May 25, 2009

Tawana Brawley

Well, I've finished the rough draft of my story, I think. Critiques, please?

Monday, December 14th, 1987

I took the turn from the empty section of Main Street onto Ramsey, where I live, far faster than I should have. I had left the high school, where I teach English, about a half an hour ago, and I’d spent the intermittent time at the grocery store, where I had bought a big bag of ice to fill up the drawer in the freezer. I didn’t want the ice to melt, so I was speeding, and when I took that turn a tad sharper than usual, I heard a few rolls, followed by a heavy crunch as a can hit the bottom of the car. I prayed that it wasn’t the tomato sauce. I needed it for dinner, and it would be virtually impossible to remove the stain.

About a minute later, I pulled much more cautiously into the driveway. After getting out of the car, I opened the hatch to check out the fallen can. Miraculously, it appeared intact, but as turned it over to check, the entire contents fell out onto the ground, slopping loudly into a sizable rounded puddle on top of my shoes. I swore before turning and hauling the grocery bags out of the car and into the kitchen.

“Darryl,” I called up the stairs to my husband. “I’m home.”

No response.

I stood still for a moment, listening. I could just hear the whirring of a saw in the back shed. Darryl’s trying to run a carpentry business, but since we moved here from Stony Brook two years ago, he’s mostly been doing odd jobs, although one contractor did have him do some cabinets a few months ago. I wasn’t that fond of sawdust, so I figured I’d make dinner before I went to get him.

For the next hour, I cooked, trying to send the tensions of my day into the vegetables I was chopping. I fried the ground meat I had been going to put in the tomato sauce, boiled the water, and poured in the pasta. When everything was done but the veggies, I turned off the stove and walked out back to the shed. It was still loud, but nothing near the insistent sawing that there was before.

I opened the door without knocking. Darryl was lying on the floor, covered in sawdust, sanding the bottom of a chair. He looked up as I entered.

“These for us?” I asked.

“No, it’s a new job.”

“For who?”

“Steven Pagones, Assistant District Attorney. He works nearby, and we’ve met up for lunch a couple of times, so I told him I’d make him some chairs at a discount.”

“A discount? Do you even have a going rate?”

“No, but he doesn’t have to know that.” Darryl grinned, and I laughed. “I did give him a pretty low rate, though. He’s a nice guy.” He slid out from under the chair and stood. “Dinner?”

I nodded, and we walked back to the house. I took the vegetables out of the oven, and Darryl started putting the pasta into bowls. “Where’s the sauce?” he asked.

“It broke in the car.”

“So we just have meat, without the sauce? We have cheese, you know. You could have made sauce.”

“Darryl, I’ve told you before-”

“I know, I know, it was the last meal your mom cooked before she left, but honestly, it’s been years, and it beats meat not-sauce”

“Sorry, I’m cooking, so you’re going to have to deal.”

He sighed exaggeratedly, so that I could tell that at this point, he was only faking his annoyance. He started clearing the table and picked up the newspaper. “Where do you want me to put this?”

“The counter’s fine.” The newspaper reminded me of something, so I reached for it and started flipping through the pages. “Poor Tawana got a write up in the Times today. Look, ‘Bias Case Fuel Anger of Blacks … Tawana Brawley, a popular 15-year-old high school student-‘ that’s the school I teach at ‘-was found Nov. 28 curled in a fetal position inside a plastic bag behind an apartment house in Wappingers Falls.’ Isn’t that just awful?”

Darryl shook his head. “Steven thinks it’s bull.” He took the paper and flipped to the second half of the article. “See, ‘local law-enforcement officials have questioned the truthfulness of the girl's statements.’”

“There’s no way she’s lying. She’s a good kid, from a broken home.”

“Just like you.”

“And I turned out just fine.”

“Aside from the excessive fear of macaroni and cheese.”

“It brings back bad memories, which I’m sure Tawana has plenty of.”

“If she’s telling the truth.”

“She is.”

Darryl only shrugged.

Three months later

I stumbled down the stairs, feeling, as I always did, utterly lost. I was anything but a morning person. Why on earth had I decided to teach high school and wake up every day- although it was dark enough to be night- at this ungodly hour? I’d been up late, grading papers for the end of third quarter, and it felt like I had only been in bed for five minutes.

