dead swan.

Short Story

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SHE SCORED. Julie scuffled down St. Charles Street with the small plastic vial of crack held tightly in her hand. Her fingers poked through her old wool gloves that began unraveling down towards her palms; she balled her fist and tucked them snugly into her purple winter coat. As she neared toward 7th Avenue. Boogie Down Productions ‘The Bridge is Over” blared from the boom box where the B-boys had laid down linoleum to breakdance. This was a far cry from Julliard where she had attended just a year ago; it was Maywood, a far cry from Oak Park where she had grown up in a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. As she gained closer the song changed. The guys began arguing over whether Madonna was white or black.

“Maaannnn, she black” said the one with the Jheri Curl that didn’t quite take. Instead of the Michael Jackson look it was more like an afro, with tight little curls on the ends.

His friend with the black Addidas jacket argued back, “Nigga! Is you crazy? That hoe is white. Don’t you know all them white bitches play like they virgins?” They all slapped fives and fell out laughing. Julie wanted to shout, ‘She’s white damnit! I met her two years ago in the village with her boyfriend Ron and we did lines in his apartment before going out to dance.’ But she didn’t speak, she attempted to walk by briskly with her head tucked between her shoulders. A short stubby boy hopped in front of her and began pop-locking in circles around her when she accidentally stepped on their floor. His dark black skin glistened under the street lights. Julie’s skin glowed under fresh sweat, without letting go of her crack she reached up grabbing her shoulders trembling and hunching over as if she were going to vomit.

“Pork Chop, let her go by.” Jheri Curl said.

“Man, I was just playin’ wit her.” Pork Chop moved to make way for Julie to pass through. She wasn’t exactly scared that they’d hurt her it was just that she had the itch. The itch spread from the inside of her stomach out onto her skin and her salve was held tightly in her hand. All she needed was her pipe. Julie made her way down St. Charles to 7th and turned the corner. She inside a small red brick apartment building from the back entrance. The floors inside the building were invisible, covered by broken toys, old clothes and dirty plates from meals when food fed the hunger inside. Reggie came running down the stairs with the scent of alcohol covered musk arriving before him.

“God damnit! What took you so long? Been over an hour. Did you smoke it? Where is it?” He screamed at her while he tousled and patted all over her body to find the vile of crack. “Where is it God damnit? Where is it?”

“Reggie, baby, he wasn’t out there where he said he was gonna be. I had to walk around the block like fifteen times. Then these street boys tried to hold me up.”

“You didn’t give it to ‘em did you? Shit, Julie!” He begged with eyes turned down, and raised brows pleading for mercy.

“No Baby, they didn’t get it.” She pulled her hand from her pocket. With all her grace that remained she twisted and twirled her arm up high and dangled the crack above their heads.

“That’s my girl.” He smiled, revealing the broken pieces of teeth that hid behind his chapped white lips. They ran upstairs into the vacant apartment they squatted in. Reggie fell to his knees and pulled a foggy glass pipe from his back pocket while Julie shed her coat. Reggie lit the pipe and took a long slow drag.

“Is it good, Baby? Is it good?” She sat down straddling his thighs, Reggie grabbed her face and withdrew white smoke into her parted lips. He handed her the pipe and laid back; Julie grasped the pipe tightly between her lips and inhaled all that she could at once. Her eyes rolled back, and her body waved as the drug rocked her soul.

“Dance, baby. Dance for me, you still a dancer, Black Swan.” Reggie requested.

Julie stood to her feet and kicked all the junk into a corner clearing a dance floor. She stood in the center allowing her body to rock to and fro. Her hips glided in snake like motions, without music just the intoxication of rhythm. The good vibrations rose her to the tips of her toes. Although her boots were still wet her skill was undeniable. She moved angelically, from her raised fingertips to the line of her calf, her dance had swept tears into Reggie’s eyes. In her mind, the drug removed her just being a 7th Street junkie. As she leaped and pirouetted across the room that dark living room never existed. She had performed on stage at the Apollo last year in August when she and Reggie had met. After her opening dance she caught a glimpse of Reggie’s cocoa skin under his hunter green hat. She liked that hat. The closer she got to him she found his smile and discovered she liked him as well; he was resting his saxophone reed on his lower lip while his thick fingertips played with the keys. She walked softly towards him on the tips of her toes stopping right in front of him, she stared at him leaning in peeking under his brim to see his small eyes that appeared to be closed.

“Reggie!” A small white guy with a headset on yelled, holding a clipboard, “Reggie Washington?”

“Yeah?” Reggie spoke softly, but his voice was deep and chills traveled Julie’s body and anchored in the pit of her stomach.

“Your next, kid.”

Reggie raised his head sideways and winked at Julie.

“Well, alright.” He strutted away towards the stage, he possessed a rhythm of his own.

The host Sinbad announced, “Here is a brotha straight out of Chicago. This man is bad, y’all! Put ya hands together and welcome him to the stage.” Reggie came running from backstage. “Hey, man what’s your name?”

“Reggie, Reggie Washington.”

“What are you doing for us tonight, man? I see you got the sax on, you know the ladies love the sax man.”

Reggie smiled when he gave his shy giggle while the ladies in the crowd screamed and whistled. Julie just died inside.

“Well I’mma play a little somethin’-somethin’, and I hope y’all like it.”

“Well go on out there a knock ‘em out, man. You rub your luck?”

Reggie kissed his fingertips on each hand and rubbed the tree stump for luck, then swagger bopped to the center of the stage. The women in the crowd cat called and screamed. When he felt ready, he belted out his rendition of ‘Moody’s Mood for Love’. They loved it. Apollo’s resident crazy lady made her way to the front of the stage and grabbed for Reggie’s feet; he ate that shit up. He’d trust his torso forwards then backwards and then to the side as if his music was fighting from inside of him and forcing itself out of his saxophone. Julie understood him. She too would take stage and lose herself in the movement; she would run off stage while the audience applauded and fall into tears, because she felt so honored that the spirit of dance had entered her body and worked its magic through her. She caressed her taut belly just beneath her navel, while she watched Reggie take his bow and faced her to exit the stage.

She felt the itch crawl back into her stomach. The rhythm was gone. Reggie sat humming with his eyes closed and his head hanging over his shoulder. Julie sat beside him and grabbed the pipe and lighter from his lap.

“I’m not a dancer.” She steadied the pipe to her lips trying to flick a flame. A tiny cloud gathered inside the pipe, “Not anymore.” She puffed, “The swan is dead.”

She took another hit praying it would be her last breath.

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