#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: Too Close

We’re into Week 2 of Black Poetry Writing Month, and this week is all about the Harlem Renaissance!

For today’s Throwback Thursday poem, I’m taking you back to BlaPoWriMo’s inaugural year. This poem, originally published two years ago today, was inspired by Harlem Renaissance poet, Countee Cullen’s poem, “Incident,” and it described a similar incident in which I was made aware of my [intimidating…militant…criminal?] blackness…

Photo by @theoptimistdreamer from nappy.co

Too Close

December’s wind gusts
into winter. She clutches
Michael Kors handbag,

pale knuckles pressing
through white skin. She peeks over
her right shoulder, spins

around. You live here?
This your apartment?
she cries.
Yes. I point. Upstairs.

Purse held tightly to
her side, she lets me pass—
Maybe I followed

too close.

—Nortina

#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: When Peaches Were in Season

Happy February! Happy Black History Month! Happy Black Poetry Writing Month!

Did I miss any?

Oh, how could I forget? Happy Throwback Thursday!

If you missed the big announcement earlier today, Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo) is back, and this year, we’re taking a journey through the eras of black poetry/literature. 

Quite fitting for a Throwback Thursday, don’t you think?

Every Thursday this month, I’ll be posting one of my poems from a previous BlaPoWriMo challenge that fits with the theme for the week. This week’s theme is slavery. So today, I’m taking you back only a year, to when peaches were in season, and love blossomed, even when tied down by whip and chain…

When Peaches Were in Season

Years later, and I still remember
your ginger hair, red like the sky
before dusk, after the sun has
set behind the cotton fields,
and we’re back in the quarters,
you lying in hay, my face in the
roots of your crown, smelling the
spiced peaches you prepared for
the Missus. One night you snuck
a jar under the folds of your skirt,
and we hid in the balcony above
the chicken coup, slurping the
slimy sweet fruit between cinnamon
crusted fingers, dripping maple
syrup between wood planks into the
den of orange and brown feathers.
It was the only time you ever kissed
me, leaving behind the sticky,
sugary stain between my nose and
upper lip. I never wiped it off.
Not even when Ol’ Whalen tore my
back raw for loving his wench. Not
when he sent me to the driver to
break me. Not when Mama Celia
delivered your baby lighter than
you. No, not even when they sold
you to the rice plantation in South
Caroline, and I watched you dragged
behind the cart in chains, still
swollen from your recent labor, and
when you turned around one last time
to call goodbye, your crying eyes
leaking streaks of blood. But I still
remember your syrupy lips, fastened to
my rough, wiry beard two seconds shorter
than I wanted it to last, the caramelized
peaches squeezed between your teeth,
your copper hair flipped over your
face, a veil to hide your deepest thoughts,
until I parted the spirally locks
and met your stuffed cheeked grin,
oozing cinnamon and maple peach juice
from the corners of your mouth.

—Nortina


Originally published February 14, 2017 for BlaPoWriMo, 2017 — a fortnight of “black” love poetry

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Sunset

“I’m supposed to cry, right? Every inch of my body is telling me to cry. But I can’t…”

It’s a somber Throwback Thursday today. I don’t normally get personal on this blog (though some of the stories I’ve posted here have been deeply personal…you just don’t know), but it’s been a difficult few weeks for me, and I’d like to talk—or rather, write—about it.

I’ve always turned to writing as a sort of therapy session, to push through the hurt and pain when it’s too difficult to express it vocally. I’m not the type to talk about my feelings openly, so I put them into my stories.

Lately, I’ve been thinking… Thinking about things I’ve lost, things I’ve let go, things I’ve had taken from me…

This story reminds me that though the sun sets, it also rises. 

For those of you who, like me, are mourning (or perhaps, regretting) a lost love you thought you’d always have. I hope this story brings you some peace. 


Sunset

Danny dragged Amanda up the hill behind their old elementary school to see the sunset. When they were children, they used to race each other to the bottom, drawing their knees to their chins and rolling like human balls, head over toes, until they reached the brick wall of the school.

Lying on their backs, side by side, they cupped their hands behind their heads and gazed up at the violet and peach colored clouds in the sky.

“Beautiful,” Danny said. Amanda didn’t answer. He turned to her and saw tears welled up in her eyes. “Tell me what you see.”

