#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Watermelon Season

I dreamt I ran him over, and the white women from work watched. Their eyes sought to spite me. I screamed to get help, but no one moved. “You’ll burn in hell for this, bitch,” the woman in the center sneered. Her face grew redder with the inflection in her voice.

Looking in the rearview mirror, I see his blond hair first, combed to the right, the sides buzzed a little too close to the scalp. He stands behind my trunk, and I think about my dream, how I stood before a lynch mob as he lay dying. I’m tempted to shift the gear in reverse, fulfill the prophesy and accept my fate, but I take the key out of the ignition, shoulder my purse, and step out.

“Hey,” he says, waving both hands.

I nod, glance over my shoulder at the eight-floor office building looming over the parking lot.

“So do you have any plans for the weekend?”

I shrug. A car pulls into the empty space beside me. It’s the woman from my dream. Her brunette hair is chopped short to her ears, with an inside hook curl at the ends all around, not a strand out of place. She cuts her eyes at me, and I quickly look down at my feet.

“Well, if you’re not busy, I was wondering if you wanted to go to the watermelon patch.”

“Seriously?”

He shakes his head, and his hair shuffles to the front of his face. He smiles, but I don’t smile back, and the loud door slam to the right turns our attention to the woman spying us over the top of her car.

I step closer and whisper so she can’t hear. “Because I’m black, you think I like watermelon.”

“No, no!” His eyes widen. He backs up and instinctively looks to the woman, who still stares. She’s barely taller than her own car; she has to stand on her toes to watch us. I wish she’d go inside already. My throat tightens at the thought of her lassoing a noose around my neck and stringing me up on the branches of one of the magnolias lining the walkway leading to the building.

“It’s watermelon season. My uncle owns a watermelon patch.” He slaps his chest. “I like watermelon. I thought…”

“You thought what?”

The woman finally leaves us, but not before casting a scolding look in my direction. She must be content that he’s in no danger. He’s completed his job in offending me, and now I will leave too, scurry off to my tiny cubicle in the back of the office, segregated from the rest of them, and do my work silently as I’m told.

When the woman is out of earshot, he shoves his hands into his pockets and sighs. “I’m trying to ask you out on a date. Obviously, I’m not doing a good job of it.”

I watch him as he looks everywhere but at me, and I wonder if he too is thinking of the consequences of my saying yes, if he’s dreamt of my death by his hand, of a mob of angry black women shooting curses, taking off belts, breaking off switches to whip him with—the same weapons his people used to beat our souls down into the ground.

“We don’t have to go to the watermelon patch. We could do something different, like the movies, or dinner—what kinds of food do you like? I just wanted to do something different, something out of the box. You’re special, you’re different. I just wanted to do something nice for you.”

“Just be quiet.”

He instantly shuts his mouth, midsentence, and I lean against my side mirror. He waits for my answer, but I’m lost for words. My mind is stuck on “You’re special, you’re different.” Is he referring to my blackness? And again, I fear this proposal will only lead to our combined demise, that I will again be reminded of what we are. I am black, and he is white, and the world will always hate us for what we mean together, for what we are about to do.

And so I tell him, “I like watermelons too.”


Originally published May 27, 2017.

Routine

With school back in session, the coffee shop was the fullest it had been all summer. Rhonda and Katy sat at a table by the window. One with black coffee; the other, sugar and cream. One with a dry, overbaked scone with blueberries that looked like raisins; the other, a bagel and cream cheese.

Katy looked like a pinned up first-time professor in a short-sleeved red coat dress and wedged heels. Rhonda looked the most out of place in her ripped baggy jeans and “not a hugger” t-shirt, a pair that was in the dirty hamper that morning, but still smelled alright.

“It’s not fair,” Rhonda said shaking her head, and then again, “it’s just not fair.” She put her phone face down on the table.

“You know, marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“How would you know? You’re a closeted lesbian.”

“I kissed a girl once, and I was in high school!”

“I’ve never seen you with a guy, Katy. Ever!”

“That’s because I don’t need a man to make me happy.” She folded her arms across her chest and turned her nose up to the ceiling.

