Black Skin

Cianni Williams'20


The ground was cold under their feet. The crows sang their haunting melody as they lowered her father’s body into the ground.

Hope, now seven years old, would remember this day in agony, as her adoptive mother smacked away her brown, unloved hand.

Seven years earlier...

“Clark, are you sure you want ​this​ one?”

Clark’s smile reflected the one settled on the baby in front of them. The two-month-old copper-brown, giggling girl waved her hands below them, wanting parents as much as the couple wanted a child. Yet, it was apparent that only one of them was ready to take this baby with open arms.

Clark and Emma Wilson had hit hardships in their marriage; recently, the couple had been told that they weren’t able to conceive a child on their own, and adoption was the only option for having children. Faced with many negative pregnancy tests and hopelessness, Emma gave in to her husband’s wishes for adoption.

“Of course I do, honey. Look at her,” Clark pointed to her. “She’s perfect.” Clark held the baby with as much pride as a first-place trophy.

“Why is she so​ dark?​ ’ Emma asked, inspecting the baby at arm's length. The rich color of the small infant starkly juxtaposed with their pale ivory skin .

The cheerful baby girl giggled loudly as Clark attacked her with tickles, unaware of the disdain forming in his wife’s eyes.

Adoration swelled within Clark’s mind, and, as he held the baby close to him, a blissful wave of fulfillment washed over him.

With the baby cradled in his arms, Clark made his way into the adoption office, with Emma subtly sulking behind him.

“I want to name her something special,” he cooed to the now sleeping baby in the car seat.

“Why?” Emma asked, dumbfounded, seeing nothing special about their new child. She feigned a smile when Clark looked at her skeptically.

“Because,” he started, smiling at her sleeping soundly, “she is ours. We finally have a child.”

As the new family made their way back home, Clark contemplated the list of names that would fit his new family member.

Grabbing Emma’s hand with his free hand, he squeezed in reassurance.

“You’ll be a great mother, don’t worry.”

All Emma responded with was an anxious smile, letting her husband guide her to their

nursery.

Looking into the newly occupied nursery, Clark rocked the sleeping baby and hummed

loving tunes into her ear while Emma stared into space with a familiar feeling she never expected to associate with finally having a child: disappointment.

“Hope,” Clark declares, shaking his wife out of her thoughts.

“What?”

“I want to name her that: Hope. She is our ‘Hope’ for a happy family.” In response, the sleeping Hope gurgled at her new father’s happiness.

***

It didn’t happen all at once. Emma was never close to her adoptive daughter but began to

tolerate her presence. Only enough to fool Clark.

It wasn't until the news that Emma was finally pregnant with twins that her true feelings

for Hope began to show. A year after bringing Hope home, the twins Penelope and Annabel Wilson were born, and things changed for eighteen-month-old clueless Hope Wilson.

Emma’s hatred for her adoptive daughter wasn’t active as an erupting volcano; it simmered over the years, like an unwatched pot of water.

It began with the hair.

“Stop! Momma, you’re hurting me.”

Releasing the crying, four-year-old Hope, cradling her tender head, Emma let out an exasperated sigh.

“If you would just sit still, it wouldn’t hurt,” Emma sighed at the whimpering child, calling her a brat under her breath. Just before Emma could attack Hope’s coils again with the bent plastic comb, Clark stepped into the living room, intervening in the war.

Scooping up the crying child into his arms, Clark examined the situation through his worried eyes.

“Clark, put her down! Her hair is a mess!” Emma angrily exclaimed.

Shushing the whimpering child, Clark soothly said, “There is nothing wrong with her hair.”

“It’s a mess!”

“No it isn’t.”

“It’s ​nappy.​ We need to do something about it!​The harshness of the word slapped Hope across the face.

“Why can’t it just stay down?! ​My ​daughters’ hair isn’t like this!”

Clark put Hope down, and coldly stated, “Hope is your daughter too.”

Huffing in response, Emma stomped out the room and towards her blonde-haired

daughters in the next.

“Daddy, why doesn’t Momma like me?”

Looking down at his child, this innocent child, all Clark could do was wonder as well. Moving to the couch, Clark called for Hope to sit with him. Once on the couch, Hope

snuggled into the crook of his arm, letting her father run his hand through her tight curls, the same thing he would do the many nights baby Hope would cry out for someone. Eventually, she would only cry out for Clark because he was the only one that ever came.

“Momma loves you, sweetie, she’s just stressed out with the twins, and that’s why she gets upset. You know that right?” he reassures her, unknowingly trying to reassure himself as well.

Sniffing, Hope gave a meek nod, trying to reassure herself, too. Bringing the child closer, he reminded her of his love.

