Q is for… [Q]uarrel #AtoZChallenge

“Hello?”

This was a mistake, but I ask for Gregory anyway.

“Who this?”

Hang up, I tell myself, I must have the wrong number. But his last text came from this phone. A single word: Sorry. Sorry for what, I wonder. It came three days after I sent him the message Proverbs 6:20

My son, keep your father’s command
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

Where did I mess up? After Antonio’s passing, Mama said I needed to be strong for the boys, and Lord knows I’ve tried not to let this be a loss for all of us, but it’s so hard, God, it’s so hard, to open my eyes each morning and not see my soulmate smiling back at me. Not to have him here to beat the stiff-necked stubbornness out of Tony, to show Gregory the way he should go, not this path he’s veered off to, choosing a girl who can’t even think to remember me, over his own family.

“Is this not Tammi?”

She smacks her lips. I hate that sound. Smacking lips, like popping gum. I imagine her leaning up against something—a door jamb, a wall, a counter top—all her weight shifted to one side, one hand on hip, holding her phone to her ear with her shoulder, examining the chipped fingernails on her other hand, not bothering to care who I am or why I’ve called.

“This is Gregory’s mother.” It’s humiliating that I even have to introduce myself. Who else would be calling? Who else would be asking for Gregory? How many other Gregorys does she know? It wouldn’t surprise me that she’s sleeping with any of them. Lord, help my son not to be weak like Ahab. Help him to recognize this Jezebel he’s let take over his life.

She smacks her lips again. I want so badly to snatch that tongue right out of her mouth. She doesn’t understand the two-edged sword she wields. It can’t be controlled, a restless evil, pronouncing both blessings and curses.

“With all due respect, Ms. Fields,” she begins, and I know disrespect will only follow. Honor your father and mother so you will have long life. With that mouth she kisses her own mother, she kisses my Gregory, and my stomach goes uneasy, as if suspended in midair, at the thought.

“I’m getting real tired of you calling my phone. Greg ain’t here. I don’t know where he’s at, and I don’t care. But you not gone be blowing up my phone all times of day looking for him. He got a phone. It ain’t my fault he don’t pick up. I got two babies to feed. I ain’t got time to be raising no grown ass man. That’s your job!”

My hand is shaking, skin pulling at the knuckles. I feel I can break this phone in half. “You’re living with him aren’t you? He’s paying your bills, isn’t he?” I snap. “You’re sucking his dick—” Bridle your tongue! the Holy Spirit convicts me. I immediately bite down, but I’m too late.

“Wow. How Christian of you. Don’t call my fucking phone again. I’m blocking your number.”

I hurl the phone toward the wall before I can hear her hang up, though my arm is not as strong as it used to be, and the pinch in my shoulder prevents further force behind my throw. It skids across the floor, barely making a sound because of the carpet. I wish I had hardwood. At least then, I’d have the satisfaction of seeing a cracked screen.

I rise from the bed to retrieve the phone and consider calling her again, if only to apologize. But it’s so easy for her to curse another made in God’s image. No respect for her elders, no respect for her boyfriend’s mother. And can I be sure I’ll respond to her graciously, my words seasoned with salt?

Why must they make it so hard for a mother to talk to her son? I am berated with insults from Tammi, even worse when Jacquelyn calls and tries to teach me about my own child. What news do I need to learn? I raised him! And Tony says I should just let him go. He doesn’t care, so why should we? But can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?

So why has he forsaken me? And what of these two babies Tammi mentioned? By whom? Surely they’re not Gregory’s. I won’t accept that. He hasn’t been gone long enough to start a family with her—a separate family, away from me—has he? The months are meshing together, this season extending longer than I prayed it would go. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen his face. Lord, provide me with your guidance, your strength. I need a way out. I have no other options but one, and it scares me to death.

I’ve never called the police on my son.

—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, backstories. Today’s backstory is kind of like a prologue. It happens right before Leslie reports Gregory missing. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

I is for… [I]ce Cold #AtoZChallenge

He remembered it being cold that day. First day of Spring and ice cold, not uncommon in North Carolina. The state was known for its erratic weather patterns. One could experience all for seasons over the course of a week—14 degrees on Sunday, 70 by Thursday. He’d seen it happen more than once.

