I met Donald-Arnold Mason when I was fifteen and he was twenty-two. I thought twenty-two was the best number in world, then. In Bingo, twenty-two means two little ducks.
Donald told me I was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen; an amber fantasy with burnt honey wings. He also said if things were different, he would’ve stayed with me, but as they were, well, that was the end. And you know, I got pregnant, and I’ll confess, I was happy about it.
I gained maybe ten pounds the whole time, so nobody asked any questions, and went to school the very day my son was born, right there in the hallway by social studies.
Somebody screamed, maybe it was me, and the school nurse came and mumbled something about state sponsored segregation and how I was repulsive. Then she got the principal who told me to get the hell out.
I apologized because I couldn’t move; I tried, but lost my footing and fell against the metal strip of lockers, clutching my little duck who was covered in blood and my own sticky fluids.
Finally, quiet Miss Simms, the school librarian, helped me up and took me back to her place where she cut the umbilical cord, made some Lipton’s tea, and while I rested, washed the baby and wrapped him in a fresh, soft towel. “Here we go,” she said, “Here we go.”
At 7:00, we called momma--that’s when she got home from cleaning. “I’m not surprised, “she said, her smoldering chestnut rimmed eyes glossy with tears.
I was terminated from school on the grounds of “degenerate immorality, “but I had my little duck.
He was tiny and white. I called him Abraham Donald-Arnold, Abraham, after Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves, and Donald-Arnold after his father, figuring that if he ever came around, he’d feel some sense of pride in having the boy named after him.
Abraham died five and a half months later. Crib Death they call it. I couldn’t get my head around it. There was my baby, and then there was no baby; he was real, then he wasn’t, and because he wasn’t, I wasn’t either. I collapsed inside, a hollow in my guts like silent thunder.
Later, I learned that what I had was called depression; but back then, we didn’t know about things like that. We only knew about work, family, and movie stars like Lana Turner, who pretended to help a colored maid in Imitation of Life, and that Lana’s daughter stabbed her boyfriend to death in their Beverly Hills mansion. I thought about stabbing Donald-Arnold to death, and maybe I would have if I ever saw him again.
When I was sixteen, I got a job in the kitchen at the Kansas State Penitentiary slapping brown slop onto plastic plates. I’m still there today, twenty-two insignificant years later.
We don’t give the inmates metal or glass you know, because they can attack you or each other, and anyways, it’s less work that way because the utensils don’t have to be washed; they’re disposable, tossed into a heaping dump behind the jail, oozing toxic chemicals into the lives of people who never wanted anything to do with them in the first place.
Olivia Grayson creates prose and poetry that combine pop culture with autobiography in an effort to explore the often times startling experience of being part of the family of women—alternatively thrust into, or dumbly participating with a culture that sells the promise of absolute beauty, sparkling romance, and ideal interventions, and she finds herself writing from a tension that surrounds this system.