Resplendence

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Nakeisha Quansah always wanted to be a legendary musician. After getting her wish, her life is nothing but a constant nightmare...

 

Glitz, glamour, glitter and gold. The velveteen nicotine of the red carpet. Nakeisha Quansah, my name, composed upon living room TVs and skyscraping marquees. Ever since I was a little girl, rarely a day passed without me fantasizing about the nirvana of fame.

 

Mirrors were my stage and playground during my elementary school years. Even though it was pretend, whenever I sang, the world’s love blossomed for me like a tremendous garden at the dawn of spring. I danced like Janet, posed like Mercury, dressed like Madonna, belted like Patti. As each note left my lips, whether it was silk or fire, I imagined a smile warming on Mother’s usually cold face. Apartheid and her escape to New York would become a distant childhood memory to her. The table-waiting she did for every rude and perverted customer—nothing more than a haze. The dreams of singing opera, the choirs, the studying, the lack of sleep, the Juilliard acceptance letter, Father’s murder three years after my birth, the moment she dropped out to raise me—all I had to do was sing in the mirror to melt every hurt she had ever known.

 

One night I was performing at the Royal Albert Hall when Mother entered my room. 

 

“Do you really want to learn music Nakeisha?” she asked.

 

“More than anything,” I said.

 

Her smile nearly killed me with happiness. She embraced me in her arms and her cardamom musk.

 

“I’m going to make you a star,” she whispered in my ear.

 

On my eighth birthday, Mother drove me home from school with a face ready to burst with giddiness. The same thrill bubbled in me until we arrived at our balloonless, boring old Hoboken house.

 

“Close your eyes,” she told me. And so I did.

 

With her hands guiding my shoulders, we entered the house. No birthday cheers.

 

“Up the stairs,” she said. “Careful. Don’t trip now.”

 

I was a mess of sweat, heartbeats, and butterflies as we walked. Was it a bike, a new Super NES? What was going on?

 

“You can look now.”

 

I opened my eyes. The white room looked familiar...then the oak out the window helped me piece it together—Mother had once said it was supposed to be my brother’s before all the stuff with Dad happened. But instead of the usual dust and vacancy, there was a guitar, piano, drums, violin, bass, music stand, and a small shelf full of books in the corner.

 

“I had to take out a second mortgage for this and the lessons. Only the best for you.” She kissed the top of my braided head. A love as sweet and warm as her cardamom perfume swept me into a pink reverie. I hopped from instrument to instrument, playing and singing (very poorly) until I tired myself out. 

 

Then came tomorrow and the days after.

 

I went to the piano expecting magic. Instead, Mother came in the room with that cold, emotionless glare of hers. “Back straight. No slouching. Fingers like so...” The notes I played over and over and over and over again slowly chipped at my brain, like a horsefly constantly clinking into a lightbulb. She drowned me in music and advice. Free time was a luxury. I wanted to quit, but I knew how cold she could get. So, I stuck with it, even when I wanted to weep. The pressure squeezed my neck even more once I asked a teacher what a second mortgage was. 

 

A week later, I played Prelude in E Minor flawlessly from start to finish. At that point, I’d grown irritatingly bored with Chopin, but when I turned to Mother she was in tears. Smiling. “That was wonderful. Play it again for me. Please.”

 

And so I did. Again and again and again, holding back my tears. The more I played, the more angelic it was. Then Mother hummed along, and it was as if all we ever wanted to say was said in those beautiful, fleeting cries to a lonely room in the middle of the world. 

 

“Promise me you’ll never be weak like your father,” Mother said.

 

I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I promised anyway.

 

From that moment on, I trained like a soldier. Music became a puzzle to solve, a mountain to conquer; everything else was secondary. The metronome grew so familiar that by the age of ten, I could measure my pulse without a watch. Was it hard? Of course. But seeing Mother happy as well as the otherworldliness of music played to perfection, they made the struggle worth it. 

 

All was right with me—and everything where it was supposed to be. That is, until high school. 

 

Mother and I were at a record shop. A rainstorm crashed against the windows with such violence that the outside was nothing more than a distorted picture of dark blue. Besides us, the only customers were two liberty-spiked leatherjackets and a neckbeard with a snaggletooth who reeked of French fry grease (though he left immediately after Mother berated him in front of everyone.)

 

“I’ve been thinking,” Mother said while flipping through a stack of jazz records, long after French Fry Guy was gone. “I know you’re fourteen, but maybe I should let you get a couple albums with the parental advisory label. You’re mature enough, and it’ll do wonders to diversify your musical palette.”

 

I said sure but was only half-listening. Holding Tool's Ænima vinyl in my hands, I spaced out in the white space of its cover. I wanted to disappear into it, away from girls like Tasha Jenkins who called me Big Mac or Donkeyface daily. Away from their laughs and note-passing and rumor spreading. Boys adored them, money found them, confidence never left them. They proved that success and happiness were reserved for the pretty. The fat and ugly, those like myself and French Fry Guy, we were the storm distorting it for everyone else.

