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A couple at war
We were at one those stale points in our marriage. We'd weathered them before, but this one seemed to take us by surprise. Only thing moving was a slow breeze.
It had been a long hot summer, especially August one of the hottest ones on record. Everybody was desperate for a break. Yet when cool weather finally rolled in it didn't bring the much needed longed for relief.
Nothing was going right for us-nothing really does. It wasn't anyone major catastrophe just a string of little nicks just breaking the skin a bit.
We'd seemed to have gotten ourselves in another jam. Money as usual. Funny how we never quite figured out how entwined that green stuff was in our lives...but so it goes.
Anytime we get any, it disappears. We chalked it up to our inability to manage money-translation, we fuck up. The gray ghost had finally given up with a clang and had to
be towed from the side of the road. The money we'd borrowed through Ray's credit union for a new used car vanished quicker than we could count it. He'd heard about a place. Well, this one turned out to be a bigger lemon than the one we'd just towed
away. Ray smelled fraud and sought out a lawyer. Now added to our negative resources were legal fees.
And so it was that particular week-just days after payday and broke again. Rent was late tuition and a host of others too. Yet I kept quiet. Didn't seem to do any good getting angry. There was so much we wanted not to mention needed there wasn't time for anger.
We just kept going as if everything was just dandy yet I was always on edge waiting for something else to happen.
Neither of us knew how long they'd been together. After awhile it didn't seem to matter much.
We had known them for sometime. Introduced through our children. Well, their granddaughter and our daughter. Inseparable friends since first grade.
We lived only blocks apart and would walk the girls to and from school stopping from time to time to gossip on the corner. Though years apart we attempted to bridge our gap with
I'm not really sure how everything turned. How we had gotten so involved beyond our girls education. Yet that seems to happen to us too, we never know when to say when.
I didn't mind in the beginning in fact, enjoyed having someone other than Ray whose gender made him aloof, to talk to.
Over the years the countless sleep- overs, bowling and movie excursions more of their lives unfolded.
Both originally from some place else they relocated here to be near a family member in need and got stuck-caught up in circumstances now out of control. Yet they appeared to making the best of it, just like us. When the pressure became too much, explosions inevitable, we became their sounding board-reluctantly or not.
One or the other would drop by complaining and cussing.
"He don't do that." "She don't do this."
Always the same like myna birds back and forth in and out around and 'round. Never getting much of anything said or done.
We'd sit back and listen, laugh later and learn perhaps.
Sometimes after one of their visits, I'd wondered it that's where we were heading. Together for longer than memory pulling at each other to keep the other from moving on. Would Ray and I know when it's time? I try not to dwell on that for too long. Yet with
each new crisis they faced, for one moment at least, they came together and got through.
Despite all their candor, there were a few things we weren't to know. Even among the best of friends there is a line that isn't crossed a closed door you don't open. This was understood and we let those questions slide between our small talk.
They had come to rely on us. Not for major things but for little stuff someone else was always gonna do. We didn't find this an imposition, glad to help when we could. Perhaps they reminded us that things could always be worse.
It was shaping up to be a busy weekend. Most of us living paycheck to paycheck tend to pack a lot in a 24 hour day. Ray was working all weekend. That left me to fill the empty hours. I didn't have much planned. No money, shaky transportation, we were limited.
They were moving. Across the street in fact. We never found out why. Perhaps they thought a larger place would give them both the space they demanded. It shouldn't have been complicated. A short haul. For them however, even the simplest tasks get bogged
down in unforeseen red tape.
Saturday afternoon was shining through cool and bright a nice park day it was close and free.
Before 10:00 a.m. came the knock at the front door. I wasn't even dressed yet-but I did say I'd help.
She was exasperated. Close to tears. The tension had been mounting days prior to the big move.
He was suppose to pick up the key earlier trying to avoid the exact situation they were in. He said she was suppose to have all the utilities transferred. Well, it was easy to see how things were going to turn out.
It was the first day of my period and I really wasn't in the mood-but perhaps this latest drama would take my mind off of how shitty I felt.
A dozen or so calls later she had assembled a moving team.
She sank down in the fraying floral over stuffed chair in the front room and sighed.
I left her be-feeling that where ever she was she was much better off alone.
Leaving it unsaid, she slowly got up to leave. I told her I'd be down a little later. We could throw a few light loads in the red lemon and put-put around the block.
"OK,” she replied sadly heading through the front room and out the door.
I should have noticed. What. I'm not sure. There must have been some sign. A little hint that something was wrong-terribly wrong.
The rest of the afternoon marched on with barely a notice.
Evening was soon upon us. Saturday night frustrations just barely overflowing. There was the usual argument from the mismatched couple a few doors down. The usual cussing and
shouting, then it fizzled out. Smoke hanging over the hood just slightly.
They were nearly moved in, four car loads later. There wasn't much left but some odds and ends from the basement.
There had been a few outbursts earlier. Frayed nerves giving way-not completely. Nothing that added up to much than a shouting match-childish at that. Quickly they settled down and picked up where the move had stopped.
That's where I left them. It was after 7:00 p.m. Ray was on his way home and I hadn't even started dinner.
I hurried in and got busy. Picking up the house throwing something I hoped would pass as edible together. Other than the noise from re run Saturday night television car or two hip
hopping down the street there wasn't much out of the ordinary. All sounded well, I assumed all was.
