If my Trigger ever exits prison he will find his writing hand. I will fix it. You can hang that by your Jesus nail, by God.
But no. Now no need.
With no permission, it is terrible for him to sit still, I know it. Moan to me and whisper without pad and ink, piss into this old lady’s ear. For years he needed privileges from wardens, silence from cellmates—needed to work, earn hard, send words off to me. Until a broken wrist, bandaged and hammocked in a sling, finally finished it, us, me. His envelopes started coming upside down, every time the licked part on the bottom, always that way since the wrist was set to heal. His handwriting came back another man’s, years older and more book-informed, a teacher, born and bred in the city of New York.
I could have murdered Trigger there where he stood there in the afternoon, in all the sweat and courtroom light, wrists in cuffs and links, cornflower cravat. Whatever the lawyer said, Trigger just dropped his eyes. Was he on Mulberry Street? Was he on Sesame? No comment, every time. The next day was the same, eight hours of it long. Hudson? Titus? Main? South Temple? State? These were names that made me feel a stomach ache, made my blood go spitty.
I didn’t go the final time. I didn’t want to see him anymore. I went berry picking instead. Far from the courthouse, thousands of prickers sticking into me, my hands and feet. I walked barefoot anyway. Truckers watched me, roadside, slowed to double-nickels every time.
Come afternoon, I stopped to wipe my feet. Jesus’ juicy crucifixion they both seemed to me, but for my corns. I felt inside a pocket for my dip. Pinch is my rude cross to bear. Don’t you ever come back home, Papa had said to me. He saw me dipping in the street. I started walking fast. Only ten years old, by Jim, and he came after me. I climbed into a tree, looked down into his face through the weave of leaves and branches, his glasses and his handsome hair, his finger pointing up at me, his Jesus-pretty teeth. And I looked out over our whole town. Fine, I said, calling him by what my mama did. He didn’t say anything after that or even stay under the tree. He wiped his dust and Papa walked away.
The verdict came and Trigger was sentenced, though not to death. He left me and our Trigger Baby to keep his house for him—a wooden cube with a back porch and a river view. Me and Trigger Baby always went swimming, but only after midnight and on rainbow afternoons. Only when the thunder rolled in and up and over the whole house, through its innerest beam. Lightning flashing up above the water was a sun enough for us, by God. No weatherman or megaphone could yell us back to shelter from the current where it hit me in the knees, or in the baby belly. Trigger Baby, once he had been born, gathered up into my arms and danced over the surface of the water with his wrinkle-fisted feet. Me and Trigger Baby, we both made our pees and cues, and looked up into a thick cloud-cover ceiling.
On the other bank, by a house no larger than my Trigger ‘s, there stood a single tree. In people years it must have been Geronimus. To hold that many branches over such a spread of air it must have pushed roots down beneath the river, reaching up to drink the water in. A scar cut in its trunk looked like a viper crawling down, the head of it almost flush to the foot. I dragged Baby by the arms, playing riverboat as the winds whipped up and the air began to smell of flint and steel. Rain turned hail against our faces, banged down against our backs, and down fell the clouds as they let their ice cargo go over the roof. It was a money sound—like winning at a slot machine, or making the bill changer take rag paper like it was a real bill.
That he could do this Trigger had shown to me one morning when we needed gasoline. I sat in the laundry and I watched somebody’s clothes that I had never known, shot through with detergent, rolling and falling upon themselves and over. My thumbs almost betrayed me, or so it seemed to me, so busy I near blistered. Trigger stood poker while the hail of quarters spilled, like it was bubblegums we paid for anyway.
The white stationary with the cornflower pinstripes on it, the babyblue stationary showing an outline of a prison building, the lemoncustard stationary with no lines at all, and the riversalmon stationary. These were the colors that came in the mailbox and faded almost a dozen years of weekends until Trigger Baby wasn’t baby anymore. Though I never named him, still I felt always convinced there was something in him capable of taking a name. It was like a basket in him, lined with baby blanket, or some Easter plastic hay. The kind of hay that rustles like the crackle of a fire. I wanted several times to name our Trigger Baby. To name him would have been like nestling an egg down in that plastic, one egg clicking up against another one—kissing it. The trick would be to place it in without making an egg go crack. To name him right would be the perfect click. To name him wrong would break one of the eggs. It felt too dangerous to me. Each day I picked a name and tried to make the mouth to say it. But I would fall to pieces as it touched the inside of my lips. It never got through how I barred my teeth against it. In my mind I would tear up the name like it was incriminating, burn the paper bits away and try again next day.
