STAR CRUISER

My father is an astronaut, a moonwalker, a star cruiser. Prose and I are the daughters of a rocket-riding explorer. When we were young he left on a top secret mission. He said, “I’ll be back. Don’t wait up. I’m off to save the world.” Grace swears he didn’t say the last part, but she just didn’t hear him. He only said those words to me. When he left I felt a knot the size of a watermelon swell inside my stomach.

While away he missed many memory makers. Birthdays, funerals, the Prose goes to preschool party, my first dance recital, our move from the apartment on 3rd Ave to the bungalows on 10th, and the 2nd Ave School Father-Daughter Dance.

My uncle escorted me to the dance, which would have been fine if not for the fact that he’s only eleven years older than me and opted for a tuxedo shirt with a bow tie and vest painted on the front instead of spending money to rent a suit.

My granny taught me how to hit a softball. She did a pretty good job, but at my first game, when the pitcher struck me out, she ran out on the field, cursed and kicked the umpire and then dragged me out of the batter’s box. It could have been a clean getaway if not for the fact that her bright yellow sun hat became wedged in the doorframe of her Chrysler LeBaron. Turning her head from side to side she crushed the brim of her bonnet as the city view from the baseball diamond orbited around her.

While my father, the astronaut, moonwalker, star cruiser, rocket-riding explorer, was off saving the world, he missed the Prose goes to first grade party, cousin J.C.’s release from juvie, cousin James’ first-place win in the science fair, and the emergence of two uninvited guests.

I woke up one day and they were just there. No training bra, no warning sign, just two imposing mounds. I went from sliding head first into home plate and double dutching in double time, to side-sleeping, shoulder-strapping, eye-turning boobs. They were the topic of discussion wherever I went. “What happened?” asked Prose. “Daaaannng!” chimed Derrick, Jamal, and the 2nd Ave crew. And most irritating was Grace’s: “I’m so proud of you.” She said this as if I had purposely set out to produce these oversized objects.

And now at school Jeanine and Janet are upset because I got ’em first, the boys are cruel because they’ll never have ’em, and Mrs. Jensen no longer calls on me, even when I raise my hand, which I’m convinced is due to the fact that mine are bigger than hers.

For weeks after my two guests moved in I went to school, came home, did chores, slept on my side, and started my day all over again. In class I focused on becoming invisible. I willed my existence into the shape of a bird that could fly out the window, out the invisible gates around 2nd Ave, and out of this neighborhood. The brainpower it took to become a bird in flight clouded my hearing, making it impossible for me to recognize the repeated “Miss Hunter. Miss Zora Hunter!” hurling from Mrs. Jensen’s lips. When I opened my eyes everyone was looking at me. Even Jeanine and Janet had set their eyes in my direction.

“Are we interrupting you, Miss Hunter?”

“No, Mrs. Jensen.”

“Are you ready to tell us who you will be bringing to Career Day?”

Career Day. The day when students pretend to care and parents pretend they actually like what they do to pay the light bill.

“Um, for Career Day, I’m going to bring my…father.”

“Okay then. It looks like everyone is scheduled.”

My father. Even I don’t know why I said that. Grace would never be able to get the time off. My uncle fixes cars with a guy named Titus whose claim to fame is putting five Burger King Whoppers in his mouth at one time. My brain was drained from being a bird. I skipped breakfast that day. My breasts were expanding by the hour. All these things helped in the creation of one impossible task: bringing my father to Career Day.

When the Friday of Career Day finally arrived I knew I had to come up with something. That morning I packed up James’ junior scientist mail-order telescope and his poster-size map of the constellations. I would explain to the class, without divulging too much information, the complicated demands of my father’s career.

Once in class, I positioned the telescope on its fold-out legs and held the map in front of me.

“My father sends his deepest regrets for not being able to make it to Career Day. He’s an astronaut, so as you can see it would be very difficult for him to make it here from outer space. I thought he might get a special leave but he’s working on a top secret mission.” I directed that statement at Mrs. Jensen. “When it’s all over I’m sure he won’t mind coming in and showing everyone his space stuff.”

I finished my speech and was very proud until the entire class broke into laughter. Their voices chimed together, fading and growing interchangeably like the school tower bell. The giggles, high and low, competed with the deep, throaty whispers of parents quieting their kids. I even thought I heard Mrs. Jensen laugh but I couldn’t bear to lower the map I now used to hide my tears in order to look in her direction. I bit down on my lower lip to stop it from quivering and the louder the laughter, the harder my teeth sunk into my flesh. It was not until I could taste the salt from my tears mix with the warm blood in my mouth that I set my unfortunate lip free. She motioned me back to my chair and the frown on her face accompanied by my name on the board let me know that I was in trouble.

