Pretty Lives

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              I met a murderer once.  A real murderer. I took her to see her dead baby before I knew she was a murderer. That morning I sat slumped on a toilet with a syringe in my mouth. I did that sometimes, after the first shot of the day if no one was around. Keeps my mouth open. I don’t want to die. We pulled up the asphalt driveway of the mortuary.  It sat beside the 101 freeway big and white with those absurd Greek statues.  Missing arms robed in cloth.  Outside speakers played classical music clashing with the bell of the ice cream vendor.  That was the only thing that was there on that side of town.  If you turned left there were art deco apartment buildings stuffed with foreigners.  If you went right you would pass a bunch of chicken shops, typical L.A. wares, a Tommy’s Burger and a small hut in the parking lot that promised “Keys”.  Down and around the other way you’d hit MacArthur park the place where everyone goes to score black tar. I parked the car. Patience began shaking. 

            “You can finish your cigarette.”

            “I feel her. I feel my Queen in here.”

 She breathed pulling on her Newport.

            “This will be your opportunity to speak to her. To say goodbye. If there is any unfinished business you could talk to her now. Tell her sorry.”

            I didn’t really know what to say I just kept on talking saying what sounded right.  I was fairly new at this job.  I was a case manager at a transitional housing program for homeless women and I was up for a promotion as the housing director.  I had the most experience, a hard edge to me with tattoos, and I was the only one that went to grad school.  I studied law.  Res Ipsa Loquitor.. It is what you call it.  I learned that in law school. So some of you might call me a junkie and some of you might call me a case manager and you would both be right.

            I rubbed my hand up and down the sleeve of my arm. Grazing the bumps beneath the fabric soothed me. “If you want I can go in with you at first. I brought this camera so I can take pictures but then I’ll leave you guys alone and you can tell her anything.”  I held up a disposable camera.  Back at the program one of the girls had given her three samples of make-up. She wore the glittery eye shadow on days she needed good luck.  She thought it got her extra tips.  She was wearing it now, but it had faded to a hint of dust.

            She finished her cigarette and we got out of my lemon yellow Ford Taurus and went inside.  She thought I lived in the woods because there were smashed remnants of jacaranda guts all over the hood and windshield of my car. What she didn’t know was that these trees embraced the outskirts of the park where you could score the black tar.   She told me I must have a pretty life.

            Inside she began shaking even more and clicking her fingernails together. They were not the kind of nails you get at a nail shop but the kind you get at a convenience store.  They were not painted so they had a rosy tint to them like they were suffocating her fingertips and her blood had risen to the surface. Like that game kids played where they pulled a piece of string around their fingers until it cut off the circulation and there was that point where their fingers were rosy before it turned blue.  Her fingers were rosy.           

            The mortician came in to let us know it was time for her to view the body. He had a calm soothing voice. He mentioned that she had a hat on because she was missing skin from her scalp.  He also mentioned that there was skin missing from her eyes and they covered her face in make-up so she may look a bit strange.  He explained that they set her up on a towel so if Patience got make-up on her hands she can wipe them off.

            He was attractive.  Patience said, “You and your wife sure do look alike,” and nodded toward the woman answering the phones in an office beside the foyer.

“Well that’s because she’s my sister.” The mortician said and smiled a boy scout smile. Patience threw me a raised eyebrow.  She was slick that way.

            The first time she saw her she slowly crept in, like a child getting ready for a surprise. Then she got scared and ran back to me.  She wasn’t ready. She held my hand and I walked her back in. I felt the blunt edge of her fake nails against my palm.  There was a long white carpet that led up to her little stand.  She walked up to the baby and picked her up. She began to cry and say she was sorry. “Sooo Sorry.”  I left them alone. I sat on a chair and started to feel the pricks.  The prickle of sweat and need was piercing my pores. Then I heard her, “Come I’m ready to take pictures!” She sounded happy.

            She held up the little corpse. They put dark black make-up on her that didn’t match her caramel skin tone.  She looked like a fake baby. A little knit hat flopping forward and back.  She was delicately dressed to cover up stitches and tears in her skin. I had never been to a viewing where we were the only ones there.  Patience sat there posing.  Propping her baby up.

