Black and Blue

I wrote a short story for a class I am taking at Central Prison in Raleigh. Let me know what you think.

Black and Blue

The desk stretched across the entirety of the room, black as fresh shoe polish and hard as the conversations had around it. An outdated calendar sat upon it on the far side filled with old appointments and lunch meetings with people who don’t remember each other. Behind the calendar was a leather chair filled with a hulk of a man sitting comfortably in anticipation of stories he had heard a thousand times. His tie pinched his neck and he seemed to strain to push blood from his head to the lower half of his body hidden below the varnished horizon. The other side of the massive wooden structure showed signs of deterioration where others had ran their rough hands along the margins as they nervously grasped for stability. A bay window sat at the head of the desk, falling in the space between and shedding the sun’s dying light equally and without judgment onto both sides. It was on the worn side of the desk Blue situated herself, with the warmth of the light sifting in through the window tingling the left side of her face as she stared across the cold expanse to the pale face before her.

“Mr. Black, I really need this,” Blue said with hope. “This is my first time and I promise it won’t happen again.”

Black thought out loud, “Where does it stop Ms. Blue? Here, now? What’s to say that in three months you wont be standing back right where you are crowing the same ole tune?”

Blue sat there as her legs trembled beneath the desk, adjusting her dress in a professional manner. Her mind was racing with the knowledge that the opportunity was too far-gone. But she still had hope in the face of Mr. Black’s reluctant rejection.

Mr. Black crossed his legs and stared confused from across the table. Who is this woman?, he thought. Why am I the one to make this decision? Am I her savior?

All the while the old radio played in the background, going in and out of static range as they bickered back and forth. “. . . What . . . I do . . . to be so . . .” the radio wept as white noise disturbed its melody in awkward intervals. Blue was getting more nervous with every note; the frantic rising and falling of her breast began to mimic to the fragmented tune, at once on rhythm and then interrupted by the sharp words of Mr. Black.

“I don’t know what you want from me,” Black raised his voice in plea as he saw tears begin to form in the corner of Blue’s heavy shadowed eyes. He noticed Blue adjusting her dress as if it was a size too small, watching her fingers place back between her breasts the cross necklace that had fallen out in her tizzy.  He lingered there for a moment, then lifting his head to meet Blue’s eyes with a hint of shame when he found her gazing back.

Looking down into his lap, a sliver of compassion entered his mind. “Ms. Blue, you are a lovely woman. I want to help you . . . I really do,” Black said with conviction. “Can you give me a day to think it over and discuss it with the uppers?”

Blue shook his hand frantically and marched out of the office to meet the stares of those among whom she did not belong. She passed through the glass door and into the damp afternoon air and headed down the sidewalk with a sense of gloom hanging heavy in her throat.

 

The fifteen blocks between the office on 47th street and her home were exhausting. Blue felt the same uneasiness as she had with Mr. Black as the passersby of the corporate world painted her body with staring eyes as her feet padded the concrete avenue.  After nine blocks of hurried steps, Blue slowed as she found a familiar part of the old town, her part of town. She stood on the corner of Hook and Prospero Street awaiting the light when her phone buzzed against her thigh. The phone was neatly lodged in the side pocket of her tight dress and she struggled to answer it in time with her left hand covered in rings that didn’t mean anything in particular.  Finally, she ripped it out of her pocket and stuck it to her ear without looking to see who was calling.

“Blue, you there?” the smooth voice said with obvious aggravation. It was Mack, her boss who was no doubt angry and wondering why she hadn’t shown up for work that morning. Blue quivered and the voice.

“Yeah, I’m here, Mack. Look, I’m sorry I didn’t show this morning. I had to go up town and meet with someone. I’ll come early in the morning and make . . .”

Mack’s angry voice erupted from the phone. “Damn right you will come in early! And ya won’t leave until you’ve made all the money back that your little hiatus lost us today.

“I’m sorry, Mack, I couldn’t miss this appointment. I promise it won’t happen again.”

“Save it,” Mack interrupted. “Be here ready to work tomorrow. I should have fired you when your numbers were down last month. But I didn’t, did I Blue? I have been good to you darling, and I hope you remember that the next time you try to cheat me. People here depend on you and you brush this business off like you don’t care. Last chance; don’t’ be late.

Blue sighed into the phone and she tried to hide her gray, watery eyes from onlookers. “Mack, please,” she said, her voice begging but only hearing the sound of the old telephone slamming down on the other side of the line.

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

The yellow taxi stopped with one wheel on the corner and Mr. Black peered out from the dark tinted window. An impressive apartment building with a revolving door and man with a funny hat waiting too eagerly to greet the next patron towered over the cab. Home, he thought.  The complex was only a few minutes away from the office, but worlds away from the stress and evils that stained that worn oak desk he has sat in front of for eight hours. Black hopped out of the car and made his way to the revolving door, ignoring the rehearsed smile and bickering of the door man.