When the bell rang, Maxine Coleman walked over and said, “My daddy says your daddy is a moonwalker alright. He moonwalked like MJ right out the back door.” With that she rolled her eyes and ran to catch up with her father. I attempted to follow her but Mrs. Jensen cleared her throat in that don’t-you-dare-move type of way. I slumped down deep into my chair.

“Miss Hunter, I admire your creativity but lying is unacceptable.”

“But—”

“No buts. I will have to make a call to your mother.”

I wanted to say, well that’s why mine are bigger than yours. I even opened my mouth to let the words come out. All that exited was, “Can I go now?”

“You’re dismissed.”

As I walked out of the room I thought I heard her laugh again. My sadness was a huge hand scooping me up and tossing me down the hallway. I was no more than an insignificant pebble skipping across the lake-blue lockers and landing on the school steps. From there I ran. I ran through the alley and around Pete’s liquor store. I ran by “To Go’s” pizza and on 4th Ave I ran into Jeanine and Janet. To let me know they were no longer mad they began to run too. We took all the shortcuts our parents told us not to take. We cut through Mrs. Jackson’s backyard and hopped the fence behind the abandoned warehouse. We sprinted across the parking lot of First Zion Baptist church and darted across Market Street with its broken traffic signal, dodging oncoming traffic, leaving the crossing guard chasing behind us. We raced all the way to my block and then we stopped. We knew this would be my last stretch of freedom before punishment set in. By this time the warm air had dried my tears only to make way for fresh ones. Jeanine and Janet reached under their tops and handed me the tissue boobs they had been wearing for the last two weeks.

James was waiting for us when we made it to the house.

“Ain’t no use crying now. Your mom got the call and is on her way home from work. I’m ‘spose to tell you not to go anywhere. An astronaut, a freakin’ astronaut. I always knew you were a space case.”

The sky turned purple and then black before Grace made it home. I spent the time in between watching the headlights of passing cars hit my wall and then slide onto the ceiling. I waited for the one that would shine directly into my window to let me know the Toyota had pulled in the driveway. When the waiting dragged endlessly I closed my eyes as tight as I could and then opened them slowly, allowing the colored circles that appeared in the air to bounce off of each other and melt back into blackness. Eventually, I just listened to the ticking of the mahogany clock on the hall wall. I must have dozed off because I never saw the headlights or heard the key in the door. It wasn’t until she flipped on the light switch that I realized Grace, and my pending fate, were home.

I jumped out of bed, closed my eyes once more, and dropped my pants. I even flinched twice before I realized I wasn’t getting hit.

“Lying is wrong. I’ve raised you to be an honest person. You must never lie. Even when the truth hurts so much that the lie becomes the only way to lessen the pain, you still mustn’t lie.”

She yanked up my pants and turned me around to face her. Tears pooled in her eyes. She rubbed the sides of her forehead as if trying to massage away her thoughts. We remained in silence interrupted only by the theme to Star Wars hummed by James as he walked by my room.

It was one year, nine months, and seventeen days before we saw our father again. He missed the Prose goes to the dentist party, James’ graduation from middle school, and the emergence of Jeanine and Janet’s four long-awaited guests.

He stayed for a week this time. He had a room at the Ramada near school and every day he stood waiting for me on the same steps where I used to wait for him. He tried going by the house to see Prose but every time he came she dove under the dining room table. On the last day he greeted me with a teddy bear and two giant pixie sticks. Two things I loved when I was nine. The gifts let me know that he was leaving again. It hurt less this time. Only a small knot the size of an acorn rested in my stomach. The taxi pulled up and waited impatiently. My father kissed me on the forehead, twice. Once for me and once for Prose. He had gained weight since the last time and his poked-out belly pressed painfully against my chest. The cab driver got out and opened the passenger door. My father walked backwards, almost moonwalking, his eyes fixed on me until he bumped into the rear of the cab. As they drove off, I read the bumper sticker on the back: “Hollywood, a place for the stars.” This was to be my father’s final landing.

The Secret Life of Laura Townsend

 

"The Secret Life of Laura Townsend" featured in the On the Brink anthology can be downloaded in e-book form to your Kindles, I-Pads etc.

