a tale in weekly parts
Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, dreamed she was a white man, naked in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in the future. She was promptly arrested for public indecency and became an involuntary guest of the local police.
But was it a dream?
This story is open for suggested continuations. I will publish here all that I receive, with links to your own blog. The one I like best will become (or form the basis for) the next segment of this collaborative tale.
This loneliness was something Bernice had never experienced before. Hers was a large family that enjoyed a good lifestyle in one of the wealthier neighbourhoods of Phoenix. At least, it did until 1989, when she was six years old. Suddenly, it was just her mother, her three older brothers; the twins, Jesse and John were ten and Abel was eight; her younger sister Simone, who was three, and herself. Mother had told them simply that their father had ‘moved on to a better place’. It wasn’t until she reached her teens that she had learned the truth. She had been left in the house with instructions to mind Simone, while mother and the boys went to watch a sporting event. Simone was indignant. At almost eleven years old, she didn’t feel that she still needed a babysitter. She snatched the transistor radio from the lounge sideboard and stormed to her room, turning the radio to its loudest. Bernice didn’t mind that; it meant she could hear the music wherever she was in the house.
Where she was in the house was, in fact, the basement. Below stairs was the strongbox where all the important papers were kept. She went there regularly to sneak a look at her birth certificate; just to see her father’s name on it; and to look at old photographs taken before he moved on. On this visit, she literally stumbled on another storage box; a smaller one, just large enough to hold maybe fifty or a hundred letters, that was on the ground in a place the lights didn’t reach. Right at the top of its contents was a paper headed ‘divorce’. She picked the small file out and started to read it. According to one of the supporting documents, the ‘better place’ to which her father had gone was New York City, where he was doing something called cohabiting (a word that Bernice hadn’t seen before) with a woman called Gaynor Spikolowski.
To this day; or at least, to the day in 2014 she fell asleep before somehow ending up a white man in Canada; she had never told a living soul what she had found that day. The only change in her demeanour and behaviour was that she had stopped creeping down to the cellar.
But she was certainly not alone then. Her mother had devoted her life to raising her five children, and had never, as far as Bernice knew, shown any interest in any other man. The family had to move from the nice house in the suburbs to a small apartment in the city early in the 1990s. Mother explained that since their father moved on, his money wasn’t coming in and they had to rely on what she could earn. Later, Jesse and John finished at school and found work which brought in a bit more cash, then their younger brother did what he could. Poor Abel had never fully recovered emotionally from their father’s departure. This led to poor performance at school, and everybody knew that it would take something very special for Abel to end up anything other than a welfare case. So, throughout her developing years, Bernice always had people around her. Something was always happening, and it was usually accompanied by a fair amount of noise. Not so this cell. It was so quiet in there, that she learned for the first time that he had a mild case of tinnitus!
She was dragged out of her reverie by the rattling of keys outside her cell. The door opened with a creak and a groan and the custody sergeant walked in, accompanied by a small man in a dark blue business suit. The man’s short, dark, greasy hair and pencil moustache put her in mind of that particularly nasty man who ran Germany in the 1930s and started the second major war of that century. The likeness made her more than a little nervous.
“Stand up, Reed,” the sergeant said, “Mr Jones here is from the government.”
“Good morning, Mr Reed,” the strange little man said. “My name is Jonas Smythe. I represent the HTU.”
“HTU?” Bernice asked.
“Homeless and Transients Union. It’s a joint initiative of the government of Canada and the Unions that seeks to offer help to displaced people such as yourself, instead of letting them go through the court system. It’s hoped that treating you as an unfortunate victim of misfortune in need of help, and not as a criminal deserving punishment, will give a better outcome. Most people know us as ‘Help The Unfortunate’.”
“So you’re really here to help me,” Bernice said, brightly, “that’s good news. I hope.”
“It certainly is. You’re getting out of here today. There’s a full set of clothing for you in the office—”
“I’ve got someone bringing it now, Mr Jones,” the sergeant interrupted.
“Thank you, Sergeant. But it’s Jonas or Mr Smythe; not Mr Jones.”
“Yeah, whatever. It’s coming anyhow.”
“So what am I supposed to do when I leave here?” Bernice asked. “I don’t have anywhere to go. I don’t know this place at all; I have no family or friends. I don’t even belong here.”
“I understand that, Mr Reed—”
“Please, call me Bernie; Mr Reed just feels wrong.”
“Certainly, Bernie. The officer told me about your situation as you described it, and I must admit, it’s a new one on me. I thought I’d heard them all. So; once you’re dressed, we’ll get you to my office, where we can find out who you are, where you’re from, and what’s the best we can do for you.”
“Did you find anything from Phoenix, Sergeant?” Bernice asked.
“Came back negative,” was the terse reply.
A young police officer came in with a pile of clothes.
“Are you sure these will fit me?” Bernice asked.
“I measured you while you were sleeping,” the young officer replied, as he left the cell.
Bernice was loathe to disrobe in front of the two men and was about to ask for some privacy, when she remembered that they wouldn’t see the body of a black woman in her thirties, but that of a white man of, presumably, a similar age. She shrugged and changed into the new clothes and left with Jonas Smythe. As she passed through the front office, a shout came from the back of the room.
“Mr Reed?” It was the woman who had arrested her. Bernice looked up to her. “Just wanted to wish you good luck, Sir,” the officer said.
Bernice thanked her and left the station house with the man she hoped would give her, if not answers, at least some direction.