Saturday, September 20, 2008

Song of a Dandelion Pushing Up Through An Urban Sidewalk Crack

We sprout up boldly through the cracks
yielding beauty that the sidewalk lacks
and spread our sunshine-bright yellow smiles.
No other flowers can mimic our style.

They call us weeds, but we’re a gift
sent from heaven to brighten and uplift
the sad gray atmosphere.
No other flowers dare to grow around here.

If you would stop and simply see
our beauty compared to the misery--
the dirt and pieces of broken glass
and useless things that litter the grass,
you would not see us as simply weeds
but as something that a city needs.

Yes, we smile defiantly every day
and flash our smiles to boldly display
the joy that comes from simple things.
We are a song, and if you listen,
we sing.

©1994 Tiffany Gholar

my love for you is a weed

whose seed you planted
with your words

it blooms mysteriously
without the light of your smile
or the warmth of your embrace
in the curious fecundity
of my fallow heart

perhaps it was not planted at all
but sent carelessly to me
by some haphazard wind
of sentiment
yet it thrives
it defies the orderly redundancy
of gardens
and it resists reason
as though it were a feeble herbicide

and its roots crowd out
the possibility of any other blooming thing,
any other love
it is a selfish dandelion
that can’t abide marigolds
it is a savage thistle strangling tiger lilies

my love for you is a weed
neither one of us can uproot it
and though you never tend it,
still it has the audacity to live

Now you must reap what you’ve sown:

touch the petals of the dreams
you’ve planted in me
and beware the thorns

©1999 Tiffany Gholar

until I get burned

I’m not so sure I should be
what I want if
what I want is

I am feverish
with desire
and frozen
in ambivalence

I push and I pull
I want and I don’t want

to be drawn like a winged insect
to your light and your heat

You disturb
my universe
you intrigue
you disquiet
you awaken

You provoke me
to feel

But do you even want
what you say you want?

You give and you take
you appear and then vanish

with your promises
making me want to fold my wings,
return to my cocoon
fall asleep and have dreams
I won’t remember
because you’re no longer in them

until your spark appears again

you disturb
my universe
you intrigue
you disquiet
you awaken

drawn forward on
petal-thin wings
craving heat
flitting toward the radiance
of lambent dreams
I warm up to you
every time

I melt every time

until I get burned.

©1999 Tiffany Gholar

Even In Death - excerpt


I realize now
the permanence of loss.
a quicksilver melancholy swims
across my eyes
for every second
that has died
in the time before your death.
I lament
the questions I never asked.

I remember
that same melancholy
every time we said good-bye.
It was as if I knew
my favorite aunt would be the first
to go.

the idea of ancestry

Looking through pictures of you
I tried to make a collage of your life
to stand beside your casket.

I was sixteen.
I noticed then that when you were sixteen
we looked alike.
Your pictures
were of my own life
as it would have been if
I’d grown up in your time.

how striking, how eerie
the photographs of the little girl
with the press-and-curl bangs
playing on the swing set--
myself at six years old
in black and white

©2000 Tiffany Gholar

Thursday, September 11, 2008

excerpt from "95W," written October 3, 2001

It is funny that fatigues and camouflage prints are so popular now, especially since we are supposedly going to war. There are glitter fatigues and camo print thongs and bras and pink and blue and even purple camo prints. Don't ask where you'd blend in in something that color. But now you can look patriotic without even trying, like you're going to war like a real American.

I had thought about taking pictures of all the "God Bless America" signs popping up randomly everywhere. The best one I saw was in Indiana. To me, it sums up true American nationalism. The owners of a house right on the highway had taken paper cups and stuffed them into the chain link fences around their property. And on one fence the white cups spelled out "GOD BLESS AMERICA" and on the other fence it said, "KILL 'EM." Yup. Sounds very American to me.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Retail Hell

The Day the Muzak Died

It is a totalitarian regime, complete with uniforms: all black. Far from chic or modern or cutting edge, it just looks drab, makes the men look like androids, makes the women appear matronly. It is not a seductive black, or even a mysterious black, not even a powerful black. It is an unimaginative, uninspiring, funereal black. The uniformity is dehumanizing. There is no music. There is no natural light. The bulbs in the track lights are dim. The clocks are all displaying the wrong times. Nobody wants to be here.

