Book Excerpt – Running to Fall: A Novel
Running to Fall: A Novel
by Kalisha Buckhanon
Publication Date: Nov 01, 2022
List Price: $18.95
Format: Paperback, 334 pages
Imprint: AALBC Aspire
Publisher: AALBC Publishing
Parent Company: AALBC.com, LLC
Read Our Review of Running to Fall: A Novel
Copyright © 2022 AALBC Publishing/Kalisha Buckhanon No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher or author. The format of this excerpt has been modified for presentation here.
Right around time things started reopening, the late March thaw brought a lifeless girl up to the tail end of the Grayson River, in sight of a younger girl on a bike, after the living girl’s Doberman pup raced to the smell of spring rabbits being born. The dead girl delivered a shade to the river and question to the air: “How did a young woman not from around here, headed off to the rest of her life, never show up there or anywhere — but wind up here with us, like this?”
She came the same time the usual spell of sparrows shifted senses and norms, subtracting and adding to the birds. The forensics of bitter cold, marsh plains beat out summer’s damaging behavior with the dead. The water took her wig and her nails, but its thirty degrees slowed other thefts. The challenging Midwest winter preserved her brown skin body to grave wax, so it talked more than it would have been able to in other seasons or regions. Answers compiled soon. The later answers were what folks came to tony Grayson, Illinois — population 3,279 — to avoid.
When the text beeped in, Tragedy Powell wasn’t really working on the book about her life. She was just keeping the habit, really. She was stuck, sitting in her spare and minimal office, listening to the silence. Scrolling Pinterest home décor one moment, checking for the latest celeb gossip and racial injustice the next. After all, she’d told so many people she was writing a book of her life, so it was mandatory to try. She stared at the last of the words it had taken her months to get out of her mind and soul into what she could finally call a first chapter:
“The house was on fire.
It was a Saturday night.
I was fifteen.
By Sunday morning, they got the fire out.
It was supposed to be my birthday. I didn’t have birthday presents, a cake, a family, or any recollection of how I saved my life.
But I turned sixteen.”
And that was all she could write before the past became too much to remember, even if she thought her life story would be empowering and inspiring for many other women from harsh backgrounds. After all, she had survived. She could look out to her big yard, circle drive and secluded neighbors across the way or far down a road to know: Her childhood didn’t kill her.
She found writing to be lonely and scary so she craved interruption, though she didn’t know it. The soft text alert was grace. Her husband’s scruffier face, not his public clean-shaven look, was a bubble above a message: Babe, they found Raven McCoy. End of the river.
Another text from him jingled soon: Road’s blocked off. Stay in. I’m coming home.
Tragedy smacked her laptop shut and started a dash down the stairs. Soon, anxiety caught her, so she slowed down. She knew one more careless step could be a broken neck to start a sad final chapter to her young life’s story — like a Monday morning heart attack, a shoelace sucked into a treadmill conveyor belt, a choking fit. Her ginger tea with two protein bars breakfast wasn’t enough, but she ignored her stomach. She was going to the river now to see for herself.
Victor Powell was on the run, as usual. Tragedy was supposed to be his manager. He was connected to people and things in the know of what everyone else still had to find out. This scoop was more personal. A mere cadaver washed up in such a place where this never happened before. Female. No age, no race, no story. One name came to the area people’s minds for it.
Like many, the Powells accustomed to mentions and impressions of a missing woman. Since the day before Christmas Eve, when a nineteen-year-old African American female from Wells, Illinois, ceased answering her phone. She stopped turning up at home or in class. But along with season binges and video calls, the seriousness of this withered to the quotidian. The local law experienced devastation of clues to her: a community under house arrest, witnesses in pandemic lockdowns, the ubiquity of face masks making them all suspicious. No one knew what the three months after her last sighting alive consisted of. Where she was, who was with her.
