High Crime Area

Free High Crime Area by Joyce Carol Oates

Book: High Crime Area by Joyce Carol Oates Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joyce Carol Oates
vari-colored, even garish. Ruins had not always been ruins . Like most tourists she’d assumed that the ancient sites had always been, in essence, what they were at the present time. Like most tourists she hadn’t given much thought to what she was seeing and her thoughts were naïve and uninformed. Her husband had said The way people actually live is known only to them. They take their daily lives with them, they leave just remnants for historians to decode .
    He had opened that world of the past to her. And now, he himself had become past.
    She thought He took everything with him. No one will remember who he was —or who I was.
    She was beginning to feel very strange. A lowering of blood pressure—she knew the sensation. Several times during the hospital vigil and after his death she’d come close to fainting, and twice she had found herself on the floor, dazed and uncomprehending. The sensation began with a darkening of vision, as color bleached out of the world; there came then a roaring in her ears, a feeling of utter sorrow, lostness, futility...
    At the intersection of Seventh Street and Hammond, out of a corner bodega he stepped carrying a six-pack of beer.
    He was older of course. He must have been—nearly forty.
    His dark hair threaded with gray was longer than she recalled, his eyes were deep-socketed and red-lidded. His skin seemed darker, as if smudged. And he was wearing civilian clothes, not the bright-blue prison coverall that had given to the most hulking inmates a look of clownishness—his clothes were cheaply stylish, a cranberry-colored shirt in a satiny fabric, open at the throat; baggy cargo pants, with deep pockets and a brass-buckle belt riding low on his narrow hips.
    She saw, in that instant: the narrowed eyes, the aquiline nose, the small trim mustache on the upper lip. And something new—through his left eyebrow, a wicked little zipperlike scar.
    It was Joseph Mattia!—(was it?). Recognizing her, but having forgotten her name.
    He’d stopped dead in his tracks. As a predator, sighting prey, though he has not been hunting and is not even hungry, will stop dead in his tracks by instinct, staring. And then very slowly he smiled as an indecipherable light came up in his eyes.
    â€œMa’am! You lookin good .”

Toad-Baby
    Out of the corner of her silverfish eye Momma is watching me to see if I am sleeping. I am not sleeping I am wide awake.
    Came to stay with Momma. Though I don’t live here now.
    I was eleven first time I ran away. Stayed with my friend Sadie but didn’t tell them why, or not exactly. Could not tell anyone exactly for they use your words against you like rubbing a dirty rag in your face saying it is your own dirtiness, you deserve it.
    Cop brought me back that time. Momma and Evander hid how mad they were that I’d shamed them, beat me real bad after the cop left.
    Evander is gone now. Left his little son behind Momma says like you’d leave an ugly nigger-toad behind.
    Momma’s family is disgusted with her for having this new baby who cries all the time. Bulgy toad-eyes, and skin kind of toad-colored, and a drooly little mouth, and floppy arms and legs like there’s no bone inside.
    Momma grabbed and hugged me this time I came in. Hid her hot face in my neck till I pushed her away smelling her breath. It is not normal for a grown woman to hide her face against her thirteen-year-old daughter and cry in such a way.
    Her and me the same height now but Momma is forty pounds heavier, and her skin scalding-hot.
    I am placed in a “foster home” by the county but it is with my aunt who is Momma’s oldest sister, half-sister as my aunt Chloe and Momma had different fathers.
    At school the teacher asks me to help with the math lesson. At the blackboard I was wearing a red-patterned scarf tied at the neck, that was my aunt Chloe’s scarf. Another time, my brass-colored hair was plaited in cornrows, that

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