“What do you mean the lights went out, Liz?”
“I mean everything got dark. Dark, dark, dark. Like a light switch got turned off or something. I don’t remember what happened next. But—”
"Yes?" Pen’s breathing quickens with anticipation.
I shrug. “Nothing. Forget it. Lost my train of thought. And I’m really tired now. Wanna go home.” I start writing out the check.
“Liz, I think it would be good idea if you come twice a week for the time being.”
My turn to blink. “Can’t afford it, Pen. Sorry.” I quickly make another appointment and float out the door.
Back in the car, I surprise B by hopping into the front seat, to talk his ear off about the session. After fifteen minutes of this non-stop chatting, I direct B to pull over and park next to an office store. I hustle into it, hunting for a small tape recorder.
“Liz, what’re you doing?”
“Nothing, really. I just thought it would be a good idea to get a tape recorder and record my sessions. I can’t remember a thing Pen says anymore.”
“Oh,” I reply irritated. “I don’t know. Just can’t.”
B shrugs and drops it.
Pretty soon we're back on the road. I'm hugging my purchase like it's a boyfriend—someone else's—and I'm very glad I stole him. Why, I don't know. And I also don't know why I bought the recorder. I don’t like them. Never have. Probably has something to do with the warbly affect of a disembodied voice. Don’t like phones for the very same reason. Plus, my voice sucks big tomatoes when I record it and play it back.
Later that night, I'm in such a bloody good mood, I decide to draw. But after I finish it, my mood sickens unto death. What the hell's wrong with you, Liz? Just great. Pen’s really gonna love this one.
I drop my head into my hands and sigh, staring with dismay at the childish drawing of circles and knife blade slashes wondering what it all means. Lotta red on this one too. Wow. This is not how I learned to draw in kindergarten.
Suddenly, I take my pen and viciously stab the inside of the circles and slashes, leaving jagged donut holes. I begin to tremble. Nausea does its usual song and dance routine, and I slump to the floor, rocking and moaning, “no, no, no, no” as that familiar, maniacal voice from the past begins its relentless march into my psyche.
“What the hells wrong with you, girl? You gotta stand up for yourself. You cain’t let trash like that n***** take away what’s yours. Don't you never let it happen again! ‘Cos if it do, I'll teach you a real good lesson next time. You hear me, girl?”
“Yessir.” The dark-haired, scruffy head of a little six-year old girl bounces up and down, even as the bile in her liver swims upstream and into her throat passage, threatening to empty its contents onto Mr. M’s feet.
The tall, stubby-headed man wipes the spittle from his mouth with a bare forearm. “But we take care of our own, young’un. You see.”
You see, you see, you see . . .Oh, how I hate echoes. A disturbing memory drifts lazily in and out of my mind. It finally centers itself, and becomes a moving picture.
“Swing higher, Lizzie. Up, up, up. To the white clouds.” A tiny, undernourished girl all of six years old, obeys an inner voice and pumps her legs faster and faster to reach her goal. “Wheeee, this is fun!” She suddenly giggles, an unusual occurrence. It feels real good, until…
“Get offa my swing!”
Startled by the ugly command, the tiny girl stops laughing. Fear gnaws at her innards. She stops pumping her short skinny legs and slows down, her feet scraping the ground. Turning her head in the direction from whence the voice came, she is confronted by an enormous girl, arms folded across her wide chest, a belligerent look on her face.
The tiny girl lifts her pointy little chin. “No! It ain’t your swing. Anyways, I got here first.” She turns back around and begins to swing again. Suddenly, a violent shove from behind propels her off the swing, and onto her stomach. Her forehead bounces off the gravel. Stunned for a bit, she slowly gets to her feet, determined not to cry, though the tears are damming up in her eyes, ready to flood the skeletal expanse of thin dirty cheeks. She silently watches as the girl sticks out her tongue and triumphantly takes possession of the swing.
“I told you to get offa it, skinny. That’s what you get.” She starts to swing.
But seemingly out of nowhere, a woman built like an Amazon and with a mad dog look on her face, grabs the rope and stops the swing. Reaching out, she yanks the girl off the seat, and yells, “You are in big trouble, Ruby Pickens. You do not push other children around. I keep telling you this every single day. Now, I’m taking you to the principal’s office. He’ll teach you to mind your manners. A good paddling is what you need. Then he’s going to call your parents to come pick you up. Maybe a few days away from school will get you to thinking right.”
The teacher turns to the now crying skinny girl, and says softly, “Are you hurt, child?”
Smiling gently, teacher says,“Come with me. I’ll take you to the nurse and she’ll fix that cut on your forehead. Then I’ll call your parents to come pick you up. That was a nasty fall.”
Nervous, the skinny girl says with a sniffle,“She dint mean t’do it, teacher. It was a acc’dent.”
Teacher glares at skinny girl. “Don’t make it worse by lying, child. I saw exactly what happen. And Ruby Pickens needs to be taught a lesson . . . all her kind do,” she mutters. Then teacher viciously pinches Ruby’s arm and shoves her forward. Ruby begins to wail . . .
The hateful voices from the past die away. Thankfully, I’m rational once again. I float back to my feet and think, gee, I wonder what little Ruby Pickens is doing now? Does she remember that day in the playground too?
I head for the medicine cabinet and take some valium. I fervently hope Ruby Pickens fared better than I had when the school informed her parents what had happened.
I start feeling sleepy and decide to take a nap. I’m dozing off when Psycho Voice casually remarks, “Lizzie, Ruby Pickens never came back to school. She vanished, poof, gone, outta sight, just like that. Don’t you remember?”
Out loud I answer my own question. “Hmm … not really.” Drowsily I add, “Mebbe she got ‘espelled. Them colored kids was all the time yellin’ and fightin’ . . .”
“Then riddle me this, genius, why did the coppers come and question Mr. M?”
“'Cos you was all the time tellin’ lies to little childrens about seein’ people killt . . . Anyways, who cares anymore. We all growed up now. Go to sleep.”
“But Lizzie, what if they weren’t lies?”