Pale sunlight lanced through opaque shades, spearing Jade’s lovely face and slashing it with ugly streaks of yellow. The day after is always a drag, she thought, blinking eyes as dark as mourning. Pink and white afterimages were naked dancers tweaking on her retina. She smelled the pungent alcohol on her breath, felt a tickle in her throat and sneezed. She shouldn’t have gone off the wagon. The sudden movement was a stab of pain, as agonizing as a glass shard piercing the pulpy center of her pupil.
Groaning, Jade squeezed her brown eyes tightly shut. Her brow wrinkled and the expression “hammered” rang true- her skull was a wooden anvil that a muscular blond Thor was pounding with his mighty iron mallet. She got up slowly, teetered for a second, recovered and quickly gulped down a handful of Advil and stumbled into the bathroom. What a night it had been!
Carefully, Jade removed her bra and lace panties, stepped into the shower, and turned the cold water on full force. The spray felt good, squirting and slohsing over her dry skin like liquid honey, the watery droplets icy pins driving deep into her body. Her flesh, rather than shrink from the frigid wetness, relished it, like arid soil welcomes a liquid downpour. She took a deep breath and stood for a long time under the flow, letting it permeate the pores of her skin.
Shaking off the dampness like a slippery minx, Jade toweled dry, rubbing her skin until it was as smooth as fur, as polished as shellacked wenge. She began to feel almost human again.
Jade was parched. She giggled. Those salty margaritas she had downed had desiccated her. She slurped down four or five glasses of sparkling water, letting it dribble out the sides of her mouth. Shaking her thick hair, she let it fall over her face, and combed it to unsnarl the knots. Then she brushed it vigorously, the metal tines harsh against her scalp, almost self-punitive. Jade grinned. She deserved it. She’d been a bad girl.
Laughing, Jade tossed her head. Her hair was a come-on to men. And that gorgeous man last night was no exception. Splashing cold water over her cheeks and forehead, she tried to dull the headache. Rinsing her mouth, she spat out something foul and gummy.
The late-night encounter with the albino at the bar was a first. Jade frowned. For most of her life, she had stuck with her own kind. Her granny had warned her to stay away from white men. After three marriages, she moved up north, yearning for something different. The bitter-sweet chocolate of her last husband’s loving had paled on her, the joy bleached out by his tomcatting. But she had remained resolutely sober. Still sometimes she needed a shot to dull the pain and loneliness.
Last night was the anniversary of her divorce and she decided to celebrate by boozing at an uptown bar, rather than a downtown honkytonk. Maybe, after three losing black Jacks, it was time to bid on a King of Diamonds.
After her third or fourth or maybe fifth margarita, she noticed him, alone, sitting at a small table in the corner. He fit the description perfectly, slender and a bit withered, with skin so
translucent he was a sculpture of marble. It was as if this gorgeous guy was there waiting for her. Their eyes met across the room, just like in fairy tales. His pupils were pale moons that brightened the midnight sky of Jade’s face. She sashayed over to him, swinging her hips and pursing her lips.
At first, they made small talk, downed a few glasses of Scotch, letting the ice tinkle in the glasses as they held them half empty, their knuckles grazing each other, as her pulse quickened, as heat rose in her skin. When he offered to pay for the next round, his voice soft, a deep, resonant baritone. She accepted- it made her feel desirable, valued.
And she could tell he had money by the cut of his suit, the platinum of his watch. His occupation? “I’m a gardener”, he whispered, his mouth brushing her ear. Taking a small lily he had in his lapel, he placed it in her hair, as if planting a flower. They laughed together at the joke. Their connection was genuine. For a moment, Jade felt love, pure and nourishing, which did not undercut the hot acid of desire.
His face was unusual, whipped cream, the eyes a washed-out pastel. His eyebrows were sugar or talcum. The nose was distinctive, broad and flat, as if he had Cherokee blood. She yearned to nibble the cauliflowers of his ears, whorls of milky growth. And his face glittered.
Jade sighed and sat down on her couch. The memory was vivid, overwhelming, and her body throbbed with desire. She retired with him to a back room and downed a few doubles. When he began fondling her, his hands smooth wraiths that slipped under her garments, she let him. And his kisses—Jade inhaled and touched her chest. His tongue dipped into her soft, eager mouth extending like a vine, rooting itself, drawing forth her sweet liqueur. She had never been kissed that way.
Jade licked her lips. They were chapped now but last night the trickle of his saliva moistened them. And she returned to the well of his mouth again and again for more. As a young girl, she believed that kissing could make you pregnant. Kids are so naïve, she thought. Still, Christian guilt hit her. Jade stiffened and touched her belly gently. She sighed. It was as flat and as taut as ever.