             “She peed on me.”   She moved her baby to the side revealing a wet mark on her pants.  She was grinning from ear to ear as if somehow she was finally woken up out of this horrible nightmare to find that her baby was alive this whole time. Sometimes her slowness exasperated me.  My urge stronger now. Clipping my patience in half.

            “Sweetie that’s not pee. It’s formaldehyde draining out of her.”

            “Formaldawho?”

            “The liquid they put in her to preserve her.”

            She posed for the picture. Held her upright.  Like one of those dolls that you put water in its mouth and it comes out a hole they put in her vagina. That is exactly what the baby looked like those “Baby Cry-A-Lot” dolls that donned little girl’s Christmas lists year after year.  I took a couple of pictures and then stood close as Patience rubbed her fingers up and down the baby like a mother inspecting for bruises and life. 

            “I think she’s holding my fingers.  Can I have one?”

            “One what?”

            “A finger? or a hand?”

            At that moment I just thought maybe she was a little off because she was a mother holding the corpse of her dead baby. I wondered if I was hallucinating.  Was I high?  “No.”

            “A foot?”

            “Uhhh”

             Her finger slipped into a hole in her baby’s wrist. The little knit sleeve rolled up revealing the stitches and the place where her little baby hand was severed from her arm, the tip of Patience’s finger caught between two stitches.

“TAKE HER! TAKE HER!” she squealed.

            I placed the baby back on the towel. Her eyelids were no longer there just a sheet of make-up to cover the vacant holes that were once eyes. There she was Queen L. Smith determined dead secondary to three blows to the head, multiple rib fractures, and a broken wrist. Three-months old. My hands were shaking one of my sleeves slid up my arm.  I could see the track mark.  I thought she saw it too. I looked at Patience.  She was covering her face with her hands. How did this happen?

 

            I first met Patience a month before. Hollywood was warm like bathwater. Outside my window three girls were playing in the park.  They were tagging each other’s behinds.  The two bigger girls ganged up on the smallest one.  The smallest one ran to a bench and held on tight. Her grip turning her knuckles white.  As long as her behind was down on the bench she was safe. 

            I sat in my office in a suit, dark hair back in a bun, brown skin peeking out of my white silk blouse. The office that didn’t adequately reflect my tastes. We sat at a round blonde-wood table in my overly bright convenience-storesque office, which was decorated with motivational statements and pictures of wild animals. The type of framed pictures that came in office supply catalogs.  The night before I knelt on the carpet and gave Federico, the maintenance man head.  He’d scored me some dope and I owed him and didn’t have any cash.  He shoved his dick in my mouth hot and sweaty the pubic hair stunk like work. All the work I had him do earlier assembling beds, taking out trash, painting. When he came in my mouth he thrust deep and jabbed my tonsils so I spit it out and threw up on my carpet.  I was looking at the carpet stain.  He didn’t clean it up all the way.

            We were interviewing Patience, she seemed both pallid and lovely. She was slow, and her movements and speech were anemic. She was wearing a cleaning uniform which reminded me of both citrus and subservience.  I admit I wondered if this was a tactic to help her get into the program.  It was hard making these decisions about who could make it in the program and who couldn’t.  There were only twenty beds total, and there were thousands of homeless women and children.  93,000 to be exact.

            Patience was thin, 5’7, dark skinned, with big beautiful eyes and thick black hair.  There was something a little too grown about her but also something a little too sweet.  Her biological age was thirty-one but I suspected her mental age to be that of a young child’s.  Throughout the interview she broke into laughter.   Her hair that barely made a ponytail reminded me of my cousin at eight years-old. Patience was as sad and tough as Cabrini Green.

