I used to awaken in the middle of the night to an axe being sunk into the flesh of a tree, which is how I thought of that particular sound. I knew I wasn’t asleep because I’d reach for the glass of water on my nightstand, drink, swish, and make sure I said, “ah” after swallowing, noting the contrast between vibrating uvula and the rhythm of the blade as it bit into the wood, repelled through air, and bit again.
As early as I remember my mom told me my father had built our house. He was dead before I could meet him, but she talked like he was as much my parent as she was. I don’t think they thought of adopting me when he was alive, had that conversation. I never needed to know.
“He cut down the damn trees himself,” she said laughing, as if that rolling mirth vouched for the feats of his industry. That he had not only possessed sufficient temerity to try what I gathered he told her he could do, but brought off as well.
The town was all forest and creeks, if you could call it a town, which I guess you had to, because most people think everything needs a name, or else there might be no ground beneath them. A boy at school had called me a creature of the streets, and he wasn’t trying to be mean. He was taking a stab at aplomb and grown-up words. The cultivated view.
I was the only Black girl, and when I asked him why he said what he did, he replied that I was from the city, like I was someone who’d “done some traveling,” which meant I didn’t look similar to how one part of him looked, though I’d lived there almost as long as he had.
We necked when we were eleven. There was a lone dumpster behind the school, brimming with old textbooks, but the dumpster never got emptied, as if it were a storage unit that happened to be outside. A hulk of rusted, blue metal that looked like a box of tetanus chained to a poll, lest a dumpster bandit tried to roll it away in the night, standing five feet from the brick wall, which made a tunnel, with the covering of the behemoth flipped back as a sort of roof. The textbooks just got rained on, but after they dried in a day or two they still looked as though they’d been freshly tossed there. An old man fond of hurling invective at clouds might have remarked that they didn’t make school books like they used to, and here were colors—or a form of black ink, anyway—that didn’t run, you whippersnappers.
We’d get in this tunnel, me and this boy named William, which he said was German, because he didn’t understand how first names worked or where a Moniqua could come from, save foreign, citified parts, and not four streets over, or just two, if you cut through the cemetery.
We hugged when it was done, and he’d say, “Are you okay?” like he was seeking clearance after the fact, which had little if anything to do with his lips on my neck, or mine on his, and was more in the manner of someone who recently ascertained that all of their limbs are in place and is seeking confirmation of yours.