A search and rescue party attempt had considered the river. But by the time Raven McCoy was a case, the river was a winter body of water. Sharp as nails in some spots, mean as wild mothers in others, cold enough to slow a corpse from floating, icy enough to keep walkers from its edges a corpse could collide with. Fairly shallow for just fifty feet at its widest channel, short on miles compared to notable Illinois River tributaries whole towns got named for. Hard enough to skate by January, when a crayon box of snowsuits and boots rushed atop it after long isolations. The river was a heartbeat feature of their place, not where the unimaginable struck.
The early tip: Raven was spotted at the edge of town, leaving a spa. Land was a start. State water patrol bowed out. The search stuck to Grayson’s barren cornfields, mushy forests and snowed-in back roads. The Grayson Police Chief thought it rude to knock on the doors of these kinds of homes back then (it was still kind of Christmastime). The new year deserved peace and quiet after all everybody went through in the last. They couldn’t go digging on a subject like that. Soon, snowplows crawled the lands of patient people who could afford to be snowed in for days or a week in some memorable storms. Some halfway expected a find. It didn’t come.
Now, the vernal river had surprised them all.
Tragedy’s ten-speed waited to unlatch from a back wall of the shed for abandoned projects, lawn stuff, a wooden swing her husband gave her. She never rode it, but this seemed an occasion to stay inconspicuous and nimble. The day couldn’t have been clearer, one people live to wake up to before weddings and funerals. She zipped a heather grey hoodie, perched her sunglasses. She started in the direction of the short bridge to landmark the way in or out of Grayson Glens, the hidden village she was one of about a thousand people lucky to afford to buy a way into. In five minutes, she just missed her husband turn his Jag onto Calliope Lane, their street in this sprinkle of widespread homes past a dash of security gates. In fifteen minutes, with only a few drivers who could have spotted her on the way, she was near to the end of the river.
Tragedy braked when a scene focused. She stalled at the edge of the empty road. She saw enough far back. Disappointing really, from a distance. Orange cones, yellow tape, black and beige cars, blue uniforms, mostly men and a few women, some white coats. She couldn’t make out conversations. One car — a hybrid Volvo — came up on the back side of the scene. Its driver could crawl through. She hid herself uphill, into spruce and oak trunks, against pointy branches.
She beat the documentarians. Only so much time before specks would descend at the tree line to beam the moment into their phones, adorn it with stickers and post emotional remarks. This situation identified their small place to the world. Grayson, Illinois, was always mentioned in the case of #RavenMcCoy: that over-posed selfie face, with her elaborate microbraids updo and downcast eyes. Hundreds — maybe thousands — of flyers subdued her to a black and white complexion, obscured her rich nutty brown one. “Last seen in GRAYSON, IL,” it announced.
Tragedy was overcome to make her hands less pointless with a flower, candle, cross or stuffed animal. She was alone and first to a vigil that was to come later, for the girl and all the women the world let get lost, pained survivors now reminded how helpless it is to hold on.
But she had nothing reverent, only her bike and her body and her clothes. Not even a water bottle. She made the sign of the cross, from her third eye to her womb and then across her heart. The young woman’s people would assign new zeniths of course. Survivors would tribute memories of her high points and good sides. For now, she was the missing dead girl headed to become ashes and dust down in Wells, her native factory and farm town not too far away.
Tragedy knew where Raven came from. She was born somewhere like it. Foster care is swift tides. For Tragedy: from a house with her family, to state care, to group homes. She crash landed to Chicago at twenty-one. She was no Lot’s wife. She didn’t look back so she could make it somewhere higher. Now, a helpless young woman she didn’t know called her back to recall her past. All those small homes and new neighborhoods… all those girls like she was once.
She saw a bubble with her husband’s face. She watched him putter off to missed calls. She stayed with the body she couldn’t detect in the slight commotion. Finally, she typed: Needed a ride and fresh air. See you soon. She turned her back on the sadness, over the bridge in the direction of home, until the unexpected scene’s vanishing point. She pedaled fast in irrational worries now: a candle or iron left to flame, a burning house, a birthday she may not live to see.
