Tomís granddaddyís pale fingers slipped a frayed noose round Tomís daddyís black neck. Then, Tomís granddaddy tied the other end

of the rope of the fender of his pickup. Then, he drove all over the county. Thatís what everyone used to be saying. But all that happened bout a month after me and Tom was born.

         Tom was born on the same day he mama died, but my mama always said everything got better for Tomís mama when she wonít living no more.Tomís granddaddy didnít have no funeral for his daughter. Donít matter none, my mama had said, he wonít have cried none anyway.

         But these ainít the reasons Tomís granddaddy was some filthy cracker. He was trash cause he didnít tithe on Sundayís and cause he used to loiter round the ABC liquor store begging folks for money. Telling people he was a vet, a proud American who protected his country from gooks. Heís a sinner, my mama had said once chopping up potatoes on a cutting board. Heís a sinner and donít got to do with no one else. Not coloured folks. Not no one. Heís a sinner and thatís all there is to it, she had said. Donít matter none, heís dead now, she said. Tomís granddaddy died drunk in the empty riverbed, real drunk and real tired and he met his maker. Whether it be Christ or Satan, donít know one know.

         Then, my mama said shaking her head real hard, she yelled at me for getting a grass stain on my only Sunday dress, soiling something that shouldnít never look sinful. Girls that look sinful, my mama had said, they donít ever got no chance.

         Tomís face was always real darkerínd mine, no matter what the season. He in-between skin would darken to the colour of dry earth during the summertime and then fade in the winter. But heíd never fade Ďnough to be palerínd me.

         Tomís grandmama kept his hair cropped real short, right down to the skull. She ran a barberís razor over his scalp done every Saturday after dinneróso then for church the next morning, and school in the week, Tom would have a real polished head with no trace of his daddyís kinks. After Tomís grandmamaíd leave the room, wet razor in hand, Tom would shut his eyes real tight and run a hand over his bald head. This one time I reached out and touched the smooth, round curve of his skull. It was a real nice thing to touch and made me wanna have Tom touch me. He flinched. I asked him if it hurt or anything. Hell no, he had said, course donít hurt. Nothing hurt me. He winced when he ran his hand over his skin, like it was so awful he musta been straight scalping himself. He moved his hand like he was real carefully, deeply, stripping his not-one-colour skin clean off the bone.

         My hair had always been thinóthese whispy, blonde strands my mamaíd given me. Nothing like the tight black spring coils that crept outta Tomís head. They crept out when his grandmama got lazy. She got lazy when she got thirsty. And when she got thirsty she got tired. Sometimes heíd just put his palm to the back of my head. Not doing nothing but feelin the curve of my skull. Iíd askím what he want. What he was waitin for. I started havin less and less hair every few months. It just fell to the ground without no reason. And when that season happened, the season where I lost bunch of those whispy strands, Tom started feeling the bald patches. His fingertips pressed to circles of naked skull. He asked me if it hurt or anything. Hell no, I had said, course donít hurt. Nothing hurt me. I winced when I fingered those real round circles, it was so awful felt like I was scalping those spots myself.

         Then, this other time, Tom slid two dirty fingers into my cunt before wiping them onto a pile of old white linens in a box that had rope in it too. The rope had belonged to Tomís granddaddy. Then, he put his dirty fingers back in me. He fumbled with the real wet folds of my skin. He pinched me and it hurt and I wondered if somebody could get bruises down there. Even though no one could see em, wondered if somebody could turn yellow and purple down there. Tomís face looked like he was lost in his own touch as he rocked his fingers in and out. He was lost in his touch. Boys are funny like thatóTom told me thereís only one place to touch a boy. Only one place that matters. Donít be hugging or kissing me anywhere else, he had told me, anywhere else. I couldnít have thought of a worse thing, feeling things in only one place. Like a boy.

         After wiping his hands on the linens again he frowned and said, ĎGuess thatís it.í We ran downstairs into his grandmamaís kitchen and ate dry cereal by the handful. He plunged his hand in the cardboard box and his grandmama said, ĎYou wash those hands Tom?í Her frown was framed with real deep creases when she looked at me. I crossed my legs, squeezed my thighs together tight as I could. My insides and lip still feeling real wet.

         Long after my mamaíd left, long after seasons of me being real ill and watching the thick summer heat sink onto the necks and backs of real broken men, long after when it was just me waiting on my turn to leave the roomóthe room with with white sheets and white walls and men dressed in long white jacketsóTomís grandmama rang me to say sheíd done found Tom hanging in his closet with some old frayed noose slipped round his neck. She didnít cry or nothing, just talked slow like and real clear saying she didnít even think they had rope in the house anymore. Guess he finally took his daddy with him, she had said before hanging up the phone.

         I set the phone back into the receiver next to my bed and started watching the drip again, squinting real hard to see it in the dark. Pulling the cool, starched sheets to my neck, I ran my hand over the shallow little bumps of my naked head.

Lindsay Parnell is a fiction scribbling American living in London. She is a Meryl Streep enthusiast and last summer had the pleasure of meeting Amy Winehouse in the toilets at a bar in Soho. While this chance encounter no way affected, influenced her writing and MFA coursework, she is happy to report Miss. Winehouse was a lovely human being.

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