“No matter what happens, I will always love you, my little Hope.”

The two, drifting asleep, were oblivious to the envious stares of the other Wilson girls. Next was her skin.

***

Now six-year-old Hope, Penelope, Annabel, and their parents went to the beach for their first

Wilson family vacation. Car packed to the brink, full of buckets, shovels, towels, and food: all beach day essentials. With everyone ready, they set out for a sand-filled day.

After getting there and setting up their station, the girls ran for the water. Splashing and swimming around, the three sisters were frolicking, enjoying their newfound love for the sea. However, Hope’s fun was short-lived.

“Hope Wilson! Get back here now!” Emma shouted at the top of her lungs.

Scurrying towards her mother, Hope was completely unaware of the anger she had invoked.

“You cannot be in the sun that much. You’re already ​too ​dark,” she sneered at Hope, pointing out the stark difference between her cinnamon-colored skin and Emma’s pale ivory complexion.

“Stay. There.” she gritted her teeth, pointing towards the shaded blanket under the umbrella.

All this time, Clark was getting more food at the sidewalk and was oblivious to the trauma caused by his wife.

“Oh, honey, she wanted to stay under there. Right, Hope?” Emma sent daggers through her eyes, warning Hope that she would regret going against her.

“Yes, Momma,” Hope weakly responded.

For the rest of the day, Hope remained under the dark umbrella, fearing the idea of her getting too dark for her mother’s liking, being too black for her white family.

***

A few weeks after Hope’s seventh birthday, Clark Wilson passed away from a sudden and

unexpected stroke. Following his death, Hope was at the mercy of Emma’s unruly wrath.

From that day on, Hope’s place in the Wilson household changed forever; she was demoted from daughter to servant. This transformation resulted in her doing all the chores and a place in the cold, dark, unfinished dungeon of their basement, the same prison that Hope was shoved into whenever guests would come over, pushing her out of sight and existence.

This treatment continued for the next ten years, up to Hope’s senior year. ***

Unlike her two adoptive sisters, who attended the most prestigious private schools money could buy, Hope attended a public school. Penelope and Annabel were spoiled to the core, primped and pampered, while Hope had to scrape up leftovers to merely survive.

At the age of fifteen, Hope acquired a job working at a diner near her school and worked till sunset. There, at the diner, she met with the few people who truly loved her.

First, there was Dre. Andre “Dre” Coles had been Hope’s boyfriend since their sophomore year in highschool. They met in sixth grade at Ruckers and Lee Middle School, and the moment he saw her, he fell hard. Over the years, Dre would make several attempts to win over her heart, but the years under Emma’s callous hold made Hope too scared to open her heart and allow for true love.

“Yo, girl,” a shout from down the middle school hallway called for fourteen-year-old Hope’s attention. To no one’s surprise, she didn’t respond. With his further shouts, all she could do was pray for strength not to hurt him.

“Homeboy, I know ya mama taught you better than this,” she snapped at him.

“Ma, chill, I’m just tryin’ to holla at you,” fifteen-year-old Dre, with a heart almost as big as his afro, defended his innocent intentions.

Hope froze, and coldly said, “I ain’t that type of girl,” and walked away from the defeated middle school boy. She didn’t know it then, but she would eventually fall for him in spite of herself.

Then there was Marissa. Marissa Alvers was the only other brown-skinned girl in her neighborhood. Unlike Hope, Marissa came from an accepting family who went to great lengths to provide for Hope. Alongside her were Marissa’s younger twin brothers, Enrique and ​César, and her parents. ​Gloria and Mateo Alvers made a safe haven for Hope in their

Dominican-Puerto Rican infused household. From afternoon tutoring sessions with the twins to providing a space to stay when things with Emma were too much, Hope knew that she had a family to rely on.

And lastly, there was Ms. Jazzmine. Ms. Jazz, for short. She was the owner of ​Jazzy’s Diner,​ which she and her husband Wayne had opened twenty-five years earlier. The two of them were from North Carolina and brought their savory cuisine with them. They opened their arms to her the first day she came into their restaurant. She learned through their thick southern accents and hospitality. They were the closest thing she had to real parents.

This adoptive family of her own making was the center of Hope’s world, whereas the people in her house--her actual adoptive family--were the alien force trying to destroy her happiness.

Hope reflected gratefully on the family she had chosen to adopt as she sat enjoying her favorite meal.

“Chicken and waffles again? Child, don’t you get tired of eating that?

Hope chuckled and took another bite out of the maple-coated, crispy chicken wing. “Mama Jazz, you know how much I ​love​ Wayne’s chicken. It’s the thing that keeps me

going,” Hope declared as she took an enormous bite of vanilla waffle.