As I started the coffee, the front door opened and I heard cheerful whistling. As far as I was concerned, Darryl was completely insane. How someone can be cheerful when it’s still dark out is entirely beyond me. His steps clunked along slowly, and every so often they would slow still further as he flipped through the paper. Suddenly, he swore loudly and came rushing into the kitchen, his heavy steps echoing around my tired head.

“I knew it, I knew it! Look at this!”

“Whaahhh?”

He took in my tired face and slow movements for a moment before turning and pouring my coffee. “Drink.”

I swallowed a bit and pushed my eyes open. “What?”

“That Tawana girl, you know how I said she was lying?”

“She’s not. I told you already, she’s a good kid. Nice girl. She’s telling the truth.”

“Hell no! Look at this. Look!” He waved the paper in my face.

“I can’t read that.”

“She says that Steven raped her.”

“Who?”

“Steven? My friend I’m building furniture for? Yeah, him. She says he’s a rapist. Steven! It’s insane!”

“Jeez, Darryl, what makes you so sure that he didn’t.”

“She’s lying. I know Steven wouldn’t do that.” Darryl was getting angry.

“And I know Tawana wouldn’t lie.”

“She’s a lying black bitch.”

I gasped, shocked.

“She’s accusing my friend of being a rapist. Do you seriously expect me to say nice things?”

‘Black bitch, Darryl? I had no idea you were racist.”

“I’m not. I get on fine with your stepmom, don’t I?”

“Liking one black person doesn’t make you not a racist. Why didn’t I see this before? This has nothing to do with Steven. You think she’s lying because she’s black!”

“What? No, it has nothing to do with that.”

“It clearly does. After all, she’s black, why wouldn’t she be lying.”

“Stop it, I’m not racist, I’m trying to stand up for my friend.”

“Don’t lie to me!” I caught sight of the clock and swore. “I have to go to work. We’ll finish this later.”

After that, I spent most of the day seething in anger at my husband and everyone else who didn’t agree with Tawana. Honestly, she was a 15-year-old girl, a good kid. There was no way she was lying. People who didn’t believe her were clearly letting their misguided impressions of black youth influence their opinions. I thought that was horrible, of course, but what was eating at me the most was that my husband was among them. Darryl, my Darryl, my wonderful, lovable husband, held racist opinions

By the time I had gotten home, I was slightly calmer. Yes, Darryl was being a racist bastard, but I was so obviously right about Tawana, that surely if I pointed it out calmly, he would listen. I cooked dinner, just as I always did. About two minutes before I was going to go get him, I looked up. Darryl was standing right inside the door.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hello.”

“So.” He paused a moment, uncertain as to whether to broach our earlier argument.

I saved him the trouble of deciding. “We need to talk about this morning.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, resignedly.

“I’m sure that you don’t mean to be racist, and I know you don’t think you are, and I’m sure that if we just worked on that a bit, you’d see that Tawana is telling the truth.”

He looked at me incredulously. “I’m not racist.”

“You don’t believe Tawana because she’s black. That’s racism.”

“It’s not racism. It’s an independent case, one girl, and I know the guy she’s accusing, he’s not a rapist, he’s said that evidence has been showing up against her, so I know that she’s wrong. I don’t think all black girls are liars.”

“Darryl, not believing her is racist. You’re jumping to conclusions because you think black girls are liars.”

“I’m not. I told you, I know why I feel the way I do, and that is completely not true!”

“It is!”

“No, it’s-” He shook his head. “I’m not hungry. I’m going to bed.”

“You’re not listening to me!”

“I am listening. You’re the one who isn’t listening to me. At least I have a reason for believing Steven. I actually know him. You only believe Tawana because you think that believing a black girl will prove to your stepmom and everyone else that you aren’t racist. It’s reverse racism.”

“Are you insane?”

“Of course I’m not! Listen to yourself, Chelle. We’ve been married for two years, you should know me better than this.” He paused, taking a deep breath. “If you don’t trust me enough to know that I have my head on straight, we have bigger problems.”

“What?”

“I don’t know that I can live with someone who thinks so little of me.” I gaped at him. “Just, think about it, alright? Like I said, I’m going to bed now.” He stood and walked out of the room.