Ray walked in about 8:00p.m. Sheryl was in the tub, dinner such as it was ready- house, not bad. 8:30p.m. we were eating. Sheryl freshly scrubbed hair rolled ready for church in the morning. Everything was fine. Quiet and peaceful- I should have noticed too peaceful too quiet. 9:15 p.m. peace and quiet erupted perhaps shattering lives forever.
We heard the rumbling. Low at first slowly brewing to a roar. Then a thudding sound blended in, next a crashing. All noises melding together composing a melody of horror.
We tried to piece it together. What happened first? Who cares, listen to now.
We could hear their door slam, an echoing crunch of glass and bits of cheap aluminum.
"Mothafucka! Where is it? Where’d you put it? All my fuckin' money, where is it?"
The words ricocheted around the corner, caught hold of the smoke still clinging in the air and ignited. The first boom pounded down their porch on to the sidewalk.
"It's gone goddamnit! That's all you need to know just gone now get the fuck outta my face!"
"Get your ass back here and tell me where my money is nigga!"
"Go on woman. I ain't got time for none of your shit!"
"Oh, you gonna make time. Long and hard as I worked while you sat on your ass complainin' leaving shit makin' me do everythin'. You gonna tell me where it is."
The silence was sudden.
The second boom poured into the street, ignoring passing cars eager to get their party on, his anger headed for a neighborhood bar. Making way for the third boom.
"Don't you walk away from me. For once in your stinkin' life you gonna tell me the truth!"
She followed him. Shadowed his every emotion. We heard a crash. More glass breaking perhaps bodies slamming into the pavement fists pounding flesh. Feet stomping over cracked concrete. Screaming-then nothing-a haunted silence.
We knew who it was. Had known for awhile. Things would settle down, they'd been fighting for as long a they'd known each other. Things always went back to normal. We hadn't yet figured out that always isn't forever.
Ray went first. Peeking out through the opened screen door.
"Oh shit!" The screen slammed as he bolted across the three lawns separating us.
Ordinarily sedate neighbors poured out of their apartments turning in to vicious voyeurs.
"Call 911!" Ray shouted.
My cup of flat generic diet soda dropped to the floor sending ice cubes clanging into the assorted auto parts lining our hallway. I grabbed the phone dialed without realizing I didn't know their new address.
"Across the street!" I barked nearing that line of hysteria. I stammered out our address. Moments later Ray came in, a flurry of motion. Grabbing blankets and towels sending toiletries flying from our cramped cabinet and onto the floor.
"God! I think she's killed him." He brushed by me, nearly knocking me over. "Cora!" He snapped noticing the phone still in my hand.
"What's their address?"
"5245 Lexington." He hurried towards the door.
I was still trying to get the address out when I noticed Sheryl standing bewildered in the doorway.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
I couldn't answer; there wasn't much I could tell her. My mind flashed to Tanisha. Was this her weekend with her mother? No. She'd been with us earlier. Had she been picked up later? The questions rattled among the growing panic.
The sounds of the neighborhood swarmed. The scene crept in, without thinking I grabbed Sheryl and dashed out.
Hands and arms, empty faces pulled at her kneeling at his side.
"Drunk crazy nigga ain't nothin' wrong with 'em." Tears fell aimlessly down her expressionless face. Clearly, she was somewhere else.
Sirens screamed then screeched to a halt in front of the Saturday night scene.
Tanisha peered from the front steps. Vacant eyes searching for anything a glimmer of familiar among the strangers and their chaos.
I wanted to move towards her. I think I tried, shock, disbelief or the growing crowd of the curious. Whichever, I was glued to the concrete; I could only watch her desperation.
She is lifted, more like pried away from him. Hoisted off to some obscure corner of the chaos now oozing across three blocks.
"Knew one of them would kill the other one day."
"Thought it be the other way around though."
"Both of them mean as pit bulls."
"Guess it's finally gonna be quiet ' round here for a change."
Murmurs, mindless whispers floated through a clear dark sky.
Betrayed by reality, we are locked in this nightmare unfolding around us yet out of touch.
Ray, with Tanisha on his shoulders, zig zagged towards us.
Drenched in sweat and dazed we embrace. Gently he put Tanisha down. There the four of us stand looking yet not seeing what's taking place.
From our vantage point, we see him lifted into the sirens and flashing lights. Blinding her, eyes shielded-she moves slowly- guided by unknown arms, hands pushing her towards the sirens and the flashing lights.
Reluctantly the smoke cleared. Smoldering embers scattering the sidewalks inching their way back from the madness to their own precarious domestic safety.
A disquieting peace swooped down as we sat on our sofa cradling Tanisha between us.
Ray started on the necessary calls.
"We're not sure."
"She's fine. Of course she can stay with us. 5858 Henry."
"Community General-I dunno-it looked bad. I dunno, I guess the usual."
Pieces of conversation drifted into the stillness. Embraced in the darkness, we made Sheryl and Tanisha comfortable on blankets on the front room floor.
Deep in evening-safe we believed, Ray and I clung to each other. The unspoken fears hiding in our shadows.
She was not charged. Thanks in part to his alcohol level and a saw-it-all-through-lace-curtains-neighbor.
His VA benefits allowed her buy the two family they were renting. Soon after, Tanisha's mother moved in upstairs.
She quickly settled back into her routine. Took care of a few neighborhood kids, tended to her newly planted garden- something to fill the quiet spaces between then and now.
We see her, a few minutes shaved off her pace, and she appears at peace, yet still oddly at war.