He remember laughing at the forecast as he dressed for work that morning. A high of 39 after such a warm February. Trees budding early, pollen already upsetting allergies, people wearing shorts and flip flops despite the groundhog predicting six more weeks of winter.

He remembered misplacing his service weapon. The case he had been working on for the last three months was getting to him. Five-year-old girl missing. Drug addicted mother suspected of selling her into sex slavery for a hit. The night before, he and Spence chased a lead all the way to the Virginia border. Black male, long dreadlocks with gold tips, fitting the dealer’s description, entering the woods behind a park with a little girl in a pink floral Sunday dress. Emerging a little over half an hour later alone.

In collaboration with the local police department, they swept that park until well past midnight, brought the hounds, half the town, the father and his family from Texas. No luck finding a body, or any trace that the little girl had even been there. It was disheartening for everyone, to be so close and still not find any answers, but what upset him more was that father. How he could leave his daughter in the hands of someone clearly unfit to be a parent.

The mother’s addiction didn’t start overnight. He remembered interrogating her back at the station. How she looked—skeletal—her words incoherent, sentences choppy, laughing at her own flat jokes, referring to random events in her past that had nothing to do with the case or her daughter, not knowing her own daughter’s name. How it was so easy for her to sell her child to the devil for a day’s high. This addiction sprung from years of seed taking root. The father knew this, and left anyway. As far as Frank was concerned, he was just as responsible.

After calling it a night due to darkness and fatigue, he remembered taking out his handcuffs, threatening the father, decking him hard in the jaw, ended up spraining his hand pretty badly because the man was built like a linebacker.

Spence dragged him home after that. He remembered crashing on the couch, waking up what seemed like minutes later to bright sunlight and his cell phone’s obnoxious ringtone.

“Don’t tell your mother I forgot our anniversary,” he remembered his father had said.

“Aw, Dad, at your age, I think she’ll forgive you,” he’d said laughing. He rolled to his side, found the floor, and balancing on the arm of the couch, pulled himself up to his feet.

“Remember, you gotta get this old one day.”

He remembered he flicked on the bathroom light, studied himself in the mirror. His disheveled hair, the ring on his cheek from how he slept on the couch. “With this job, I don’t think I’m gonna make it to that age, old man.”

“Bad news on the case?”

“Worse news is no news.” He sighed, squirted toothpaste on his toothbrush and ran it under the faucet. “At this point, we’re looking for a body. I just hate that his happened to a little girl.”

“We all do, son. She didn’t deserve this. There’s a special place in hell reserved for people who do that to children.”

He held the phone away from his ear and spat into the sink, then took a towel from the rack and wiped his mouth. When he finished in the bathroom, he said, “Yea, well they better hope I’m not the one to send them there, ’cause I’ll make sure it’s painful.”

He remembered they were silent for several minutes. Frank noticed his father’s heavy breathing on the other end and asked if his sleep apnea was getting any better. Of course the old man denied ever having a problem.

“I’ll probably be over tonight after work, around six. If nothing new happens with the case.” Frank said later.

“Don’t rush. I’m gonna run over to the floral shop, see if I can’t buy your mother some flowers.”

“Anything but roses.”

The old man chuckled. “Funny, I can remember she’s allergic to roses, but I can’t remember our blasted anniversary.”

“You remember what you want to, old man.” It was the last thing he said to his father before they hung up.

He remembered first reporting his missing service pistol that morning when he arrived at the station, figuring he must have lost it back in Virginia, after all the chaos of the scuffle. Then he had a meeting with the captain to discuss the consequences of his behavior. The father was threatening to sue, said Frank broke his jaw. Unbelievable. He could barely hold a pen long enough to write a report, but he had managed to break the man’s jaw.

He remembered there were no new leads that day. After all the promising evidence in Virginia, they found nothing. The suspect got away. The girl was still missing. He left the office an hour earlier than he expected. When he got to his parents’ home, his father had yet to return from his run to the florist that morning.

—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) and monologues, brainstorming, outlines, backstories (read more here and here). In today’s post we take a break from Leslie and Gregory and look deeper into the disappearance of Detective Maye’s father. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

H is for… [H]ungry #AtoZChallenge

Stella had never seen someone eat so fast. It was as if he hadn’t had a meal in days. Looking at his scrawny frame, maybe he hadn’t. He had been a husky boy since birth—all those powdered donuts his mama guzzled down while pregnant with him. Now it looked as if he weighed no more than 150 pounds. It terrified her.