            I should explain that Cabrini Green, the projects she lived in, was the most notorious public housing project in the nation.  Notorious for lots of reasons. Notorious for Dantrell Davis who on October 13, 1992 was holding his mother’s hand on his way to school when he was fatally shot by a stray bullet.  Notorious because a former mayor, Mayor Jane Byrne moved into Cabrini Green as a publicity stunt.  Only she welded her entrance shut and only stayed three weeks.  Her residence quickly became infiltrated by gang members grateful for the welding job, which was replicated throughout the housing project. Notorious for a day in January. January 9, 1997 when a nine-year-old "Girl X" was found in a seventh-floor stairwell at 1121 N. Larrabee Street after being raped, beaten, choked, poisoned by having a can of insecticide sprayed down her throat, and covered in gang symbols. Her attacker then stepped on her throat. She was left for dead. Girl X survived, but was blinded and left with significant brain damage. Cabrini Green was covered in metal mesh so the police could not see in.  Two policeman were once shot dead by snipers.  The Green had rat and roach infestations and portions of it were burnt down daily

            I sat back, folded my hands, “So what are your current circumstances?”

            “Huh?” she giggled.

            I sat up straighter made myself more efficient looking,“Why do you want to stay here?”

            “Oh, cause I don’t got nowhere else to go. My boy friend killed my baby Queen and he is in jail and my baby Marquis is in foster care.  They say if I get somewhere safe to go I could have my baby Marquis back.”

            Patience slid a death certificate across to me and my colleague.  I ignored it. I was afraid of it.

            “How long have you been homeless?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “Where did you stay before your boyfriend got arrested?”

            That’s right I said “stay”. During this line of questioning I would sometimes slip into slang to try to invoke softness.

            “We stayed in a motel.” She laughed again.

            “And where did you stay before that?” I was getting annoyed.

            She could tell. She drew in her lips and prevented another giggle “In Chicago.”  She said seriously.

            “Where? In a house, an apartment, a hotel?”

            Patience smiled nervously and looked down at the desk.  I hated myself for sounding cold.  I was trying to impress what homelessness was. That it did not mean living on the streets.  That most folks didn’t even know they were homeless.

            “To be honest I was arrested when I was a kid for burning down the projects and then I had to go to jail. My babies they went with my grandma cause my mama couldn’t take care of them cause my mama smoked crack and she couldn’t take care of me.  So first I went to foster care then I got married then my husband died and then I went to jail. After that I met big Marquis and we came out here to Los Angeles and now here I am.”

            I relaxed, “So you have other children?”

            “Yes I have three more, one died though, her name was Joneesha she had crib death.”

            “And they currently live with your grandmother?”

            “Yes.”

            “So you have always been homeless.”

            “I guess.”

            “Can you return to live with your grandmother in Chicago?”

            “Not until I get my baby back. They say I have to stay here until my baby daddy gets convicted.” 

            Patience told her story with a flat affect.

            “I’m here because my baby daddy is in jail for killing my baby Queen.”

            That’s what she said. 

            “My baby Queen was three months old and now she’s dead.”

            “How did she die?”

            “She had a hemorrish.”

            “A hemorrhage?”

            “Yeah, that.”

            “And you currently don’t have anywhere to go?”

            “No.”

            “Did your husband ever beat you?”

            “Yeah.”

            At the time she was the only one that knew what really happened but I could have taken a good guess.

 

 

 

 

Two weeks earlier

 THE SNOOTY FOX

                 Earthquake weather, Patience thought.  Her thick white housekeeping shoes squeaked against the cracked cement of the parking lot outside The Snooty Fox Motor Lodge in South Los Angeles. South Los Angeles, formerly known as South Central, most famous for John Singleton films and NWA albums.  What most people don’t know is that before all this before the gangs South LA was predominantly lined with mansions.  The first blacks in the neighborhood came home to burning crosses on their lawns.  I was never wealthy but I have lived in neighborhoods where people put perfectly usable things on the sidewalk for people to take.  This was not one of those neighborhoods. Everything got used up. She put the key in the lock, its blue plastic room number banged against her wrist. 

                 Patience was dark skinned, “blue-black” her mama called it. She had extraordinary eyelashes.  She usually left the motel room every morning with her too-short hair slicked back in a ponytail but by this time the gel had thinned taking strands with it.  Her mouth naturally formed a frown except when she smiled-- then it was like the whole world opened.  Her hands with their bumpy, nervous, and youthfully shy chicken skin and too-big pores looked like they belonged to a child’s until she turned them over and the pink fleshy palms with its deep dark life lines revealed otherwise.