Depending on the house, the river girl’s discovery was something big or nothing at all. If the house had young women, the drowned girl was worth sanctions. If the house was near the river, the news was reminder to fortify weather-worn guard rails and shaky piers and weak harbors. If the house was next door to neighbors who talked to neighbors, it was like a pregnancy announcement or business introduction. When a neighbor suggests having coffee, firing up the grill and chilling drinks. Or it was small talk in huge yards and at the ends of driveways. If it was one of the tiny houses people paid regular house prices for, just to be off the grid and feel better than everybody else, it was a consequence of modern society’s greed and desire for excess.
So many of them haunted by the death. Nobody said so, though. They were too embarrassed. After all, the woman —19, black, no children, not married— wasn’t one of them.
This population didn’t watch her progression from wholesome and all-American to naughty and burlesque. That Raven McCoy audience had only come recently, and fast. She’d been an online grid of eyes peeking from behind colored contacts and filters, between fringed bangs of lace fronts and weaves. With a wardrobe and filters, she transformed from bunnies to smoldering bedroom looks to office bosses in suits, her clicks and likes multiplying. She determined, manifested, visualized. With her thick legs on display, she was always going out or coming in. She batted lashes like swords. She ignored, or didn’t know, online reputation management cautions about great companies who checked social media history. She never heard of those companies anyway. They didn’t come to her parts of the world to recruit, like farmers needing hands and pyramid schemes whose leaders set up posts out of her town’ storefronts.
Yet still, something on faces like hers whispered a young age — sharp chins, linear jawlines, wide eyes, chubby cheeks. These girls even laughed young. They didn’t need gel for their baby hairs to curl. They didn’t kiss back as much. Men certainly knew they were babies.
All these girls still looked like they were somebody’s little girl long before they became some man’s baby. Everybody has childhood. They used to color silly pictures to give their mothers. They worked for gold stars from teachers. They wrapped Christmas presents for their siblings. They ran from worms after hard rains, begged for kittens and puppies and goldfish. They took a pet seriously if it came. But by late teens and young adulthood, they all seemed to become accounts online, and ones who never posted on family. In real life, they hardly spoke of family. Out of curiosity, real adults who paid attention asked often: “Where’s your father?”
Tragedy recognized the type immediately in Raven. She knew that same multitalented bunch her life had fringed before she could hashtag her photos with #dreamlife.
The spa worker. Massage worker. Date. Film star. Escort. Model.
Hot as fuck, horny as fuck, high as fuck…
They have faces beat, lashes done, brows on fleek, red bottoms, fishnets, stockings. The works. Many depend on blunts at glossy, plumped lips. All depend on designer logos and girl gang shots. As side hustles, they’re apt sellers of anything. The next big energy drink, cryptocurrency, weight loss miracles, money flowers, weed, online followers, natural hair care products, Noni Juice. They never planned to work to get laid off, phased out or retired to old homes and studios in senior buildings. This is what they saw happen to elders who raised them.
About a hundred people had shown up for Raven’s first search party. January was the uniform. Bearskin hats, thermal underwear, spiked boots. Leather gloves and double mittens clutched free coffee, hard donuts, donated sandwiches. Commenters tapped condolences and emojis on #RavenMcCoy scenes people shared. Following her name. #Grayson trended locally first, then nationwide. Her name. Finally popular, famous now. But Raven couldn’t even see it.
As the missing girl doused their conversations and thoughts, society bet without money. A suicide. A man or boyfriend most likely. The locals pontificated theories she was a mistress of a Grayson Glens man. The rendezvous went wrong. The wife came home early. He would never talk about it to anyone but a priest and his friend who was like a brother. They skimmed The Grayson Herald’s periodic requests for information, saw a number to the police station they moved there not to need. They entertained a serial killer among them. Not for long or for much. They were too sophisticated for such nonsense. Why complicate matters? They could incinerate corpses in plain sight just like dead leaves, sensitive papers and the refuse everyone stands out to burn. No one stands out for doing it. They didn’t have to dump bodies in rivers.