 

The moment we got home I played my guitar. But my heart wasn't in it. So I put it down and sighed in my hands, fighting the tears that stung my eyes.

 

“What’s wrong,” Mother asked.

 

There was no use hiding it so I told her, but the moment I did her face hardened to that too familiar cold—no, worse...it was fucking ice. With a stone hand, she slapped me across the cheek and screamed at me to not leave boot-prints on my back. “Use this hate,” she said.

 

So I did.

 

Mother introduced me to a friend she knew from Juilliard who by now ran an independent label. He signed me on for a modest chunk of change and royalties. With their help, I wrote, recorded, produced, and published songs under the pseudonym Sunni Moon. It was fun. I felt like a real artist.

 

Then—oil! Out of nowhere, my second album “We, the Medianauts” went triple platinum. Wasn’t sure how our small operation got so lucky, but it did. Autographs, concerts, interviews, praise upon praise. The jealous side-looks of Tasha and her clique were like candy to me. 

 

Two months after my high school graduation, an ocean of shadows cheered “Sunni Moon” at Madison Square Garden. I sat down at the piano, the silk of my red evening dress splaying like a peacock’s tail the lower it went. The band readied itself in the background. I took a deep breath and released it in a lightning-swift legato on the piano. Then a decrescendo into the first verse:

 

Blood on my knees, scrapes on my face,

The world I always knew now a different place;

The sun was high, the clouds were low, 

A view a very few will ever get to know.

How wrong they were and now they see

How this destiny was meant to be

Eight thousand miles all on my own

Now it’s only me and me alone.

 

The music from the orchestra ascended above the venue in firestorms as complete emotion blazed from front to nosebleeds. The spectacle of pop with a sprinkle of heart and soul. Creativity unleashed, Sunni Moon fully realized, a smile as wide as sin and unable to be held back.

 

As I absorbed the love, I imagined myself not just as another musician, but as a legacy, an era, an unforgettable voice louder than all the rest long after my death. A god among mortals. Finally, I thought. I won.

 

?

 

Seven years later, I found myself in another morning:

 

I woke up. Did an hour of calisthenics. Showered with shea butter soap, foaming cleanser, and a Himalayan salt scrub. Made myself oatmeal and fruit and walked out onto the villa’s balcony—the mimosa sun of Hollywood Hills bathing my face, the warm oak deck on the soles of my feet, the chlorine drifting up from the pool. From the outside looking in, life was paradise.

 

I people-watched the commuters passing by. Blonde, brunette, kid, adult, drivers, walkers; they all seemed so clear-headed, like they knew what to do. So why was I so damn exhausted? Compared to the homeless and war-ravaged, did I honestly have any right to complain?

 

My phone rang. Arnie, my assistant. 

 

“Wanted to remind you of movie screening slash afterparty you have tonight,” he said.

 

I groaned. “I swear, leaving Carnegie for the bigshots at Weatherwood Records was the worst mistake of my life. It’s an open secret how much of a creep the director is, yet they’re forcing me to go to his little...soiree.”

 

“That reminds me, your lawyers said they wanted to mediate with Weatherwood next week. Sunday at one-thirty in the afternoon.”

 

“Thanks Arnie. I’ll see you at the party. Also, can you book another exterminator? The rats were making noise in the attic last night.”

 

?

 

10 pm. Hors d'oeuvres and antique booze floated around the garden of the Santa Monica beach house. Franz Lawrence, the director who legally changed his name to Love Conquers All, was debating some tech mogul while a crowd gathered around to listen.

 

“It’s only fair we’re criticized by the general population,” Love said. “Public figures have a moral responsibility to be upstanding citizens because we hold more influence than the average man.”

 

“But celebrities are still people,” the mogul said. “They—we, rather, still have flaws. But instead of keeping secret, the whole world watches for little slip-ups, that one offensive mistake. And once they do, #EndOfCareer. You should know that more than...” He trailed off, catching the taboo he was about to say.

 

“Perhaps, but their attention is justified,” Love said, as if nothing out of turn was about to be mentioned. “We can’t ignore the effect our words have on our audience. Be realistic. Without their support, we wouldn’t have the luxuries we have. We owe it to them—”

 

“We don’t owe anything! We didn’t ask to be role models. Talent brought us here.”

 

“And luck,” someone chimed in.

 

“We owe it to them,” Love continued. “To set an example. Like politicians, they elected us as their Übermenschen. In a way, it’s a check-and-balance—riches, fame, and influence for surveillance. If the public didn’t judge us, then ethics and morality are at risk.”

 

“So what?” the mogul said. “Give up our personhood and hide our mistakes for the sake of strangers? It’s ... it’s paralyzing. Being good isn’t the issue, but are any of us good 100% of the time? And what’s good for one person might be bad for another.”

 

“Well you can’t please everyone.”

 

The crowd laughed. 

