Connie screamed and hurdled down the flight of stairs like she was on fire. She made a run for the front door, fingers frantically fumbled at the night latch, deadbolt and lockset. Head on a swivel, she tossed panicked glances over her shoulder at the middle-aged black man bounding down the stairs toward her.
The final lock tumbled, she grabbed the knob and tugged but the man rushed up from behind and slammed the door shut. He spun the whippet-thin woman around as if she weighed nothing, took her by the shoulders and pressed her against the door. Connie let out an ear-piercing screech that he cut short by clamping his massive hand over her mouth.
“Stop it, do you hear me? I’m not trying to put on a show for the neighbors, so I need you to stop screaming. Just. Stop.” He held her there for a long moment and leaned in uncomfortably close so she could see the seriousness of his intent. When she calmed down a bit, “I’ll take my hand away if you promise not to make a sound, deal?”
Connie nodded her blonde head helplessly. The man removed his hand and she stifled the urge to yell again. She tried to back away from his face that was far too close for her liking but there was nowhere to go.
“L-let me go. Please, let me go.” Terror cracked her voice.
Still pressing her against the door, the man reached over and secured the locks. “You can’t leave, not yet.”
“Don’t hurt me, mister! I-I’ll cooperate…do anything you want, I swear!”
Connie flinched in revulsion when he reached for her and lightly brushed the hair from her face. His expression softened. “You don’t have to be afraid of me, Sarah, I would never hurt you.”
“Sarah? You’ve got me mixed up with somebody else. I’m Connie, Connie—“ she struggled to remember her last name. Tip of her tongue. Something that began with a W.
“No, you’re Sarah. You were born May 4th, your favorite color is plain yellow though you tell people it’s chartreuse, your favorite book is Beloved, you love okra, God knows why, and you have a birthmark on your—“
Connie struggled with this. The things he said, the things she could remember were true but how did he know? And why couldn’t she remember her last name? W-I– it just wasn’t coming. “Look, mister, I don’t know what’s going on here, but—”
“Stop calling me mister, my name is Kurt.”
“Kurt.” She spat his name out like a curse.
“You know, maybe you’re right. Maybe you don’t know what’s going on. I didn’t consider all this might be new to you.”
“What are you talking about? What do you want from me?”
“You said you’d do anything for me. Did you mean it? Anything?”
Anything suddenly seemed like a dangerous concept to her. “I don’t know you and I’ve never done anything to you. Please don’t hurt me.”
“Don’t you see you don’t have to be afraid of me?” Kurt scanned her eyes, searching for something. It unnerved Connie. “It’s not what you think. I don’t want to hurt you. I just want you to do me a favor.”
“What kind of favor?”
“My wife, she’s sick, very sick. I mean, she’s been sick for a long time, only I didn’t know it, but now it’s worse…and I’m so lonely.”
No. This was going someplace bad. “What? I can’t—‘”
Kurt took hold of her tiny wrist and pulled her to the staircase. “Yes, you can. Come with me upstairs.”
“You promised to do anything I wanted as long as I didn’t hurt you, right? Have I hurt you?”
“No.” At least she didn’t think he did. Surely she would have remembered that, right?
“Then do what I ask and I’ll let you go. But you can never tell anybody about this, understand?”
“But you’ll let me go? You promise?”
“You have my word.”
The two walked up the flight of stairs, Kurt in front dragging a reluctant Connie behind.
“Where are we going?” Connie asked although she guessed the answer.
“To the bedroom.”
She thought she could be strong, go through with it, let him have his way, but the closer they got to the bedroom door, the more Connie resisted. “I don’t want to go in there!”
“Because I don’t belong here!”
“Yes, you do. And if you quiet down and listen to your inner voice, it’ll tell you you’re doing the right thing.” Kurt opened the bedroom door with his free hand and gestured inside.
“Step into the room.” He gave her a gentle shove.
The room smelled of the instant after a lightning strike, the air rich with the scent of ozone. Connie entered cautiously and froze. The man hadn’t been lying. There was someone here, a black woman in the bed, roughly her same age, wearing an identical sundress. She would have thought the woman dead if not for the slight rise and fall of her chest. “Is that–?“
“My wife,” Kurt nodded and closed the door behind him, guarding it.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Hate,” he grunted.
“I don’t understand.”
“She was the victim of a hate crime.”
“What happened?” Connie asked.
“She was on her way home from work one night,” he answered. “It was late and normally I meet her at the train station, but that night I got caught up running errands. What’s funny is I remember not being too worried about it. I mean, it’s a quiet neighborhood and nothing bad ever happens here. But that night, she ran into four white teenagers on a stroll, who, I guess, were just looking for trouble.”
