Bright Bright Bright Bright


The day of the Kavanaugh confirmation vote I wear my shirt that reads “HUMAN WOMAN HUMAN WOMAN” to the neighborhood park. I am with Joan, my three-year-old daughter, but most of me—the part not holding her hand and chatting about cloud cover—is asking every person and object I pass to come at me, to fight me, to beg me to show the depth of my anger. I’ll fuck you up, Ford Focus. You’ll rue the day, FedEx driver. The sidewalk? Guilty! In on it! Eat my stomps.

Our neighborhood park is on the next block—a distance far enough to rouse my anger but too short to dissipate it via step-step-step exhaustion. We get to the park gates and I’m full-tanked on vitriol which is a dangerous state to be in when entering an empty playground. Communally owned resources seem suspect, and make easy targets. I think about ramming into the trash can, but what will that teach my daughter about injustice or about keeping her shoulders from being dislocated?

My daughter swings on her belly and kicks up rocks. Good.

(I remember when I was a girl and I’d swing on my belly that same way. With that weight on my middle I would get these intense feelings about having babies inside me—a warmth that shot down my legs. It felt like I had no choice. I looked like a disheveled little dumb-dumb who couldn’t properly operate the swing but inside I was sprouts and shoots, bursting.)

Joan’s done with her dead-man’s swing. My daughter wants to be pushed properly. I lift her on and sitting upright, she grips the chains. She wants higher and higher. She always every minute wants higher and higher but on the swing is the only place she can get it.

The pushing is a good outlet. A shove that was requested and has a safe, set course. Her back is solid against my hand, a spine that comes and goes and is mine—not communally owned. This is fine. Outdoors. I’m practically lowered to somewhat-seething.

Behind us I hear a door open, footsteps, muttering. The park is right beside a half-rundown house that looks like a melting ice cream cone if the ice cream were shredded mini-blinds and the cone were paint peeling off concrete. A wooden deck extends from the back of the home; the only thing keeping this deck from being the park is a chain-link fence. A man stands only a few feet away from me, under the deck. A door is open under there, too, presumably to a small workroom or storage area.

Whether or not he’s looking I can’t tell. But I know he sees me and now my every movement is a performance, a question, a rejection—and each with ten daggers from my eyes because don’t watch me not wanting to be watched.

He whistles as he works so I hate him. Today is either a victory or a non-loss to him. The women he knows are just fine and there’s work to be done in the workroom. He’s probably in there choosing a wrench and thinking about how the women he knows (and boy does he know women)—well hey, any unwanted sexual touching they had encountered was so innocent and well-intentioned (coming from such nice young men) that they’d decided to take it as a compliment! These are ladylike women, though. They marry men and laugh along. They aren’t like these newly prominent trouble-making denouncers, who are by the way ugly in the face.

I glare with my back. That’ll show him.

I assume that from my back and my pushing technique he knows my state of mind and my politics and he’s gloating about it and I swear he’s taunting me under his breath as he carries supplies out through the door over and over. I can hear that he’s letting out three-word strings between whistles but I can’t understand what meaning they make. The metal chain on the swing is shrieking every other second but maybe he said, “You doomed harpy.”

Joan wants down. She says her arms are tired of holding on.

She runs over to the digger that scoops up dirt and wood chips and sets them down mere inches from where they started. She can’t maneuver it herself so I help her pull the levers and she points to the dirt she wants to pick up and also where she wants to dump it.

All my efforts today are hard-fought and pointless. Even though she’s pointing right down I keep dumping the load in the wrong place because I’m distracted by the sensation that my digging and my mothering is being monitored and ranked by the man behind the fence. I’m not encouraging enough, I should let her dig her own holes, I should live in a neighborhood with better parks.

I can feel the man behind me. I bet my skirt has ridden up too high from bending and scooping. I don’t feel ashamed. I don’t care what he can or cannot see. I only wish I had something horrifying peeking out of me like maybe a severed head, neck-first.

He turns on a radio and it plays the line “You make a grown man cryyyy” and is promptly over. The next song is also brief. It seems this station only plays one-minute versions of well-known rock anthems.

I’m mulling over who’s side Mick Jagger is on (“Under My Thumb” is troubling in its lyrical content but fuck-yes in terms of how my body receives it) when Joan starts flying her small kite. She runs back and forth and asks, “Am I doing it?” as the kite drags the ground.

I realize I’m being silly. Silent fights with wordless enemies. Stomping about how no one’s listening while saying nothing.

I am only at the park; I exist in a one-layered dimension. All he is doing is manually carrying, what, concrete blocks? Is he building a prison fort without windows for women who read books? Stop it.

I acknowledge to myself that for many people, social interactions have always been this fraught, and how new I am to seeing the layers of oppression and power all around me. I worry that I treat checking my privilege like putting a checkmark in a box. There, it’s done. A line down, a line straight up, and we are back to me.

I try not to acknowledge the part of me that asks, “Did I acknowledge the wider context and those most affected long enough, well enough?

I sit at the picnic table that only exists because my husband emailed the city and asked for it to be placed in our park. So I’m the queen of this picnic table, really.

The guy either does or doesn’t laugh and repeat “queen of it” under his breath.

Joan keeps running back and forth and the string of her kite gets wrapped around one of her piggy tails. She can fly her kite handsfree and we are both thrilled, laughing. She’s doing it.

I think we’ll always have kitehead and forget about the man behind us.

“I Can See Clearly Now” comes on the radio but only the part that says: “It’s gonna be a bright bright bright bright sunshine-y day.” He tries to sing along to this phrase and jumbles it, gets it wrong—even though it is mostly one repeated word.

He can’t even remember the main phrase from the minute-long song that must play on this station twice a day. Put him on the Supreme Court and let him mutter his opinions to the masses. Let him pop in and out of small doors wearing robes and making damaging proclamations. They’ll need to be written on his hand and from now on all proclamations will be a single word repeated over and over and over from this man’s palm.

Joan can tell I’m elsewhere, distracted. To lure me back to the picnic table and to her words and her piggy tails she starts bringing me objects from the bag I’ve left on a far bench.

Mama, this is a water bottle. Touch it. It’s here. Sip, you have an inside.

Mama, this sunblock. I’m offering you. Look. It’s roll-on sunblock. I’m putting it on your leg. You have a leg. Your leg is here. No one but me is touching it, mama. No one else is even looking at you. I’m putting it on my arm too, mommy. Look! It’s thick, help me rub it in. Touch now. Back here with me, I’m Joan at the park and you’re the one who brought me.

I rub her arm until we are both reset.

When we leave Joan says she cannot walk in the heat. I carry her until I cannot walk in the heat either. Her body has wrinkled my HUMAN WOMAN shirt and I don’t know what to tell her about human women, carrying others, the heat, suppression, paranoia, reality, preconceived notions, or how short a song can be and still make you feel just right.


Rumpus original art by Leesa Travis.

Janelle Bassett's fiction has appeared in Hysterical, River Styx, and Split Lip. She lives in St. Louis. She can be found on Instagram @jbknows. More from this author →