 

No longer able to deal with those holier-than-thou hypocrites, I escaped to the beach and sparked a joint. The moon shone like a sword on those velvet-blue waters. As I smelled the salt and smoke, I gazed down a horizon that stretched to nothing. I took off my shoes. The sand sang in whispers between my toes. What I wouldn’t give to only be a part.

 

An unknown number texted me. “Let’s die together Sunni Moon,” it said. I blocked the number and pocketed my phone.

 

“Care to share with the class Ms. Quansah?”

 

I turned. It was Arnie. We puff-puff-passed between ourselves.

 

“You think anyone would stop me if I put a bullet in my head?” he asked.

 

“Only if they got to take a picture with your body,” I said. “Enjoying the party as much as I am?”

 

“I swear that man...” He pointed to Franz. “That man is faker than tits in a porno. I can't wait to read his obituary.”

 

“Did he call you ‘Mr. Leichenberg’ again?”

 

“It literally means corpse mountain! He knows I hate when he calls me that. We get it, the son of a famous serial killer is at your party. How exotic. But who am I kidding? Not like being an assistant and living paycheck to paycheck’s any more noteworthy.” 

 

“Don’t grind your teeth,” I said. “People will think you’re childish. And maybe if you weren’t trying to impress your partner with a new condo you wouldn’t be knee-deep in debt. You’ve only been dating him for what, three months?”

 

“I told you it’s an investment.”

 

“Three bedrooms and a jacuzzi isn’t an investment. It’s a fuck-pad.” Brief pause. “Question, what did you think about their conversation, I mean Franz’s and the other guy’s?”

 

“Sanctimonious and trite. You?”

 

“Same but...I don’t know. Fame is like being a statue 24/7, always holding a pose with no time to relax or be you. If only I knew back then—”

 

“Poor princess. Shall I hand thee a royal tissue your majesty?”

 

I laughed and punched his arm. “Shut up.”

 

“But seriously, you’ll be okay. You’re the strongest person I know. If there’s anyone who can survive this California madness, it’s you.”

 

My phone went off again. Same text, different number.

 

“Everything alright?” he asked.

 

“Another stalker. Probably got my number from a data-leak like last time.”

 

I’ll get you a new phone tomorrow,” he said. I handed him the phone. “Need extra security?”

 

“Nah,” I said. “Probably a crank message.”

 

“Or a secret admirer.”

 

I chuckled. “Like I have time for romance. I’m jealous of you sometimes.” 

 

People gathered around for a picture on the deck. Franz motioned for us to join them. 

 

I stubbed out the joint and saved it in my Ziploc for later. “Let’s get this over with.” 

 

Once 1 AM hit, my security detail drove me home in a black Yukon. As we approached the gate, the paparazzi swarmed us with cameras and questions. It pissed me off yes, yet a tiny part of me pitied them for having nothing better to do. 

 

I was escorted inside. I put on my PJs and went out on the balcony with merlot in a coffee mug. The wind sighed and yawned as it tickled the tiny hairs on my arm. The Los Angeles lights winked among a dark so calm I slipped into a forgetful dream.

 

The next morning an exterminator came. He said he saw no evidence of rats in the attic, but that he’d set poison and traps if I’d like. I told him to come by Thursday. Then I checked my emails. Among the hundred new ones I skimmed through, one stood out. 

 

Subject: u r so beautiful 

 

I opened the email. No text, only pictures. Pictures of me sleeping on the balcony, cup in hand. From different angles and perspectives. Ten, twenty, thirty, I lost count after the fifty-ninth photo. One was a close-up of my lips, chapped and unsuspecting. My heart pounded. Breathing became impossible. 

 

I quickly swiped a kitchen knife, locked myself in my room, called 911, then called security to inform them. Every creak and footstep shook me like a scream. I cried, not wanting to yet not able to stop. Was I about to join the slit throats, raped corpses, and buried heads of the world?

 

Arnie once told me how it felt when his dad shot him and his mom in an attempted double-murder-suicide as a kid, how it’s like getting a pebble thrown at you the instant it happens, how once you see the blood leak from your body is when you feel that supermassive white-hot pain all over, and you beg for it to end but it only gets worse until finally you'll accept even death just to get rid of the agony. Then a chill creeps on you from the inside out—the first phase of dying, of becoming more thing than human.

 

My bedroom spun before my eyes. I wanted to throw up but couldn’t—instead, nausea built up slowly inside me until it was all I knew. 

 

I pleaded for it to end. 

 

What did I do to deserve this? 

 

Please make it stop. 

 

Please. 

 

Please. 

 

Please. 

 

The cops eventually arrived and searched the entire house. Said whoever came here was probably long gone, but that they’d keep an eye out. Not long after they left, Arnie stopped by. Said Weatherwood still wanted me to judge at the America’s Talented Stars taping today.

 

“Now?” I yelled. “Really? After going through this shit?”

 

“I tried to explain the situation, but they kept pressing the ‘you’re still under contract’ button. I’m sorry Nakeisha.”

