Me Too

“Aye, baby, lemme get some of your water!”

“Come back with a better pickup line, and maybe I’ll think about it.”

Stacy tucks her water bottle under her arm, juggles her keys in her hand, closes her fingers around the small can of pepper spray on the chain, just in case he takes her comment as an invitation to follow her to the car.

That happened to Remy just last week, in this same parking lot. Thankfully, a cop was a few spaces down, writing up a police report for a minor fender bender. He gave the creep a stern talking-to about boundaries. It might’ve made a difference had the guy been a twelve-year-old boy, but it gave Remy enough time to speed out of there before he tried anything else.

Tisha wasn’t so lucky. Her husband is still afraid to touch her. She doesn’t go to the gym at night anymore. Too risky. Men are bolder after dark. Cat-calling no longer satisfies the itch. They upgrade to touching, groping, tackling, pounding behind empty brick buildings.

They don’t even wait until a woman’s passed out now—too much like fucking a dead person, and they enjoy the chase too much, the fight.

Stacy wishes her rapist shared that sentiment.

When she’s safe inside her car, she doesn’t wait for it to settle in. She locks the doors and puts it in reverse as soon as the engine turns over. When she glances up at the rear view mirror, she sees him standing in the center of the lane, arms raised as if to say, Leaving so soon?

“Yes, getting as far away from you as possible.” She’s built up her endurance on the treadmill in the last year. Can sprint a mile in under ten minutes and maintain a steady breathing pattern. She has to keep in shape in case she has to run again. Won’t let another man catch her.

—Nortina

Your Love Inhabits

Love Sedoka #1

Your love inhabits
my brain, fills me with thoughts of
your kiss, your touch, your hips be–

–tween my thighs, sinking
in, reaching out, exploring
the places that make me melt.

—Nortina


This poem was originally going to be a tanka, but that last line wouldn’t go away, so I did some quick research on other Japanese poetry forms and discovered the sedoka, which is a pair of 5-7-7 syllable katauta, or half-poems. In this form, the two katauta would address the same subject from different perspectives and could stand alone.

I read somewhere that the katauta form was often used to address a lover. So, in a way, the sedoka could be a call and response between lovers, though technically that would be a mondo, but sedoka sounds more sophisticated. Besides, Mondo was the name of my pet fish in college.

Learn more about Japanese poetry here!

Saved by Grace

It wasn’t enough to sign, “We can’t see each other anymore.” He doesn’t take no for an answer, in any language. And when Felicity confided to her best friend that she feared Darrel was stalking her, Tippy scoffed and said she was overreacting.

But she’s seen his car drive past her window twice, and now there’s a light knock on her door, turned to a pound, turned to a kick. And then a sudden blast.

He has a gun.

It wasn’t enough that he had stolen Tippy from her. Tippy still thinks she’s clueless. Mute doesn’t equal dumb. She’s seen the naked photos, the video in his phone. Tippy was willing to do everything Felicity’s morals commanded her to forsake. Tippy could make as much noise as her stronger vocal chords could carry, egging him to press harder, stroke faster.

But he wanted them both.

Felicity dedicated her voice to the Lord the first time Darrel raped her. She speaks only to Him now. She offers her body only to Him.

But Darrel could never take no for an answer, and now no one but God will hear her scream.

She hides in the bathroom closet, praying for deliverance, fully aware that He could tell her no, like He refused to remove the thorn from Paul’s side—because His grace is sufficient. All things work together, she reminds herself. Not her will but His be done. His power is made perfect in her weakness. She was not given the spirit of fear, so she will not panic. She only wishes not be touched again, that she be made holy and taken into His glory.

Darrel taps the heavy metal on the closet door and rips it open. He’s always wanted to boast his strength, impose his dominance over her. He wields the gun in her face, and she exhales—closes her eyes and exhales—slow, smooth, as time freezes, and all of her breath flows from her body.

