We can’t put out the fire
The drunk lady up the block slips me $20.00 to get her some Newports and a case of Budweiser. The stink on her lips follows me. I fan the stench with my right hand but it still lingers. I enter the corner store, tell Javier what I need, and ask for two Chick-O-Sticks, a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, and an Arizona Tea — Peach.
He moves like molasses leaving a mason jar. I summon a quicker pace from him that lets him know the drunk lady is waiting. Her money is good here. She’s a faithful customer. Everything she buys is killing her, but Javier doesn’t care. He’s got six mouths to feed.
These products have warning labels. He’s not responsible for what people do and don’t read.
“That’ll be $17.89.” He shouts at me. Spittle forms on his lips. Little white globes of foam huddle in the corners of his mouth.
I give him the $20.00, collect the change, and get back to the drunk lady on my stoop waiting for her daily vices. She is paper-thin.
Her hair is wiry wisps of auburn that doesn’t move.
She coughs and her chest rattles. She begins ranting about our rights. Her speech is slurred but I understand every word.
“He ain’t no leader. You see what he’s doing?! He’s taking everything he can from us. I haven’t seen someone try so hard to suppress the vote in all my years. This year is the first of many I refused to let slide by without my say. I registered to vote on Thursday. I gotta voice, you know. I wanna be heard.”
It’s Saturday and I hear her. Mama — on her deathbed, told me to listen to the rants of the drunkards. They’re deep within their moments of truth. So, I tolerate her. I listen. She tells me about her son who has been locked up since 2007 — a drug charge. Weed possession and over $5,000 in the side panels of his car doors.
I haven’t seen someone try so hard to suppress the vote in all my years.
“He was seventeen when they got him. Come through my backdoor, busted it down. All I could hear were shouts of ‘Freeze’ and ‘Get Down!’ Men in blue shuffled their way throughout my home. I used to tell him to stay off them corners. Corners in the hood are trouble. But he saw fast money and brotherhood. I couldn’t give him anything else. All I had was love for him. Love and heartache and tears and fear. The streets had everything else. Twenty-five years ago, I studied law. Passed the bar. Met this fly guy who promised me an escape from the slums. Tell me, why am I back here?”
Night falls. She raises her rattling body off the stoop, clutches her bag of goodies close to her, and waves goodbye. I ask her for her name. Months had passed and I never once asked, but tonight, it seems important that I do. She’s still talking about voting, inept leadership, and racist bastards, and how she meant to change the world as she wobbles down the steps.
She shouts it back to me. I catch it. I tuck it in my jeans’ pocket to reveal later. I watch her zig-zag slowly up the block. Her hair clings to her head. She pats her pockets, searches for her keys — finds them, she quickens her pace.
There is a burning in my chest as I watch Lorraine. I breathe slowly. Inhale. Exhale. I calm myself with a meditation method I learned from my boyfriend. He’s zen-like, a D-list Gandhi. I breathe and fire stings my lips.
I am swallowing the heat of this nation and Lorraine, formerly known as the drunk lady, is the only person I can think of at this moment.
Speak of the devil and he will appear. He will have anything you want and will fight you at every turn to get you to take it. “Be smart. Don’t take anyone’s shit. Everyone is a bullshitter if they try hard enough.” Mama had so many words of wisdom.
I remember them now . . . Right at this moment of my burning chest and fiery mouth. I can’t stop the burning. I can’t stop the pain. I gulp down my Arizona Tea, peach flavor sticks to my insides.
I belch out the cries of a dying nation.
Speak of the devil and he will appear.
I feel better, but it doesn’t last. The burning, it’ll come again. It always does. Black people stand in pits of fire — not merely of our own doing. Some of us are thrown there. Others are planted there at birth and expected to find our way to safety unscathed while more obstacles pop up at every turn. Lorraine was planted there. She’s still scraping. Still attempting to reach the top. Still struggling to find her way out. I owe it to her to listen. I owe it to her to fan the flames away from her direction. But even after all of this . . .
The burning will never stop and no one can put out the fire.
Originally published via Medium.
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