Ch. 7: Fear of X (or the awkward path towards trust). June 11, 1987.

Ch. 7: Fear of X (or the awkward path towards trust). June 11, 1987.

A Chapter by Gee Roughin

Suzie-Q went in her bedroom and shut the door. Suzie-Q stood looking at the door. Suzie-Q breathed out steel. He’s never gonna hit me again, thought Suzie-Q. Could her soul become like that, impermeable to wind and hatchets? Flimsy, breakable, floundering in its weakness"I want a metal door, thought Suzie-Q. A grey, metal door with a padlock.

Suzie-Q stuck her desk chair under the door handle. She got some heavy books and piled them on top of the seat. She filled up her suitcase with books too and placed the suitcase flat up against the door. Suzie-Q slept in her clothes, with her shoes on. Early the next morning, Suzie-Q noiselessly removed the heavy suitcase, carried it to the closet, put the other books back on her bookshelf, put the chair at her desk, opened her window and climbed out. She pulled it almost closed, leaving three pennies under it to make sure she could get back in that way. Suzie-Q had to pee badly. She felt relieved about being on the ground floor now, and relieved about not having her period. Suzie-Q thought about how she used to lock her windows out of fear, but now everything was turned inside out. She was afraid of the inside.

Suzie-Q decided to ask her neighbor Sam to use the bathroom. Alice was too goody-two-shoes and would not be able to keep a secret, thought Suzie-Q. Sam’s house was just across from Suzie-Q’s window. Suzie-Q’s window looked out onto the side of her house (the other side from the tree) and just onto Sam’s driveway. Sam made Suzie-Q laugh and blush a lot. Sam was still 14, which made him too young for Suzie-Q. When Suzie-Q was with Sam, sometimes she forgot he was Black. This seemed somehow racist to Suzie-Q, but she didn’t know what to do about it. Suzie-Q thought about the word “Black” with quotes around it, as if it wasn’t supposed to mean anything, and whispered it if she had to say it to white people. She tried not to use it with Black people, but sometimes she forgot and whispered it to them too, and then she felt embarrassed.

Sam was 2 heads taller than Suzie-Q, with close-cropped hair and very dark skin. When Sam stood quite near Suzie-Q, making her laugh and blush, he didn’t feel 14 to her. Sometimes Suzie-Q called him “Uncle Sam”, because he was so tall, but this made Suzie-Q’s Dad frown.

Suzie-Q had never done things like knock on Sam’s window before, but she knew which window was his, and she knew he would be up. This is different, thought Suzie-Q. She thought Sam might get it, and he wouldn’t mind. Suzie-Q went to knock on his window. Sam looked surprised and mocking and started to make loud cracks, but Suzie-Q put her finger up to her lips with a perfectly serious but pleading look on her face, and Sam shut up right away. He helped her climb up through the window.

“What’s up?” whispered Sam.

“I just have to go to the bathroom, and I don’t want to see my Dad ever again.” Suzie-Q knew she was exaggerating, but thought maybe Sam would get it more quickly that way.

Sam opened his bedroom door and sneaked into the hallway. “You stay here!” he mouthed, not making any sound. He hopped and walked half-way down the hall, stepping short left, long right, long left middle, and short right. Then he peered into his bathroom. He took the same off-route back to Suzie-Q and whispered, “Step where I step. I’ll wait for you.” Suzie-Q followed his steps back to the bathroom, went in to do her thing, and came back out to find Sam waiting. He signalled for her to follow again, pointing to his feet before starting back to the bedroom. Suzie-Q followed, without making a sound. They shut the door.

“I can’t believe you memorized the creaks like that!” said Suzie-Q.

“Survival,” said Sam. Suzie-Q wondered what he meant, but she didn’t ask. “I didn’t know you didn’t like your Dad,” he said.