And the discovery didn’t fit the profile of their kinds of girls. No, it wasn’t one of them.
When she was a girl missing, #RavenMcCoy was intrigue, community conversation, a cause. When she was a young woman found dead, she was to be forgotten.
The body in the river was the fault of different people, in a different place, with different lives. The people of Grayson and its Glens closed ranks against a specter among them.
This was over two years after the Powells first moved to Grayson Glens and a white woman drowned. The white woman was one of them, a Glenner behind gates. Her death didn’t disorient Grayson. It was only a tragedy, not a mystery. That woman was a teacher in town. Kindergarten. Older than the girl who just drowned. Or, maybe this girl hadn’t drowned. “Drowned” was the nicest thing anybody could say until somebody said different.
Catastrophes in country sprawl gave residents an opposite posture to those in news-riddled Chicago. They didn’t stop over nor cruise up to offer help. They never heard emergency vehicles screech around bends and curves. They all lived too far apart to hear first responders beat their ways in. They only knew, for sure, if people behind nearby doors weren’t white. After that, they maybe knew approximate ages, if they vacationed often and if they were such terrible people their kids threw fits at the farmers markets. Truth was they all peered off balconies and out of peepholes binoculars or camera phones zoomed in. Stiff drinks in hand. They deduced from what was new and odd, like if moving trucks showed up, how soon moving trucks took off, who showed up suddenly. The best neighbors never knew anything until they came into closed circles of a few Glenners they ate with and extended invites to.
But the Powells didn’t have those people yet. At that time, they were only four months into unpacking, nowhere near ready for an unveiling, long before settling on furniture, before the old owner’s wine cellar converted to their home studio. And they were just two of not many black people. They were pioneers to dream houses in rural backwoods. They had to be cautious.
They only came across the drowned woman scandal because a Chicago comedienne friend had a condo-warming party that night. They went, happily. Chicago remained a welcome throwback from the Grayson Glens culture shock. At the party, so many colorful faces in one room relieved them not to be “minorities” for a change. They danced and drank instead of played diplomats on subjects they weren’t interested in. They never said aloud they were relieved to abandon the inner city. You can never say that. They kept it inside. Grayson Glens was an escape hatch. They’d had enough of the city. It was time. They sank into fried catfish and perch dinners, a neo soul DJ and a tipsy Cha Cha Slide line on their way out.
It was a good night.
“We crept past the time we should’ve left and the limit we should have drunk,” Victor quipped to his wife. She gave him a head toss laugh they wished would never get old. They stopped at 7-Eleven to get Victor coffee. They drove home to Sade songs, anticipating sex.
But a fire truck blocked a road, a half-mile from their turn to their Calliope Lane. Tragedy didn’t smell smoke.
Her “Honey, don’t…” came too late. Victor would help, certainly. He always did.
Victor chit-chat a senior volunteer fireman who came to clear the truck for them. The fireman apologized for the obvious: The company didn’t expect passerby so late. The Powells were too new to get it yet. Quiet meant quiet here. Also, the fireman told, a boy called 911 to report: “Mommy’s not moving in the pool.” The boy was the kind who sleeps like old men. So much time passed, his call started a body recovery instead of CPR.
Victor remembered that boy from Mommy’s house. How his teeth were coming in and out, and he sold lemonade in that summer. Victor had bought a few dollar cups when they first got there and Tragedy still didn’t go past the yard, so thrilled to be arranging her own universe.