 

I heaved a sigh and put on my best smile. Then I puked all over the living room carpet. The taste of gut-soup lingered even after wiping my mouth and chugging Listerine. With Arnie’s help, I stood up and put on another smile. “I can handle this,” I told myself.

 

A car fire on the Ventura Freeway kept us in traffic for an hour, but we eventually arrived at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. The theater was packed. Rehearsed singing, from the angelic to the downright animalistic filled the holding room. I shook sweaty hands and signed autographs until I was escorted to the green room. I got myself ready: Makeup. Hair. Tongue-twisters. Then I walked out and seated myself at the glass table in front of the stage.

 

To my right sat Ryan Alverez, an actor. To my left sat Heather Heartly, an A-turned-C list supermodel who recently filed for divorce. I’d feel bad for her, but she had a way of fixing that.

 

“Hey Nakeisha,” she hissed at me. “Sleep with any married men recently?”

 

“Recently no,” I said. “Perhaps you can put a word in at the psych clinic? I know you were really good friends with the patients.” 

 

“Why you—!”

 

“Ladies,” Ryan whispered. “Let’s not make a scene.”

 

Before Heather could get a word in, a P.A. walked up to us and said we had a minute till showtime. After adjusting our mics, he ran backstage.

 

“Friendly advice,” Heather whispered. “You should really lose some weight. That dress of yours is starting to stretch.”

 

“No wonder he divorced your crazy ass,” I said through my teeth. “How can you be so hung up over something I didn’t even do?”

 

“Go ahead, keep lying,” she whispered. “You know I’m glad he wasted his time on whores like you. Very few men can handle the powerful auras Aphrodite bestowed upon me. Just you wait. The universe hasn’t even begun to witness the resplendence that is Heather Heartly. And I’ll be more important than what he, you, or anyone else thought poss—"

 

“Ladies!” Ryan hissed. 

 

Theme music. Cue the applause from the audience. Smiles and buddy-buddy behavior all around.

 

What a circus.

 

As the assembly line of singers rotated on stage, the cheers and jeers repeated until what was said sounded more like noise than actual words. The leather chair numbed my ass and lower back with nerve-pinching discomfort as I sat for hours on end, save the occasional standing ovation. My smile was glued for so long I no longer knew if it appeared photogenic or psychotic. A bullet to the head couldn’t have come fast enough. One look at the crowd dizzied me into a shifting trance: the people were shadows, all was false, an overload of isolated dreams in this theater.

 

Then a ten-year-old girl entered the stage. Said she wanted to be famous like me. Awws from the crowd. Heather giggled and gave me one of her trademark hugs and cheek-kisses. I returned the gesture, still recovering from my space-out.

 

The girl then sang a song I forgot a long time ago: 

 

Blood on my knees, scrapes on my face,

The world I always knew now a different place;

The sun was high, the clouds were low, 

A view a very few will ever get to know.

How wrong they were and now they see

how this destiny was meant to be

how I hiked these miles all on my own

now it’s only me and me alone.

 

Her baby-bird voice was shaky and offkey at some portions—but what lacked in quality was compensated with spirit and emotion. As if the child, though filled with sinewy anxiety, felt a sudden yet immeasurable grief which made her wise much beyond her years. 

 

Ryan voted yes.

 

Heather didn’t (with a few boos from the audience which she smiled off).

 

So it was up to me. I didn’t know what to do. Her puppy dog eyes burst with hope. She white-knuckled the mic for dear life. Anyone would want to give the girl the Earth and more. But that “sudden yet immeasurable grief” in her voice was only an illusion. She didn’t know cruelty, how it ground you to dust without mercy. Years after making it to The Show, when tabloids and public courts of opinion reduced her humanity, would she blame me?

 

I said no. I thanked her and told her to cheer up, but she just cried and ran off stage. 

 

After the show, I went back to the dressing room and lit up a blunt I had saved. Not too long later, a security guard with blonde hair knocked.

 

“There’s a Candice here for you. Says she’s your mother.”

 

A weight sank in my chest. I stubbed out the blunt in an ashtray. “Let her in.”

 

The guard let Mother in. Mink and designer clothes draped her from head to toe—a gawdy, royal curtain. That familiar cardamom perfume. She took off her leopard-print sunglasses. “Hello darling.”

 

“Mother.”

 

“You haven’t answered my voicemail. Too busy, I assume.”

 

“I’m done giving you money.”

 

“It’s the business idea of the century,” she continued. “An R&B-themed African restaurant. You know how your uncle is dying to use that culinary degree of his. We just need the right capital to lift it off the ground. Say $500,000? You and I can be co-owners while—”

 

“Mother, listen! I’m grateful for what you did for me. Really. But between the house, the car, and a million other things I paid for...enough is enough. 

 

She crossed her arms. With a lukecold stare, she sighed then began: “I’ve never really told you about your father, have I?”

 

“Not much. Why?”

