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Honey Faith MAG
I am the baby of a worn-out Faith Trip. But I know I'm really the sweet nectar ofa Honey Faith.
My father, who is Trip, wrote a letter that told me hewants to meet me. And I read this letter, and thought only of his choice ofwords. Meet. I lived with him for five years. Has he forgotten that, too? Ormaybe he knows more than I think. Maybe, like me, he has counted every day of the13 years that have severed anything that knotted us together. Maybe he didn'tstop counting the days somewhere around three months, like I thought. Maybe heknows there is nothing about me with which he is acquainted, and that"meeting" me is necessary.
I know he knows who I am right awaybecause he sets down his coffee cup, hard. The china clink hammers everythingalready pounding inside my head. My insides churn in gooey spirals. As I walk tohim, I try to calm the churning by absorbing everything in this greasyrestaurant. The coffee cups chipped in beige pocks, the bacon-smelling plasticplants, the skinny old man crouched over mint tea. I am vermilion and I am ablood orange and I am a scraped knee. I place myself firmly in front of thetable. After standing stiffly for a minute, I slide into the bench across fromhim. He opens his eyes wide, as if trying to pull me inside his dark pupils. Andsays that when he met Faith, her hair was long and wavy, over her shoulders anddown her back, like mine.
He says that at first he was just going to be adoctor. He says he went to Columbia for eleven years, and as he says it his gazeflickers to the cold pool of coffee, creamed beige, in the moon of his saucer. Itwas in the eleventh year, when Columbia wanted research, that he came acrossher.
Faith lived deep in Brooklyn, on Bellis Avenue, where thebuildings were gaunt like warped bone, iced grey. She lived in 25. He knew thenumber because it was inflated and pink with polka dots on the front door. Later,when he asked, Faith told him she had painted it on a dim June morning. Everymorning he walked by; it was his route to the subway. She would be out on thedoorstep, golden and in flip-flops.
One morning she got up and walkedbeside him to the subway station. Her sandals flipped, kissing the blushing heelsof her feet. She had on pink shorts that were cuffed over her light caramelthighs. She told him she liked his hands because his fingers were blunt and nailspale like warm milk. Faith didn't say anything after that, she just hummed. Aworn-out song that she licked back to life, with a tune that he can'tremember.
On the sixth day that she walked with him, she told him she onlycried joy. He said he didn't know what joy tears looked like and asked what colorthey were. She said they were clear and hot like other tears, but they were moresparkly and didn't make your eyes red. She cried a few for him and one fell onhis right hand, perfect and round like a jewel. He didn't go to the subway thatday; they sat in a restaurant until the sun slid low and pooled over the hills,cradling mugs of vanilla almond tea.
After three weeks, he decided hewouldn't go back to Columbia that semester. On a morning soaked with the night'smoist breath, he and Faith didn't part at the subway's revolving doors as usual.He slid his pass through the gate twice and took her honey hand as they tuckedthemselves back into a pair of orange and blue seats on the train. He stared intothe plaid pattern of his suitcase until it blurred, while she traced the outlineof his short fingers with the tips of her own twig-like fingers, and he wonderedwhat would become of them.
They rode into Manhattan and into the bowels ofPenn Station. There they found a train that was traveling all the way to NewMexico. It took five days, but when they reached Albuquerque, everything was thesame color as Faith, light brown and caramelized, coated sweet. He thought thatwatching Faith step out of the taxi they had taken from the train station into auniverse where the only water was cradled like a cherished child, in theintestines of cacti, and where when you breathed you inhaled the ground,buildings, flattened bushes all together in the form of fine, yellow dust, waslike watching a parched sponge beneath a streaming faucet.
They set up atent and bought flat bread from a vender the color of the brownstones in WestBrooklyn. That night he started a fire and while they sat, side by side watchingit, Faith told him that she had always wanted to be a flamed hand of fire,caressing and stroking the air in a ballet that seduced even the cool,waterlogged blades of grass around it into a blistering waltz. He had smiled andtold her that she already was a flame, emitting tangerine passion from hercollected, crimson skin, and giving always by dipping into the savory blue poolof secrets she cradled inside of her.
For the next few months, they wouldsit all night, their silhouettes specks against an indigo sky stuffed with stars.And they would sleep all day, curled inside their tent, thick sun beating throughthe cloth roof. They told each other stories that slipped between the fire's hotflames and stoked the sparking logs. They named the trees, names like"Trink," "Ocher," and "Papaya." They ran races andFaith always let him win. They traced windowed office buildings and apartmenthouses into the sand, staining their fingers chalky yellow.
He didn't knowFaith was pregnant until the baby was the size of a small honeydew, fresh andgreen. But he could tell, when he thought back on it, that Faith had known allalong. Her golden palms pressed over the small swell of her abdomen. Her stepsconvinced and proud. The searching giggles in her eyes when he looked into herhazel.
The baby was born five months later into the harsh white of ahospital in Albuquerque. They named her Pepper Night after the sky that hadpoured stars over them. Faith would've raised Pepper in the tent, but he hadknown Pepper needed something "real." They flew back to New York, andmoved to Spanish Harlem. He had grown up there. There, Faith liked the smell offrying plantains and the colors, staining and bold, that the women who spoke infiery streaks wore. He thought it was wholesome. Mostly, he liked being nearColumbia.
