I smell smoked barbecued ribs.
I can hear Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto from around the corner.
Welcome to Elysian Fields. James Brown's voice rings out into the chilly Cali air. L.A. folks love the seventies era. Dope, funk, long cars. A guy named Ford Cooke ruled Elysian Fields in the seventies. His reign of pimps and heroin is legendary. It led to his downfall. Ford killed a white prostitute, while high off dope, and was wiped out of the streets forever. Life. No parole. But still, Ford's era of barbecues and bright cars, long hair, and diners live on to this day.
Right now, I see flickering street lights. Shotgun homes. Dogs tied to tree trunks. Brown grass. Corner stores. Dope boys. Benzes. Escalades. Hood news. Word-on-the-street. Welcome to Elysian Fields.
Vivian turns the corner. She and I immediately see people. Everywhere. Badass boys. Fast ass girls. Hood-Bitches. Dope-Niggas. These are all terms of endearment in Elysian Fields. Once again, welcome.
After Ford went to prison, Gus Lock took over this neighborhood, which is the size of, say, a New York borough. Brooklyn; Queens; The Bronx. There's a lot of people in a tight ass space. Gus brought Elysian Fields through the eighties with its crack pipes and boomboxes. Gus wore a red leather jacket and a gold rope chain. He was the man. The heyday of his dope empire was the early nineties. Crack was over, and coke was in. Mary J. Blige was the Hood-Bitch that all the chicks in Elysian Fields wanted to be. Jodeci had the music the ladies played on cassette players while sitting on their porches. Tupac was the music the dope boys blasted while cruising around at five-miles-per-hour in their Benzes. Everybody wore black. Everybody wore gold. Every earring was hoops. Ever sweater was Coogi.
I look around now. Even the dope boys came out to celebrate Miss Stella's birthday. They all wear the appropriate color of their gang. They have matching color bandanas strung around their necks like cowboys or around their wrists like watches. They came to celebrate Miss Stella. That's nice. I don't care what people say, dope boys have the biggest hearts.
Little kids peddle bikes in the street because no one will be driving through the neighborhood today. Everyone knows it’s Miss Stella’s birthday. There will be no casualties or car riding on Miss Stella’s day of birth. Everyone knows this. But then again, no one took me into account: Rachel Isles.
The Elysian Fields I drive through today is a product of the ‘90s.
It’s called The War of Ninety-four. That’s when Trevor ‘Trev’ Isles fought Gus Lock for the Elysian Fields dope throne. It took two years for Trev to win the crown, and soon Gus’ reign was over.
Trev's army—the very one that fought in the ‘90s—still rules Elysian Fields to this day, though Trev has retired from the business and now owns a string of tire shops. Beyoncé replaced Mary. J. Blige. Hood-Bitches were out, and pretty Down-Bitches are in. Everyone threw their black clothes away. Blond wigs, yellow mini-skirts, and fake nails shaped like coffins are the style. Jodeci was turned off, and Drake is on because, let's face it, he writes the best love songs. Tupac is dead, and now Kendrick Lamar is the man. The thug era is over. Hood-Niggas all but burned their Coogi sweaters and began wearing silk blouses.
Welcome to Elysian Fields.
I look up towards the sky.
Happy Sixty-Five Birthday, Miss Stella! That's what the banner, strung between light poles on opposite sides of Afterlife Lane, says. Someone included a picture of Miss Stella's face.
(And not that it matters but, why do people in the hood always have to put somebody's photograph on life and death announcements?)
(And then, it's not like someone chose a picture taken by a professional; they always include photos that make a person look like they're either filled with the Holy Ghost or menaces to society.)
But still, though I love Miss Stella and honor her birthday because she is the matriarch of the Isles family, I’m about to fuck her shit up. Her grandson has done the unthinkable to me.
Afterlife Lane is Marc's street. Vivian and I pass under Miss Stella's banner slowly. Vivian's driving her white BMW; I'm in the passenger seat. We're not hiding here. Everyone knows Vivian's car. Everyone knows Vivian's and my face. After all, we're married to Sean and Marc, respectively. Also, we aren't from here. We’re San Francisco girls who were raised on a country club, in houses right next door to each other. But right now, none of that shit matters. Marc Isles is as good as dead.
