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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Light and Dark (05/21/09)

TITLE: Under The Skin
By Jan Ackerson
05/27/09


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I keep a photograph of my parents on top of my piano. The photograph shows their hands only, interlaced as if they were one person praying. My father’s long, dark fingers alternate with my mother’s, short and pale. I don’t know who took this picture, or why, but if my parents were indeed praying, my father was probably praying for a run of cards that would allow him to pay off any of the angry men who constantly nibbled at his heels. My mother was probably playing that this time, the bruises wouldn’t show.

They inhabited a world of shadows: money exchanged in dim corners of bars, dark substances flowing through their veins, the muted creaks and groans of rusty bed frames. But in the weeks before they both died (within days of each other--my father’s liver having finally surrendered and my mother shrunken down to only skin and smoke), they grasped at God. Brother Jim was with them both when they flew to the light of Jesus, and it was he who held my hand when I met my grandparents a few days later. I was ten years old.

The people I used to know, who crept in and out of my parents’ little flat, were a colorful lot: black like my father, white like my mother, and all shades in between, including the caramel color of my own skin.

But the bridge ladies at Grandma Lois’s house were all fair, with hair either soft white or a buttery shade of yellow. Grandma slathered me in sunscreen every time she opened the door, and she straightened my curls with a flat iron that sent steam hissing to the bathroom ceiling like snake whispers. When we sat side-by-side on her brocade sofa, I’d study our arms: hers soft and round, like the belly of some pale animal, and mine skinny and brown, a twig just right for snapping.

Grandma Lois praised my green eyes. When I looked in the mirror, I stared fiercely at my eyes, trying not to see my nose or lips at all. I rubbed grandma’s purloined cold cream into my skin; I started wearing long-sleeved shirts. When Grandma bought me a box of crayons, I found one labeled flesh. It was the color of ripe peaches. I threw the crayon away.

Grandma, I asked, what color is God? She gave me a picture of blue-eyed Jesus.

Grandpa Dave was a ghost in his own house—I mostly saw his back as he rounded corners ahead of me, and I heard him murmuring with Grandma Lois in the night. I don’t suppose the three of us went out together more than a dozen times. Put on her jacket, Lois. Pull back her hair. He walked several steps ahead of us, calling back sharp commands over his shoulder.

I didn’t belong in their shining world, so after a few years, I was sent to live with Aunty Florence, my father’s aunt, a woman whose blackness seemed to pool in the deep space between her enormous breasts.

Aunty Florence’s sprawling and rickety house barely contained the cousins and other assorted relatives who filled every room with raucous noise. I hadn’t realized that black came in so many shades—bittersweet chocolate, coffee with cream, molasses. But no one there shared my own burnt sugar hue.

The cousins pulled my hair when Aunty Florence wasn’t looking, or unimaginatively called me greenie for my eyes.

At Aunty Florence’s church, we sang red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight. I clenched my jaw and refused to sing. Aunty Florence, I asked, what color is God? She fanned her bosom with a hankie. God’s all colors, child.

In junior high, I continued to wear long sleeves. They covered a criss-cross of scratches, my futile attempt to find a lighter or darker shade, my true skin hiding under the skin that betrayed me every day.

I said I was Egyptian. Peruvian. Thai. I feigned exotic accents, wore colorful scarves and bangles. That got me through high school.

At twenty-three, I stopped asking What color is God? when I realized that the blood staining an ancient cross was the same color as the blood that ran through my father’s desiccated liver and my mother’s virus-riddled veins.

A picture of my parents’ hands, light and dark entwined, adorns my piano. And every evening I sit and play for sweet Jesus, my caramel fingers running over keys both black and white.


