The Licorice Queen, by Tiffany Q
“Good evening – right this way.”
I crush my clutch under my armpit and follow. Sliding the chair from the table she motions for me to have a seat.
A menu is extended, “Take your time looking over the menu. Is this your first time here?”
“Yes,” I force a smile.
“Welcome and thank you for joining us this evening. Our special for the day is sea bass, which comes with a caviar sauce. I hope that your dining experience this evening exceeds your expectations and your waiter will be right with you,” she smiles and turns to walk away.
My eyes veer off as I sit center of the restaurant facing the kitchen as the swinging doors flag on its hinges. My eyes deceive me when the swinging doors part ways and I catch a glimpse of a black woman resembling Queen, my grandmother. When the doors swing open again I catch a glimpse of the blade she held ripping through the air of the kitchen.
Hypnotized by the swinging doors, I shift in discomfort, squinting, entranced by the movements of this woman in the restaurant kitchen. The doors continue to flag back and forth. The semblance of Queen overcomes me as I stare through the swinging doors.
Removed from the setting of the restaurant and placed at the edge of my granddaddy’s rose garden that was built for a Queen – my Licorice Queen, the kitchen doors inviting me at each opening in loving memory of my sixteen years of age… With the chopping against the cutting board, the clashing of the blades and skin against fish scales.
Sitting on the grass in front of my grandma – the licorice Queen, ruling from her throne in the rose garden; I watched her midnight skin shinning brighter than the morning sun.
It’s that present sound today… quick, sharp clicks, the panic, the stench of fear stewing in the rose garden of the catch – air in the gills, a silent song in its mouth, and death about its fins. There it is – the cutting blade slicing the air, the twist of her wrist, as the caviar pours out for everyone. Spilling from the belly of the sea – bass.
My licorice queen gripped the blade at the garden’s edge and invited me deeper into the garden. She said inhaling loud, “Smell those roses chile.”
She loves her roses. I followed her until she turned sinking her heels in the earth and stood facing me, “Sit down and keep your eyes on this,” She handed me a bouquet of roses, “I want you to pull a pedal on every count of five.”
I did. I plucked, one, two, three, four, five, I plucked, one, two, three, four, five, again and repeated the count.
“The only thing you need to be concerned with is the rose petals right now.” Queen said.
“Yes Queen,” I said as the sweet life of the roses and the stench of death from the fish filled the air. It seemed to be the worst kind of pain. I could tell from the rhythm of her breathing, as she took that blade and ripped it out from between her legs. I had only counted ten sets of five. She was done.
“Mercy,” Queen said suspending the mute baby in the air. “Well – well – well, a white man’s fruit,” her voice lifted in fiery.
“You know what to do,” Queen said as she snatched the towel draped on the thorny rose-bush.
She handed me the limp baby as she wiped the fish scales and white smudge of the birth onto the towel. I held the powder colored baby the same as she did, by the ankle. That’s what she taught me to do – have no mercy for the merciless and just like the slaughter of a chicken, I placed the neck firmly through the bottom of the killing cone and held it.
I followed Queen’s instructions, twist the neck until – you – hear – POP, the roses love that, for that’s where they get their color from chile, as the blood drains down. Don’t forget to fill their mouths with earth; stuff it in there deep until their little bellies burst.
“Prune it exactly the way I taught chile – do away with them limbs and drain the blood over there,” she pointed with her blood caked nails. “One more thing – stuff the seeds in before the earth is packed in… I’ll see you back at the house.”
I waited until I got the last sign of her in the rose garden – Click! She stuck the knife into the cutting board at the garden’s edge.
“Good evening – have you had a chance to look over the menu?” The waiter interrupts pulling the restaurant back into view as I release the memory. Just then I felt her presence, then her hand on my shoulder, so I turned and stood to greet her.
“Good evening.” Our lips met at the exchange of a kiss.
“Have a seat Queen,” I say and apply a smile to my face.
The licorice queen stares at me with her grace on full display, knowing that my smile was as temporal as the foundation painted on my face.
Queen turns to the waiter, “I’m sorry can we have a minute and could you be so kind as to bring us both a glass of your best wine.” Queen said returning her eyes to me.
“Will do.” And he left.
Queen reaches out and crests my hand; “I need you tomorrow in the rose garden.”
I sat stiff holding my breath. I knew that any time she offered to have a late dinner it was always about the rose garden. I exhaled.
Queen continued, “I will be gutting all kinds of…” she paused rolling her eyes to the ceiling, “mercies – mercies- mercies,” she repeated, until she was satisfied with the word dripping from her lips. She sat casting down her eyes at my hand in hers then upon seeing the waiter exiting through the swinging doors Queen beckoned him over and whispered in my ear, “I will be waiting for you at high noon.”
“Are you ladies ready to order?” He placed two long stem glasses of wine on the table.
“Yes – sea bass with caviar sauce,” I slid my hand away and gripped the stem of the glass.
Queen paused to watch me empty the glass, “for two.” She said to the waiter as if sitting on a throne giving orders to a mere servant.
Passing behind the waiter in a flash, “Roses for the ladies,” a gentleman cradles long stem roses in the bend of his arm.
With the upturn of her lips, the gentleman extends a rose to Queen. I nod my head accepting a rose and the invitation at high noon in the garden. The waiter rushes off pushing through the swinging doors leading to the kitchen. And Queen in all her glory turns to say, “Have no mercy on the merciless.”
After all, it’s not my job to have mercy on the merciless – it’s the Lords.