The truck cleared so Tragedy and Victor could get to their destination through the darkness: a bright, well-lit, two-story, pink brick house like Tragedy always wanted. Maybe not that exact house, but all it represented — 4,500 square feet and three floors of rooms of her own behind the most glass bitter winters would allow. Many exits, windows and doors. Nowhere to get trapped or feel cramped inside it. That home came with the price of marrying a workaholic who put paying for it ahead of her. Everything she knew she was lucky to have came with that.
After they made it past the highway and roads and fire trucks and Mommy’s house, to their curated home, they sank into a poster bed. They had sex like they’d silently planned to along the way home. A déjà vu of times before and what they knew both would be happy with.
The August after Mommy’s obituary printed in The Grayson Herald, it was a yard sale at that house. Mommy’s sister came to put it back into the family collection. Tragedy stood at the books table debating if she should keep up a losing battle to finish her Danielle Steeles before more arrived. A few women at the adjacent glassware table discussed a package deal offer for the wine goblets and some crystal. These kinds of people loved a deal. They debated if the bone china and broaches in the pictures were worth crossing the lawn to ask for a look, like the sign instructed. Eventually, the group bobbed to the mink and other fur scraps.
“Bad luck. Drunk herself to death outta one of these glasses,” one of them said.
Tragedy recognized that one as the florist who kept odd hours. Another woman piped up.
“Tacky. Family should be ashamed to make money off it. Drunk might still be here now.”
“It was an accident!” Tragedy roared in her mind. “Mommy wasn’t moving in the pool.”
Aneurisms. Strokes. Allergic reactions. Falls. Head injuries. Home invaders. Prison escapees. Crashes through windows to flee serial killers…. Many reasons explained how, for women, a few inches go fast from solid ground to ten feet below, no chance for a deep breath first and no time to fly. Still, gossipers had points. A vodka bottle in the pool and a floating glass spoke. Women drunks made real but not sexy. Nobody believes in them. Only perverts like drunk girls. Children don’t like drunk women. You had to be rich and famous to look sexy at it.
So that first woman’s drowning stayed a Grayson Glens secret. Mommy’s accident was too simple to be newsworthy. It wasn’t an anonymous millionaire strangled his wife. It wasn’t a dangerous black man scaling the gates. New homebuyers wouldn’t learn about that stalwart kindergarten teacher drowning in her pool. They wouldn’t visualize such an unimaginable befalling their kid or parent on a walker. No — here was ultra-safe, desirable.
It was rare for a Grayson Glens starter home to be the buyer’s start. With so many farms out of business, or sold by new generations, or defeated by too much sand to plant upon, the Glens turned into a trend of affordable mansions, estates and fixer-uppers. All in seclusion, so worth ten times more in the long run. Next came adorable tiny homes speckling the acres with chicken coops, gardens and stone showers.
Joyrides through its approximately four-square miles were a fun pastime for nearby crowds who knew about the Glens. They just had to breach the North-South-East-West gatekeepers, more decorative than punitive. All black men, suited, accessorized in smiles. Half the time, gatemen didn’t even work the night. Outsiders would creep through dense trees and gravel roads, assembling vision board dreams for homes like they see in movies. Most popular were the three- and four-story brick cottages with coach houses. Then, far back to the preserved woodlands more distant properties set against. Along the way were restored antiques, weathered pickups and kid bikes next to luxury vehicles. Outdoor Jacuzzis, harbor homes, bathhouses and RVs dotted the pauses between some lands off 20-mile per hour roads at the busiest deer trails. Short creeks and a necessary bridge, mostly for the East and West sides with a river in between.
Two decades back, a town council had seen the Glens as just a little subdivision. The main Grayson townsfolk didn’t pay attention to it. It was where locally famous name families had turned over the same twenty or thirty acres for generations. Nobody wanted farms. Young ones started springing off into new lives past Grayson. Yet before long, optimistic transplants chasing triple the house for a third the money took over family homes and lands. Enough of them came to turn it into a village on its own.
