, fame , and acting chops, helped me hide myself from the world.

That slow burn of fame, which grew and grew, was an experience of the world turning towards me with increasing awe. I would have made a great narcissist during those first few years, I would have been a huge example of an unqualified love can satisfy some parts of you. But I didn’t care, sitting on the toilet at an awards, one very famous star recognized the shoes I’d been wearing under the stall and I felt trapped, caged in fame though the warden was a popular woman. She wanted something from me. And at that award I figured it out for good: I gave her something, I wiped myself, I got out, I washed my hands, I dabbed my make up, then I turned and I hugged her and walked out.

Like playing itself, it came naturally to me. It brought neither happiness nor sorrow, I never watched the box office, I never checked my Q Rating (though my manager, former casting agent, assured me it was off the charts). I let my instinct tell me what people wanted and how little I could give and not let my mask drop. That woman I hugged found a way to drop my name with an instinctive glimmer and deep affection in a number of high profile interviews. She cemented my public persona.

That persona was not unlike the way I used sex when I was in my teens -to imply an emotional intimacy that didn’t exist, to show I was the same as them though I wasn’t. I could feel my Mom’s dislike for me, she always tried to hide it but never did and it was reflected in her inability to save me from my step-father. I don’t much give a damn about my daughter but if anybody hurt her, I would kill them. Just out of social grammar, good manners. My Mom didn’t get involved when Christopher hit me, she huddled in fear; he only hit me twice but what would she have done if he made a habit of it? She didn’t even end the marriage, Chris ended the marriage. Pathetic. No wonder my dad found some way to leave her. She wasn’t what she needed to be, she wasn’t the wife of, or mother of, a superhero.

I might well be a sociopath, but I am a sociopath who has never been cowardly, has always thought hard and made tough decisions, without fear (at all) of hurting people who didn’t deserve my attention. And even the exceptions were clearly exceptions. Jackie just got lucky, coming to me at an age where I wanted to show to me what responsibility for others felt like.

I’d sort of known it from the kick, and always assumed it was a part of the Family Young, but after getting to know them I realized it wasn’t them, it wasn’t heritage, not even Trellie. Perhaps it was just a wire in my brain that refused to turn on properly.
But it works for a filmstar, it keeps me out of trouble, it keeps my fame face on all the time and I don’t care since there was never a time I wasn’t wearing some form of fame or another. I never had to prove how cruel I could be, life took care of it for me. When Duane broke up with me, or whatever he did, I didn’t hate him for it, I didn’t feel upset, my oldest friend dropping me because my daughter was black made perfect sense and I got it from one end or the other. I didn’t believe people could treat each other any better. And after Mom and Chris Johnston divorced, and Mom wouldn’t shut up about Dad, I didn’t believe her, it wasn’t how people were. And then I discovered why.

I was sleeping with Ten while he was directing me on Broadway, but I wasn’t only sleeping with him, or only concerned with him. I was a free agent and after the evening performance might go out with Ten, or might go out with myself. I was recognized but I wasn’t in the headlights of the paparazzi quite yet. I wasn’t that big.

“To Kill A Mockinbord” is a tough play and the decision to revive it again and simply switch the sex of Atticus Finch and not bother even considering that a woman defense attorney in Alabama would even have the job, made my job harder. But I acted through it, and being a Southerner myself, what I lost in XY, I made up for in something you can’t fake, the presence of a true Southerner.

I liked New York City, in my free time I’d put on shades and a beach hat, and walk from the theatre down to the village, as anonymous as you are, “unwept, unhonored,, and unsung. New York City’s indifference to me was like a gift, walking straight across to Lexington and all the way down to St. Mark’s Place the streets were filled even at midnight and bumper to bumper made me very happy to walk it. It felt like being free from the chains of mass approval and I would daydream about never being born and just arriving here with o family, no daughter. I’d daydream about being my dad and being lost to everyone, everywhere.

In a world where everyone wants the sort of fame I have, I am the rarity, a person who simply doesn’t want it in the slightest, I want to be left alone. Other actors are great artists and I am simply a great business woman. The morality of acting, of indie, of Broadway, of superhero movies didn’t interest me: I was, just as I was when I was in my teens, an entertainer for money and ready to make your dreams come true for a price.

