Oh Jesus. Rawr.
Piper stared at the diamond on her finger, and back up at the man who gave it to her. Help me Lord, she prayed. Her entire soul called out. Her mouth opened and they both listened as nothing but air came out.
She finished the breath with a smile and closed eyes so as not to look at the face of the thirty-something male who proposed.
“I think. I don’t…this is not a good idea. I can’t give you what you’re looking for.” Her eyes opened slowly, the tips of her eyes pushing through her eyelids at the last moment as to prolong the point at which her eyes reached his.
He stared at her, eyes café au lait, lashes long and a complacent, lazy smile on his face.
“You cannot tell me what I am looking for.”
She smiled her own smile, wisdom softening her eyes and piercing her heart. She lifted a hand to run through the black strands of her hair. Gray at the roots, fifty years worth of gray and wisdom, and he was accelerating the gray and deteriorating the wisdom with that smirk that only a certain kind of man could achieve. A boy who wanted to be a man. With her. A boy who wanted to be a man with her.
“It’s not practical Elijah. I cannot have children.”
“So?” He smiled. Cheeky idiot. “I don’t want children. It would interfere with my work and travel.”
“And I am stubborn. I want certain things. I am not willing to compromise. I live according to my whim.” She read the words through her mouth as if she were reading them off the paper that had published them about her. Words she thought better fit her mother.
Fifty years old (48 actually, but really at her age, people rounded up) and she was one of the most prominent businesswoman of her time. Multiple properties sold under the name of Piper Guillory. She had made her own empire, paved and pioneered a path for millions of woman to follow in a field that had used her as the poster child for words such as broad. A man. She would never would be a good wife. She would never be a good mother. Too cold and too hard. Not soft, not molding, not willing. She was a man. She was manipulative. Catty. She dug in her claws too deep. They cut partners and allies. They dug out competition. She was too manly. No heart, no feelings. After she got married and divorced: A bad mother. A bad wife. Not soft, not molding, not willing. To mean and too harsh. Not maternal enough. A man. As if the whole of her femininity rested in her ability to be molded, and willing. Weak. The whole of her femininity was to be the lesser.
They hit her walls with their sticks and their stones, but she just remembered her fathers words, you are a Guillory and we are spider silk. She had always laughed and shivered as a child, looking into her fathers blue eyes, asking “Why would I want to be a spiders pee daddy?” She had never understand how something could come out of a spiders behind and still not be considered fecal matter. He would smile and look back, rubbing the goggle imprints on his forehead. “It means that we cannot be torn. We are the strongest thing that exist on earth. Even stronger than Kevlar.”
She still carried a small patch of spider silk where ever she went. Sometime, she would pull it out and try to rip it with her hands. This was the only time she smiled when she failed.
She was not liked by other women most of all. They stared at her, judged her harshness, her lack of caring. She who could did not find completeness in simply being a wife, a mother. She had weaved the glass ceiling with her spider silk, they stuck their needles but couldn’t get through.
Piper looked straight into his eyes, wondering what his response would be to that. She knew he would not concede to her demands. His own male prowess could not subject himself to being her plaything. Plaything. That is what everyone would think anyway. She the older, dominant woman, taking advantage of a baby. Someone’s baby.
Good God, she would probably have to meet his mother. She was never good with mothers. Not even her own. Not her friends mothers, not even her kids mother. Enrique had tried to make them a happy family, but the other woman never got along with the wife. She had tried too. Her children had wanted them both. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. So why did Elijah want to get married?
After Sunday school classes, her father always set her down and asked her what she learned. Sunday school every Sunday robbing her of the bright morning. Bible study every Wednesday. Her mother never came. She chanted strange things and danced strange dances with strange people.
“I don’t know.” Was her usual response. He shook his head, and her mother laughed. How was she supposed to remember everything in a book that size? She still struggled reading Dr. Seuss.
For the first time when she was nine, she missed a Sunday School class. Her mother was sick with pneumonia. Her father said she danced in the rain. Piper was set on her father’s lap in the hospital and he said. “God is like the center of a web and we all connect to him.” He said nothing else, but he pulled out some documents that he thought was more interesting than her. She took her markers out of the small bag he had brought with him. She began to draw a spider web on his shirt, the left-sided pocket was the center.
Her mind wandered back to when her and Elijah met. She had just finished a meeting with one of her best clients and had walked into the busy streets of Paris where tourist littered what could have been beautiful. She walked too fast, steps taken too strong, body too hard to not collide with the man who had just turned the corner. He had smiled and helped her up, got her purse and her things while she watched.
