Across the alley is an apartment building. You look into one of the windows and see an old black couple arguing in a loving, formulated fashion that they’ve worked for years to perfection. He gestures violently, his left hand holding a half‑eaten turkey leg.
She, continually wiping her hands on her apron, finally balls her fist up and shakes it in front of his face. He turns away in disgust. Who is she? Bessie, mother of many children, daughter of a sharecropper, opens the Bible to the very same verses. Behind her eyes lurk 1,000 dead Ashanti dreams. She possesses the keys to a house in the suburbs. She gets car fare. She takes the early bus to where she wears the same housedress and walks from room to room carrying a radio. She’s never paid taxes — she’s always paid in cash. She has no Social Security number.
She is an angel on earth, the guardian of the house, forever wiping her hands upon her apron, tucking the children into bed, sitting heavily beside them, her breath sweet, her stories bittersweet, her hair a crinkly, soft white tied with a bandana, always weary, never tired, with a great posterior that moves with grace from room to room. Housemaid, housemother, house spirit, protector of children’s dreams. Verses, Psalms. She sings them in a melody that evokes the sound of a great flowing river, of distant banjos, the scent of magnolias, great porticos upon which gentlemen with drooping mustaches sit, feet up, drinking mint juleps.
She knows the secrets of the master and mistress of the house. She knows where he keeps his pornographic magazines, where she keeps the list of lovers that she visits from time to time. She’s found the wife’s recent love letters, airplane tickets to destinations not mentioned in daily conversations, receipts for jewelry the wife does not possess, and deep within a jar of Vaseline, the key to a motel room.
She’s found the cotton handkerchief into which the teenage son spills his seed in the secret moments of his private ecstasy. She’s found a small, brown bottle with white powder in it, the cap of which is attached by a small, brass chain to a spoon, rolled up into a pair of socks in the drawer of the teenage daughter’s bedroom.
—© Joe Frank
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