“He married her today.”

Danny didn’t need names to know who she was referring to—he, the man Amanda had been in love with for most of her life; her, the woman he’d left her for.

Danny had been there to pick up the pieces of Amanda’s broken heart, combing her hair off her face with his fingers as she cried into his lap.

“How do you feel?” he asked, readying himself to pull her into his embrace once again. That comforting friend available always to hold her when love betrayed her.

“I’m supposed to cry, right? Every inch of my body is telling me to cry. But I can’t.”

They lay in silence. Danny opened his mouth to speak, but Amanda cut him off.

“I see a face.” Her voice was clear, unwavering. “What do you see?” she asked smiling.

“A woman who can finally let go.”

—Nortina


Copyright – Joe Owens 2015
Copyright – Joe Owens 2015

Originally published February 22, 2015 in response to the Sunday Photo Fiction prompt.

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Undercooked #NaNoWriMo

The turkey was undercooked. Ma planned to roast it overnight, have the whole house smelling like a Thanksgiving feast by morning. But we woke up freezing, a surprise dusting of snow on the lawn, enough to slick the roads, but not enough to delay the holiday traffic.

Tony and Kerry arrived at noon, arguing again, though I’d stopped caring what for. Something about Kerry wanting to move back to Raleigh after Tony just got a promotion. Let her go. She wasn’t the one for him, but Tony married her anyway. He doesn’t listen—he never listens.

Dinner was scheduled for 1:00, but at 2:30, I sat alone by the window, watching for Gregory’s car to pull to the curb. I hadn’t seen him since his birthday a week before Halloween, and it was terrifying to see him then. He looked as if he had grown six inches. His face was fuller, half covered in a thick, coarse beard, but the rest of him was so thin and frail, he almost looked like Tony, a physical characteristic the two brothers never shared. While Tony was the spitting image of his father, both in name and appearance, Gregory favored me—the short, stubby fingers, the flat nose, the extra weight around the stomach and arms. But his arms were toned, muscular, the outline of them seen through the thin, sweat resistant shirt he wore, too cool even for mid-fall.

It was Tammi who texted me they’d be over for dinner. Gregory’s phone was off—he hadn’t paid the bill. Gregory had been missing a lot of bills lately—puzzling because his father and I taught him how to be a good steward over his finances. It was as if all of his upbringing left him the moment he met her. Over and over he asked me for money, a car note here, rent there. Tammi’s parking tickets, which I flat out refused. But I didn’t want to completely abandon him, so I slipped him change when I could. The more I gave, the less I saw of him, and when I realized he only came home for money, I stopped giving all together, and his visits became more infrequent.

Before his birthday, June was the last time I’d seen him. He’d even missed our Fourth of July family cookout in Ma’s backyard. After it got dark, we would climb up Ma’s roof and watch the fireworks shot off from the high school football field while enjoying burnt hotdogs and Carolina burgers with chili and slaw. It had been a family tradition since Antonio, Sr. was alive. No one ever skipped it, rain or shine.

I could hear Ma scrambling in the kitchen. Not much to cook with a twenty pound bird taking up most of the oven, but we had to eat something—it was Thanksgiving after all. With a shrunken menu, the sweet potato casserole, became plain stovetop yams, the mac and cheese from a box, the dressing stuffed inside the turkey to cook them both at the same time, while on the back burners, the greens boiled.

Ma kicked me out of the kitchen shortly after she realized she never turned the oven on last night. “You know you’ve never been a cook,” she said. “You’ll only slow me down.” I was given the assignment to make Tony and Kerry chicken salad sandwiches—the salad already prepared, all I had to do was spread it over the bread—to hold them over to dinner and hopefully to quell their arguing.

And it worked. We had silence for a while . . . until Tammi and her mother showed up.

Without Gregory.

I had never met Jacquelyn. She’d tried to introduce herself several times before—calling to explain why she had allowed my son to live with her and her daughter in their overcrowded trailer, knocking on my door in the middle of the night to tell me she’d kicked them out. The vibrations in her voice told me she was nothing but drama then, and now she was standing right before me expecting a free meal, and she didn’t even bother to bring Gregory with her. And the striking resemblance between her and Tammi—how old was she when she had her? Any stranger would think they were sisters.