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This article has been read 969 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 05/28/09
Really good. One small slip in the first paragraph (drat that spell check) but that's minor. This is a great piece that leaves lots to think about. And I loved the "revelation" at the end.
Janice Fitzpatrick05/29/09
Absolutely beautiful piece! I love the MC's voice and how she ends up finally coming to terms with her 'color" and realizes that she is an heir to the Great I Am. I lvoe the comparisons and the way you show colors and the people's viewpoints. Well done!!Wow!!
Loren T. Lowery05/29/09
Beautifully expressed with compassion and a revealing empathetic quality. The emotions of your MC were real, your supporting characters
became flesh and blood by your words. The closing image will stay with me for a long, long time and the message, of course, is for the ages.
Pat Guy 05/29/09
How poignant about the crayon labeled 'flesh.' I think it should be thrown out too. The photgraph, the grandmother's answer to what color God is, and the child's attempt to find peace through cutting her skin to find her true color are my favorites of this story. This is so deeply beautiful.
Catrina Bradley 05/30/09
Fabulous take on this topic. You captured the pain this girl experienced not belonging or fitting in with either the black or the white family. I do like her granny's answer that God is all colors. Super! I hope this one wins. :)
Sonya Leigh06/02/09
What a beautiful, poignant reminder of the personal self-image struggles in young people, and the longing to fit in. Some, like this girl, have profound loss thrown into the mix which only enhances the desire to belong even more. Very engaging; very well written! Great job.
Linda Payne06/02/09
This was absolutely stunning. God made us in many hues and shades and called us all good! Thank you for sharing this lovely story.
Bryan Ridenour06/03/09
Wow...superbly written and so good on topic. Well done!
Karlene Jacobsen 06/03/09
Beautiful and powerful. Knowing you don't quite fit the world you are in is troublesome until you find the One who created you. It's only then one can truly appreciate their uniqueness.
Patricia Herchenroether06/03/09
This is absolutely stunning. I can't think of anything to say that others haven't, Jan, except that I got chills reading this (twice)! Bless your talented heart.
Joanne Sher 06/03/09
Jan, this is wonderful, as always. Your descriptions are so rich, and those last couple paragraphs are absolutely excellent. I ALWAYS love reading your work, my friend.
Emily Gibson06/03/09
Truly masterful! But then I'm not surprised coming from you!
Connie Dixon06/03/09
I have so missed reading your stories, and THIS is why. Such amazing descriptions and deep thoughts. I love the comparison of skin colors, blood colors and piano key colors. What great insight.
Chely Roach06/03/09
I could completely feel the inner torment of this girl...caught between two worlds, not really belonging to either. This was so deep, so rich, so real. Superb in every way.
Carol Slider 06/03/09
This is absolutely masterful, and it's hard to think of something to say that hasn't already been said! You did a magnificent job of portraying a young person torn between two worlds--without making the common mistake of demonizing one and canonizing the other. Just splendid!!
Colin Swann06/03/09
Masterfully written in colourful language - huh, I mean black and white!

Thanks for showing us how!

Colin
Pamela Kliewer06/03/09
I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. Great take on the topic and I really felt your MC's pain and joy.
Lollie Hofer 06/03/09
Your descriptions were vivid, your words were rich, the message was beautifully clear. Equisite.
Betty Castleberry06/03/09
An exercise in verbal beauty. Wonderful descriptions, and I felt your MC's agony at trying to "find herself." Excellent!
Myrna Noyes06/03/09
Lovely, lovely story with such a richness of words and a beautiful message! :)
Sara Harricharan 06/03/09
I can relate to this in more ways than you'd think. lol. Loved the gritty-real"ness" of this piece. The MC is the sort of person your heart aches for, when you've been where they have and understand what is going through their head. ^_^
Rachel Rudd06/03/09
Wow! Wow! Wow! This is EC material for SURE! Wow! Sorry I already said that, didn't I? You weaved a story of pain and then stiched in hope and understanding at the end. You had me hooked with your descriptions, especially of her aunt. The beginning and the end tie the story together so beautifully, too! Wonderfully writen, Jan!
Steve Uppendahl 06/03/09
Wow. Very impressive, Jan. I love the descriptions of the second paragraph--of course, the others are excellent too. Very powerful and deserving of a win (yes, again).
Mona Purvis06/03/09
What I enjoyed so much was seeing/feeling the MC grow up. The Title says it all.
Superb in evry way.
Mona
Rachel Rudd06/04/09
Let me be the first to say Congratulations, Jan! I knew this should be in the book. It's excellent! I am going to put it on my favorites!
Kathy Gronau06/04/09
Jan, Congratulations. This is a great piece. I was excited to see it. You have been critiquing my writings so I have been reading yours You are very talented!!!!
Yeaaaaa!!!
Kathy Gronau
Myrna Noyes06/04/09
I just KNEW your story was going to garner an EC, and I was right! (I love being right!! :) ) CONGRATULATIONS!!
Sharon Kane06/04/09
Superb! Absolutely awesome writing. This is so rich in emotion, meaning, culture, and above all the amazing breadth of God's grace. I've missed your entries these past weeks, but boy have you come back on top form! Thanks for writing this.
Genia Gilbert06/04/09
Wonderful, as usual, Jan! Thanks, as someone else has said, for showing us how.
This is so timely in our today-world, and gets down to basics.
Charla Diehl 06/04/09
You truly are a master of words. Loved the characters and the way the MC never got caught up in self pity or anger--but rather searched for God and found peace there. Everything about this story is excellent, and so congratulations are well deserved.
Folakemi Emem-Akpan06/05/09
I thought i left a comment on this story the first time i read it. This is a heartbreaking story and i'm happy she finally accepted herself.
It is amazing how making other people feel less than human makes us feel good in return. I am from Nigeria and we are all brown-skinned here but we still segregrate based on ethnic groups. I am married to a man from another ethnic group and this yet surprises some of our relatives and friends, even though they are Christians.
We will do well to remember that the color of blood is red, and that this is something we share in common.
Verna Cole Mitchell 06/05/09
Congratulations on placing with this wonderful story--beutifully poignant. This is mastery of writing.
Dianne Janak06/06/09
I really loved this one. It surprised me, every turn of it, and kept me plastered on the page with a smile and relief at the end.. thanks so much for this one.. Jan..