Fault Lines

Fault Lines


She crosses the street, comes up to me, bold as a rabbit in predator-purged territory, ferret-like herself, well-trained suburban calling card on a leash beside her, and asks me, right in front of all the other mothers, if I’m looking for more work as a nanny.

The other women have already recoiled, not from her, so much, as from the response they now know to expect from me, their one (fill in your chosen blank) friend. Perhaps at some primeval level they feel more sorry for her than horrified for me. It’s too early, even for me. I choose clarity.

—Did you feel entitled to ask me that because I’m the only brown person standing here?

My daughters press against my body on either side, comprehending only its hardness, that chain mail that descends, the armor tossed as though from the hands of a benevolent deity all haste and consternation as he rushes through neighborhoods intuiting coming events casting shadows in each set of eyes that hood, each set of lips pursing its contents, that look that is turned inward asking: Is this it? Is this time for The Crazy Black Man/Woman or is there some mitigating element that must be considered? Time of day? Circumstance? A wrinkle or a smile? What other pressing duty calls that cannot now be derailed with a reaction or a rant? I feel their arms wrap, one higher, one lower, around my thighs, feel the pale strength of them, and do not move my own, crossed, waiting, face-off. Silence, and then the chug of the yellow bus coming up the road toward us, its sunshine color stippled by the old oaks that arch overhead and touch each other the way we neighbors will never do. She steps off the street and onto the pavement beside us, lingers there, lost in the shuffle of rituals in which she has no part, while we hustle our children inside and break into our directional cliques, leaving.

—I cannot believe

—What nerve

—Are you okay?

Ah, the vernacular of suburbia where we reserve our epithets for colleagues at workplaces where most of us are overpaid, for politicians we imagine give a damn about our vote, and for grouped people—the “those” of our stories—all the absent ones who need never feel nor fear our low-motility seeds of wrath. In the day-to-day, though, that’s a different kettle of gefilte, that’s a farce called civility, where the only people hurting are the ones who are hoping you might say fuck, just once, on their behalf. You’re the one wearing whiteface after all. Fuck you, fuck off, fucking moron, any of those would do. I don’t need t...

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