The grey metal door swung shut, but it didn’t click. Suzie-Q didn’t dislike her Dad. She was proud of him. She liked him a lot too. Suzie-Q said, “He’s just kinda strict,” wrinkling her nose and making a fake expression with her face. Guilt was whistling through the cracks.

“Oh, come on. You don’t climb out your window and knock on your neighbor’s to use the bathroom at 5 am just cause your Dad’s kinda strict!” Sam was right, but Suzie-Q didn’t know how to explain it. She thought if she said, “He hit me,” it would sound really extreme, like he beat her up, not like he just gave her a spanking. She had always taken her Dad’s spankings with great patience, even when she didn’t deserve them"Suzie-Q thought then it was just a mistake. She forgave her Dad everything, but this was different.

“He hit me lots and hard yesterday,” she finally said. She felt unsure about saying that, but she knew it was true. “I don’t want him to ever hit me again.”

Sam usually played the comic, but now he frowned and looked long at Suzie-Q, with a very serious and real look. Suzie-Q thought it felt nice to be looked at like that. “So what are you gonna do?” he asked. Suzie-Q thought Sam took her seriously, like it was possible for her to never be hit again. Suzie-Q hesitated, wondering if her idea was stupid.

“I wanted to get a key made for my bedroom door-handle lock.”

“That’s stupid. You can’t do that. But you can change the door handle. Do you have some money?”

“Yeah, a little.”

“How much?”

Suzie-Q didn’t answer.

“Never mind. Let me come look at it.”

Somebody kicked Suzie-Q in the rear end. She drew curtains on her nausea with a frozen smile. Then she remembered. It didn’t matter, she’s hit whatever she did"she learned that yesterday. It doesn’t make any difference.

“Okay. Do you want to use the window?”

“Quick. I have to go to school soon.”

They both climbed out one window and in the other. In her own bedroom, Suzie-Q’s heart pounded out warnings. She rationalized her fear but her body rebelled. She had never done anything like that before, so blatantly against her father’s principles. Could he have something worse in store? This led her to think about hell again, but she shut down that thought fast.

Sam was inspecting the doorknob. He asked her for paper and pen and jotted some things down. Then he wanted a tape measure, but she only found a wooden desk ruler. “The better to punish you with,” laughed Sam under his breath, tapping the ruler against his knuckles. Suzie-Q thought he was hilarious, and bent over double holding it in.

“You wanna give me some money and I’ll go find this for you, or you think you’ll find it okay yourself?”

Suzie-Q smiled awkwardly. She didn’t know if she should go so far as to give him money. She thought about all the people she would give money to, and she wondered why she felt this way about Sam, and she wondered if the feeling was racist, and she thought it probably was. She wondered why she would have such a feeling if she didn’t want to be racist. She squinted at Sam. What else could she do? One part of her thought she would trust Sam because it was right, in a noble sort of way. In another, buried place she registered the fact that if she couldn’t trust Sam, she couldn’t trust anyone. That made her afraid. She walked to her desk and pulled a check book out of her purse. She dated a check and signed it.

“There’s only 100 in there. Don’t let it bounce.”

Sam smiled faintly with his eyes squeezed up, a mirrored squint. Then it faded. “I can pick this up near my school. Why don’t I come back over lunch?”

“Do you think you’ll have time?”

“It’s study hall after lunch.” Sam turned fast to go back out the window. Sam was grinning and the squint was back. He got ready to jump. His eyes glinted above the plastered smile. “Don’t worry,” he mouthed. Then his head dipped under the window sill.

Suzie-Q tiptoed back to her desk and sat down to an open book. Like clock work, her Dad knocked on Suzie-Q’s door at 8 am.

“Are you up?” came the low, slow voice.

“I’m working.”

“I didn’t hear you stirring this morning,” he said from behind the door.

“I’ve been up studying for a while. I have a test today.”

Suzie-Q heard the silence. She heard her Dad wondering if she was going to open the door, and then wondering why not, but she didn’t care. She felt it in the pit of her stomach but still nothing mattered about that anymore. She just didn’t want to see his face this morning, and smile and be sweet.

