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Black and White
Reddish dust blew in their eyes. The fire spat.
“Don’t look at me like that.” The pale girl leaned over her food, glowering into the fibrous mush.
“Like what?” the black man stretched out, looking at her from beneath his thick dark brow.
“Like I’m white.” She poked the mush and scowled at the world in general.
“You is white.”
“I am not!” She looked up suddenly and glared at him, looking straight into the eyes glittering darkly under the bristle of eyebrows. “I’m quarter blood Mexican.” she spat into the mush, stirred it around, and took a tentative bite. She seemed to shrug—her face was unexpressive, even angry as she was.
“You think that matters to me?” the black man yawned. “You look white. You act white. The way you play widat food is white. But I ain’t gonna judge.”
She laughed. “Judge!” she poked at the mush some more, face contorting in a grin as she held back what looked like laughter. “Judge.” the grin switched off like a light. She tossed the bowl towards the fire. “You’re right. I ain’t going to eat this.” She stretched her feet out and then curled them in again, laying her head on a rock. “But I ain’t white. Don’t treat me like one.” And she closed her eyes, staring through the lids into the fire.
After a moment of silence the black man stirred. “What your name be, girl?”
She was silent for a beat. “Paradox,” she finally lied.
He laughed deeply: a deep belly laugh that reminded the pale young girl of Buddha for some reason. “That’s a bullsh*t name, girl: there ain’t nobody white or black who name their kid Paradox.”
“I’m not black either. You call me Paradox or call me nothin’ at all. You’re choice. That’s the only name I got.” She didn’t look up from the fire, or even open her eyes. Under her jacket, one hand clutched a knife. It was purely out of habit—she didn’t think that he would try anything with her. Just having a weapon was comforting.
“Alright.” The black man settled down again. “You win. Nothin’ at all.” He shook his head and laughed, quieter. “Paradox. That be fitting, f’ someone like you.”
In the dark she smiled darkly on the hard baked ground. “You’re name?”
“Louise,” He said promptly. “And that be the truth.”
Paradox tightened her knife hand. “There ain’t no truth.”
After that, nothing was said for a long time. The sun set on the desert in unbroken silence. Dusk went on and on.
A harsh wind stirred and blew more dust at them. The black man came alive again. “So why you hate the whites so much, girly?”
“Why I hate them?” She muttered to herself. “Why you hate them?”
Louis pulled his shirt up over his eyes. “I don’t hate them.”
“How can you not? After what they did to your people? To the Native American people? To all the Native peoples, all over the f***ing world?” Suddenly she was yelling, and hot tears were seeping from her eyes. Softer she added, “And with what they’re still doing? Even after the end of the world?”
There was a long, slow sigh. He didn’t answer for a full five minutes. They stared up at the brightening stars. “Because you can carry around so much hate, girl.” They could see Mars. “More than you can ever know.” It was a glittering white speck, just above the setting sun. “You see one group hatin’ and you hate them back. Maybe you kill a few of ‘em. And then you find out that they were just like everyone else.” As the clouds were dyed yellow and then orange, Mars seemed to float away from the sun and out into the dark sky. “Just like you.” It joined other stars and got lost. “Just like me. Everybody be hatin’ all over the world. Hatin’, killin’, rapin’ each other, and it just don’t ever stop.” Mars glittered. The black man found it. “You can’t hate everybody.”
There was a long beat of silence. The bugs had stopped. Even the shadows under the rocks seemed to be listening.
“Can’t you?” she asked blightedly. There was no answer.
The next morning Louis was still there, stretched out with his hands folded on his belly, back on the huge rock. Paradox sat on a smaller one, checking the things in her pack. It was a big pack made of sturdy canvas and a metal frame, but there were few things. He watched her through half-moon eyes—she glanced at him periodically, and quickly looked away if she thought he was watching. He saw length of cord, a book, and a knife sheath. There were cans but they were empty—she had long run out of food.
“You going back, girly?”
“Good morning to you too.”
“You going home? Back to your white village?” he could see her bristle.
“D*mn right it was a white village,” she muttered, and continued checking her stuff.
“You’re scared of the desert.”
“I know how to survive.”
Louis nodded, like a wise lizard sunning on a rock. “I see. You got your book with you. It probably has recipes like, ‘how to cook a black man, if you catch him in his sleep’.”
She burst into laughter, then slapped a hand over her mouth. For a moment she struggled to control herself. She partway succeeded. The laughter trickled out in little spurts, and finally vanished in about a minute. Her face was blank, and she took the knife out of her pack, twirled it in its sheath, then put it back.
“It’s good to laugh sometimes. You got to know how to let go when you scared.”
“I’m not scared of you.”
“You scared of the desert, girly.” She stared at her pack, not answering. He shrugged and got up. Immediately she reached in and pulled the knife out; stared at it. “I didn’t steal from you.”