In restaurants and diners it could get tricky but I had found a quiet place on Avenue A, with strong drinks and rare burgers and fries, and I would end there at the end of my day. This day for night, it was past midnight and the local office workers had thinned out and the remainders were trying to balance buzzing on booze and worrying about tomorrow. I sat in the corner, my long blonde hair down to my shoulders when I wasn’t wearing a short wig for my role as Atticus, was in a bun and covered by a baseball cap. The tables were Lady And The Tramp Italian but the bar was more leather and male musk, the clientele were middle class and conservative, and mostly a mix of white and asians, so the man stood out every time he showed here.

I took my usual corner of the bar with my back to the wall, and the bartender was one of my girls, who helped keep me hidden and allowed me to get a little drunk. She was a cute, middle aged, big boobed gal and I was considering hooking up with her. The problem was, she didn’t get out of work till 4am and I didn’t want to hang around an additional two hours. She was so into me, just like everybody else, she served her bar but I was the only person she saw, and that was the story of my life but not my life itself. I was quietly aware of everything around me and specifically ever of a black, middle aged man, who I had noted there a couple of times. He was aware of me as well though he was so careful I never noticed him looking at me…. I just knew. I waited patiently for him to make his move and when a guy doesn’t, usually it is because of a fear of rejection, but I didn’t see that fear at all in this well dressed, suit and tie, shaved, shiny boots, handsome guy -think a bigger Barack Obama in 2015. More a brain like a computer was filling in the 0s and 1s. His eyes were a strange green glare and when he looked about him, he kept his eyes shuttered as if they were a windmill to his soul then he didn’t have much of a soul, and if he was a groupie he didn’t act like one…

The third time I saw him, he moved from a table in the distance, holding an icky looking cocktail, and sat next to me. “Have you ever wondered about your name…?” he asked me. I was a little disappointed, I assumed whatever he said when he said would be a brain bending riddle of quirk and self-importance. The theme should have been to handle himself as a person with importance to my life; as opening gambits go, this was not that by any stretch. I almost dismissed him but… something I couldn’t put my finger on.

So instead I replied “Emily? Come now, is that all you’ve got….”

“Is it all your father ever left you…?”

“Yeah, if not less, it doesn’t mean anything…”

“Your father is dead…”

“Perhaps, he is a miracle of who gives a fuck.”

“Perhaps he gave your name to you…That’s what the papers claim…”

“… and the papers know best…”

“And you have no idea why you were named Emily? Maybe a girl he lost or maybe something much more mundane, maybe, maybe… It’s a shame he didn’t name you Atticus…”

I looked into his dark green eyes, and square jawed, not daddy type olderness, his muscles rippled quietly under his white, fresh shirt, just out the wrapper and windsor knot tie, electric gray jacket, he looked cool in the middle of a long, hot summer night. Maybe he would do. “And what is your name?” I asked.

“Atticus Finch, scout” he replied with a grimace and I had to laugh, then he put his hand on my shoulder and said “Teddy Feynman”.

“Well, Teddy Feynman, you may buy me a drink.” I took to Teddy immediately, he had a cool extract similar to me, and he seemed interested in me physically without being overwhelmed by me or creepy. Teddy half smiled and then ordered us whisky sodas… “You shouldn’t mix your drinks,” I warned him. “At your age, who knows what will happen to you.”

We drank till past 3am and my bartender-would-be lover gave me the eye but I wouldn’t be leaving with her. I went to his place, with the basement carpark and a secret elevator in the back. I sat in the car and wouldn’t move till he found me something to cover my face, “I don’t need my face all over the tabs again,” I said. Teddy took off his jacket and I covered my face and followed him.

“Kinda secretive, Feynman,” I said.

“Dont worry…” he replied.