No words exchanged—his hatred has consumed him now. He pulls the trigger—a quick blast—and she is caught up in a cloud of fire.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and today’s prompt, “Writer’s Clue” was kind of a cop out. No offense to LJ Cohen, but c’mon, girl, all you did was tell us to write a basic story! So I took a little inspiration from the Daily Prompt: panicked. It worked out in the end. Maybe that was her point all along…

Office Small Talk

“Good Morning! Did you enjoy your Thanksgiving?”

God, I hate her. Some people are just too damn chipper at 9 AM. Everybody hates Mondays, but the Monday after a holiday is particularly unbearable, and here she is, standing outside my cubicle, rocking on the balls of her feet, barely taller than my 3-draw filing cabinet, eager to hear me reminisce about my Thanksgiving feast. God, I hate her!

“I ate, watched football, went to sleep.”

“What did you have to eat? Did you have family over? Did you go somewhere?”

Now she’s sitting on the corner of my desk, the toes of her red faux alligator skin flats just grazing the carpet. God! Just scan whatever papers you need to and go! Just because the copy machine is located behind my cubicle, that does not give you reason to make small talk with me. Do you see this face? The bags under my eyes, the slight curl at the corner of my mouth, the wrinkle on the bridge of my nose. This is a face that is not interested in small talk. Do you feel how your lips blab on and on? Like the sputtering exhaust pipe to a classic 1950’s Chevy truck. You are small talk. I am not interested in you.

“The typical Thanksgiving dinner, I guess. Turkey, ham, mac and cheese, dressing—”

“Dressing or stuffing?” she says with a wink. I just look at her. She flaps her hand in my face, as if to say she’s only kidding. I really don’t care.

“Either way, it’s delicious. With stuffing, you get the juice from the turkey to season it even more.” She licks her lips. “Mmm! I love the Stovetop brand.”

“I prefer it fresh,” I say flatly.

She sits there quietly. Her eyes roll as she searches her mind for something else to say. God, just go already! I swear, some people come to work with so much vigor while the rest of us are only here to collect a paycheck. The highlight of our day is logging false facilities tickets and having the cute maintenance guy from the basement bend over in front of us to check on a problem we know isn’t there. Sexual harassment, my ass. Eight hours dealing with dumb asses like her—we’ve got to find a little light to bring into our day.

Because we damn sure aren’t trying to be friends with our co-workers. We definitely don’t want to waste another second of our lives with them going out for a drink after work. And we absolutely abhor pointless copier conversation. God, it’s worse than elevator talk! Nice weather we’re having—yes, this day is moving by so slow—four more days to Friday. 

UGH! Kill me now! Does she see me making a gun with my thumb and index finger, pointing it to my head? I know she sees me. God, let her see me. Pull the fucking trigger!

“Well my daughter and son-in-law came up from Tallahassee. Tallahassee, Florida?”

Like I don’t fucking know.

“It was great seeing them. He travels a lot for work, so—”

I wish I could travel for work. Book me a trip to India. Half our jobs are outsourced there, anyway. Anything to rid myself of this incessant woman.

“I’m still waiting on grandkids. They’ve been married five years, you’d think it’s time.” She brushes her hair off her forehead. “I know, I don’t look like a grandma.”

We all know you dye your hair, bitch. With that Ellen DeGeneres haircut, and that Whoville nose, and those 101 Dalmatians freckles—better get those checked, bitch, they could be skin cancer. Heaven please, let them be skin cancer!

Maybe I’m just a bitch.

—Nortina

After the Boutique Opened at 5AM

Sated by the fireplace
while my stomach rumbles,
he tells me of his devouringsfe1f64b599ed42caf657a7b99a0ee401
as she rubs his neck and shoulders,
dances an offering of cinnamon
eggnog and rum. My darling
lady left a frozen turkey in
the oven, red tags beckoning.
Jimmy Choo’s slip from her
heels, clank down sidewalk,
halt at any door marked “SALE!”