The woman in the bright blue top and khaki shorts looks at me. She doesn’t want me to help her but she has no choice. There is no one left to ask, so she has to ask me. She seems mad at herself for having to ask and mad at me for being the person she must speak to. I don’t want to answer her question. I know it will be pointless. So the feeling is mutual.

I have no way of knowing how to placate these customers who are infuriated by my presence and yet at the same time enraged by my absence. I always seem to be around when they don’t want me to be or too far away once they have a question to ask.

I feel like I am constantly being intruded upon. I am not allowed to be myself. I am forced to be phony. I have to pretend to care about things that do not matter to me. I feel like anyone from off the street can just come in and order me around. I feel like I have no autonomy or privacy. I cannot wear what I want to wear. I am only paid for my sales, not for the effort I put in. The whole thing does not seem worthwhile. It does not challenge, interest, or excite me.

I despise having to wear a nametag. I hate having my name out on display. People pretend they know you when your name is right there for the world to see. And then they call you by your name when they think they are doing you a favor because they read some article in Readers Digest that told them it’s a way of “appreciating” service workers. I’d rather tell them my name when I see fit to do so. But instead I’m left with no agency and no choice and I hate that.

I don’t know why it offends me, but it does. I do so despise having to pretend I’m on a first-name basis with the world, even those stuck-up old crones who insist I call them Mrs. Somebody.

I am so sick of these stupid people. Rich men’s wives and daddies’ girls saunter past, carrying big shopping bags full of stuff paid for with other people’s money.

The silence is deathly still. This store, though cluttered with furniture, rugs, and carpet samples, is absolutely and utterly still. I hate my job. I hate that I need it. I hate that I’m not good at it and never will be. I hate this store, I hate this mall, I hate this dumb little suburban town. I am so disappointed. This is not what I went to design school for. All I did was get myself into serious debt. And now I have absolutely nothing to show for my efforts.

People hire me to do retail sales because it’s what I have the most experience in. But I am not good at it, and I don’t even like it. I am disinclined to do things for customers. I’m just too passive-aggressive to show it.

©2007 Tiffany Gholar

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Reason to Die

"Are you sure you’re going to be okay, baby?”

This was it. Devante and his mother had finally arrived at his school. He was surprised to see everything just as it was before. Kids were getting out of their parents’ cars or crossing the overpass above the expressway, coming from the El train station. A few blocks away, the police officers at the police academy were lining up in the parking lot. It was amazing that the lives of those around him continued to go on, although for Devante time seemed to stand still. It seemed as though it would always be 9:25 P.M. the night of Valentine’s Day. That was when he knew Monica was dead.

“Look at me.” His mother urged him. In theses past few weeks, it had become hard for him to make eye contact with anyone, even his own reflection. He hated looking into the mirror and seeing the face of a person who was too powerless to save the life of the girl who could have been his girlfriend. And every time he saw himself, he knew that he had known better than to have gone outside in his neighborhood after dark.

“Look at me,” His mother said again as she put the Mercedes in park and turned his face toward her. His eyelids seemed to weigh a ton. It was as if all the tears he refused to cry had collected in them. But he couldn’t let his mother know how much the events of the past month has affected him.

“I’m fine, Ma. Really I am.” He grabbed his bag quickly and hoped he could get out of the door before his mother realized that everything he had just said was nothing but a lie. He flung the heavy door open and rushed out of it so fast that the cold February air scarcely had time to come in.

Just go, he told himself, rushing forward on the sidewalk. Don’t look back. Don’t even say good-bye.

He heard his mother pulling away and realized that there were only two options for him now. He could no longer sit alone in his room in a state of depressive inertia because he had insisted that he was fine. He didn’t need to see any stupid shrinks, he had told his mother, and definitely did not want her to send him away somewhere. So what if his parents had just divorced, he had moved into a new neighborhood, and his closest friend had just been shot to death? None of that mattered now. He could handle anything.

