Fallen Woman: A Short Story in Flash

In Issue 65 by Carmen Price

Fallen Woman: A Short Story in Flash
Photo by Nathan DeFiesta on Unsplash

Fallen Woman

The pedestrian crosswalk was clearly marked, no ambiguities, not for Selah, not for him. Selah waved goodbye to the patient behind her – a ten-year-old girl she’d been treating for three years – and only noticed the truck in the middle of the road as it dawned on her, fast and slow all at once, that the driver wasn’t going to stop. He hadn’t been paying attention.

Selah held up her arms and waited for impact. She was going to die. Then she wasn’t dead, but she was falling, and was certain her legs would be crushed under his wheels, or that maybe her ribs had been broken by his fender, that her insides were bleeding purple blood in thick clots, that her head would soon crack open on the slick black street.

Selah was a fallen woman. She heard the little girl shout it, and she swore he muttered it under his breath as he helped her onto her feet.

“What happened?” he asked more as an accusation than a question after surveying the damage to her body at arm’s length.

“You hit me with your truck,” Selah said matter-of-factly. She didn’t know how injured she was, but judging by his reaction, she couldn’t have been that hurt.

“She looked dead,” her patient said to the man. “Call the police and you call them right now,” the little girl commanded. Then the little girl gave Selah a hug and she winced – it was unprofessional. She never, ever hugged her patients.

“I’m fine,” Selah insisted to her patient, “go home now. Everything is fine. You can all go home.”

“Obviously I can’t,” the driver said, calm with shock as he waited for someone from emergency services to answer his call.

I almost died, Selah thought to herself, I could’ve died. Was there someone she should call? Where was her phone? It was still in her pocket. Selah looked down at her patient, who still hadn’t left her side, but in place of her patient’s face was a face Selah didn’t want to see. A face she hadn’t seen in person in years. A face as clear as the welts rising from Selah’s knees, and the blood running silkily from her scraped palms. A face framed by a halo of brown and blonde curls.

She saw Jazz.

Waxy Apple

This wasn’t an incident not to talk about. Everyone Selah knew said that. She shouldn’t just treat this as an unimportant thing. Her bumps and bruises needed to get checked and documented by a doctor, she needed to email pictures to complement the police report, check with her insurance…talk to a psychologist. Selah didn’t want to talk to a psychologist. She didn’t want to go to the doctor, either. It wasn’t that big of a deal. She was alive and nothing was broken. The only thing that bothered her was that her patient had been a witness.

“I don’t like that aspect of it,” Selah told her colleague several days later, trying to sound professional. “That’s not how she’s supposed to see me. It’s like now we share this moment that I don’t want to share with anyone on this planet.”

Selah’s colleague said that he totally understood as he carefully sliced a waxy red apple. “Want some?” he asked

Of course, she did. Selah loved apples. She ate three sweet pieces, then four. Eventually, the whole thing. Her colleague didn’t mind – he preferred mandarins and there were more than a few in the basket on the staff room table.  “We could talk about it more over a beer – or two?” he suggested. They had a beer or two (or three or six) quite often, but Selah didn’t have time this week. She had to go to the doctor and file insurance claims, and dammit she had to go to a psychologist. Go through the motions and document this thing.

“I’m not really into being the patient,” Selah said, but he hadn’t heard her – paper cup of coffee in hand, he’d already disappeared out the oak door. He’d left the apple core on the table and Selah picked out a seed and crushed it between her teeth. It was bitter and a bit of energy seeped back into her bones.

Trauma

In the days following the accident, when imagining the truck hitting her body, Selah felt nothing. No fear, no rush of adrenaline, no sadness, no inappropriate sense of joy, and she assumed this was strange but didn’t tell anyone. Selah promised herself not to tell the psychologist this bit of information about the truck at her approaching appointment lest he grow concerned that she was either emotionally dead or harbored an obsessive need for control. She wasn’t experiencing emotional death, that was for sure. And her obsessive need for control had nothing to do with being hit by a truck. But on balance Selah wasn’t doing so well; she could grudgingly admit this to herself as well as her employer. I’m profoundly bothered, Selah had told her boss, but she didn’t want to use the T word to describe her state. Trauma. She hated that word. Everyone was traumatized by everything all day every day, everything was traumatic, everyone jabbered on and on and on about ‘my trauma’ as if it were something precious because it was loved more than it was abhorred. Being alive was traumatic and there wasn’t a goddamn thing anybody could do about it. Sometimes Selah wanted to tell that to her patients, as a whisper followed by a nervous giggle, but now she wanted to scream it from every rooftop in town.

