The Looking Glass

It was like a dream, Malea wasn’t sure if this was really happening–sirens and EMTs and flashing lights and people in white shirts running back and forth across her lawn. She stood on her front porch watching everything as if it were a television show. She had tried to call her husband, but couldn’t reach him.  She glanced at her watch, 5:15.

“Excuse me, Mrs…?”

“Peters. Malea Peters.” The police officer stood on the step below her, but still towered two inches above her. Malea squinted as she looked up at him.  The sun was sitting directly over his shoulder.  She shivered.

“Yes, I just need to ask you a few questions. Now, I understand that you administered CPR, is that right?

“Uh, yes.”

“Uh, huh, and was that before or after you called 911?”

“Before! I mean, um, after, uh…”  The officer looked up from his notebook, peering over his mirrored shades. Without thinking, Malea began biting her fingernails, a nervous habit she had broken years ago. “I’m having a hard time remembering. It, it just happened so fast, you know?” Shifting from one foot to the other, she noticed her neighbors—Howard and Jane from across the street peeking into the ambulance which was parked on the street in front of her house, motor running, but unoccupied.  Melissa, from next door, stood in the grass, in the middle of Malea’s yard between the ambulance and the house talking into her phone and waving her arms around, apparently describing the whole scene. Joe, who lived next door on the other side slowly walked around Malea’s yard holding his phone out at arm’s length recording as if he was on a movie set!

This has turned into a circus sideshow.  Malea wondered when her husband would be home.

“What do you do, Mrs. Peters?” The officer asked.

“What? When? I didn’t do anything!” Malea felt her heart race.

“I mean what do you do for a living, ma’am.”

“Oh, of course, I’m, I’m a nurse.” Malea looked up and into the officer’s face, but could only see her own face looking back at her.

“So, you are trained to handle this type of situation, correct?”

“Yes.” Malea looked away. Joe was facing her now, his camera phone lifted. Malea sucked her teeth and sighed, shifting her weight again and turning away from Joe.

“So, tell me, what did you do when you found the plumber on your kitchen floor? Did you know right away that he was dead?”

“No!” Dead? Malea shuddered at the thought. “I mean, no, I wasn’t sure of anything. She glanced at her watch again. 5:20. She tapped the face of it and held it to her ear.

“What time was it when you found him?”

Lowering her arm, Malea looked up into the mirrored lenses. What time was it when she found him? “Um, I guess, around 3 or so, I didn’t really pay attention to the—“

“Jerry!  Jerry! Where’s my husband? Where is he?” a chubby woman with thick curly hair and smooth caramel skin had flung open the car door of the black Toyota Camry before it had fully stopped in the driveway. Everyone in Malea’s yard stared as she padded across the lawn with two wild-haired, fair-skinned boys stumbling behind her.  A tall, dark-skinned man emerged from the driver’s side wearing blue jeans and a blue cotton shirt.  With a few brisk strides he quickly caught up to the woman, catching her by the arm just as she began her ascent up the porch steps where Malea and the officer stood.

“Hold on there, Tina” the man said quietly. Malea noticed the embroidered patch above his left front pocket which read Tom.

“Where is my husband? The woman asked the officer. Her round face was crinkled with worry.

Husband?  Malea felt a lump forming in the base of her throat.

“Pardon me, officer.” The man spoke in a soft tone. “Ma’am.” He nodded toward Malea. “I’m Tom Jenkins, this here’s my sista’, Tina, and we was told by the folks down at the shop that something might-a happened to my brother ‘n law, his name’s Jerry.”

“Would somebody please tell me something!” The woman looked frantically at the officer, then at Malea, then back to the officer. The little, wild-haired boys stared, wide-eyed, at the officer.

“Ma’am,” the officer tucked his notepad under his arm and held her shoulders so he could turn her gently towards him.  Ducking down slightly so that he could look directly into her eyes he spoke in a slow and steady tone. “The paramedics were called to the scene about an hour ago and found your husband unconscious. They have been in there working on him, trying to save him, but…

“No!!!!!!!!!” the woman screamed before he could finish.  The little boys covered their ears and began to cry. Tom moaned as if he’d been punched in the stomach.  He backed down from the porch and leaned over as if he were going to vomit.