He had a teen heartthrob face, with thick eyebrows that his doting mother often tried to straighten out and coarse, curly hair that he wore in a style that his strict father disapproved of. Many girls found him attractive. Even at the funeral, a few fast girls in short skirts had switched up to him carrying boxes of Kleenex, but he didn’t pay them any attention. The one girl who had ever mattered to him was gone, but he’d go on pretending.

With slow and measured steps he approached his school. Swarms of kids were beginning to fill the halls and he could see them through the large front windows. Hopefully they wouldn’t notice him. Maybe they would avoid him, just as they had done at the repast after Monica’s funeral.

I can do this, He thought as reached the door to his school, knowing that if he wasn’t strong enough to pretend that he was happy, there was only one other thing he could do. So what if she’s not with me anymore. So what if Monica’s¾

And just then Devante saw a couple walk by, holding hands as if they were the last two people left on earth, or the last ones left at Whitney Park High school, anyway. Their smiles mocked his misery. He and Monica had been like this once. Sauntering through the halls, sharing headphones as they listened to CD’s on his Discman, and probably seeming, just as the couple that he saw through the glass door, as though he and Monica had a feeling that no one else could ever have. Yet this time, Devante knew that his feeling was unique. He had a reason to die.

Run! The urge was raw, primitive, something that was usually aroused in a life-or-death situation. Devante obeyed this instinct. I can do this. I can die. Monica did it.

He had thought about this many times before, yet somewhere in his mind lingered the vague notion that Monica was still alive, just sleeping, that she would suddenly awaken and appear right there at the door. The sound of the ambulance screaming past Devante’s grandmother’s house with its sirens wailing had revived that long-forgotten thought, sending Devante charging down the street after it as he screamed Monica’s name. And old Mrs. Willis down the street telephoned his grandmother from inside, telling her that her grandson had gone and lost his mind. She was too afraid to even come outside and speak to the young man, who collapsed in a crumpled heap on her front yard, weeping bitterly.

I must be losing it. Scared old Mrs. Willis half to death. I don’t care, Monica. I’m gonna see you again.

A year ago, his life hadn’t been this way. Devante was barely fourteen and already nagging his parents about getting a car. The lived in a spacious house at the crest of a hill on Longwood Drive with a crescent shaped driveway and colonnaded entryways. He had just begun to rebel against his conservative father by wearing baggy jeans with his Polo shirts and listening to rap music in his stereo. He even told his parents that he, unlike his older brother, wanted to attend a public high school. His idea only fueled his parents’ bitter arguments. He spent much of his time playing the baby grand piano in the sitting area adjacent to his room, trying to drown out his screaming parents’ voices downstairs.

But what could he do now that the turmoil had entered his mind? It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When he moved into his grandmother’s neighborhood, all he saw was Monica. Her personality and charm had drawn him to her. Devante liked the way she said “ax” instead of “ask” and thought it was funny when she talked about going to get her hair “did.” His father, on the other hand, took one look at her and called her “ghetto.” “That girl. That ghetto girl,” his father had always said with such contempt and disgust. He never once referred to Monica by her name. He called her Shaquandah, Safreeta, LaKeisha, or anything else that ended with an “a” that he felt was not a suitable and “respectable” name. His father seemed to think that such girls were destined to become welfare mothers. You never even met her, pops! Devante wanted to say. His father would never know about her beautiful singing, or all the times he and Monica had gone to hear the symphony and see Broadway plays with his mother. He would never know that Monica’s last words were the lyrics of a song from Les Miserables.

Is that Chad and Jerome? Please don’t let that be them! I can’t let them see me!

Devante thought he saw his two friends getting out of Chad’s father’s minivan from across the street. They couldn’t possibly understand what he had been through. How would his friends ever understand his fear of the dark, that the reason he was 15 and wet the bed was because of the horrible nightmares he had? They were unrelenting. Every night he re-experienced the shooting in his sleep or else spent many hours suspended in a purgatorial state between sleep and wakefulness. And early each morning he crept down to the laundry room in the basement to wash his wet sheets before anyone could find out.