“Where’s my son?” I had no interest in shaking hands, fake smiles, or “how do you do’s.” These people overstayed their welcome the second they stepped foot on Ma’s front porch.

“He at work.” Tammi smacked her lips. Her nonchalant attitude quickly got under my skin.

“I was expecting to spend Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I don’t know you.”

Tammi’s mother reached out her hand. “Hi I’m Jacqui—”

“And I don’t care to!” I snapped.

Ma entered, putting the oven mitts she was wearing under her arm. “We may need another hour. That turkey just won’t cook.” When she noticed the tense atmosphere at her front door, she said, “Who’s this?”

“Tammi, and Jacqui,” I cut my eyes at the mother, “decided to invite themselves without Gregory.”

“Where’s Gregory?” Ma asked.

“He had to work,” Jacqui answered.

“On Thanksgiving?”

Jacqui started to say something, but quickly closed her mouth. By the way they shrugged their shoulders, avoided eye contact, it was obvious they were lying. But if he wasn’t at work, where was he?

I heard Tony barge down the hall, and I knew things would quickly escalate with him in the room.

“You know they’re getting married, right?”

“Who?”

Tony pointed to Tammi.

“Yea, we engaged.” Tammi shrugged her shoulders, flashed the small diamond on her left hand.

A ring? He bought her a ring? With what money?

I remembered those times he called, whining that his lights were about to get turned off, that he would be evicted if he didn’t pay rent by the end of the week, that he couldn’t afford to have his car repossessed because then he’d have no way to get to work. Were they all lies? The money I’d been giving him—a little here, a little there—had he been collecting it until he had enough to buy a ring and propose? No, no. Heaven forbid I inherit another lethargic, unappreciative daughter-in-law like Kerry, who had secluded herself away in the dining room to pretend she was crying.

Instinctively, I clawed at Tammi’s hand, snatching off the ring I paid for and a thin layer of skin along with it. She yanked my arm back with one hand— with much more force than her petite frame would lead anyone to believe— and with the other hand, slapped me clear across the face. There was shouting and screaming, and at some point Kerry finally appeared in the kitchen doorway behind Ma.

I felt Tony’s arms around my waist. He and Jacqui pulled Tammi and I apart, and backing up, I tripped over Tony’s size thirteen shoe and hit the side of my back on the back of the couch, re-agitating a muscle I’d pulled a few weeks ago when moving around the furniture in Gregory’s room.

“I ain’t gon stay where I’m not wanted!” Tammi was screaming.

“Then why the fuck are you still here?” Tony yelled.

Suddenly the smoke detector in the kitchen went off, setting off all the others in the house, including the one in the living room right above our heads. The piercing peal silenced us for several seconds.

Ma rushed back into the kitchen, brushing past Kerry. “Jesus, Kerry, you don’t smell my greens burning?” I could hear her in the kitchen stirring the pot, adding water and flicking off the heat to the burner. She grabbed a hand towel and begin flapping it under the detector to clear the smoke.

When the noise finally ceased, I looked directly at Tammi. “You need to leave.”

“Gladly.” She turned around and kicked open the screen door, making a sound like ripped metal and leaving behind a dent in the bottom left corner. Jacqui stayed behind for a brief moment, as if considering an apology, but quickly spun around and followed her daughter to the car. I shut the door behind them and noticed the engagement ring on the floor—it must have fallen out of my hand during the scuffle. I quickly kicked it away. The sight of it disgusted me.

“She’ll be back when she realizes it’s gone,” Kerry mumbled.

“Oh, now you got something to say? Where were you when that bitch was hittin’ my mama?” Tony shouted.

Kerry rolled her eyes and turned away. “I’m not arguing with you, Tony.”

“But you gon listen!” He stormed past me—my throbbing face obviously not too much of a concern—to finish his tirade with Kerry from earlier.

Ma returned from the kitchen, her shoulders hunched. She looked just as defeated as I felt. “Why not Chinese? They’re always open on Thanksgiving. I don’t think I can save this dinner.”

“There’s still the turkey and stuffing.”

“That won’t be for another hour. You know my old stomach has to eat early. I’m feeling lightheaded already.”

I tried to force a smile, but my face was so tight, I probably looked constipated. “Why don’t you sit, and I’ll make us some chicken salad sandwiches.”