He passed through the lobby, the last breaths of the sun glaring through the glass as he entered the elevator crammed with others who had worked similar days at the job and whose weary dispositions urged the elevator to make its way faster to their respective floors. The elevator reached floor 33 with a “ding!” and Black stepped out into hallway, feeling the tension leave his brow as if he has just narrowly escaped two walls that were inching closer together inside that tiny, rising box filled with awkward. He went straight for his door, already smelling the odor of dinner and imagining the comfort of the supple leather his recliner would bring. He left his keys in the door as he burst in to meet the yellow-haired kiss of his bouffant wife and the cheers of his two kids sitting at the table ready for their patriarch to bless their feast . . .

 

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

Her hands swirled around the dinner plate, allowing the soap to slide off as the irony water replaced it. Looking down at her wrinkled hand, Blue heard the audible sigh of disgust coming from the coffee table across the room.  She smiled, “Don’t give up, dear. You are almost done.”

The challenge was in the variables, she thought. Yes, there was just too much she didn’t know. The equation couldn’t be solved without knowing what’s missing. If she didn’t get a fair chance, then how was she supposed to solve this stupid problem?  Ruby slammed her pencil down and balled up the piece of paper and threw it in the weak remains of the fire that had cooked the pie that still danced on her tongue. The piece of paper immediately caught flame, burning with an immediacy that felt like it was meant to be there. Ruby watched with satisfaction as it soon burnt down and joined the ashes like the rest.

“Ruby?”

“Yes, Mama?” her voice trembled with a slight fear that her mother had seen what she had done.

“Did you just throw your homework into the fire?” Blue spit out with as much contempt as she could muster to cover the anger and embarrassment of the day still lingering in her chest.

“Maybe,” Ruby squeaked, straining the last syllable with childlike innocence.

Blue gave her a judging stare. Ruby, knowing that she has lost, pushed her chest out and raised her voice in defiance, “It wasn’t like I could do it anyway. It has just as good of a chance getting solved in the fireplace as it did on this table.”

Blue felt defeated. She was about as much help solving math problems as the fire. Without missing a beat, Blue placed the last dish into the creaking cabinet and said with motherly confidence, “Wash up and get ready for bed. I don’t have the energy to deal with you tonight.”

 

Ruby lay on the bed with her crimson red hair spread out on the pillow like a phoenix fanning out her feathers. Blue couldn’t help but pity her beauty wasted, knowing she couldn’t give her the life she deserved and felling guilty for the awareness in those green eyes that didn’t line up with creamy youth on Ruby’s face. What could she do, she thought? Ruby’s soft hand upon her wrist snapped Blue out her dreary thoughts.

“It’s time to say our prayers, mama.”

“You start, and I will join in,” Blue hummed.

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name . . .

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

. . . Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread . . .

Black opened his eyes and peeked out at his family, all praying with eyes closed and passionately how the Lord had taught them. But Black couldn’t seem to get Ms. Blue out of his head. What could he do for her? He sat thinking to himself as the prayer went on without him. Wouldn’t helping her just enable her? Does she have kids like my own? How will this look on my report next quarter?

The questions kept coming without answer. Black pushed them to the back of his mind as he had trained himself to do, hoping that confused and empty feeling in his gut would be filled by the roast in front of him. He had a family and kids to take care of, he thought to himself.  He closed his eyes and finished the prayer.

“. . . and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation . . .”

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

“. . . but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, Forever and ever, Amen.”

Blue stood up and glided to the door, stopping and wrapping her finger around the string that would turn off the bulb. Seeing that red hair sprawled out like a flare against the backdrop of puffy clouds brought Blue the only happiness of the day. It was the color of life, and she hated to make it die by drowning it in the darkness the light switch would bring.

 

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Blue’s eyes were tired, but it was nothing that the shadow couldn’t fix, her cold-evening-kissed cheeks nothing that the smoky pink blush couldn’t make alive again. As she examined herself in the mirror she felt as if she began to distance herself from her surroundings, imaging a new life in which she didn’t have to paint her face for the farce. Her reflection held her lipstick tightly in one hand, thinking of the color of her daughter’s hair as the red smeared her chapped lips. She smacked her lips together to even the pigment as her eyes moved toward the tea-colored letter taped to the mirror. Her eyes skimmed the bold-printed words with which she had already became too familiar: “We regret to inform you that your welfare application has been REJECTED.” She saw Mr. Black’s name neatly signed just below the story of her life.

Blue stepped out of the room and passed down the long hallway, feeling the carpet beneath her feet and her destination quickly approaching. She passed Mack as he sat at the desk with a blank face that met her with a nod. She waited at the wooden door, the rap of her knuckles on the door quickly met by a deep voice that summoned her in. She gently closed the door and turned to face the welcoming voice. She shut her eyes, focusing on the steady flow of jazz music playing in the background, slowing her breathe with the rhythm of the beat.  Her robe slid down the curves of her body until it lay limp on the shag floor beneath her, leaving her clothed only with the light of a dozen candles and the hanging crucifix between her breasts.

All the while the music crooned in the background: “What did I do, to be so black and blue . . .”