I sat for a few minutes in shock, replaying the conversation in my head. Were my accusations of racism too strong? I knew that I felt like it was, but I’d never seen any symptoms of it in Darryl before. Maybe Tawana was actually lying? I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea. She was a student, just like most of my own, and she looked nice, and her family was as torn apart as my own, and I knew that girls got raped, so it seemed utterly logical and natural to believe her. But, regardless of whether she was lying, did it really need to be all about race? Could Darryl really just care about what Steven was saying?

My appetite was gone, and I didn’t have the energy to repackage the food, so I put the entire meal, plates and all, in the fridge. Thoughts still swirling, I walked up the stairs. Darryl was in the shower, and I debated just climbing into bed and pretending that nothing was wrong, but I had a feeling he was angry enough to sleep on the couch, and since I was the one accusing him of being racist, I didn’t feel like I should take the bed. I grabbed some sweats to sleep in and a blanket from the closet before going back downstairs and curling up on the couch.

Only a couple of hours later, I woke up. I shook my head awake, the remnants of a dream in which my stepmother and a rather blurry actual mother yelled at me to go easy on Darryl. Funny how my subconscious connected my mother, who never had a stable marriage with saving my own. My stepmother I could understand, however. Her skin was only a few shades darker than my own, but she identified as black, and dad had shocked the entire family by marrying her. She had swept in and fixed up our crumbling lives, pulling Dad out of his tears about Mom and giving us parents again. I could almost hear her in my head now, telling me to get over what I thought Darryl was thinking and actually listen to him. After all, my believing Tawana wouldn’t forever prove to her that I wasn’t racist, and at this point, she was basically my mother. I shouldn’t have needed to prove anything to her.

As I woke up a bit more, I noticed noises coming from the kitchen. I sat up, rubbing my eyes, and stood, trying to stretch the stiffness left by sleeping on the couch out of my neck. Darryl was sitting at the kitchen table, and I could see a dark silhouette of the back of his head. I walked into the kitchen and sat across from him.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi,” he responded.

We sat for a moment in silence before he spoke. “I couldn’t sleep. The bed felt empty.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You were angry that I insulted you, and you didn’t want to deal with me, I get it. There’s no need to apologize for that.”

“No, I’m sorry I called you racist.”

“Because you don’t want me angry, or because you’ve changed your mind?”

“Both. You’re right, my stepmother loves me, she doesn’t need proof, and I shouldn’t need it for myself.”

“So you believe me.”

“No, I still think Tawana’s telling the truth. Even if I do partially believe her to prove something, even ignoring that, I still think she’s a good person. I just think that you aren’t racist for believing your friend.”

“Okay.” He paused. “Well, I suppose you aren’t a reverse racist then.” He smiled.

“So we’re good.”

“Yeah. I love you.”

“Love you too.”

The egg timer went off behind him. When I stood to see what it was, he winced. I looked at him, confused. “What?”

“It’s just, um, look I wasn’t going to leave you or anything, I swear. I was just hungry, and we had cheese and leftover pasta, and…” he trailed off as I peered into the pot on the stove.

“You made macaroni.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think you were going to talk to me anyways.”

“No, it’s fine.”

“Seriously?”

I thought about it for a second. “Seriously.” I wasn’t upset. I’d been afraid for years, but right then, talking to Darryl, who I loved and once again trusted, I wasn’t. “Like I said. We’re good.”

6 comments:

vicky/bruney said...

It's really good Tea!!!!!

too bad you only used “She’s a lying black bitch.”
instead of a more colorful epithet. Hahaha...how about, my personal favorite, "cheese eating surrender monkey" especially as your character seems to have something against macaroni...?

One suggestion...at the beginning, it kind of seems like your almost in an interview or something just because you're sort of narrating exactly what went on and describing some personal details about yourself...I had this problem too but I tried to embed the details into the story more...whatever...it's not a big deal though...You're story is great!!! (and at least concise...)

do you want to read mine? IDK how I could post it though...tell me if you have an idea...I guess I could always email it to you?

Tea said...

email it! I want to see!

vicky/bruney said...

alriiiiiightt......! i'll send it!!!!

Gretchen said...

nice dialogue and description. i agree, very concise
interesting characters
good job :)

vicky/bruney said...

BTW gretch...i kinda have to say that your comments sounded like a good mood LOCOFOCO there...not an insult or anything but can't you see those comments on the bottom of a paper? That gets a B-?!

Tea said...

thank you very very much, Gretchen and V.B.
If I could remember the hug emoticon, I would insert it right now.