I went on like this for years, always calling him just Trigger Baby. On Sunday’s, I called him Trigger Baby as I unfolded the pages sent from prison by his Trigger daddy. I looked at the lines of ink, and sometimes fingerprints. I would see the lines in these and press my own against them. Sometimes I felt the page press back, like it wasn’t plexiglass between us but only the thinnest tissue, old-lady skin, the drumskin of an ear. I would crinkle the paper and listen for the names it might speak to me. What to call the baby? Trigger, he never told. Trigger, he didn’t even know there was the boy. He didn’t know it was alive inside me in the courthouse, didn’t know that it was born a twin, that it had strangled its own sister with its cord, that it had lived but never learned to speak a tongue. It had never needed any name, although I always tried to give one. It had never needed birthday cake, although I always baked one. Every day was Trigger Baby Day for me—be it summer heat or Christmas. Come Sunday, it was always Letter Day, no matter what the day was when the letter came.
One day the letter came that just felt different. It was the color when the cloud rends, right before a new tornado. I have seen that color in a sink, when scrubbing at a coffee ring. I took everything I wore off of my fingers and I put the Clorox in, let water perk its way into the powder bleach before I started rubbing. I watching the color come on, come on like the color of the clouds, tornado days. I got to thinking how the clouds will push and tug, like us when making Trigger Baby. The sinking of my stomach was a numbness I could feel. The popping of my button something I could see through my blouse, though Trigger would never know of it. There was this feeling to it—I can only call it green—when I received the letter colored like tornado days. I could see that it was different, even before slitting it. I could see how the color soaked through, like it was not a letter but a stain that Trigger mailed to me.
I waited until it was Letter Day, because this is what I always chose to do. Even if it was a holiday, I wanted Letter Day to be bigger, like a Christmas Tree on Easter, like an Easter hat at the Grammies, like a jack-o-lantern smack atop a wedding cake.
On Letter Day I broke the seal. I learned from Trigger about his wrist, how it had been pinned beneath an automobile he had been given permission to fix. It was part of his sentence to learn a skill in prison. Trigger had known cars from a boy. But mostly just to take them for a spin and then forget them, never to rebuild them for the love of one thin bill. I used to think that it would be that way with me, that I was just another joy that Trigger would ride, just an apple he would spit the seeds when finished. But he chewed me many years, making faces as he did into the evenings, not usually saying anything to me but only revealing he was thinking anything at all by wriggling in his seat, or taking another dip before laughing all the more I don’t know what about.
Trigger, he stuck with me until he was taken to jail. And there, suddenly, he was gifted to write, and finally I knew the very man. Like he was inside me. I was my body, but he was my mind thinking things. I read his words aloud, let them part my lips, let them move my tongue inside my mouth, like it was his. Like he was trying to give a name to Trigger Baby. I let him speak me that way, learned to let him tell me that he missed me. I learned that he was simple in the ways of love and had scarcely touched another woman, even before he knew me. I learned he was a foreman in the prison, that he never saw his pay. I learned he was given the gift of words while reading from the Bible. He did not want to preach. He did not care for Jesus in a way that makes you saved. But he had a grace in him, he wrote to me. And I believed it. I would read his words and think someone had touched me with a finger. I would read his words and feel virgin just long enough so he could steal it one more time from me. His voice inside me, our baby in my arms, his prints beneath my fingers.
But now a car had fallen on his arm, he wrote to me. Already I could feel the disappearance. This was writing in another hand. One which loved me, true. But it loved me different. I could hear the voice in me, but it was thinner, the voice of a teacher, wanting me to improve, though the words did not come out in just that way. Still, I could see it in the very shape of ink. I could almost smell it. I could feel the paper didn’t press me anymore. It stared back with just the look of what it was. No more.
I received these letters every single week. And I would keep them always until it was Letter Day. But I would read them less eagerly, eventually lost interest, although I always read them anyway. Sometimes I would take them down to the river, take Trigger Baby with me and wait for it to rain. One night I went swimming, Trigger Baby hanging on my neck, sprawling on my back so that I could feel him breathing fast against me, feel his almost whiskers tickling on my spine. I swam into the middle of the current, swam up against the flood, pulling hair with my hands, scratching and biting the river. I used nails and teeth. I was climbing a mighty tree.
I swam till Trigger Baby was a wet cape that I had to wear. I swam till I could feel the sweat pour off me in the water. And when I could swim no more, I surrendered to the stream. I took my baby in my arms and pressed him to me. And we fell that way for—God knows—countless miles. I don’t how we both survived that night. For I swore to myself as I floated on sheet lightning that I would take water for my air, let it fill my lungs till I was also liquid. I would let it ferry me where it would, my body nothing but a tongue that lapped until it found the river’s mouth.
But I woke up on the shore, Trigger Baby barely breathing, the night nearly over for us now. I walked home again, Trigger Baby on my back once more. I arrived at last at the door. I took my baby in the bed beside me, I pulled the covers down, and I taught him his true baby daddy’s name.