 

“I met him back at Juilliard. He was sweeping the floor while my class rehearsed Macbeth. Always invented excuses to see me. One night he showed me his album of photos he took around New York. He wasn’t the most talented but his photos...they spoke to you as if each of them was a friend. There was this picture of a red bike in the foreground of an empty street...

 

“Anyways, he lost—rather, he quit his job. Thought cleaning up after everyone was beneath him, so he decided to pursue photography. I supported him but I guess he wasn’t as good as either of us believed. Then I had you and well, things just got messier. I dropped out to make ends meet while he blew whatever savings we had on booze. One night we were arguing about I don’t know what, money I think, when he randomly stormed out. At first I assumed he got drunk and was shacking up with one of his little whores. Until I got the phone call from the hospital. Died of alcohol poisoning.”

 

“He wasn’t killed?” I said.

 

“That’s right,” she said. “Dumb bastard drank himself to death because he couldn’t handle a little disappointment and struggle. I struggled. I know what struggle is.”

 

“I don't get it. Why lie?”

 

“I’m not sure. Maybe I believed if I didn’t tell you how weak your father was, you wouldn’t be like him. Boy was I wrong. The weak only care about themselves. And you are weak. After all my sacrifices—the meals I skipped, the two jobs I worked to buy a decent home, the second mortgage—this is the thanks I get? You repay me with a knife in my back!”

 

Her face distorted into a boiling rage. Deep lines creased and wrinkled her normally smooth face into an appearance resembling a gargoyle. It was as if the woman I was looking at changed into an entirely different person. 

 

The security guard knocked on the door. I let him in. “Sorry to interrupt,” he said. “The cast wants you out for a photo.”

 

“I’ll leave,” my mom said. “I wish you loved me as much as I loved you Nakeisha (if you even go by that name anymore).” She put on her leopard sunglasses and left.

 

“What was that all about,” the guard asked.

 

I sighed. “Nothing.”

 

The guard exited. I stared into the mirror, trying my hardest not to smash it to pieces. So I screamed.

 

?

 

Late evening at home. I was gorging on Chinese takeout and cabernets. I texted Arnie while I ate, bullshitting about his new condo. 

 

My phone rang. Mother. I sent it straight to voicemail. I remembered her strict lessons (“Back straight. No slouching. Fingers like so...”) and how it all led up to Prelude in E Minor. My mind danced as her voice wavered like smoke, as I played that song again and again, as her smile melted the coldness away. I wiped away the tears.

 

An hour later there was a text message from her: Hello Sunni.

 

Me: if this is about last week in Pasadena I’m not sorry. You can’t keep guilting me into giving you money.

 

Mother: I’m sorry. For everything.

 

That was new. I had to read it twice just to make sure I was seeing correctly. After taking a minute to think of what to say, I responded

 

Me: It’s okay. Look, I’m sorry I didn’t answer. Maybe we can talk in the morning? Getting kinda late lol. 

 

Mother: No not that. I promise this will make sense. Just listen...

 

Mother: She didn’t deserve you.

 

Me: huh?

 

Mother: She didn’t appreciate the gifts that you have. Too late for forgiveness.

 

Me: wtf are you talking about?

 

Me: what’s going on?

 

Mother: Love is not a one way street to heaven.

 

I called her. No answer.

 

Mother: Talking too slow. Much faster this way.

 

Mother: Don’t have much time.

 

Me: Mother, you’re scaring me.

 

Mother: Your “mother” got what was coming to her. She doesn’t see you for who you are.

 

A pit ripped my stomach. 

 

Me: Who the fuck is this?

 

Mother: Compared to you, I’m no one.

 

Me: Where’s my mom?

 

Mother: Gone. She can’t hurt you anymore.

 

I dropped my phone. I didn’t want to believe it. Couldn’t. It had to be a trick of the mind. Stress. Anything other than what I saw. But what I read never changed.

 

Tears blinded me. Ice burrowed under my skin, biting until my fingers were dead cold. The air left and left and left and left in hyperventilative waves. It was all upside-down—what was wrong was right and what was right was wrong.

 

Mother: This is for you.

 

?

 

The month after, as per Weatherwood’s contract, I signed autographs to promote an album release of mine. I didn’t even know what it was titled until I arrived at the record store and saw the posters.

 

Fans gave their condolences. I thanked them while secretly wishing they’d all go away. My left hand grew sore after signing autograph after autograph. It didn’t help that my stomach sent random shooting pains; the joys of womanhood. 

 

Eventually, the line continued until a strange, yet familiar person reached the front. Neatly trimmed beard. Skinny face. A Spartathlon t-shirt and sweatpants. Then he smiled, revealing that snaggletooth of his. French Fry Guy. It seemed like he turned himself around. A part of me was glad, but another part invented stories of other demons he might have been hiding—drugs, a rocky relationship, some mental disorder. Perhaps it was unhealthy, but they made me feel better.

 

I signed his CD, took a photo, and that was that.