                 This day was long too long.  The was the end of the day that she killed her baby. She never knew what to expect behind this door.  When she opened the door to the motel a fluorescent blue light from the television creeped out.  The chain lock was on so she had to wedge her body between the door and reach up to unlock it.

                   Her son Marquis was crouched in the corner.  He was only two years old but in some ways he acted older and in others he acted too young, like he spent too much time with adults who never taught him how to be right. His little fingers were grasping the wall his hair was in perfect little cornrows and his eyes were wide open. I really need to enroll him in school soon so he don’t end up dumb like his daddy.  Patience stepped onto the brown woven carpeting and glanced quickly at her boyfriend. She took in as much as she could without getting caught staring. Out of the corner of her eyes she glanced up at the gold frosted mirrored ceiling. 

                  Big Marquis was half lying on the bed facing the TV, his oversized jeans unbuckled to reveal a soiled pair of boxers.  He wore the button down blue and white shirt Patience had gotten him for Christmas.  His hair was short and nappy and his skin was crusty from not showering that day.  He was drinking a can of Steel Reserve beer. Ugly… dumb and uglyshe thought. All of their clothes scattered on the floor around the bed.  The drawers holding up the television were empty except in the third drawer Marquis hid his stamp collection. He got them two weeks ago.  He must’ve seen it on TV.  He thought they were worth something. He loved his stamp collection and opened that third drawer and checked on it at least six times a day.  He didn’t want any of his dirty clothes to touch them in case they would mess up his stamps.

            “Did you ever think that I lock that door ‘cause maybe I don’t like you barging in here like that? Don’t you remember we got stuff to hide in here? ‘Sides you’re the coo koo loo ‘round here,” he said

            Oh now he wants to start! Don’t he know how tired I am?

“Oh now it’s we? I lives here more than you do! Even though your stank butt is always here I’m the one that pays for this dump.” 

            “What BITCH??”  Marquis jumped up and started toward her… his hand already making a fist.  Patience jumped over the bed and into the bathroom, grabbing little Marquis with her and closed the door behind her. She had to move quickly past the fog in her mind. The adrenaline rushing through her awakened her pores. It was like the times in the house with her foster mommy’s boyfriend and the times in the motel when her mama went out in the snow. She just saw what was in front of her and right then it was a door. Please god help me. To keep me and Lil’ Marquis away.

            “What you gonna do NOW? You just gonna hide in there forever with that baby of yours?”

            This was not the man she fell in love with. This was not the man that bought her pretty things.  This was some monster that she started coming home to ever since Queenie was born. He thought she loved the baby more than him. He was right. But it wasn’t all bad.  Every night before bed he always whispered Sleep with angels. More times than not he fell asleep rubbing the tops of his feet with the bottom of hers and linking his pinky finger in hers. She could hear a dog whimpering through the walls.  She called the guy staying next door to them Pharrell because he was black and rode a skateboard, but he wasn’t fine like Pharrell he was ashy and his hair was always nappy with lint in it. He was hiding a little dog in his motel room.  He called it Leopold.  She didn’t know what that meant, probably something old she thought.  There was a Larry Flynt for President sticker on the side of his skateboard.  She didn’t know what that meant either but thought since she didn’t go to school she probably couldn’t vote anyways.

            Little Marquis hid in her skirts and clung to her legs.  He wrestled his face free for a moment to cough out the smell of cleaning products.  Patience still unsure of how to treat a child this age patted his back and began to sing off key, “Go to sleep little baby Go to sleep.” She sat on the toilet and scooped him into her arms. She rocked him back and forth.  He was not tired. He slept all day.  He usually stayed awake nights.  She didn’t know that he was too big to cradle. Her big white squeaky shoes against the fake linoleum.  It was white plastic with brown squares that edged up in the corners revealing little rough brown concrete edges. Right then a cockroach’s antennas peered out. Some of her favorite memories were sleeping with her dad on the carpet of a motel.  She remembers him sleeping and the mice nibbling at his fingers and giggling together--she and the mice, they were playing a trick on her dad and he was asleep and did not notice. Finally he opened his eyes and hollered and she laughed a big laugh. Her mouth looked younger than it was because she had bottle rot and her front teeth were little brown nubs.

