journal

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Black Barbie

Daddy straddled the heap of toys that lived on the floor of our playroom in Brentwood, Long Island. Tiny plastic arms splintered out as though bidding for a chance to accompany me to Becky Carrigan’s* sleepover that night. Daddy sifted unceremoniously through water-damaged board games and the action figures that my sisters and I mostly used as our dolls’ eager boyfriends. Beneath the Sega cartridges and tufts of nylon hair, Daddy unearthed a land mine. It was part of a limited edition and in an unopened, double-wide package to contain its power.

I felt a sour feeling creep to my bowels: Daddy held out a Black Barbie.

Before that moment, I would have described Becky as a nice girl, my friend. The girl who would always share her snack, the girl who generously expended all of her patience trying to teach me how to do a backflip during recess. At that moment, it became clear to me that I also saw Becky as white. I somehow knew that held a sort of reverence, and that giving her a doll that looked nothing like her was out of order. It was confusing to even me because, as it often happens, the more Khaholis moved to Brentwood, the more Beckys moved out. Somehow the thought of gifting a Black Barbie to a white girl made me feel out of place in a town where most people looked just like me.

Then I thought, just for a moment, that maybe Becky would be glad to receive this doll. After all, she didn’t complain about the clothes she wore, though I considered them suitable only for sleeping and raking leaves. I was embarrassed by that thought and reminded myself that most of the kids got free lunch at school, and that ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ could not apply to anyone living in the suburbs. It wasn’t okay for me to suddenly categorize Becky to ease my nervousness. Becky deserved better than my thoughts. And goddammit, Becky deserved a white Barbie.

Daddy noticed none of my hesitation and threw Black Barbie under his arm. He thought Barbie was still the default gift for any ambitious young gal. And why not? Barbie is a doctor, after all. She has the natural temperament of a flight attendant, and her feet molded only for heels let us know that she’s freak in the sheets. Oh, she’s also an astronaut. But he failed to realize that Black Barbie…Barbie with an asterisk…was not a toy for every girl. She was sometimes the gift you gave to other Black girls if their parents didn’t think her smiling while being dark-skinned set a bad example for their daughter. In fact, this particular Black Barbie moved to our playroom floor when a local toy store went under, so Daddy bought her nice and cheap.

Please, Daddy. Don’t make me take her is what I thought.

“Thanks Daddy,” is what I said.

We headed out to Becky’s, but first, we stopped by the sporting goods store to buy a sleeping bag. I couldn’t be the only girl at the sleepover who didn’t own one.

 

When we arrived at Becky’s, I was greeted by her mother. She wore a warm smile and a sensible brassy bob. The inside of their two-story house was tidy yet outdated; a symptom of a home without a father, I assumed. I think I remember faux wood finishing on the railing of the stairs and the wall molding, but that may be the color my memory associates with discomfort. I instinctively scanned the living room for other Black girls; girls I hoped would make me feel lighter about the gift-wrapped bomb I was carrying. There was a dark-haired, olive-skinned girl to whom I kept throwing glances, trying to figure out if she would be an ally if shit went down.

After settling in, the other guests and I sat scattered on the floor and couch, facing Becky who sat center stage on the big recliner. Becky’s mom lined up all of the gifts and began handing them to Becky one by one. I eyed mine the entire time, half hoping to get it over with, and the other half hoping the four horsemen would interrupt the party. It didn’t occur to me to hope that Becky would like the doll.

“This one is from…Ka…Kay-hoe-lee?” is what Becky’s mom probably said when she picked up my gift, and I probably didn’t correct her. Becky tore open the wrapping paper and there it was, with its suddenly ironic smile and crown.

Then, not a word.

For the longest second, the room felt both empty and stiflingly full. Like everyone in the room had suddenly become adept at hearing the tones of silence.

 

The remainder of “Black Barbie” is featured in our current issue, including short stories by 14 Black woman writers. Contributors include: Khaholi Bailey / Zakiah Baker / rebekah blake / K.B. Carle / Jeannine A. Cook / Cassandra Eddington / Johannah Fienburgh / Janyce Denise Glasper / Marissa Joy Leotaud / devorah major / Zuri H. Scrivens / Vanessa Taylor / Janelle M. Williams / Akilah Wise. Buy it today!

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ISSUE 2 – Sneak Peek

 
midnight & indigo is a literary journal dedicated to short fiction and narrative essays by Black women writers.