 

After the signing, I had security drive me to Coldwater Canyon Park. They parked the Yukon nearby while I went alone, disguised in a straw hat and sunglasses.

 

I sat on a bench and gathered my thoughts. Squirrels skittered up trees. Leaves strolled and danced in the wind. The warmth of dusk’s violet sky napped on my skin. The chaos in my head ordered itself and all was at peace. I buried my face into my hands. Silence, darkness—what beautiful music they were. Then the tears poured.

 

The click of a camera. “Hey, aren’t you Sunni Moon?”

 

I looked up. It was a man with two kid girls next to him. He held up his phone. “Yeah,” he said. “it’s you.”

 

“You must be mistaken,” I said. I began to stand and walk away.

 

“Nah man it’s you for sure! My wife loves you. Mind if we get a quick picture together?”

 

“Sorry I...I’m busy. You’ve got the wrong...no.”

 

I stormed off. A crowd began to chase me. Praises and screeches stampeded toward me as they formed into an enormous maw, ready to devour my body piece by piece. I just barely made it to the Yukon. A disgusting wall of hands and faces pressed up against the windows. 

 

Once we drove home, I tossed my tampon into the bathroom wastebasket and hopped in the shower. I closed my eyes. Little by little, I twisted the hot knob until it went as far as it could go. I got lost in the steam and scalding water, letting my mind go blank.

 

After getting out of the shower, I noticed that the tampon was gone from the wastebasket. Did it disappear underneath the trash? Was my mind playing tricks on me? It all seemed possible, that is until I exited the bathroom. That’s when I screamed.

 

In the middle of the bedroom, a blonde man gargoyle-crouched with his back to me. He twisted around to face me. Eyes like a void. Heavy, heaving gasps. In his mouth, a bloody tampon which he sucked on like a pacifier.

 

It was the guard from the talent show.

 

“I love you Sunni Moon,” he said.

 

He uncoiled from his kneeling position and walked towards me. He then grabbed my shoulders, pulling me even closer. Red spit trickled down the corners of his lips like baby drool. The string dangled from his lips as he gulped and slurped pink foam-bubbles. The iron stench of fish and blood jabbed its fingers down my throat until it made me retch.

 

I closed my eyes waiting for something to happen. But it never did. Instead, he just stared, undressing me, his eyes tasting all my clean and dirty spots. 

 

“I love you Sunni Moon.”

 

“Please let me go.”

 

Finally, my security broke through the door and tackled him.

 

?

 

Later, the police discovered he was the one who took the balcony photos as well as the one who killed Mother. As a matter of precaution, they searched the entire house. That’s when they found something in the attic.

 

Up there was a false plywood wall that hid a space containing a sleeping bag, his cell phone, and a 2,000-page handwritten manuscript titled The Holy Bible of Sunni Moon. The tome included manic scrapbook collages, journal entries, fantastical stories. There was even a 57-page equation proving how I was the one true god of Earth.

 

The late-night rustling in the attic stopped after they took him away.

 

?

 

I didn’t leave my house for months. I fired my entire security team; a kitchen knife and some pepper spray were all I needed (never trusted myself with guns). Whenever I didn’t quadruple-check every corner of the house, most of the day was spent smoking weed and daydreaming. No music, no phone, no internet, very little TV. Just how I liked it.

 

Eventually, on a Saturday (or was it Wednesday?) morning, the paparazzi returned. I thought it was the usual gossip column nonsense until Arnie came by. Ever since the incident, he would always visit, whether I let him in or not depending on how I felt. This time—as I stared through the peephole—he had a copy of the LA Times under his arm and an impatient look on his face.

 

“You need to see this,” he said.

 

I let him in. We sat on the sofa. He laid the paper on the coffee table in my living room. On the front page was a group picture of myself, Arnie, and several other people at Franz Lawrence/Love Conquers All’s Santa Monica party. Headline: CALIFORNIA ELITE SILENT ON DIRECTOR’S ASSAULT ALLEGATIONS

 

“Let people think what they want,” I said.

 

“I know I’m only your assistant but with all due respect—”

 

“I haven’t slept in three days Arnie,” I said. “I just can’t right now. I’m sorry you got dragged into this.”

 

“I’ll survive,” he said. “Can we at least talk about the upcoming arbitration?”

 

“I, don’t, care Arnie. Let Weatherwood have my masters. While they’re at it, let them keep me under contract. I’m not going near another microphone as long as they live and if they have a problem with it, let them sue! They can have everything. I just, I don’t, I, I, I don’t care.”

 

Arnie reached in his back pocket and handed me a card. “It’s my old therapist’s number. You already know about my dad, me living under his shadow and all that. Well, she helped a lot. Maybe you should give her a call.”

 

I raised an eyebrow. “Are you calling me weak?”

