Esther chewed on the inside of her cheek. She sat in the reception room of Gibbons & Hamilton, LLP waiting for the receptionist to call her for an interview.
There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. She swallowed a spider to eat the fly.
Esther chewed on the inside of her cheek. She sat in the reception room of Gibbons & Hamilton, LLP waiting for the receptionist to call her for an interview. Newlywed and blissfully aware of the mundane reality that stretched before her, she was trying her best to pass through the door to her the American dream. Knock on wood. Hollow. If she dared to open the door by herself, she would find a wall. But Esther tries her best to not be curious.
She gripped her purse straps in her lap. Ashy knuckles. And in this moment, she thinks of her mother calming her down for a shot at the doctor’s office. The same anticipation of pain, pain that everyone tells you will make you feel better.
“Let’s play a game.” The receptionist looked up. Now she was different, a little older, white.
“Okay, mommy.” Tears and kata1 dripping out her nose. Wet on the back of her hand. “Okay.”
Her mother’s hand swallowed her own. “I want you to look around the room and find something whose name begins with the letter A.”
Esther nodded. “Now count the letters in its name. multiply that by two and divide that by four. What answer did you get?”
Down the alphabet they went. They got to D and then, the door opened.
“Esther Akata?” No, 안.2
She stood up and smoothed the wrinkle in her skirt with her hand. A book about defense lawyers.
- A lucky number.
It was clear that she got the job by the end of the interview. It was the way everyone was smiling. The firmness in the handshake of the recruiter was assured and warm.
On the drive home she stopped at the African supermarket. Saraga International Grocery smelled like home. The outdoors, the potopoto3 pooling in pothole puddles in the streets, a far place she had not seen in years. A clerk pushed around a dirty mop, streaking water in the meat aisle. A goat thigh hung above his head. She remembered when the store opened, and everything was shiny and clean. Now, because of the high demand, and the lack of staff and resources, it was falling apart.
She sucks on her teeth. Reads her list.
It was short. she needed to go home and cook. Tonight, was her turn. Joseph was waiting for her, and she wanted to see his face in person when she told him she got the job. His smile.
She pushed her cart to the front unevenly and set her produce on the belt. beep. beep. beep. beep. beep. beep.12seventyfive. Cash. Everything fit into her reusable shopping bag.
“Come again soon.”
She hadn’t been home in years.
In the car, while she was thinking about her wedding, Esther had a revelation.
White dress, white lace, white veil, white teeth.
She hadn’t gotten her period this month and she was onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten days late.
That wasn’t too bad. It isn’t anything to worry about and yet, her eyes find a sign. Electronics. 5.5.
If her mother had been in the car, she would be looking out the window, head shaking, braids whipping in the wind, forcing Esther to keep her eyes on the road lest she be blinded by her mother’s disappointment.
All she had ever wanted was a grandchild.
Esther began to cry. At first, pathetically and then at the traffic sign (red), recklessly. She left herself and screamed all the way home.
She was laughing. She was crying. She was dying.
It was too much at once and as she pulled into the driveway, all she wanted to do was take off her shoes at the door and fall into her husband’s arms.
She walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell. A moment. Why did she ring the bell? She walked over to the garage and entered the code and rushed under the door as quickly as she could. Outside it was twilight, and she watched as the garage door closed on the intermittent high keening of the whining crickets.
One time, she had written a letter to a stranger hoping to get one back in the future reciprocating her love and desire for happiness. She had sent it far away knowing she would never see it again. Her handwriting hadn’t been very good. She was still waiting for a reply.
The shoes came off. And Joseph, on his way to bring in the trash bin, was there to catch her.
She was surprised when her gynecologist gave her the news.
“Are you fucking with me right now?” She asked Michelle, her friend of twelve years. Her friend only grinned back at her, enjoying her reaction to the joyous news. Esther began to cry, softly at first and then with great heaving sobs. These days everything was setting her off. The weather, the sound of her boss’ voices, her ghost of a mother that followed her around. Maybe this was why. She needed to have an explanation for who she was.Her body had been in tune long before she had and the relief, she felt was crashing over her in waves. Her inadequacy lifted off her shoulders, she gripped Michelle’s hands and smiled through her tears.
“Come back in a week, we’ll do an ultrasound and make sure everything is okay.”
On her way out she embraced her friend one last time.
“Wait till I tell Joseph.” It was a hug that lasted for eternity, all of Esther’s goodwill poured from her heart and out past her skin and into her friend.
“Drive safe. I’ll see you next week.”
In her car, Esther leaned against the stirring wheel and took deep breaths. She felt them rush down past her lungs, settle in her stomach, twist and stretch before her diaphragm contracted and they whooshed out. Esther remembered her mother telling her about how she had been pregnant and hadn’t known for months because she kept getting her period. What a treacherous existence, at any moment the chord that tethered her to the simplest of actualities could have been ripped away. In a heartbeat gone, dissolved into a mass of tissue and clots. Of course, it only mattered now that she existed and could think about it. How dark. Her existence only mattered because she existed.