“I’m not worried, I can see no reason to take me back in order to hurt me…”

“Exactly…”

I wasn’t worried but somewhere in the back of my mind I could see something else emerging from my brain, a snapping, electric, elastic understanding. I covered both our faces with his jacket and kissed him hard before we reached the floor he lived in and it opened straight into the hall of his apartment, the only apartment on that floor. and we kissed there as well. Feynman’s apartment was rich and single, and it was unhinged by loneliness. No pictures of family, anywhere, no emotion in the black leather and light gray walls, the room was clean as a whistle, as though he never lived there, and nothing about the place looked like anything but a cold as ice apartment, it wasn’t a friendly place, it was austere and expensive at the same place and it revealed nothing about the owner. If I didn’t have Jackie and my kid, my LA estate would be the same: it would be empty of me. Feynman poured me a drink and kissed me again, and I knew he would be a good ride, and also a one time only, I couldn’t see us pursuing it further. I chalked him down to a guy who wandered into the theatre and got a hard on for me, and pursued me quietly, and from a distance.

He half maneuvered and half carried me to his bedroom, I’m five eight and 6’1” in heels and he was still a little taller than me, he didn’t take up the oxygen, there was something about him that feel like a magic carpet trunk, like in Mary Poppins, I could just imagine him unpacking himself with one secret after another, like the gun he tried to sleep in the bed’s drawers, easy to reach if necessary.

And we fucked and it was both creepy and good, it was both extremely loving and extremely wrong and while I didn’t want to work it all out, I didn’t see where to hide from the truth. At some point, with his cock all the way in, I knew for sure: “Oh Dad, you fucking bastard…” I whispered in passion while he came inside of me. Did I mean “daddy, daddy” or was he just another roleplay?

Afterwards, I lay in his arms and he whispered. “You were called Emily because, yes, a black man can be a classic rock fan and I named you after the Pink Floyd song ‘See Emily Play’ and with the bright light upon us in the bed, I could see him clearly. Teddy and Tommy were the same person. I didn’t say a word, i got him up again and made the most of his dick and then quiet again.

“Go on, you deserve answers.”

“Mom deserves answers.”

“I loved her in my own way but I didn’t love her whiteness enough to spend my life answering for it as I didn’t love your Grandmother’s racist anger enough to be a part of it. I wanted something else and I had to have something that was more than this, and that part of me was both living with Mom and burying underground, where the real world is managed. I was very smart, and very cruel, Emily. “I didn’t even care about you. I wanted out.”

Teddy held me close and mistook our closeness for some sort of affection, a fatal mistake. “At first, I was interested in how much my Mom would hate Gloria, how she would loathe her and be furious because she couldn’t stop me. Trellie -your grandma, worshipped me, I was her favorite, but it was stifling, and she creeped me out, the sexual undertones weren’t like ours…”

“I had no choice, I didn’t know.”

“You’re lying, you knew…”

“I knew you weren’t who you claimed to be but not my daddy…”

“Would it have stopped you?”

“Absolutely not… I’m attracted to you so fuck everything else…”

“I knew I wanted to fuck you once I began to see you on television, I can’t explain why but I just was completely attracted to you. I knew you’d be a big star….”

I didn’t want to talk about that and lead him back “You felt stuck and you wanted out…?”

“Completely without options, I wanted one thing only and that is, whatever the cost, out. I went to #BLM meetings for around a year and I worked my way up, and then up further, till I was organizing behind the scene, and then further and further, and the further in I went, the further away I became from Antifa and the closer to a very quiet organization that worked as a hall of mirrors, if they find out I am speaking to you they could kill me…”

“There are people behind people, race, gender, country of origin, political beliefs are meaningless to the powers that maintain control of the world. A warehouse blows up in Jerusalem, a play closes early on Broadway, the Wall Street Journal posts an Op Ed condemning Saudi Arabia. None of it connected but somewhere beneath the layers something else is being prepared, triangulated, unseen to even the most paranoid…”

“… and that was more important than your entire family who you left to mourn you for decades?”

“Much more important, I wanted to know what line of life connected to me to your Great-Great Grandmother, who killed the master to save her son. I want to see the nth factor of life clearly. We only have one of them and I wanted it to be exactly what I wanted it to be whether it pleased anyone else or not. They wanted me, they recruited me away from the nonsense that any life matters to a world where we poull the strings. We are the power behind the power.”

“Are you trying to recruit me?”

“Not in the sense you mean,I just think that you are hard enough and stubborn enough to make a great operative.”