Malea felt herself falling into a tunnel. Everything around her went dark. The woman’s screaming continued from a distance. The clock was ticking, time was passing, but yet it stood still and what had she done?

Nothing.

***

The doorbell rang and Malea—aka @KeepNitReal—slid back from the desk, but her eyes were still glued to the computer monitor. She was engrossed in a Twitter feed debate over the Michael Brown case. Hastily she tapped her response:

@RedWhiteBlue–Mar 12

#Ferguson protests need to stop, read the DOJ report, read grand jury info, #MichaelBrown attacked #DarrenWilson. #BlueLivesMatter

@DixieChic–Mar 12

@RedWhiteBlue they don’t read, they do what Sharpton tells them to do b/c they’re ignorant monstrous sheep

@RepublicanRed—Mar 12

@RedWhiteBlue @Dixiechic I’m sure thug #MichaelBrown was just going for the gun to hold it for Officer Wilson. #Ferguson #BlueLivesMatter

@KeepNitReal-Mar 12

@RedWhiteBlue @DixieChic @RepublicanRed you’re so racist you can’t see the injustice all around you but your day is coming #MichaelBrown #BlackLivesMatter #time4change

ding dong, ding dong, rap, rap, rap

Malea tapped “Enter” and sighed as she jumped up from her chair and bounded through the kitchen to the front door. Swinging it open–“sorry!”—she said breathlessly, “come on in.”

Jerry, the plumber, yanked a dingy white handkerchief from the back pocket of his grubby blue jeans and mopped the sweat from his forehead as he barreled past Malea and into the foyer. “I was startin’ to wonder if anyone was home!” His voice boomed and Malea rocked back on her heel.  She cocked her head slightly, slowly closing the door. There was something in his tone that didn’t sit well with her.

“Uh, yeah, sorry, I was in the middle of some—“

“So, where’s this leak I’m s’posed to be fixin’?”

Malea blinked and shook her head. “Right this way.” She marched into the kitchen feeling Jerry’s warm sweaty body coming up just a little too close behind her. His loud, heavy breathing was as overwhelming as his voice.

“My husband says that it probably needs a new washer,” she said, pulling open the cabinet door under the sink. As she leaned over to take out the bottles and sponges she was nearly knocked over as Jerry’s large, fleshy belly pushed past her. He roughly jerked open the adjacent cabinet door and sighed loudly as he thrust half of his body under the sink.

“Your husband, a plumber?”

“Uh, no— “

“Then, he might oughtta leave the diagnosis to me”

“Excuse me?” Malea moved back and stared at the large, sweaty man under her kitchen sink. His beefy arms moved awkwardly as he knocked over bottles of oven cleaner and 409. He grunted and wheezed with each movement, his lungs sounded watery, with each cough it seemed that fluid was fighting to get out. Ignoring her inquiry, he said abruptly, “Don’t turn that faucet on.”

I wasn’t—

“I’ll tell you when”

“You’ll tell me when?”

The tools made a tinkling sound as the beefy, arms moved up and down. He wore a blue cotton shirt with a white patch on the left front pocket that had “Jerry” embroidered on it. The shirt buttoned down the front, but the last button was missing, so Malea could see his cream-colored belly—covered with a bounty of slick black hair—bulging over his faded leather belt which he had stretched to the limit.  The metal prong barely made it through the last hole on the strap. The nerve of this guy Malea thought as she pivoted around and headed back to her office which was next to the kitchen. He’s gonna tell me when to do something. I’m supposed to be telling him what to do. She muttered to herself.

Malea knew what this was about. Jerry was a racist. He was annoyed that this middle-class black woman was in a position of power over him. He was working for her and he couldn’t stand it! Either that or he was sexist. He wasn’t about to let a woman tell him anything! He might be sexist AND racist, in fact. Here he is a white man working on black woman’s sink. There used to be a time when no white man would be working on anything for a black person—much less a woman!

Hmph! Well, it’s a new day now, brotha. We may still be in Alabama, but George Wallace ain’t here no mo’!  Malea, turned back to her Twitter conversation. These white folks ‘round here must be crazy if they think they can keep disrespecting us and getting away with it! You in my house, now!