“I got hit by a truck and it wasn’t traumatic,” she imagined shouting.

Fuchsia Lips

Selah sat in the corner of the staff room on a suede couch of a plum hue, a cup of women’s balancing tea in hand, listening, mostly, to the conversations whirling around her.

“A father-of-three, a dentist, a local politician among those caught in one of those prostitution stings again,” one of her colleagues said without looking up from her iPhone. The two other women in the room clucked and sighed.

“How can they do that?”

 “Fathers?”

“How can they be so stupid?”

“At least it’s illegal to buy.”

“Those poor women.”

 “Don’t people know how far you have to fall in life to make the choice to sell your body like that?”

 “It’s not even a choice.”

“No woman would ever make that choice of her own free will.”

“My heart goes out to them.”

“A lot of them are mothers, according to the article anyways.”

“Poor kids.”

“You think they can parent?”

“I don’t know. My heart goes out to them.”

“My heart goes out to them all.”

From her perch on the couch, Selah half-burned her uvula on the women’s balancing tea. She wished they would all just shut up about things they knew nothing about, and then it occurred to her: she had never once in her life told anyone to shut up.

“Doesn’t your heart go out to them?” One of Selah’s colleagues, a woman with fuchsia lipstick and the most earnest look in the world in her eyes, suddenly turned to Selah and was not going to take silence for an answer.

“Oh, absolutely.” Selah feigned deep concern, cupping her tea like it was as delicate as a spider web drenched in dew. “I just can’t understand how any woman could get to that point. Fall so far. It breaks my heart. It really does.”

Her colleague with the fuchsia lipstick’s eyes were as big and bright as disco balls, and very, very earnest. And, also, relieved. They had all expressed the same opinion. Nothing had been said to risk their good standing as good, and they could now go on to treat various cases of this and that among their patients that afternoon and everyone would be healed yet need to come back again and again and again and again.

 Selah thought about the psychologist, as she finished her tea, and dreaded becoming a patient.

Wry Little Smile

Selah did not consider St. Bonaventure a fancy Catholic church. When her mother took her mass hopping – for many years of her childhood, they were connoisseurs of the Catholic churches in the Chicago Metroland area – Selah never met a trip to St. Bonaventure with much enthusiasm. She preferred a church like St. Stanislaus Kotska. St. Stan’s was big. It was also very warm, golden and glowing in a haze of frankincense, and the ceiling mural above the altar overwhelmed Selah as if to break her down into a little grain of sand. Selah liked feeling tiny and broken like that because it made everyone else tiny and broken, too, even the priest was as tiny and broken as all the rest of them under a dome where heaven split, and Jesus rose into glory with a wry little smile.

Unlike St. Stan’s, St. Bonaventure was not a place of grandeur or mystery to Selah’s young mind. There were a few statues and stained-glass windows, but the floor and pews were made of dull caramel wood, and the walls were as plain as eggshells, which always reminded Selah of that one time she and her mother had accidentally gone to a Lutheran church.  Still, they attended St. Bonaventure regularly because it had been important to their family. Selah’s mother and her mother’s mother had all gone to St. Bonaventure church and school. “It makes me feel close to them, just being there, even if it’s not very interesting,” Selah’s mother had said when Selah had complained about St. Bonaventure for the umpteenth time. “It’s the boring things that count when you get old. You’ll grow up and then you’ll see.”

“I’ll never go to St. Bonaventure when I grow up,” Selah had muttered under her breath, “I’ll never go to church.”