Finally, Suzie-Q’s Dad said, “Well, see you tonight. I’ll be home at 5:30,” awkward from the other side of the door.

“Okay,” replied Suzie-Q, without moving. She heard him walk away, go out the side door, open the garage, start the engine, back down the driveway, close the garage door. He drove away. Suzie-Q felt calm, then dread washed over her. Something emptied out inside Suzie-Q. Her forehead was tingling, and something was very full and empty at the same time inside her, like hollow lead.

Suzie-Q had the symptom of severe guilt. She felt as if her action of not opening the door for her father was an extremely violent action, like hacking. She felt full of anxiety. Suzie-Q thought that she was faced with a watershed moment after which nothing would ever be the same again.

She pulled out her books and started to study. Her home-school history teacher would be there at 2:30, and she really did have a quiz. She tried to concentrate but couldn’t very well.

At 12:30, Sam rang the front doorbell, sack and receipt in hand.

“$16 and 50 cents,” he said, waving them.

“Is it the same?”

“Totally the same. Look at it.”

Suzie-Q took the door handle out of the bag. It was in there loose with some screws and the famous key. “Looks used.”

“It is used. Makes it even better. We gotta get started.”

Sam walked straight back to Suzie-Q’s bedroom. He threw his backpack and the paper bag down on the floor. He pulled a little Phillips head out of his backpack and started unscrewing very fast.

Suzie-Q once more got that feeling of panic and anxiety, feeling out of control. Sam didn’t seem to question what she wanted. It seemed normal to him.

“Hand me that thing,” he was saying.

Suzie-Q handed Sam the new door handle, sort of slowly, and began to concentrate on the process.

“Beau-ti-ful! It fits,” said Sam, not even stopping to look. He grabbed the bag of screws with his other hand and just kept going. Even the metal plaque it fit into was right. In two more minutes, he was tightening the last screw.

“Hey, try the key real quick. I wanna get out of here. I don’t want to muss with your Dad.”

Suzie-Q took the key Sam was holding out to her and tried it in the keyhole. It fit. Everything fit. She shut the door. She locked it. She tried to open it. It wouldn’t open. She put the key back in and unlocked it. It opened. She tried the same thing from the inside. No problem. She stared at it open to make sure you couldn’t see any change.

Sam was standing there now with his hands on his hips, feet apart, grinning wide but without the squint. “It’s okay for you? You look like you saw a genie!”

“I did.” Suzie-Q unwittingly batted her eyes. “Thanks, Sam.”

“It’s nothing. Hey, put that loose stuff in here with the old handle. I’ll throw it away at school. I gotta go.”

Suzie-Q did that. Sam whipped out the door. Suzie-Q felt the vines growing up in her stomach as she realized what she had done. Big deal. She stared at the new door handle. Did she really just do that? Suzie-Q thought she’d try the key again, just for fun. Was it in the sack? She put her hands in her pants pockets, but it wasn’t there. She didn’t see it anywhere. Suzie-Q scurried back to the front door, yelling, “Sam! Sam, wait!” Suzie-Q flung open the screen door and rushed onto her porch.

Sam wrapped his arm around her waist from behind and stuffed the other hand over her mouth. “Shsh! You’re gonna get us both in trouble. I got the key.”

“Oh you…!” started Suzie-Q, but couldn’t think of how to finish her sentence.

© 2011 Gee Roughin

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Added on October 19, 2011
Last Updated on October 19, 2011
Tags: paranoia, fear, america, 80s, racism, changing locks, money and trust, paranoid wasp


Gee Roughin
Gee Roughin

Cairo, Egypt

Before spending seven years writing Paranoid Wasp, I studied literature at Wheaton College (IL), Yale University and the University of Chicago. I moved to Paris in 1999. In addition to ten years in Fr.. more..