S I M O N E M E L A N C O N
S I M O N E M E L A N C O N
The Day Before the Party
“What does it mean to be seen as a person?” Simone asked. She could feel the glacier clear set of eyes on her, like red-hot tips of fire pokers near the nape of her neck. But she continued to look over the sprawl of quiet buildings from their perch on the roof of a building in mid-construction, the sunset squinting her eyes. There was a flint flick of a lighter and the first waft of smoke. She turned around to face the only friend she had in this new town.
“I guess that depends on how you mean it,” Vanessa told her. Vanessa took a long drag. They seemed to be getting longer in recent weeks. But Simone didn’t ask. Simone, of all people, knew when and when not to ask why a girl might want to poison her body. To damage it beyond repair. It’s why Simone ran, still. It’s why they were on top of 10-story building. Vanessa handed her the cigarette. “So, how do you mean it?”
“I don’t know,” Simone took it, pressed it to her lips. Long but shallow inhale and hold. Release and she felt the heady rush, the flex of her mind. She swam in the sensation for a few seconds before exhaling. A smile ebbed onto her face like memory and she was looking beyond Vanessa. “Sorry, it’s this habit I think I’m picking up. Something my brother used to do.”
A gust of wind almost drowned out Vanessa’s voice, “Don’t be! You’ve been bringing him up more, compared to when we first met.”
Simone rode the tail end of the cigarette’s rush before responding. “Well, yeah. There was no way I could tell someone like you what happened to him at first. Mathers assigned you to be my “campus transition buddy.” Where I come from, that’s just a thin way to say “assigned white friend” but during school hours only.” She held up a hand to stop Vanessa, “I know, I know. It’s not necessarily always like that here. But remember, ‘Ness. I ain’t even been here a full year.”
Up until 4 months ago, Simone called her small parish outside of Baton Rouge home. ‘Home’ in the sense that she could name each road like siblings—their tar pavement something like her own skin, the dirt roads ashy like her feet after chasing cicadas. ‘Home’ like she’d shared a meal with almost every family in her parish. Like she could go to Auntie Bea’s general store when Mi*les—Simone had to pull herself to the present again. “And I definitely didn’t expect to actually become friends with you. You actually get it."
Vanessa jabbed at Simone’s side with her index finger, “Even-though-you-hardly let us hang out in public together!” Simone laughed, falling to the ground. She was always extra ticklish after taking a run. But finally she looked up at Vanessa.
“You’re right. I just…I couldn’t, y’know. Before, when I was just the new girl. The new black girl. I just, I know things are different here. But —I didn’t want to feel like there were eyes on me again…” her voice trailed off in the presence of budding tears.
“Oh, Sim! I’m sorry. Jesus, Vanessa that was totally idiotic. I was only kidding, but I didn’t think how insensitive that could be.” Vanessa was hugging Simone now.
Things back home had been fine as they could be for a black girl in southern America up until her town’s small high school—a converted church—caught fire one night. It was the switch to a new school. So many new eyes, so many blue eyes. And then things were not fine as they could be--
Simone exhaled, singing the hairs of her nostrils with acrid smoke. The pain anchored her to the present because it was becoming too simple for her to lose herself, lapping up dark waters of her past. "Nono--no, you're kinda right. I been meaning to try...try being more...y'know--comfortable in being outside my comfort bubble." She ground her foot into the gravel, flexing her calves. That coiled sensation of flight so common these days. But she remained still. "I just...I don't know how. And I ain't gonna grovel to people for a friend." Her days of looking up from her knees for mercy, those were done.
Vanessa wrapped an arm around Sim's. "Theeeen, that's why you should come tomorrow, Sim. No one can know if you don't give them the chance to. I promise, this party is at my place so I'll be setting the rules. I run that house...until my brother decides he has to open his fat mouth. But these guys coming tomorrow, I like to think they're a good bunch. And--"
"I know, I know," Simone took the cigarette back, savoring the billow of smoke in her lungs. "Besides, my aunt Bea's been threatening to put me in her church's choir if I don't start socializing somewhat."
Vanessa jumped and kicked her feet out, "So that's a yes?!"
"It's a MAYBE."
"Well, Maybe is just ebyam spelled backwords. And ebyam is just a ancient Greek for 'most likely'."
"Who knows? But it sounds about right."
The two girls cackled--a burst of tense energy suddenly unwinding, taking form in their exhaled breaths. Simone was actually considering what living in this new town could be, instead of just surviving until she was an adult. She found herself smiling, walking down the building with Vanessa, chatting about who would be at the party--namely Vanessa reminding Simone who different individuals were. Thinking that this might be a good idea. This might be a step in the right direction for her.
The Day of the Party
Simone ignored the urge to bolt in the opposite direction of Vanessa's house as she walked up. There was no hanging moss in the trees, no cicadas in the air. The air that wasn't sticky with the tingle of humidity. Everything was crisp in this state--she'd recognized this when she'd moved. But it seized her again, walking toward the large house, along with this feeling like a screwing of the stomach and a prod at the base of her spine. The feeling like she'd had back in Louisiana. Even when everything else was different, this feeling rang through her body.
Simone was already a little past fashionably late to Vanessa's party. "Vanessa and her brother," Simone told herself, "gotta remember that." Originally, Simone was going to bail on the party. On her morning run, she'd plotted a dozen excuses to use.
And yet, here she was. Re-checking the set of brass knuckles in her high-waisted jeans before shoving her hands back into the pockets of her splatter-neon windbreaker. Always something visible, never dark on dark anymore. The sudden cut-off of a motorcycle engine alerted her to the fact that she was still standing outside while everyone else was going in. She fiddled with the gift in her small purse and the can of mace. The music was something robotic and new-wave—she tried not to grimace and walked into the house, thanking the person who held the door for her.