“She’s Like Eve, One of Those Seeing Women…” (Excerpt from Copperhead)

Everyone in Eddenton, even the infants, knew not to offer anything more than a quick “Good morning” or an “Evenin, yall” to Armina Washington and Salve, short for Salvetta Fairmont. Even a sprite “Hello” could come back to you as The Tale of Two Snubs. It all depends on Armina. Armina, a proud entrepreneuress (a term she coined the day of her salon opening), is serious about her business despite its nominal appearance. And careful to keep her business a privileged enterprise while shamelessly selling your secret family recipe to anyone with the lucid dream of a restaurant. 

It’s been said, not to Armina’s face, of course, that the crows stay away from her properties; she has a few plots of land in the modest, but growing, town. They say the crows got tired of carrying all the trash Armina would tell them after luring them in with scraps. The scraps were likely provided by Salve, Armina’s hopeful wings. Lifting Armina up just so she can sip a cloud one of these old mornings seems to most to be her life’s work. Naturally, Salve took out a second mortgage on her inherited home to invest in Mina’s Nail Spa on Main. And just as naturally, she anticipates Armina’s Hot Topic of the Hour. 

“You know, they say, she’s like Eve, one of those Seeing Women. They say, when she was in her mama Bullie’s womb, that Bullie couldn’t eat nothing apple-like. No pears–” 

“No plums and no peaches either!” interrupts Salve. Armina, annoyed at the interruption, cloaks her frown in earnest sisterhood. 

“Mmmhmmm, that’s a sho’ nuff sign right there,” she coos. 

“Oh shut up, Armina,” said the woman whose hands Salve just refurbished with a flawless french tip. Biddy was a faithful customer, despite her disdain for needless gossip. “You’re  always seeing signs where anyone with good sense sees a rumor, and a fantastical one at that.” Biddy stood, saying, “Pregnancy affects every woman differently, no matter how much of the experience is the same. Every woman is different just like every child is different. Difference doesn’t warrant all this vain imagining.” She handed Armina her payment rather gracefully. Armina received it rather indignantly. 

“Oh, here she goes, Salve, with her professor tongue. Ain’t no lecture hall around here, Biddy. Save all that fancy talk for them white folk at that university that fired your All Knowin ass.” Armina said with all the glory of someone receiving the attention they never got as a child, or a teen, or a blossoming woman, or a wife. Biddy paused, keeping a steady gaze.

“Armina, you can bring up my hardships all you want. You can wave them around like bright banners of triumph and you can even make me feel a little low everytime you do it. But you can’t make the truth sting no less.” Stated Biddy matter-of-factly as she stepped, self-satisfied, out of the one bedroom home masquerading as a nail shop large enough for just five appointments at a time, and a “No Walk-ins” sign fastened to the door beneath the business number. 

As Biddy left the judgment of the nail shop she passed the peculiar young infant, now woman, at the root of such fanciful speculation. They locked eyes. Biddy smiled. She’d never noticed how stark the woman’s features were.  Her face was a multisyllabic word spoken by a loving God. Her skin glowed dark, like the moon and the sun aligned behind her back. Copperhead did not smile back, nor did she frown. Biddy suddenly felt naked, her heart pulsing as if an open door had found her exploring herself. Her feet matched her pulse and Copperhead entered the salon with a demeanor comparable to her namesake. Biddy was certain the ladies in the salon would have a few wounds to tend double what they caused her just moments ago. She smirked, reveling in the thought. Right then, Biddy wished she was one of those Seeing Women just this one time. She turned and reached toward the door to her gray 2013 Toyota Camry, her french tips invoking a smile.

#black-stories, #copperhead, #eve, #excerpt, #prose, #story-telling

Gossip Folk (Excerpt from Copperhead)

No one ever suggested disease or a curse as the reason for her abnormality, not outside roomed conversations anyway. Rather, we simply accepted her peculiarities as environmental. Her baldness, as well as her disregard for public decency, to us, became, or perhaps always was, the first leaf to change its color. Autumn always comes, the first leaf always turns, it’s just the way things are– but sometimes, sometimes you remark on it absentmindedly.

“Wessa, look at her–  just traipsin’ around here with her titties all out as if she was born with a bat between her legs. She ain’t no man, she needs to cover up.” Plural complained, leaning on the brand new wood fence surrounding her partial acre of land.

“Aw, she ain’t hurtin’ nobody. My boy, Rascal, got a bigger bust than her. She’s one of those paranoid schizos anyway. Notice how she always looks up at the sun and smiles? She probably thinks the aliens are gonna emerge from one of its rays and take her back to the mothership.” Wessa laughed erratically on the other side of the fence.

“Yeah, well, I don’t care if she is one of them crazies,” Plural stated flatly, “Somebody needs to tell her that civilized folk wear shirts.”

“Ha! Civilized folk! That’s a good one,” Wessa blurted, adjusting her stance and regretting the heels she’d thrown on to check the mail. “You can look in her strange eyes and tell that civilization passed her by. I wonder what Bullie thinks about her daughter flashin’ God and the whole neighborhood all the time.”