He had a strong back.
“Hello, I am Elijah.” She reached for her things but he held it away, waiting for her own introduction. American. Tourist. More litter. Of course he wanted her to concede to the petty niceties that were apart of his system.
He began to walk away, slowly, not like a thief, but like a man who knew she would follow. He walked to a bench, set her things down and pulled a small container out of his own bag. He took out a fork, and dug it into pasta with red peppers and a strange yellow sauce. He offered her a bite.
She glared at him. A red haze formed over her eyes and her mouth opened to sow words so cruel that would be worthy of what the articles called her. He pushed in a bite. His hand had lifted, but she had not stopped it. His eyes were a strange brown. Almost milky. She chewed and stared into those eyes.
“I like your whims”
“You’re wrong.” She said, turning the diamond. “You’re so wrong.”
Hook, line and sinker. And she was sinking.
Don’t take the bait, Piper is what her mother would have said. Scolding and judging because that is what she did holding her own self-righteous ideas and hitting you over the head with her narrow views smothered under what she likely thought was an enlightened way of living. With her Nigerian patterned head-wrap on her Jamaican head, chanting and swaying she would look at me with doe-wide brown eyes, dreads to her knees as she said “So caught up in the system. Blinded by the shiny. Oooh. I see and I want, so I take. I take because it is shiny, and it is mine. You are like the fish Piper, you think the fish is shiny so you take. Stupid, stupid Piper. The shiny waits and waits for idiots like you.”
And she would look at her father for help, his pale eyes and pale hair stiff looking at her mother in adoration, loving the swaying of her hips, the impertinence of her gestures, and the stupidity of her mind. And she would hate him for not seeing and her for being so damn senseless, and they all lived together but spoke different languages. Her mother, her father, and her. Her mother was not a Guillory. She had not changed her name and said she would never curse her ink by penning the name of another man beneath it. Senseless. But she belonged in every way to her father. And Piper in every way to them both.
She had waited for her parents to marry, wondering why they wouldn’t. Until she was older, she never wondered why her Papa wore a ring and her mother did not. Her mother was a writer she traveled. She would be gone for long stretches of time–months, sometimes years–and then suddenly appear. Her father would welcome her with open arms, a few more gray hairs, and more awards and money for a job well done. He spent all of his time in the lab left it only for sleep and church. This is where she was raised for the most part, in an apartment above a lab she always wanted to explode, maybe with her inside.
Elijah had went to the kitchen to check on the food. He was a chef. A prodigy. Good enough to make millions someday. But he was stupid and sometimes lazy. He traveled to taste new things. He called it research for his craft.
She called it his immaturity. He would get angry when she said this, flicking her chin or tightening his fist depending on how angry. Elijah’s anger was strange to her. She would yell and scream and shout at him. Words cruel, aim true, fired to maim. To kill. He stood still and watched her until she deteriorated. And she would hate him because her mother deteriorated too, and her father would wrap his arm around her, and Elijah would walk away. He struggled with anger. His father’s, he said. He could hit, hard, could kill with his fist instead of his words. He never hit her though, and she hated him for it. Her anger, like her mothers, so much more senseless.
Only once did she choose to go with her mother on one of her travels. She was 12 years old, and was sick of being left.
A summer she watched as her mother wrote, starved, flirted and teased. She abandoned Piper, forgetting that she had brought her daughter with her. Piper was left to wander, to learn, and to figure out for herself. She went days without eating, and then would fill compelled to go out into the streets of a strange country and beg for food from people speaking a strange language.
She wrote because her mother told her to, but her mother would stare at her daughters words and shake her head. Your father has filled you with his nonsense. Your words so clinical and so shrouded by self-hate and undeserving judgement.”
In true form of teenage angst I said, “Hello pot. Kettle says hi.”
Her entire being was shrouded in judgement and I loathed her for it. I ran away that night, and went places I shouldn’t have been to see things I shouldn’t have seen. I came back three weeks later in shame, head low, wiser and more scared. The local police had been called. My father wanted me to spend the night in jail, my mother wanted to beat me senseless. I ended up asleep covered by a cocoon of my parents bodies. It was the first night since I was a child that we had woken up together, all of us in the same bed.
Elijah walked back in, and handed her a plate of something that she did not recognize but knew would taste amazing.
