Fatimah and Gerald met at a funeral. Fatimah was standing outside of the ladies room fixing her stockings. She was digging into her skirt to fix the run that she was paranoid everyone in the church could see. Her hair was touching the side of her face. Gerald had his hands clasped in front of the button of his slacks. He looked like one of the ushers who opened the door as loved ones proceeded into the church hall. Abigail walked out of the restroom, smacking her perfectly refreshed red lips.
“Violet told us to meet her outside.”
Violet’s father, Ulysses, had passed away from a long battle with cancer.
“Okay,” Fatimah said.
Violet was Fatimah and Abigail’s roommate throughout college. Liana, their other roommate, had just walked out of the restroom. Fatimah took another look at the guy who was standing in front of the restroom but he was gone.
“How are you feeling?”
“You know. How people feel when they have lost someone they love.”
Violet looked out the window and held onto her chin. A tear stripped the side of her face. Fatimah held onto Violet’s hand. She looked at Violet, and that one good laugh would put everything back into perspective. If Fatimah had asked Violet if she was okay, she would only receive a one-word response. For now, Fatimah was going to sit in silence with Violet.
Fatimah saw the guy who was looking at her. She walked past his table and looked at him with an allure in the switch of her hips. She felt his eyes gracing her skin.
Liana was happy that the lunch was buffet style. Ulysses would have been proud of all of the options of food that were available. Five kinds of chicken, pasta salad, Hawaiian rolls, macaroni and cheese, ham, cole slaw, potatoes, collard greens, which after living with Fatimah for six years Abigail had never tasted. Fatimah shook her head and then turned over her shoulder to see if the guy was still staring at her. He was. Violet was sitting with her mother and talking with people who came to pay their respects and left with two plates of food each. There had to have been over 100 people that truly loved Ulysses, which was why his wife, Bernadette, did not feel upset for people taking food home. She didn’t want the church to feel responsible for the food and she did not want to be responsible neither.
Fatimah got up one more time to the restroom before she was going to leave. She stared at him the whole time she walked over there. He kept staring and then finally got up from the table like Fatimah wanted him to.
Under the glare of the light bulb that was twitching, He asked her what her name was.
They shook hands and Fatimah started laughing. Gerald searched in Fatimah’s eyes what she was laughing at. Once she pulled herself together, she started telling her phone number. She didn’t know if Gerald was a killer, stalker, abortionist, knife collector or hypnotist. They met at a funeral. She figured that nothing worse could have happened to her.
“It feels good riding in a car.”
Fatimah rolled down the window. She contemplated calling Gerald. Gerald was not someone she would usually date mainly because she was never allowed to date someone of the opposite race. Gerald came across as having been with a black woman before. He spoke with so much ease and flow. Fatimah didn’t know what to do. She wanted to ask Abigail what it was like to be with a white guy. Abigail would probably laugh so Fatimah saved herself from asking the question. When she was alone sitting next to the big open window in her apartment, she would call Gerald.
“Did you hear me?”
“Yeah, it’s good to be in a car.”
Fatimah had only one reason to think why Abigail said it was good to be in a car. College years were spent riding in taxis and getting off buses. Getting off on buses. Cute guys in the corner all in a pack like hungry wolves ready to prowl on innocent golden cubs. Fatimah closed her eyes and wished that the evening would come faster.
“It’s the first of the month.”
“We don’t pay the rent together anymore.”
Liana was sitting at the table clicking her long fingernails against her mug full of hot chocolate and bourbon. It used to drive Violet crazy when Liana would click her index fingernail against her mug when they would study at the table together. The smell of bourbon would help Violet remember to call her mother.
Violet grabbed the bourbon and started guzzling it down. Liana’s jaw dropped as she watched Violet go. Violet slammed the bottle down and as the shards of glass made her hand bleed. She wiped her bottom lip and wondered why everyone was staring at her.
“You are reimbursing me for that.”
“Whatever,” Violet rolled her eyes. “Violet, when was the last time you ate?”
“Oh fuck you Fatimah. We are not playing this “sista take care of me” shit that you tried to pull on me once. It’s bad enough my mother tries to take care of me as she thinks that we are actually going to go back to the way things used to be.”
Fatimah wasn’t mad although her fists were on each side of her hips. Violet’s hand kept bleeding. Fatimah had another flash of déjà vu. She took a deep breath. She was shaken up from the anger of what Violet had said to her. She only had one thing to say. She held Violet’s dry face.
“Violet, if you are still in there, do not let drinking become of you.”
Fatimah let go of Violet’s face and slowly got up. Violet held her innocent gaze on Fatimah’s face.