Ms. Jazzy let out a huge sigh. “Girl, why are you here tonight? You’re supposed to be at

ya prom. Hell, you not suppos’ to be here!”

Senior prom, part of every little girl’s dreams. Except for Hope’s.

A month before, in the Wilson’s living room, Hope stood against the door frame

watching the now sixteen-year-old twins twirling around in their newly bought prom dresses. Although the girls were pretty, they had poor fashion sense.

Modeling their dresses for Emma, Penelope wore a bright fuschia skin-tight dress, whereas Annabel spun around in her neon yellow ball gown. For only a split second, Emma’s ecstatic smile fell into disgust, but only for a second. Only long enough for Hope to see. When Emma realized that her adopted daughter was standing across the room, she motioned for her to come over.

“Just look at my​ ​beautiful daughters!” The overly sugar- coated words were intended to pack a hefty blow to Hope, but Emma’s jibes no longer fazed her. She had more important things to worry about.

“Ma’am, I wanted to ask for ...y-your p-permission....” The confidence was leaving Hope with every word that escaped her lips.

Pause.

Slowly turning her head to face Hope, Emma’s eyes, striking daggers in Hope’s direction, dared her to continue.

“And what would it be for, ​sweetie?​” The contrasting tone of her voice stunted Hope’s confidence even more, preparing her for what would happen next.

Quietly, Hope asked, “Can I go to prom?”

Pause, again. Then.

A roar of laughter erupted from Emma’s mouth, frightening everyone in the laughing

room. Barely holding her hysterical laughter, Emma chuckled, “I’m sorry, it just sounded like you wanted to go to prom. That can’t be right.”

All Hope could do was look at the ground, expecting the familiarity of Emma’s taunts. Seeing that she was sinerce about her request, Emma yanked her chin up, forcing her to look in her eyes, and coldly said, “You will never go out, you brat. If I catch you even looking at dresses, you’ll be locked away. Do you understand me?”

Holding whatever dignity she had left, Hope, weakening, muttered a yes, and hurried out, concealing the tears flowing down. As she ran out, Emma and Penelope laughed at Hope’s attempt, while Annabel sadly gazed after her, wishing for a better life for Hope.

Shrugging off the memory, Hope took another bite of chicken, ignoring Ms. Jazz’s pleas.

Jingle.“Hola,​ Senorita​ Jazzy. How’s you doin, Mamas?”

Hope snorted softly. She’d know that boisterous voice anywhere.

“Marissa, hon, it’s like,” Hope checks her imaginary watch, “too damn early for you to

be screaming.”

“​Hon,” M​ arissa said smoothly, “it’s neva too early. But look I got you something.”

As she turned around with a mouth full of food and gazed at what Marissa was holding, Hope almost choked on a piece of chicken.

In Marissa’s arms was a long, silky peach-pink dress. The corset top, encrusted with sparkling gems, shone in the afternoon sunlight. Marissa held up the dress, displaying its ball gown silhouette and how effortlessly beautiful it fell.

“What the hell is that for?” Hope stuttered in disbelief.

Guffawing at her best friend's shock, she said, “It’s your prom,​ perdedora”​ .

“No no no no no.”

“What do you mean no, Hope?”

“Marissa....” Hope started, recalling Emma’s threats, waiting for Marissa to realize. Sitting next to her, Marissa carefully laid the dress down and grabbed Hope’s hands. “​Mi amore​, fuck her.” Marissa looked up at Ms. Jazzy, “Sorry, ​Mami.​”

Ms. Jazzy just huffed in response and looked at Hope and said, “She’s right though.

C’mon, baby, when have you done something for yourself, huh?”

Turning away, Hope realized that she’d been good to her family but hadn't gotten

anything in return. Before her fear could cause her to doubt herself, she gave in.

“Fine, but I don’t have a date!” she said in a smart-ass tone.

“Umm,” a familiar voice grunted. Turning around, she saw Dre dressed in a matte black

suit with a peach-colored vest and a matching pocket square. He held a bouquet of peach roses. Hope guffawed at the two of them, as she realized this had been a joint scheme.

“Y’all are some corny ass people,” she laughed. “How long did it take to make this up?” “Three months,” Marissa and Dre said in unison.

Snatching the dress and making her way out of the diner, Hope yelled, “Y’all some

cornballs.”

A few hours later, the group of four, Hope, Dre, Marissa and her boyfriend, made their

way on the dance floor at their prom.

Huddling up outside of the gym that has been dressed up for the event, the four of them

planned out the evening.