 Recently I changed my cell phone number. It was kind of like spring cleaning but instead of tackling the unopened mail, overstocked goodwill pile and let’s face it you will never fit into those 1995 jeans again portion of my closet, I opted to hold my breath, fold myself into my 501 levis, and call AT&T to change my cell phone number instead.

            The overly upbeat customer service rep named Wendy, told me there was a thirty-dollar fee and asked whether I was sure that I wanted to go forth with the change. Like the satirical MasterCard commercials that end with “priceless” as the tagline, I took a moment, counted up the cost and decided:

            “A new cell phone number = thirty dollars.

            Having to update certain people with my new number = pain in the ass!

            Being able to fend off unwanted calls from the Ghosts of Lovers Past =      PRICELESS!”

            “So mam, would you like to go forward with making this change because if so, the old number gets cancelled immediately?”

            “Sounds to me like we’re wasting precious time even talking about this, Wendy. Push the button.”

            I don’t know that there is such a button, but in my mind there should be. I would like an “are you kidding me?” button for the amount of taxes taken out of my paycheck each month. Then I would like a “for the record” button that I could push every time a man hits on me with the derivative “hey you” opener as if that’s the romantic line of my dreams. The button factory should also create a “you weren’t kidnapped it’s called marriage” button for those select spouses who seem to wake up confused one morning and leave by night never to return. In the absence of these buttons, Wendy should at least have a button that can turn area codes into antiquity.

            After her version of a brief hold time, the duration of three advertisements and a jazz ensemble likened to music played at the dentist office, Wendy returned to reveal that my old number was a thing of the past. She then gave me a unique opportunity that I haven’t had since I was twelve. I was able to choose the city I wanted my new number to be affiliated with. Memories of the childhood game MASH came flooding back. Mash stands for Mansion, Apartment, Shack and House and in addition to your places of residence, the names of four boys you would like to marry, four careers you'd like to have, and four cars you'd like to own are also listed with childlike anticipation. While you look away, your BFF begins to draw a spiral line until you give her the go ahead to stop. Starting from the top of the spiral she counts the amount of lines that have been drawn. From there your fate is sealed. Where you will live, what you will drive, how you will make a living and who you will live happily every after with, all determined by pen markings in a hello kitty journal.

            There was no time to do Mash. Wendy gave a polite cough yanking me from my reverie and I quickly reflected on the various cities in the greater Los Angeles area. From the coastal 405 drag between Long Beach and LAX, to the 10 freeway stretch spanning the Downtown LA skyline and the Santa Monica pier, my new number has the destined chance to dwell where only I can dream. 1990 flashbacks of Pretty Woman and the teenage angst of Beverly Hills’ Dylan and Brenda made choosing my new number a no brainer.        

            “Push the Rodeo Drive Button, Wendy.”

            “I’m not sure I follow.”

            “I want a 310 in 90210.”

            “Well I have a number near Beverly Hills in 90211.”

            Cleary Wendy was manipulating the spiral lines in my game of Mash.

            “Okay Wendy, good enough. Beverly Hills adjacent.”         

            For weeks I took pleasure in the silence of my phone. Only a select few people had the number. Some family members were convinced I simply ran into a financial hiccup. Oops she forgot to pay the phone bill, they presumed. One aunt even sent me twenty dollars. By way of my windfall of money I visited Jamba Juice four times and it was on the third visit my phone rang from an undisclosed number. 

            With my old number, private calls were dangerously taboo. From college loan creditors to last Friday’s failure of a date, answering the phone could be equated to the Vegas odds of 3 to 2. There were three chances it would be someone I didn’t mind talking to, but two not worth the risk chances that it would be someone I’d regret. It took me a while to remember this was my Beverly Hills adjacent phone and on the last ring I nonchalantly picked it up.

            “Hello.”

            “Is Laura Townsend available?”

            “This is she.”

            My reply just slipped out and before I knew it I was being invited to a fundraiser for animal rights.

            “Yes, sound goods. Thanks. Got it.”

            I pretended to jot down the information and pledged 700 dollars toward this noteworthy cause. While sipping my Jamba Juice in blue jeans and animal slain leather boots, in a matter of minutes the secret life of Laura Townsend was born.

            The interesting thing about cell phone companies is that they recycle old numbers but charge you for a new one. As you pay to erase your past life, you’re given someone else’s unwanted identity. Cellular provider’s claim this industry known practice is due to the fact that there simply aren’t enough new numbers to go around. Corporatist conspiracy theories aside, I actual believe them. On a daily basis someone, somewhere is longing for a fresh start. The cliché of a clean slate is synonymous with a clean call log. The theme song of  “Cheers” loses its fervor and eventually the last place you want to be is “where everybody knows your name.”

