I See New York

I named her New York, for whatever that’s worth.

They all thought I was crazy. It was the four of us, me and Aunt Becca and Aunt Effie and Reverend Pearson. We were standing on the porch outside, and they all looking at me like I’ve lost my mind. Aunt Becca was holding the baby, which was near about as big as she was, and pursing her lips the way she does. Aunt Effie was fiddling with her ear lobe with one hand and squeezing her fat with the other, soft like. Reverend was just looking at the baby, not at me, but I could tell that he thought I was crazy, too.

“That ain’t no Christian name,” Aunt Becca started.

“Ain’t no Christian name,” Aunt Effie repeated.

“It’s a name, ain’t it?” I said back.

That had them for a little bit. Reverend started shaking his head, and Aunt Effie went back to squeezing her fat, but then Aunt Becca had to start up again.

“It may be a name, but it ain’t no Christian name.”

“Ain’t no Chrisitan name,” Aunt Effie repeated.

“Reverend, what do you think?”

Reverend bent down to pet the baby on the forehead, to buy himself some time. Then he straightened back up and said, “New York isn’t a Chrisitan name.”

Aunt Becca’s eyes flashed triumphant. In her mind, Reverend Pearson was the supreme authority on Christian names, and that my argument was done. But I didn’t really care, too much. Her name was already New York, cause I said so. The real challenge was just getting everyone to call her that.

It was cool outside, and the baby was stirring a little in the blanket we had wrapped her in. She made soft mewing noises, and everyone would glance at her to make sure she wasn’t going to start crying. But she was a good baby and would just go back to sleep, I guess. Around us, the other houses were all quiet, but you knew that everyone inside was still awake. Everybody knew what had happened. Most of them were probably praying, some of them probably thinking about the whole thing, all of them awake.

“Why you want to name her New York, anyway?” Aunt Effie piped up. She’s a nervous woman, Aunt Effie, and she didn’t like the little fight me and Aunt Becca was having. She’s a big woman, easily twice as wide as myself and just as tall, and I ain’t no young sapling. But she’s got one of those big ‘ol fat faces that you can tell she’s as sweet as a tea cake. Aunt Becca, on the other hand, has a waist as wide as your pinky, and a face as mean as a panther’s. That’s what she reminded me of, some momma panther hissing over her cub. But she wasn’t going to win, not this time.

“I want to name her New York cause Rebecca wanted to name her New York. I’m doing what Rebecca would have wanted. I’m trying to make things right.”

The sour left even Aunt Becca’s face then. It was a little cheap, me using her name like that, but I had to name the child. I’ll probably go to hell for lying to them anyway, so I might as go in for a pound, eh? The baby started crying then, too, real soft like, and there never was anything on God’s earth that could melt a woman’s heart more than a newborn baby crying. Reverend was near pushed out of the way as Aunt Effie came in to help Aunt Becca. So I walked through the door that God had opened for me.

“Shh, New York, shhh.”

I said it real soft, real quiet-like. Aunt Becca kind of frowned at me, started getting sour again, but then, you wouldn’t believe it, but the baby started quieting down. So I said “Shh, New York, shh” again and reached out for her. Aunt Becca handed her to me, almost against her will it seemed like. I cradled New York in my arms the way I had watched Aunt Becca do it, and I kept on cooing to her. She fell back asleep, and I knew I had won. Reverend was biting his lip, glancing at the back of Aunt Becca’s head. Aunt Effie was staring at the side of her face. And I looked Aunt Becca dead on. The only thing she was looking at, though, was that baby. After about two minutes of staring at the baby like this, she spoke up.

“Why you want to name her New York?”

“That’s what Rebecca wanted to do.”

“Why did Rebecca want to name her New York?”

I couldn’t answer that, cause then I would have to tell her about the night that we made New York. That was the night that I had brought the wine and the blanket, and we had driven behind the cotton fields until we came to the old farmhouse that Old Man McKinley was about to tear down. We went inside and made love while the barn owls flew above us and the mosquitos hummed around us. When we were done, after I had kissed her on the ear and told her how much I loved her, she told me that she was leaving for New York.

“Why you want to go there?”

“Everyone wants to go to New York.”

“I don’t.”

“Sure you do. In New York, they got buildings taller than the trees.”

“They got that in Monroe.”

“In New York, the buildings are taller than silos.”