            Big Marquis banged on the door outside. With each thump her throat leaped. She tried to breathe her angst away afraid lil’ Marquis might catch on, “Don’t you start all that singing crap again you hear me?”

            Patience looked at the clothes hanging on the shower beside her. Seeing her dirty panties and stockings hanging made her sad, confirming that these were the only part of two pairs she had. She had to wash them over and over again in this little bitty ol’ bathroom.  Just looking at them made her tired.  But she dared not look down.  Do not look in the tub. Do not look in the tub she thought.  In the tub was the body of her dead baby. She felt lil’Marquis’ wet fingers grab at her dress. She searched lil’ Marquis’ eyes. Why don’t you ever talk? Maybeif she could send him to school with other kids he would talk more, but then they would need an address and start askin’ questions ‘bout where we live and what we do and the County’ll take ‘em away from me like they did my other kids.  Course I didn’t have no job then but still that life was heavy on me just like this one. Seems like every time he looks at me his eyes are trying to say something his mouth don’t know yet, she thought.

            Patience thought maybe she knew what he was thinking because she was slow too. Although she talked a lot now it didn’t seem like the words she said out loud matched the pictures in her head.

            He used to cry when she left in the morning for work. He’d fuss and blubber and pull at her heels trying to get her to stay. Then when Queenie came along, Patience whispered, “You take care of your sister” and relieved he gladly loved her.  She felt a hard square in her pocket resting against her leg. Ofcourse a candy! She always had some spare mints, the ones she placed on pillows at work.  Smiling brightly that smile of surprise she grabbed her son’s face, “Hey baby you wanna treat?”  Marquis nodded his head, his fingers now in his mouth.  “Oh you do?” Patience giggled and offered them to him.  God I will not ask anything more of you. Please god let me out of this life. Take this man away from me and let me be free.

           The banging on the door grew louder.  Lil’ Marquis’ lower lip began to tremble like he was going to cry. Patience set him down and went to the door. Remembering her daddy’s words to her when she was a little girl, “If you ever gonna get in a fight sugarplum you betta make damn sho’ you the first to throw a punch.”

            Patience’s movements like quick snapshots.  Always her mind a whiz everything fuzzy and unfocused, “Awright nigga I’m gonna come out this bathroom now and you betta not put your nasty ass fingers on me or I’m gonna quit my job tomorrow and your ass is gonna be broke!”

             “If I’m broke your ass will be dead don’t nobody want your ugly hoin’ ass anyway.  You think you’d ever find a man as good as me as I am to you? Especially as crazy as you are!”

              Hell yeah I can find a man betta than you. Any man would be betta than this dumb ugly fool!

              Lil Marquis trembling, his whole bottom lip turned out, his eyes welled with tears.  He looked so scared.  His pants were damp with urine and Patience didn’t know if it was new or old. He had a rash for a week now from his daddy letting him walk around wet all day. Oh God this isn’t what I wanted.  This isn’t what I wanted for my baby.  Please god.

               BANG! BANG! Marquis’ banging got louder. The door looked weak where he hit it like the wood might split. The motel would kick them out and charge them double. This was the fourth motel they were at in a month. She was tired. Only this time they would not all be leaving. They were not all together.  Her baby Queenie was dead.

                Lil’ Marquis’ sobs began.

                Patience sighed in defeat.  She was tired.  It was over. Quickly she bent down and kissed lil’ Marquis on the forehead. Covering his ears she put on her sweetest voice and said, “No honey I’d never find me no man as good as you.” 

             “You better believe your black ass you wouldn’t!” She turned the silver doorknob.

