Oh Lord, Ms. Cookie’s out here. Ugh. I hate running into Ms. Cookie. Ever since she heard me singing “apple cherry coochie clique/mmm mmm yeah” from this Azealia Banks song, I’ve been trying to avoid her. It’s like your grandma walking into her bathroom, only to find you taking ass pics in front of her ruffled hand towels and the framed pictures of Malcolm. Only worse. Your grandma ain’t gon’ tell nobody about her lil fast tail granddaughter, just like Ms. Cookie won’t tell the world that her grandson be moving that mid. But I just KNOW she’s been telling the whole neighborhood about me; to watch out for the Hester Prynne in box braids.
I start pulling at my dress whenever I see her — sitting on the porch next door to mine, drinking iced tea and talking all loud to Ms. Rena across the street. I start thinking I should have worn a slip under my dress (do I even own a slip?) or tights with fewer diamond-shaped cut outs. Maybe a nice nude nail polish instead of this aquamarine with the yellow accent on my ring fingers. And let me turn down this Gucci blasting from my earbuds.
I mean, she’s never said anything but I know she be thinking it. Like when you wear a sleeveless dress to church and the first lady smiles at your with her mouth closed. As soon as I close the door to my basement apartment, I just know she’s gonna turn to Ms. Rena and be like, “hoochie.”
“Hey Ms. Cookie,” I say, coming down the sidewalk. “How you doin’?”
“Mmmhmm, I’m fine,” she says back, sweeping one hand across her front yard while the other rests on her hip. “Go ahead. You can walk across.”
Ohhhemgee, she knows I’ve been cutting across her lawn too?? Lawd. I thought I was slick, checking to make sure she wasn’t outside or hovering in front of a window when I skip across the strip of grass separating her front walkway and mine. It’s one thing to sing about coochies in front of your elders, but to disrespect their lawns?? She’s gonna have me killed yo.
“It’s ok,” she says. “The other day you ain’t hear me, I was over at Rena’s and you had them things in your ears, but I said I was gon’ start chargin’ you.”
She laughs and I kind of laugh back, not sure if this is some sort of trap or what. Aint nobody over 65 offering you no free ride across their lawn. Sounds like the jig. What you tryna do, Ms. Cookie, collect evidence on me for your report to the neighborhood association? I hesitate, then go on ahead because there was no use frontin’ now. My mama would be so ashamed!
She really doesn’t seem mad though. She actually seems kind of…warm and open. And, like, neighborly. Reminds me of that time she saved me from William, the neighborhood drunk who’s as ingrained in the street as the cracks in the sidewalk. This fool was blocking the stairs to my house when I was on the way home from the gym one day — wearing the pants that give folks a lot of information about the size and shape of my drawls — with bloodshot eyes and a bobbling head.
“You mahhhrried?” he asked between hiccups and brief bouts of narcolepsy. “You got any kids?”
“No,” I said, trying to get past him on the sidewalk.
“You want some?” he said back, not even bothering to laugh at his own joke.
He was leaning, and I started to worry that he would reach out and grab on to me at any moment.
“Get on out of here William!” Ms. Cookie said, coming out of nowhere. “Leave that girl alone! We all married ‘round here.”
Hm. Almost forgot about that.
And now that I think about it, she also warns me sometimes — eerily — about walking home from the metro when I leave the studio at 10 and 11, and how I need to keep “one of them things” out my ear when I’m walking by myself so late. To be more aware of my surroundings. “Mmmhmm, ‘cuz you know they was shootin’ over on Sherman last week” or “mmhmmm ‘cuz you know they be snatchin’ women up out here,” and “mmhmmm don’t let these white folks movin’ in fool you cuz you know they kicked in Rena’s basement the other day.” I think she keeps a police scanner in her living room. I shrug most of it off like I do when my auntie in Tupelo pleads for me not to ride the bus at night, but dang. Now that I think about it, Ms. Cookie be lookin’ out. Kinda like an auntie.
You know what? I should sit out on the porch with her one day and just listen to her talk for a while. Ask her about this neighborhood that she’s lived in for 20 years, or the granddaughter who is apparently the girl to beat on the D.C. teen pageant circuit. Maybe I could ask her advice on keeping silverfish out of basement units in the summer. I could tell her more about my photography blog — the one she sometimes sees me taking pictures for in the alley when she brings out her trash. I saw her peering through her back window watching me a couple months ago, and when the paranoid lady who runs the unlicensed daycare in her backyard started hassling me about taking pictures, Ms. Cookie came out and told her to chill.