As an adult, Selah remembered how much she’d feared God as a little girl no matter what church she’d attended. She remembered often wondering if she’d go to heaven and how she’d hoped she’d rise up into the sky with the same wry little smile as Jesus – small, no teeth showing, as if nobody else was in on the joke. Grown-up Selah didn’t fear God, though, not even the slightest bit, and it wasn’t because she’d been cured by therapy or written an undergraduate essay on Camus. It was the Internet that had done the trick. Grown-up Selah feared the judgement of the Internet way more than the wrath of the Lord. God’s presence, God’s anger, God’s love and tender care didn’t exist to grown-up Selah. God was irrelevant to her, nothing more than a dormant memory that sometimes popped up when the taste of neon sweet-green pickle relish would remind her of ordering lunch at Susie’s Drive-Thru on Montrose after church in late August heat, and she would lol to herself and be like, omg remember when I was afraid of God? God – who’s that? The Internet was everything now, and it was unforgiving – the new force of condemnation that grown-up Selah feared. If the Internet did end up destroying her one day, though, she might even consider going back to a Catholic church to which she’d never belonged – they’d probably still make a space for her there, just like they had when she was a kid and she’d consume the wine and the wafer, and nobody would ever even bother to ask if she’d had her first communion. The getting away with it part had always felt better to Selah than anything holy that was supposed to be happening.

Yes. Jesus was just alright for grown-up Selah because he wasn’t around. God wasn’t there. The Internet was omnipotent now.

But the Internet didn’t have a wry little smile.

Exodus House

Selah’s mother had never been one to beat around the bush: Exodus House was for women in prostitution, women who’d permanently left prostitution, or women who needed a place to go because of drugs and abuse and unemployment and whatever else they were dealing with that had them stuck in a place they didn’t want to be. They were all welcome at Exodus House. It was a house of hospitality where the stuck women of the city could share their stories and find comfort without judgment. It was a house of God.

“It’s a place for women like me,” Selah’s mother had often said. She’d been a prostitute and had never kept that a secret. She’d been a drug addict, too. But she’d sobered up long before Selah had been born (from substances at least). She believed in the life-saving power of Jesus Christ and all that, but she still slept over at her boyfriends’ houses – and she had lots of boyfriends.

Sometimes they borrowed Selah’s grandfather’s Buick LeSabre to run errands and would listen to Christian radio (it was unclear to Selah if the Christian designation meant Catholic or Born-Again or whatever – her mother was always mixing all that stuff together when it came to books and the radio, but never when it came to church), and sometimes Selah would pay attention to what they were saying. One time she heard a man recite a verse from Proverbs in a voice as confident as a bull:

Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness

“Sister Anne-Marie said she didn’t like the term adulterous woman,” Selah volunteered without knowing what adulterous meant, and her mother peered at her curiously from the rearview window. “Sister-Anne Marie at Exodus House. She said the Bible was too hard on women. Do you think that’s true?”

“The Bible is hard on everyone,” Selah’s mother said, and then she repositioned the rearview mirror so that Selah couldn’t see her eyes.

Easter Sunday

The sun rose like a little clementine above marshmallow clouds, and Selah watched it come up over the Greystones from the porch of her mother’s newest boyfriend. She ate cold churros and picked at peeling navy blue paint. “He is risen, he is risen indeed,” Selah whispered to herself. They didn’t go to church that morning because her mother overslept. Instead, they took the L to Exodus House for lunch and an Easter egg hunt.

On the L, Selah’s mother informed her they’d be spending the night at Exodus House. Selah’s mother had volunteered for the support team night shift. It didn’t matter that it was a school night because Selah was homeschooled, which meant that she’d taught herself to read and did a lot of reading on her own and didn’t have to be on a schedule. Selah liked reading at Exodus House because there were shelves full of books everywhere with lots of titles she figured a seven-year-old wasn’t supposed to read (such as The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book and Women Who Love Too Much), which naturally made the books even more interesting even if only vaguely understood.

When they got to Exodus House, a woman with a halo of blonde and brown curls opened the door – the very same blonde and brown curls as Selah. The woman had the biggest smile Selah had ever seen; she was one of the happiest-looking women Selah had ever seen, someone you just couldn’t imagine ever being sad for any reason.

“Happy Easter!” the woman shouted, lunging at Selah’s mother and squeezing her in an overly enthusiastic embrace.

“My back,” Selah’s mother joked. “Selah this is Jazz, a good friend of mine.”

Jazz was a good friend of her mother’s that Selah had never met, but her mother had lots of good friends that Selah had never met and was always meeting in random places for the first time.