“Well, I heard Bullie is a minister at Hand Of God, now. That’s Elder Bullie to us common sinner-folk, I suppose.”

“Wait a minute. Wait one minute. You mean to tell me that Bishop allowed her to take the oath?” Wessa’s surprise added a few dry logs to Plural’s hearth for gossip.

“He sho’ did. Rascal went to Sunday School and stayed past Breakfast Meeting and seen her in the pulpit with her pants suit, her gold prayer cloth, and the Bible to match right behind Bishop.” Plural’s oak brown eyes all but glowed as she shared her hearsay.

“Well, I’ll be a weed whacker in the jungle. Sho’ nuff?” exclaimed Plural’s neighbor, Laz Deacon– Deacon Laz to everyone in Eddenton, though he hadn’t set foot in a church since his christening. Wessa rolled her eyes as he leaned across the fence toward Plural.

“Sho’ nuff. Rascal might be mean as a red furred bull but he ain’t never carried a lie past Sunday.” Plural confirmed, gesturing for Laz to get off of her fence. He just smiled at her motions as if she were a silly toddler.

“So that woman up there preachin’ while her daughter runnin’ round topless as a good stripper? I knew somethin’ won’t right about that church. Bishop Reverend hasn’t been the hand of God since his son was caught playin house with that minister of music they used to have.” Laz remarked. He then leaned off Plural’s fence, winked at her, and continued his journey to the end of the path where the mailboxes lived.

“Minister of music, huh? More like minister of house music. Ain’t that what they play at them sissy bars?” Replied Wessa, a little too desperately. She hated being the third wheel in the gossip. It paid off, though.

“Girrrl,” Plural drawled, “you would tell God He shoulda made Eve from Adam’s eye socket so Eve woulda had enough sense to see the devil talkin’ to her.”

“Plural, I sho’ would. You know I can’t hold my tongue with the right hand of God,” boasted Wessa.

“Look at her, Wessa. Look at her. She comin’ outta that store with nothing but a can of soda. I swear she don’t eat. That’s why she’s built like a stick bug.” Plural motioned with her head to the young woman in question.

“Woooo, Plural, you can’t hold your tongue either, can you? And you talkin’ about me. Be careful what flies out your mouth when you stand before God on Judgment Day. He might put the drop on you, too.” Wessa finished, now eying Copperhead’s slow, but steady, stride in their direction.

“Girl, hush. We’ll drop together, then, and tell Satan a thing or two about sweet talkin’ Paradise.”

That caught Wessa’s attention. “Sweet talkin’ Paradise,” she repeated, “what in the world is that?”

“I guess you ain’t never heard that before, huh? My granddaddy used to say that all throughout my childhood. I’d say, ‘Grampy, ol’ Gregory Hanes told me I was black as the spit of a mamba snake.’ And he’d say, ‘Oh yeah? Well that Gregory just tryin’ to sweet talk Paradise’ then he’d go sit on the porch and smoke.” Plural’s words were all for Wessa, but her eyes belonged to the woman approaching, sipping a soda, staring off into the morning sun.

“Mmm. Mr. Dixon was a thoughtful fella. I’m sure it means something to somebody who’s been to Paradise–“

“Wessa! Wessa! Look! Copperhead is comin’,” Plural urgently whispered, no longer leaning on her fence. “I’m going to go ahead and prepare dinner before it gets too late. Biscuit acts like a 12 hour day warrants him eatin’ twelve pounds of food. At least he does work, otherwise I wouldn’t feed his ass.” Wessa opened the gate just as Copperhead came within hearing distance and said, “Ain’t nothing in that mailbox anyway but final notices. I’m going to come in and help you until that snake slithers back into the grass. ” Copperhead continued staring at the sun as the two ladies stared at her through the blinds of Plural’s kitchen.

#black-stories, #copperhead, #excerpt, #fiction, #gossip-folk, #prose, #stories, #story-telling

Built Like A Cross (Excerpt from “Copperhead”)

She said I was conceived inside a church, that’s why my body built like a cross. I’m just straight up and down and I like it. I like it ’cause I can be free. Many of these women bound. They are bound to service a man’s desires in one way or another. Whether they want to or not. If a man asserts that a woman ought to present herself prim and priss and she acts to fill up that thought or rebels against it, she’s adhering to that man’s demand on womanhood. And if she spends her life presenting cactus when she is a delicate flower she is still servicing his desires. Giving him dominion over her present self as if Adam didn’t nibble that forbidden fruit as well.

Pastor, at the old dusty, block church down the street, preached a talltale about Eve’s body seducin’ the man to go against God. Proclaiming that’s the reason women gotta walk around in a winter coat, even when the sun feelin’ extra proud. That’s why she gotta avoid temptin’ the man, so he don’t go against God. But woman was made like that, and man was made to want her just like that. Well, most men.