Malea’s cell phone rang and she snatched it up quickly, “Hello? Hey, April, no I’m fine… No, really, I’m fine! What’s up? Oh, Mrs. Caldwell, yes, I saw her yesterday. No, her bloodwork was normal, she seemed to be more alert than the day before. Yeah.”

“Hey! Miss—“ Jerry, the plumber, yelled from under the kitchen sink.

“Uh-huh, yeah, you’re right, I put a note on her chart, Dr. Hiram hadn’t been by yet, but he may want to decrease the dosage.

“Miss!”

“Hold on a sec, April. Yes? What does he want now?

“I need you to try the faucet.”

“This guy is talking to me like I’m a child” Malea said in a lowered tone. “I’ll be right there!” She said, loud enough for him to hear. “Yeah, this guy is here to fix my sink,” she glanced at the clock. It was 2:05. “He’s only been here like five minutes and he’s already insulted me three times! Ha, ha! No, he didn’t call me a name—he’s not that crazy! But just rude! I don’t know, so anyway, yeah, Mrs. Caldwell…”

It was 2:15 when Malea looked at the clock again and suddenly realized that Jerry was still waiting for her. “Oh, April! Let me call you back, I need to see what the plumber wants. Okay. Bye.”

There was no sound of tinkering tools when she walked out of her office and into the kitchen.  The large island in the middle of the room blocked her view of the sink, but just past the granite counter she could see his van parked outside the window. Maybe he went out to the van, she thought, as she stepped around the island and tripped on a bulky brown boot.  “Ouch! Oh!” she exclaimed looking down at Jerry, the plumber, lying still under her kitchen sink.

***

Malea’s eyes filled with tears.  Her second grade teacher was explaining how slaves were brought to this country to work. This page of her Social Studies book glared up at her as an artist’s depiction of an African slave, a dark-skinned woman with a broad nose and protruding lips being led by a white man with a cowboy hat, billowy white shirt and tan slacks that were tucked into his cowboy boots.  The woman’s hands and feet were bound with ropes and her head was down. Malea noticed a sad look on her face. “Hey, Malea!” Billy whispered loudly, “ain’t that your granny?” The kids who heard him burst into laughter…

***

Malea stared at Jerry, the plumber for a moment.  Then reached down and slipped her slender fingers between the folds of his neck. She could feel a slight pulse.  He was lying on his back, eyes closed as if he were taking a nap, except that his head rested precariously under the kitchen pipe.  Malea stood up. I should do something. She thought.

***

“Just ask him!” Malea’s middle school girlfriend, Amy, nudged her as they hurried from history class to the school cafeteria. “You never know, he might say yes!” The Sadie Hawkins dance was this weekend and Malea was working up the nerve to ask the cutest boy in the 7th grade, Patrick O’Malley.  He seemed surprised when he turned around, “H-hey, Amy…Malea? What’s up?”

“Malea wants to know if you’ll go to the Sadie Hawkins dance with her!” Amy burst out before Malea had a chance.

Malea looked at her and frowned, “Amy!” she said through clenched teeth.

Patrick’s smile faded, “Uh, no thanks, I’m not into black girls.” He shrugged and took a huge bite of his ham sandwich as he swiveled around in his seat, his back to the girls.  He and the other guys leaned over the table, their heads down, shoulders jerking up and down as they tried not to choke through their laughter…

***

“David! You have to come home, the plumber had a heart attack or something.” Malea spoke frantically into the phone. Her husband was always in meetings and probably didn’t even have his phone on. She was still standing over the unconscious man, but couldn’t figure out what to do next. You’re in my house now.

***

It was like some grand conspiracy, some great cosmic joke and Malea was the target.    Although she had the highest GPA in high school her grades were under scrutiny.  She had transferred from a “failing” school to Clairmont High in her Junior year and now with graduation just around the corner it was discovered that Mandy Peters—reigning school queen, class president, lead cheerleader and heiress to her millionaire father’s fortune—would not be valedictorian.  It was assumed that the As on Malea’s transcript from MLK Academy were inferior to As earned at Clairmont, thus, administrators decided to “solve” the issue by making Malea and Mandy co-valedictorians. Mandy’s graduation speech was a huge success as it was given just after the processional at the beginning of the program.  However, not many people heard Malea’s speech which was at the very end of the ceremony, after everyone had received their diplomas and most of the audience members had slipped out to prepare post-graduation celebrations…

***

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Yes, uh, my name is Malea Peters. I live at 912 Overview Terrace.”

