Cornrows

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Gay and Lesbian  |  House: Bookshelf


A father has a heart-to-heart talk with his children.

Submitted: August 21, 2016

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Submitted: August 21, 2016

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My momma taught me how to fry chicken when I was six years old. She put some flour in that big old plastic bag. Put the chicken in there, she said. The cold raw meat felt weird against my hands, but I did. She closed the bag tight and shook it around until the chicken legs were just covered in the magical powder. Mom would turn on the faucet and sprinkle a little water on the grease to make sure it was hot, letting out a big ahhhhh as loud popping noises sounded throughout our small, two-bedroom house. "Never do that," she'd say. "Never flick water out on hot grease. If you want to see if the grease is ready, toss in a little bit of flour. That's safer." I'd just watch her and smile as she calmly - but cautiously - placed the chicken into the skillet. She was so brave; I was always so scared of getting burned. 

Almost fifty years later, I'm sitting here in this creaky recliner eating a bag of Lays Potato Chips, salt and vinegar flavor. My legs shake, but not because I'm cold; it's because my three beautiful children are sitting here in the loveseat beside me waiting for me to open my mouth and say something. I had mistakenly figured that I would be brave enough - maybe even stupid enough - to just blurt out the words as soon as they plopped down on the couch. They're old enough to understand it, I'm sure. Now that I think about it, they're all sitting down in the order of their ages: Mikhail just turned 18, Eliana is 16, and AJ will be 15 in two months. God had blessed me with two sons and a daughter, and I'd do anything for them - but I wish I didn't have to do this. Why isn't there a how-to guide for shit like this?

They are all staring hard at me, waiting for me to say something. Goddamn it, speak! But yes, of course; lemme get some more chips from the bag and munch on them instead. That's certainly more productive than having a serious conversation with your children. A staring contest is a lot more appropriate.

"Dad, didn't you want to tell us something?"

Who asked that? My eyes dart in the direction of my boy AJ, the most curious one out of the three. I remember that as soon as he could crawl, he was into any and everything. Like the time that he got into his sister's art supplies. I am still finding little smudges of green paint on the sides of my bookshelf. But, now I look around at my kids and they look concerned; I must have been smiling or something.

"You look weird, Dad. Everything okay?"

This time, it was Mikhail who spoke. He was always so quiet and reserved; the family used to say that it was because I spoiled him too much. He needs a haircut, and maybe even some new clothes - my future achiever. Mikhail always gets good grades and does well in school; he's definitely going to do great in college. I cannot wait for him to walk up that stage and receive his bachelor's degree. He's going to look so great and -

"Dad."

Eliana, my beautiful little girl. She looks even more worried about me than the boys. Raised eyebrows, big eyes, lips pressed tightly together - she looks pretty terrified. Then again, I have just been looking at them for the past five minutes. She would make a good psychologist someday, I swear. She's got a good head on her shoulders.

Fuck. Shit. I'm doing it again. Okay. I'll just put the chips down on the coffee table and (sigh) spit it the fuck out. 

We need to talk, I say. I'm proud that I at least got the introduction out without puking my guts out onto the hardwood floor. "It's about me," Mikhail mumbled. "Right? It's about me, isn't it?" My head is shaking. No, my son. It's not about that. It doesn't matter to me that you smoke weed, I tell him. A lot of people do it. I just wished that I'd have known sooner so we could have smoked together sometime. At first, he was mortified; realization hit that his old man was joking, and he let out a nervous chuckle. "Great idea for father-son bonding," he said, slowly shoving his hands deep into his pockets. 

My heartbeat elevating, I can feel my hands start to tremble and my legs soon follow suit. Just slide your hands in your pants pockets and play it off like it's nothing. Crap; maybe Mikhail inherited that from me.

My mouth opens and closes; the nausea is really hitting me, and I can feel something coming up in my throat. Forcing whatever was in my throat back from where it came from, I took a deep breath.