Kurt’s face flushed, his hands clenched and unclenched in an unconscious gesture of pure rage. “And they beat her. For no good reason other than the color of her skin, they beat her. She never hurt a soul in her life and they beat her to the point where I barely recognized her. They beat her…and they left her lying in the street like she was trash.”
“Oh my God, mister, that shouldn’t happen to anybody and I’m sorry it was your wife, really I am, but I don’t understand what this has to do with me.”
“Look at her. Can’t you see it?”
“What, that she needs medical help and maybe you do, too?” She regretted the last part before it finished clearing her lips.
“I was hoping seeing her up close might clear things up.”
Connie glanced at the woman’s face. “No. I’m still in the dark.”
“And me? You don’t remember me at all?”
“I’ve never laid eyes on you before.”
“Then how do I know so much about you?”
“I don’t know, maybe you’re a maniac-stalker-psycho with a taste for white meat?”
“Don’t. Don’t say that,” Kurt grimaced.
“Why? Because the truth hurts?”
“It’s not true!”
“Then why am I here?” she asked.
“Look around you. Doesn’t any of this bring back memories?”
“Why should it?”
“You lived–we lived here for years. I’m your goddam husband.”
“What? I – I would never marry somebody like you.”
“You’re black,” she said, not bothering to spare his feelings. She couldn’t help how she felt.
“Sarah! Stop it! Stop. Please, stop. I can’t take this right now.”
“I told you before, I’m not Sarah! My name is Connie, Connie Wil- Wilk–”
“Wilkinson, that’s your maiden name. Your middle name is Connie, and you hate it. You were named after an aunt you hated because she beat you when your mother wasn’t around.”
“I don’t have an aunt named Connie.”
“In fact, Sarah isn’t even your birth name. It’s Bonnie. And that was just another reason to hate your middle name. Going through school with the name Bonnie Connie was torture, so you used the name of your favorite aunt, Sarah, and legally changed it when you were old enough.”
Connie waved it off. “This is ridiculous. I’m leaving now.”
“No, not just yet!”
“You said I could leave once I did what you wanted me to do. You wanted me to see your wife. Well, I saw, now I’m gone!”
“No, you didn’t really see, otherwise you wouldn’t be acting like this. Maybe– maybe you need to look closer…at her face.”
Connie stared at the woman and this time something nagged at her, something familiar.
“Your face, my thane, is as a book…” Kurt recited.
The tiniest fraction of a memory tickled her mind. “What was that?”
“You know. Finish it.”
As if an unseen force had taken control of her mouth, Connie spoke. “Your face, my thane, is as a book, where men may read strange matters.”
“Shakespeare. You used to say that all the time because I have a horrible poker face.” He smiled. “You remember that, don’t you?”
“No. Yes. You’re confusing me!”
“All right, let’s forget about that for now. I’d like to ask you a question, though, before you leave. Is that okay?”
“Do you believe in wishes?”
“What, you mean like genie-rub-a-lamp type stuff?”
“I mean the power of a wish. Do you believe that a person could make a wish with all her heart and soul and if she left no room for doubt, not one iota, that that wish could come true?”
“I don’t know, maybe. Depends on what she wished for.”
“To be white.”
It took a moment for the scope of it all to register with Connie. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. You don’t think that I’m–“
“The physical embodiment of my Sarah’s wish.”
“That’s crazy.” She shook her head.
“Crazy? Okay, where do you live?”
Connie pondered that a moment, another fact that eluded her. “I’m not telling you!”
“You can’t tell me because you don’t know. Come on, ask yourself, if you don’t live here, then why are you in this house? How did you get here?”
Again, memory was not her ally. “I don’t know. You’ve got me all spun around and nothing’s making sense right now, including this bullshit story about your wife wishing herself white. I mean, what sense does that make? Why would she want to be white? Aren’t you people big on that pride thing?”
“Yeah. Black, colored, African-American, people of color, whatever you’re calling yourself these days.”
“I can’t believe you come from Sarah.”
“Because I don’t.”
“It’s like everything that made her unique was just stripped from you. Not only her color but her heritage as well.” Disgust played on Kurt’s face. “And she thought being white might entitle her to a better life.”
“I wish I knew. She took the attack hard, hell, we both did. But even after her body healed, her spirit and her mind never did. She began to see the world as an ugly, hateful place, especially for people of color. She started to pull away from me and became more and more distant. And in the depths of her despair, she made a wish.”
“To be white. To be me, essentially, right?”
“Look, I don’t blame you for not believing me, I probably wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes.”