Gerald held onto Fatimah’s leather coat. He stood outside of the ladies room. He didn’t think Fatimah needed to freshen up but he also didn’t want to tell her that. She may have just needed to pee. However, judging from the freshly done lip and water through her hair, Gerald figured that Fatimah thought that she needed to freshen up.
“Yes,” Fatimah said with a smile. She took her coat from Gerald. He put his hand on her waist and they kept walking out of the nightclub.
“You haven’t talked about Gerald,” Violet said, putting a fresh flick of sea blue nail polish on her big toe.
“We have been on a few dates. He is nice. He has this confidence about him that is just something I need right now.”
“I heard at the funeral that he is good in bed,” Violet intentionally noted.
“I would hope to find out,” Fatimah exhaled. She walked around the rug in her living room. The fibers felt silky and then rough as she moved her feet to the next part of the rug.
“Fatimah, I am sorry about you know...that time we had a few days ago. I haven’t had a drink since then. You are right as usual. I can’t rely on drinking like I usually do.”
“How is your mother?”
“She is doing much better. My brother has taken her back home. It is cold back home.”
“My father was telling me that the snow has started falling. He has to shovel it up every hour on the hour.”
Fatimah wondered why she didn’t say “mother” instead of “father.” Thankfully, Violet didn’t say anything.
The air was cold. It didn’t change the feeling Gerald was having for Fatimah. She was facing him in his lap while he was trying to finish a painting as an example for his art class that he taught. Gerald kept talking about the colors and how they had to align for the concept he was teaching.
Fatimah had her arms wrapped around the sides of his ear. Her legs moved closer through the opening of the chair. She could care less about colors and how they had to match. Gerald laughed as Fatimah’s teeth were teasing his ear. He kept dipping his paintbrush into the dirty water. He let the brush sit in the water. As it finally laid to rest, he held Fatimah by her hips and looked up at her. Fatimah smiled. She looked over at the clock. She should be leaving in order to make it home safely. Gerald kept his eyes on her. Fatimah looked back down at him.
“What if I can’t control my screams?” “Bite my bottom lip.”
Gerald wrapped both of his lips around Fatimah’s bottom lip. Fatimah stuck her tongue around the crevice of Gerald’s mouth. He squeezed her hips tighter and she laughed as she let her head fall back.
“I want to bite something else.”
Fatimah ran her fingers through Gerald’s hair. Her pinkie fingers ran along the nape of his neck. She nibbled on his ear and bit on the lobe. She loved that Gerald knew what to do. She let him do what he wanted to do because no matter what he did, she was instantly turned on by his actions, breath, smell and attitude.
She took out something that would give her further perspective on his future. He held the condom in his hands. Then he slipped into comfort. Although he did not want kids, she whispered.
“This orgasm will make you want kids.”
Fatimah moved closer onto Gerald’s body and massaged her hands against his long torso. She looked at the wide in his eyes, convinced that he wanted a lot of children. Her goosebumps turned into a treasure map as her breath tasted harmony.
“How often do you get to Cleveland?”
“Often,” Gerald replied. Fatimah stared at him. His swagger was the elephant in the room. He was barefoot, putting away brushes and closing the caps on his paint.
“I am actually teaching at Cleveland Arts this summer.”
“I want to paint with you.”
Gerald gave Fatimah one of his old button up shirts. She slid it on and did one button. He liked the way she looked in his clothes. The shirt in the middle of her thigh. As he watched her mix colors, it had become the most intimate he had been with someone.
Fatimah and Gerald mixed and meshed. She felt a lot that night.
Violet was sitting under the shady covering looking at the flowers around her father’s gravestone. Her legs were stretched out against the ground. Her butt hit just before the edge of the plastic plaid chair. She had a beer in her left hand. It was her first in eleven months. The ice was dripping on and around her hand. Her mother was bringing out a platter of chips and dip.
Abigail had just walked out of the bathroom and wiped some water on her jeans. She joined Violet at the table.
“How is your beer?”
Violet put her index finger and middle finger over her lips. She wanted Abigail to join her in the silence. She then pointed her fingers over to her mother who was whistling. She waited for her mother to go back into the house.
“There is more for you girls to eat in the house. Ben just grilled a lot of food.” “Thank you Mrs. Bailey. Thank you Ben,” Abigail said with her tongue in her cheek for the latter. Violet was disgusted as she took a sip of her beer. Violet’s mother smiled and opened the screen door to go back into the house. Ben nodded and followed his mother into the house.
“The beer is good. Nice and cold.”
Abigail couldn’t take her eyes off of the gravestone that was the color blue like the print on a Vodka bottle. Her jaw started to drop as she read the gravestone. It only said Frank Ulysses Bailey Sunset 1934-Sunrise 2012.
