Patti Abbott has another pretty amazing challenge.
Corey knew the heart was a delicate organ: her father’s burst while putting on his boots, and her mother’s was buried with her father.
Chubs swung his fat arms, cracked his neck, let out a loud, “C’mon baby,” as if throwing dice.
He snatched up the rolled up bill and made the fat white line disappear.
Chubs was 18. Corey bordered on 40. She smiled at his enthusiasm.
When there was a knock at the door, Corey strolled into her office, settled into the chair behind her desk, and absentmindedly gazed at the middle drawer.
“Chubs, my man.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
Corey listened. The door slammed shut.
“Why the static, my man?”
“You don’t understand ‘shut the fuck up’?”
“Man, I get it, pat me down, ok, I ain’t got nothin’ on me.”
The open palm slap was unmistakable.
Corey opened the drawer and peered inside. Her flesh felt like mirror shards falling off her frame.
Corey pictured him reconsider coming to her; clearly it was too late to turn back.
“First door on the right.”
“Cool, my man, cool.” After a moment she heard the guy’s voice, barely a whisper. “My man, tell me something, no offense, but tell me something, ok? Word on the street is she’s crazy. She crazy?”
Another slap, this time louder than the first. He yelped.
“Corey is like my grandma, man. That woman taught me everything. Every damn thing about this business, about surviving. She’s my grandma without the milk and cookies and bull-shit.”
Corey didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so she pulled out her four-inch ceramic blade from the middle drawer.
“Shut the fuck up.”
He shut the fuck up.
A moment later he stood in front of Corey, a backpack in his hands. His hair was shaved tight and his thin moustache was immaculate. He was young. They all seemed young to her now. His brown eyes flashed from Corey to the knife and back to Corey.
“I understand you’re looking to be an independent distributor.”
He squirmed. Talking like that always made the street boys squirm.
“Yes, mam,” he said.
Corey watched his eyes fall to her arms, her chest. She saw shock spread from his whites to the pupils. She sighed.
“You have the down payment?”
“Yes, mam,” he said holding up the backpack.
“You wanna to count it?”
She didn’t move.
Ok,” he said. “I’ll just leave it here then, on the floor. I guess, you can just keep the backpack. I’ll replace it.” He gave a weak smile. “Yeah, no problem.”
“What’s your name?”
“And not what they call you out there. What did your mama name you?”
“Jaron, mam,” he said glancing at the door.
“Jaron, you call me ‘mam’ one more time, I’ll have to cut you.”
Jaron hiccupped a laugh then swallowed it.
“15% for you. Full payment due on the last day of the month. If you’re killed while working, we’ll give your designee a lump sum. You break our code, both of you are done.”
Corey considered the blade again. When her father bought it he said he’d never need another knife for the rest of his life. He was right.
Corey saw sweat bead on the boy’s forehead. How old? 15 maybe? How many of these boys are growing up without their fathers?
Her mind wandered to her own father. He was a good man: he called her Sweets, came to all her dance recitals even when dirty with sewer stink, used cookie cutouts on her PB&J. Once when the boys at school were bullying her about her “crazy” momma, he found them one-by-one and whispered in their ears. They never said a word to her again.
Once she got up the nerve to ask her dad why momma never got out of bed and was angry so often. Her daddy told her that momma was a wonderful woman who just lost herself sometimes. To Corey, that made as much sense as anything.
Jaron glanced at her arms again. She felt like she was being ripped apart and stuffed with straw.
“You. You, uh, ok?”
Corey’s eyes focused, a dark red line seeped from arm, skin flayed open like someone cupping her hands begging for water. Corey’s mind lit up ecstatic.
“I really don’t mind the scars,” Corey said, the knife-edge poised. She drug it further, skin opening like a smile.
“But, you know, it’s like trying to stitch gangrenous flesh. I can’t contain…” she gazed up searching for a word, “the absence of me.”
She held up her arm, blood speckled her desk. “It’s not there. You see what I’m saying?”
Jaron’s eyes widened as Corey slipped around the desk, the knife tapping her thigh.
His lip trembled but he didn’t move. He understood he should’ve listened to grandma.