Our second issue features contributions by 14 Black women writers including: Khaholi Bailey, Zakiah Baker, rebekah blake, K.B. Carle, Jeannine A. Cook, Cassandra Eddington, Johannah Fienburgh, Janyce Denise Glasper, Marissa Joy Leotaud, devorah major, Zuri H. Scrivens, Vanessa Taylor, Janelle M. Williams, and Akilah Wise.

CLICK TO PURCHASE NOW

 

K.B. Carle, “Wick” 

A woman Sylke calls Wick leaves etchings of her lips on the Master’s windows while catching the drippings of candles in the palm of her hand. Sylke finds her in the quiet of the nighttime, watches her drift through the Big House from her settling branch on a big tree, willow leaves keeping her small body to themselves. Mantis tickles her scalp with her claws, scraping at dirt bits and whatever else she finds.

Unlike Sylke, Mantis has no interest in the woman who dances in the smoke trails of candlelight.

Sylke’s mama, Abigail, tells her that everyone and everything has a name. That those working in the Big House probably have day names that sound like bird songs or the gentle humming of bees. From her gazing spot, Sylke releases her day name, Barbaidy, into the air. Listens for the hummings or songs it might sing but only hears Mantis whisper,

Sylke.

A name made special, one Sylke can hold or give to the ones that fill her with a warmth she frees when she’s scared. A reminder that she is more than just Barbaidy, a name made for Master Laide that burns and causes her tongue to get to tangling, forming new shapes that threaten to choke her.

 

Marissa Joy Leotaud, “Crazy”

Two sticks of incense burn. Tufts of smoke waft through the air, rising and curling, swelling then evaporating like pulsing thoughts that remain secret; drifting off before full expression, leaving only their fragrance behind. One stick lavender, the other cedarwood. Familiar, comforting scents.

We met back in college, the only Black students in our American literature class. He gave me the Black person head nod of acknowledgment. I nodded in his direction politely, and we silently addressed each other’s presence in front of the whites. Internally, we screamed, “Thank God you’re here! Sit next to me!”

We sat next to each other.

I got him cedarwood incense that first Christmas. Neither of us could afford to fly home. I’ve been buying him the sweet-smelling sticks ever since.

Five years later and I’m with him again on Christmas. Still too broke to go home. It’s okay. His loft is home enough.

 

Cassandra Eddington, “Sunday”

They walk into the train car and toward the empty seats across from me, see me, stutter as they sit down. It does not bother me, I am patient. They avoid looking at me. To them, it is more polite that they pretend I am not here. I wait.

I see the sadness in her eyes, the glistening, the gentle tension in her eyebrows. I am unfortunate. I am a victim of something. It pains her young mind to think of what, so she makes a wall with her furrowing.

He crosses his hands in his lap. He examines his knuckles, the crescent-shaped scar from the lid of a can. It has healed wide at the center. His face is tilted in the way that heads tilt to honor God. He clears his throat. He adjusts the angle of his sneakers, the distance between his knees.

I look to my reflection in the window between their heads. I am old. I have aged again, the deep downward scratches in the glass intersect with the lines beneath my eyes. There are three now, deep and brown. A mole rides the ridge of the third fold beneath my left eye. I put one finger to it.

He puts his hand on her knee.

 

Vanessa Taylor, “Kelsey Monahan Stole Your Goddamn Jacket”

You realize this after coming back from a visit with your umi. It will go the same way those visits always do. There’s two kid siblings at home, and you’re pretty sure your younger brother is queer too, so that’s the only reason you bother going back. Umi will quietly ask if you want to visit the masjid down the street. Just to pray asr. You know asr will turn into whispered conversations with the imam which will turn into men reading Quran over you in the basement. The sheikh will scream surahs in your ear. They say if you flinch, you’re possessed. Your mother will go upstairs, running tasbeeh through her hands, feeling groves you helped put there. Umi would rather have a daughter full of jinn than a daughter who fills herself with women.

 

Janyce Denise Glasper, “The Goodbye Sister”

I loved visiting my younger sister when she lived at the modern brickwork complex around Shell Gas Station. You had to pull the bell of the northbound Route Sixteen bus right at that exact moment and cross the dangerous curved street with no stoplights, watching for incoming traffic aiming in both directions.

We had many girl’s nights there. Just us and Donatos thin-crust pizza with all the vegetable toppings and those amazing cinnamon-sugar dough balls for dessert. Sometimes, if we had a real good coupon deal, breadsticks would be in the order too.