Here's a story, I told them, about a young little girl. She was tiny, sweet, and bright. The whole world was for her taking. Caramel skin. Big black nappy hair. Inquisitive eyes that questioned all and interrogated none. Enjoyed Tom and Jerry almost as much as she enjoyed her Barbie and Ken dolls. Mostly Ken. Definitely Ken. Her momma thought that she'd start growing up too fast and her ass would have to get torn out the frame a couple of times to get her to act right. But with Jesus in one hand and love in the other, Caramel Skin didn't need no man. She needed an A in math.

Sweat is slowly forming but my brain is commanding myself to keep going. More words leave my mouth, talking about when Caramel Skin grew up to be 17 and reckless. When it came to her books, she was fine; she kept sneaking out of the house at night, going off with the friends that her momma called the funny-looking jokers. There was Hassan, Nasir, and the stud they called Polo. All were masculine, all were aggressive, but all were happy. Something that Caramel Skin wasn't. Caramel Skin didn't like herself no more, and she wanted a change. She didn't know what and she didn't know how but her skin was no longer her skin. She was dull, devoid of excitement and emotion. The therapist off of Bobby Jones said she was "clinically depressed" and was given these pills that were supposed to "help". Caramel Skin just became duller, lethargic and addicted. The funny-looking jokers would drag her out of the window after she popped one, two, three many pills out of the little bottle that sat patiently on her bathroom counter. Vodka tasted better, music bumped harder, and the kisses were sloppier. Caramel Skin stopped keeping track of how many guys, girls, guys who dressed like girls, that would grind on her on the dancefloor, whispering in her ear empty promises that would never get revisited. That's when caramel turned into a roasted peanut.

Graduation came along, I'm explaining, and Peanut Skin went off to college. Hassan proudly became a Blood, Nasir had a baby a few months before, and Polo was too busy pulling hoes to care about an education. Peanut Skin, despite her parties and pills, got a scholarship at a big liberal arts school in the North. Her momma would say, you're finally going to college, and hug her tight every day until it was time to move in. It was a co-ed dorm, full of boys and girls starting out life just the same. After her first semester, she stopped drinking as much and right before her second, she quit those pills cold turkey. Peanut Skin met a friend, a man of good stature and height and build and of excellent qualities not found in the slums of the South. His skin was the color of a deep dark chocolate and his big afro made headlines when he walked into a room. Timid voice of deep wavelengths introduced himself as Chaz Wilson, son of Ellis and Naomi Wilson and great-great-great grandson of Henry Cleaver, a former slave from Virginia and a little-known abolitionist. Knowledge radiated from his presence and he educated Peanut Skin of all the things she was never aware of. Peanut Skin grew wiser, stronger, and more defiant of things that she deemed too possessive or too biased because she was now conscious of herself. 

Mr. Wilson soon found himself in a bind as he began to care more about Peanut Skin and less about his own studies, soon skipping many a class to watch his lover thrive. He would shower his queen with jewelry and food and love and affection, holding her close to him as they missed the house council meeting napping carelessly. It was when his parents threatened to come pay a visit that the Peanut Skin, however vibrant, should take time elsewhere. She transferred to another college and Chaz Wilson was soon without scholarship, credits, and his beautiful goddess. 

Letters were exchanged back and forth between the two, my mouth was saying, and the love for each other grew brighter than ever before. Peanuts tanned into a nice, tawny shade and dark skin grew more leathery and tough. Soon, phone calls turned into insecure arguments. He'd say that no one else could have her and dress decently when you go out and these other niggas do not love her, while she'd contemplate over why he referred to himself as one in the first place. Soon, communication stopped for a week and time repaired most of the damage. Tawny Skin saw a change in her long-distance lover as she herself was going through changes of her own. Dresses made her cringe, and makeup laid untouched in her bottom drawer. She'd become more accustomed to her go-to sweatpants and snapback, leaving her face untouched with the exception being her facemask.

