When Elsa Sings by Rayna White
I know the days when Elsa's lover been over, 'cause those be the days when she don't stop singing. I heard her as soon as I got to the top of the stairs in the hall of our walk-up in Harlem. She was belting out a big, heavy gospel song praising the name of her most merciful, loving Savior. Couldn't nobody deny that the sound of her voice was like summer on a Saturday morning, like somebody bottled up and gave her all the joy of Christmas and Thanksgiving and she just gives us little tastes of it whenever she feeling generous. Wasn't no denying that her voice was heaven, but still the sound her singing made me cold. Cold, like I was alone, naked, on a bank of hard, white, snow overlooking an icy ocean on the coldest day of a Canadian winter, shivering from my bare feet to the tips of my scattered grays, and there ain't even a flicker of a flame coming my way to warm me. Not here in Harlem, not nowhere. I know I'm 'sposed to take action on my wife for cheating on me. I know I'm not supposed to let Elsa go on singing.
One time I seen them fuckin' up in our living room. I stood in front of the car wash across the street from our building. I saw her and him through our second floor window. First thing I did was laugh to myself, 'cause she don't never listen. She always walking around half-naked when we home together and I'm always telling her to stay away from the window 'cause people might could see inside the living room from the street. She says that can't nobody see nothing from the street and keep on walking around half exposed. So, I learned two things when I saw them that first time. One, my words don't mean shit to my wife. Two, she a lying whore.
I seen her good that day too. Her legs twisted around Mr. Lover as he kissed every part of her. Her mouth, her chest, her shoulders, her neck. My neck. Beautiful neck. Long, slender and sweet dark, golden brown like she was molded straight from a jar of honey. Soft too. She was graceful like a swan, holding her head high above us all even though wasn't nothing in it but secrets and lies. Mr. Lover tilted her head to the side exposing her sweet neck to all of Harlem, then he buried his face in it. It was like a butter knife sawing its way through my heart. He kissed her some more and they fell out of sight. I just stood there. Contemplating.
My options were two. I coulda gone in there and put a stop to it. Torn my wife off of Mr. Lover, pounded him with punches until he was about half dead or until I got too tired, whichever came first. Elsa would scream and cry and beg me to stop and I'd tell her to shut the hell up whore. She'd cry some more and maybe call the police and I'd be in jail and I couldn't be in jail, 'cause I already been in jail and if I go back I might not never come out. And I might notta seen Elsa again, and I wasn't letting him have her that easy. She my wife. Even though right then and there I hated her, she was still mines. So I exercised option two. I left.
I walked over to the park across the street and sat at a chess table and played chess for two hours. I lost the first two games and won the third. Just as I got finished with the third game I saw Bianca Waters walk by. We all called her Big Booty Bianca, because her ass looked like two sawed off basketballs pressed together in the back of her pants. I got up and started talking to her. I tried in my own slick way to get her to invite me over to her place. She changed the subject and started telling me about the big plans she had with her kids for the evening so I knew that meant no and I waited 'til she stopped talking and wished her a good evening. I walked back home. Pissed. Hateful. I thought about what I was going to say to Elsa when I got upstairs. I'd call her a cheating hoe and I'd toss her clothes out the window and drag her out the front door and slam it in her face. She'd bang on the door crying telling me she loved me and she was sorry and she'd beg me to let her back in and I wouldn't.
But that's not what I did. When I got to the top of the stairs after that first time I saw her with Mr. Lover that's when I heard her singing. She wasn't singing gospel. I guess she wasn't feeling too repentful yet. She was singing some song from the radio that she loved and that I couldn't stand. I wanted to hit her hard in the face. There wasn't no reason she shoulda been so happy while I was feeling so bad. I stood outside and breathed, calming myself because I knew I couldn't go inside wanting to hit her. So I just waited.
She cooked too that day. I could smell it outside the door. Cornbread. Fried whiting. Just like she used to make when we first got married. She'd surprise me after my long days at work. She'd fry me up some okra and the stink of cabbage would hover in the kitchen. Everything Southern-style like my mother and her mother and my grandmother and her grandmother did. We ain't had no kids but when I smelled that food I thought about it. It made me feel the love of home. It made me feel like my mother was wrapping her arms around me telling me that there ain't nothing to worry about and that everything was going to be alright and I just needed to hold on and be strong. And I needed to be strong then. I don't need to be strong now because my heart's already been broke, but at that time I needed to be strong 'cause I ain't never felt no pain like that before. I didn't know if she loved me but I knew I needed her, and despite all the stuff she doing she must need me too a little bit 'cause she ain't left yet. Fifteen years is a long time. I knew I didn't really want nobody else. That night I went inside and I ate the feast she made me. I let her treat me like a king and I didn't say nothing.
Right now, today, I stand at the door. The sound of the fryer sizzling breaks through the gospel hymn. Today, Mr. Lover done been up in my wife again. I feel that urge, that angry urge I get now every time I hear that singing and smell that food. I ought to go in and raise hell. It's about time. I can't let this shit go on another minute. Today, she gonna see what it's like when a husband knows his wife been cheating, 'cause I swear today I ain't taking this shit no more. I'm a man and I got my pride and I can't live with no lying woman who don't think I'm worth a damn. I'mma tell her I know everything.
I know her routine. When I walk through this door, the living room is going to smell like apple cinnamon air freshener, and I'mma tell her that I know the stink that's beneath her artificialated air. She ain't gonna have her feet kicked up on the couch with her back to me while reading one of those celebrity gossip magazines. She gonna be in the kitchen wearing something slinky and the pillows on the couch are going to be arranged in a straight line like something out of a home magazine. Her curly hair is gonna fall straight down her back and she gonna smell like mango soap. She gonna ask me how things was at work and tell me that she missed me. I let her do it every time. I let her take me back to those beginning days when things was all good. We in our twenties again and I'm telling her stories and she laughing and spitting food all over herself. She tells me I'm so crazy and I kiss her and I think about doing more but I don't knowing what I know, and she don't try nothing neither and we keep kissing and I let myself get wrapped up in this lie thinking to myself that I'm a fucking fool. 'Cause I am. Any man I know whose wife cheated, he put her out without a second thought. That's what a man with good sense is 'sposed to do. But I ain't never said I had good sense. And she's my wife. My wife, and don't nobody else need to be in my marital affairs. This is private. She my wife and I could handle her however I want and can't nobody tell me nothing for it.
These the lies I'm living. I know I'm a idiot, 'cause these the lies that I'm loving. She mines. I'mma stick my key in the door and I'mma go inside now. She gonna see me and she gonna smile and I'mma smile back. And I ain't gonna say nothing.
© Rayna White, 2014
Rayna is an emerging New York based literary and screenwriter. Her work can be found in eFiction magazine. She's technically a lawyer…ish. She lives in the Bronx with her cousin, her super hot husband, and the smuggest cat ever in the history of the world.
When Elsa Sings was read by Rico Frederick on 1st October 2014