She selected eclectic film combinations from the library. For instance, Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington battled wills in Crimson Tide, and afterward we read subtitles of French animated Triplets of Belleville. Our penchant for Brian White films included the soft comedy Mr. 3000, dark erotic Trois, and Black spiritual romance Me and Mrs. Jones.

Then I would crash on her soft beige wrap around couch, warmed by her extra blankets, full of love and food. The large windows were closed by long white blinds that touched wall-to-wall carpeting, a deep, pretty gray.

Her belongings were neatly arranged; different from the chaotic dolls, clothes, and coloring books splattered on our shared childhood bedroom floor.

She resided in one of the best places ever acquired by any of us.

 

Janelle M. Williams, “In c/o Chidi Onyeachu”

They only do this in Black neighborhoods, keep people waiting all damn day. When the Post Office closes at five and doesn’t open until nine, don’t they know people have jobs? Tamika taps her tan mules. She’s seventh or eighth in line, after waiting fifteen minutes already. She hates knowing, just as well as anyone else, that this is to be expected at Harlem’s College Station.

Tamika looks behind her, finding a woman with a big box hitched to her hip like a toddler. She raises her eyebrows, projecting Now isn’t this some shit. The woman shakes her head, and Tamika watches the way her black bob moves, stiff with product. Her kaleidoscopic leggings with a small hole in the thigh and fuzzy purple slide-ons, the kind Rihanna made popular, make her errand look erratic, nothing like Tamika’s own.

The box Tamika is carrying isn’t too big, but it’s heavy, and something seems to be reaching out of it, clawing at her forearm. Her waist too. If I could just get this shit over with.

She moves the package as far away from her body as possible.

 

devorah major, “Sitting Spells”

When I open the door she just trots in, all prancing and sweet, high stepping like she helping the earth to turn, I tell you. I know by the way she sits down, selecting a chair to sit in before she is invited to rest her feet, that she was a child with little enough of no and too much of anything you want baby. But tell you the truth, I also recognize an old charcoal drawing of myself in her carriage, so I just laugh.

“What brings you here?” I ask as if I don’t know. Pretty girl like her, nice clothes, new bag, polished nails, flower perfume, ain’t but one thing she want: love. And with her, I can tell it isn’t love in general, but one particular man she wants.

I know too, it was my sister who sent her up here. My sister got a glowing stripe of cruel running thick across her forehead. Had it tattooed there so everybody would be warned. Most folks can’t see it though. Me, I lived with it most of my sixty-two years.

“Your sister Meecha told me to come and bring you this fruit and these flowers cut from her garden.” She has a little hummingbird buzz of a voice.

“Hrmmph,” I answer, but she doesn’t notice.

 

Zakiah Baker, “Up North”

The summer before I went to fifth grade, me and my mama moved to an all-white neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I didn’t want to leave the South, but she got a new job as a housekeeper for some rich white folks. My great aunt Edna worked for them first, and before she died, she told Mr. Sutherland all about Mama and her strong work ethic. He trusted Aunt Edna’s judgment, so he sent for her immediately. He offered her what must’ve been a lot of money back then because she had us all packed up and on the road in less than three days. She said it would be better living in the North, but I couldn’t imagine life much sweeter than where I came from. Aiken, South Carolina.

 

rebekah blake, “Mary, Mara, and Death”

I wished to be a flower child. Dancing and music, drugs and sex. My dream was to create a commune that had at least one person from every race on this earth. At the age of eight, I knew without a doubt that I hated the institution of marriage and swore I would love freely. None of my ten children would know who fathered them. I would name each of them after flowers, boy or girl. Everyone in my commune would be mothers and fathers to my children. We would all love each other, and that would be enough.

But I was a good Christian girl named Mary who went to her parents’ Baptist church every Wednesday and Sunday. Who babysat kids in the neighborhood after school while their parents finished up their shifts and came home for a few hours before their graveyard shifts started. My momma worked two jobs, so she’d come home at 7 PM and check in on us. I’d watch multiple kids at a time at my house. I’d call them sleepovers, and I’d have the kids hold hands like I saw Dr. King do and we’d all sing spirituals while walking around the house. Some- times, I’d stand on my bed and say as much of the “I Have A Dream” speech as I could remember. I’d quiver my voice just like him. All the kids, young and with boogers hanging from their noses, would look up at me enraptured.

 

Johannah Fienburgh, “Pomegranate”

Jamie remembers very little about the night his little sister was born. Most of it was snapshots, lightning flash images that were half memory and half story, passed down by his dad, his grandma, his mother. Certain things had been told to him so often they had become his. It had rained like the devil, for hours, for days, they said. The power had gone out, they said. You were so excited, you drew picture after picture of you and your new little sister, they said.