“Elijah I think you need to be serious. You may not want a child now, but you may later and I won’t the one to take the experience away from you. What would your mother say? Your family? And you completely disregarded the other thing I said. I am not partial to compromise. I have lived alone for a long time, and I like it that way. I have no craving to play the “Wife” for you. I don’t want to make breakfast, or to take some snot-nosed kids to a tuition hungry school, and make their lunch and cook you dinner, and listen to your problems, while I suppress my own because you have a career. I do not want to host parties for your colleagues and act like I am nice so that I can inspire them to give you promotions. I don’t want to press your shirts or make your coffee or let your tears fall in my bosom. I don’t want to sing to your children or hear their fears or accelerate their dreams because I have my own. I signed away those senseless things in ink on a dotted line.”
Her father had always told her that if you do not have something nice to say, do not say anything at all. Maybe that was why she was a quiet child. It was the accumulation of shyness and bitterness seeping like poison into the brain of a child who hated her parents and craved their attention. By the time they had figured out that she had a problem, it was too late. She had went to the world with her problems and they had beat her over the head harder than her mothers judgements.
She had went in search of help and had found it in herself. And in herself she found her own sexuality, her own prowess, her own whimsy, and her own career. No woman she had ever met had worked in property taking. They lived in it, slaved over it, cleaned it, worked in it, even abandoned it and even they sold it. That was her superpower. She liked taking. There was something beautiful about it. She owned houses yet never felt the need to have one. She did not care for houses, but could not stomach sleeping in a place someone other than her owned. She bought a café in France and she lived over it, employed people to work in the coffee shop downstairs. A sensible means to making revenue.
She had always loved coffee. Her father smelled like coffee in the morning. She would come downstairs and he would be there, in the lab beneath he apartment, reading the morning paper over a desk, sipping what her mother called “Black Hell” slowly, as if each drop was so good you could not help but savor it. He would stumble in late at night, her in her room , 10 years old, pretending to be sleep but actually waiting for him, and she would smell the aroma of coffee as he passed her room. He would sometimes stop, turn around and open the door, stare at her–she never knew why until she had her own child: he was listening to her breath.
“Go to sleep Piper. Strong Guillory’s need their sleep.” He was never fooled when she pretended to be sleep.
If her mother was home, she would have appeared at that moment. She never came in Piper’s room but she stood close to the door and said “You are weak. You think “Black Hell” makes you strong but it make you weak. You are dependent on that which kills you sweetly. You are the fly that fell in love with the light because it warmed him on a winter night. Can you not tell that she had trapped you? You hurt so good though.”
Her father would only chuckle and lead his wife back to their room. She began to wander if her mother was even talking about coffee and perhaps about a lover that her father had. But she ruled it out because no one else in their right mind would tolerate the blankness in her fathers eyes. Sometimes his eyes were so hard she wondered if he listened to a word that either her or her mother said. Her mother kept talking senseless though. Piper sometimes wondered if her mother had not talked so much and so senseless if her father would have listened to her.
He let her taste it once. Black Hell. Her mother, who had been in the kitchen swaying her rounded hips to a song in her head stopped and stared, judging her with her eyes, looking at Piper’s small childish hand crush the steam bubbles on the side of the cup. She leaned her face over it, feeling the warmth and then stuck her tiny tongue in, scooping it like cat.
She had coughed and spit, making both of her parents laugh. She clutched her throat and dramatically pretend to be choking as they laughed at her theatrics enjoying her pain derived from her curiosity. But she had their attention for the moment so she tasted it again.
She still could not stand the taste. It was too bitter. But she prided herself on being the only executive that she knew that could get through the day without coffee or tea. She needed no caffeine boost, but her own Guillory-Will got her through the day.
“Piper, I have not asked you for any of those things. I only asked you to marry me.”
Was he dumb? Or maybe too young? Did he not realize all the implications? It was 2006, and the implications were great. Her, separate and removed. Asexual for the woman whom she had pioneered a path for. She did not need others, she was cutoff. After a bad marriage, she was singular. Not plural.
Cruel. Guillory CEO sells children. $80 million dollar settlement, he keeps kids. How much are your kids worth?
There words like diamonds on her fingers, hard and breaking. She had let them go. She had not fought hard enough. She was the mother; for her, weekends weren’t enough.
“I think you will.”
Grinning tomcat, staring her down, blinking those lashes.
