Tar

I was a child and sticking my shoe in the melting tar from the asphalt on the freshly paved curb outside my aunt’s house. A woman was across the street banging her fists against the gate blocking her from the front door to a church.

“Why is she doing that?”

My aunt put out her cigarette on the banister of the porch and turned to squint through the screen door at the clock in the kitchen.

“It’s almost quarter after. Mass starts at 10:00 and then they lock the gate to get in. She’s late.”

My aunt came down off the porch to pull my foot out of the tar.

“Stop sticking your feet in that. I told you I don’t want you tracking that shit in the house.”

“But she really wants in. She seems upset.”

“Well she should have been on time then.”

After a few moments the woman stopped banging on the gate and pulled her purse off her shoulder. She took an envelope from inside and slid it between the bars of the gate and made the sign of the cross and walked away.

My aunt grabbed my hand and pulled me across the street to the church.

“We’re going to play a game, okay? We’re going to see if your arm can fit through the gate and reach that envelope.”

I looked at my hands and then down at the envelope on the ground on the other side of the gate. It looked like the ones my mom would always let me put in the basket they passed around at church. I turned around to look up at my aunt.

“It’s not ours though.”

“If you don’t the bad man will come and get you. Is that what you want? The bad man to come?”

I quickly slid my arm through the bars and reached for the envelope, but I could only touch it with my fingertips.

“Your fingers, go put them in the tar!”

She took me over to the sidewalk and pressed my hand into the tar. My fingers looked like they did when I would eat black olives and I would top each finger with one. I tried to tell my aunt this but she was too focused on guiding my arm back through the gate.

I was easily able to get the envelope this time. My aunt took it from my hand when I pulled it through the bars. It left tiny black smudges on the front of it. She slid it into her back pocket and we walked back across the street to her house.

“When your mom comes to pick you up after work don’t tell her about the game we played. And don’t come in until you get that shit off your hands,” she said before disappearing into the house.

I looked down at my fingers and tried to rub them together to get them clean, but the tar wouldn’t budge. Most of the it had started to dry so I ran my fingers over the sidewalk so hard they started to bleed. It was underneath my nails and in the lines of my fingers. I sat down on the stairs of the porch and watched as the tar started to mix with my blood, working its way into my body through the tiny cuts on my fingertips and I started to cry.

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