“Sarah make the wish. I stood here and watched you rise up out of her body like steam. And as insane as it sounds, you became solid right before my eyes. You simply popped into existence, took one look at me, and ran out of the room screaming bloody murder. I’m lucky I caught you when I did. If I’d been one second slower, you would have been gone, probably forever.”
“Okay, let’s approach this from a different angle. Even if I were to believe you, which I don’t…so–?”
Kurt was confused. “So?”
“So, your wife made the wish, right? I mean, no one forced her, am I correct?”
“No, no one forced her.”
“And you said yourself, it’s what she wanted, right, with every iota of her being?”
“Then why are you holding me here? If this is God’s will, if this is her wish–“
Tears flowed down Kurt’s cheeks. “Because she’s going to die soon, I just know it. I was hoping that maybe with you in the room, she’d wake up long enough, for me to tell her that I love her, for me to say goodbye.”
Connie wanted to console Kurt, but it was difficult, strange and uncomfortable for her. “Hey, hey, don’t do that, okay? I’m sure she knows all that and who knows, maybe she’ll get better? We can call a doctor or something.”
“Why don’t you just go?” he said, turning back to her. “Go live your half life.”
”Not even that. You’re just a shade of a person. You’ve got no family, no ties in this world. Because it’s not your life, it’s hers. And mine.”
“Then we’re done here? I can leave now?”
“Connie,” she corrected.
“I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to my wife. I know she’s in there somewhere and if you can hear me, honey, you’re wrong for thinking that being white will entitle you to a better life,” he said over his shoulder and walked over to the bed.
“You think this body’s going to have an easier existence? Good luck to you. You’ll need it because the very best part of you is lying on this bed. And when my Sarah passes, you’ll be none the richer for it. You’ll discover a gaping hole in your soul that you’ll never be able to fill even if you live a hundred lifetimes. So yeah, we’re done,” Kurt said in a low voice. “Now, why don’t you get the hell out of my house.”
Kurt sat beside Sarah in bed. He held her hand gently and leaned in close to her face. “You’re not the only one with a wish, you know. I wish that I could turn back time to that day and make it so the attack never took place. I’d convince you to call in sick and we’d play hookie and spend the entire day in bed and I’d do my best to show you how much I really love you. But there’s no chance of that one coming true, is there? Because unlike yours, it’s not my one true wish. You are.”
Connie made it as far as the doorway before she stopped and sighed, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
For reasons she couldn’t explain, Connie found herself kneeling on the side of the bed opposite Kurt. “One wish. All my heart and soul. No room for doubt. Not one iota.”
She took Sarah’s free hand and knew at once it was a mistake. Pain split her head like an ax. Her vision swirled and swam in streamers, her stomach clenched and heaved sending a surge of bile to the back of her throat. Dots of light raised from her exposed skin like goose flesh. She screamed and the bedroom exploded in a white light bright enough to cut the eye. When it faded, the scent of ozone filled the air.
Connie was gone.
Sarah’s fingers twitched and slowly wrapped around to squeeze Kurt’s hand. “Your face, my thane, is as a book, where men may read strange matters,” she said in a quiet voice.
Kurt looked up into Sarah’s face, her eyes slightly opened.
“Are those tears for me?” she smiled, struggling to sit up.
“Sarah? You’re back?”
“I never left. Because you wouldn’t let me go. You stopped me from making the biggest mistake of my life. I’m so sorry I hurt you. I–“ she sighed. “Thank you.”
Kurt pulled his wife into him and held her with every ounce of love he possessed. But he couldn’t push reality out of his mind. He had seen a side of her that he never knew existed. A contempt, the seed of racism she held, and he knew it wasn’t over by a long shot. It would happen again. And for the first time, he wasn’t sure his love was greater than or even equal to her self-hatred.
But in this moment, he made the decision to let that future take care of itself. He was happy to have her back home, warts and all.
Text and Audio ©2001 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
About Wishing White: This story originally began life as a short screenplay I wrote during my brief stint hanging around a small group of actors and crew looking to shoot their own material.
One of three shorts that were written overnight, I can’t tell you how inspired I was to produce new material on short notice. The air was rich with creativity.
It was also filled with petty squabbling, some of which I sadly was the cause of, so this was one of the projects that were rehearsed but never shot.
It came into being because of a conversation with a friend that remained in the back of my mind, in which she said, “I wish I was white for a day just to see how it felt.” Which of course sparked a conversation.
While I don’t necessarily agree with her thought process on the subject, I can respect that it was her wish and she felt comfortable enough to share it with me.
As she explained her logic to me, this was the scenario that ran through my mind.