“Hi, Selah.” Jazz bent down and put her hand on Selah’s cheek, and Selah nearly burst into tears, and she didn’t know why.  “Alright, y’all are a bit late, let’s eat!” Jazz jumped up, rocking on her toes and clapping her hands. She was acting all hyper. Selah thought it was fun to see an adult act all hyper. Her mother was always calm and cool and under control and telling Selah to stop acting all hyper.

They ate Easter lunch off Styrofoam plates: ham and cheesy potatoes and rolls and creamy spring peas. There must’ve been about fifty people eating at the plastic tables extending from the dining room into the living room, but Selah barely paid attention to any of them. She only had eyes for Jazz, who was sitting across from her, laughing, joking, entertaining everyone, but also making time for small asides just for Selah.

“You got the same hair as me.” Jazz leaned across the table. “Your daddy black, too?”

How did she know that? Selah thought. Nobody had ever asked her that out of the blue before – at least nobody white or white-looking. But was Jazz white-looking? No, now she wasn’t, now Selah could see it, just like she could see her Blackness in herself even when nobody else could.

“Yeah…but I’ve never met him,” Selah said quietly, and Jazz shrugged.

“I never met mine neither,” she said. “Fathers, who needs ‘em?” She reached over and brushed a curl from Selah’s eyes, resting her hand on Selah’s cheek like before, Selah nearly crying like before. “Easter egg hunt!” Jazz withdrew her hand, clapping, full of joy. Full of life. All hyper, Selah heard the shouts and laughter of the other children at the table, but she wasn’t interested in them – she couldn’t even see them.

“Go on with the other kids,” Selah’s mother said, “there are baskets for everyone by the back door.”

“Do you think…” Selah paused. “Do you think Jazz could come with me?”

“I’d love to!” Jazz exclaimed, “I’d love it.”

“She’d love it,” Selah’s mother smiled.

In the backyard, Selah and Jazz collected pale yellow and purple eggs and found chocolate bunnies tucked away in the grass still half dead from winter’s cold. They held hands, and giggled, and both had a way of drifting around on their toes instead of feet planted firmly on the ground. They rushed through the hunt, gathering enough for their baskets in only a few short minutes. Then they plopped down in front of a barren raspberry bush and lounged for a while in the unseasonably warm April sun, Selah eating sherbet jelly beans and Jazz flat on her back, arms stretched out as if on a cross, her legs disappearing into the green shade of a Maple tree. After a while, Jazz had to go to the bathroom.

“Just wait here for me here,” she said cheerfully, “I won’t be gone long, I promise.”

Her Best Thing

Jazz, however, was gone for a long time and Selah got worried. She set off to find her, leaving her Easter basket under the raspberry bush. There were many bathrooms in Exodus House, and Selah had been in nearly all of them. She decided to start on the second floor and climbed the chestnut stairs where she was met by a dim hallway. Hazy. She rounded the bannister and walked past the first bathroom, and, seeing that it was empty, stopped in front of a huge painting on the wall. It was of four women, two haloed and preparing to hug, one looking cheekily at Selah, and one gazing off at something else in the distance. Their feet were small with long toes, and Selah was touched by the colors – orange and warm blue and green and bubblegum pink. Beyond the painting, at the end of the hall, a door was ajar, and a slice of creamy light shone through it. Selah heard voices. She heard weeping. She crept closer.

“My daughter – she was my best thing.” Selah recognized the weeping woman’s voice – it was Jazz. Selah tiptoed to the door and sat beside it, sliding her back against the wall as she sunk down to the floor.

“Holidays are hard,” the other woman’s voice said soothingly yet betraying no emotion. “I’m here to listen and hold a space of love. And I promise you, God knows your pain. He sees you. He knows you.”

“I don’t think so,” Jazz whimpered. “How could he let them take her from me? Or let someone like me have her? Am I so bad? I never hurt her. I just hurt myself. People just think I’m dirty, that’s all. She thought I was dirty. Sandra. She said if I got help, then they would help us. That we would be safe. Then they just took her away. Because she told them to.”

“You’re not dirty,” the woman with the soothing voice said.

“But I’m a sinner,” Jazz said.

“You’re not dirty,” the woman with the soothing voice repeated.

