Spring 2011 - THE POTOMAC

from Sugaring Off
   Margaret Barbour Gilbert

    from III.




On Thursday, the butler at 40 East 63rd Street was fixing dinner for his boss, when he heard a cry, and looking out the window onto East 63rd Street, saw me fall. He says he immediately called the police. He was a thin Negro man with buck teeth. He wore a short white coat like a doctor and black pants and his skin was honey—colored. He wasn't black, and he wasn't white. He was the most sophisticated Negro I had ever seen. I wondered if he were from the South, or if he knew anybody in Alabama. You would always see him on the street with shopping bags of groceries going in and out of the townhouse where he worked. The townhouse was a few doors down from the basement apartment in which I lived, and it had a white stone cat over the front door. The butler said a crowd of people gathered around me until the Police came. He didn?t say how long that took, how long I lay on the ground, bleeding. I fell on my open mouth, bruising, scarring my lip, pushing the upper teeth outward, like the butler's. I chipped my two front teeth. The nurse had wanted to bring me into the butler's kitchen, where the butler was busy fixing dinner for his boss, a rich white man. But the butler absolutely refused. The rich white man had a wife with bleached blond hair and long legs who shopped at Saks and who I knew was always going to the country for weekends because I never saw her on Saturday and Sunday. But I always saw her husband and the butler. I believe I almost died when I had this seizure on 63rd Street. The nurse says I stopped breathing, and blood was gushing from my mouth like water pouring out of a faucet. The butler actually didn't want to bring me inside because he was afraid I would get blood on the rug. He would have been right. Everything I touched was tainted with blood. Blood was a metaphor for my life. Afterwards whenever I walked past this townhouse, I would always see the butler staring at me from the window, his mulatto face a ghost—like, taffy colored spook in the glass, or whenever we passed in the street, he would never speak, but just look at me and roll his eyes like he thought I was strange or weird, and he was afraid of me. I grew to dislike him, and I was glad when the couple and the butler moved away. One day I saw a For Sale sign on their townhouse. I knew they had gone, and that I would never see them again. Their townhouse looked empty and gray inside, although the white stone cat was still there. I hoped that I had put a curse on the couple, the butler, and their townhouse.

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