“Well, I do.” Rhonda bit into her blueberry scone. Crumbs collected around the corners of her mouth, but she didn’t bother to wipe them away.

“You set feminism back 50 years.”

“Bite me.”

“You know, Rhon, you might find a guy worth marrying if you stopped acting like you were still 20 years old.”

“We can’t all be perfect like you, Katy.”

“I’m not perfect, I just…” Katy paused, looking at the straggly ends of Rhonda’s dirty blonde hair grazing the edge of her styrofoam cup, almost dipping into the coffee. With an audible sigh, Katy added, “When’s the last time you washed your hair?”

“Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Treat me like I’m a lost cause.”

“I’m not, I just—” Katy snatched the phone away before Rhonda could turn it over and continue to brood over the lastest Facebook engagement announcement.

“I wish people would be more real on social media,” she said while tapping her fingers on Rhonda’s screen. “All we see are these happy, perfect relationships, with their perfect hair, and perfect makeup and perfect engagement rings, and perfect in-laws who love them like family. People are innately selfish, and relationships are hard. Where’s the messy fights? The hitting below the belt? Bringing up past infidelity? Passive-aggressive status updates about mamas’ boys, and coddling mothers-in-law?”

“They usually post them in the middle of the night and delete them after an hour.” Rhonda belched into her fist then brought the coffee to her lips, sipping loudly.

“Why do I feel like you’ve done that before?” Looking over Rhonda’s disheveled appearance, Katy questioned, “Why do I feel like you did that last night?”

“Because, Katy,” she hung her head, as if a weight was sitting on the back of her neck, and looked up at Katy, barely raising her eyes past her chin. “I’m self-destructive. Obviously why I’m still single.”

“Aw don’t say that.you just haven’t met the—”

“Save it for your book!” Rhonda stood suddenly, nearly jumping from her chair, hair fraying. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom.”

Probably to throw up, she thought to herself. On her way, she caught the eye of the barista behind the counter. Definitely a freshman. Definitely too damn young for her. But that was definitely his number he’d written on the bottom edge of her coffee cup.

And definitely, if she was that desperate (she was), and drunk enough (she will be), a late-night booty she’ll regret later.

Homebody Blues

Evie hates it when I call her to complain about my loneliness. If you don’t want to be a homebody anymore, stop being a homebody, she always tells me. Easy for the extrovert to say…

I call her anyway.

“Today I stayed in bed until well past noon.”

“Wow, that’s a new record for you.”

If one could hear an eye roll…

“Is it possible to live on the top floor and still have to deal with leadfoot neighbors?”

“Sweetie, it’s probably just somebody walking up the stairs. Your apartment is right next to the staircase.”

“Yeah, that’s the problem. The sound travels. And it feels like they’re stomping on my brain.”

Like a caravan of people walking up and down the stairs in steel toe boots. My head could explode, splatter these walls, and I swear you’d find the tread marks on the scattered pieces of my brain.

“Isn’t that an Emily Dickinson poem?”

“That’s ‘I felt a funeral in my brain.'”

“Same difference. You should be careful, you know. You’re starting to become like her.”

“Is it so bad to relish in the comfort of your own home?”

“But you don’t relish.”

She’s right. I despise it. But it’s not the fact that I spend most of my days at home or that my interactions with other human beings usually involve a screen or me avoiding eye contact with the neighbor kids and dog moms during my weekly treks across the parking lot to the mailbox.

I work remotely, so I really have no reason to ever leave the house. I like not having to pay for gas every week. Granted I make up for that by ordering in most days, and if I don’t watch my weight, my wardrobe of sweatpants and t-shirts will soon dwindle.

But what I truly dislike about my life is the stigma. Everyone just assumes that I’m not happy, and therefore it makes me unhappy. Even my own sister thinks I’d be better off if I had a man in my life. But Mr. Right’s not just gonna break into your house, she’d say. Maybe he will. What does she know? It’s not like she was any luckier going out and finding one herself, with her three roughhousing boys and absentee husband who only seems to come around to get her pregnant. The only reason I don’t ask her to come over now is that she’s supposed to be on bedrest. God only knows what those destructive little monsters are doing to her house right now.

