"We now have coon," reads the sign in the store window. Ariel had a pet raccoon when she was a child, so the news doesn't make her happy. But they do have great and cheap soul food at King Roger's. Beans and rice, dark meat chicken cooking off the bone, oyster po' boy sandwiches on home baked bread. Everything cooked right there by old ladies who wear violet-trimmed hats on Sunday mornings and call Ariel babygirl when she orders. The outside of the place is painted tangerine. A few tables sit on a concrete slab, bolted down. One palm tree bursts out of a deteriorating bamboo basket. Inside, a line. Always a line. Cheap, good food.
Ariel went there with Vince. He took her there. He took her there, introduced her to the place, though she had seen it sometimes while walking her dog, or while riding by with a friend. But she took him there too, as in treated him when he was out of money. Always out of money. Ariel was in love and sympathetic. Not anymore. Not sympathetic. And, she hopes, not in love.
Vince said he was part Puerto Rican. Street cred. He talked about 'his people', which would include all people of color, versus 'white people'. He acted as though he belonged at that little store and Ariel didn't. Like he was her ticket in. Ariel found out later, after Vince was institutionalized, that no one in his family was Puerto Rican. No one in his family could possibly be called any ethnicity 'of color'. It was all a bizarre lie. That and so much more.
A bizarre lie.
Ariel goes alone now to the tangerine store on the corner. She never sees raccoon on the menu, or hears anyone order it, and she is glad. She buys an oyster po' boy and a side of rice and crowder peas with ham hocks and greens. She is gaining weight. She dyes her hair back to its natural color and lets it go. Her skin is pale, pale, and she loves it. It matches how she feels now, since him. Diminished. Drained. Pale. But ready to regrow.
Skin color doesn't stop a bling-blinged homeboy from telling her as she leaves with her soul food:
"Baby, you be lookin' like a sistah."