“One never knows.” he laughed. “Besides,” she added defensively, “There might be scorpions. They’ve crawled into my pack before—I know how to cook those.”
This sent him into gales of deep belly laughter. After a moment, she hesitantly smiled.
“Girly, you is too much.” he wiped his eyes, grinning with white teeth. “You ever actually eaten a scorpion?”
She shrugged evasively. “Actually…I prefer grasshoppers. It’s just…the visual.”
After about twenty minutes, very little of which was required to break camp, Louis left, still chuckling, his own pack slung over his shoulder. He was following a weedy old train track that meandered north, for reasons of his own.
Paradox followed him, a little ways back—they had run into each other at an abandoned station house: she had been meaning to cross the tracks but had followed Louis instead. He’d told her the tracks ran north, and in the movies, he’d said, the survivors always find hope or a group of their friends up north. This hadn’t made much sense to her—the movies always lied, and she had rarely watched them in the days Before. But she had lived Before. This wandering had not always been her reality. She’d had friends. And wandering was so lonely…
“So what happens when these tracks just end?” tired of walking, and the thoughts that came with it, she caught up with him and squinted at his face in the heat of the sun.
“Don’t you start again. They’ll be somethin’, girl, just wait and see.”
“Yeah. More weeds,” she muttered. “Maybe we can eat those.” She gestured to a flowering plant. When he didn’t respond she moved to pick it. The leaves were green on top, but as she got closer she saw that the bottom was a sort of fuzzy orange. “Odd…Louis, come look at this! I think it’s one of those—” her words were interrupted by an agonized scream. Louis’s head snapped around: he saw the plant that she had grabbed and felt like screaming too.
“Holy s***—hang on, d*mn it! Don’t try to let go!” The leaves had all turned around, showing, their orange sides to the sun, and latched on to her hand. The things were like Velcro, except worse: they felt like red hot needles. She shrieked again and reached into her pack, face contorting. She pulled out the knife and before he could get there, had hacked at the stalk and nearly severed it in two. “Don’t do that!” he screamed. She paused—and he tackled her, yanking the knife out of her hand and grabbing her arm to make sure it stayed still.
“What the h*ll—Get the mother of f*** off me!” She snarled.
“Stop! Don’t move! If you cut the thing apart the leaves will stay on your hands for weeks! Maybe even rot ‘em off—I don’t know what happened to the last guy I saw stuck with these. Now let me see…” He examined the stalk, careful not to touch the leaves himself. After a moment he sighed. “You is d*mned lucky, girl. One centimeter more and this sucker would be dead. Now watch what I do carefully, in case you ever get into this mess again by yourself.” Reaching down, he gripped the plant by its stalk and twisted. “Twist. Never cut.” almost immediately the leaves slackened and fell off.
Paradox swore and pulled away—he was impressed that she hadn’t cried out, except for the first time, and the red marks on her hands didn’t seem to faze her, even when they began to blister before her eyes. “Well?” she snapped when she saw him watching. “Keep walking!” He raised an eyebrow. “Thank you,” she added coldly. Then she seemed to think better of it—“Sorry. I’m so white. Let’s get out of here; there might be more of them. What was that thing?”
They started walking again at a slow pace, side by side. She gingerly lowered her hands. “It’s fine,” he said blandly. “That thing be a new generation of bad s***. Just like the first bad s***—but that’s nearly all gone now: you know what I’m talking about, right?” She said nothing and he nodded his head. “Course you know. Well, that thing back there don’t got a name: ain’t no more scientists to name things around here, and I just call it orangeflower.”
“Will there be more?”
The black man shrugged. “In a couple hundred yards, maybe. But that’s at least. All I know is; they don’t like each other—and there’s not too many of the bastards yet: seems like they need a bit of time to populate.”
The girl nodded; even smiled. “Like white people,” she said.
“Except they orange,” Louis said factually. Paradox laughed.
Later that evening they stopped. It had gotten too dark, and the girl was walking slower and slower, dragging her hands over all the weeds on each side as though she wanted to catch an orangeflower again. It seemed a morbid way of dealing with things to Louis. If she had reasons of her own, she did not share them.
They started a fire and stewed chick weed with a little salt. Then Louis wandered off and came back with a rabbit. Paradox The girl asked him how he caught it and he just smiled and asked for her knife. When the rabbit was skinned he cut it up and put it in the stew, bones and all. The intestines he buried, and he draped the sinew over a bush.
“We stay here a little while,” he told her, “let those dry. I can make things out of them.”
She shrugged and thought of Indians, wondering briefly if he had any Native American in him. No, she decided. He just knows how to survive, like me.
Raleigh, North Carolina
New Hyde Park, New York
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"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Phillipians 4:13
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"laugh, and the world laughs with you. laugh hysterically, and for no apparent reason, and they will leave you alone." anonymous
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8 articles 0 photos 17 comments