E is for… [E]ulogy #AtoZChallenge

The day went by as a procession of footsteps, blurred clothing streaking across her vision as bodies walked back and forth, praying, offering assistance, giving condolence. From dawn to dusk, she cried a river of tears on shoulders, into coat sleeves, and damp, balled up tissues. And when her eyes dried and burned like salt, a hoarse, guttural wail she didn’t recognize escaped her throat, and underneath the sobs, her entire core shuddered.

Her friends and family surrounded her. Their hands caressed her. Their words cooed her. Her church family came to her aid. They spoke God’s tongue. “To be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord,” they proclaimed. “God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in times of trouble,” they consoled. “Let the peace of God transcend all understanding,” they comforted. Despite the love all around her, Leslie felt completely and utterly alone.

Finally, as the evening approached and the crowd started to dwindle, she collapsed on the couch and lay motionless. She felt as if she had become the couch and the weight of herself sat on top of her, pushing her down into the springs and boards. She plucked at the bags underneath her eyes, the skin raw from lack of sleep and ceaseless crying since that dreadful morning four days ago when the cardiologist announced they couldn’t resuscitate, that Antonio, her soulmate, the man she spent twenty years of her life with, was gone.

“Get up.” A slap on her knee jerked her upright. Her mother stood over her, hair pulled back into a high bun. She pointed her cane toward the kitchen. “Pull yourself together for them boys.”

Tony and Gregory were sitting at the kitchen table. She had assigned them both tasks in preparing for their father’s funeral. Tony was in charge of keeping record of all the gifts—who brought flowers, who brought food, who signed the guestbook. Eventually, she would have to write all those people “thank you” cards. An arduous mountain climb she couldn’t imagine tackling for another month. Gregory was given the job of writing Antonio’s eulogy. He  slouched in his chair, tapping the eraser of his pencil against the blank sheet of paper in front of him.

“They need you to be strong,” her mother urged. “They lost a father. Some would say that’s more significant.”

Leslie let out an exasperated sigh, but she knew her mother was right. She pulled herself to her feet, feeling heavy, as if emerging wet from a pool, side-stepped her mother, who took her place on the couch, and joined her sons in the kitchen.

“I can’t do this,” Gregory said, wiping his eyes. “Can’t you give it to Tony?”

Tony looked up from his doodling in the guestbook. “You crying, boy?”

“Tony,” Leslie warned sharply. She stood behind Gregory, rubbed and kissed the crown of his head. “Yes you can, sweetheart. Just say whatever’s on your mind.”

“That’s the thing. I can’t think of anything.”

Leslie lowered her head into her son’s, kissing him again, over and over. She closed her eyes tightly, trying to hold back the next wave of tears. “Oh, precious boy, yes you can.”

“Man, can I go?” Tony huffed.

Leslie winced at his tone. She shook her head, reminding herself that he was a teenager, that his nonchalant attitude could be a form of grief. “Did you write down everything people brought?”

“Yes,” he said quickly with a loud exhale. Leslie didn’t believe him, but she let him go anyway, not wanting to deal with his stubbornness in her current state of mind.

She returned her attention the Gregory. She leaned over his shoulder, took his hand in hers and held the pencil upright. “Remember when you and your dad used to fix things around the house?”

He shrugged.

“Come on, honey. I can’t do this alone.” Gregory was never one without words. Always asking questions, eager to learn. He hung on his father’s every word, repeating everything he said, and living by it. Unlike Tony, Leslie and her husband rarely had to discipline Gregory, or repeat themselves several times before he would finally do what they asked. This was new territory for her. With her world already shaken, she tried to disguise her frustration. “What’s one lesson you remember him teaching you? One that you will always hold on to?”

“I don’t know, Mom!”

The ground under her feet began to vibrate as Tony returned to the kitchen, dribbling his basketball between his legs.

“What did I tell you about bouncing that ball?”

“Ok, Mom!” He stuffed the ball under his arm and left out of the back door.

“Can I go with Tony?”

“No, you need to finish.”

“I told you, I can’t!” He pushed his chair back from the table, knocking Leslie off her balance and into the cabinets behind her. He stormed past his grandmother who had come to the doorway of the kitchen, hunched over her cane. Leslie started to follow him, but the older woman raised her hand to stop her.