I will never have children. So unless this man who’s supposed to make me happier comes with condoms or a vasectomy, I’ll pass.

“You should probably take something for that headache.”

“I’m all out. I would cook something, but my fridge is as empty as my stomach, and I don’t really look presentable enough to go anywhere.”

“Of course you don’t.” Evie sighs. I hate it when she sighs. It’s as if she’s exhaling all those years of disappointment in her own life choices onto me. I don’t need them. Hold your breath, Evie. You’re my sister, not my mom. I don’t want your judgment.

“I don’t know what to tell you, hon.”

“Nevermind. Sorry I called.” I hang up before she can turn the conversation into a lecture about how a lot of people have problems. You have the power to fix yours. As if to diminish or discredit the things I think and feel. I know a lot of people have problems. I’m one of those people, and my main problem is with other people.

But I wouldn’t expect the problem to understand.

The neighbor starts up again. The rumbling and the marching reverberating against the walls and penetrating my skull. I can’t take it anymore. Without thinking, and with bedhead, no bra, and a t-shirt barely covering my pantieless ass, I swing the front door open.

“Do you mind!”

Of course it’s a man.

He’s wide-eyed at first. Then his lips curl into a grin that’s either mocking me or amused.

“Sorry about all the noise. I’m your new neighbor.” He points to the open door behind him across the breezeway from my apartment. There’s a stack of boxes just past the threshold, and behind them, a couch and a rolled up rug propped against it are all I can see as far as furniture. He holds what looks like a broken down lap under one armpit and an ironing board under the other.

“Thirty more minutes. I promise.”

“Just keep it down.”

He stares, and in the awkward air between us, I realize how much of a wild woman I must look to him right now. When he sniffs (probably because of allergies—from where I stand, I can see the yellow film on the tops steps of the staircase—it is still spring; the pollen still high), I instinctively pull down my t-shirt (I haven’t showered today either. Sue me), which makes my bra-less breasts more pronounced, and I’m sure he’s mistaking my nipple rings for arousal.

But he is kind of cute.

Kind of.

“I can make it up to you.” He washes me over with his eyes, as if I’m on display and he’s picking fruit. “Let me take you out to dinner. Or I can invite you over if you don’t mind the mess. And maybe you’ll let me put a smile on that—”

I slam the door in his face and twist the deadbolt.

I feel the urge to go masturbate.

Happy Anniversary

“It’s okay that you forgot.”

It’s not like this year’s been anything worth remembering. Forgotten birthdays. Forgotten dates. Nights spent alone while he worked late in the office. And last week at counseling, he admitted that he never wanted kids and likely never will.

It would’ve been nice to know that before getting married.

It would’ve been nice to know that before I was seven months pregnant.

“If you wanna go out to eat or something, we can. But I don’t have much money.”

Another one of our marital problems—finances. His startup will take off soon. But right now, we spend more money than we have, and it’s taxing, draining.

“So that means I have to pay?” Again.

He shrugs. “If you want.”

I haven’t gotten what I wanted for a long time. Today, of all days, I just want to be happy. I want us to be happy. I want us to remember why we took those vows, that we loved each other once. I pray that one day I won’t worry about what additional troubles this baby will bring, like the fact that my job doesn’t currently offer paid maternity leave. I’d have to work until this baby drops just to ensure we’ll have food on the table in the days after I’m forced to leave.

“So what are we doing?” he presses.

“I guess I’ll order a pizza,” I say with a sigh as my stomach growls louder.

“For both of us?” he asks, staring at the source of my current hunger pains. I’d be foolish to call the look endearing, but a hormonal wife can only hope, right?

“I guess I’ll order two.” If I’m lucky, he’ll probably eat a slice and maybe half of another and go back to his computer, which currently gets more attention than me, leaving the rest for me to find some semblance of happiness feeding my face and fattening myself up until I pop.


Today we’re celebrating five years of blogging! Let’s make this anniversary happier than the one in today’s story. 😉

Back to the Woods

When she wakes, she’s on the opposite end of the bed, and her bonnet—which she wears to protect her fragile curls from her plagued tossing and turning—rests on her pillow, where her head should lie.

