I am genuinely speechless.
“Your car,” Victoriana says, returning to her usual briskness.
Then I am in the car and she is out of sight. E sits across from me, utterly unknowable.
“I never doubted your capabilities,” E says. “Victoriana did, but I won. I always win.” Her voice remains pliable with no harsh edges.
“You do, don’t you?”
“Did you doubt my capabilities?”
“Not exactly,” I say. “It’s more like I failed to understand the extent of your capabilities.” Despite her apparent high mood, I become increasingly annoyed by her presence.
“You were surprised, no doubt. Consider how it might have looked had you been prepared.”
I hadn’t thought of that. “You had to use Helen? She despises being used.”
“She’s proud of you. As proud as if you were her own daughter.”
Back to speechless. Lights fly past the windows.
“You told her everything?”
“Mostly,” E says. “She knows our connection and the general arc of your journey since leaving her porch with a taste for iced tea.”
“Is she at the warehouse?” For reasons I can’t name, I don’t want to see Helen.
“No, she is in a hotel – the same one in which I am booked. Do you want me to bring her to you?”
“I see,” E says. I don’t know what she sees but I don’t ask.
“And Shameika Sloan,” I say. “What does she know of me?”
“Nothing. Not one thing. Hers is a different situation altogether.”
“Funny, that’s what I thought when you paraded her on your press conference.”
“Different, yes. Irrelevant? No.”
“How could you interrupt her grieving just to advance your agenda?” Spite laces the words without my permission.
“How could I not go to her? Are you so blind you do not see what this legislation could mean for people? All kinds of people? You are smart, so apply yourself. This isn’t some pet project for a white woman with too much time and money.” She sees my surprise. “Oh, yes, I sure did allow Mrs. Sloan to believe me white. Race had nothing to do with Jacob’s death and everything to do with her husband’s.”
She goes still.
“Race? Legislation can’t do anything about race. I thought you wanted me to do something about criminal histories.” I search her for answers.
“I expect you to understand, though maybe I expect too much,” she says wearily. “I have passed for white my entire life. Only a small handful of people have knowledge of my Latina heritage. That was set in motion before I could make a decision. Like Cindi, I could have shed my father’s mantle of whiteness he draped over me and my sisters. If I do – when I do – it will be for me only. My presumed whiteness serves a benefit in this fight. I need the legislators, the public to see a horrific thing happening to an affluent white family.
“For the Sloans, there was no passing. Even if their parents had wished it so, there was no chance. Between us, I hope their parents and they didn’t want to pass for white. It’s a burden to live a life not fully authentic.”
Gazing into the night as it flies by, I wonder whether she considered the burden of authenticity, too. The driver is taking the long way.
“You are correct that race issues are tough to legislate more than they have been already. But it’s a complex problem. Black people have no privilege to hide behind, so when a search turns up decades old criminal prosecution, the risk to them rises exponentially.
“Our stories are different, but the crux is the same: freedom to be who we are and to shed who we’ve been. My son was not that single fit of grief broadcast to untold millions. Curtis Sloan was not his criminal past. Because the internet lets no one forget, both Jacob and Curtis met circumstances they could not overcome.”