“And nobody really knows who you are…”

“A handful of people and now you.”

“So you left Gloria….”

“Will you stop with your Mom, she was a first rate pest. Is there anything more irritating than to be worshipped by a brain dead white girl? It was a pleasure to break her heart…”

“Wow, that’s a little harsh for a woman obsessed about you for decades…”

“Are you going soft on me, Em?”

“No, but even so, I’ve never been cruel for cruelty’s sake, I’ve always had an end in mind…”

“And so did I, I was recruited to a very strong agency in behind the scenes op working with the black community…”

“You were spying…?”

“No.. but I might have. I was just keeping the conversation flowing in the direction I wanted…”

“So you never married?”

“No…”

“Never had more children or fell in love…”

“No, that wasn’t the life I wanted… Every Thanksgiving I’d order myself a fully cooked turkey with trimmings, turn on the game, and be thankful I’m alone…”

We had been talking for an hour and he was up again, so we fucked a little more and then I asked him, “So why are we here…?

“Do we want to go that far into motives Surely, I don’t really need a motive to fuck you?”

“To fuck me, you don’t need a motive, but to lift the veil? That requires a motive.”

“Yes, we do.”

Dad stroked my hair and his soft was so touch and loving that I tried to forget the gun on his left hand table.

“I had no interest in you and never even heard of you till “This Is Them” and I thought you were so good, so attractive -instantly, I was attracted to you: I knew you were going to be a huge star. So I got my people looking into you and discovered how much you did for money, and I knew the two guys who were regulars were a major danger to you…”

“So you killed them.”

“Had them killed but it is the same concept. And I watched your career with pleasure and was constantly impressed by how you maneuvered your way through Hollywood -you didn’t need me at all and that made me want you more.”

“Didn’t you think that I might not want to know you?”

“Not for a moment.”

“I don’t want to know you.”

“Yes, you do because I am the largest part of your picture, I give you the emotional distancing device that allows you to live your life the way you chose. Do you think you’re like Gloria. You aren’t at all. Nor trellie, nor Marie, no one, you are completely different and that keeps you ten steps ahead of the world, doesn’t it? It’s not that you are the smartest person in the room but that you are the most ruthless and clear eyed, you look like an angel but you are neither angel nor innocent but a business woman and the business is to do what you will. Which makes you just like me .”

“And Jackie… and Marie…”

“I don’t know who Jackie is but Marie is an accessory… I bet you’re a terrible mother…”

“I bet I’m a better mother than you were a father…”

“But you forgive me now, don’t you” Dad said, reaching for my body… But I stepped away and went to the bottom of the bed, and then to my left, and Daddy stared at me in a satiated lustfulness… both satiated and not at the same time, but unwary.

“No, not really. I saw how you left my mom and your mom, there is a cruelty that amounts to misogyny…”

“Just like you…”

“No, I was poor and I used everything I had to get out of the crippling effects of poverty that you put me in before I was born. I don’t know if I am inherently cold, I know I’m inherently cool, but I know what it takes to make it in this world. I also know how the world functions. You could kill me but with difficulty: I’m too famous. But you’ve disappeared once and nobody cared except for the people you hate most, and you could be murdered again and it would be all hushed upped by the powers that rule you. No one would know, no one would care.” I was near his table lamp and as he closed his eyes with a grin, I picked up his gun. That got his attention.

He smiled at me, grinned, and then shrugged, “You don’t have the nerve,” he said.

“The thing is Tommy, you are unfinished business, you are the already ended, and murder is something I am capable of without a doubt.”

“You don’t even know how to use a gun.”

“Oh please, I am Ironwoman, of course they taught me how to use a gun. Don’t you remember the second scene.”

“But I’m your father…” he said as it sunk in that he was in danger and he began to unravel his torso before jumping at me, but I shot him first, right in the middle of his forehead.

“You were my father…” I smiled. Then I cleaned my fingerprints off the gun and put it in his hand, that wouldn’t fool anyway if they were looking but they would know it was me pretty soon and the last thing they needed was that sort of publicity. They would drop it.

I took a quick shower and left as I came in, the superstar actress had a matinee…

-THE END-

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