A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over: “Je ne peux pas respirer! I can’t breathe!”
Mr. Pontellier, unable to watch Fox News with any degree of comfort, arose with an exclamation of disgust. What an annoyance the bird was. Did it not know that all lives mattered?
“Eric Garner! Trayvon Martin! Sandra Bland! Say their names!” the bird shouted.
Mr. Pontellier looked out toward the beach. His two sturdy sons and their nurse were approaching, followed by his wife and young Robert Lebrun.
“You are burnt beyond recognition,” he said, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of property which has suffered some damage. “You are quite as dark as the quadroon nurse.”
“Mr. Pontellier,” the nurse said stiffly, “I have asked you repeatedly not to use that word or any other hate speech. My name is Denise, and I demand respect. And please tell your children not to touch my hair.”
Edna Pontellier nibbled a bonbon and looked thoughtful.
Robert Lebrun plucked an orange from the low-hanging branch of a tree and offered it to her. “I am very surprised you have not seen the video already,” he told her. “It has been all over social media.”
“Oh,” she said, “I am not very political.”
“But how can you not be political when we live in the midst of systemic social injustice? We must hold the police accountable! We must bear witness! Here, sit by me; Madame Antoine left us a meal of locally sourced, farm-to-table foods before she joined the LGBTQIA pride parade. How lucky we are not to live in a food desert! — which of course are most often found in low-income urban communities inhabited by people of color. Here, we can watch the video on my phone while we eat. Trigger warning, darling.”
Edna reluctantly seated herself beside him on the chaise while Robert opened the YouTube app. Soon the sounds of shouts and gunfire could be heard.
“You see?” Robert asked, leaning close and breathing softly into her ear. “This is just one example of the racially motivated violence endemic to our patriarchal society and the gun culture. And how do you like the kale? I massaged it myself.”
Mrs. Pontellier and Madame Ratignolle seated themselves in the shade of the porch and fanned themselves. Madame Ratignolle produced a diminutive roll of needlework, some little garment she was making for one of her children. Edna rested her eyes upon the sea.
“Of what are you thinking, my dear?” asked Madame Ratignolle of her companion, whose countenance she had been watching with amused attention.
“I was thinking about white privilege and intersectionality,” said Edna, “and how it seems to me that these things do, in fact, shape our perceptions and our lives in ways of which we are blissfully unaware. I was thinking of systemic gendered double standards, how Léonce went to dinner and billiards at Klein’s as if it were the most natural thing in the world, yet I am scolded like a child if I choose to go walking than sit at home to receive social calls. I was thinking of the shocking income inequality in this country, and how the middle class is being squeezed out of existence while the one percent continue to amass great wealth. I was thinking that perhaps my servants do not entirely enjoy being my servants.”
Mrs. Ratignolle frowned. “My dear, I do not think this hot sun is good for you. Perhaps you should consider having another baby.”
When Mr. Pontellier came home at last, he discovered his wife lying in the hammock. “Edna! What folly is this? You will take cold; come in.”
“I am not cold; I have my shawl.”
“The mosquitoes will devour you. I can’t permit you to stay out there all night.”
“There are no mosquitoes, and that is a microagression. Please respect my autonomous personhood. This is a safe space.”
Léonce lit a cigar. His wife was clearly ill or insane, perhaps both. He would contact his friend in the city, Doctor Mandelet. Together the two wealthy white men would decide how best to legislate his wife’s body.
Edna found Madame Ratignolle in the salon, her face drawn and pinched, her blue eyes haggard. “Where is the doctor?” she cried.
“Do you mean that you do not have a doula?” Edna asked. “Did you not read the articles I sent you about low-intervention birth plans, African birthing swings, or dolphin-assisted births? Did you read the articles about the dangers of vaccination and the benefits of co-sleeping? My dear Adèle, do you even have a birth plan?”
“I am in a great deal of pain,” Madame Ratignolle gasped.
“Ah, it is just as I feared!” Edna cried. “I said as much to Alcée Arobin in bed last night, just after we brought each other to consensual mutual orgasm.”
Madame Ratignolle swooned, and the baby plopped onto the floor from beneath her skirts. Edna bent gracefully and gathered the placenta. She would leave a restorative placenta smoothie recipe with the cook, a woman who earned shockingly little compared to a man doing equal work.
The waters of the Gulf stretched out before her. Edna sighed; it was no use. Robert had proven himself to be a manspreader, a mansplainer, a product of rape culture. Arobin’s dreadlocks were an unforgivable appropriation of black culture, and Léonce’s new profile pic showed him sporting a BLUE LIVES MATTER pin at a Trump rally. Adèle chattered only about her baby and the return of pumpkin spice latte season. There was no possibility, Edna thought, of her continuing in this life now that she was truly woke.
She cast off her garments, oppressive and hyper-sexualized items produced by abused and exploited workers, and for the first time in her life stood naked and un-body-shamed in the open air.
She walked into the sea. “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” she sighed as she swam out, farther and farther, until exhaustion overpowered her.
Two strong women of color watched from the shore.
“Wow, talk about white privilege,” Denise said.
“I heard that,” replied her trans Latina friend Mariequita. “And you know Ghandi never actually said that.”
Denise shook her head. “She probably learned it from a fucking bumper sticker.”