Hi there readers–
yes, my finished but unpublished novel “Black Rainbow” has long lain in a file folder. Falling in between publishing categories, I just gave up on it, while still liking it. Here is Chapter 1. Tell me what you think and maybe I’ll post more.
I had two mothers. Or maybe I had three. There was my real mother who died when I was born. And then there was the woman who claimed to be my mother, my stepmother Grace. Behind them, like a shadowy third, was the crazy lady, the one who had wanted to be my mother most of all. She was both murderer and midwife, my mother’s killer and the one who brought me into the world. Hers were the first pair of human eyes I ever saw.
Until the autumn I was fifteen, I thought I was like everyone else. I had one mother; and if I was unhappy I did not go looking for the cause. At least I did not think about it until I met Monique. That autumn it rained and it did not stop. Red maple leaves in the shapes of stars fell and clogged the gutters of my father’s house. The kitchen ceiling leaked and peeled. My father stood on the roof with a broom, cursing the expense of rain. The sky was dark at night, not its usual pink, lit up by refineries and the city of Manhattan shining to the east. Someone at school claimed that her brother had seen a huge albino catfish walking on its own feet in the Jersey wetlands, and I believed it.
Although I was a sophomore, it was my first year at the private girls’ school on the hill. Grace, my stepmother, taught music there, and I had free tuition. My younger brothers were still in public school; besides, they were boys and would never have to wear the stiff button down uniform shirts and the itchy plaid wool skirt. It was for me to take advantage of a free private school education. I said I would miss my friends. But Grave glared at me as she wound her dark hair up into a music teacher’s bun. Her mouth was harsh in its lipstick. So I went.
During the first few weeks no one paid much attention to me. My Latin was bad, my French passable, I could spike in volleyball. There were a few other Armenian girls, some busty fair Greeks, two black girls, and a clique of the
smart mean Jews. But most of the girls were prim and Protestant, with ironed looking hair and penny loafers. I was almost invisible. If anyone thought of me they thought “public school” and nothing more. I wore dangling earrings in the shape of daisies and no proctor stopped me in the hall to demand that I remove them. No one noticed me at all, not until Monique.
The first time I saw Monique she was threatening to jump off the ledge of the second floor girls’ lavatory and to stab herself with a large blunt scissors. Monique had decided to commit suicide during mid-morning recess. Her clique stood cowed at one end of the bathroom, chewing on Sugar Babies and Mars Bars which were sold by the school’s service organization. Presumably our cavities went to help the needy. I came into the bathroom not to smoke or to worry my lank hair but to pee. But when I crossed towards the stalls Monique announced: “Come any closer and I’ll jump.”
“She means it,” someone hissed from behind me. It was a pale-faced stunted girl with large brown freckles who kept her position as head of the class by having no opinions of her own.
“She won’t jump,” I said causally, not moving an inch.
“Oh yes I will,” said Monique. Her large greeen-blue eyes locked with mine. The illegal mascara was slightly smudged. It was black anyway, a poor choice for a blonde. Monique’s eyebrows, honestly darker than her hair, looked like the marks over a French word: Bete, Paris.
“Why?” I said.
“This world,” said Monique, facing her audience and temporarily forgetting the scissors. “Who can live in it? Babies getting napalmed, people living in slums full of rats…”
“She got grounded,” murmured one of the clique, the hipper black girl in the class who wore a pearl in her pierced nose. No one had the nerve to tell her to take it out, because the dress code did not specifically ban nose rings.
“So jump,” I said.
The recess bell rang and the clique shuddered. Then they gently streamed into the hall, leaving me alone with Monique. The bathroom smelled of perfumed deodorant, old lipstick, borax soap, blood, and smoke.
“Just jump,” I said
I wanted to see it. Rain streaked the window gray behind her. The rain had a smell of its own: soot, pigeon feathers, metallic subways. I leaned on the sink and lit up a gold-tipped Balkan-Sobranie. I caught a glimpse of myself looking greenish in the mirror–a small dark-haired girl, flat chested, zit on my chin, and an Armenian nose.
“Jump,” I said again, exhaling smoke that smelled, I hoped, of camel dung and cloves. The bathroom wa quiet; the only sound was the rain.
Monique’s hair filed the window like a halo.
“What are you smoking?” she asked. She was facing me completely now, legs hanging over the inside sill, scissors forgotten beside her. The window behind her was closed; it had been locked the whole time.
“Sobranies,” I said. “Want one?”
“I like the pastel ones.”
“Black,” I showed her.
“Come over here,” she said.
I hear you’re not afraid of much,” she said, swinging her legs in their green knee socks.
“I hear that when the whole Latin class figured out a way to cheat you were the only one who wouldn’t go along with it. Is that true?”
“It was a stupid idea.”
“Each person was supposed to translate just a little bit of the assignment and then volunteer to read it in a special order. That way no one would have to do the whole homework every night. We’re doing Caesar, it’s pretty boring, there’s a lot of equipment in it. The only funny part was when he wrote about the elks that don’t have joints and who have to lean against the trees to sleep at night.”
“What happened in class?”
“We got caught. More homework too.”
“But you didn’t cheat?”
“I don’t cheat,” I said.
“I’m in the advanced class,” said Monique, “We’re doing Cicero.”
“Well groovy for you.”
“You’re not very good in Latin,” she said.
“You’re new here,” said Monique, “But you could get in with me, my crowd, I mean. Everyone likes you, they think you’re mysterious.”
“You have something…a quality.”
“My mother’s dead,” I said.
“Your mother? But isn’t the music teacher your mother? Mrs…”
“She’s my stepmother. My father married her when I was just a baby. My mother was killed, my real mother.”
“Killed?” Monique’s toes almost touched the floor.
“She was killed just before I was born. It was all they could do to save me.”
“But how was she killed? Who killed her? Why?”
“I guess she was mugged or something…”
“Mugged? Come on.”
“I don’t, I don’t really know…I never really asked…”
“I don’t believe you,” said Monique. “You’re not really an orphan, you’re making it up.”
“ I am not, it is…”
“Give me a cigarette,” said Monique.
“Just a sec.” I put my hand in my purple suede purse, looking for more matches. I hit a Swiss army knife, a Tampax with the wrapping coming off, a white slicker lipstick, chewed gum wadded up in silver foil, and a thumbtack. I lit another gold-tipped Balkan-Sobranie and handed it to Monique. She shook her mane of golden hair once, twice, and then slipped off the sill. Her fingers trembled just a little as she inhaled.
“Want a shotgun?” she asked.
“I’ll show you.” She sucked in smoke and brought her face close to mine. Then our lips touched gently, my mouth opened to her, and she blew coarse smoke hot into my lungs. I almost choked, but our lips kept touching. Monique’s lips were warm and slightly chapped; they smelled oddly of bubble gum or carnations.
Then, as rapidly as she’d approached me, Monique turned and blew a smoke ring into the heavy air.
“It’s time for geometry class,” she announced. “Mr. Love,” she giggled, and imitating his Scottish accent intoned:” ‘Gerls, gerls, I’m going to inject ye with a gramophone needle.’ I always sit in front,” she babbled, “that way it looks like I’m paying attention. Last year I raised my grade from a B+ to an A- just by doing that. Come and sit with me, why don’t you.”
“In a minute,” I said. I still had to pee really badly. But Monique and I were friends now. We had already done something we weren’t going to talk about.