What Jamie knows he remembers was the screaming, the terrible, terrifying, animal sound of his mother in pain. Her groans ripped through the tense silence of the house, at odds with the dim, flickering light of the candles and the warm-sweet of his mother’s incense; things he associated with peace and calm, with his mother’s low, chanting voice as she pressed oiled hands into the pressure points of his feet, swept light hands over his legs, his arms. There was nothing calm about his mother now. He may have only been five, but even he knew something big was happening on the other side of the closed living room door. Every so often he’d hear a voice, his father’s, the doula’s, at once calm and also so very obviously scared and then their voices would be swallowed again by his mother’s screams.

 

Akilah Wise, “Mr. Landry”

I sat on my porch with a glass of sweet limeade in one hand and Philibert, my kitty cat, in my lap and watched the world beyond my little white fence. I do not care to go beyond my fence; I usually enjoy being as alone as I am. But sometimes I do fancy bringing the world to me when feeling especially alone, and this was one of those days.

It was a fine day, just like the weatherman said, with big bright white puffy clouds floating over the softly rolling emerald grass dotted with spicy autumn sage. Hot and smothering like always. Behind my house, a one-story Creole cottage my daddy built but that I painted myself in 1967, I heard the sparrows, the warblers in the oaks and maples, with the grass mice scurrying through the bushes. Flies and mosquitoes were buzzing in my ear, around the veranda, and I swatted them with my newspaper fan. Philibert was purring in my arms as I stroked his velvet ears. I did a little jig in my seat when I heard a tune from Boozoo Chavis come on the radio beside me. Now you may not know a thing about Boozoo Chavis, but let me tell you that he was the bees’ knees back when I was a young fellow. Zydeco was the wind, and boy did we float.

 

Khaholi Bailey, Black Barbie

Daddy straddled the heap of toys that lived on the floor of our playroom in Brentwood, Long Island. Tiny plastic arms splintered out as though bidding for a chance to accompany me to Becky Carrigan’s* sleepover that night. Daddy sifted unceremoniously through water-damaged board games and the action figures that my sisters and I mostly used as our dolls’ eager boyfriends. Beneath the Sega cartridges and tufts of nylon hair, Daddy unearthed a land mine. It was part of a limited edition and in an unopened, double-wide package to contain its power.

I felt a sour feeling creep to my bowels: Daddy held out a Black Barbie.

Before that moment, I would have described Becky as a nice girl, my friend. The girl who would always share her snack, the girl who generously expended all of her patience trying to teach me how to do a backflip during recess. At that moment, it became clear to me that I also saw Becky as white. I somehow knew that held a sort of reverence, and that giving her a doll that looked nothing like her was out of order. It was confusing to even me because, as it often happens, the more Khaholis moved to Brentwood, the more Beckys moved out. Somehow the thought of gifting a Black Barbie to a white girl made me feel out of place in a town where most people looked just like me.

 

Zuri H. Scrivens, Little Brother

“I’m worried about my brother,” my mother says softly. My four-year-old son, Michael, breathes her a quick “Hi Nana!” and rushes over to the living room to build yet another fort. I settle in and pour myself a cup of tea, staring at my mother, waiting. Her face is fixed between tears and defiance. She has the broken heart of one who empathizes with everyone she meets – a feeler, a woman who knows. She knows your pain before you even know it yourself, a valuable trait for a registered nurse. But today the pain is hers, intertwined with her baby brother’s, twists of sorrow suffocating each heart even though they are an entire continent away.

“He’s coughing up blood,” she says.
“What? Why?”
“It could be pneumonia or tuberculosis, but given his history, it’s probably stage four lung cancer,” she tells me. “You know he’s an alcoholic, right?”

My mother always tells me this as if it is news. As if I’d never noticed the permanent stench of days old rum on my uncle’s skin, or the constant zigzag of his gait. As if his thickly slurred accent was undetectable by anyone other than his parents or siblings.

