Friday Read! “Shard of Glass” by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Shard of Glass” by Alaya Dawn Johnson:

Shard of Glass

That day, my mother picked me up from school, wearing the yellow sundress and shawl I remembered from our trip with Father the year before. She looked just like she did most days back then—a glamour queen, a movie star (“Just like Lena Horne,” my friend Chloe had once said, “only darker—oh, sorry, Leah!”), but today her beauty somehow had a harder, more defiant edge to it. I could smell the expensive Dior perfume as soon as I opened the door, which surprised me, because my mom was usually fastidious about not getting perfume on her clothes. She was wearing her bug glasses—huge dark things with lenses that bulged out like fly eyes and reflected my face like a fun-house mirror. She had tied a yellow silk scarf around her hair and was taking deep pulls on a cigarette held between two immaculately manicured fingers. Only I knew about the nicotine stains she carefully covered with her special order “forest sable” cream each morning.

Tiffany, a stupid but vicious senator’s daughter who I had the misfortune of sharing a classroom with, suddenly dashed from inside the school, her face flushed.

“Hello, Mrs. Wilson,” she called. Before my mother could respond, she giggled and ran back to three of her friends waiting beyond the door. I could hear them laughing, but I was glad I couldn’t understand their words. They were all fascinated with my mother—the black housekeeper who dressed like Katharine Hepburn and drove a Cadillac, whose daughter’s “light toffee” skin indicated that she might just like her coffee with a lot of cream.

Sometimes I hated those girls.

“Get in the car, Leah,” my mother said. Her already husky voice was pitched low, as though she’d been crying. That made me nervous. Why was she here?

“Ma, Chloe was going to show me her dad’s new camera. Can’t I go home on the bus?”

My mom pulled on the cigarette until it burned the filter, and then ground it into the car ashtray—already filled with forty or so butts. She always emptied out the ashtray each evening.

“Get in the car, Leah.” My mom’s voice was even huskier as she lit another cigarette and tossed the match out of the window.

I sat down and shut the door.

We rode in silence for a while. Despite her shaking hands and the rapidly dwindling box of cigarettes, she drove meticulously, even coming to a full stop at the stop signs. She never stopped at stop signs.

“Ma . . . is something wrong?” I asked hesitantly.

Her fingers tightened on the wheel until her knuckles looked even paler than my skin. “We’re going on a trip, Leah,” she said finally, jamming on the brakes at a stop sign.

Read here.

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3 Responses to Friday Read! “Shard of Glass” by Alaya Dawn Johnson

  1. 1
    Petar says:

    I wish people would do a tiny amount of research before they set their work in a country. Like for example, figure out what 50LUF is worth, that the single Luxembourg International Airport has a reputation for unreasonable security, etc…

  2. 2
    Petar says:

    Also, that you have to really twist your wrist to stab someone from over the heart, that it was practically impossible to get from Western Europe to across from Japan overland, in the 60s, let alone for a black woman and child with no papers, that there was no civilian Luxembourg airport at the time, by the way, that practically no one will answer in a non-Native language when spoken her Native one, that even today there is exactly one train line into Nepal, and that it is really, really ‘quaint’, and 700km on an Indian train in the 60-70s would be a death sentence for a gunshot person, how do you get from Nepal to Ghana when $100 is an unexpected fortune, how do you get treatment in a hospital in Ghana on what happens (coincidentally?) to be the middle of operation Cold Chop, that it takes nearly four minutes for the sun to move one single degree, and so the sun briefly illuminating a cave only happens in movies, that an anonymous tip with absolutely no corroborating evidence will bring down an US senator, a unconnected female foreigner buying a gun on the black market in Caylon soon after the failed military coup, which was followed by a crackdown on firearms… and of course, again, again, and again, the total lack of understanding what happens to unescorted women who do not speak the language, in most of the world.

    When did it become the rule to set your work in locations and societies you have no idea about, and not even bother to do basic research? Privileged Americans… Shame, shame…

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    Petar / Pesho :

    We’ve discussed it, and we don’t feel you’re here to discuss things in good faith. Thanks for your participation up to this point, but we’re asking you to leave “Alas” – something, frankly, we suspect you’ve been asked before, under different name.

    Sincere best wishes to you.