“I miss her little hands.” Jazz wept. “Her long, little toes, her honey smell, resting my nose on her nose and then her cheek. You know I stopped giving her kisses because she didn’t like that? We rubbed noses instead. And cheeks. First noses, then cheeks. I told them that at the last hearing to show them that I’d known my daughter’s needs and had paid attention to her, and that I still remembered everything about her, even five years later. I swear I did everything at that last hearing! I even straightened my hair. And for what? I still didn’t get her back.” Jazz’s anguish morphed to cold fury. “Can’t you help me? I’m not using. I never used around her. They didn’t take her away because I was using. They took her away because I’m dirty. Because Sandra said I was dirty. That bitch was just like oh, sweetie, I know that your heart is in the right place but it’s just that parenting is a matter of stability and sobriety and emotional control and knowing what I know now, what you’ve told me, it just wouldn’t be right of me to keep quiet. I’m just thinking of what’s best for your daughter. We’re adults. We have to think of what’s best for the children. Well, fuck you too, bitch! What the fuck did she know about my heart? What the fuck does she know about what she did to my heart? I swear she told them a bunch of lies.”

“I’m sorry you feel this way,” the woman with the soothing voice said. “I’m here. I’m listening.”

“You know I signed up for that parenting class because I wanted to be a normal mom,” Jazz went on, “you know, not like the women here. Attachment parenting and shit. I wanted a normal mom friend. These moms at that class, man, they had husbands and houses, refrigerators that made ice. On that first day Sandra was all like Ima take you under my wing, my heart goes out to you blah blah blah always talking about hearts, her heart, my heart, her feelings, blah blah blah. She was teaching me to cook, like, healthy food and helping me make grocery lists, and she was gonna tell me how to budget, you know like give me financial advice…her husband worked in finance. And you know, I thought she was becoming my friend. I told her everything about me. I trusted her. I told her everything. You know? But she fucking ruined me. I would love to whoop her ass, I really would, but I swear I wouldn’t do it because I just want my baby back. I only had her for two years. She ain’t even a baby now. She don’t know who I am. But she was my best thing.”

Selah heard something fall to the floor, and she couldn’t help herself; she crawled to the door and peeked through the crack and saw Jazz kneeling on the ground, face buried in the olive carpet, and the woman with the soothing voice crouched down beside her, gently stroking Jazz’s heaving back in silence.

None of them had anything more to say.

Supernova

Selah took a picture of the bruise spread like a lavender supernova across her left knee. A dumb-ass injury, she thought. What a poor excuse for all this drama, all this go-to-the-doctor-and-get-checked-out shit, all this report-it-all-to-the-insurance-company shit, all this take-a-week-off-of-work shit, all this go-talk-to-a-psychologist shit. It was just a bruise. It would heal in a few weeks, and nobody would ever even have known that it had been there.

Bruises didn’t leave scars.

Cold Sweat

The night before her appointment with the psychologist, Selah dreamed about the accident, beginning exactly when she had been sure that she’d die, and it left her empty. At 3:17 a.m., she smoked a cigarette out her bedroom window. The smoke curled up towards a moonless sky, blending in with the early morning gray, and Selah couldn’t bear the thought of another three months of winter. She brushed her teeth and went back to bed. She dreamed again. This time she was at Exodus House with Jazz. They stood in front of a mirror the size of the wall, and the mirror was murky – smudged, dusty – and they didn’t look like themselves.  Selah knew who they were, but she could barely make out their faces and some parts of their body were fully hidden, like the spots where their hearts should’ve been.

“Never show them the real thing,” Jazz said in a bleak voice that didn’t quite sound like the Jazz Selah remembered. Selah tried to ask why, but she couldn’t speak, the words wouldn’t come out, something that happened to her often in dreams, almost as often as the sensation of her teeth breaking.

“Help is the sunny side of control,” Jazz went on, and again Selah tried to ask why and again she couldn’t. Selah turned to Jazz and wrapped her arms around her waist, but as soon as they touched, Jazz disappeared in a cloud of frankincense, and Selah was left hugging herself, sobbing without being able to make a sound.

Selah woke up at 5:37 a.m. and forgot to take a shower, which was unfortunate because when she’d climbed out of bed, she’d been drenched in cold sweat. She ate plain yoghurt for breakfast and was fifteen minutes late for work.

