an exclusive excerpt from “Let It Be Me” by Christian Loriel; featured in our 1st issue.
She went to see if he was dead. But when she got down to Olive Branch and saw Beanie in his hospital bed, his breathing was calm.
He groaned, moved his head a lot. Constance’s blade had in fact punctured his left kidney, but they’d gotten to it in time enough. He was fine, despite their whole Mississippi town exaggerating traveled-up rumors that his girlfriend had “gutted him”. No, his guts were intact. He was still very much alive. So, Shauna went home and packed her bags. She took the money her grandmother had left her and she left Como. Tired and ripe with frustrated, suppressed love, she finally left Beanie behind to tread alone in his miseries.
She changed her story.
It had been a song of a lanky brown girl who had carried things on her back. She’d carried being in charge of her grandmother’s heart pills. She’d carried keeping the house clean. She’d carried Beanie, the boy from across the road who she’d often had to hide from Mr. Charlie. Shauna had come to believe at an early age that alcoholic fathers must beat their sons to forget that their wives had died. And Mr. Charlie must have really needed to forget his wife. He’d drink his gin and then beat Beanie every day, whether it was for playing too loudly or because he didn’t like the way Beanie had looked at him. There was always a reason.
Now, Beanie was as black as shimmery oil. But his bruises would crust over to even blacker skin. And his brown eyes always appeared dull. Beanie tried praying like Shauna’s grandmother had suggested. He tried pouring out all the gin; his father would just go get more. Beanie even tried kissing Shauna one day after school, behind an old abandoned shed in the woods near their road. His thinking was simple: if he kissed Shauna, he’d have a wonderful memory to revisit whenever things got bad. After this kiss, a quick and nervous pecking on her lips, Shauna was sure she’d swell up and explode in pinks and reds. She wanted to kiss him again, longer kisses, every day. But Beanie started kissing other girls behind that shed. Tammy Bridges. Nita Fitzgerald. And then Nita’s cousin, Brook. And he always told Shauna about them. It killed her bit by bit.
Beanie joined the Navy and returned a thicker, taller boy with lots more kissing stories. Samoan girls. How girls in Guam liked black American men. Shauna only wished to hear about the ocean and the food. She wanted to see pictures of Pearl Harbor. But Beanie never even mentioned Pearl Harbor.
He shared his sexual exploits with his father as well. Mr. Charlie was proud, in his own frigid way. “You gon end up working in the same factory, just like me. Don’t let them white men fool you, Charles Jr.” Beanie’s father died a year later. Liver failure. Beanie had promised to rid that house of every gin bottle. Instead, he finished them off. It took him less than two weeks to drown himself. Then he went out to get more.
He never went back to Guam or Hawaii or any other place again. He went to the factory. He worked beside Shauna, who had been cemented there by the stifling illness of her grandmother. After she finally died, Shauna didn’t know where else she could go. Besides, Beanie still needed her. She had to be the one to drag him to work every morning, only to drag him home from the bar that night. And the women, she had to corral out of his house. Some would steal his wallet after he’d passed out. Others threw things in fury over other women. Shauna always had to go clean up after them.
With all the misery these women brought, none were anything close to Constance Briggs. She’d come there from Olive Branch, swinging her long, fine hair folks claimed she’d gotten on account of her grandmother being part Cherokee. Beanie loved him some long, fine hair. And he loved hips that rounded out and thick thighs that stretched for days. Her lovemaking, it was wild and exhausting – he’d told Shauna all about it.
Constance would have him holed up in his father’s house for days, going out only to get his booze when they ran empty. Days later, Constance would come out waving from the porch. She’d even invite Shauna for fried catfish, black-eyed peas, and okra. Shauna knew full well Beanie didn’t like black-eyed peas. Shauna could not go over there and see Beanie that way, eyes glazed over in lust and liquor, forcing peas into his mouth. She would have vomited. And then she would have killed Constance.
Their fights were as volatile as their sex. Constance would grab knives. She’d throw bleach on his clothes and then on him. Then she’d go back down to Olive Branch. And Beanie would stop breathing. “I need her,” he’d weep on Shauna’s floor. His crying always seemed to weigh on her backbone until it snapped. She’d give him gas money. Then he’d go down to Olive Branch.
But there were no Olive Branches or Constances or Beanies in Florida.
There was a little house, about five miles from a little beach. There were seagulls. There was this small seafood place in the middle of town. Shauna got a job there. She met Franco there.
Now, maybe it was the emptiness that Beanie had failed to ever fill with loving her back. Franco was a young Cuban man with dimples embedded in his brown cheeks. He smiled at her often, whenever she reached for a plate he was sending out. And he smiled at her during her breaks, all the way from the kitchen window. Beanie had never smiled at her that way. So, Shauna smiled back. And they began to dance a quick dance that evolved from giggly conversation into him stroking the small of her back, while she rested on his chest at the beach.
He didn’t drink – she loved that part. His kisses sent the hairs on her skin into a bubbly frenzy. And he never kissed any other girls. He wanted to marry her. She wanted to have five -or at least two -of his babies. They would only have one: Romero. He had his daddy’s dimples and his mother’s coarse, black hair. He was perfect. It all was perfect…
The remainder of “Let It Be Me” is featured in our current issue, including short stories by 13 Black female writers. Contributors include: Christian Loriel, Desiree Evans, Avi-Yona Israel, Wandeka Gayle, L.M. Bennett, DiAnne Malone, Muli Amaye, Tatiana Taylor, Kourtnie Rodney, Jacquese Armstrong, Candice Lola, Preslaysa Williams, and Ilisha Nicole. Buy it today!
Photo credit: Jessica Felicio
Christian Loriel is a writer originally from Memphis, TN. “Let It Be Me” was inspired by Ray Lamontagne’s song of the same name. She is currently a grad student at the University of Louisville and is working on her first novel. She lives and works in Louisville, KY with her husband and two children.