High Five

You killed Tatiana because you were jealous, didn’t you, Tiffany Savage. You seethed over her top-notch manicurist, her platinum rings and bracelets encrusted with lapis lazuli, her Moroccan leather gloves. You despised her ability to take it all for granted, casually cupping Fortunoff snifters at the ball of her thumb, letting Matilda smooth exotic cremes across her knuckles. But even more than the amenities, you coveted her unfathomably successful modeling career. The brighter her lifestyle glittered in your eyes, the more insecurity rose in you like an acid belch. Above all, you feared she would abandon you, like the others she’d shoved aside in her frenzied lunge for the top of the industry. Only murder would satisfy your hunger for revenge.

All your life, you wanted to be a supermodel. You grew up not far from New York City, the epicenter of the fashion world, in Greenburgh, a shapeless Westchester town. You loved to play runway with your multi-hued dolls and fat, tattered issues of Essence and Vogue beneath the chairs at Noir Coiffure, your mother’s chain of beauty parlors.

The bitter stench of locks in a hotcomb still fills you with nostalgia, doesn’t it? The White Plains branch of Noir’s was your favorite. There, the wives of prominent black doctors and lawyers like your father, hailing from tony ranch-style houses in Hartsdale and Peekskill, would chuck you under the chin and compliment your dimples. How you soaked up their attention! Demonstrating the latest dance crazes in your mary janes, singing along with Marilyn McCoo. Never were you stingy with the sugar. You knew you were a “have,” and you recognized early the importance of noblesse oblige.

From the chatter you overheard as the matrons of White Plains gossiped with Jeffreyetta and Mr. Raymondo, you gleaned the secrets of womanly poise. As they planned black-tie, white-glove cotillions, they called themselves pioneers in the field of human dignity. Dignity meant arguments about whom to bar from their exclusive organizations, over whose children should be allowed to attend their junior division, Up The Hill, and which were too “street” or “country” to socialize with. You became their mascot, thrilled to serve as an anonymous character witness for your classmates. You tried to keep your personal biases from influencing your opinions, but after Ladell Morris spilled chocolate milk on your new frock, you didn’t find him sufficiently contrite. You suspected he’d done it on purpose. It was your first sweet mouthful of revenge, wasn’t it. “He’s undignified and clumsy,” you told Mrs. Littlejohn. “Not an Up the Hill boy at all!” Oh, the pity you expressed as he grew more alienated from that intricate social clique. “What a shame that Ladell’s grown a blow-out afro and stopped going to church,” you sighed. “How awful Mr. and Mrs. Morris must feel that Ladell’s gotten so heavily into drugs!” You hadn’t even seen him smoke the alleged joint. Never did you discover how ardently he pined for you, even as a teenager. Hadn’t the chocolate milk been his boyish way of attracting your attention?  But you never developed a habit of noticing anyone else’s bids for attention, did you, Tiffany? Yours were so rococo that they eclipsed everyone else’s. Your radiance ignited Mother’s pride and inspired her to enter you in countless beauty pageants—it was just what you wanted. The sewing alone took months. Remember all the sequins? How they scattered across the floor, kicking up bright sparks in your path—but never bright enough?

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James Hannaham, author of the novel God Says No (McSweeney’s), has published stories in One StoryFenceOpen CityThe Literary Review, and BOMB. For a long time he has contributed to the Village Voice and other publications. He was one of the co-founders of the performance group Elevator Repair Service and worked with them from 1992–2002. More recently he has exhibited text-based visual art at Samsøn Projects, Rosalux Gallery, and 490 Atlantic. His hopefully upcoming second novel is called Delicious Foods. He teaches creative writing at The Pratt Institute and Columbia University. His story “High Five” appeared in Story #1, side B.