The night, as most nights, was like a dream.
At ten, once I’d fed the dog the last scraps off the stove. Once I’d cursed the cat for scratching up my mama’s antique furniture, then welcomed him back into my arms. Once I’d slicked my hair into a ponytail, wrapping it up tight in my mama’s old, old scarf. Once I’d stayed in the bathtub a lil’ too long, letting the heat of the water do things my husband stopped doing years ago. Once I’d oiled myself down and up and down again with cocoa butter and reached for my housecoat hanging against the door—leopard print and silk—wrapping it around my bloated body, not caring if the water and oil bled through.
Then, soundlessly, I floated out to the garage and had a cigarette alone.
Mostly I listened to the blues. Lightnin’ Hopkins. Bessie Smith. Bobby Womack, if my mama was heavy on my mind, which was most nights. I nursed a lil’ Crown Royal poured thin over crushed ice. I smoked my Virginia Slims, pulling that cool menthol taste to the back of my throat before pushing it out—a thick plume.
Creating that smoke is what I liked to do. I let my thoughts drift and curl before tapering out. My daddy used to tell his congregation that life was like a vapor—here today and gone tomorrow—and so they best get right with the Lord soon. As I sat watching the smoke blossom, growing and weakening again, I couldn’t help thinking, There goes my life. I took another long pull, watched the ash stiffen then drop to the concrete floor, and thought, There it goes again.
If I became tipsy, I might sing. Not because I could, but just ’cause sometimes I only felt happy when listening to the blues. Until I changed the record player to something electronic, full of shock and wonder. The funk. That beat that lifted me up somewhere heavenly, then gently delivered me back to earth.
After that I walked up to my boudoir, the most beautiful space in my whole house, decked out with zebra and lion prints. There I stood before the mirror nude. There I took in the soft flaps of brown skin that folded upon one another in stacks around the middle of my body. I examined the fine lines and deep ridges carved into my face, my eyes that were gradually dimming with age, my crown of hair growing thin, those smooth and soft bald spots along its edges. Needless to say, I was lonely. But comforted by the burn of whiskey in my belly, I took in the absoluteness of my womanhood and somehow I still felt desirable.
Sometimes, in the quietness just before dawn, I felt hopeful. Then the faint sounds of my husband’s snoring across the hall made their way into my room, and I was left with fatigue. So it was then that I went to bed, a mess of cheetah-spotted down comforters and black cotton sheets. I slipped under the covers, grateful for the coolness of the fabric against my skin. And I watched my stories: The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, General Hospital. CSI, NCIS, and any other crime drama where dead bodies the color of milk wound up in unusual places and cold white people with grim faces sought to find the causes of their demise.
The hours passed. And just as the sun revealed itself in orderly fashion, and the sound of school buses rumbled through the neighborhood, and the bickering of children seeped through the thin windowpane, I pulled the covers over my head and shut my eyes tight, willing sleep to come until it finally obeyed.
This was the night. Not so special. But always consistent.