Chasity cursed and hit the steering wheel when she realized she’d left the gift bag, balloon bouquet, and card on the kitchen island of her Deep Ellum condo. She was already in Plano. She couldn’t turn around. She had to get to the shower on time. Everyone would be there—Momma, her sister, the aunties, and all of her sister’s friends. She needed to get there to be what they needed her to be. The only one without a man or children. It made them feel useful to tell her why.
You spent too much time trying to be white and done missed being what you ’posed to be, Momma told her at the last event. The time before that, one of the aunties said, Don’t no man want no woman that can’t be on time.
She imagined her family watching the door, waiting for her to arrive with a new handbag or scarf or shoes. And then their smiles at the end of the shower—smiles meant to remind her that no matter how put-together she appeared to be, she’d still go home alone. Smiles meant to remind them of who they were.
She sighed and took the Park exit off the Tollway.
Her family would never understand her experience. That her degrees didn’t get her through tough workdays. It took much more than that to be the only black woman—the only black person—in those spaces. She was constantly fighting for herself—for them—for how people saw them. Yet all her family would see her as was the bourgeois one who blended in.
She was relieved when she saw the Super Target on the service road. She’d have to be practical. She wouldn’t get more cute little outfits. She’d get the ones she’d already purchased from Neiman’s—the ones she left behind—to her sister later.
She drove down a few aisles in the parking lot before she spotted a C-Class Mercedes, almost identical to hers, pulling out from a space near the entrance.
“This day might just save itself,” she said out loud.
She exited the car and looked down at herself. She smiled, pleased at how well the off-white, high-waist slacks fell at her Chanel mules. Her family would know they were Chanel, but they would not know that they were more than three seasons old and that someone else had owned them first.
She let her Birkin bag slide down to the crook of her arm and headed inside. She didn’t worry that people would spot her purse as a fake. Her Asian bag lady was good. For a mere $200, Li’s bags could fool the most trained eyes.
She grabbed one of the red carts from inside the store and headed to the back, toward the baby section. She kept going past the infant and toddler clothing, the strollers, high chairs, and car seats, and smiled when she saw the perfect rows of diapers.
This is it, she whispered. She was well aware that new mothers could never have enough diapers. She began to grab two packages of every size of the natural, eco-friendly brand, until she got to a size that was blocked by a thin blond woman hovering over a cart with a baby carrier attached to it. The woman was holding a bottle to the child’s mouth, and it didn’t appear that she would be moving anytime soon.
“I hate to interrupt,” Chasity said. “I need that size.”
The woman smiled but moved her cart only enough to leave a narrow space between it and the diapers.
“Thank you,” Chasity grunted, squeezing through the narrow space, grabbing the packages, and squeezing back through to her cart.
Moments later, she let out a frustrated sigh. Another cart sat blocking the next size she needed. There was a purse in this one. A large signature Louis Vuitton. But there was no driver attached to the cart.
Chasity looked back at the woman feeding the infant. The woman’s eyes widened, her mouth turned down, and she shrugged her shoulders and pointed to the other end of the aisle. “I think it’s theirs,” she said softly.
Chasity followed the woman’s finger to two white women near the end cap. One appeared to be middle-aged and the other a bit older. They looked like mother and daughter. And as if she could sense Chasity’s eyes on her, the older woman, the mother, looked back at Chasity. Her white hair was cropped close to her head, and her khakis, polo shirt, and boat shoes told Chasity all she wanted to know about her. Her eyes darted from the purse in the cart to Chasity, and her tiny mouth dropped into an “o.”
“Jenny,” she said, rushing toward the cart. “How many times do I have to tell you about this?”
The daughter looked up from whatever she was examining on the end cap, just as her mother snatched the bag from the cart. Just as Chasity made sure there was enough distance between her and that cart to certify her innocence.
And they all waited. Just stood there, holding their breaths, it seemed, as the mother went through the purse.
Chasity watched the daughter exhale with relief when the mother finally said, “Everything’s here,” shoving the bag in her daughter’s direction.
Chasity cleared her throat and said, “Excuse me,” before pushing the empty cart out of her way and reaching for the diapers. The other women held the quiet. Each avoiding her with their eyes, like she had made them uncomfortable and embarrassed, like a wrong thing—a common thing—had been done to them and all around them but not by them.
Chasity held her head steady and pushed her cart away from the aisle. As she made her way to the front of the store, she looked down at her Chanel mules and reminded herself of who she was.
LaToya Watkins’ writing has appeared or is forthcoming in A Public Space, The Sun, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Kenyon Review, The Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. She is a Kimbilio Fiction fellow and has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and Art Omi. She received a Ph.D. in aesthetic studies from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is co-director of the Jack Jones Literary Retreat.