“What’s your emergency?”

Silence.

“Ma’am?”

“Jerry, the plumber, uh, I think he had a heart attack.”

“Someone had a heart attack? The plumber?”

“Yes.”

“Is he conscious?”

“No.”

“Breathing?”

Silence.

“Ma’am are you there? Do you know if he’s breathing or has a pulse?”

“No.”

“The ambulance is on its way.”

“Thank you.”

“Ma’am—Mrs. Peters? Why don’t you stay on the line. I can help you administer CPR until the paramedics get there.

***

Malea had a wonderful conversation with a woman over the phone who was certain that Malea would be perfect for the receptionist job at her accounting firm. “Malea.  What a pretty name! My grandmother’s name was Malea, she was part Cherokee. Do you have any Cherokee in your bloodline?“  The woman asked.

“Um, well, yes, as a matter of fact—”

“Oh, I just knew I had a good feeling about you!” The woman crooned.  “Listen, I’ve got to run to a meeting, but stop by on Tuesday okay? We’ll just need you to complete the application and other formalities.”

When Malea came on Tuesday Margaret didn’t recognize her. “M-Malea?” she asked incredulously.

“Hi, yes! We spoke on the phone last week” Malea pumped Margaret’s limp hand vigorously.  “You said I needed to fill out an application.”

“Oh, yes..of course…um, uh, let me see…” Margaret fumbled with some folders beneath her desk then finally produced an application. “Just fill this out and leave it with me, we’ll call you if something opens up.”

Malea was confused. “Opens up? I thought…when we spoke…that—”

“Oh, you’re interested in the receptionist position, right?” Margaret quickly broke in. “Yeah, uh, we just filled that position yesterday, but um, uh, just fill that out and give it to me.  Something else should be opening up, uh, soon…”

“Yes, of course.”  Malea considered mentioning again that she was still part Cherokee.

***

“Mrs. Peters. Mrs. Peters!”

Malea was sitting on the ground and everything around her was spinning.

“Babe! Are you okay?” Malea was so glad to hear David’s voice.

“Honey, you’re home!” Malea pressed her face into his chest, inhaling the familiar smell of cologne and perspiration.

“I got your message.”

“I didn’t do anything…”

“What did you do? What did you do?” The short, stocky woman with the wavy hair and caramel skin was screaming at Malea. Tom tried to hold her, but she flailed her arms and wrestled away from him. “You did something! What did you do?”

The police officer stepped in front of her before she could reach the porch. “Ma’am, please. Calm down.”

“Look at her! She did something! Look at her!”

The officer turned around. The paramedics were wheeling the stretcher out. All went silent as they moved in slow motion, gingerly, reverently, down the stairs and across the lawn, stopping momentarily so that the now-wimpering woman could confirm that the man under the white sheet was, indeed, her husband. Seeing him with her own eyes was more than she could take.

Watching the scene as one would watch a television with the sound turned down, Malea watched the woman’s legs buckle, watched as her brother grabbed her under the arms, watched as the two of them stumbled toward the car, watched as the wild-haired boys followed close behind, their little sun-tanned faces tear-streaked, their big brown eyes seeing but not comprehending, their little ears hearing, but not understanding.

The neighbors were transfixed. Like props on a stage, they all stayed in their places, mouths open, eyes wide with wonder.

Then all eyes turned toward her. The neighbors. The officer. David.

They all looked at her.

 

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Featured image courtesy of https://michaelquinnphotography.com/

 

3 thoughts on “The Looking Glass

  1. Very gripping writing! Very! It grabbed me right from the start. The way you wrote the dialogues is very fast paced. I could’t read fast enough. The topic you picked is I think very delicate. The combination of Malea’s past experience, put into context piece by piece is a very good idea. Nice writing!

    Liked by 1 person

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