 

“What? No, I just said I went—”

 

“I’m not stupid Arnie. I know you probably looked up some random psychologist and got this card from her office.” I stood and folded my arms. “You don’t need to treat me like a child. I may not be losing my house or my job like everyone else, but that doesn’t mean my problems aren’t real! I’m a perfectly capable adult who can dust the bootprints off her own back.” 

 

He stood. “That’s not what I—”

 

“In fact, last time I checked I was paying you to be my assistant, not my mother. So why don’t you be a good wittle assistant and fetch my coffee Leichenberg?”

 

Silence lingered like a lynched corpse. He made his way to the door. “I made a mistake coming here.”

 

“No wait—”

 

“I’m sorry for disturbing your morning.”

 

“Don’t walk away Arnie it slipped out I didn’t mean—”

 

“Have a good life.”

 

The door slammed before I could stop him.

 

Since I had nothing better to do, I spent hours researching the story. Articles, videos, walls of hate comments, hashtags, death-threats. Of course, I had my defenders, but they were in the minority. Weatherwood released a statement on my behalf condemning the director. I didn’t care either way. 

 

As the days progressed, the ocean of media began to subside from the front gate. Again, I was alone. Mail piled up. The rooms got dustier. The weeds grew taller. The world moved on without me.

 

One morning howled a grey storm like never before. There was water all around. In the trees. In the sky. The air. The ground. It seeped and crashed into everything, making me forget there was even a sun to begin with. For some reason, I decided it would be a good time to go for a drive to nowhere in particular.

 

As the hush of car tires splashed the road, a black Yukon rolled into sight in my rearview. Was it Weatherwood protecting their assets or another crazed fan? Stress probably. 

 

I eventually made it to a beauty store in Mission Viejo. Aisles upon aisles of cosmetic chic, from MAC-mattes to Armani-blacks. As I looked around, I ran across a perfume with a Cardamom scent. I spritzed a little on my wrist and sniffed. Rich with spice, cold like steel. 

 

“Nakeisha, is that you?”

 

I turned to the voice. Though she was older, I recognized her face anywhere. 

 

Tasha Jenkins. 

 

She was pushing a baby in a stroller while a toddler orbited around her legs. I never thought I’d see the day when she’d be a mother. After we exchanged small talk, she went on and apologized for how she treated me back in high school. “I was young and dumb like everyone else,” she said. “But I know that’s no excuse for it. I hope you’ll forgive me.”

 

I told her not to worry about it—it was said more from a slip of the tongue than out of genuine forgiveness, but what was said was said. Had to ride it out. “Where do you live?” I continued.

 

“Not too far from here actually,” she said. “My husband and I are having a small Sunday dinner tonight, so I thought I’d get some last-minute shopping in before they come over. It’s nothing big, just us and a few relatives.” 

 

“Well I better let you go then. Don’t want to keep you.”

 

“Wait you can’t just leave after being away so long. Tell you what, why don’t you come by tonight for dinner? Seven sound good?”

 

“Oh I don’t want to intrude.”

 

“Please. Don’t make me beg.”

 

I eventually relented. Though a part of me still hated her guts, it had been too long since I had a change of routine. Figured a little thrill and danger in the outside world wouldn’t be too bad. 

 

As I drove to her house with a bottle of red wine seated in the backseat, another car began to follow me. Rain like gunshots on the windshield. I drove around a block a few times until the car disappeared.

 

The storm had suddenly ceased by the time I made it. Tasha’s home glowed warmly against the winter cold. Had that vanilla sundae with chocolate syrup look to it, what with its white walls and dark-brown rooftops. On the lawn, a leaning palm tree the spoon. And the cherry on top was the red tricycle laying next to a driveway parked with four cars. Inside the bay window, people moved and laughed in a dining room bathed in Christmas lights.

 

I rang the doorbell. Tasha answered. We hugged. The moment I was let in, an assortment of delicious smells hit my nose so hard that I saw stars.

 

She went around the room and introduced me to everyone. Nobody dropped their jaw or shrieked (though one girl did cast a judgey side-eye at me—Tasha’s niece, Christina, I soon found out). Just smiles and handshakes all around. It was strange being treated like an equal by non-celebrities. 

 

“Oh, I also brought this,” I said, showing her the red wine.

 

Lee, her husband, who had been talking with someone behind Tasha, caught a peek and immediately snatched it from my hands. “Is that a Domaine Leroy?” he asked.

 

“Yeah,” I said. “What’s so special about it?”

 

“What’s so special?” Lee said. “These cost a few thousand dollars minimum. They are the Lamborghinis of wines.”

 

“Sorry,” Tasha said. “Lee’s been on a wine tasting bender ever since our honeymoon in Florence. You’ve probably been there so I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how beautiful it is.”

 

I never actually had been, but I kept my mouth shut. 

 

“We all ready to eat?” Tasha said, clasping her hands together. 

 

We gathered around the table and said grace. They closed their eyes. Mine stayed open; never before had I seen such a feast.

