Shawna Smart is no stranger to A Word with You Press, having previously won one of our literary contests. But while previous contests were designed to help participants become better writers, this contest is to help all of us become better righters. In Shawna’s case, righting the wrong her father imposed upon her and an unsuspecting, unprepared victim of his racism.
Feeling gut punched? I am. Here is entry #3
by Shawna Smart
The human face is a landscape, and mindless hate it’s crucible.
My first taste of the poison racism came at four years old, little white girl in a Shirley temple dress and black leather patent shoes, long platinum hair rag-curled, hopping with the eager joy of a child carrying a tender treasure to a beloved friend.
God’s light streaming through stained glass windows to pool glowing on hushed thick carpet and gleaming woods, quiet organ chords and the low murmur of the congregation.
A glossy black monkey carved from imported African ebony in hand, exuberance exalting my soul, I rushed to my favorite church usher, Teddy. His beautiful chocolate skin smooth and sober, rich full lips flashing forth a kind, brilliant smile at me every Sunday, his pockets brimming with butterscotch and taffy.
My father’s scowl at these warm gestures a nervous mystery, the oddly curled smile that Easter Sunday he sent me skipping forward to press the monkey into Teddy’s gentle palm, a complex heat coiled like profane cruelty in his glittering, bitter eyes.
“Please Teddy, may I see it?”
Teddy’s face bent kindly to me, his wondering eyes passing over the monkey in his palm, and then back to my face, receptive and curious.
“See what my dear?”
“Your tail. My daddy said if I brought you this monkey, you might let me see it.”
Wishing I had been born with a tail to keep in a jar on my closet shelf, that my skin could be that lovely velvet brown instead of fish belly white, and that my eyes might be big beautiful pools of ebony too, like the lovely monkey, I nodded, bursting with anticipation.
Hoping he would let me see it, just once.
Teddy’s landscape crumbling, shining eyes drained of joy and filling with the hard film of harm, the deep lines of a lifetime of labor in the church collapsing into granite and shadow. His eyes tracking from my shining face and finding Daddy’s, malevolent with triumph.
Once more to mine, those pools of pain, then the shuttering, a sorrow behind which steel slammed down, imprisoning soul, reason and humane hope. Acceptance, quiet misery, and a weary patience peering now into mine from a barrier of stone.
“Your daddy just teasing, honey. No human being is born with a tail.”
A gentle pat on the head and he turned away, fumbling the monkey into his fine suit pocket as he paced towards the exit, calm and erect, never to return to aisle nor altar.
A bitter fruit, that first mission of apocalyptic cruelty, delivered by the purest hand of admiration.
Lifetime scar, never to be forgotten, a stage my soul will forever haunt, featuring the landslide of ruin crushing a gentle old man in the theater of the mind, my own trusting hand the culprit, and hate the ravenous postman.
Thanks, Shawna, for sharing this memory, and for being the generation in your family let the healing begin…Do you have a story to tell? Tell it here:https://awordwithyoupress.com/2017/11/10/the-drinking-fountain-healing-history/