“Can we eat them outside? I’m sick of those two yelling, and I need to cool off.”

I nodded and looked back to the window. Eating outside would only make me more anxious about Gregory, wondering if every car that drove by was him. I shook my head. No, there was no sense in waiting for him anymore. He wasn’t coming. And Tammi would surely tell him what happened here. Then, after that, I don’t think he will ever come home.

—Nortina


Happy Throwback Turkey Day! Since we are approaching the homestretch of NaNoWriMo, I thought today’s Thanksgiving Throwback should be a scene from my A to Z planning session earlier this year, featuring characters from my NaNoWriMo novel, Lost Boy.
Originally published April 25, 2017.

#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: After She Cooked You a Feast for the Gods

Woman!
Loosen my belt,
unbutton my trousers,
release this belch—
there’s room for more.
And how stupid are you
to not know stuffing
from dressing? Baste
the bird, gobble its
giblets; gravy pairedfe1f64b599ed42caf657a7b99a0ee401
with rice; mac missing
cheese; ham baked
in honey; hocks season
collards, turnips; yams
from a can, needs more
sugar, overcooked like
sweet potato mash.
Don’t speak while the
‘Boys are on, spoon me
berry cobbler, pumpkin
pie; pound cake apple
chai sits like a boulder
in my gut. Still there’s
room for more.

—Nortina


Thanksgiving is next Thursday! Are you ready for the gluttonous feast? 

Originally published November 24, 2016.

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Once Upon an Alcoholic’s Dream

Dear Craigslist,

I never thought I’d get this lonely. That you and this half-emptied Jack Daniels would be my only companions. My pint of Coke fizzled away after I mixed it all, downed it with whiskey. Now I throw back straight shot after shot until my words blur on the screen and the burn fades to a smooth glide like water.

Don’t send me any more boys who think my alcoholism is cool. Who take me to parties where my eyes burn red in the THC-induced clouds and my liver ferments in yeast. Where they pull out their cellphones to film my head hanging low under a funnel of foaming beer, shouting, “Worldstar! Worldstar!” Sideline the daddies who string me along while they decide if they want me or their kids’ mom. And Craigslist, use your promised anonymity to hide me from the men with anal fetishes, the men who don’t believe in love and marriage but wish to impregnate me with their fifteenth child, the men who, at age thirty-five, are still trying to get on their feet, the men with credit card debt, the men who aren’t looking for a relationship but will screw me anyway, the men who say I remind them of their ex-fiancé… or their mother.

Where is my Renaissance man, Craigslist? Send my ad, scribbled on parchment, by way of carrier pigeon to his bedroom window. Tell him to meet me at the Barn House Theatre where they put on morality plays in the winter. The final showing of Doctor Faustus begins at eight. I’ll be waiting in the lobby, wearing a ruffle, black dress, a wilted rose pinned in my hair. Direct him to blow on it, Craigslist, the magic from the cool breeze escaping his lips causing it to bloom three months before spring.

Sincerely,

Drowning in Sorrows


spf11-23Originally published November 23, 2015 in response to the Sunday Photo Fiction prompt.

 

#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: Eternal Energy

I feel your energy
before you touch me;
the current surges
under my skin.

Tai chi master teaches
me to move paper
without a graze;
feel the waves in the
air and push them
forward; bend the sheet
hanging over my
door, fold it in half.

I took you to the
forest once, showed
you how to hug a tree
without scratching skin
against bark. It will
hug you back—
electricity vibrating
from its trunk,
embracing you — us.

That’s how you’ll
know death is never
the end; permanent is
a relative term. We
lie our heads by
tombstones, let the
blades of grass sprout,
tickle our fingertips—
multiple kisses from
beyond the grave.

—Nortina


Written for #frapalymo (the German version of NaPoWriMo) is hosted by FrauPaulchen. Prompt: envisioning the invisible motions. Originally published May 22, 2016.

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Murky Waters

On this last Throwback Thursday of the haunted month of October, I’m giving you arguably one of the scariest stories I’ve ever written. “Murky Waters” was originally featured on Latashia Figueroa’s blog for Halloween 2015. Check it out here.