She considered calling Leslie, but decided against it. That woman would be flying down the road like a bat of hell to get here, not caring whose car she sideswiped, how many cops were on her tail. If Gregory wanted to see his mother, he would’ve called her. Instead, he called Grandma, and lucky for him, she was just putting up the leftovers from Sunday dinner.

“We missed you at church today,” Stella said with her back turned to him. She wrapped a plate of baked macaroni and cheese in foil and put it into a plastic bag. Her prayer partner, Wanda, had finally caved in and given her the family recipe. The secret ingredient: almond flour. That would explain why some church members suddenly broke out into hives whenever they took a bite.

“You know I don’t live in the city, Grandma.” His voice was muffled for all the food crammed in his cheeks. Stella resisted the urge to chide him for talking with his mouth full. She was thankful just to have him here, talking with her at all.

“You’re not still at that nasty trailer park, are you?” When Gregory and Tanisha first met, she was living in her parents’ mobile home, across the street from the old landfill that had been shut down after reaching capacity a few years ago. Stella didn’t have anything against people who lived in mobile homes—some mobile homes looked nicer than the ones on foundation—but the neighborhood was complete trash, and that had nothing to do with the landfill—the people were trash.

She watched the ten o’clock news every night before bed, and she couldn’t remember a time when there wasn’t a report of a mugging, or a rape, or a gas station robbery in the area. A few years ago, when the city began building a greenbelt through downtown for joggers and bicyclists, they tried to extend the trail to that part of town, as a way to clean up the streets. The expansion was immediately tabled when a woman on an evening stroll sat down to rest on a park bench and while leaning back, planted her hand on top of a used condom, semen still inside. That night, the evening news showed graphic footage from the traffic cameras nearby of a man having sex with a girl barely of age just hours prior, in broad daylight.

Stella was so disgusted when she’d found out that Gregory had been living there with Tanisha and her parents. She’d blessed Leslie out when she finally came clean about it after three months.

“Why don’t that boy want to come home?” she’d demanded.

“I don’t know,” Leslie’s response.

“Where’s her mama? She let him shack up with her like that? She don’t have no more respect for her daughter? For herself? There can’t be no room in there— they sleeping in the same bed?”

“I don’t know.” It had become Leslie’s answer to every question concerning Gregory. A shrug, a sigh, a rolling of the eyes, an “I don’t know”—it was as if she had given up hope on ever reconciling with Gregory.

“We got an apartment,” Gregory said after washing down his food with sweet tea in consecutive gulps. Instinctively, Stella walked to the refrigerator, took the pitcher and refilled his glass. “Thanks,” he mumbled.

At least he still has manners, Stella thought. She returned to packing his to-go bag, arranging a large barbecue chicken breast and leg and thigh in a Styrofoam dinner tray, along with wild rice and collards, because Lord knows the boy needs his greens. “Just you and her, right?” she prodded. “Her mama not living with y’all, is she?”

“Sometimes it feels like she is. She don’t never go home, and when she does, she takes half of what’s in our fridge with her.”

“That woman,” Stella began, but she stopped herself, remembering the morning’s sermon about having a slanderous tongue. “And what does her husband do?” she asked instead.

“Sit on his ass.”

“My God.” Stella tapped her foot, looking toward the ceiling. She prayed Gregory’s eyes would open to the hell he was living. Couldn’t he see that nothing about his relationship with Tanisha was normal? Toxic was more like it. As toxic as the air surrounding that landfill.

Only one thing could possibly be keeping him with that girl, and when she realized what it meant, she both praised and cursed Antonio’s teaching him of a man’s responsibilities before he died—this being the one exception when she would not only condone Gregory for bolting, but commend him, to save his own soul. But she knew she couldn’t keep him here. No more than Leslie could keep him in her own home. Even if she made a bed for him, he’d be gone by morning. So she opened the refrigerator and took out more leftovers. “What does an old woman like me need with all this food anyway?” she said.

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) and character monologues, brainstorming, outlines, backstories (2), and more. Today’s post is an other backstory. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!