But her pillow, the case, the sheets, and—when she peers over the edge of the bed—the carpet too, are not the same off-white they were when she fell asleep last night. They’re stained a greenish brown, and it doesn’t take her long to find the culprits. She pulls her knees to her chin, dragging her feet, caked in mud, across the bed and leaving a trail.

“Oh, God.” She sighs and tries to run her fingers through her hair, but they get tangled in something other than her usual curly knots.

Twigs. Short, skinny, broken-off twigs, tucked in her hair like stylish Bobbi pins. One by one, she plucks them out, careful not to tug too harshly on her curls.

One, two . . . five . . . eleven . . . fifteen . . .

The more she collects in her lap, the more she finds in her hair, along with leaves, dry, brittle, and crumbing when she tries to pick them, creating an even bigger mess.

After all these years, had she really gone back to the woods?

She turns her attention to her journal on her dresser. She must write this down. The pills don’t work, the alcohol. She’s graduated to sleepwalking.

But at least she’s stopped dreaming.

Yes, if one good thing can come from this, it’s a night without seeing his face lit up by the flames of that bond fire. The last time she trusted the trees to keep a secret.

That, she calls peace.

When she rises, she catches the first glimpse of herself in the mirror, and all the air escapes her lungs as if being squeezed in an invisible force’s fist, and breathing becomes a chore. She buckles to the floor, missing her bed completely, her knees popping underneath the sudden weight of her body. More than just her hair, her feet, her eyes like soulless dark pockets. On the front of her night shirt a stain, bright crimson, stretches from the bottoms of her breasts, across her stomach, past her navel and bleeds onto the elastic waistband of her pajama pants.

Blood. But no pain or sign of an open wound reveals to her that it is not her own.

“Oh, God. Oh, God.”

The pills, the alcohol, the dream she couldn’t stop dreaming until . . .

“I went back to the woods.”

Where his face still lives. The heat of the fire, his hot breath. Her screams stifled by his sticky, sweaty palm on her mouth . . .

With all her strength lost in her legs, she clings onto the fitted sheet and pulls herself onto the bed, flings back the covers hiding the evidence of what happened to her last night.

Evidence that could incriminate if anyone were to find her like this.

You know what they would think. You wanted it . . .

Things keep happening to her. The mud, the blood, the sleepwalking.  Things she hoped would stop with the pills, the alcohol.

The dream, his face, his weight, his naked skin . . .

The rock.

Bigger than her hand. Weighty. Cool as night. One side covered with moss painted with the same blood she wears until she rolls it over with her fingers for a closer look.

His face, his face . . .

He had no face. And she remembers. What happened. Not to her, but to him. When she went back to the woods. To end the dream, recurrent ever since the night he took her to that bond fire, led her deeper into the wilderness, away from the crowd, pinned her against the tree, pounded between her legs for her to let him in.

One stroke, wild-eyed bewilderment.

Two strokes, a gash as deep and as wide as this rock.

“It’s not moss.” Squishy, oozing between her fingers just as it oozed from the side of his head.

The pills, the alcohol.

His face . . . Gone.

She wonders now, will she sleep?

Chronicles of a Single, Black Christian Female: Episode 1

Photo by @caminho_do_despertar from nappy.co

It’s probably the wrong thing to say, but I say it anyway.

“You remind me of my pastor.”

He stops, right as I’m about to reach my peak.

Definitely the wrong thing to say. Especially to a man whose face is currently buried between my thighs. Especially when I’m supposed to be at Bible study—I’ve already missed two straight weeks.

And I don’t think he’s saved. But I am. Or, at least, I’m supposed to be.

“Do you think of your pastor doing this to you?”

“No,” I say a little too quickly for it to be believable. His laugh offends me, because I know there are plenty of women in my church who do think of Pastor that way. And how could they not? He’s young, handsome— smooth skin, thick curly hair, full pink lips, eyes that haunt and the adorning long lashes to envy. If not a pastor, he’d be the kind to break hearts.

But he is a pastor. A good one. And a Christian. A good one. Or, at least, he presents himself to be. At this moment, who am I to judge?