—Nortina

After Your Neighbor’s Wife Smiled At You

The scent of lavender exudes from your radiant skin,
draws me to the drifting waves of your knee-high
lawn. At risk of snakes, I’ll mow, no charge but
invite to dinner— Two days he’s away on business,
one night to have you in my arms. I dab dried
Lavandula buds to crook of your neck where
early morning you mist essential oils aromatic;
Aphroditic pair folded into molten chocolate batter—
While it bakes, you and I shall lick the spoon.

fe1f64b599ed42caf657a7b99a0ee401—Nortina

Hot Like an Oven

“It’s almost poetic, isn’t it?” Drake leans forward and opens the cooler. All the ice has melted, but the water is still cold. He dips his glass inside and pours the cool liquid down the front of his shirt. “100 degrees on the first day of summer.”

Melanie peels dry skin from her bottom lip. “I’d agree with you, but it’s been 100 degrees for three months straight.”

“Kinda makes you wish you didn’t vote yes for that drilling referendum.”

“At least we have power now.”

“But at what cost?” Drake suddenly coughs from deep within his chest, and it burns, like someone sprinkled dried hot chili peppers down his trachea.

“You should go inside.” Melanie pats his back and hands him her glass of water. “This heat — it’s hotter than it was yesterday. It’s not good for your lungs.”

Drake gulps it down, water dribbling from the corners of his mouth and down his chin. “I’m fine,” he says then clears his throat. “Just a little choked up is all.”

Across the street, their neighbor’s screen door slams. “Hi ya, Meladrake!” Yonni calls. He skips across the yard holding a frying pan, a heavy Harris Teeter grocery back slung over his shoulder.

Drake and Melanie each take a handle on the cooler and carry it down to the curb.

“What’s on the menu today?” Drake asks.

Yonni begins to lay out the ingredients in the street. He cuts a thick slice of butter and drops it in the center of the pan. “New York strip, roasted potatoes and green beans.”

“I never thought I would live in a place where I’d be able to cook in the street,” Melanie says.

“It has it’s advantages. This way I won’t have to turn on the stove, and my house stays cool . . .” Yonni twists his mouth and shrugs. “Relatively.”

The butter in the frying pan quickly melts. “It doesn’t bother you? It’s so hot you can actually cook a steak,” Drake says.

Yonni rubs salt and pepper on the meat with his index and middle fingers, lays the strip in the pan. It sizzles immediately.  “I guess the time to worry is when I’m able to boil water.”

“Interesting.” Drake flips open the lid on the cooler and sticks his fingers into the now warm water. “It won’t be too long.”

Yonni shakes his head. Using a spoon, he scoops up butter from the pan and drizzles it over the steak.

“Let’s just focus on dinner tonight,” Melanie says.

—Nortina

Exploited

It was enough just to hold her. The curve of her hips fit perfectly in my lap. We lay like spoons. The sun rose, filled the bedroom with bright light, and we didn’t move. It skated across the wall behind my headboard, and we barely flinched. It turned a fleshy peach and sank below the window, and we were still cocooned in the sheets, naked underneath, the heat radiating from our deep brown skin to keep us warm.

It was enough just to forage my fingers through her hair, soft like cotton balls, the tickling fur of dandelion seeds. A lock coiled around my finger, tightened, like a tiny snake suffocating its prey, and I made the mistake of wanting more. To think that we weren’t one whole, satisfied this day and forever, before I opened my mouth and spoke. To assume that asking her to do something so simple as to straighten her hair wouldn’t break her heart, wouldn’t consume her with images of my hating her, trying to scrub away her dark skin, seething at the natural bush that grew from her crown.

“I get that perms have chemicals. They can damage your hair. But a flat iron?”

“Heat damage.”

I didn’t understand what that meant. Like heat stroke? Like dehydration? “I just want to be able to run my fingers through your hair, pull it when we . . . you know.”

“That’s such a man’s answer. Exploit my body for your sexual thrills.”

“That’s not what I meant. Just forget it.”