Tawny Skin finally had the gall to dump Chaz around the same time she met a girl called Mahogany. Mahogany was the first girl Tawny Skin ever loved. They were roommates, they were friends, and both were less dull when the other was around. Sharp like a knife, Tawny Skin's grades soared. Tawny Skin was rejuvenated. Tawny Skin was finally happy. The two graduated simultaneously from college and that was when they separated for the first time. Mahogany went off into the Navy and Tawny Skin got a job at a publishing company. It was when Mahogany was deployed, living on a ship sailing in the middle of the Atlantic, that Tawny Skin wrote her a letter professing her love because being without her felt like a pencil on paper, the light scratch of art being created at the cost of tattooing a dead tree. Writing her name repeatedly on her notebook, she confessed, was like cursing herself each day, knowing that her right hand would think of the left handed one at sea and without thought exterminate the purity of the white sheet of paper, when all Tawny Skin wanted to do was scream it to the rooftops. The two got married to each other two years later in a private ceremony, sealing their love with matching tattoos and miles of military paperwork.

Watching my oldest son shift in his seat and at first, I paused. Mikhail is looking incredibly uncomfortable, Mahogany's eyes staring into mine. Did she tell him this story before? Maybe. My heart skipped twelve beats in that instant, tears forming slowly in my eyes, and I had forgotten momentarily how to breathe. Still, I cleared my throat and - choosing to ignore my son - continued my story.

As I was saying, I continued, they had gotten married. The Navy was being kind to the both of them, Mahogany saying stateside - for now. One night, in bed, the two talked about the future, moving to Virginia, starting a family. At least, that was what Mahogany was talking about because Tawny Skin was mute, terrified of opening her mouth and speaking her mind. Yes, she wanted to live with her wife, but not in Virginia. Yes, she wanted to have kids, but not for a few years. And wearing her Fruit of the Loom brand boxers while sinking into the memory-foam mattress draped in the Egyptian cotton sheets she had just washed earlier that day, she was uncertain about the future. Mahogany sensed that, and stopped talking about it, saying that they could finish their conversation later. The relationship instantly became strained like a plastic bag overflowing with groceries. 

The same day Mahogany suggested they see a marriage counselor, Tawny Skin blurted out the truth in desperation. It was at the kitchen table, a Domino's pizza and suddenly a new wedge placed between them - the very thing one expected from the other. Astonished, Mahogany said nothing more and simply rose from her seat and walked out of the house. After a month of not speaking, Mahogany suddenly showed up at her spouse's job, still wearing her blueberry colored uniform, with a bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates. Eventually, time started to pass and the counseling helped. They had one, two, and three children. They got a dog, made plans to grow old together. They both took medication and both of their conditions required surgery, but they decided to stay together through thick and thin not only in their wedding vows but with a love that couldn't be defined by any prepared speech off of the internet. Mahogany lost her hair, and her spouse gained similar jet black naps above the top lips. Mahogany got her hair back, and she retired from the Navy. They raised their kids together. Everything was coming together. Everything is alright.  

Not knowing what else to say, I finally stopped talking. My mouth stopped moving. My kids and I are staring at each other and the silence is quietly killing me. My hands are shaking inside the pockets and as I glance around at my children's faces, none of them show much emotion; I can't tell what the fuck they're thinking.

"Dad, is this a story you've been working on?"

"I guess you c-could say that. I guess you could say that it's a story never-ending."

"You're not publishing it though, aren't you? You never think your work is good."

"Wait." Eliana's voice, light and airy, interrupted her younger brother and instantly grabbed everyone's attention. My daughter is so smart and perceptive, the wheels in her head turning steadily as if her entire mind is a working, well-oiled machine. As I feared and hoped simultaneously, she's shocked and she's staring at me. She's figured it out.

"You're Tawny Skin, right?"

"That doesn't make any sense. Tawny Skin/Caramel Skin/whatever else is a girl. Weren't you paying attention?"

The bickering began between the kids at I sorta like it. It reminds me of why I breathe, why I rise out of bed each day. My pulse slows down to a comfortable rate and I calm down with it. My hands become still; I am ready. My mouth opens with confidence and I step into the flames I was so scared of. Like my mom, I am brave. 


© Copyright 2017 Kalaide Cades. All rights reserved.

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