Maybe I could get some iced tea and Ms. Rena could join us too, giving me the scoop on exactly how many people live in that weird lookin’ house on the corner and why folks be going in and out with trash bags in the middle of the night. And like, maybe this whole “hoochie” business is all in my head. Ugh I’m always worried about who thinks I’m what, when nobody probably even gives a shit. Maybe she says “coochie” more than I do. Maybe she thinks aquamarine is a great color for summer. Maybe Ms. Cookie could be the homie, my OG. My play auntie. Maybe.
She and Ms. Rena go back to talking about whatever they’re talking about and I go into my basement to see what her grandson’s mid is hittin’ fo’. But shout out to Ms. Cookie.
Fuck going to the beach and hanging out in L.A. I wanted to go to the desert. To one of those small towns with a name like “Indio” or “Cima,” where cross-country criminals dump bags of cash on motel bedspreads, old episodes of Gunsmoke playing while they separate twenty dollar bills from the fifties and hundreds. I wanted to be where artists go to forge metal sculptures that appeared in their dreams; where hippies claim to have seen God in a cactus.
The idea had been in my head since it first got warm out and I met this guy I kind of knew already at a barbecue in Southeast. He was friends with some of my friends, running with June and E. and ‘nem back in the day, but I never knew him outside of their mutual acquaintance. He’d give a brief hello to our table when we used to fill up on free chips and salsa at Alero after class, and I may have spilled one of those dollar drinks on him when all of Howard would cram into Pure on Fridays, but other than that I ain’t know him from Adam.
Anyway I ran into him at the barbecue and it was like yo can we actually speak to each other this time? I told him about this cab driver from earlier who said I should take his number down because he would give me free rides if I let him rub my legs every now and then.
“Well shiiiiit,” he said, laughing. “Where we goin’ then?”
We kind of hit it off from there, posting up on a bench made from cinder blocks and scrap wood, eating barbecue and trading stories till it was dark out. He said he was driving across the country in a week or so — just because he can — and my eyes lit up like the apple on the back of your computer. “I would love to do something like that,” I said. He scooped a forkful of beans in his mouth and looked square at me. “Well then come,” he said, not laughing or anything. I ripped a hunk of chicken off the bone and smiled a little. “Ok then,” I said back.
He was cute with a really great smile, and a lot of fun to hang out with — even gave my tall ass a piggyback ride after we decided to blow the barbecue, then helped me think of classic rap lines to write on dollar bills because that’s my favorite past time. I was definitely going to give him my number, for sureeee, but agreeing to drive cross-country had nothing to do with that. I said I would go because asking me to do some spontaneous, dumb shit is like asking the church if you can get an amen.
I pulled the car over once on a back country road to see what it would be like to lie down in the street, and there was the time at Blackfinn when I grabbed an oyster off the hors d’oeuvres table of somebody’s private party on my way back from the restroom. Or like when we were walking to the car from the barbecue and I said, “let me ride on your back.” I like adventure the way ya uncle likes pound cake. I hadn’t done anything in a while, and I was itching to do something big.
I saw myself in a convertible, wearing a pair of aviators with my head tossed back and orange tipped fingers slicing the wind as we sped down long, dusty roads that seemed to go on forever. We would raid a gas station for gummy bears and trail mix and sour straws, then lie on the hood of the car to look up at the stars at night. I kind of blew past the Kentuckys and Arkansas’s in my head, picturing the pinks and blues of the sunset over the mesas of Arizona. The desert. I wanted to meet strange people and learn something about myself in the process. I wanted to go there and be part of it all.
I was for sure-for sure going for like 12 hours. Even wondered whether I should get my hair braided or have it straight or what. Figured I should buy a new journal too because there were only a few pages left in my current one and bitches gotta write. But I’m always sure about some shit without consulting my job first or my Jesus, and both of them were like nope, so I told him to head west without me. I mourned my stolen adventure like the time I cried out to God when the CVS by my house stopped carrying my favorite brand of trail mix. But it was probably for the best though, because he had driven me home the night of the barbecue, and every other song that come on his shuffle was trash. So thank you Jesus.