She remembered once she came to her place crying. She wanted a bath. The day had been hard and nothing would give her solace but a bath and a small patch of spider silk. Words, aim true, meant to kill her. She had her spider silk, wrapped around her.
Elijah had walked out. A surprise. He was supposed to be in India. In the two years they had been together, he had never come before he said he would.
He had wiped her tears as she yelled. Shots fired, aim true, to kill. She was good with words, a bad writer but good with words, that’s what her mother told her. “You only use them to get ahead in the system, Piper. You are just like them. Like your father, evil to get ahead.” Stupid woman.
Elijah had walked away. He came back with 2 bowls of something she did not recognize and did not want. He told her to close her eyes. She was going to taste test for him. He always wanted her to do these things for him. She usually benefited from good food, but she was tired. She wanted him out of the house she owned. It was hers.
She closed her eyes. The first thing was sweet and salty, like chocolate covered nuts in liquid form. So creamy on the outside. The next thing was something filled with citrus, tart and unforgiving. The last thing she felt was his lips pressed softly to hers.
For a moment she forgot. Forgot that some 5 hours earlier, she had said goodbye to her two daugther’s who lived farther away than before.
She fell asleep in his arms. She woke up an hour later and kicked him out, spider silk and long lashes and all. It was her house, she owned it. In three months time, she sold it. Three days later, Guillory had acquired ownership of three apartment complexes. Some people were moved, others shifted, some stayed. She sold it. After she had taken it.
Her parents took her to a fair once when she was really young. She only remembered fragments of that day. Her mother wore a gypsy woman’s outfit: long skirt and short shirt. It had on it a pattern so colorful and so atrocious that it could not even be called ugly and so her father called it “outlier”. Her father wore a suit. Piper, the only normal of the three wore jeans that her mother called the loincloths of the system sewed together, and a t-shirt that her mother picked up for fifteen cents at a flea market. People stared and stared and stared. She was still too young to realize these stares. Look at the little brown child with eyes so blue and hair so curly. Her mother looks strange and what of her father. How come they…?
“Mommy I want to go on that.” Piper pointed to a ferris wheel so high and so bright.
Her mother was in a good mood. She wrote a great piece earlier that had tons of feedback in a magazine that was infamous for its satirical literature of companies and class.
“No, it is too dangerous.” Her father with his rigid pose and yellow hair and blue eyes looked down at her.
“Come Piper, we go ride the ferris wheel. Dangerous is only a state of thinking. It is how they corrupt you, telling you this is too dangerous. Fear is what they use so you buy their this and their that. You come too yes?” She asked with slanted eyes. Piper looked at her father who looked at her mother and she wondered what he was thinking behind those pale eyes.
Piper did not remember the ferris wheel ride. She only remembered the walk back to the car, her mother walking ahead, hips swaying, talking senseless. Her father watching, face hard, eyes blank, and hands slowly rubbing Pipers back so that she would fall asleep.
Piper stared down at the ring on her finger. Elijah had fallen asleep now, they both lay on the sofa. They had watched some movie with a plot so bad Piper could not remember it. Elijah had been extremely interested. She mentally ran over tomorrows to do list, down to the time it would take her to stop by her parents graves, side by side.
After he had told her she would agree, he kissed her neck and ran his hands through her peppered hair. Now, she ran her hands along her neck, as if imprinted.
He told her he was making a new recipe for a restaurant he was to travel to next month. The decorations had moths to give the illusion of constant life. After 5 years together and when he talked she felt like she was listening to a book, read in a language she did not speak.
Senseless. She shook her head, woke him up and kicked him out. She did not like him sleeping here before they were married. The house was still hers.
Three minutes before she left for college she told her parents they should get married. A taxi was going to take her to the airport. No one in her family liked scenes, it was better to stay at home.
Her mother gave her a peculiar look. “Why in God’s name would you say that Piper?” Her father asked.
“The spider weaves a web and while many points connect, only two strings can intertwine. They are broken together.” her mother looked at her as if she were senseless, while she stared at her mothers ring-less hands.
Piper waited until she was in the taxi to laugh. She had never considered her mother religious. Michael Jackson was everywhere, Ronald Reagan was president, my parents were still talking about spiders. Go figure.
Started writing this about 2 weeks before I started reading “Black, White, and Jewish” by Rebecca Walker, daughter of Alice Walker. I wrote this over such an accumulation of days that to tell you what I was eating would be another post altogether. However, you should know that caffeine was definitely a staple.
Finished the post while listening to Sade’s “No Ordinary Love”