 

Jeannine A. Cook, We Are The Champions

Put one foot on the toilet bowl. Try to pee in a steady stream over a short white stick. Pay careful attention not to oversaturate. Remember that you are not equipped with the proper aiming tools, so getting everything into the toilet will be a dance. Gag at the smell of your pee. Follow your teeth with your tongue. Taste the chalky film in your mouth. Throw the stick into the sink when you lose balance. Keep your underwear above your knees. Extend backwards for toilet paper and wipe the seat after finishing with yourself. Sit on the seat for a while. Hold your head between your legs and say the alphabet backwards. Start over a lot to buy yourself extra time. Control a dry heave by biting down on the inside of your gums. It’s time. Take careful strides to fix yourself. No underwear sticking out of your jeans. No toilet paper on your shoes. Peep into the sink. Pretend you are nonchalant. Wrap the stick in tissue and wash your hands. Then wash your face. Get enough water into your eyes that you can’t tell where the tears end or begin. Dry your face. Rub harder and harder and harder. There is nothing there. Rub the nothing away. Bite down on your inner cheeks. Try to puncture the walls of your mouth. Try to taste blood and not metallic chalk.

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midnight and indigo literary journal for black writers
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“tea at miss daisy’s”

Many days we passed Miss Daisy’s house and yelled hi. She would usually call us up on her front porch to visit. She would be sitting in her rocking chair fanning flies from her face and intermittently wiping sweat from her wrinkleless brown skin with one of the lace handkerchiefs she always tucked in the belt of her dresses.

When we sat on the porch, she always told us stories from her past, but today, the elderly lady asked us in for tea.

“Y’all children come on in and have some of this pound cake I made,” she said. She lived with her sister Bess; both were single with no known children and in their nineties.

I was the oldest, so it was up to me to decide. Since I was fascinated with the regal outside of the place, I quickly said okay to get a glimpse of the inside. “Okay Miss Daisy,” I said. And besides, it was the heat of the day and shelter would be nice before resuming our trip home.

Miss Daisy loved to talk. She had a million stories it seemed from older days that still manifested pain today for any Negro person. You could see the pain and fear in her eyes as she recounted tales from the past. She always said it was necessary for us to know, as this would be our life’s war. It would never end. It would always be, in some form.

“Y’all have a seat around the dining room table. I’ll cut you a piece of cake. Want some iced tea with it?”

We all nodded in agreement. The little ones followed her in the kitchen anyway.

The inside of the house was as regal as the outside, but it was very dim. All the shades were drawn. But, from what I could see the house was lavish; furniture like I had never seen in any Negro person’s home before. The table was already set. I noticed a curio with horse figurines of all sizes and materials; some delicate and glass, some handmade and wood, but nevertheless, horses.

But I looked down at the place setting after I inspected the room. There were spider’s webs in the glasses and an inch thick dust on the plates. Now, Miss Daisy told tales to make your hair straight and we all were appalled but loved to listen. I didn’t want to mess up that connection.

Miss Daisy lived in one of the most elegant and elaborate houses on the block. And even though it was the “cullurd” side of town, high-ranking officials wanted to take it away. The poor whites wanted to burn it down. But Miss Daisy had protection. In her younger years she had nursed, raised and loved the most influential and wealthiest man in town as if he were her own, and he reciprocated. This was her assurance, and she reminded us of it every time she told a story.

“Miss Daisy, I forgot. Momma told us to come straight home. Can we take our cake with us?”

“Yes, yes. I don’t want your momma mad at me, but y’all children come back when you have time. I got plenty more stories to tell and this old lady can’t hold on much longer. Ain’t got no great-grands to pass it on to, so I tell y’all neighborhood children. So you can be educated and know and watch out for yourselves. You know what happened to my little friend Minnie; they runned her out of town for asking two little white children to show respect to an old black woman. Y’all be careful swimmin, there’s sharks in the water.”

This last phrase would be the guiding force of my life. Miss Daisy repeated it enough as if we were going swimming in an ocean. But, I knew what she meant…

 

The remainder of “tea at miss daisy’s” 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!

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midnight & indigo for black female writers

“Let It Be Me”

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…

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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

“one less one mo (clara belle’s blues)”

“I’ll be damned if anybody beat me again, tellin me I’m ugly and worthless. What’s family? I don’t need you or your bullshit. That’s what I told them when I left. I was thirteen, but I was determined I could make it.

So, I strutted off down the road not knowin where to stay, where my meals was comin from. Didn’t care. I was young and any place was better than there.

Small town I lived in Alabama only held two for sures for me besides being beaten by my father. I would work for white folks, and I’d be subjected to they men’s advances. I didn’t want either. I heard it was different up north and that’s where I headed; in that direction.