              Marquis put his foot in the door before she could change her mind and slam it shut again.  She could see the rage in his eyes. She knew he was gone now. Too far gone.  Her heart stopped. She felt a lump in her throat. She wondered maybe if skinny people like her could die quicker when they were afraid. She never felt like her bones were sturdy enough for all her pain. She felt like she was always inches away from snapping. She decided she did not care. She thought maybe she should die quicker. It was like when she turned off her mind --it didn’t matter. She was no longer afraid.  He grabbed her by her wrist and pulled her to him. She braced herself against the bathroom sink. She could smell the cheap beer on his breath.  “Just in case you get any ideas about goin’ off with some other man this is a reminder of what we all think of your skanky ass!  You know what you make me sick! I can’t even look at you after everything you did!” He spit in her face and backhanded her to the floor. She saw the spit coming at her. A thick yellow gob of hate.  It reminded her of the jar her dead husband used to keep beside the bed, full of water and spit from chewing tobacco.  The water turned brown with big chucks of tobacco settled at the bottom.  It was still there two months after he died. Then the slap.  Marquis was small but his hands and feet were big.  She clenched her eyes shut.  His yellow palm raised, she braced herself betta make damn sho’ you the first to throw a punch then an image of mama crouching in the corner with a glass pipe perched between her lips, it was one of those glass vials they used for roses at the liquor store. The motel room floor littered with tiny fake roses.  Her baby self with a little synthetic rose in her mouth.  Then her grown self spread out in the hospital giving birth to Queen. God god god god god god god god SMACK!!! It stung her face on fire.  This is how you treat dirt, she thought.  “Crazy bitch!”

             The shame and force throwing her to the ground crumpled in the small space between the toilet and the sink.  She reached for something to hoist her up.  Lil Marquis had crawled into the tub, and there at his feet was his dead baby sister Queen.   The baby’s little tan feet were swollen.  The little wrinkles in her knees and ankles were puffy with fluid. Her skin still had blemishes from being so newly relieved from the comfort of her mother’s belly. 

            The little boy took the candy out of his mouth and tried to rub it against the dead baby’s pursed blue lips.  The candy made a red syrupy stripe across her light brown face. “MAMA!” Lil Marquis rarely spoke so it sounded like a strange chime when he did.  Patience wiped the spit off her face with the hem of her skirt and pushed herself up from the floor to see what her son might want to show her.  “Don’t worry baby I’m comin’.”

            *****

I’d been to that motel before. That’s how it all started. I got a call.  From my brother’s cell phone. The voice was a girl.  She sounded young, like a teenager. 

“Hello?”

“Hi is this, is this…

“Who is this and why are you calling me asking who I am?”

“Sorry. Is this B’s sister?”

“What is it? Where is he?”

“Snooty Fox.”

I don’t remember how I got there.  I didn’t drive then. I don’t remember how I found the room. There are lots of things I’d rather not remember about that night.  The motel itself looked grimy.  This is where hookers go I thought.  I went in the room. First I saw the girls. Their eyes big and scared, afraid I’d call their parents, skanky outfits, white, they looked rich. I knew one of them used to have money her dad was a famous movie director. I saw B. He was slumped against the wall.  His head was bleeding.  The blood poured down over his face. His body limp.  I went to clean the wound. 

One of the skanks was looking at me.  “It’s not that.” She whispered.

“WHAT?” I screamed

“It isn’t the cut.”

“YOU”RE GONNA HAVE TO EXPLAIN TO ME WHAT THE FUCK YOU ARE TRYING TO SAY BITCH!”

I was looking at him lifting his eyelids.

“It’s the dope”

Beside him on the floor was a needle. His arm was tied off.  Later I found out his head was bleeding because he jacked the dealer and the dealer stabbed him. I slapped him.  It worked before. Nothing. I socked him. He fell.  I put my hand on his pulse. Nothing. I put my cheek next to his mouth. Nothing. I grabbed the needle and jammed it in my arm. Without him there was no me. That’s how it started.  Only now there’s no him. Just me. Turns out it was empty and I didn’t hit a vein. So I felt something when I wanted to feel nothing. That’s what I’m chasing today. Nothing, because underneath it all there is always something. Somethingsomethingsomething. Now it’s maintenance. That was my Snooty Fox story that wasn’t Patience’s Snooty Fox story. Hers was different.