Ever thought about what makes a great ghost story? Well, I think it all starts with a visually haunting image and a very distinct setting. This story takes place in Burgaw, North Carolina, by Burgaw Creek, which often spits up more than just water whenever it rains . . .


Murky Waters

Uncle Macon had been dead a year when Aunt Bessie saw bodies rise from Burgaw Creek. Her ankles rolled as she turned to run, and she fainted behind the house. Bedsheets clipped to the clothesline sailed in the wind gusts, sheltered her from the drizzling rain. Or so, that was what she had told us.

Mama and I drove three hours to Burgaw to check on her. When we arrived, the toilet was backed-up, the water shut off.

“We had a really bad storm come through last night. You know Burgaw Creek floods every time it rains,” Aunt Bessie said. I squirmed in my chair at the kitchen table, squeezing my inner thighs together as warm urine bled through my jeans.

“How have you been using the bathroom?” Mama asked.

“I been makin’ do,” Aunt Bessie said, which meant she hadn’t been flushing. Two days of Aunt Bessie’s waste clogging the commode with what was buried in Burgaw Creek—natural or supernatural—caused the bile to rise at the back of my throat. I feared that if I sat to pee, a hand would reach up from the feces and mud, pull me under. There was no place outside for me to relieve myself. The backyard was flooded from the creek. The treeless front yard faced highway 53, where peeping Tom truck drivers could catch a passing glimpse of me naked from the waist down as I squatted in the overgrown grass.

Before the highway was built, the area had been farmland. Uncle Macon’s father grew corn, green beans, okra, snap peas, turnips, and potatoes. He also had a few animals—chicken, cows, pigs. He didn’t budge when the government came to buy his land. He refused to sale the home he had built with his own hands. However, the pressure and money was too great for his poor family, and the government eventually plowed the road down the center, dividing the farm, separating the animals and crops. It was difficult to tend to the other side with a two lane highway standing as barrier. The weeds grew up over the front porch of the old farmhouse, concealing the lost rural era from mass consumerism.

***

We checked into a hotel in Wilmington, and Mama called the plumber, who promised to pump the septic tank the following afternoon. I was thrilled that we didn’t have to stay at Aunt Bessie’s. Burgaw was hot. It was only a thirty-minute drive from Wilmington, but the temperature differential was easily fifteen degrees. Wilmington had the breeze from the ocean, but Burgaw was situated in a pocket of humidity. With the backed-up sewage in Aunt Bessie’s yard, it made for a sweltering stay.

“How are you doing, Aunt Bessie,” Mama asked after we had settled into the room, turned the television to channel three so Aunt Bessie could watch Eyewitness News.

“I been alright,” she said, dragging out her vowels with her nasal voice. “Wish you’d come see me more often.”

“You know I have to work. And Cassandra’s still in school.”

“You ain’t graduate yet?” Aunt Bessie asked looking in my direction.

“In May,” I said. “Gotta study for exams so I can pass.” I sat in the armchair by the window, reading Toni Morison’s Paradise. I had reached the haunting final chapter after the elder men of Ruby lay siege on the Convent, gunning down all of the women, only to discover their bodies vanished hours later.

Aunt Bessie pulled a slim red photo album with black trimming from her oversized pocketbook. “I finally got the pictures from Macon’s funeral developed,” she said, flipping through the pages. “They did really good with the flowers.” She turned the album to Mama, pointed to a picture of Uncle Macon in the casket. “That’s his favorite suit. I made sure to have it dry cleaned before the wake.” Aunt Bessie brought her fist to her mouth, coughed into the tissue to camouflage her voice cracking as she spoke of her deceased husband.

Mama jerked her head away. She pressed her lips together into a thin line, pinched her eyes closed, a single tear gliding down each cheek.

“What can you tell me about the people you saw in the creek?” Mama asked, switching to a different, though no less disturbing subject.

“I saw them through the sheets, just standing there. You know, Macon used to see people around the house. I just thought it was his sickness, but now I see them too.”

“Did they look scary?” I asked.

“No, just lonely.” She didn’t say anything else, and we didn’t badger her for more details. After Uncle Macon died, Aunt Bessie shocked everyone when she asked to be taken home instead of spending the next few days at a friend or family member’s house. She’d said that she had to get used to living by herself; that if she left, she wouldn’t be able to come back.