But she couldn’t forget it. She propped herself up on her elbows, took the other half of the covers, leaving me exposed, and wrapped them around her, concealing every inch of her body from the shoulders down. It was the first time she’d been out of my arms in eighteen hours, and it felt like carving away my own skin.

“Don’t go,” I pleaded. “I’m sorry.”

“I have to feed my dog anyway.” But we both knew Atticus lived in the yard, and if he didn’t have food in his bowl, he found it in a squirrel, or a rabbit, or the neighbor’s cat.

No, she couldn’t stand to be by my side anymore, let the self-hatred seep into her pores. She wanted to share all of her, all that she was, with me, but all that was on my mind was what if she looked a little more like her, a little more like them.

I waited a few days to call her, to let her anger recede, but as the phone rang and rang with no answer, the echo of her voice overcame me. Exploit my body. Exploit my body. What if another man had? I only perpetuated the cycle.

—Nortina

Sleepless

I’ve been watching the morning news since 4 AM. It comes on earlier and earlier these days. I can’t imagine there would be much breaking news to report between 11:35 PM and 4 AM that it can’t waiting until 8. Who besides me is up watching it? But then I remember Orlando, and I turn up the volume.

Donald Trump will be in town. They interview a girl in a sleeping bag just outside the gates of the special events center. “Ah’ve bain hair saince faive a em!”  she says in a heavy Southern drawl. She wants to make sure she gets in and that she has good seats. All this for a man whose only policies I can remember involve banning a billion people and building a wall to ban a million more.

Hell, I’ll be up, I might as well go. Maybe he’s not as bad as he seems. Maybe he actually has good ideas. Maybe there’s a logical reason for why people like him so much, and not the reason I fear. But then I remember where I live. The last time I stepped out because I couldn’t sleep, I found myself on the outskirts of town, driving behind a black pickup with a Confederate flag in the rear window. Going to see Trump is the closest I’ll get to attending a Klan rally. They’ll take one look at my afro and know I don’t belong.

Sean walks in buttoning his uniform and sighs when he sees me on the couch. For once, I wish he’d be happy that I’m up before him. I could’ve cooked him breakfast, fixed him a fresh pot of coffee. But who am I kidding? He’s known since our first date sophomore year in college that I don’t cook. I’m one of the few people who are actually skilled at burning coffee.

“Please tell me you haven’t been here all night,” he says.

“Just all morning.” I smile, but he doesn’t laugh.

“Sweetie.” He sits on the arm of the couch, and my eyes drift down to the gun holstered on his hip. I wonder, will he have to shoot anyone today? Someone who doesn’t cooperate, doesn’t listen, like me. Pull the trigger to silence my defiant mouth.

“We sent Matthew to your sister’s so you could finally get some sleep. Please tell me you don’t still hear the man downstairs.”

I don’t understand why he can’t just go downstairs and check that apartment. He’s a cop for God’s sake. The man downstairs is beating his wife. Her screams should be probable cause enough. I hear her struggle with him every night — the lamp crashing to the floor, the shaking of our bed when he slams her against the wall. I hear him curse her: Bitch! Cunt! I know he’s drunk. He comes home from the bar and demands she get on her knees, do her marital duties. Some nights I think he’s already on top of her when she wakes up because I hear his grunts and then her high-pitched screams. Their bedroom is directly below ours.

But Sean doesn’t hear a thing. He sleeps like a bear in hibernation. He’s sure the apartment downstairs is empty because he saw an eviction notice posted on the door last month. It’s just my postpartum, he tells me, it’s just my insomnia.

He tangles his fingers in my hair, pulls me into him, and wraps me in a suffocating hug. “Why don’t I go ask the manager if anyone’s living in 205, hmm?” he says, kissing my forehead.

“No.” I pull out of his arms. “I didn’t hear anything last night.”