*****

            It was warm. Earthquake weather.  She stood in the bathroom wearing her cleaning uniform.  It was powder blue with a white apron.  She could feel the plastic linoleum ballooning up beneath her feet.  It was squishy with air and water.  The edges peeling up at the corners.  She imagined the cockroaches nesting underneath.  Sometimes one or two scurried out.  It was early, still dark.  The water was rushing slow to start-at first a little yellow, then rushing.  She was holding Queen towards her, the baby’s bare feet dangling above the sink sometimes her toe hitting the lip than curling up.  She was a light baby like her daddy.  But her features looked more like Patience.  She reminded Patience of a toy she once shared with her sisters.   Fashion Plates it was called. It was a thin pink plastic box that held varied rectangular raised images of women and their fashions.  Three different heads, three different torsos, three different lower abdomens and thighs, and three different sets of calves and feet. You could mix and match the pieces and then place a piece of paper over the top and etch in the different images.  She could color them any color she wanted and she mostly colored them brown or black. But no matter what color they were they still seemed like white faces.  She didn’t know what it was about them.  Maybe it was their hair, long sleek ponytails or sharp features but Patience always confused it for their richness and their pristine features. 

            That’s what she thought Queen looked like; a brown-white baby.  She didn’t have the words for it all.  Like the test she took in jail said.  She didn’t have no words.  Even though the tests didn’t really have words neither they were mostly pictures or puzzles.  A psychologist pulled her off her cellblock and asked her questions timing her.  She looked at a picture and tried to memorize it and then tell him what it was missing.  Of course the people in the pictures didn’t have no regular things to be missing like there was not a missing can of beer or a missing condom or even a big thing like a missing car or a missing TV.  The thing that was missing was a thing that Patience didn’t have no word for like a “decanter” or a “saucer”. At the end of the tests she found out what she already knew. She was not ready for the GED and she didn’t have all the words.

            But that wasn’t the problem now. The problem was that she just couldn’t remember. She really couldn’t.  There was water that was cold and then warm rushing over her brown-white baby girl Queen.  The sink was dirty but filling up pretty quick. There were a couple of loose hairs probably Marquis’ the way they curled like pubic hair.  She remembered looking up and seeing her reflection in the mirror and then thinking she looked too old.  There was sleep collecting in her eyes but she dared not wipe it out and let go of the baby.  Queen was crying a lot these past couple of days.  She even took her to the hospital to see if anything was wrong with her and they said nothing was wrong with her.  They sent them home.  But Patience knew deep down there was something wrong or else she wouldn’t cry so much.  Every time she picked her up she cried; especially if she touched her around the middle.  The middle was swollen but she thought that might just be her big belly.  Because she was already starting to eat regular food and she was liking it too much. Queen looked at her or behind her she couldn’t remember.  Those eyes. Her eyes were black and wet.  Her mouth was open always wide wide open with teeny little teeth.  Teeth that were barely there and sometimes she cried so loud you could see her tonsils shaking. 

            The light in the room was tinged yellow like rust. Like the water.  There was a bottle of Johnsons & Johnsons baby shampoo on the top of the toilet to wash her with.  There were big suds.  Like washing dishes.  She dipped Queen in and she was still crying.  Even though it was dark still and everyone else was quiet.  Patience started to hum. She had no more songs to sing.  She never really knew any baby songs so she sang a lullaby.  Good night go to sleep…When she started to rub on her belly Queen screamed again. Her little tuft of hair atop her head was curled up and covered in bubbles. Like a little George Washington.  Her eyes were tightly shut.  Squinting. Her eyelashes plastered against her face.  Her belly button still red and healing still a little crusty.  Her belly protruding and face and feet flat.  There were little baby wrinkles all over her.  Maybe there were still a couple more baby pimples in the folds of fat around her knees and ankles.  She had the most perfect cute little round butt.

            One of her wrists was swollen too.  “I swear I’ma kill that baby if I have to spend one more second listening to that screaming again.”  She heard his words now. They were strong in her head.  She heard them all the time over and over again like a broken record. Go to sleep little baby.