The heat hadn’t yet arrived when we returned to Burgaw late the next morning, the dew still on the grass in the front lawn.

“Who cuts your grass, Aunt Bessie?” Mama asked, looking at the tall blades.

“I have someone come and do it,” Aunt Bessie answered.

“Well, whoever that is, you need to call them. You don’t want to worry about snakes.”

We waited in the kitchen while the plumber worked on the septic tank. Aunt Bessie stood in front of the window overlooking the backyard and Burgaw Creek.

“I hope it don’t come up a thunder cloud,” she said. I straightened in my chair, looked up over her shoulders through the window, seeing nothing but blue sky.

Mama touched her at her shoulders, guided her to the kitchen table. “Why don’t you sit,” she said softly. “I’ll check on the plumber.” She eased Aunt Bessie down into her chair and left out of the back door.

The kitchen was silent save for the ticking of the clock on the wall. Aunt Bessie sniffled, wiped her dry nose with her knuckle. “Sometimes Macon comes to visit me.”

Unsure if she was recounting pleasant memories of Uncle Macon alive or if she had actually seen his spirit, I asked, “What do you mean?”

“Sometimes I would be in the den watching TV, and I’d hear him coming down the hall.”

The wooden floorboards creaked behind me. The sound of boot heels approached the kitchen from the front bedroom, echoing through the hall.

“He’d come to the door and say, ‘It’s gettin’ late, Bess. Cut off that TV and come on to bed.’ ” She smiled and looked at something over my head. The hairs on my neck pricked up. I sat frozen in my seat, afraid to turn around and see who or what stood behind me. I nearly wet myself to the sudden slam of the screen door as Mama reentered from the backyard.

“Girl, why you so jumpy?” she asked.

I swallowed air, my throat dry as if dust had been poured into my mouth. “Is the plumber done yet? I have to pee.”

“Yea,” Mama answered. “It cost me 300 bucks.”

I ignored her rant and scrambled to the bathroom, ripping off my pants and falling onto the toilet, nearly tipping it forward, prying it from the mildewed tile floor. To my left, the white lace curtains on the window ruffled in the air flowing up from the vent below. I never liked windows in bathrooms. They denied me privacy. I felt I was being watched in my most vulnerable moments.

In the distance, I heard a low rumble. I stood, holding the zipper of my pants at my knees, and looked out the window. The grayish-blue clouds had accumulated. The wind had picked up. The bedsheets hanging on the clothesline flapped furiously. I watched the creek just behind them, half-expecting to see a person, maybe Uncle Macon, emerge from its murky waters. I licked my dry lips, the movement of my tongue tickling the back of my throat. If I were to see a head, or a hand, or a soggy bedroom slipper, would Mama dismiss me as we had Aunt Bessie, and she Uncle Macon? What were the odds that three people would hallucinate the imprint of a face—eyes, nose, an open mouth—through the thin bedsheets along the banks of Burgaw Creek?

—Nortina

#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: With Those Bulging Eyes

It’s Throwback Thursday once again, and in the spirit of Halloween and all things fearful, I’m revisiting this terrifying poem, originally published in fēlan magazine’s fear issue in November 2015.

“With Those Bulging Eyes” is one of my favorite poems I’ve ever written, and probably the most talked about among family and friends who’ve read it, most likely due to its extremely graphic content. (My mom’s co-worker is probably still wondering what happened to that sweet little angel she once knew).

This poem—inspired by the frightful painting, Saturn Devouring His Son, by Spanish artist, Francisco Goya—tackles the uncomfortable and controversial subject of abortion, how it can affect a woman physically, emotionally, psychologically.

Read the full poem below, and if you want to know more about my inspiration behind the poem, and more about me as a writer in general, check out my artist interview on fēlan’s website here.

By the way, I’ve been on quite the extended hiatus (two years and counting!) when it comes to new writings not published on this blog. I know I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but I’m looking forward to 2018 being a much more productive year, as far as writing goes.

