Tuesday, April 10, 2007


By Claudia Ricci

Ma is shouting at me but I’ve got the white running socks tied around my ears.

“You cannot go, do you hear me? Do you hear me? You’re crazy to go, there is so much flooding out there, there’s flooding everywhere, right down the street, one bridge is out. Do you hear me, Gina?”

I do, of course I hear her, I’d have to be deaf not to, but of course I don’t let her know that, I just stand there, sweaty and stinky and just staring her down, motioning to the wet socks, one tied over each ear.

Running socks I’ve just taken off. Wet socks. Wet shoes too. I think it’s funny. Wet shoes. Wet socks. Tied on my ears.

I have to laugh, so I do, but my humor is lost on her.

“Stop with the laughing. And take those stupid socks off your ears already. Take them damn socks off your ears and listen to me.”

I pull them off. “What?”

“Please don’t go, Gina. I don’t want you to, it’s not safe driving.

“Well, so I’ll take the train then.”

“NO!” Her finger comes up to my nose. “That's worse. It is supposed to rain some more today. What if the tracks are flooded? I want you to stay home.”

“No Ma, I’m not staying home. I was outside jogging and the rain has tapered off. Yeah there are puddles and the river is high but I’m driving away from the river. The hurricane is over.”

I shrug, as if to say, that is the end of that story.

But of course it isn’t. I am turning toward the steps, I have one bare foot on the first step up when she grabs my shoulder. Yanks my pony tail.

“Hey, stop that,” I yell, wrenching my hair out of her grip. But she’s got me back on her level now. That bony finger of hers is practically resting against my nose. I can smell the garlic she’s been chopping. And something else. Chlorox, maybe? The washing machine is chugging away down in the cellar.

“So you just think you can just ignore me, just walk away, just like that?” Her voice stands in some kind of desert. The sands are piling up.

I raise my voice over the hot dry wind. “Yeah, Ma, I can. Because I gotta get ready. If I’m gonna meet Jackson at noon, I gotta go and get ready. He’s only got six hours, I told you that.”

Her eyes flare. “So you stand there and tell me you can do whatever the hell you want to when you want to, no matter what? Even when they are saying tornados? Huh? Tornados, Gina. What about that? Huh? You wanna end up dead in a tornado?”

I close my eyes. “Ma, go look at the weather channel. The tornado warning is posted for the south. I’m going north. North, Ma. Fort Drum. It’s away from the tornadoes.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t like it. I don’t like you going up there anyway. Nobody should be driving up there today.”

“I told you he’s got only this afternoon. And then he ships off for…”

“I would just a soon he ships off for good and that you never see him again.”

I stare at her. I sew my bottom teeth into my top lip and I count to seven. And then, ten. I turn and start up the stairs again.

“You made a mistake, Gina,” she calls after me, “but now that’s over you don’t have to make another one.”

I bite into my lip so hard I taste blood. I have the wet socks in my hands and I started to wring them around my right fist. I feel my belly clench. The muscles know. They still remember the pains. The feelings are almost a year old, but I remember so well. I told Lauretta, my sister, that I felt like there were steel cables pulling across my abdomen. And then, in the end, just before the end, there was that flood of pain, like a freight train, barreling through me. Ripping apart my belly. And all that warm blood bathing the space between my legs.

All of that comes roaring out of my memory now. I wait a moment so I can collect myself. Then I turn to face her. I whisper. But lying below the whisper is a razor blade.

“Don’t you dare go down that road, Ma.” The tears are like hot wet beads crystalizing around my eyes. A couple drip over the soft ledges that are my cheeks. “You should know better. I deserve better.”

“Well, yeah, I deserve better too. I deserve you getting married. I deserve you going with somebody who can...”

"Who can what Ma?"

She stops. Maybe because I am sitting on the stairs now, a fist full of socks stuffed into my mouth. And I am starting to bawl, the sound muffled by the socks.

“Oh stop your crying. All I was saying was you are too good for him.”

I bolt to a standing position.

“Oh no, Ma. That’s not what you’re saying. You’re saying that he is too dark for you.”

“I am not saying that.”

“Yeah, but you’re thinking it. Say it, just say it why don't you? You want me to go with somebody who can do what? Huh? Give you a white grandson?”

“I don’t want to go into it. All I know is that you just assume you can do whatever the hell you want to do when you want to, go anyplace you want to, meet anybody you want to, no matter if there is a hurricane or a tornado or an earthquake. You are crazy. You are.”

“No, Ma, you are crazy. Because there has never been an earthquake here, ever. And there never will be. But if I have anything to say about it, there will be a black man in this family, whether you like it or not.”

I stand up and my heart pumps triple time, my bloody lip trembles, and I race the rest of the way up the stairs.

Writer Claudia Ricci teaches at the University at Albany, SUNY. She lives in Spencertown, New York.


Jasmon said...

The rhythm of this project is unrealistically precise. There is a level of ambiguity that leaves an attractive taste, not overdone and very welcome. I was thoroughly impressed.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Really, really good!!