In the late hours of the night he kept his lights on to keep away his fear of the darkness that obscured everything. Many times he played mind-numbing computer games like Tetris or even Pac-Man. Anything involving guns or blood immediately brought flashbacks of what had happened on that horrible night just a few weeks ago. It was in the eerie stillness of his room that he had come to realize that there was nothing left for him. He lived in the shadow of a bullet, his existence poisoned by misery, his thoughts contaminated by every memory of Monica. He had played the piano to drown out the sounds of his bickering parents, but what could he do to drown out the memories?


The word was short, cold, and simple. Simple enough until he thought of all its repercussions.

To die. To sleep no more.

He vaguely remembered the words from a play he had read last semester in freshman English. For the past few days he had considered it carefully. And Devante felt somewhat sedated by the contemplation of the act. He had even eaten breakfast this morning and brushed his hair for the first time in weeks. It would be like music. Taking a ginsu knife to his forearm like a violin bow and playing inaudible music with each stroke of a severed blue vein. Or plunging form the precipitous height of the closest towering vertical structure he could find and lying still, at last, on the sidewalk. But his parents! What would they say? His mother would probably start screaming, “My baby! My baby!” like she had that night, when she saw him standing there on the sidewalk, drenched in Monica’s blood. He tried to force that memory out of his mind. And what about his brother and his father?

I don’t care. He lied to himself. And I don’t care about not caring.

Somehow it had calmed him. And last night, he didn’t even scream at the conclusion of his nightmare; he knew it would be his last.

Whats the point of living? At the funeral they all said, “Shes in a better place now.” So, whats wrong with dying? I want to be in that better place, away from all the chaos of this world. Any place where a girl with as many hopes and dreams as Monica can be shot down like a dog in the street is not where I want to be.

He looked around and realized that he wasn’t running anymore. He had stopped right at the curb, right across the street from the overpass. All along, his body was following the instinct, though his mind still deliberated in ambivalence.

I should do this. And I can. Why should I go on? It’s all my fault anyway!

There was no hope of revenge because he didn’t know who was responsible for the shooting. He knew only that “They” had done it. They were after a boy whose haircut, shoes, and coat were identical to Devante’s, yet he was unaware of who “They” were. This criminal, pants-sagging, low-riding “They” was responsible, but Devante carried the guilt that should have been theirs.

Your fault. . . your fault. . . His mind taunted as a scene he desperately wanted to forget appeared in is mind. Devante tried to fight it. He wanted to force it into the back of his mind, but the memory overwhelmed him completely. He remembered a sky without stars. A black emptiness. A city sky. And underneath that sky, that canopy, that burial shroud, he sneaked out of the side door with the roses and teddy bear that he was waiting to give to Monica.

And you know you shouldn’t have you knew it would happen! You say you didn’t but you did! Dad warned you about this place. You could have just gone to live in his big condo, but no!

He wanted to express to her his desire to be more than just friends. The only light came from the insides of buildings and the eerie orange street lamps that lined the street. This made the shadows unusually long, ominous, and deep.

And it was dark. It was so dark, a night without stars. But you kept going! You idiot! You went. . .

He walked to Monica's house feeling warm despite the cold that crept through his sagging jeans. The lyrics and melodies of every love song he ever knew were playing in his head as he climbed up the cement steps of Monica's front porch. So what if the moon seemed to be a watchful, ubiquitous eye spying on him from behind. None of that mattered now. He was glad Monica answered when he rang the doorbell.

"Are those for me? Oh, Devante, they're beautiful!" Monica said as she accepted the teddy bear and roses that he had gotten her. But a sudden look of fear erased the smile from her face.

"That driver just slowed down when he saw you." She warned Devante, who had his back to the street.

"What does that mean?" He was new in the neighborhood.

Monica never answered the question. Devante turned around to see the barrel of the gun sticking out of the open passenger side window. Monica screamed "Duck!" and the shot went off¾

She died almost instantly.

And they fired and she said 'Just don't move. Play dead' and I did and I saw the blood. . . everywhere. . . all over the roses and the white teddy bear and the Valentine's card. I killed her! I didn’t pull the trigger, but it didn’t have to happen! I should have known! Only an idiot would go strolling through my neighborhood after dark. But I thought drive-bys only happen to other people. I thought I was invincible.