I've come prepared. I haven't come pretty. It's two days after Thanksgiving, so usually, I'd have an excuse to wear one of my furs and Louboutin boots. Typically, I'd have all the Down-Bitches rolling their eyes at me for marrying a Hood-Nigga who happened to be a Good-Nigga. (Their words, not mine.) But right now, I could care less who I'm wearing and how I'm looking. And believe it or not, Vivian, in all her all-cream-everything-all-the-time-with-the-four-carat-diamond-studs-to-match style, feels the same. We're both dressed down in Lululemon because when we're not driving through hoods, about to beat people's ass, we're just two green-juice drinking, California, yoga moms.
The crowd thickens as we drive down Afterlife Lane. The scene is what I would expect of Marc's neighborhood: dancing in the street, grills on everyone's front yards, kids running around playing tag, men on absurd looking bicycles, everyone wearing Converse sneakers, everyone laughing and talking and drinking and happy.
Well, I'm about to change that.
Eyes turn to Vivian's car as it creeps down the street, giving people enough time to get the hell out of the way.
Move. I am SO not playing with you motherfuckers right now.
Everyone begins to look at the car, noticing it’s shiny and fancy and… oh, it’s Vivian. I see the faces the women make.
“Dirty-Bitches,” Vivian says, making a play on Down-Bitches. Good one, Vivian.
"Mm-hmm," I say, my eyes on the prize: Marc's parents' home. Vivian pulls in front of Marc's parents' house, and I see armies of people staring.
"Well," Vivian says. "Sean's right there." Sean's her husband. (Yellow Boy is what the women call him; his mom's a white hooker, his dad's a black former drug dealer; it all makes sense.) And though Sean triples as Vivian's husband, Marc's best friend, and Marc's attorney, Vivian and I are completely unbothered by this. If Sean wants it, he can get it too. Anyway, Sean's sitting at a card table, holding a stack of dominoes. He's seen his wife's car. He knows his wife doesn't come to his old neighborhood, especially for barbecues. Why? Vivian likes to wear cream. Vivian also thinks the hood is for ratchets. Why has she come? He looks at her car confused. "Are you ready?" Vivian says. She's come to play. I love Vivian. Vivian is the daughter of an attorney and a socialite, and yet, she isn't afraid to drive through someone else's hood and jump out of her BMW on them. A woman is completely and royally fucked, if she doesn't have a friend like Vivian.
I open my door first and step out. The wondering eyes have turned into smiling faces, from Marc's closest family members: his cousins and his older brother Trev. Trev's still stuck in the nineties dope game era, with his black leather Kangol and gold pinky ring, but I love him anyway. It's the same way I adore P. Diddy when he pairs his Timberland boots with his fur vests. (Knock it off.) Sean's sitting with Trev at the domino table, still looking confused. Trev gets up and starts walking over to the car.
"Hi, girl!" It's what most of Marc's female cousins say as they walk over to me, smiling, hugging, clueless.
"Hey, Miss Lady." It's what most of Marc's male cousins say to me as they give me hugs, all drenched in cologne, all wearing silken shirts. I say hi to everyone and save the last hug and hi for Trev. He always smells wonderful. His wife Barbie—the Queen Hood-Bitch—waits behind him to hug me and of course, she's pregnant again. Enough with the fucking babies, I think. We get it; he's yours. But I keep that inside. I love Barbie, and I try not to judge the people I love.
"Marc's inside," Barbie says.
"I asked him if you were on your way," she continues. "He said he wasn't sure. That you had a book signing up in San Fran and that your parents were watching Janie. And Vivian's parents were watching her and Sean's baby, so you and Viv would probably chill in San Francisco tonight." So, Marc has lied, huh?
"Hmm," I say to Barbie, "That's a half-truth. Janie is with my parents and Vivian, and Sean's daughter is with Vivian's parents. But I don't have a book signing. You see, Marc's a liar, so it's hard for him to tell the truth without instinctively telling a lie." Barbie looks at me confused. Trev walks away.