Getting up, she went to the sink and drank more water. It had never tasted so delicious. She hadn’t gone to an AA meeting in years, hadn’t needed to, until now. Maybe it was time. She burped. She had drunk too much alcohol. Going to the fridge, Jade took a large bottle of Avion and put it to her mouth, quaffed, and kept on until she had emptied the entire pint. Wiping her mouth with her hand, she cursed. Jesus, she was still thirsty. And her mouth tasted funny. Jade spat into the sink. Her spittle sprayed out, splashing over the porcelain. Brown guck coated the basin like moist coal dust.
Jade checked the bottle, but it was clean. She opened another one, drank more water. Incredibly, she downed it as if it was the first, as if she had an empty fuel tank that needed filling. Her gums were slimy, oily. She spat again. If anything, the saliva was darker this time. The sight nauseated her; she wretched, vomited. Her vision blurred as blackness poured out of her mouth like dark vomit, a torrent of tarry liquid. Jade’s brain whirled, spilled into a chasm of charcoal. Losing consciousness, she blacked out.
When her vision returned, the pinwheel of fuzziness resolved into the kitchen linoleum’s shadowy whiteness. She was face down on the floor, her nose pressed against its hard coldness. She was dizzy, and a bruise rose up on her knee. Her mouth was sandpaper and foul-tasting. Raising herself off the ground, she stood up, went to the sink.
The porcelain was ugly, black and grainy, as if someone had emptied dank soil from a large flowerpot into it. It smelled like loam or fertilizer. Jade remembered vomiting. Did this stuff come out of her? Her hands trembled, the fingers stiffening into wooden sticks.
Then, she noticed. What happened to her fingers? Their deep, rich ebony had lightened, was russet. Or was she imagining this? Jade rubbed her eyes, then examined her hands again. No doubt about it, they were several shades lighter. Or was she hallucinating?
Rolling up her sleeves, Jade compared her hands to her upper arms. Above the elbows, the skin was smoky, jet; but below, it was cocoa, as if cream had been poured into a pot of black coffee.
As she stared, Jade saw the lighter line begin to shift, ease further up her wrist, like the first rays of dawn brightening the night shadows. Soon her skin literally blanched, turning from deep pitch to dark brown, then to tan. She blinked, as memories churned. She pictured the wheat field on grandma’s farm down south, when virulent, pallid weeds invaded, leaching the rich loam and nutritious minerals from the soil. The parasitic growth changed the fertile, dark ground to lifeless beige as they drained its nutrients, bloating until they were obscene tubers.
Sweet Jesus, she groaned. An unknow power was leaching the melanin from her skin, sucking the vital life force out of her body. No, that was impossible. A voice chuckled in her brain, the tone deep, baritone. She cried out.
Jade recalled the man’s handsome face; the weird pallor as if the color had leached out of grainy bark, evaporated to leave only a frosty residue. She recoiled, pressing her hand to her mouth. She imagined she still felt the powerful draw of his kisses, as if he sucked the juice from
her body, drained it, and then poured something else down her throat. She gasped. What had he done to her?
Jade screamed. Running to the bathroom, she hunted for the stash of vals she kept in the medicine cabinet for emergencies. Her face stared back at her from the mirror, nilky and ghoulish, as if she had vitiligo, as if her essential pigmentation was missing. Her ears were growing, becoming flowery like huge, spiral Carnations. Creamy shoots sprouted out of them, blossomed, as if feeding on rich earth.
Panicky, Jade stripped off her blouse, then her bra. Her torso was as pale as the full moon, as creamy as snow, her breasts vanilla pears, with tiny, frost-colored daisies budding from their oozing tips.
Trembling, she took off her skirt, the panties. She bloomed from every crevice, lush and wild– her body a garden of whiteness. Then, like a one-day hibiscus, she wilted.
The tall, handsome black man sat alone at the bar, sipping a martini. His skin glowed and he was brimming with vitality, his complexion dark as ripe Mahogany, his face pitch. His chest was broad, hard and sturdy as a wild chestnut tree.
The pretty blond woman who stepped into the bar was drawn to him, a pale flower spreading its petals towards a bright, dark sun. Hesitant, she smiled, and when he smiled back, she sat down next to him. Soon, they chatted. When he delicately touched her hand, she trembled.
They made small talk. Enchanted but curious, she asked him what he did for a living. His voice was deep and resonant. “I’m a gardener,” he said, and smiled. Then he placed a black rose in her golden hair.