Tragedy and Victor took up arms with tens of thousands of other African Americans to flee Chicago’s inner city. A reverse Great Migration. They’d had enough. It was time.
The Powellcast, Victor’s popular one-man internet show of trends and guests, changed everything. Big sponsors and ad revenue from high views helped pay a high mortgage.
For Tragedy, the Grayson Glens house was a no-brainer. With Victor’s platform elevated, small city digs simply wouldn’t do. City living was too compact for a home studio to produce so many more shows easily. They had no room to leave cameras and tripods out or set great shots. Audiences liked to see influencers live in largesse. The best lakefront or downtown Chicago condos didn’t show the owners’ worth. Each inch functioned to maximize urban domestic life. She knew what they needed. But the first time the realtor sent them a Grayson Glens listing, they squinted and huffed. “Where is Grayson Glens?” “Never heard of it.” “How far from Chicago?”
The realtor had expected these responses. And winter heating would be hell on Earth, all agreed, with featured picture windows and many transoms and all glass for much of the front of the house. Otherwise, with design and space and privacy, it was what people work for all their lives. They didn’t need the modern wine cellar the first owner created. They weren’t investing in wine, just fans and attention. They needed an in-home studio. Now Victor filmed The Powellcast at double the pace, right at home in the old cellar, converted to a studio with his recording videos and soundboard. He didn’t have to schedule studio time at the university’s audiovisual facilities anymore. He became freed to drop from professor blows to visiting professor prestige. They kept glitzy Chicago in their backyard. Their viewers expanded past colors, ages and lifestyles.
The come up wasn’t cheap.
The annual Grayson Arts Center Gala brought home the price of hunkering down with folks who live in rifle-rife woods, far from CCTV and streetlights. Six months after the Powells moved in, they were good Glenners to buy their $2000 per couple ticket for the town’s big party. They joined a cotillion of debutantes slowing down in number these days, as homes sold out.
The redwood Grayson Arts Center building overlooked the river. The Grayson debutantes to the fundraiser were supposed to fall in line with the veterans. Most would come to this lawn in summer for the family movie nights. Persistent towners insured all new debutantes left the gala pulled into some local group — a book club, small time betting scheme, bridge nights and so on.
Tragedy and Victor arrived an hour past the seven o’clock reception with passed hors d’oeuvres. They took a corner table next to a glum teenage couple into themselves. The center’s ballroom opened to a dance floor with a swing band. At ten o’clock, a pianist came for standards, a tip jar on the grand. The bar was open all the while. So was a line for raffles: rounds on the Grayson Greens and passes to its “Pool Hall” substitution for a beach. Apparently, all this and an art auction going on upstairs sustained big grants to local artists and much for budding youth artists to do. The Powells counted nine other black faces and three were in the swing band.
Tragedy wore Gucci and Victor Ralph Lauren. Her wedding ring, her showy jewelry and his Rolex were their only seamless blends into a mostly white crowd. They whispered guesses as to sparse others: Asian? South Asian? Latin American? They were used to this, the whole globe spinning around them as if they weren’t part of it. The chandeliers and candle lights and monotonous old-fashioned music dizzied them. A Gershwin song serenaded them to dance in public. Soon, they’d have to start talking to others or…? A trip to the ladies’ room left Victor at the bar with the Grayson High principal and a few men who owned businesses around.
“Wild coyotes and skunks are a humorous Grayson myth,” the principal said. Rarely seen, occasionally blamed for missing small pets and stench, Victor should know.
He should also know these men’s businesses — from pest control to car detailing to construction to waste management. Grayson people kept each other’s pockets padded. One man owned the limo and valet service assisting so many stumbling guests back to their homes without a single crash that night. So many clearly over their limits, taking seats and cooling off.