Invincible. Was he invincible? If he jumped over the side of the overpass, would he die? If he jumped, would anyone notice? Would the drivers stop their cars in horror and cause a fifty car pile-up? If he died, would anyone care?

Serves you right, pops. All you ever do is boss me around and talk about Monica like that. You’ll see. You’ll be sorry.

The Don’t Walk sign went off and Devante ran across the street and skidded to a stop on the other side.

But what about Grandma? What about my mom? What’ll they do? Then again, what use am I to them anyway? I don’t take out the trash. I don’t shovel the snow. I don’t even eat anymore. They’d be better off without me.

The overpass stood before him. The threshold, the boundary between life and death. Before, he had only seen it as a way to get to Burger King during fifth period lunch, but now it had taken on a new meaning. But wait! There was a huge chain-link fence that towered over the guard rail.

That thing must be eighty feet tall. Do I really want to do this?

He did. He hurled his heavy book bag to the ground and began to climb.

I’m not scared. I’ve looked death into the face before, so it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.

Yet part of him wanted someone to notice him up there. Part of him wanted someone to tell him to get down from there and show him that he still had a reason to live. And that was when he thought he heard the sirens.

“Hey kid!” A voice called to him.

Try and stop me, pig! All you cops are pigs! Where were you when they shot Monica?

“Get down from there!” Called another voice.

Devante turned around and saw a police academy car screeching to a halt.

They’re just a bunch of toy cops anyway. They can’t do anything.

Yet oddly enough, part of him wanted them to.

Come and save me! Or maybe this is just part of the lessons they teach those toy cops, how to arrest a Black guy for no reason. What’re you gonna do? Arrest me for taking my life?

They were on his side of the street now. Devante still hadn’t moved. He held on to the chain link fence and stared down at the sluggish river of morning rush hour traffic below him.

“We want to help you.” One of the officers said.

“Leave me alone!”

But I don’t know if I want to. I’m scared. I don’t know!

“Come on, kid. You’re too young to just throw your life away.”

Is he right? Will he shoot me?

Devante slowly began to climb down the fence, looking back warily at the two officers in training that stood behind him.

I don’t know! Why am I doing this?

“I don’t want to die.” He answered his own question.

At last, his feet were on the sidewalk again.

©1997 Tiffany Gholar

A Little Fall of Rain

The red Blazer screams off into the darkness and I still can't believe this is happening. Not to me, not on Valentine's Day, not on my front porch. I look up and I see Devante screaming and screaming. What just happened? Not that long ago, we was just chillin' on my porch. So what if it's dark and cold outside? It's Valentine's Day and Devante wanted to make it a happy one for me. He brought me all these roses and this big white bear and I was just so excited I just stood right here on the front porch with no coat on. And then the Blazer just pulls up outta nowhere with no lights on and I know that I shoulda known it was gonna happen and I know that I shoulda known not to be out here. I knew it was a gangsta car, low-riding down the street with gold trim, fat tires, license plate covers, and windows tinted so black that you can’t see the fools inside. But Devante, well you can't expect him to know nothing about that cuz he just moved in here from his boozhy neighborhood where they don’t never get drive-bys. And I still don't want to believe that those were real bullets flyin' at us, and I still don't want to believe that some of them hit me. I just hope Devante okay. And the bear he gave me, its covered in blood! I'm screaming his name but he can't hear me.

“Monica! Monica, you’re gonna be all right. The ambulance is coming!” Devante all frantic now.

I ain't never seen him look so scared in my life. And maybe he can't hear me. He's got blood on him, too! I told him to duck. But since he wasn’t listening, I pushed him down to the ground and fell right on top of him. I just couldn’t let something like this happen to him. And I'm feeling this pain now, but I know this ain't happening. I’ll wake up, and tomorrow I’ll be going to Student Council and track practice. I’ll wake up, and none of this will have happened, I want to tell myself. It's cold, so cold that I think my blood is gonna freeze on the sidewalk. My blood! It can't be real! It can' t be. Okay, Monica, look down. You're just dreaming. Them bullets, they wasn't real. Ain't none of this real. But that's real blood! Oh, God please tell me these bullet holes ain't real! I'm gonna die!

