10th Street

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.

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