            “What kind’a mamma is you anyway? Leaving your baby like that all day long while you work. You know I bet that’s child abuse” Good night little baby. Child Abuse.  “For a little baby she sho’ do stank.”

            It was true as soon as she started to poop real food and it changed to the green poop and then the hard dark brown it smelled bad.  Sometimes she came home and it stank up the whole motel.  Of course Marquis never changed her diapers on time and left it for her.  She kind of liked it though.  Having something only she could share with her daughter. She hated leaving her babies all the time. And wished more than anything she could just be with them all day while he worked.  She was afraid they would grow up to hate her and love him.  That’s what he told her anyway.  “You’re babies don’t even know who you are. I could just go out and find them another mama and they’d be okay.  Shit they’d probably be better off with someone finer than yo’ ugly tired lookin’ ass anyway.”

            So there was water and then her eyes adjusted to the lights and she started to see them. All of them.  Big bruises on her little chest and wrist.  Big bruises on her back. But that wasn’t all.  Her belly button did have dried blood but it wasn’t from the cord.  That was gone already.  It was a trail. Like the thin line of hairs that made her own happy trail. The dark crusty river traced its way down to her vagina. It was torn and dried with blood.  That blood looked familiar.  She looked next to the toilet.  Beside the toilet was a plunger the top of round wood handle was also caked in blood.

            The bathroom.  The bathroom had a white door and a handle and a toilet and a sink.   Above the sink was the mirror and to the side of the toilet was a shower with a flimsy white plastic curtain. Above the curtain was a rod and there on the rod was a pair of Patience’s panties, some stockings, and another uniform. And there in her hands was her tiny screaming baby and her hands grew tight.  They grew tight with fear and anger and her eyes filled with tears and everything went blurry.  And there was a lot of splashing in her hands. Her uniform started to get a little wet.  She remembered her own times in the bathroom with blood.  Like when her foster step daddy used to stick her in there and mess with her.

 Slipping slipping the little weight fell to the water. She squeezed until there was the flailing and crunching of soup bones. She looked straight ahead never down. Her hands strong and tight and sliding up and down the slippery body. An empty bang of infant’s head against the sink. Patience’s fingers slipped up to the eye sockets and pushed in. the tips of her thumbs diving against her small skull. blood. Quiet. That’s all.

            So that’s how she became a murderer.  When I found this out I called the cops and didn’t tell her. I did not know what else to do. She was in her room sleeping. She slept most of the time. I heard the elevator doors open up.  I heard keys jangling and walkie talkies, cop noises.  There were two of them, a woman and a man. My heart raced. I asked them to please exit out the back stairwell so as not to alert any of the patrons in the building. I walked the cops down the hallway to her door.  I wrung the wrists of my shirt sleeves. I was sweating.  It had been a long time since I had a shot. I knocked. No answer. I knocked again. I got dizzy standing there and steadied myself against the door frame. “Patience I am opening the door now there are some people here to see you.”  I heard rustling in the room.  I heard a window close. I stepped close to the door and inserted the big metal key. My heart raced. I turned the door handle and steadied one palm on the wood. One of the walkie talkies went off. Shit! I was afraid of that now she knew. “WHAT THE FUCK?” she screamed.

I opened the door.  She stood there in her pajamas and a robe.  She looked at the cops behind me. Her mouth opened. She knew. I stepped from between them.  The woman cop came forward, “Patience Smith?” Patience bowed her head down to the floor and nodded.  “Patience Smith you are under arrest for homicide of a child under the age of four.” She was patting her down. Patience clasped her own hands behind her back.  The cop snapped the handcuffs in place. Tears dripped down to the carpet, Patience’s shoulders slumped. I went back to the end of the hall. I watched the exit door.  When they got to the door Patience raised her head and looked back at me she called across the hall, “Stop staring, it’s easy for you to judge you all gots pretty lifes.  I don’t got no pretty life.”  I didn’t look at her anymore.  I could not.  She was a murderer and if it is possible to love someone furiously and pity them at the same time I did both.