 

Paprika-topped mac and cheese, buttermilk biscuits, sweet potatoes, collard greens and bacon, fried chicken so hot it still sizzled and popped, meatball lasagna, moist cornbread—the table was so rich with food the plates almost tipped off the table. Off to the side, a cityscape of bottles stood on top of the cover of a non-heated radiator: sangrias, ciders, beers, tequilas, juices, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and my Domaine Leroy lost in the maze of it all. 

 

We ate. Damn did we eat.

 

As people talked over one another, Tasha told me how her life had been after high school. “I actually tried to be a singer. I was so jealous of you and thought that if you could do it, I could too. It ain’t as easy as it looks. But being an accountant’s worked for me. It’s how I met Lee believe it or not. See, he came in to file a 1040-SR and...”

 

I nodded along, catching only bits and pieces of her story. The more I ate, the more I wanted to sleep in this peaceful nook of the world I stumbled across. Who knew life could be so good?

 

Even under all the noise, you could sense the stillness outside. The road outside the bay window laid like a bedspread for the homes across us. It was natural music—nothing forced or rehearsed—only enjoyed.

 

Then a black Yukon rolled by. 

 

My heart skipped a beat. A shiver clawed me from the neck down. Behind the truck’s tinted window was a shadow whose eyes locked dead onto mine until the car drove out of view.

 

No, it couldn’t have been anyone. All I needed to do was keep calm.

 

“So Nakeisha,” Christina said, fork-holding-hand under her chin and eyes at me. “What do you think about Love Conquers All’s assault allegations? They true?”

 

“Tina,” Tasha growled through her smile. “Now ain’t the time.”

 

“What? Oh...it’s fine Tasha,” I said. I cleared my throat. “Yeah, unfortunately they are. The guy is a bit of a monster.”

 

“A bit of a monster? He raped and beat several actresses. A bit of a monster’s a fuckin understatement.”

 

The room went quiet.

 

“Tina,” Tasha said. “Let’s not—”

 

“No, let’s,” Christina said. “So Sunni, why is it you didn’t call him out? Afraid he’d hurt your career? How do you sleep knowing you could’ve saved those women had you spoken sooner? You even care how awful that makes us feel you cocksucking—”

 

“Tina that’s enough!” Tasha shouted. “Outside. Now.”

 

Tasha stood and Tina followed her out the front door. The other dinner guests tried to comfort me, explaining how Tina had recently been through a “rough experience” with an ex of hers. 

 

Another car passed, again the driver’s eyes dead on mine.

 

It was scary. Terrifying. But then I realized how often I lived in this constant anxiety. The billion thoughts a second, the hammering in my chest, the constant urge to weep. As much as they pained me, these feelings pushed away those dangers called people. But this kindness and laughter...it didn’t make sense, not for someone like me. What were they plotting?

 

I walked out the door. People asked where I was going but I didn’t answer. They weren’t owed one.

 

Outside, the rain began to pick back up. Those sundae homes became nothing more than nameless shapes and colors, the windows like meticulously carved eye sockets. As I walked to my car, Tasha stepped away from Christina, stretched out her arm, and stopped me. “I apologize for my niece,” she said. “I swear I didn’t plan for the evening to go this way.”

 

“Ha I’m sure you didn’t,” I said. “Tell me, how long were you following me? We didn’t just happen to run into each other at the makeup store.”

 

“What?”

 

“That’s right. I see right through you. Through both of you. You calculated every little step of our little interaction, didn’t you? For what? Money? A photo? A chance to breathe in the same fucking proximity that I do?

 

Christina cleared her throat and stepped forward. “We don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

“Of course you don’t,” I said. “Now get away before I scream.”

 

Once I got into my car, I drove straight until they disappeared from my mirrors. 

 

The rain beat like fists on my windshield. No matter where I turned, the eyes followed. The eyes of streetlights, billboards, palm trees, storefronts, tires, bus stops, Big Brother all around. The roads lay extensive and grey like mile-long tombstones. Although half-blinded by the monsoon I floored the gas, dodging traffic and skipping red lights to the screams of angry horns and a police siren sung to me somewhere from afar yet I drove faster and faster and I dared not to stop because I had to escape the eyes but they kept following and following and I couldn’t get them off—

 

Then black.

 

I woke up in a hospital bed. All alone. The first thing I noticed was my face on the overhead TV. A younger me playing at Madison Square Garden as an ocean of shadows cheered for her. She sat down at the piano, the silk of her red evening dress splaying like a peacock’s tail the lower it went. In the background, the band readied itself. She took a deep breath and released it in a lightning-swift legato on the piano. Then a decrescendo into the first verse:

 

Blood on my knees, scrapes on my face,

The world I always knew now a different place;

The sun way high, the clouds way low, 

 A view a very few will ever get to know.

How wrong they were and now they see

How this destiny was meant to be

Eight thousand miles all on my own

Now it’s only me and me alone.

 

END.

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Website: www.mqwilliams.com

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Submitted: February 13, 2021

© Copyright 2022 Marquise Williams. All rights reserved.

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