Long the way I meets up with Case. He was a gentleman; a soldier back from the war. He let me stay in his hotel room with him. He had a car. Where I come from not many black folks had one. He was much older and told me I could ride with him when he moved on. I had all my stuff in a sack. He had suitcases, three to be exact. One was full; the others empty; clothes placed neat in the hotel drawers. When I asked what was in it, he say, you’ll know soon enough. After a couple of days he say he goin to take care of some business. Be gone a few days and I should stay there. He showed me the insides of his suitcase. I never seen so many bills together; must have been enough to fill a bank. He was rich. I likes him even more then. He say guard this with your life and I said I would.”

“Is that how you got into jail?” I asked pointedly.

“You want to hear the story or guess…?” She stopped for a minute, and then continued as to be oblivious to my impertinence.

“I stayed in the hotel for coloreds a day when I thought to move on by myself with his suitcase. I took it to the bus station with me and bought a ticket to Pittsburgh. I heard there was steel drivin mens in that place with lots of money and that suitcase…wasn’t gone last forever. I knew that.”

“Did he catch you?” I’ve always been impatient with long drawn out stories. But, Clara Belle grimaced at me. I was put on notice.

“Interrupt me again and I’ll be a clam. I promise.” She started back slower than before, to make a point I guess. “Now where was I? Oh, I got in Pittsburgh pretendin I was grown and got me a room. I was careful bout peoples knowin my money situation, so I got me a job in a little store on the colored side of town. Found it was that way up north too. I wondered if heaven was gone be segregated.

So I worked in the store and lived in my small room with meals attached. I was scared to take to peoples ‘cause I thought they would steal my suitcase. They thought I was uppity ‘cause I didn’t do no domestic work. I had bought some city stuff with the money before I left Alabama. Folks knew once I talked from the slowness in my speakin where I was from. Then they speaks to me ‘cause they figured they was better.”

“But why are you in jail?” I wanted her to get to the point fast.

Clara Belle rolled her eyes. “What I tell you? You so impatient. Reporters always is.” But she started back despite my previous warning. I guess she wanted to tell the story.

“Bye and bye, I met my steel drivin man. He took me to clubs and dinner and treated me special. I felt like a lady…Yeah, I found me a man who made my feelins come free… You know what I mean. We married. After we married, we moved into his house on the colored folk’s side of town. He had a car and he say his house was paid for. He say the work he do almost like bein a slave, hard labor. He deserved some softness and fun. He smiled at me and brought me to him. He say that’s why he married me.

I ain’t tell him about the suitcase right away; I was scared. By then I was wonderin if Case would ever catch up with me.

When I showed him, his eyes got big as silver dollars. He say we could live well off all that money. He say he quit his job. He say he tell peoples he saved up ‘cause you know how nosey peoples is. Specially if they think you got something they ain’t got.

He wanted children and I found out from the doctors I couldn’t have none. And besides, by now he started drinkin heavy with all his time. When I try to tell him it ain’t no good, he say, a woman can’t tell him nothing. He the man. He make the decisions.

After that it be touchy with him. He seem like he hate me and the money was runnin out ‘cause he be playin big man payin for everybody’s drinks and they told me he was hangin round with wild womens. You know they couldn’t wait to tell me that piece. I proached him about it and I saw he was a different person. His eyes was pointed and red and he speak with another voice cursin me. He always remind me he the man.

That’s when I asked him bout the money. ‘Cause since he the man, he say he take care of it. I guess that was it for him. He beat me. He beat me all in my face like I was another man. I thought I was back with my father.

I told you when I left I ain’t let nobody beat me no mo. But he left and came back and pologized and I couldn’t help it. My feelins come free again. He promise he go back to work and stop hangin with womens but without the money, he ain’t have no choice. He always be complainin bout his job then. He don’t want to be no slave. He always had that at work so if I say anything, he say, I ain’t the master and beat me.

So, one day he comes home. He say he quit his job, but he got an idea to get plenty money comin in again. He’d introduce me to the gals he knowed and they teach me to be one of them. You young, he say, and you can’t have no kids no way.

Before I knew it I turned on him like I turned on my family before I left. I cursed him and was walkin toward the door. He grabs me and start beatin. I could see my father then. He had introduced me to the adult’s life and beat me…all that hate come up inside me and I see stars and den…I see nothing.

When I come to myself, I see him dead, bloody on the kitchen floor and me, I has a bloody butcher knife in my hand and blood on me head to toe.

Well, I call the police. And I sit and waits for them on the front steps with the butcher knife in my hand, same clothes. I ain’t even wash my face. When they comes, I said I kilt him ‘cause he beat me. I spose I should have tried. Now, I’m just one mo niggah in a cell.”

My eyes hit the concrete of the cell.

Best quote in the world, but I wasn’t writing it.

 

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