I pull my dress up from my ankles and slip my arms through the sleeves. “I think I should go to church.” I’d be there already had I not taken this detour in response to his “Wyd” text.

“Feeling sinny?”

“No.” He disgusts me how he makes a joke of an obvious problem that I have—giving in to temptation. Maybe it’s because, in fact, I do feel a little . . . sinny.

I give him a quick kiss as I leave, which I immediately regret, not only because it gives him the impression that he can easily lure me back— perhaps after service—but also because now I’ll have the smell of my secret shame fresh on my lips, a smell that Mother Thompson—forever casting stones with her eyes on us “slippery skinny young thangs”—is sure to notice when I’m sitting on the very back pew, begging my Father in Heaven for forgiveness.

How Are You?

“How are you?” he says. Such a generic question. One that requires only a generic answer. “Fine” would suffice. Or the wordier but no less basic, “I’m good. How are you?” with the question repeated at the end for good measure, to insinuate a conversation that is long overdue to end…

But I have so much more within me.

I’ve missed you. It’s so good to see you. I’ve forgotten how beautiful you are when you smile. When did you get back? I hate that you ever left. Skype wasn’t enough. Facebook wasn’t enough. Email, long-distance phone calls weren’t enough. I need you in my life. I want to touch you, kiss you one more time. And again for however man more times you’ll allow. How long will you be staying? Is it for good this time? Can we pick up where we left off (how about that kiss again)? Are you still single? I am. Never even thought about another man since you. You’re my lover who never was, but if you’re here to stay, maybe you can become. Will you? Tell me. Take my hand. Do that thing I’ve dreamt of for the last two years. Let’s get married.

I struggle to string together coherent sentences on my tongue, to push them from my mouth, bind on my voice, and give them a pitch that’s higher than a whisper so that he can hear and reply with words that will kill me the way I want to die.

Then I realize…

“Struggling,” I say. “I am struggling…”

Hopefully, he will ask me why.

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Kindling the Fire

I knew he was gone when I awoke shivering. Silly me for thinking this time would be different, that a random man I brought home from the bar would have the decency to stay at least until sunrise.

The hardwood floor feels like ice on the bottoms of my feet. I need carpets, but with what money? I’m too cheap to turn the heat on before the first deep freeze. Bedroom slippers will have to do for another month. At least the alcohol leftover in my system keeps me warm from the waist up. What need do I have for a man?

But I remember the sweet heat we made, driven by the booze that filled us to our limbs, when it was just our skin and sweat that separated us, and his tongue explored every inch of me, lapped me up like a steaming mug of cocoa.

How we made it from the bar five miles down the base of the mountain in his rattling 1992 Toyota pick-up remains a mystery to me. The air conditioning blasted our faces—he had no heat either—but it didn’t matter because we both sweated through our clothes, and I sat on his lap naked, bouncing on every pothole, every bump in the road. But it wasn’t to make the ride more titillating.

He couldn’t see.

I remember now. I was helping him drive–and teasing him at the same time. He juggled whether to put his fingers on the steering wheel or lift me up by the rear and slip them between the cracks.

But it was dark. No. Foggy. And something was falling. And the wipers did nothing but make the dirty windshield dirtier.

Damn him. I wish we crashed. It would have been better for me to die than to have him fill me up and empty me out all in one night.

I glance at the clock on my bedside table. There’s more light coming through my window than is normal for quarter to six. A thought comes that maybe it’s the headlights from his truck. He hasn’t pulled out of the driveway yet. I rush to part the curtains and give him a full view of what he’s leaving behind, what he’ll surely miss when he’s back home with whatever woman who’s got him running from me.

There’s always another woman. It’s my fate–my curse–to share, or have nothing at all. But now I long for nothing, because I’ve never felt this abandoned since the night my father left my mother and me in darkness in the middle of a blizzard to pay the electric bill and never came back.

And now my glowing backyard tells me what was falling from the sky last night.

Snow. At least an inch or more.