She pulled the car out of the parking space and headed home.
Joseph was waiting for his wife to come home from her appointment. His phone rang. His sister. He got up from the couch, walked past the dining table set with dinner and grabbed a beer from the fridge.
“오빠, 잘 지냈 어?”“오빠, 잘 지냈 어?” 6
“응, 너도 잘 지냈 어?”7
“어, 다음 주에, 엄마 생일파티 있으니까 오빠한테 전화하기 했 어. 에스더 어니 어때?”8
It’s a standard conversation. They decided to meet tomorrow at a café they both liked to plan their mother’s birthday party. “내일 마나.” 9He stared at the water droplets condensing on the side of his beer can. He went to the sink, filled a cup with water and watered the kitchen plants: the large pothos, Esther’s aloe vera, the small avocado tree they had grown together from a single seed. Everything ages. His mother was almost a year older, and for a minute, he remembered what it was like when time moved slowly, but now he realizes that during that time, he had been moving fast. Barely taking in anything, hyper-fixating on the strangest things… Childhood. He sat down at the table with the covered food and waited for his wife to come back.
The sound of the door in the garage woke him up from his dream, and Esther’s heels meet the ground frantically, unevenly. What did he dream about? He doesn’t remember. And there she was. He could see all her top row teeth and there were tears in her eyes. She was on him laughing, her hands holding his face, kissing his eyes, nose, mouth. The mixture of her salty tears with her laughter tasted sweet in his mouth.
Sometimes, time still moves in slow motion, and you can see the once imperceptible yearning of the plants as they move towards the sun in their own time. You breathe in and know that the moment you are in will last forever and ever.
They were going to have a baby.
Now, Esther is eight years old, and while her parents plan to move to America and dream of opportunities and myths, she dreams of hell.
When Jesus comes, it’s harmattan, and the blunt winds have chapped her lips raw, and her knuckles are white. She is asking her mother for some Vaseline. It’s surprising how fast the earth is split in two, and the oceans surge, and the devil, released onto the earth roars with power.
God sounds like God, and he counts the righteous by hand as dead bodies are pulled from the earth, worms writhing in the underbellies until the moment of transfiguration. She has never seen anything quite so grotesque. She shivers and feels wet shame between her legs. The beauty of the divine leaves the faces of God’s sheep glowing, and she waits patiently with her family for their turn to be called.
First, God calls her mother, and the warmth in his voice is evident and pure.
Then, God calls her father, and her brother, and her sister, and her other brother, and her aunt.
She is left standing, soaked, sucking on her thumb in her front yard. Her younger brother looks at her. Even her other brother with his obstinate disobedience and mean-spirited pranks looks down at her, and she wonders, why do people go to heaven?
Tears threaten to spill. What had she done wrong? She thinks about everything that has ever happened in her life. Every sin she has ever committed.
Sometimes, you don’t have to do anything wrong to be found guilty.
And she begins to cry slow, heavy, hot tears that warm her cheeks and distort her vision. She falls to her knees.
All around her, the life she once knew falls apart, and she kneels alone in the ruins of her understanding. Her family looks down on her from the sky, grieving, at first, then suddenly, at peace. Even the angels pity her for a moment.
It takes them a second, a day, a hundred years to leave, and when they do, the devil comes to reap his soul. She joins the millions of forgotten parents, children, uncles, and aunts in a march that never ends, for a cause she does not comprehend.
The wars and fires rage on, and over and over she dies to herself and confesses her sins.
The things she sees as she walks the breadth of the earth, she will not forget them for a thousand years.
Every night for the past six months, Esther went to work, came home and lay down beside Joseph. Then at 12 she woke up, got into her car and drove to the nearest state park almost an hour away. There she haunted animals, fed on their flesh, ate their hearts and inhaled their souls.
This was quiet literally her American nightmare.
Maybe it was the sound of her jaw unhinging that made everything real to her. This is happening right now; her body was telling her. The pit in her stomach felt deep and dark and her saliva dripped, hissing as it dropped onto the earth. The deer in front of her was frozen. A deep ancient fear that locked and held the neurons, nerves, and muscles in place. She stalked over, the soil beneath her feet was cold. This was happening.
Yes. deer. 2.
It was the twisting of the limbs and the hissing of the flesh, the hard grinding of the bones that filled her. The blood coated her face: warm, and deep. Nutritious.
When she got to the heart, she took her time, fingering each artery, licking the blood from her fingers. The deer gazed up at her, its eyes only white. She petted its head. It trembled softly in the cold night air, a soft gurgling in its throat. She took the large heart in her hand and pulled.
This was life, this held all the complexities of the universe and now she held it in her palm.
She touched her bare swollen belly and felt the wind slice into her skin. In the soft night light, the sticky heart gleamed, and she stared at it for a moment.
The baby kicked, and she unhinged her jaw, her rows of teeth poised like knives in the night, and swallowed the heart whole. You could see it in her throat as it made its way down her esophagus; her body accommodated it, stretching. Brown skin pulled taut, tension, and then it was gone.
