Give Us Some Dirt* -- Lynne Tillman

Clarence scrubbed and scrubbed the way his Mama'd taught him on those long, summer nights in Pin Point. The Georgia air was still as a corpse then, and they'd wait for the breeze to save them. The heat felt like another skin on him.

His Mama would say, Clarence, bring your sweet black behind over here. What have you been up to? Playing by the river again? Oh lord, we've got to clean you up for church, but aren't you something to behold? And his Mama would clap her palms together, so white they were, and spread her arms, like their preacher. Oh, lord, she'd exclaim. Sometimes she'd point to sister and lovingly scold, She doesn't get up to trouble like you, son. Clarence scrubbed until his knuckles nearly bled, while his sister giggled.

These days she wasn't laughing so much.

The dirt couldn't be washed away, not after Clarence kneeled in their church, and they slimed him with their derision. They couldn't see who he was, how hard he'd worked, what he'd had to do, but he knew how to act. Behave yourself, boy, Daddy'd say. His grandfather -- Clarence called him Daddy -- was a strict, righteous man, who'd never complained, even during segregation times, never said a word, so Clarence wouldn't, either. And those days were over, they had their freedom now.

But Clarence couldn't free himself of history's stench. The D.C. nights mortified him, the air was as suffocating as Pin Point's, and on some interminable evenings, he nearly sent that woman a message, made the call, because she'd dragged him down for their delectation. He picked up the receiver and put it down.

The noise of the ceiling fan assaulted him like a swarm of bugs. Clarence's jaw locked, and his strong hands balled into fists. Every pornographic day of his trial, Clarence's wife, Virginia, sat quietly behind him. She barely moved for hours on end, didn't betray anything, and he worried, if she had, whether the calumnies would have spread even further, whether the sniggers and whispers could have ripped her and him into little pieces. He rubbed his face, recalling her startling composure. She was like a soldier at attention in his beleaguered army.

He didn't tell Virginia what the senators didn't say out loud -- if he'd tried to marry her, if he'd had sex with her before the Court decided Loving v. Virginia, they'd have been arrested, and wasn't it ironic that the Court made Clarence's big dick legal in Virginia, in Virginia? The Capitol's dirty joke. Their dry Yankee lips cracked into bloodless grins.

The room's high ceilings dwarfed him. Clarence glanced at a stack of white papers. His wife was unassailable and very white, but under their vicious spotlight her skin looked pasty and sick to him. She clung to him, through his humiliation, even when disgrace lingered like the smell of shit. And there was her stain now, the tainted mark she bore with him.

Clarence wouldn't say anything. He'd learned Daddy's lessons, he could keep everything inside, all of it, their filth and his secrets. He watched his grandfather's bust, half expecting it to move, but it only stared down at him from the shelf. Clarence picked the receiver up and put it down again. He was in that weird trance. He breathed in slowly, to calm himself, exhaled, and closed his eyes. Clarence would leave that woman alone, leave her be, and, anyway, what was the sense, what was there to say years later, there'd be consequences.

He was weary of scrubbing.

After he'd won, he watched his friends' joy, and black and white, they embraced him, slapped him on the back -- remember what's important, what it's for, our principles, it's worth it. He was the blackest supreme court justice in the land, absolutely the blackest this country would ever see. He knew that and held that inside him, too. Nothing and no one could whitewash that.

Clarence patted his round belly. He liked to kid about his heft, his gravitas, with his friends and the other Justices, all friends. When he delivered his rare speeches, he occasionally mentioned his girth, which always drew a laugh, since his body was a source of fun. Sometimes his hands rested on his stomach during sessions, when he was courtly if mute. The court watchers noted that he never asked questions, they remarked on it until they stopped, probably bored, finally. Clarence felt he didn't have to say a word. He'd talk if he wanted, and he preferred not to.

When his hair turned white, like Clinton's, that other fallen brother, Virginia said he looked distinguished, not old. Still, she worried about his weight, she didn't want to lose him. He hushed her. He intended to be on the bench as long as he could, at least as long as Thurgood Marshall. He looked at Daddy again, eternally silenced, but Clarence could hear him, he knew what he'd say. In a whisper, Clarence sometimes talked to Daddy, and once he nearly confessed, but he caught himself. He'd done nothing wrong.

His trial bulged inside him. Fat. He'd never forget it. He closed his briefcase and felt the urge to push Daddy from his perch. He'd never let anyone forget his trial. He chuckled suddenly, and the harsh, guttural noise escaped from him like a runaway slave. He'd have the last laugh, he was color blind, and they'd all pay in the end.

*Clarence Thomas' words in his testimony during the hearings, October 1991.

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