They say your whole life flashes before you, but all I see is what I never did. Like how I never told Devante that I like him. I wonder if he even knows? I remember that day when we stopped at Marshall Field's. We was ‘posed to be heading home from school on the El train, but of course Devante wasn't trying to hear that. And I remember the look on his face when I tried on that long, slinky dress with the skanky slit up the side that I knew Momma would never approve of. But that look on his face. . . never in my life has a brother looked at me that way. And he bought that black and silver Nautica jacket even though I told him not to, not just because it was $150 (can you believe he fifteen and got a credit card?) but because Shorty from up the street, he's got one just like it. And then he bought the new Jordans, too, even though I told him that Shorty got a pair just like 'em. And word on the street is they been looking for Shorty. They think he's been keeping some of that drug money to himself. Devante be trying so hard to fit in with these other brothers, so maybe me telling him about Shorty only made him want the jacket and shoes more. I'm looking up at Devante now, and I see it would be real hard to tell him from Shorty from the back.

And here comes Momma now, just crying. And I want to tell her that it's alright, even though it's not. Kinda like that one Black girl in the play Devante and his momma took me to see about the French people that was having a revolution. They were shooting too, only not over drug money, and ole girl was just caught in the middle. But she told her man not to worry. She didn't feel no pain, and rain would make the flowers grow. . .

Feels like I’ve been layin’ here for twenty years. I keep coming in and out, hearing voices warning Devante not to move me. And I'm just like, where's the ambulance at? If I could talk, I'd remind Devante that 911 is a joke. Poor thing. He never did understand that music video. Maybe now he can.

But it ain't his fault that he just moved here to be with his Grandma since she had a stroke. He coulda gone to live downtown with his father in a fancy apartment, but he said that living here was more fun. Yeah, if you can call living with burglar bars and four locks on the door "fun."

But it used to be fun to live here. Maybe that’s why the old people, like Devante’s grandma, don’t want to move away. They say that the neighborhood has changed a lot since 20 years ago, and I even think that it was different seven years ago when me and Devante was little. I remember when we used to sit here on this porch when we was little kids, drinking Kool-Aid and eating corn chips with hot sauce on ‘em. Every day after school he and his big brother would be at his grandmother’s house, and I liked coming over there to see him. Sometimes we played in his grandmother’s backyard. When it’s warm outside, she got so many sweet potato vines and elephant ears back there that me and Devante played like we was living in a jungle. I wonder if he remember that. But things were changing, even then. One of his parents would roll up in a shiny black Mercedes to pick him up, and he never saw what it was like being here at night. Devante didn’t know about the drug dealers who started hanging out on the corners. He had no idea that by the time they was in sixth grade, a lot of the little boys he used to play with already had rap sheets. Somehow, in the back of his mind Devante thinking that he still living in a boozhy little neighborhood. I guess all them signs that say “Warning: We Call Police” that are up in everybody’s windows never made him realize that.

I still remember they day he moved in here. I saw him out front, cutting his grandma’s grass without a shirt on. He almost had some muscles, with his tall, skinny self. And looking so fine. I think maybe some of the other boys are jealous of him, especially since he got such nice curly hair. But anyway, there he was. And as soon as he saw me coming, he cut off the lawnmower.

“Monica, is that you?” We hadn’t seen each other for a long time. And I guess he was expecting to see me with braids and barrettes in my hair, not like it is now, in a bob that’s stacked in the back. I was surprised to see him, too.

“Devante? What you doing here?”

And that was when he told me all about the divorce and his grandma having a stroke and his momma not wanting to put her away in a home. For a second, I almost thought I saw a tear in his eye. But then he changed the subject. That boy asked me if I wanted to ride bikes with him around the neighborhood. And I told him I’d have to be crazy to do that.

“Why not?” He asked. “I used to ride my bike all the time when I was at my old house.”

“Well, this ain’t your old house!”