I shiver again, deep within myself, bones knocking. This day feels too familiar, too much like my childhood. I spot a trail of boot prints stretching from the back of the house toward the woods. His truck is still here. Damn thing must have died. Fluids frozen. He left it here. Somewhere there’s a man, half-naked, hungover, marching down the side of the road to the nearest service station, maybe looking for a hitch. With my luck, it’ll be a girl prettier and tighter than me, with less baggage.

I feel more used seeing his truck–here to remind me of every poor decision I ever made in life, drunk or sober. I’ll call a tow to have it removed, make sure he’s the one who has to pay for it.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to communication. No cellphone. I still keep a phonebook by the landline downstairs. I jog down two flights to get the feeling and the warmth back into my thighs and my feet. But a crackling halts me at the bottom step. I’m still naked, and despite what happened the night before, I’m not willing to let another stranger in.

I notice it’s warmer down here. The chill in my joints is gone. I cover my breasts and follow the heat through the foyer, to the living room, where the fireplace I haven’t touched in years is brought to life by dancing flames.

And he is standing over it, tending it with the poker.

“You’re still here?”

He looks up, smiles at me trying without success to hide the body parts he’s seen and touched and kissed and licked all through the night. And I remember the set of footprints I saw from my bedroom window, how it lead into the forest. But then there was a second trail, afar off, coming back.

He’d gone to get firewood.

He comes over, touches my hand still covering my breasts.

You start a fire burning…” I say, but I’m short of breath. I’m shaking once again, but it’s not from the cold. I still can’t believe he came back, and for me. What did I do to deserve this? Can any of it be real?

“Come by the fire,” he says, but he draws me into him, wraps his arms around me, cups my bottom, a middle finger slipping in between the cheeks, kisses me with his open mouth. Our tongues meet in the middle, our hot breath touching our lips, and every inch of me is set ablaze.


Original post written for the #LyricalFictionFriday challenge November 3, 2017.

Sugar Free

He asked me if I could go a month without sugar.

I hadn’t considered that he wasn’t referring to the pint of ice cream I’d eaten by myself when I told him yes.

The next morning, I reached up for a kiss, and he pushed me away. “Day one,” he said.

By Day 7, I was making love to my body-sized pillow.

On Day 15, he told me prayer could help. “It’ll teach you how to survive on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

“But I thought the test was to survive without sex.”

He still questions if I’m really religious.

I made it all the way to Day 29 without touching him, though I touched myself a few times–Lord, forgive me. 

On the eve of Day 30, I parked my car in his driveway with the Bible in my lap, waited until the clock struck midnight, then knocked on his door and demanded, “Give me some sugar.”


Challenge: Monday’s One-Minute Fiction (#1MinFiction)
Objective: Think up or write a complete story in one minute or less
Prompt: sugar

Waiting for Him to Call

It’s so easy these days to creep…

Even our government does it.

Don’t think for one second that the CIA isn’t watching you with your hands in your pants through your TV. It could be a matter of national security; they must watch.

And they’re also slightly turned on by the way you feel yourself. Moan a little louder, touch a little deeper, spread your legs a little wider. Really give them a show.

Social media makes creeping even easier. Twitter? Anyone can destroy your reputation and career just by digging up old tweets from ten years ago. Purely despicable or only joking, it doesn’t matter, in this era of the easily offended, you are swiftly lynched by the PC mafia.

And there’s no place to hide on Facebook. Remember that guy you gave your number to on that dating app? He used it to look you up. They can do that, you know. If you have your number posted on Facebook. And you do. Like a dumbass. So, he found your page and clearly saw something he didn’t like. That’s why he hasn’t called. Maybe you’re not as attractive on Facebook—all those poorly lit pictures of you half drunk, highlighting all the bad angles, you were tagged in in by your friends from college, friends you barely talk to now. Or maybe he found a status update from when you were 14 years old—- though he didn’t bother to check the time stamp— (racially insensitive, bigoted, homophobic, you pick, we’ve all posted at least one) that could ruin your reputation and career, if you had one.

So you sit on your couch, with your hands in your pants (though you’re dryer than your phone at this point), Hulu and chilling by yourself because you’re too cheap to get Netflix too, wondering if it’s possible to get any lonelier than this.

Tomorrow, you will break your own record.