The days were long and hot and that summer stretched like chewedbubble gum over nearly five months. Faith jammed open the complaining windowswith broken broom sticks, tall books, empty soda cans stacked, and welcomed inthe choked air of the city. He worked hard at Columbia, leaving just before sixin the morning and returning with the sloping sun at five. He carried a nubby,leather briefcase and spread snowy stacks of typed paper over the table as soonas he got home. After dinner, he studied between wide towers of textbooks. Hisdreams filled with graphs, sliced with angular lines, and diagrams outliningmuscles, fleshy and pink.
Over the next four years, he knew very little.In medical school, he bounded to the top of his class. But he couldn't rememberthe silk of Faith's hair, woven between his fingers. Or the song of the crescentsof laughter Pepper made quiver in the air. Or the humming warmth of a Saturdaywrapped in a quilt in the apartment. Sometimes he wondered what Faith and Pepperdid with their days. He always meant to ask. Sometimes at night, just before hesank into sleep, he thought of New Mexico. If he thought for long enough he couldtaste the ocher stench of the dust in his mouth and tingle with the baking sunbrowning his shoulders. He could taste Faith in every rise and fall of hisabdomen. But this wasn't New Mexico.
He never got sick, but one morning,when Pepper was nearly five, he stayed only an hour at his new office and thencame home, pangs of pain making tunnels in his head. Up the narrow stairs,creaking brittle warnings, and to the maroon door. He fumbled for his key,surprised to find it locked. He called out to Faith after he stumbled into theapartment, expecting to find her curled with Pepper behind a small, green BeatrixPotter book. But the sagging apartment walls called silent stillness back to him.He waited for what seemed like endless hours for their return. When the kitchenclock read quarter to five, he tiptoed down the stairs and out into the street,stepping into a deep stairwell next to his apartment's entrance.
At fiveminutes to five, he saw Faith and Pepper and someone else. He leaned out of thestairwell a little to see. A woman. Tall, with dark hair that cocooned her facewith dark brown slices. She was smiling and leaning, like a syrupy secret, intoFaith. Pepper, who had been running ahead, swooped around and the woman next toFaith called out to her. Pepper skipped unsteadily back, in haphazard euphoria,her head tipped back, drinking drips of sunshine, and threw herself into thecrevice between the two women.
He stops because he can tell I can't takein more. He says he has thought a lot about everything. And I believe him. And Ican see the invisible mounds of salt water that crave to escape his eyes, thatmake him want to call what has happened simply "everything." He says heunderstood everything about half of Faith. But nothing beyond. He understood thathalf because it was the half of Faith that he had inside of him. His halfstopped, where she had a whole. With Faith, everything was New Mexico. He onlyhad half of her New Mexico. After saying this he stops, suddenly quiet, as ifwhat let him unravel his coiled story has evaporated, like steam after ashower.
When I speak my words slush, hushed long and brushed low, I amserious and scooped, my middle, a white belly, beckoning peace. I have no curls,starting with what is lemon, no ruffles, no punctuation. I have no surfaceripples. My words are my skin, pasted in layers serenely masking the kaleidoscopebeneath. I tell him that everything is wrong. There was nothing in him that wasFaith.
I leave and walk two buildings down to Andressa's Hair. Andressa,with midnight curls chasing over her shoulders, with tight thighs tawny, with thescent of forgotten hyacinths in a cracked corner, snips everything, so that I amspiked an inch around my skull. She says my eyes look more open now, she callsthem "pools," and I believe her because I don't think I can close themanymore.
At home, Honey has waited. I barely have the strength to pullopen the door before I fall into everything that has whispered sugar into myears, braided hope into my once wavy hair, sewn laughter into my dreams at night.She saw my hair from the window, over the balcony, before I came in. And I knowshe had just enough time to swallow her shock in gulped urgency. She holds melike I am a red, toothless infant.
We sit across a blue tablecloth fromeach other, talking like our words are spoons stirring silky pudding. We talkabout my mother. How small and frail she looked beneath the coarse sheets of thehospital bed. How Honey sat next to Faith's bed all night holding her damp handsand whispering to her, the two nights before she died. How my father was rightwhen he said Faith was a glowing light golden, and that she was still this colorwhen she died under the harsh fluorescent lights, the whirring, white doctors andnurses, the overhead fans, winding time slowly and knowingly around theirblades.
Faith used to tell Honey stories, and today Honey tells them tome. She looks straight into my eyes and says softly that after I was born, Faithwould pull me from my crib and hold me in her lap, tracing her fingers over myeyebrows and the scooping indent of my nose, just watching me while I slept.Honey tells me that Faith made me Cream of Wheat cereal every morning, and thatwe would pretend it was snow while she fed it to me, while we listened to thefaucet drip and the cars outside scrape the pavement. And Honey says that Faithused to tell me stories. About lost rhinoceroses, black crows, skinny-leggedspiders. And Honey tells me that my first word was "sunset" and that Isaid it while Faith and I were walking home through a tunnel of street vendors,and that Faith smiled all the way back to the apartment and up the creakingstairs.
And after the stories, Honey whispers, as if it is a treasuredtale her great-grandmother told her, that she first saw Faith and me on 115thStreet, on a baking day of early June. Faith was small and spun gentle songs intothe air when she answered my springing shouts and laughter. Honey whispers evenmore softly to me that that day was the beginning of Honey's happiness.
Iabsorb these stories, trying to make each one sink into the tiny pores sprinklingmy skin.
I watch Honey and can see Faith in the light brown of her eyes. Iknow Faith is reflecting back into my own glazed irises. And when I look moreclosely into Honey's eyes, I can see my own reflection there, in a pool ofcaramel brown, beside Faith's.