Archive | May, 2014

Butterfly, Emergent

8 May


The sun is shining brightly in sharp lemon beams. Like too green an apple, the air has the covering of unripe spring. The last gasps of a winter that just won’t die flows over the streets of the Holy City, Charleston S.C. On my stroll out of the building they call “The Slave Market”, an African American boy approaches me. His four foot frame is covered in red, white, and blue polyester basketball jersey. He is so dark his eyes shine like stars as he looks up at me through long lashes.

“Would you like to buy a rose for my basketball team?” he asks me. “Four for twenty…three for fifteen? “

I don’t even think. An automatic response tumbles out like the well worn message on an answering machine.

“No,” I say “…I don’t have it.”

He places the rose woven of palm frond in my hand.

“Here, you can have it anyway.” He turns; his small body quickly disappears into the tourists on the street.

I stand for a moment.

I begin to process what just occurred. And the realization breaks over me, sending my stomach down into my knees.

Why is this child here on a school day?

Where is the chaperone that would supervise such a fundraiser?

Where are the other children with the same bundles of woven flowers and matching jerseys?

The shame from my initial judgment and naiveté surfaces as I remember a trip to Washington D.C. in January, where my companion gave a destitute man in the street money when he asked for change. I had reacted so coldly to that giving gesture.

I had turned to another friend with us and said, “That’s how they get you close and then take your wallet, you know.”

I felt so “cool” walking the street that day. As if I was the paragon of safe city navigation. And now, looking back at the person I was, I feel a deep regret.

That white blonde rose, edged in green…here on this Wednesday of Holy Week,  means more than the child knows. Later in the day, I came to learn that this is how homeless people make money in Charleston, from wealthy tourists who don’t even think about spending $800.00 for a pair of shoes they wear only when the aesthetic is right.


I took that rose home with me and placed it on my grandfather’s grave Easter Sunday morning. Gifts of the heart are worth more than the world really can measure. Placing it there with a donut and coffee seemed right in that moment. For it was Grandaddy that connected me to my first memory of darkly pigmented people. Sitting there, a memory arose in me without much prompting, all the way back to Roanoke, Virginia in 1969.

Shining plate glass windows reflect the line of bright white fiberglass hulls in the parking lot. Each angled point bows out against the next and the next and the next in this black sea of tar and asphalt. My small pink plaid tennis shoes pop against the pavement in the overwhelming heat until I tug my grandfather’s trousers and reach both sweaty arms upward. Large cushiony hands lift me to ride through the July afternoon, like the swallowtails which ride the summer swells, decorating the hot humid drifts across the tar top. As we enter the showroom, moist cool air encircles us despite the panes of cobalt blue sky through which beams of bright sun arch across the high ceiling. Grandaddy puts me down and begins to walk among the boats, talking with a man in a dark olive suit and orange tie.

Under the boat to my right, there is a shadowy space where the curve of the stern slopes up toward the black pinwheels of the outboard motor. In that space sits a dark little boy. He looks like he’s made of ginger chocolate to me. His light blue collared polyester shirt shines the light where his face holds the dark. His hair is a soft curly cushion of chocolate all around his face. I skip. I slide into the space under the boat; my hot pink psychedelic shorts revealing my knees as I slide across the cool linoleum tile floor.

     “Hi!”, I say. “Whatcha playin?”

      “I’m in the ocean!” he says. “Here, you wanna play with dis starfish?”

I take the five-pointed image from him and offer my own in return.

     “Here…take this shovel!”I say. “Let’s make a sand castle!”

      “Ok.” he says “It’s gonna be BIG!” He laughs loudly while his arms shoot upward to show me how high.

We begin to pile the grains of our imagination, scoop upon scoop into a castle.

     “Here’s the drawbridge!” he shouts.

     “Here’s the moat!” I squeal.

We giggle and squeak. My new friend begins to make the sounds of ocean waves crashing.

      “Pshooo…Pshooo.” His arms orchestrate a tiny hurricane of wind and tide..“Look!” he says, “It’s all gone….the waves done took it away.”

       “Let’s dig a hole here,” I say. “We can go to China.”

As we work together, we name all the toys we’ve carried to the beach and all the animals we’ve seen, just like the ones on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I fall in love with my new brother. For he is sweet and smiling. His skin shines with the reflections from the linoleum floor. And his color reminds me of the icing on my Krispy Kreme chocolate covered donut Grandaddy buys me every Saturday morning, the palms of his hand the color of the coffee in Grandaddy’s cup. He is my chocolate boy.

 Our beach is a fine beach. One of dunes and waves, stars and fish. Our China is a wild place full of animals and sand. All the colors of a deep ocean  in my eyes. All the dark depths of the land in his.
Suddenly, I see two toned cordovan and cream shoes on my side of the boat, and two pairs of Bass Wejuns on two sets of chocolate legs, one set smooth, one set rough on my brother’s side.

I hear granddaddy call, “Come on Cyndi, Granny’s got supper waiting on us. Let’s go!”

My brother and I freeze.
Our eyes meet.
We don’t want to leave each other.
We don’t want to leave the shore of this new world.

I grab his wrist and we scramble out from under the boat to look up at my giant grandfather, his hands on his hips, his legs like long trunks of palm, his eyes a steely blue through horn spectacles.
Suddenly, I want my new brother to come home with me. To eat macaroni and cheese at Granny’s table, while white curtains with the little bobs of cotton hanging off the trim dance in the hot summer breeze. Then, I want us to play in the backyard, catching lighting bugs in jars, until the green yellow glow is only a pin point in his dark eye. We’ll race from the backyard to the porch while dogs bark and howl from the alley and echo down the block. In our bed of muslin sheets, I want to whisper stories about pirates and flying and sea journeys on a creaking ship where the crocodile ticks and the fairies laugh like tiny bells. I don’t want my ginger chocolate brother to go. His skin calls to me like some lost color in a butterflies’ wings I have never worn.
So, I’ll ask.

Doesn’t Granddaddy buy me what I want?
Doesn’t he provide all the most delightful things?
Isn’t he the source from whom all blessings flow?
“Grandaddy…” I plaintively call. “Will you buy me a chocolate brother?”

His eyes glance upward to the two dark faces directly behind my new brother and I. Grandaddy’s face pales, but the corners of his mouth turn a funny way up.

      “No. We need to go now shuga… you can’t. . .” he hesitates,  looking over our heads, “buy a brother. Turn him a loose.”

I let go of my chocolate brother’s wrist as my butterfly body is lifted skyward to perch on Grandaddy’s arm. And as we move toward the door, I turn back to see my brother and his people round the bright white hull of the boat above our castle the waves washed away. Their feet dragging gray blue shadows toward the opposite door.

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