“You told me to be strong for them!” Leslie cried, but her voice cracked. All of her strength had left her, she had no crutch to lean against, and the greatest testing of her faith, Antonio’s funeral, was still yet to come.

—Nortina


Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. prologues, character sketches (2), outlines, and in the case of this post, backstories. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

C is for… [C]haracter Sketch: Leslie Fields #AtoZChallenge

Today we take a break from the prologues and backstories to give you a quick character sketch. I’m sure you’re all wondering what in God’s name this novel is about, since I never bothered to reveal that to you. The truth is I (that is, writer me, who sometimes disappears for months at a time) never revealed it to myself. I have a beginning and main conflict in mind. As for which direction the novel is headed and how it will get there—that part’s still a little fuzzy.

One thing that is clear and concrete—our protagonist, Mrs. Leslie Fields.

Who is Leslie Fields?

  • Leslie Fields is a devout Christian woman and avid church goer. She reads her Bible twice a day—in the morning when she wakes up and at night before she goes to bed—and even more during trials, like the sudden death of her husband, Antonio, or the disappearance of her youngest son, Gregory. Leslie is at church three times a week—on Sundays for early morning Sunday school and regular 11 AM service; on Tuesday evenings for choir practice; and on Wednesday evenings for Bible Study. She is a member of the Prison Ministry, an evangelical team that goes out to the county jail weekly to minister to the inmates.
  • Leslie is a mother of two grown sons, born 23 months apart, Tony Fields (as in Antonio, Jr.) and Gregory Fields (our bank robber).
  • Leslie is a widow. Her late husband, Antonio Fields, Sr., died of a massive heart attack on Easter Sunday ten years ago, when her sons were 13 and 15. Although she knows that God is always in control and that every test and trial has a purpose, she sometimes resents Antonio for leaving the boys at such a tender age. Young black men growing up without a father— although he didn’t abandon them, get thrown in prison, or murdered in gang violence, the stigma still resonates. She fears Antonio’s death may have affected the boys negatively, especially Gregory, who has made poor decision after poor decision—the latest of them, moving in with his wayward fiancé who has a history of getting around.

Limitations? Desires? What’s at stake? What does she have to lose/gain?

  • Since the death of her husband, Leslie has noticed changes in her son Gregory. He had always been sweet spirited and trusting. She believed that as a child, he was sensitive to the spiritual realm, often pausing from playing with his toys to reach up toward the air for someone who wasn’t there, speaking prophetic words at the dinner table, and having full conversations in his sleep. Leslie believed he had the call of ministry on his life, but after losing his father, it all changed, and his humble exterior had slowly been etched away until one day she opened the door to a hard, bulky, scruffy bearded man she didn’t recognize.
  • Leslie hasn’t seen Gregory in over a year. Every now and then, she receives text messages from him, usually asking for money, but she hasn’t seen his face or heard his voice since his birthday of last year, when he came to the house needing money to pay rent. She tries not to let it bother her, she tries to put it all in God’s hands, but Gregory is her baby, and she can’t understand why he’s abandoned his mother like this.
  • Leslie doesn’t trust Tanisha, Gregory’s fiancé. She believes Tanisha and her family are just using him. They work him like a horse while they do nothing but take. Tanisha herself has said that she doesn’t love him, that she could find someone else in a heartbeat. Leslie wonders if she hasn’t already.
  • In the opening chapter of this novel, Leslie goes to the police to report Gregory missing. He was never answering her calls anyway, but now he has stopped responding to her text messages. She’s tried to get in touch with Tanisha with no luck. The last time they spoke, the crazy girl cursed her out, saying she wasn’t Gregory’s babysitter. Leslie had to hang up before she lost her religion.
  • Leslie is worried something may have happened to Gregory. She’s not sure what, but a sinking feeling tells her it’s not good. Now she’s more determined than ever to find her son and bring him back home.

This is what I have so far for Leslie’s character profile. As the novel starts to come together, I may update it, possibly for my “L” post (but I’m not making any promises). Hopefully this answers any questions you may have about the subject of the novel, which I realize I still haven’t titled. For now, let’s call it Prodigal Son. It’s horribly cliché, I know, but it’s shorter than “my novel for NaNoWriMo,” and it’ll have to do for now. Until tomorrow then… Happy A to Z-ing!

