The wind is smacking the metal blinds against Amara’s open bedroom window when she gets back to her apartment, making an awful racket. Damn. I hope that hasn’t woken Mama up. She walks up the steps to the gate and undoes the latch, closing it behind her with a click. She takes soft steps down the walkway, stopping at the roof access ladder hugging the side of the stucco building. She jumps up, grabs its lowest rung, and pulls herself onto and up the ladder until she gets to her window. She reaches out and grabs the window ledge with her right hand. Once she’s sure she has a good grip, she grabs it with her left hand and pulls herself through the open window, thanking the Goddess that she’s so small for sixteen. It comes in handy for a lot.
Amara lands on the floor with a thud. She gasps. If that didn’t wake Mama up… She holds her breath for a few seconds, waiting, listening. Crickets. And then a sudden metallic clang as the wind hits the blinds again. Shit. She shoots to her feet, grabbing the window and pulling it down in one motion before slowing to allow it to latch silently. She lets out her breath, turns her back to the window, and waits, listens again.
Nothing. I should get to sleep.
But then, the hidden moon glints off the mirror, beckoning.
Amara looks down again, for the first time since she crossed the salt line and started home. Her hands are still pale, ghostly, even. She can see blue veins in stark relief that were once only hinted at. She pulls her sweatshirt over her head and feels strands of hair lift up and stick to the fleece, suddenly silky and flyaway. My hair. Her hands fly to the top of her head, feeling all around. The strands slide through her fingers easily. A pang of remorse reverberates through her.
She swallows, steeling herself. Her hands fall to her sides; she looks down at her bare arms. Pale as the hands. Moonlight glints off the mirror again. She takes slow steps towards it, wincing as she enters its view.
Amara, meet Becky.
Her hair is white blonde, thin, and shoulder length. Her eyes are pale, almost ice blue. Her nose, once broad and flat, now juts from her face and narrows to a point, as if it’s trying to escape. Her lips form a thin pink line, a harsh rebuke to the variegated brown-and-pink fullness they enjoyed for the sixteen years prior to tonight.
Amara’s stomach churns with recognition. Even after the man-thing appeared and spoke to her and left, even after she saw her hands change, part of her still felt like it might not be real. But now, she can’t deny it. She did it. Now she has to live with it.
I just need to get some sleep, and then I’ll feel better. It’s not like I did this on a whim. I’ll get some sleep and then I’ll wake up and Mama…
Her train of thought stops in its tracks. This is where her plan always breaks down: her mother’s reaction. Because her mother has no country for Black folks who align with Whiteness, as she’s told Amara fiftyleven times. So what will she say when she finds her beautiful Black daughter switched teams, if she even believes that I’m still her daughter? Amara shudders. It could go a number of ways, several of which—the nonbelievers—end with her in the hospital.
But Amara knew this when she set out on that road. She knew her mother could potentially disown her. But she also knew that this pale skin she has now is an armored security blanket that will insulate her, and by extension, her mother, from so many traumas.
She turns away from the mirror, away from her alien reflection. She steps on the back of her left shoe, releasing her foot, and then repeats the same motion with the other foot before kicking off both her shoes and pulling off both her socks. She unbuttons her jeans, sliding them down over her newly narrow behind, allowing them to crumple at her feet. As she pulls her t-shirt over her head, she feels some strands of hair lift again. Guess I don’t need to wrap my hair tonight.
Amara takes a few deep breaths to calm her sour stomach and climbs in bed. The moon, no longer hidden, streams through the slats in the blinds, casting oblong shadows across her face. Her eyes flutter shut and she begins to drift off to sleep.
*Inspired by the film Wake (Bree Newsome), the novel The Good House (Tananarive Due), the short story “Wet Pain” (Terence Taylor), and, I’m sure, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Also, the last part of this tweet by Jay Smooth.