But I never stopped thinking about it, and by August I had devised several other plans to get myself to the desert. First me and Bud were going to Burning Man but we couldn’t get into a village in time so I was like yo, let’s just do our own drive across the country since we already have the days off. But neither of us had cars so we decided to just fly to Cali. Then Bud got a new job and her orientation was the same week as our trip, so I was like fiiiiine I’ll just go by myself. My vision would stop for no one. I would rent a convertible, get some gummy bears, put on my aviators and set out for those forever-looking roads.
E. has her own place now, a little deeper into Bed Stuy. A third floor walk-up near the J train at Halsey. The living room is as big as my first (and second) apartment, with a ceiling as high as yall’s parents at a Parliament concert in ‘76. The place was still bare when I went up — a few boxes languishing in the corner, Butler and Baldwin and Morrison stacked in the sills of uncovered windows, the paintings her old roommate used to give her instead of rent money leaning against the wall. Canvases the colors of every fruit God created.
The bareness was beautiful. Evocative. The kind of place you had to dance in. One of those private, liturgical dances that pays homage to your own thighs and breasts and the ancestors who made them. The kind of space to make a reporter write poems and an architect sketch murals. The kind to make me play Channel Orange on a Friday night and want to run my hands across his fade. Me and E. were about to go out but I was playing “Sierra Leone” like I was staying in. Like me and him had been texting lip biting memes and water emojis during my whole bus ride to NY. Like we were sophomores off in the corner at one of Roc’s house parties. Like it was raining out and he was about to come thru.
E. was sitting cross-legged on the sink counter in her bathroom, dusting rouge on her cheeks. She turned 29 that morning. I threw some streamers around the apartment before she woke up — looped some around her TV and the handle of her stove, laid it across one of the boxes filled with old HU yearbooks, even put some around a pitcher of iced-tea. She almost fell out laughing when she opened the fridge. I like doing shit like that. It takes my mind off him. We would order an Uber later and take shots we didn’t pay for, rap Biggie lyrics back and forth during the 90s set, then pile into the bathroom to fluff out our curls and be way too hype about the fine ass bartender. But my mind would always be back on him. Mind been on him since that morning he and I spent laid out on my roof back in DC, blunted, laughing, hugged up, watching the kids play ball in the park down below. I smiled like “yayyy this is so fun” and danced a little when someone would look over at me, trying not to lunge whenever a white iPhone vibrated on the table.
I was in his city and still hadn’t heard back. But I wanted to see him. Or have him see me, rather. In E.’s big empty living room, with the lights all dim and the hardwood creaking as I arched my back against the wall. I sipped prosecco while getting ready, leaning, half-dressed, against one of the uncovered windows, with my skirt and bra and earrings laid out on the air mattress. I pulled off the cropped Berkeley sweater that made me feel like one of those girls in a Dom Kennedy video — one of those girls who ain’t phased by much, especially not by this shit. Like I might have piercings you don’t know about. Like I don’t care about who could be watching from the sidewalk.
Ughhh I wanted him to watch me. To see me like this. A piece of art he could touch. Curls falling to my neck as I slipped the pins from my hair, knees bouncing to the second half of Franklin’s “Pyramids.” Uninhibited and unruly, like a splash of paint dripping on the canvas of E.’s living room. To throw some of those streamers on him; to wrap them around the thighs and waist and hips that the ancestors thought to give me. I needed him to watch, like he used to on my weekends in the AUC, or the winter breaks when we would drive slow through Chevy Chase looking at rich people’s Christmas lights, or the month before when we were waiting on the steps outside the connect’s house.
Where the fuck was he. He should be on this couch, with a glass of something brown at his feet, pointing one of those instant Polaroid cameras at me and Butler and Baldwin and Morrison. Throw the sweater on the air mattress. Dance some more while running red nails through my curls.
If my phone buzzed then — right then — I would stay. Or go. Fuck rapping Biggie lyrics and that raggedy ass bartender. E. would understand. Down three flights and two blocks to the subway, getting off at Atlantic station and pausing to catch my breath before knocking on his door. He could show me around later. I had to show him what I was doing in the window first. Then trade my Berkeley sweater for his maroon & white one. If my phone rang.