Does this night ever end?
If she had any say in the way the world worked, it never would have started. In the middle of the hunt, a braid had escaped from her bun and now lay stuck in the blood on her cheek. She felt stretched in the best way. Naked, quivering with adrenaline.
Monday. Work tomorrow.
She woke up beside Joseph. Her belly fit into the curve of his back and her knees fit right into the crook of his knees. The smell of pear from his shampoo hung in the air and she shook her face in his hair. This was hers. Once she left the bed that smelled like them, the real world stretched boundlessly before her. Everything the light touches. He breathed, sighed in his sleep.
Joseph was dreaming about the future. He saw his beautiful wife and his beautiful child in their beautiful house and smiled softly. Pressure on the back of his hair, warmth at the small of his back. How God did wonders, bringing souls together on the earth for a short while. He turned and faced Esther. She kissed beneath his jaw. He felt her smile against the vein in his neck.
“We have to get ready for work.”
“weaf2gitredi4wuk”, she mimed at him. She sucks on her teeth. mchtshew. Stupid man. Her stupid man.
She sits up, her feet hung over the side of the bed, and smiled at his laughter. Maybe she could convince him to join her in the shower.
One night, months ago, she searched on her phone:
-How to Get Blood Stains out of Your Clothes-
Things you’ll need:
- Grab your bottle of hydrogen peroxide and apply a small amount directly to the stain.
- Wait several moments, the stain should disappear!
- After the stain is removed, rinse the area with cold water to remove any leftover peroxide.
- Throw your article of clothing in the wash.
- All done 😊
-How She Got the Stains Out of her Clothes:
Don’t get caught. Don’t get caught. Think of your husband. What will he say? You’re covered in blood. What the fuck is wrong with you?
Her thoughts ran in all directions, bouncing of each other violently. She knew that whatever this was, it was wrong. She collapsed to the floor of her garage, exhausted, yet sated.
A deep breath. Fuck. She searched in the dark, and spots a box of fertilizer, the yellow box almost glowing in the dark.
Miracle Gro. 5.
Her breathing slowed. She stood up. She rubbed her belly and knew in her soul that she had months left of whatever this was.
She turned the light on in the kitchen and sank to the ground, her head in her knees. She couldn’t stop to slow her thoughts down and think about the cold night air and the white of the deer’s eyes. She picked herself up from the ground and began to hum. She can’t think of any songs, and what she ends up humming is a broken melody that decays in the air behind her as she moves to the bathroom to wash her hands.
Esther looked at herself in the mirror above the sink. She stared deep into her own eyes and into her soul, and the woman in the mirror did the same, and the woman in that mirror did the same. All of them, herself into infinity, looked at what they were becoming.
What else could they do, but survive?
She took off her clothes and put them in the wash. She pushes the buttons and works the settings. Detergent. Fabric softener. Bleach.
Everything was in slow motion. She began to cry as she walked through her house naked.
At 2:00 am, she stepped into the shower. A moment later, she folded herself into sleep.
At 3:30 am, she leaped out of bed in a panic, and glanced at Joseph, who had slept through the most momentous night of his life. She wanted to keep it that way. He deserved peace. He could never know what she was becoming. She put on her slippers, went to the laundry room and got out the neon green rubber gloves reserved for cleaning. She grabbed a rag and a spray bottle of bleach and spend the rest of the morning wiping all the surfaces she had touched until not a drop of blood remained. Even then, she kept cleaning. She was bent over on the floor went she felt the timid, gentle warmth of the rising sun on her neck, she was bent over on the kitchen floor desperately scrubbing. It was then she decided she could not wash out the stains on her soul, thoroughly traumatized and extremely exhausted she walked into her bedroom, climbed into her bed, and fell asleep.
Joseph called off work for her. When he kissed her cheek, he wondered vaguely at the faint smell of bleach. Had she been cleaning? He was curious, but thought twice about prying.
Joseph makes them breakfast. He meticulously fries the eggs, and gently places the bread in the toaster, and sets out the ketchup, and the table mats, hot sauce, and pepper.
“Help me check on the bacon, it is in the oven.”
On the side of his cheek, mwhaa. She pulls out the pieces of bacon and places them on a plate.
He watches her eat.
“아침이 어때?”11 He asked.
“어, 나 너무 좋아해.”12
He doesn’t say anything else, but his eyes danced with light. The sounds of breakfast take over, and for now, in their cramped little kitchen, on their little piece of the American dream, on God’s beautiful earth, it is just Esther, Joseph and their plants. Something more, nothing less.
Ah, 3. trinity. The perfect number.
- Kata: mucus
- 안: “an,” Esther’s Korean surname
- Potopoto: watery mud
- Garri: cassava flakes, a popular West African food made from cassava tubers
- 배: Korean pear
- “Brother, how have you been?”
- “Yes, I have been well. How are you?”
- “I called because next week is Mom’s birthday party. How is Esther?”
- “We’ll meet you tomorrow.”
- “What? What?”
- “How is breakfast?”
- “I really like it.”