- Rachel Isum Robinson: Snatches and Excerpts
Rachel at Home
I’m a sometimes-Cinderella, surrounded by encrusted pots and pans, hands deep in hot water, scrubbing. My worn-out mother caters to keep the coins coming. When my father turned ill, she told me, “We’ll work together, have a wonderful life.” She keeps us going. I keep us going, soaking my brothers’ dirty clothes, tending to my father. I’m a sometimes-Cinderella, but with suds of hard work and palms raw with what must be done in the name of father, mother, brothers, love.
Rachel Meets Robinson
When the world spins, I hum “Stardust” and “Mood Indigo”; the slight stir of Jack’s sweet breath hovers near my ear. When the world foxtrots, my polished black pumps click on the clean tile of the Biltmore Hotel, all the glitter and glitz of L. A. twirling. How we sway in our first-date-look-at-us clothes—blue suit and ebony gown—and how we dart and turn, Jack’s polite hand just-so on my shoulder. I want to leap into love with each lindy-hop, the ballroom spinning with it, my young head whirling with first glimpses of his handsome contradictions. In all my swirls of memory: UCLA, crisp white shirt, shy confidence, angry pride shimmying toward our first peck of a kiss. Under the rotating ballroom lights, Jack adjusts my adult-like, fox-trimmed hat, then lightly touches my hair. We know.
While he salutes, I rivet. While he yes-sirs, I rivet. While he petitions, while he talks back, while he insists, “No!” while he keeps battling the Army’s stand-here-anddo-that-because-of-who-I-say-you-are, I rivet.
Nights at Lockheed Aircraft, the other women and I fasten ourselves to the low moan of machines. Sparks flash in our eyes. We lean into the ritual of industry, hungry for roles. We secure our sweat to cockpits, energize our wills with the electricity of national cause. We manufacture patriotism, praise the dirt of hard work. At sunrise, I scrub my chapped hands, hurriedly change clothes in the university’s parking lot. There I transform back into student: because of who I am, because of who Jack is becoming. Both of us—riveted.
Rachel Still Waiting
Idleness makes absence deeper. With my father dead, my athlete-turned-lieutenant still fighting the Army, I put on the starched dress of hospitals. I learn patience, care; how the ill need our touch as much as the well. My hands can handle both. I will not wallow in waiting. Let me ache with the daily stretch of compassion. Each finger learns by doing. The years prepare us for what we can’t expect—the calluses that come with time, that prophesy the balm of a calm voice when your man strikes out, but still makes it home to hands that can ease, just a bit, the pain of the angry season. [End Page 489]
What you can’t see over the telephone wire, you hear in a voice. After his meeting with Mr. Rickey, Jack’s is all exclamation. Syllables bounce from his vocal chords and across the stretched line of distance. I listen as the future tries to tightrope to my ear. I want to unbalance fear, but even joy can trip the sure step. I hold my breath, hear everything that may or may not become.
Somewhere in that other state, the secret handshake of men clasps details. My own hand trembles, then grips the receiver even tighter. Far away on the other side of the line, Jack is still talking. In his intonation, I hear “job” and “marriage.” I hear how the long-held hope in our hearts may begin to materialize even outside our bodies.
Rachel Become Robinson
Ah. Look. I am. Pre-war ivory satin wraps my breath in expectation. Jack, too, gleams with it. His head tilts toward mine into our sphere of private happiness made public. Beside us, my aging mother beams. Our gift to her: a fantasia of ceremony, a regal ritual to indulge her own desires. My love and...