And I don’t think I got a chance to finish telling him about how it’s changed around here because his momma came outside after that. Mine did, too. They just kept going on and on about how much older we both looked and how cute we was when we was little kids. It was embarrassing. And then they started talking about how the two of us was just about to start high school, how fast we grew up. I was ready to leave. And just then, Devante momma said something that surprised me: we was both going to the same school. Me and Momma both looked at her funny. And she said it was the best public high school in the city, so of course she’d send him there. Maybe we could carpool, she said.

But my momma’s idea of “carpooling” is for me and Devante to take the CTA buses and El trains together. That was when I realized that if Devante had a lot to learn about the world. The first few times, that goofy boy forgot to get himself a transfer. And he wanted to take his Discman on the train! I told him to hide it inside his coat so that all people could see was his headphones and not the CD player. And I guess I thought he learned.

We spent a lot of time after school together. He plays the piano, and when he plays, when them long, skinny fingers of his touch the keys, it’s like he’s saying something to you that can’t be put in words. His grandma likes listening to Nat King Cole. She used to be a ballroom dancer, but since she can’t do that no more, she just sits and listens. Sometimes Devante be trying to play the songs by ear. And one day, I started singing along. He liked my voice. So, I sang a little louder, but since I’m an alto, I can’t hit really high notes.

“Do you want me to play it in another key?” He asked me.

I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“That’s the difference between singers and musicians. All you guys have to do is just jump up on a stage and go ‘la la la’ and you don’t even know about sharps and flats and major and minor keys!”

But he taught me all that stuff. He’s really good about that. Just like his momma. She grew up here, and always be giving me history lessons on the neighborhood, telling me about the politicians and movie stars and football players who used to live down the street or around the corner. Seems to me like they oughtta come back and see what’s happened since then. And she told me about how all these houses on the block are Chicago style bungalows, that you can find them anywhere in the city. She’s right. I started noticing that on the way to school. Houses just like mine all over the place, but some people still look at this and call it the ghetto.

I remember standing here on the porch the night we had went out to see that play about the French people. Devante and his momma always going to plays and operas and things like that, and every time, he remembers to invite me. I never really got the feeling that they do it because they felt sorry for me or thought they were doing some kinda mission work or doing me a favor.

“I just like being with you, Monica.” Devante said. “And I just want you to see what it’s like on the other side.”

That was when I knew he liked me. And for the whole play, I kept looking at him. I guess somehow I kinda thought he was gonna kiss me, like in a movie or something. And I remember there was this one Black girl in the play, the one who got shot. And I turned to Devante and said, “One day that’s gonna be me!” But I didn’t mean like this.

It's getting colder now. I never thought it would be this way, dying I mean. Actually, I never really knew what it would be like. They never taught us about that kinda thing in school, just like they never taught us what to do if you live where I live. And I don't wanna die. Sometimes, I used to feel like if I died nobody would care at all, but here they all are— Devante and his mother and grandma (she came out here with her walker!) and my parents. And I don't want to do this, but something's pulling me away from them. And I want to tell Devante about the song I wrote for him that I left in my dresser drawer underneath the CD that he bought me. It's the soundtrack to the musical about the French people having a revolution. And I want to tell Momma and Daddy that I'm sorry about all the times I fought with them over stupid stuff like how loud I can play my music. And I want to thank Mrs. Lewis (that's Devante's grandma) for all the times she baked us sweet potato pies and let me and Devante listen to her Nat King Cole records. And I want to thank Ms Lewis for all the plays and operas she took me to see. But most of all I want to thank Devante for just being Devante. Because he played the piano while I sang, because we took the bus to school together sometimes, and because I don't wanna go out like this. And I can't stand to see his face all twisted up in fear.

So now I'm gonna try to sing Devante one last song. They all look so scared, but I ain't scared no more. If I could just get my voice back. . . it's really hard to even breathe now. I'm gon’ try. . . just like that one Black girl in the play . . .

"A little . . .fall of rain . . . can hardly . . .hurt me. . . now. "

Blood all spurting out my mouth. And I hope that he knows what I'm saying. I hope they all know.

"And rain. . . will make the flowers—"

©1997 Tiffany Gholar