Ascension

Selah’s mother invited Jazz to attend mass at St. Stanislaus Kostka on the Ascension. Selah hadn’t told her mother about the conversation she’d overheard between Jazz and the woman with the soothing voice on Easter, nor did she plan on ever telling her. Or anyone.

Jazz met them in front of the church in a dress that reminded Selah of an ice cream sundae: sequins and bright colors dripping down her arms and chest, a fluffy white skirt billowing towards her ankles. She’d straightened her hair, and aside from red lipstick, didn’t seem to be wearing makeup. She was as cheerful as she’d been the first time Selah had met her, before the egg hunt and pools of secret tears.

They entered the church, all three of them dipping their fingers in holy water and genuflecting as if they were Catholic. There weren’t very many people in attendance and Selah’s mother chose a pew in the middle, far enough back to leave early if necessary. “I think I’ll take communion today,” Jazz whispered to Selah as they sat down, “just for fun.”

The organ buzzed like a lost bee in the rafters and Selah tapped her feet against the kneelers, afraid to look up at Jazz, afraid she’d be crying, or even more afraid that all of a sudden, she’d be gone. Selah had yearned to see Jazz again, but being around her made her uncomfortable now, too. Selah was all mixed up, and she didn’t like feeling mixed up. She liked it when things were easy to figure out and under control.

“Could you guys move over a little? We’re three in my family. Is it alright if we sit here?” A girl in a blue velvet dress and auburn pigtails had her hand on her hip but a friendly smile on her face. She looked to be about the same age as Selah. “We really like sitting in the middle,” the little girl continued, “my parents are coming, but they’re late, they’re always late.”

“No problem sweetheart,” Jazz said, scooching over, “plenty of room.”

“Thanks,” the little girl said boldly to Jazz, “I love your dress. What’s your name?”

“Jazz,” Jazz replied, dragging out the last syllable between her slightly crooked teeth. Surprise flashed momentarily in the little girl’s hazel eyes.

“I’m Diana,” the little girl offered without holding out her hand, and then she cocked her head and peered over at Selah. “And you?” Diana asked. Selah got nervous when talking to strangers, especially kid strangers, and her name got stuck in her throat and she burst into a coughing fit, briefly considering running to the back of the church and dunking her head in the holy water for a drink, although she obviously knew that wouldn’t go over too well.

“This is Selah,” Jazz said, patting Selah lightly on the back, and Diana nodded slowly with raised eyebrows and a crinkled nose.

“Honey, you should cover your mouth when you cough.” A woman in a yellow blouse and flowery skirt with earnest eyes and fuchsia lips gently admonished Selah out of the blue. Diana whipped her head around, her braids grazing Jazz’s ear.

“Relax, Mother.” Diana rolled her eyes. “This is my mom, Sandra. And Daniel, my dad.” Daniel was a tall man in a gray suit who barely nodded hello before collapsing into the pew looking as though as he’d resigned himself many years ago to the fate of being bored to death.

“A pleasure,” Sandra said, eyeing Diana coldly and holding out her hand, but Jazz didn’t take it. She looked, instead, as though she’d been hit in the face with the full force of the Chicago yellow pages, her mouth slightly agape. Sandra shrugged. “Are you new to this church?” She went on, “is this your daughter?” Selah felt her face go tomato red.

“She’s my daughter,” Selah’s mother broke in and then the procession began, and the frankincense swirled and none of them talked for the rest of the service. True to her word, Jazz went up for communion, and Selah noticed that her gulp of wine was rather large.

After church, Jazz, Selah, and her mother walked to Selah’s grandfather’s car in silence. Selah had promised to give Jazz a ride to Exodus House, where she’d be staying the next few nights.

“That bitch,” Jazz muttered under her breath.

“Excuse me?” Selah’s mother halted in the middle of the sidewalk.

“That fucking bitch,” Jazz repeated, “you know who that bitch was?”

“Selah sweetie, why don’t you go buy an ice cream for the ride home,” Selah’s mother said, rummaging in her straw purse before tossing Selah a five-dollar bill. “Just uh, go on, there’s a place down around the corner. Just be back in a few minutes,” Selah’s mother went on, trying not to sound nervous.  Selah didn’t argue, but instead of going to the corner store, she ran off and hid behind a wooden fence next to the parking lot so she could still hear everything that was being said.