            The enchantment, however, of someone else’s name is an entirely different discussion. Like a modern remake of the Prince and the Pauper, Laura Townsend gives a new wardrobe to my static like a mannequin life.  My friend’s say I am in a rut. My parents worry they will be grandchild less forever. I simply hope for something to feel excited about again. That Christmas Eve sensation a new love, a big project or a long awaited vacation can provide has departed almost permanently. My remedy: abscond this life and get another.

            With each ring of the phone I hope to get more clues into Laura’s charmed world.  Custom made furniture awaits her pick up. A personal shopper has located “the dress.” What dress? These were the phone calls I missed. Very few personal calls come in for Laura. Clearly she gave the important family and friends her “new life” number. Instead, rings of repeated requests for her contribution, her attendance, her stamp of approval flood my phone.  There are far more calls for Laura than there are for me. I’m equally excited the dress has been found. According to the consultant, it took a week’s worth of day trips to find it. I share the news with a passerby as we bump grocery carts in an overcrowded canned food aisle. 

            “I am sooooo sorry. I was distracted because I just got the best news.”

            “Oh, no problem.”

            The harried shopper doesn’t ask for details but I give them to her anyway. “My personal shopper just found “the dress” we’ve been looking for.”

            She replies with a halfhearted congrats, but I am not deterred. Daydreams of red carpet galas where “the dress” is featured in the “who wore it best “ section of the style magazine consume my thoughts.

            Being Laura starts to feel more intriguing than being me. The question that lingers is what made her change her number? For me it was classic boy meets girl, girl likes boy, boy likes girl too, but boy has an attention deficit style to his dating. Focusing on one woman for too long could be impossible without medical intervention; a lobotomy may be in order and worse off when caught in an ADD outbreak with a coworker, mine not his, the barrage of apologetic phone calls begin. He calls, she calls, and periodic reprimands from my student loan corporation ignite violent images of me pummeling faces with the backside of my phone. The less hostile and more law-abiding approach was to change my number.

            On the surface of ones Smartphone Laura seems to have an idyllic life. For her birthday a slew of unsuspecting admirers, who clearly didn’t make the cut, text their gushing adoration. I ignore most of them applying my WWLD (“What Would Laura Do?”) philosophy but one particular text from a 212 area code commands my attention. Closing with nothing more than the letter “J” the texts reads like a trivia question that only Laura, or in this case the daughter of a soul music aficionado, can decipher.    

            If Otis Redding were to ask you to try something, what would it be? Similar to the first phone call, now two theatrical months ago, I instinctually reply with, a little tenderness.”

            Like rapid-fire ammunition we exchange a few more rounds of our song lyric jeopardy. Then, as abruptly as our match began, he puts an end to our chat with a revealing “I’m sorry.”

            Sorry for what, I wondered. What did you do to me? To Laura? Are you the cause for my hand-me-down number? Yet, who am I to grant absolution?

            Silence seemed to be the only proper retort, but proper also went out of style the day alter ego’s emerged and a new cell phone number became a temporary escape from my reality. My potential reply to “J” consumed me. The fluttery tickle in my stomach and the obstructed air in my chest felt like an 8th grade dance where the boys were too scared to take lead and the girls were affixed to the ground by the stickiness of their jelly shoes.  Dreams of dirty dancing and, “nobody puts baby in the corner,” would give some girls dramatic courage. Today I would be that girl.

            I picked up the phone to text “J” my take on his sorry; a homily on heartbreak texted for all women worldwide. Despite my attempts at enacting justice, another 80’s movie emerged to life. In the spirit of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure some, "strange things are afoot at the Circle K." No sooner than I scrolled through my text history did the phone begin ringing in my hand.

            “Hello.”

            “Laura?” Laura is that you?”

            This tone doesn’t reflect the esteem and concern others seem to hold of my, well of Laura’s, social stature. This woman is pissed.

            “Laura, I know it’s you and what’s worse is that you can’t even be woman enough to keep our agreement. It was simple. No communication with Julian. No more communication with anyone. We did it. Job well done. I have the life. I can take it from here. Did you think I wouldn’t see your texts? I live with him. I have too much to lose. You can have your choice of all the others. You can stew in your silence all you want, but don’t push me.”