She looked over at Violet who was finishing the last droplets of her beer. She let the foam drip on her tongue. Abigail knew that it felt good to her.
She looked back in front of her and was confused as to why not only was there a gravestone in the backyard but why was it next to the pool? Someone could slip and fall and die on the gravestone. She didn’t dare ask Violet. It would probably conjure up some bad feelings. Abigail didn’t know how Violet had convinced her to come to the childhood home. Abigail was ready to go back to city life.
“You wanna go somewhere?” Ben asked.
Ben had on his collared shirt and tan shorts. His flip flops gave him this awkward tan on his feet. Violet would tease him to death about it. She was the only person who would laugh at her jokes, as she turned red in the face from not being able to breathe. Everyone else would stand there trying to figure out what was so funny, especially Fatimah.
“Yeah, there is nothing else to do,” Violet said in one breath. She jumped down from her chair and felt the jolt of pain going through her feet. She looked like she was going to pass out as she rubbed her feet. Ben started laughing and then Abigail did. Once Violet felt better, Ben and Abigail immediately stopped laughing.
Fatimah filed as nails as Violet shared how she had been processing the loss of her father. She was folding laundry. She laughed about the stupid idea of going back home every once in a while. To make sure her mother wasn’t hanging from an iron cord and fresh baked cookies warm on the kitchen counter. She started laughing to herself without Fatimah having a hint of it.
“Violet, I think you are still growing up.”
“Gerald has really done something to you Fatimah.”
“No, I have been wanting to tell you that since I met you. You think because you have some success that you can leave the home that still has your report cards on the door.”
“It is time for my mother to grow up.”
“She has. She has just remained unchanged.”
“I love you Fatimah but we are not in college anymore. I am not going to sit here and listen to you talk about people as if they do not exist.”
“What are you looking at?” Fatimah asked as she was attuned to the change in Violet’s voice.
“The 51 bus.”
Fatimah laughed. She continued laughing and started coughing. A deep breath left her body.
“Your mother is trying to move on but it is hard for her.” “I know Fatimah. Call me later.”
Fatimah sat her phone on her lap. She looked out her living room window. In between deep breaths, she thought about the canvas that was behind her bed. It looked like a child had mixed colors and slapped them against the wall. Then there was the gentle stroke from Gerald’s brush. She smiled as she breathed. The exhaust from the bus entered the air. Abigail and Liana laughed at good memories. They happened to be at the corner coffee shop at the same time. Abigail was getting in line. Liana was leaving. They looked at each other like they had not seen each other in a long time. Abigail was the first to say hey and Liana decided she had nothing better to do than stand in line with her friend.
Liana was in the process of moving. Her apartment was overflowing with dresses and vinyl records. When Liana was the last person to move into the dorm, she brought everything but some common sense. Liana still had everything from college in a loft apartment up the street.
“Maybe you should go to a thrift store,” Abigail said.
“You know how I feel about shopping,” Liana said.
“You could have fooled me,” Abigail said, rolling her eyes with the stir of her coffee. Abigail put back on her lid. She looked over at Liana who looked so unsure with herself and having to let go of her belongings.
“And I didn’t mean to shop. You can give some things away.”
Liana was not convinced.
“C’mon, we can make a party of it.”
“We?” Liana asked with resistance.
“Yeah, just you and me.”
“Okay, good,” Liana said, not in the mood for judgment.
Fatimah wasn’t too confident with how she and Gerald were doing, where they were in their relationship. Fatimah was putting coconut oil on her elbows. The summer heat had really been doing something to her skin. Violet started to twirl the telephone cord around her index finger. She was nodding her head. Fatimah started to feel as though Violet was not even listening to her. Violet had been listening to Fatimah for eight years.
Gerald was turning his key in the door. Fatimah quickly got off the phone not before telling Violet that shewouldcallherlaterandthatshelovedher.
Gerald hung up his canvas. He came over to the couch and gave Fatimah a kiss. She wanted to hold onto his lips for as long as she could. He asked Fatimah how her day was? That was why Fatimah was not confident in her relationship with Gerald. They had the love. They had the respect. They had the disagreements. What Fatimah wanted was for Gerald to act like a man. To not care about how a woman felt. To ask the first thing after closing the door without locking it was where is my dinner. Not what. Not why aren’t you in the kitchen. Just where. Gerald was a man but he was too attentive to Fatimah. Maybe it was because he was an artist and Fatimah grew up with two brothers and a father. She never had a decent boyfriend. Her friends were the only people who seemed to make her feel confident. Gerald was waiting for an answer. Fatimah turned around and sighed as she pulled the string of his sweatshirt.
Ashley Paul: "I graduated from San Francisco State University with a English & Creative Writing degree. My Twitter handle is @driedinkpen."