“That was fucking Sandra,” Jazz said hoarsely, her manicured finger pointing close to Selah’s mother’s nose, her whole body shaking, “and that fucking husband of hers, I had him as a fucking client. But I swear – I didn’t know it was her husband. I didn’t know that. She must’ve found out somehow. Child welfare my ass. This was nothing but motherfucking revenge!”

“Jazz, calm down,” Selah’s mother said in an almost whisper, “please.”

“They didn’t even fucking recognize me!” Jazz was shaking violently now. “Neither of them! Is that my fucking daughter? She asked me that? I should pound her face into the motherfuckin’ ground!”

“Jazz. Please.”

“But I won’t,” Jazz said taking a deep breath. “I ain’t gonna do shit. And I could. I coulda said some shit to her daughter. But I would never do that. I would never do another mother like that. Call me crazy. But I wouldn’t.” Jazz then opened the door of Selah’s grandfather’s Buick LeSabre, slammed it, and unleashed an unearthly howl that the car couldn’t contain. Selah was sure the windows would break. She covered her ears and burst into tears.

Several weeks later, Selah’s mother asked if Selah wanted to see Jazz again. Maybe they could go to a movie? Jazz had really enjoyed spending time with them; it made her happy and put her mind at ease. Selah scowled. “I never want to see Jazz again,” she said quietly, “I think I hate her.”

Selah’s mother nodded without pushing the issue, but Selah could see in her eyes that she was hurt. Why was she hurt? I didn’t say I don’t want to see her anymore. Selah’s blood boiled, she felt rage in every extremity, she clenched her fists, she could’ve swung and hit her mother right in her stupid, sad eyes.

Selah turned on her toes and went to her room and willed herself not to cry.

She never saw Jazz again.

She never stopped thinking about her.

The Psychologist

Reticence has been Selah’s plan – she hadn’t expected the floodgates to swing wide open and for everything to come spilling out sans structure or obvious purpose.

“I feel nothing,” she told the psychologist when he asked whether she’d been able to cry since the accident. And then she told him that she didn’t like what the accident had done to her professionally – that being hit by a truck and narrowly escaping death was witnessed by her patient, that she now was a source of a child’s trauma when she was supposed to be that child’s helper. She just wanted to be a professional, that was all she’d ever wanted. Then she said that she’d had a hard childhood, that her mother had been a prostitute, that her mother had done a lot of drugs and taken too many liberties with following her whims and desires while at the same time following God, and that she didn’t find any of this particularly problematic in and of itself, but professionally, and according to the kind of people who write HR manuals, she understood that her mother was a very problematic person. Then she mentioned that she was biracial, like she always did to everyone she ever met, even when it didn’t quite fit the context of the conversation just like it probably didn’t seem to fit the context of the conversation in that moment. She told the psychologist that she didn’t know how to be Black or white or who she was and that she ultimately realized she would never know that she was very lonely in this permanent state of unknowing, but it didn’t matter because she was in the second half of life (if she was lucky) and that if she hadn’t figured out her identity by now then she never would. She said she believed deep down that identities didn’t matter – but that they also were everything. She said she was angry all the time, but nobody knew it, everyone just thought she was nice. She didn’t talk about her injuries; she didn’t talk about her bruises or the lingering pain coursing through muscle, sinew, and bone. The fact that she probably should get checked at the doctor again, but she wasn’t going to didn’t get come up, either. “And also I just can’t stop thinking about my biggest sin on repeat,” she said and when the psychologist asked if she felt comfortable sharing what that sin entailed, she didn’t hesitate to say that when she was a little girl, she’d once rejected a woman who perhaps, logically and according to experts in child-rearing, deserved to be rejected by a little girl, but that it was cruel and unfair and that she worried that her actions would land her in hell.

“Who will give her grace?” Selah asked the psychologist. “Who will give it to me?”

The psychologist didn’t have an answer.

About the Author

Carmen Price

Originally from Chicago, Carmen Price is a teacher and writer based in Stockholm, Sweden. She's been published in Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine, the Forge Literary Magazine, and Delay Fiction. She's also been long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction Award. She collects houseplants, including a feisty little ficus and a fig tree. So far she’s doing a decent job keeping them alive.