“Aight,” Hope firmly stated, “Emma gets back home at midnight from a her girls’ trip, which means we need to leave at exactly 10:15pm to be sure I have enough time to get back before she even thinks about me.” Pulling out her phone, Hope set an alarm for 10:15pm.

“Once this goes off, we gotta be out, aight?”

Nodding all around. Mission Save Hope’s Social Life, Marissa’s idea, was in full motion. Leading off into the building, the pack pushed forth, readying themselves for the best night of their lives.

In the midst of the party, Hope lost all concept of time as Dre twirled her around the dance floor. For the first time in a long time, Hope was actually able to be herself. It had been so long since she felt safe, since she felt loved. ​​As their lips drew closer to one another, their surroundings began to slowly fade around them, allowing them to lose themselves in each other.

Beep beep. Beep beep.

“Shit!”

Gathering the silky dress into her hands, Hope took off towards the bathroom, racing against the clock, and leaving Dre alone on the dance floor. Stumbling into the bathroom, trying to regain her breath, hope ran smack into someone who made her skin turn cold.

“Annabel?!”

There, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, stood one of her adoptive twin sisters trying to take her prom dress off. The silence hanging over their heads was broken only by the sound of their uneasy breathing and their cautious staring match.

More silence, then:

“I’m so so sorry,” Annabel choked out as ​a flood of tears gushed down her blush-stained cheeks. Stunned by her reaction, Hope continued to stare in disbelief: ​why is she here? Why is she crying? Wait, where’s Emma?!

Rushing over to her, Hope grabbed a fist full of paper towels to stop the leakage of tears and make up running down Annabel’s face.

“You shouldn’t care about me,” she finally said to Hope, attempting to suppress her sniffling. “All I’ve done is hurt you. Me, Peneople, and M-mo-,” the droplets halted her sorrowful babbling.

“I should have stayed home in bed.”​ Sniff​. “Mom is going to kill me. She is going to be back soon. You know she thinks I’m sick. I wasn’t even supposed to leave the house. She doesn’t even know about Brian.” Annabel buried her coal-splotched face in her hands as if she just confessed her greatest sin. Hope sat next to her on the floor, cradling her.

Brian.​ Hope has seen him in the hallways on her way to class. He’d even greeted her once or twice before, but she had no idea that he was dating Annabel.

“Annabel, why are you telling me this?”

“Well,” she sniffed, finally looking back up to Hope. “I figured we’re both screwed, so at least we could be in this together.” A smile spread across their faces as they rose up.

“Hey, we got each other's back,” Hope said, giving her sister a make-up remover wipe and grabbing her hand to leave.

11:15pm

Standing in front of the driveway, there stood Hope and Annabel. Also in the driveway was Emma’s parked car, daring the adolescents to enter.

“Are you ready?” Hope asked, her words laced with panic.

Grabbing her hand, Annabel squeezed a silent “I got you” to her, and they made their way into the house.

Come what may.​

As they entered the living room, the lights suddenly flickered on, and, in the armchair, sat Emma in a cloud of smoke.

“Mom I can exp-”

Smack.

Stumbling back, Annabel held her reddened cheek as she tried to conceal her hurt. In this three-way standoff, all they could do was look at each other; anger shone on Emma’s, reflecting as fright in the younger women.

“You!” Pointing at Hope, Emma made her way towards her, creating a path of destruction in the short distance between them.

“You are the reason for this! You cause so much shit in this house.”

As Emma pressed closer and closer to her, Hope began to feel herself shrink. As she continued to let loose the monstrous feelings of hatred, Emma began to raise her hand, aiming to strike its next victim, but it’s docking was interrupted by an arm.

“What is wrong with you?!” Annabel screamed, holding back her mother’s wrath from Hope, finally protecting her after years of ignoring it.

“HE DIED LOVING YOU MORE!” Her brimful eyes told the girls exactly whom she meant: Clark.

Hope found herself at a standstill, intertwined with suffocating silence. The air between the three felt tight and unbreakable; any sudden movements would shatter everything around them.

Unexpectedly, the tears broke through the barrier, and Emma burst into an explosion of sobs. Collasaping on the ground, Emma fully let go of all the grievances built up in her, finally explaining the wall between her and Hope.

“He picked you. He chose you. After you came in, he forgot about me. Y-you, you were different than the rest of us. You...you..yo-” choking on her cries.

Suddenly, Hope cut off the current of sobs with a tight embrace. Locking on to her, Hope stood unwavering as Emma struggled against the compassion coming from her adoptive daughter. Eventually giving in, Emma collapsed into her arms and began to mutter tearful apologies.

As the dining room clock struck midnight, Annabel, Hope, and Emma huddled together, crying.


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