I'm not in this shit.
"Something's wrong," Barbie whispers.
"Sure is." I walk away from her.
More on that point later, Barbie.
Another round of Marc's family members come over to greet me and I do my best to act civilized. I say hi and I give hugs. I feel Vivian beside me, doing the same, without providing the hugs. She doesn't like to touch people. Sean stands up as I walk closer to his domino table. He walks over to Vivian and me.
"Hey, baby," he says to Vivian, taking in her chocolatey skin and black hippie-parted hair. He towers over her. Vivian loves that. She's 5'9", like me, so she never thought she'd marry a man who towered over her. I'm confident, every bit of Vivian's dark-chocolatey-ness wants to melt all over him.
"Sean," she says, quite professionally. He leans over and hugs her. She closes her eyes.
Get a grip, bitch!
She opens them. I give her the stink-eye. She mouths that she’s sorry and then softly pushes Sean away. He gives her a confused smile.
"I'm glad you came," he then says to me, before he hugs me.
"Hold that thought," I say to him. He looks at me confused.
You shall understand in due time, Sean.
Vivian and I march onward.
“Something’s wrong,” I hear Sean say behind me. He’s perceptive. He can determine the truth rather quickly. This is why he’s a lawyer. Good for you Sean, now fuck off.
I walk up the four steps it takes to land on the porch. Within a moment, I'm inside the house. Baked bread. Oyster dressing. Burnt cheese. It smells good in here. Such a positive and uplifting environment. I'll be ruining this soon.
"Hey, hun!" Marc's father says to me. He's just like Marc: always trapped in the kitchen, helping the women prepare meals. I can only assume the women like to have him and Marc around, for whatever reason that may be. Sure, Marc's father is a gem, but Marc is a dickhead. (But Marc can also make a delicious pot of homemade chili, but that's neither here nor there.) Marc's dad dries his hands on a dish towel and rushes over to greet me. He gives me a big hug. He always smells good too. He's tall and dark like Marc. And smart like Marc too; he happens to be a high school science teacher in the public-school system. And Marc happens to be, well, he happens to be famous now. But that's neither here nor there. Famous or not, Marc's getting his ass beat. "Marc wasn't sure if you were coming, said you had a book signing."
"Yes, well Marc's a liar," I tell Pop, as we call him. Pop looks at me but says nothing. He points upstairs.
I’m not in this.
I think it's funny how Marc can tell everyone about my imaginary book signing, but he can't tell anyone that he's cheating on me. Not that he has to; word around Elysian Fields is that he's screwing Karla Watts. Everyone already knows. And, given the current state of our marriage, I completely believe the word on the street. I've come to confront him about it, violently, in front of everyone he knows and loves.
I feel Vivian behind me as I head upstairs. I feel misty heat coming towards me. Marc has just arrived in L.A., from Seattle, and has likely taken a shower. He's the type to always shower after a flight, no matter how short or long it was. This is just one of the reasons why I hate him. I continue up the short staircase and see the bathroom door at the top. Marc's room is to the left. I say this is Marc's room, but the truth is that it's a closet of a room that Marc and his brother Trev had to share. The door isn't open.
I can hear talking.
I can hear a woman’s voice.
I look back at Vivian.
Can you hear that?
I land at the top of the steps, in front of the bathroom. Two steps later, I’m in front of Marc’s closed bedroom door. I listen. I hear a woman’s voice and the bass of Marc’s voice.
Ignoring… wrong… so, what does that mean? That's the woman saying this. My mind has already pieced together this conversation: she wonders when Marc is going to officially tell me about her, and have Sean take me to court for full custody of our daughter so that Marc won't have to pay the shitload of child support and alimony for which I will take him. I know this is why they're talking.
I turn the knob of the bedroom door and push it open. Marc stands near his old bed with a towel wrapped around his waist. He has on nothing else. A woman sits on the bed, looking up at him, dressed just like the typical Down-Bitch, waist-length wig and all. And of course, it's Karla Watts.