Tragedy’s lengthy stay in the ladies’ room line got her noticed again by women who had already noticed her darkness cloaked in violent under dim lights. A black-suited brown woman, senior and congenial, attended the bright yellow and flowered bathroom. Tragedy had left her champagne with Victor. She had no clue a woman of color like her would hold it on a silver tray and pass her a towel. She focused on other women’s brilliances, latched to ears and fingers, their elaborate clutch bags. She smiled at “Excuse mes” and “Pardons” when scratchy sequins or shimmer fabrics scraped her bare arms. Escaping the city left her much to say to those approaching for introductions and small talk.
“We just lost those three a.m. train wakeup calls, six a.m. construction when we least expected it,” she joked.
The attendant laughed, “I grew up with those.”
“Oh no,” deep-voiced a Glenner who had also said she ran the farmer’s market. “Out here, we wake up to morning bird sounds and smart home alarms. Keep ‘em on classical.”
While Tragedy complimented their much longer and dressier gowns compared to her basic sheath, she mental noted to find digital clocks with “beach wave” or “Beethoven” tones. She and Victor were still sitting up to cell phone alarms and radio alarm clocks from the past life.
“We escaped the beehives where people can just see you sleeping, or not, in your own bed,” another woman laughed. She passed a card where she titled herself “Food Blogger” and ordered people to subscribe. “Goodbye to frosted glass shower windows that tell everybody in the city if you shave your armpits, really wash your ass and can do it standing up.”
“Now you can do it with wraparound windows and even easier eyewitness views,” the farmer’s market boss teased, agreement from the others who didn’t spill wine or step on any toes.
Tragedy tried to imagine herself calling these women for lunch or fun. They all seemed like they knew each other so well they acted alike. The cologne, perfume, breath mints and booze aromas intoxicated her on the way back to find Victor through the crowd. It wasn’t thinning with time. This was the power show of the year and some would hang on for dear life, several until dawn. The same aura came into these events everywhere, city or country. The grazing table exploited caviar, shrimp and nearly raw head-on fish to pick at. Pungent cheeses and dips. Tragedy stuck to champagne grapes or pastries and men noticed.
“Into sweets, huh?” a senior one of them was bold enough to ask. Dark hair. A tuxedo. Martini. The start to a sweaty face and damp comb over that comes with having too many drinks.
“I am,” Tragedy smiled. She saw the men watching her. She’s always crossed lines of race when it came to men and how they stared, wondering. But this was a married people place.
The man who stuck out a brown hand she didn’t see coming was “Mr. Christian Pitts” and his wife “Right behind you, is Mrs. Jasmine Pitts.” The very light woman was statuesque under a Diana Ross level wig sparing no expense. She smelled like an Avon standard, Tragedy felt. A handshake wasn’t sufficient. Mrs. Pitts was a hugger. The oldest of few black couples, Glenners for a decade, Tragedy learned. By the time Victor walked up, she had traded enough niceties to introduce their new paternal and maternal guides to the Glens: “These are the Pitts. Retired architects. They designed and built a solar-powered home on the East side to retire to.”
“Good to see you out here, son,” Mr. Pitts said. He leaned in for what Victor had heard so many times, in so many contexts: “You won’t even notice it’s none of us after a while.”
The men chuckled and the women knew what it was about.
“That color is so beautiful with your skin,” Mrs. Pitts gushed. “Children at home?”
Tragedy swiveled her champagne. “We’re just enjoying life now. He has a daughter.”
Mrs. Pitts leaned in herself and her grandiose matching emerald jewelry.
“How nice. But get one of your own, soon. Then, get them gone and go live your life.”
The women chuckled and the men knew the territory of what it was about. The Powells landed in their first club: Mr. Pitts had a summer party every year, “For our kind.” They were on the invite list now. They also had a phone number and promise to dinner when they all got past the upcoming winter. Mrs. Pitts signaled their own Glenner duty was done, so the Pitts left the Powells to drift to a small pocket of younger couples like themselves. Victor had a knack for sniffing out where he fit. The couple stood together and beamed out laser whitened smiles to join a conversation of ex-city folk praising their carriage drives or three and four car garages now.
