The Dark That Haunts Us
By Amy Souza

Inspired by Mary Cook’s art

Settling into an uneasy sleep, Anita prayed for a night empty of dreams. No uncontrollable free-fall. No sense of impending doom seeping into her from all sides. No scowling clown’s melted eyes, and no freight train rushing fast while she tried to extricate one tennis-shoe-clad foot. Her heart couldn’t handle many more scenes like this, but the alternative—keeping herself awake with cup after cup of instant black coffee—no longer appealed. Her stomach now churned every time she opened the cupboard and saw the jar.

Who knows why we dream? The scientists have theories, but only our Maker can say for sure and he’s not talking. He keeps so much to himself. Secretive, furtive. Anita knew men like that all too well.

The priest reminded Anita that God was not a man, that attributing human frailty to him was tantamount to blasphemy.

But he made us in his image, Anita argued. Mustn’t that mean in some fundamental way, he is like us?

Not in any way we can comprehend, the priest responded.

The big black hole of not knowing had haunted Anita for as long as she could remember. Her siblings teased that she was a perpetual two-year-old, always wanting to know why.

Let it go, Anita. Have some fun. (Maria, the eldest.)

Work, kids, dishes, and at the end of the day, the husband. Who has time to worry about God, little sister? (Jacqueline, the middle girl.)

You know what I think, Nita. God is for pussies. (Her twin brother, Rafael.)

Still, Anita persisted. Why were we here? Why did some people have everything while others starved? Why pray if it brought nothing in return?

To that last question, the priest had a solid answer: If you’re praying only to ask God for something, then you’re not praying from a pure heart. Prayer is not a commercial transaction, Anita. It’s not a tit for tat. You don’t strive to be a good person so God will reward you. Being a good person must be enough.

Last Sunday walking toward the subway, Anita turned a corner and saw an obese woman, pants down, sitting in a puddle of her own urine at the bottom of a concrete stairway. Bags of belongings surrounded her. A thin black man glared up the stairs at Anita.

What? You think it’s funny a lady’s got to go to the bathroom? You think she’s not allowed to go when she’s got to go?

A young white family—man with a baby harnessed to his chest, woman pushing a stroller—approached the square of sidewalk that the angry man commanded.

He shouted at them: You got a problem with this? You got a fucking problem?

Meanwhile, the obese woman struggled to extricate herself from the wet stain spreading out around her. She might have been crying or perhaps just sweating. The humid day compressed Anita’s lungs. The woman’s exposed flesh rolled in caramel-colored waves from belly button to kneecaps. Her hair drooped like a wilting flower’s petals and clung to the sides of her face. Her feet were bare. Slivers of sandals sat two steps below her, askew, marked with dirty indentations of soles and toes.

In the distance, a siren. Anita hurried down the stairs, putting as much distance between herself and the yelling man as possible. She turned back to see the white couple had crossed the near-deserted street. The man, still shouting, had stepped into the roadway, threatening to follow them yet also clearly tethered to the woman on the stairs, who continued to whimper and try to raise herself. She’d need a team of men, Anita thought, or a machine with belts that could wrap around her heft. One thin man would not be able to lift her, no matter how passionate.

Even as Anita walked away, part of her remained with the woman, struggling to right herself. Stuck in a humiliating position she did not want to be in. Wondering how she got there and if she’d ever be delivered someplace else. She’d call the police from the subway station. Surely they’d come. No use calling for God. He was nowhere to be found.

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