The Minstrel

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The house was a mess. Raven was crying. She hadn’t been fed all day. He had been late coming home. And Ashley was nowhere to be found.

Jonathan would come up to Raven to hold her, but she would scream whenever he touched her. Then he would pull away, and she would scream that he was leaving her. In sheer frustration at seeing his child so bafflingly troubled, Jonathan hastily prepared a can of ravioli, hoping the food would calm her down enough so he could discover what was troubling her so.

He sat in a chair by the window while Raven quickly gobbled the food in the chair behind him, too exhausted to deal with the insurmountable tasks before him. He listened to her as he stared in the autumn beauty before him, but he saw no colors. His thoughts were nowhere near the present moment. He would think about where the hell Ashley could be, and why couldn’t she have just stayed here, why was she so pissed at him when he was so good to her, and what had he done that she had such a vengeful desire to punish him with this chaos, and the pain of Raven. He wondered if Ashley hit her and he was livid. Raven still was eating.

Jenny should be here. He felt like he was living Jenny all over again, but at least she had a good reason for her illness. She had suffered much through all the generations of her people. They all had. They were thrown to the side and forgotten. Jenny’s pain was the pain of a noble people whose heart had been speared through with a poison knife. Her pain he could have compassion for. What she’d suffered, he could understand.

But even in her pain, Jenny would never put her needs over that of her child. Even at her worst, Jenny would constantly be by Raven’s side. She would always feed her, take care of her. She would never leave Raven alone. To her, a mother could never desert a child. But Ashley was not her mother, and in her present state, was making that difference clear

He would take her and go. Leave behind this life and start anew somewhere far away, where Raven could be free and be herself without considering her weird or degenerate.

Too smart. That was what Claire Thomas had said about her step-granddaughter. Too fresh, really, was what she meant. Raven would always pester her with questionswhy were clouds gray, why was there hair on her neck, why did she wear funny hair when she went out when she didn’t have it at home, and the best, how old was she. Claire Thomas wanted to forget that children had minds and spirits. They were a nuisance that she was glad to have completed and only occasionally wished to visit.

Raven was looking at him. Her vibrant, wise eyes were sad. He had a sudden urge to run to and take her in his arms. But she was going to speak. He saw her mouth open in just a sliver, the way it did when she was thinking about what she was going to say. It was better for him to sit and wait. She had to be allowed to speak somewhere.

“She was at my school. She came into the classroom and yelled. She smelled funny.” Her lips trembled as she spoke. Jonathan wondered with anger what the hell his wife had said to her, and hoped vainly that it was someone else that Raven was talking about.

“Who? Who yelled?” Jonathan spat before he realized he’d startled his own daughter.

“Ashley. Your wife.” Raven retorted. Ashley was what Raven called her. She knew her mother was someone else. It was the last part that had been said with spite. And Jonathan felt guilty enough to be bothered by her jab.

“What did she say?” Jonathan asked, perplexed by the situation suddenly at hand. Raven didn’t answer for awhile. “Raven?” he asked again, wondering if she was far away in a land where no one could hurt her.

“Daddy?” She hadn’t called him Daddy ever since she’d started school. He was both warmed and alarmed.

“What, baby bunny.”

“Am I a nigger?”

Shock reverberated through Jonathan as he watched Raven’s confused face. “Where did you hear that word?”

“Ashley said it. What is a nigger? Ashley wouldn’t be so angry if it wasn’t, right?”

Jonathan didn’t know what to say. The rage he felt was inappropriate to display in front of such a small child. As was the name she was called today.

“So, am I a nigger?”

Jonathan breathed deeply several times to compose himself before speaking. “No, Raven, you’re not.”

“Is Mommy one?”

What the hell had Ashley done? “No, Raven, of course she isn’t.”

“Then being a nigger is a bad thing,” Raven concluded. Her eyes were round discs of fear.

Jonathan’s blood rose at what she’d deduced. He couldn’t have his child base her worth on the words of a drunk. “There aren’t any niggers, Raven. No one is a nigger. You know how sometimes kids get angry and call each other names that don’t mean anything except to hurt one another?”

“Like retard?”

Jonathan found himself giving a little laugh at such an innocent quip. “Yes. Like retard. Well, nigger is something like retard. People say it for the same reason.”

Raven looked confused. “But Ashley is a grown-up.”

“Yes, she is.”

“Grownups aren’t supposed to say little kid things. They’re too big.”

Out of the mouth of babes. “Sometimes, when grownups are not feeling good, like when they have had too much wine, they do things that don’t seem so grown-up,” Jonathan explained. Raven pondered this, then drank from her cup.

“Where is Ashley?” she asked as Jonathan started surveying the mess of the house, wondering where he could find the energy to clean it all up.

“I don’t really know,” Jonathan admitted. “I haven’t seen her all day.”

“She’s been acting weird.” She reached out her cup. “May I have more soda?”

“Sure,” Jonathan complied, thinking about what Raven had just said. What was going on with Ashley? He was married to her and he didn’t know. The charming girl had been replaced with a shrill hyena. But then, in the middle of all that, the sweet interlude when Velda had been released from jail. It was the first and only time in a year that she had been what she used to be. He’d suddenly had hope. For them, as a couple, for them as a family.

And now she was calling Raven a nigger.


He looked up.

“I don’t like Ashley much anymore. I’m sorry. I know you love her. Please don’t be mad at me.”

He went and took Raven in his arms. Not for the first time, father and daughter were in total harmony.

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