Saturday, March 12, 2016

Shokoe Slip

My brother was getting married to a girl who lived in Richmond, Virginia. He had dated her when we lived together for a year in upstate New York. We would drive down to Richmond and back on a single weekend for him to see her. She had a friend and her name was Theresa. When I left New York my family didn't want me to date her. I was excited to finally see her again at my brother's wedding. I flew to Richmond and refused to have my family pick me up and told them I was having Theresa pick me up, instead. We hugged, packed my bag into her car outside, and then went to Subway to get a sandwich.

Later, at her house, she placed her head in my lap and I stroked her hair. Her younger cousin sitting across the room turned around and told us how cute we looked together. Theresa sat up and left the room. That night, we went and ate dinner in downtown Richmond with her family. It was a small soul-food diner and it was open all hours. Theresa and I sat across from each other and didn't speak. We finished eating before the others and decided to go for a walk while the rest of her family stayed and talked over coffee. We strolled around Shokoe Slip, where the James River is confined down to a small, brick-lined canal surrounded by historic buildings. The water barely moves there, its surface glistening black and still, absorbing all light. She asked me if what we were doing made any sense. I answered her by asking vague leading questions because I desperately wanted her to tell me she loved me again. Instead, she told me stories about the slaves who worked at the tobacco factories a hundred and fifty years ago.

We said goodbye at the airplane boarding ramp. She told me we couldn't do it anymore. I walked down the ramp and looked back at the square of light where she stood. I fell asleep on the plane and dreamed that a little girl had been brutally murdered and I was the only one who cared enough to follow her blood trail to try to find her. It led me down to the James River canal. I looked into the black water and saw the pale bloated bodies of dead Civil War conspirators floating and drifting deeper down, their faces twisted and frozen in despair. I turned around and saw a large wooden door in the concrete river bank. I opened it and descended a wrought-iron spiral staircase which ended a hundred feet down. At the bottom there was a heap of bloody clothes. A path was tunneled into the bedrock and I followed it down until I heard a deep drumming and saw a red glowing light coming up from below.

When I got back to my apartment in Florida I played through the phone messages. My boss wanted to know if I was coming back to work, the landlord missed my rent payment, my mother wanted to talk to me about my brother's concerns that I was no longer giving talks at church. The kitchen sink was still full of dirty dishes from three weeks ago, dead flies stuck on the window behind the blinds. I crawled into bed with my clothes on. As I lay perfectly still, staring up at the slowly rotating ceiling fan, that familiar tickle of blood in the back of my throat came on. I let it run from deep inside my head down my throat without getting up and going to the bathroom like I normally would. It created a long fibrous string down into my stomach, swelling and coagulating inside my throat. It became harder to breathe as I lay still, trying to suppress the urge to vomit. I heard the front door open and close, and Jesse's easy laughter filled the living room. He had brought a friend, and they wondered if I had returned from my trip so we could all go out to eat. He knocked on my bedroom door and asked if I was there.