—Nortina

B is for… [B]roken Vow #AtoZChallenge

I was never excited about the baby. We’re barely making ends meet as it is. She works part time at Chick-fil-A, and I work with my homeboy Roscoe putting shingles on roofs, repairing fences, sawing away tree limbs from power lines. He only calls me when he needs an extra hand, since I’m not on the official payroll and can’t afford to lose half my check to taxes and wage garnishments.

We don’t have the money for a baby. How are we going to buy clothes, diapers, formula, a crib that won’t randomly kill it in the middle of the night? Who’s going to pay for the fucking health insurance?

The day she broke the news, she slammed the bathroom door in my face because I told her to make an appointment at the clinic, pee-stained Clearblue test still in my hand. “How would you expect me to react?” I yelled through the door. “We’re fucking broke.” She stayed there all night, slept on the toilet seat, didn’t even bother to flush after she’d taken the test.

Now she’s telling me there’s two. And neither one is mine.

She’s standing in a corner of the kitchen between the refrigerator and stove, her arms folded across her chest. Her eyes shift between me and the Kool-Aid stain on the tile under her foot, left behind by the apartment’s previous tenant. She sighs audibly, and with each sigh, her shoulders sink lower. Before long she’ll be curled on the floor, her knees drawn her her chest, her face tucked behind her thighs.

“Stop looking so damn pathetic,” I say finally.

“I wish you’d just talk to me. Tell me what I’m supposed to do. How can we fix this?”

“I told you.”

“That’s out of the question.”

“Then I ain’t got nothing else to say.”

“Greg, please!”

I hate it when she begs. It’s not that I think it’s unattractive—depending on the object, her begging and pouting can be a turn on—but the mercy she requires of me now she’s never willing to offer whenever I come up short. And this is far beyond my short comings. She fucked up, and as always, she expects me to turn the other cheek and clean up her mess.

“Who is this guy anyway? How’d you meet him?”

“At work.”

“Oh, you quitting that job.”

“And how are we supposed to pay the bills?”

“Bitch, I pay the bills!” I strike the edge of the island in the center of the kitchen and wince when the corner pierces the side of my hand. “Did you forget how rent was paid last month?” Without a dime and forced to throw away all my pride, I went back home, groveling to Ma for three hundred dollars. I suffered through two psalms, three proverbs, the fifth commandment to “honor thy father and mother,” and a repeat lesson on the Prodigal Son before she finally drove us to the ATM to get the money. On my Pa’s grave I will never ask that woman for anything again. Not for bills, not for a baby, not even if the IRS came banging on my door for tax evasion.

“You don’t have to call me outside my name,” she says.

“You lucky I ain’t call you something else.” I walk past her her to the refrigerator, open the freezer door, and grab the first thing I see in the half-empty, ice-coated compartment—fish sticks. I feel her eyes staring as I walk past her again to get the baking sheet from the cabinet above the stove. “You hungry?” I ask over my shoulder.

“Of course I am. I’m eating for three.”

The soft little chuckle she tacks on the end of her sentence sends me over the rails. “Dammit, Tanisha!” I dump half of the fish sticks on the pan and sling the other half, still in the bag, across the room, peeved that only three mange to spill out onto the floor. “You want me to forgive you, you want me to take care of another man’s babies, and you want me to let you keep working with him, so y’all can just fuck again and you get pregnant again!”

“Once I start showing, he’s probably gonna quit anyway to avoid me. He has a girlfriend.”

I throw the baking sheet—fish sticks piled in no particular arrangement— into the oven, the tray slamming against the back wall. I closet the door with a whack and turn the temperature dial with a flick of my wrist, not caring if it’s too high or low. “First you tell me we’re having a baby. Then you come back and say no, it’s just you having the babies. With this guy, who has a girlfriend. So what am I to you, a pillow you hump every once in a while? Then give me my fucking ring back.”

She brings her left hand to her chest and shields the stud diamond ring that I’m still paying for with her other hand. “Greg—”

She’s begging again, and I’ve had enough. I go straight for the door.

“Where are you going?” she says, but I don’t answer. I close the door behind me and pull out my phone. Lamar, another one of Roscoe’s unofficial employees texted me earlier today. When Roscoe doesn’t call him, he deals on the side, and right now he’s sitting on a pound of bud he just brought in from his supplier.

—Nortina


Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. prologues, character sketches, outlines, and in the case of this post, backstories. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!