            My stunned and wide opened mouth swallowed the click of the phone as the female adversary hung up on me. What others did she mean?  There is “J,” now revealed as Julian, this angry other woman, my mixed up game of MASH and me.  

            Over the next few weeks Julian would text me his apologies and appeals to talk. I ignored his texts as the warnings of Laura’s nemesis repeated in my head. Eventually my own indignant personality crept in. Who is she to tell me whom I can and cannot talk to? “Don’t push me,” she cautions. Clearly she is unaware that buttons and pushing them, albeit through an AT&T customer service rep, is how we got to this moment of “truth.”  Julian’s most recent text, however, provided extra filling for our multi-layered cake.

            “I was the one lied to, yet I am the one saying sorry. I thought it was you I was getting all along. Every conversation, every email, everything but the picture was you.  I fell in love with your heart but it was she who stepped off the train. She is not you, but she and I make the most sense. All of us are partly to blame.”

            That was my opening. A profession of mutual responsibility. I texted to the 212 phone number associated with Laura’s femme foe: “All of us are partly to blame.”

            This coast to coast three-way became the focus of my day. Checking my phone in between work duties and my dwindling real life associations ranked highest in my mental “to do” list. There was something curative about righting the wrongs of these strangers as if that would nurse back to health my own ailing heart.

            My blame casting had little effect because it took four days for her to give me the decency of a one-line response:

            “U pretended to be me, I pretended to be u and he chose between the two.”

            I couldn’t contain myself. My texts triggered like tickertape:

            “But it’s me that he truly loves.”

            “And it’s me that he’s seeing. I’ve tried to be nice. I’ve refrained from doing the one thing u know u don’t want me to do. I have our old college pictures. None showing you in a flattering way. The neck up shot you gave me no choice but to show Julian last go round, is nothing compared to these.

            “I am more than the body I live in.”

            “Well I am glad to see the positive self affirmation is working. You hardly sound like the Laura I knew in college. What’s confusing though is why we are even communicating at all. We had a deal and agreed to work our deal until your debt was paid off and my life was secured. We’re even.”

            “And you’re a fraud of the worse kind. A con artist in matters of the heart.”

            “Don’t you mean “artists” as in plural? WE were a unique pair. Randomly assigned roommates known as the two Laura’s. Mine spelled Lara without the “u” yet when we were combined we were an unstoppable duo. Me, the tits and ass with commentary falling on dead ears and one-track minds. You, The fat girl with the pretty face. The black girl pretending to be blond and blue eyed. You, the scholarship recipient churning out well-written words, but I always the face people want to see saying those words. It was my image on Julian’s on-line dating profile, and besides, you had no problem cashing your monthly payments. All’s fair—you know the rest.”

            This notion that the rules of fair play don’t apply in love or in war explain the dismembered hearts strewn about city streets. Laura, pretending to be Lara who lives with Julian who is apologizing to me because I wanted to elude the past voices on the other end of a cellular tower, all combine to form a mirror of broken glass. Superstition suggests it’s bad luck to break a mirror. Supposedly, the mirror has the power to confiscate part of the users soul. Can a soul be as fragile as shards of glass?

            When I am on my cell phone I am hanging from an imaginary net in the sky. The net strings of radio waves connect me to other cells and I pass from cell to cell to cell until I reach the person I am actually trying to call. I pick up the phone to text back Lara without a “u”, but it dawns on me that I have nothing left to say. All’s not fair but for the first time, in quite sometime, all is clear. The mirrored reflection on my I-Phone shows my pug nose, curt lips, deep-set eyes and brown skin. Closing my eyes I pray for the confiscated souls of both La(u)ra’s, Julian’s and mine. When I changed my number passing from cell to cell to cell I was trying to change me, but in the secret life of Laura Townsend I found Tameka Moore. In Hebrew Tameka means twin, but I am one of a kind. No more double sided mirrors for my soul. A bright light shines directly on my surface and the opening behind the glass is brilliantly revealed. 

Pigtails and Pressing Combs

Image comes from Bell Hooks Classic Children's Book Happy To Be Nappy

Image comes from Bell Hooks Classic Children's Book Happy To Be Nappy

Los Angeles 1987

As a small child, I used to wear my hair in three pigtails.  Grace would usually part two in the back and leave one on the top of my head, which she brushed to either the left or the right side.  She would snap plastic barrettes on the end of each braid, coordinating the colors to match my outfit for that day.  When wearing barrettes, one has to be very cautious.  I learned this critical rule firsthand.  If you fling your head around too fast, or get caught in an unexpected gust of wind, barrettes can assault your cheeks, or even worse your eyes, in a flurry of piercing plastic.  At recess, if I leaned against the tetherball pole or glided high in the air on the sandbox swings, my barrettes would cast huge shadows on the ground.  Shadows that resembled airplanes or birds in flight, soaring around my head like I was a watchtower or light pole.