“Well that’s good!” he exclaims, but he’s missed the hint again. I couldn’t sleep last night because I didn’t hear anything. Now I fear she’s dead. He’s wrapped her in a throw rug and is sorting out where to dump the body. Maybe he’ll put her in the trunk of her car and drive it into the swampy waters of Midland Lake, five miles down the road. Would he be so stupid to bury her so close?

“Babe, do you think we can bring Matthew home tonight? I don’t want him to start thinking Sidra is his mom.”

I shrug because I don’t hear him. I’m fixated on the news again, waiting for headlines of a woman’s body found. But they keep playing footage of wounded patrons of Pulse nightclub being carried off to safety. I can see they were shot, blood pouring out between their fingers as they try unsuccessfully to block the wounds, t-shirts and pants soaked through, red, a deep cherry. Are they supposed to show this much gore on early morning TV? I think of that movie — I’ve seen so many since the night I decided to stay in — Nightcrawler, staring Jake Gyllenhaal. News directors obsessed with getting the grisliest of crime scene footage, and the cameramen willing to cake their lenses in innocent victims’ blood just to get it. They wonder why we’re so desensitized now. One thousand Palestinian children can have half their faces blown off, and no one bats an eye. And then I remember my own child. How he could be watching, how he could be dying.

“One more night,” I tell Sean, and he kisses my hand.

“Fine.” I never knew one syllable could stab me in the chest so deeply. He’s disgusted with me. He thinks I’m making up these phantom screams from downstairs because I don’t want kids; I don’t want his son, his image and likeness, attached to my hip. Was it so bad just the two of us?

“I’ll be in late tonight,” he says, walking to the door.

“Are you doing the Trump rally?”

“Yea, making sure no one gets sucker punched.” The breezy air in his voice returns, and I think maybe he’ll forgive me if I try to fall asleep tonight before he gets home.

“You know, if those protesters were smart, they would just stay away,” he says.

“If they were smart, they’d keep protesting. We don’t need someone who promotes violence and racism in the White House.”

He shakes his head. I’m so much more political than he is. He’s only voted once, Obama’s reelection, and I practically had to drag him to the polls kicking and screaming. Even last summer during all the demonstrations against police, he didn’t refute with chanting “Blue Lives Matter,” or the ever-insulting “All Lives Matter,” as if to exclude Black lives from that category. Too many people are dying for us to be so selfish, he told me.

He’s halfway out the door when he calls back to me, “Why don’t you get out the house today. Go to Sidra’s. It might do you some good just to hold him.”

I consider his proposition. It could help. My breasts have gotten so sore over this past week, my nipples so tender. Then I think my time would be better spent just buying a pump from Target. But what would be the point of having all this milk and no baby to nurse? So I nod. Tonight, I’ll sleep in the nursery so I’m not tormented by the screams or lack there of from under my bed. I’ll show Sean how much I’m missing our precious baby boy. I’ll be a better mommy for him and for Matthew.

—Nortina

Salty

Mama always told me to take everything a man says with a grain of salt. “They lie, even when they don’t have to, just to get you to sleep with them.”

Spice makes everything taste better, and Kenton’s tongue is like crispy, fresh out of the grease steak fries topped with Lawry’s seasoned salt.

When I ask him if I look fat, he actually says yes, and I wonder if it’s a lie, some sort of reverse psychology that’ll make me have sex with him.

But I can’t get out of those tight-ass jeans fast enough, and he doesn’t even realize he’s won. He assumes our date night is ruined, walks down the hall, back to the living room where NBA 2k16 waits for him on the Xbox.

It deflates me a little. Men, they give up so easily. Come back. Fight me for my prize, but then that sounds too much like rape, and I think I start to understand what Mama really meant in her bitter, misandrist sort of way.

I creep behind the couch in nothing but my panties. How sexy would it be to lasso my pants leg around his neck? I don’t want to hurt him — just choke him a little for calling me fat. He’ll enjoy it. He once said he was a masochist in a previous life so I’d let him spank me. He’ll get what he wants today, but this time, I’m in control.

—Nortina