I’ve spent most of this year trying to clear off my plate and get myself better organized so that I can have more time and energy to dedicate to writing. While I don’t think I’m there yet, I feel I’ve made a lot of progress since January. Here’s to hoping 2018 will see lots more publication acknowledgements! My “Published Works” page is getting quite dusty…

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Harvest Wedding

Happy Throwback Thursday! This story, originally published October 8, 2014, started as journal assignment for a fiction writing course in college. The prompt was, “When I first heard the song . . . ”

At the time, the song I constantly had on repeat was Trey Songz’s “Almost Lose It,” which is about a wedding. Unfortunately, this wedding turned horribly sour. If you ever read or seen the Spanish play, Bodas de sangre, you can guess what happens. Actually, the original title for this story, when I turned it in for class, was “Blood Wedding.”


Harvest Wedding

Saturday afternoon in mid October. The leaves were just beginning to change colors. Beautiful reds, and oranges. With the right wind, they would break from their branches and swirl through the air until they found the right beautiful woman’s head to adorn. I was that woman, and I was walking down the aisle at Mt. Zion AME, about to start a new life with the man of my dreams, Prince Rossario. He truely was a prince; dressed in a crisp, black tux with the burgandy of his vest peeking above his jacket. Our colors were orange and Merlot red, the same as the fall leaves. The perfect harvest wedding.

As I stepped closer to my future husband, I saw the tears in his eyes sparkle. There was a gravitational pull in his gaze and I let it take over my muscular functions and pull me closer to him. I was gliding, not walking, down the aisle.

Everything was as it should be until someone came bursting through the doors behind me. Instantly, everything and everyone froze. Even the wedding song had abruptly stopped with a scratch just as it was reaching its climax. Prince’s glowing face immediately darkened into a look of dread and fear as his eyes grew wide, tore away from mine and moved past me to the dark figure standing behind me. A loud gasp came from the throat of the best man, Johnny, as he turned a disbelieving look in Prince’s direction; his bottom lip quivering.

My heart stopped and my tears that were tears of joy only seconds prior, quickly turned cold and anxious as they sliced a path down my cheeks. I slowly turned around to face the creature that had deliberately stolen the attention of every one of my guests in that sanctuary. To my astonishment, I came to face Constance Applewood, an old friend—really acquaintance—from college who had dated Prince before I came into the picture. She obviously wasn’t invited. I made sure of that. What bride wants her fiancé’s ex-girlfriend at her wedding, slouching in the front row, patiently waiting for her moment to object to the marriage and invoke chaos throughout the church as she pounces on the innocent woman in white, clawing her nails into her flesh, not quite sure if she wants to kill her rival or just scare her away, but indisputably willing to do anything to get her man back?

Prince thought I was being overly dramatic to think that Constance would go through such lengths. He assured me that his and Constance’s relationship wasn’t even a relationship; just two good friends who spent a lot of time together and occasionally had sex once or twice or three times; a faux-relationship that ended once he met me. Of course I had to remind him that less than a week after we started dating, I found “HOMEWRECKER” keyed into the side of my black Toyota Camry.

Seeing Constance stand before me confirmed that I was right not to invite her. Unfortunately, the absence of an invitation didn’t stop her from crashing my wedding. It wasn’t her presence that had shocked me and everyone else in the sanctuary. What inflicted horror into the eyes of the guests, myself, and the wedding party was a wedding dress identical to mine. From the rhinestones that trimmed the bodice to the ruffles of the gown to the design of the lace on the veil to the length of the train behind her, it was all the exact duplicate of mine. The only difference, an unmistakably huge difference, was that here dress was black. Even the bouquet she held in her hands was composed of drooping, brown flowers and weeds. The tears pouring from her eyes caused the murky mascara to run dark veins down her face. She began to shake as her screeching voice wailed, “This wedding is over!” She dropped her bouquet to reveal the shimmering, sharpened blade of a butcher knife.

“Oh, God!” someone screamed from the crown, and suddenly, chaos erupted throughout the church. Everyone swarmed toward the exit doors, unsure of the terror to follow but certain that they weren’t staying behind to find out. Guests were bouncing off of one another, trying to elbow their way through to freedom. Babies could be heard squealing in the background as they were being torn from their mothers’ arms in the midst of the mayhem. Young children were being trampled under the combination of high heels and penny loafers. In the center of all the running, tripping, falling, jumping, flailing of arms, tossing of clutch purses, scratching of pew legs across the floor, tumbling and crashing of flower vases, the epicenter of all the screams and shrieks stood Constance. Her obscure eyes pierced into my soul and it was as if she were pointing the knife right at my heart. It was reminiscent of the cheesy dramatics of a C rated action film, except there were no cameras rolling and no director to scream “CUT!” so that my stunt double could take my place. Oh, how I wished it were that way.