            Last year, my braided wings flew in for their final landing.  I no longer wore pigtails and had no use for barrettes. On my tenth birthday, I was initiated into a woman’s club that embraced the rituals of leg crossing, nail polishing, and hair pressing.  It was a club I did not want to join but would be challenged to remain in for the rest of my life. It was a club that would leave squirming in the salon chair, longing for the days of pigtails instead of pressing combs.

            On the morning of the big day, I became overwhelmed with fear.  I had heard horror stories about the beauty shop, from cousins and neighborhood kids.  They told tales of the awful stench of konkoline and hair grease sizzling.  They warned of the ensnaring fog from the warming stove that hovered over you no matter where you sat.  And then there was the dryer that set fire to the back of your neck, making your eyes water from the smoldering air or the plastic cape that Velcroed firmly around your throat, rubbing up and down and up again every time you swallowed.  Their warnings rang like church bells, chiming loudly and echoing omens in my ear.  And so, on my birthday, in the late afternoon, I climbed up onto two phone books stacked waveringly in the revolving chair of the salon and prepared for my fate.

            Tear-stained and terrified, I was instructed to hold down my ear with my tiny fingers, such inadequate shields against the scorching teeth of the pressing comb.  Smoke from the hot iron fused with Miss Faye’s cigarettes, creating a thick asphyxiating cloud around my face and head.  The teardrops, already collected in the corners of my eyes, soon began to roll uncontrollably down my cheeks.  As the smoke filtered through my nose and mouth, I began to cough, which caused my body to thrust violently forward.  Miss Faye yanked my head back into place with a swift jerk of my ponytail.  “Look, chile, either sit still or get burned, understand?”  I nodded.  She rolled her eyes and yanked my ponytail into place again.  As the smoke intensified, it spread like a blanket across the diamond shaped mirror.  It continued to rise, but eventually divided when the pale pink ceiling blocked its mounting ascent.  Sometimes the smoke would billow above my head like a halo, or tiara.  I wondered what the smoke looked like above Miss Faye’s head, but was too scared to move my neck around and look.  With a swift flick of her thumb, she let the ashes of her cigarette fall into an empty Styrofoam cup.  At times, she would miss the cup and hit the rim or edge of the mint green counter.  The dying ash would glisten, spark, and then disappear into grayish piles of powder.

            Geraldo’s voice on TV and the futile clank of the air conditioner mixed vigorously with the booming voices of women, large and loud.  Each noise seemed in competition with the other, but eventually the women won, with conversations, high-pitched, informal, and profane, all offenses I was continually warned against.

            Miss Faye finished my “kitchen” and rashly worked her way around to my front edges.  The heat from the pressing comb caused beads of sweat to form at my temples.  With each stroke, I closed my eyes, held my breath and counted the seconds before the comb would reach the ends of my hair.  One, two, three, four, breathe, one, two, three, four, breathe.  Miss Faye muttered something under her breath, her cigarette cocked firmly in the corner of her mouth, “Damn, chile, you got a lot of hair.”  This time, she spoke loud enough for me to hear and made direct eye contact in the mirror.

            The sun began to set, casting an orange glow throughout the entire shop.  It danced between the liquor store, Laundromat and the check-cashing place.  Like hide and seek, it played behind a passing truck and then peeked out over the stoplight.  The sun revealed the true appearance of the black metal bars that covered the windows and doors.  Rusted and chipped from overuse, they were less intimidating than they appeared in the daylight.  The approaching night let me know that Grace would be coming to save me soon.  Minutes later, the metal door squeaked.  I stretched my eyes as far left as they could go but still could not make out the figure in the doorway.  I slightly turned my neck, keeping as much tension as possible in my head.  The hot comb barely nipped the corner of my ear, but filled my entire face with a tingling, burning sensation.  I flinched and flung my head to the side.  I lifted my hand to touch my ear, but Miss Faye slapped it down.  She blew hot breath and lumped a swab of grease from a brown jar on and around my burn.  After handing me a tissue to wipe my eyes, she said, “I told you not to move.”