“You’re out of the city parking demolition derbies now, buddy,” a tall and robust man roared. Anywhere else, he may have been distinct. He was but he wasn’t here in a ballroom of other white men with well-dressed wives and dates. The Powells were relieved to hear some were just cops or accountants, their women corporate slaves to big names. Strivers, still. After all, they were unsure how this great big idea would work out. They had no Plan B.
The small crowd turned memories of city parking to a game of the dozens. “I lost my Escalade to a million tows and tickets in that ‘First Come, First Serve’ bullshit!” “It’s just a ‘Step right up!’ circus for poor souls hunting a street space after you work your ass off all day.” “I was mugged walking from a parking space three blocks from my condo. That was it for us.”
See, Tragedy thought, street parking hates us all. Beyond color, we’re all human.
She recalled how she and Victor once paid a $500 a month garage fee for two cars. Now, to prepare for a first Grayson winter, she’d put that $6000 on treats like better sheets and shoes.
It took a wife of one of the men to bring up the real jackpot: “I have closets now.”
Tragedy would never share how foster care downsized her to drawers and trash bags. Once she was grown and fled to Chicago, she was like most urban folk: whisked from dorm rooms to clever squishing with roommates, to backpacks in hostels, to small but grownup rentals, to tight condos. “Walk-in closet” always a prime amenity in listings. Grayson Glens expanded an ex-urbanite’s typical standing man closets to dressing rooms. More closet space made it easy to buy more things. Amazon trucks appeared on their roads all times of day and night, seven days a week. Smart home systems monitored deliveries. They were all guilty shopaholics. They knew it.
Yet it was no shame in Tragedy wandering up marble stairs to the auction room, finding a paddle in her hand, forgetting her husband. Maybe he was debating sports or bragging on his The Powellcast. With her paddle, “Number 74” she became in the small auditorium. Onstage, a lovely, fully gray-haired woman wore pearls and a shimmery floor-length turquoise gown. She swayed out paintings, from powerful to mediocre. A room of women like her, knowing they could spend what they wanted. One piece was just a small thing that reminded Tragedy of sunrise just right. “Number 74 down there!” bellowed from the stage. All eyes turned to her: a brown loveliness outlined in deep purple. The crowd’s claps and excitement overwhelmed her.
She felt Victor’s hands on her shoulders at the moment bidding closed on what she won for them to donate $5000 for. He walked her onstage. The audience saw a beautiful black couple diversifying them all. That diversity ended their night on the long patio overlooking the Grayson River, where fireworks still sprayed. Tragedy leaned into her husband and told him,
“This is really becoming perfect.” His eyes flashed the lights of ambition and he kissed her.
But when they got home, Tragedy kicked off pointy black stilettos at the door. She massaged her feet and she felt it — that edge and a chill living with her now.
One topic no one at the Gala had brought up? Crime. Nope, wasn’t in Grayson. And they all kept an emergency generator, security cameras and alarm rigged to police a few miles away.
“We can get a dog,” Victor suggested once.
They’d put the thought in the box with the baby. A complication. “Keep up the pace,” his brand manager told him. Tragedy had struggled in life and wanted to enjoy it, for a change.
City living was a box of walls in the sky. Only one way in or out. Check closets and under the bed for the monsters who thrive on fear and destruction. Close fire escape gates. Lock them. Grayson Glens demanded a new protocol. It was no insulation from the monsters, the nightmares, the anxieties, and bad memories. Here was see-through living now, multiple doors meeting the ground, windows floor-to-ceiling, acres as yards that could mute agony.
Here was the blackness.
So black it carried its weight and power into the house wherever walls stopped to bleed to glass. Even with Victor in the house, with the woman they hired to help as well, Tragedy checked closets and under beds. She re-latched windows. She crossed a flashlight over the yards, all of them: front, back and two on the sides. But no one could check the whole dark.