An excerpt from my upcoming short story, for your enjoyment…
I came into this life kicking and screaming, and I haven’t stopped since. But a blinking moment is sometimes the only chance we get to turn life around. One opportunity, one shot at redemption. Unfortunately, I had missed my chance…
Her face was contorted in a soundless scream, her skin a sickly marlin blue. My heart caught momentarily, but not in the same fear-struck manner that laboring mothers feel at the sound of nothingness immediately after birth. For me the silence was the gift of relief. Then a breath later her piercing wail shattered that hope.
The wriggling limbs. The squirming body. A sharp cry.
I couldn’t tell you what I ate for dinner last night, but twenty-three years later I remember that day in excruciating detail. 2:03 a.m., a precise ticking of the clock’s hand that announced an event that would never touch me, yet always haunt me, like prickling fingers running across my naked skin. Fingers that would never let go.
She was a tiny, bald, pinkish creature—all 6 pounds 4 ounces of her. Eyes an iconic Indiglo blue, like her mama’s.
Baby Girl Childs.
That was her name, at least according to the flap of paper taped to the transparent plastic bin that the nurses called a bassinet.
The daughter of unwedded, unwanted teenager Destiny Childs. And yes, that’s my real name. The famous R&B girl group of the 1990s was not yet a twinkle in their producer’s eye when my parents named me upon the advice of a fortune cookie: “Your destiny will be what you make it.” I could imagine it now…
My mother, her overhanging belly quivering as tiny feet slithered beneath her taut skin, in a grimy Chinese takeout booth, cuddling in the crook of my dirt-poor father’s armpit. His fingers callused and grimy with construction work labor as they discuss baby names over kung pao chicken. Then suddenly the answer wrapped in a stale but edible pocket: Destiny.
The irony of my name exposed itself unashamedly as life left me far behind. My destiny was little more than a remnant of a lost hope, a sliver of life that I’d never partake in. I’d only watch it from afar, like a foggy dream after being jarred awake. That baby was the only good thing I’d ever do, although I didn’t know it back then.
I was glad Baby Girl Childs lost the corrupt part of me that day when her forever family swooped in to rescue her from my ill-equipped clutches, changing her name and identity. At the time, I was only fifteen and reckless—a “waste of space,” a “cold-hearted bitch,” a “user and abuser” as everyone who knew me or dated me or lived with me said about me. All true. I’m no saint. Wasn’t back then, still not now. But part of me hoped I could change that… just not the biggest part of me. The biggest part of me cared only about me.
Weak, that’s what I am.
I never looked back with regret on that day when I pushed Baby Girl Childs away as the nurse held her out to me for a last-chance embrace. “You wanna hold her, honey?”
“No, take her away,” I insisted, wiping the sweat of labor from my forehead. Tears streamed down my flushed cheeks, but not for the loss of my child. I cried for myself that day.
Baby Girl Childs was a lifetime-ago memory that I stuffed into the hole in my heart and sealed shut… until I heard her name for the first time in two decades.
I knew her name, but she never knew mine. I remembered Eliot and April Beatty from the adoption paperwork, while I remained the shrouded incubation tool tucked behind the red tape. It had been a closed adoption, after all. But I had stalked the Beatty family once upon a time just to check in. Filthy rich. That’s what stuck out to me back then.
Now all that stuck with me was the name on the television screen.
I can’t remember the last time I watched the news, but Fate was pushing her way in to deliver a message.
A miasma of brake fluid, burnt oil, and exhaust fumes wafted from the Sears Auto Center garage into the cement-block waiting room while the mechanic attempted to revive my POS 2004 Chevy Cavalier on the other side of the floor-to-ceiling window smudged with a collage of greasy handprints. It was a miracle the vehicle even made it to the shop as a black cloud billowed out from underneath my hood, but $600-I-didn’t-have later, I was sitting on a vinyl and metal chair watching my daughter’s name flash across the top of the television screen beside a picture of a smiling brunette, pretty in a girl-next-door way. I searched for signs of myself in the heart-shaped face and found them in the wide mouth and pert nose. And the eyes—still that unnatural blue, like charms on an Indian bracelet.
A chyron flashed underneath the photo:
Clarissa Beatty, 23-year-old murder victim
I gave a little gasp. The chair belched against the concrete floor, plastic suckling my bare legs as I shifted forward in my seat toward the wall-mounted TV. The news anchor’s voice came to me as if from the depths of a black void:
“Twenty-three-year-old Clarissa Beatty, daughter of Eliot and April Beatty, owners of the locally-owned Beatty’s Pest Control franchise, was found dead in her Briar Creek apartment yesterday evening.
“Around ten thirty p.m., authorities responded to a call from Beatty’s roommate, Whitney Cardano, when she came home to find Clarissa lying on the floor unresponsive. There was no evidence of a break-in. According to officials, Clarissa was pronounced dead upon their arrival.
“The investigation is ongoing. No information has been released about the circumstances surrounding her death at this time, but police say the incident is being investigated as a homicide.”
As the anchorwoman breezily segued from an innocent girl’s death to the devastating plight of Durham, North Carolina’s lack of funds for road improvements, I sifted through my Rolodex of feelings: an unfamiliar grieving over something I never had.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t known grief. I’d had my fair share and then some. A mother dead from a cocaine overdose just as I ventured into adolescence, setting me permanently on the path to failure. A father who turned me into an orphan when he up and left me months later, a shattered and twisted Riddler of a child with nothing but pranks to pull. Theft, prostitution, drugs, depression—my own butterfly cycle.
Life had left me wilted and worn, but my daughter’s death became my resurrection.
To be continued… or if you simply can’t wait, pick up a copy here: