By Morning / Person, Place and Thing
By now, you will have smoothed out all the rough edges.
You were initially taken aback when your eyes swallowed the scene before you. The woman looked bewildered, defenseless, as the mall security guards swarmed her.
You and the woman were in the same aisle, separated by approximately thirty feet of whimsical jewelry (think copper cuff bracelets engraved with the words “Earth Girl”), refrigerator magnets featuring llamas and/or unicorns, and other fanciful items favored by a certain demographic. You know the demographic well. You are part of the demographic.
You could not, at first, understand why the guards were there. You paused your perusal of a guest towel, extolling the benefits of cake over salad, and leaned in slightly in order to better hear. “I didn’t take anything,” the woman said calmly enough, although you detected a faint tremor in a voice that otherwise sounded like honey. “This is a mistake.”
“That’s what they all say,” replied the largest of the guards. “But you were seen.” He gestured to the salesclerk stationed at the cash register, who smirked and waved at the woman.
You thought about this for a moment. You wondered what exactly had been seen. Based on your hazy recollection, the woman had been doing the same thing you were—reading silly quotes on coffee mugs and smiling at pictures of cats glaring at their incompetent so-called owners. You also asked yourself where the woman could possibly have hidden whatever she was accused of taking. It was summer. The woman, who looked to be about your age (but who knows—it’s so hard to guess the ages of women like her), was wearing a red ruffled tank top, a short and pocketless white skirt, red sandals, and white hoops that drew your attention to her geyser of natural hair. The woman’s sequined red purse was minuscule. At most, it could accommodate a credit card and a driver’s license, maybe a few bills; a packet of tissues was out of the question.
Upon further reflection, however, you reminded yourself that security guards don’t descend en masse without a good reason.
“But there was nothing to see.” This time the woman sounded agitated, shrill. She no longer sounded like honey. “When you play the security footage back, it’s going to be obvious that there was nothing to see. And then I’m going to sue every single one of you” –her right pointer finger identified each potential defendant as her hand arced through the air– “for harassment and wrongful arrest.” Her finger sweep included the salesclerk, who was still smirking.
And then the moving finger found your face and stopped abruptly. The woman looked you in the eye and said, “You know this isn’t right. You know it. You know it. Say something. Please say something.”
You were, at that point, acutely uncomfortable and furious that she had singled you out. You did not like to be the center of attention. And why did she have to be so loud? Not just her, but so many of the women like her. They were always just so damn loud. So angry. It was impossible to be easy in their presence. (So you generally avoided their presence.) Why didn’t the woman just walk with the guards, sedately, to the back room, and discuss the situation like a normal person? You reasoned that if there was really nothing to see, everything would be sorted out quickly, and everyone could just get on with their day.
You did not say anything.
The woman’s shoulders slumped. You looked away. When you looked in her direction again, she was slowly walking to the back of the store, flanked by her keepers.
By now the facts, as you have assembled them, are clean and shiny. It was probably the amethyst ring that she had taken. The woman must have hidden it in either her bra or her hair. It just didn’t make sense that the salesclerk would say that she saw something if there was nothing to see, and that the security guards would spring into action with no valid basis. And really, hadn’t the woman protested a tad too much?
By now, you are comfortable with the fact that you did not speak.
By morning, you will have forgotten that this ever happened.
Person, Place and Thing
If my tormentor was my husband, you would have discreetly handed me at least three pamphlets by now. You would have said, “Oh honey, none of this is your fault; it’s him, not you, you know that right?” and wrapped me up in a tight, scented embrace and made me recite a hotline number twice. You would have told me that I’m not the only one, that it could happen to anyone, that just because I’m caught up in an abusive relationship doesn’t mean that I’m stupid or unworthy or lacking in judgment. You would probably have added (in a soothing voice) that you understood why I was terrified to stay but embarrassed to seek refuge, and urged me to seek refuge nonetheless.
But my tormentor is not my husband. I explained this to you, in great detail. I told you that my tormentor is the woman who lives four houses down from me, who posted on Nextdoor that there are too many of my kind in the neighborhood at this point and warned that there will likely be a decline in property values. I told you that my tormentor is the person-shaped patch of scorched earth in the park where teenagers recently burned a life-size cardboard cutout of someone my people admire. I told you that my tormentor is the sizzling, tangible rage that emanated from the men with assault rifles and dark symbols on their arms at a counterprotest. I told you that my tormentor is a mosaic that is also a monster under my bed, in my closet, walking beside me, chasing me without respite, always growing. I was shaking when I told you this.
You looked confused for a moment, and then your (only slightly) furrowed brow cleared and you told me that my concerns were overblown. You said this because you do not look like me and it did not occur to you to conduct a thought experiment. I was blown over by the swift, sharp gale that was your dismissal; it knocked me flat. When I finally got my breath back and gingerly sat up, the monster was directly in front of me, and I saw that it had grown again.
Colette Parris is a Caribbean-American graduate of Harvard College, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English, and Harvard Law School. An attorney by day, she recently returned to her literary roots after a long hiatus. She lives in Westchester County, NY, with her husband and daughter.