Volume Four, Issue 4

A Blood Red Ceiling

Tara Betts

She found the 24-hour diner so comforting, but it almost struck her as ironic that the tin-type ceiling above everyone inside was blood red. The walls were a calm off white, almost yellow, and the leather upholstered benches were a dark burgundy, but the ceiling was a red that mirrored the blood that she imagined as a pool underneath Tanya. Her mouth splayed open like a secret smashed on the blacktop. The eyewitness accounts and the video verified that she had no weapon. Tanya went to school every day, but she was not a star athlete, just a B student, just Penny’s friend.

Penny waited for her fries and tried to ignore the ceiling. Tanya was the only one she shared fries with after school on Fridays. They had other friends, but they had known each other since third grade. Tanya was the one who always told Penny that she was smart, and she could check any of these fools any day of the week. Hearing that voice in her head made Penny smile. Who was going to stack those tiny copper portraits of Abraham Lincoln and tell her “Here’s your namesake. Pennies make dollars, but I’m heading straight to the dollars.” They both laughed when Tanya dropped that line.

The protests had just started. Penny’s mom didn’t want to let her go to the diner by herself because Penny had changed ever since Tanya was found two blocks away from Penny’s house. She remember Tanya was walking with a bag full of Now & Laters and Laffy Taffys, which would have definitely been her mocking cavities. Penny’s mama would make them brush their teeth. She knew this was their way of still being a kids when they would sit on the steps and work their jaws full of the chewy candy.

One of the televisions in the diner showed snippets of the protests and people being dragged away by police. Some protesters whipped out their phones and others eyeballed the hell out of officers who stood there. “None of these people knew Tanya, but maybe this will make it safer.” Penny’s fries finally sat in front of her after the resolute clunk of white ceramic. She looked away from the television and softly said, “Could I have a chocolate banana shake, please?”

Tara Betts: "I am the author of Break the Habit, Arc & Hue, and the forthcoming Refuse to Disappear. In addition to my work as a teaching artist and mentor for young poets, I've taught at several universities, including Rutgers University and University of Illinois-Chicago. Recently, I taught poetry workshops for three years at Stateville Prison via Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project. I am Poetry Editor at The Langston Hughes Review and the Lit Editor at Newcity."

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