I laughed at that and tried to kiss her ear again. But she wouldn’t let me; instead she rolled over so we were face to face.

“They do.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“They got trains that run underground.”

“How they got that?”

“And in New York, I can be free.”

I frowned at her. “Where’d you here all this?”

“Betts told me.”

“Betts is a liar.”

“She ain’t. Her cousin went and told her all about it. About how you can walk the streets without people looking at you like you a nigger. She told me all about it.”

“You can’t be free nowhere.”

“In New York, everybody’s free.”

I rolled back over and looked up at the ceiling. “Betts is taking you for a ride. They don’t have trains that run underground, they don’t have buildings taller than silos, and there sure as hell isn’t some magical fairyland where everybody’s free.”

We were quiet for a while. There was a warm summer breeze, and the the only time we moved was when a mosquito started biting us. She started rubbing my chest and humming a hymnal in my ear. Such a woman.

“I’ll see New York, someday.”

So that’s why I had to name our daughter New York. But I couldn’t tell Aunt Becca that whole story. So, instead, I just leveled my eyes to hers and said, “She wanted to name it New York.”

Aunt Becca looked at me for a while, then looked at the baby again, and just sighed and shook her head. That was it. The baby’s name was now New York, and it would be forever more.

Reverend cleared his throat then. “We still got to decide what to do with the body. When we gonna have the funeral. All that kind of stuff. We should figure that out tonight, before we do anything else. She just laying in there, see.”

Now none of us would look at one another. We all stared at the baby, instead, like her little head was going to pop up out the cradle of my arm and quote a verse, or something like that. I didn’t want to say anything, because I didn’t care, really. I had already won my battle. So we waited, until finally Aunt Becca spoke up.

“Well, call the coroner right now, that’s for sure. Get them to come over and get the body. Have the funeral as soon as possible, I imagine. Call Mrs. Duvac at the Gazette and tell her what’s happened so’s she can put it in the paper. We should go clean her up a little for when the coroner gets here. She needs to look diginified.” She nodded her head at this to emphasize her point; her eyes never left New York. “She needs to look diginified. Get a new dress or something.”

Aunt Effie moved as slick as oil on water those words, going to the back of the house to clean her up and put on some new clothes for her. Reverend took his cue and followed Aunt Effie to go call the coroner and Mrs. Duvac. They’d listen to him. Just left me and Aunt Becca and New York there.

“Don’t understand why she’d want to name her New York.”

“She wanted to see New York before she died.”

Aunt Becca finally looked up at me. “Wanted to see New York before she died?”

“The city, not the baby. She didn’t know the baby’s name then.”

Aunt Becca pursed her lips at me, not amused. “So you named her New York, then?”

“That baby’s the last thing she saw ain’t it?”

Aunt Becca looked down at the baby for a while, and when she looked back up I was little suprised to see tears coming out of her eyes. I hadn’t seen Aunt Becca cry since December of 1992, when her husband was killed in a gin fire. And that was just a single tear. This time it was two, one out of each eye.

“That’s the last thing she saw, alright,” she said, stepping forward and touching the baby’s cheek with her fingers. “We said, ‘Rebecca, it’s a girl’ and she said, ‘I see.’” She extended her arms, and I put the baby inside of the them.

“Whatcha going to do now?”

“I’m leaving,” I said. “I’m leaving this state behind.”

“Where you going to?”

“New York. I hear they got buildings taller than silos.”

“Who’d you hear that from?”

“Rebecca”

Aunt Becca pursed her lips. “Where did Rebecca hear that from?”

I started laughing, then hushed up when I rememembered that the baby was asleep. “Betts told her.”

“Betts is a liar. She comes from a family of liars.”

“We’ll see.”

“You write her letters, now.”

“Every month. You take care of her.”

Aunt Becca was walking away, but she gave me a look out of the side of her eye that said nothing short of ‘Boy, you some kind of fool’.

“Boy, you some kind of fool. I always take care of my girls.”

She stopped before she left the porch, and turned around to face me properly. “Goodbye, boy.”

“Goodbye, Aunt Becca.” I looked down to the bundle in her arms. “Goodbye, New York.”

I walked away from them all and down the porch steps. Didn’t even know which way I was heading really. But I had seen New York. I was free.

I See New York

William H

Joined December 2007

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A brief story about the power of a city…

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fiction

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