When the pandemonium finally subsided and all that was left in the church were those still frozen at the altar, and Constance and myself—more like yin and yang—standing in the middle aisle, silence engulfed the church once again. The tension in that sanctuary was so thick it could be cut with a knife. Unfortunately, tension was not Constance’s intended target. I dropped my bouquet and ran to the altar to stand next to my groom.

Prince wrapped me in his arms and spoke up to the menacing woman in black. “Constance, have you lost your–”

“Shut up!” she interrupted him. “You don’t get to speak.” She took a few steps closer and everyone scattered to opposite corners of the church. Johnny inched to the door behind Constance, hoping to escape unnoticed. Three of my bridesmaids created a barricade of pews in the far left corner. My parents and future in-laws hugged each other while trembling underneath the organ. Prince and I crouched behind the podium with the reverend. It wasn’t the best place to hide because no sooner than peeking over the edges of the podium did I find Constance hovering over us with the blinding blade in her hand.

Prince held up his hands in surrender. “Constance,” he started. “I get it. You’re upset.”

“I’m upset?” she blurted, in shock of Prince’s little words to her.

Reverend Jacobs stood up and approached Constance. “Sweetheart, give me the knife. We can resolve this in a peaceful manner.”

“Stay back!” she demanded, pointing the knife to his chest. She turned to Prince. “What does she have that I don’t, huh? Is, is her hair prettier than mine? Is she skinnier than me? Does, does she please you better in the bedroom?”

I wanted to correct her by saying that I was a virgin, but images of her carving me with the knife reminded me of the importance of silence.

“What is it?” she continued.

“Constance.”

“What is it!”

“I love her!”

I melted when he spoke those words. I wanted to jump into his arms, kiss him passionately, and profess how much I loved him too. Constance could not succeed in breaking us up or this wedding. I was confident of that. Her behavior, no matter how irrational, would not force him to change his feelings for me. He knew the day he met me—Super Bowl party at Johnny’s house. I was wearing a Richard Sherman jersey and held a hot wing in one hand and an open Bud Light Platinum in the other. He walked right into me and promised me that I would be disappointed and that Peyton Manning would expose Sherman for the mediocre cornerback that he was. By halftime, he was begging me for my number.

“But you don’t love me.” Constance’s voice had softened. She begin to lower the knife.

“Constance, we were never that serious. You gotta know that. When I started dating Alicia, you told me you were fine with it.” Prince held out his hand for the knife. I rose to my feet as gracefully as I could without stepping on my train and inadvertently stumbling into the butcher knife that separated me and Constance. I stood behind Prince, wrapped my arms around his waist and looked at Constance over his shoulder.

“I didn’t think you were gonna marry her!” she said. “I thought . . . I thought . . .” She turned her back to us. “I guess it doesn’t matter now,” she whispered, shrugging her shoulders.

Prince started toward her, but I pulled him back, squeezing his torso with the little strength I had. He turned to the reverend, who stepped to Constance and touched her shoulder. “Sister,” he began.

Constance didn’t turn around. She raised the knife above her head, and before the reverend could snatch it away from her, plunged it into her chest, right into her broken heart. I screamed. My parents and in-laws hidden underneath the organ screamed. My bridesmaids behind the barricade of pews screamed. Johnny has already exited the sanctuary.

Constance’s body collapsed to the floor. The reverend dropped to his knees. His hands hovered over the end of the knife in her chest, debating if pulling it out would help save her life, or just accelerate her inevitable death. He bowed his head to pray, his hands still hovering over the knife.

Prince broke free of my grasp and ran to the opposite side of Constance. He cupped the back of her head in his palm and repeatedly slapped her check, screaming, “Why? Why would you do this?” When he looked up at me, I could see the tears in his eyes. They didn’t sparkle. They didn’t tug at my heart, draw me to want to be closer to him and his bleeding ex-girlfriend. I backed away, let the weight of my wedding gown press me down to the floor. I heaved loud sobs, and when I saw the first teardrop land on my left hand, void of a wedding band, I knew we had missed our harvest.

—Nortina