Mama once told me men are selfish.  I theorize man’s so attracted to woman because she was made from his leftovers, and he wants those leftovers back. So he can’t listen to God because he’s too in love with that piece of himself the woman got. (That’s half of what I took from mama’s daily Bible lessons, whether she knows it or not depends on the day.)

That pastor must not listen to God for his word ’cause I don’t know what told him to preach that nonsense. Now, devout women can’t wiggle a toe without worryin’ whether some man is gonna be able to control himself during service. Sounds like man got a handicap to me. And God gave it to him, maybe on accident, when he tore that rib from his chest.  Like I said, man so selfish he got to feel himself again and he can’t do that without the woman. And he lusts for that missing piece of himself so bad that he’d bone a woman in the usher board room if his body mirrored his thoughts.

Adam nibbled that fruit because he wanted to. Women tell men to do things all the time that they don’t do; like be truthful and don’t outright lie about cheatin’ when our chests are bleeding from the wound the deed left. I’m a woman, I ain’t gotta catch you in the act. I love you so I feel the piece of yourself you gave away. Because I’m selfish, too. I got one part of you, and I want more. I want it all. I don’t just want to be made- I want to be created. I’ma create myself by building on that rib–give me a hand too, and enough of your heart to keep you living, but half because of me. God gave Eve that rib and that’s where man’s selfishness lies. Because the ribs protect the heart. They’re meant to protect your own vitality, not separately, but together. So to take a piece of a man’s chance for prosperity– he can’t stand it. He just gotta get it back.

And we, we women, protect his heart because we know he’s missin’ one bar from his steel safe. And we feel that we need more of him just to be strong enough to protect him. That’s only because we forgot that God spat on us, too. Doesn’t matter whether a rib was our womb, or not. God put His hands on us, too. We can protect ourselves. God gave us an extra rib because the man, on top of being selfish, is arrogant. But we know better. God made us more humble, that’s why we allow men to govern our lives. That might not have been intended though.

We ought to use that extra rib to protect our pulses from him, too. Man can’t see beyond himself, and woman can’t stop loving man more than herself, because she feels guilty about having his rib. That’s what God told me at least. If I walk in a church naked as a jay bird and a man decides to play with himself during devotion then that ain’t got nothing to do with me. That’s just how God made him. So one day I’ll tell that pastor don’t make Eve to be the problem, when God the one who took Adam’s rib.  

And many of us women are bound, like I say, because we want men to want something from us. Be it a way to feel connected to common misconceptions of man-ness, Darwin’s capitalism, or to religious perpetuations. The man don’t know how to do nothing ‘cept use a woman or control one altogether. Ain’t all that well no matter what the intent: be it modesty or lasciviousness. A woman ought to be something for a man– submissive, sexy, virtuous, a momma or a sister or a mistress; in every case the woman’s supposed to bend if she’s going to be considered loving.

But mama said I’m built like a cross because I was thought of in that church. That’s the moment I was quickened, before a self could even call a name. I don’t bend. It just ain’t in my makeup, being angles with no give. This ol’ head being polished from the last push mama mustered before she decided against being a mother also contributes to the fact that I can walk right up to a badgeman all bare up top and he won’t twitch to arrest me. He’d rather pretend his eyes have been boiled in bog water when all he can see before him is places the sun doesn’t tend to. But the badgeman don’t know that I can hear the screams such a torture would elicit, were he not pretending.

Many people scream in the back of their minds rather than out of their mouths so, by the time the words get out, they don’t resemble words at all; they look more like avoiding eye contact, disingenuous smiles, a stiffness in the jaw– and they don’t sound like words either. No, they sound more like gavels striking polished blocks of wood when you, yourself, have been found guilty by a jury that never recognized you as a peer.

The screams people orchestrated about me tend along the lines of me being a ‘shim’, so they all but boil their eyes in bog water to avoid the PC Nazis and courtrooms. To appear tolerant and progressive. But they can never rid themselves of the incessant gnat that draws their attention away from self-righteousness: truth.

The rest of the screams translate to “That’s just a pretty boy that survived some kind of malignance in his life” to “She just sick, that’s all. Them treatments take your hair and your dignity as an adult; as a child it must take your sense, too.” But, to a learned eye (and ear), the screams people try to muffle with etiquette look and sound just like what they are: lies.

I ain’t ever been one to focus on screaming, no matter the disguise. That’s a big part of that freedom I talked about: knowing things not because a man told you, but because you know yourself. They’re so conflicted about me because they don’t know what to do about themselves. I got them casting question marks at their surest laws. I make them ask the Lord to help them be more like Him. Just because I am who I am, they can find comfort in who they are not. That ain’t what the mistranslated screams will gossip, but that’s the sun shining right on you at midday, merely the sun’s reflection at midnight. Laying out bare in the noon daylight is the fatherly kind of sun, because it’s direct.

Excerpt from Copperhead Manuscript

#copperhead, #excerpt, #faith, #gender-norms, #prose, #short-story

A Stranger’s Recollection (Excerpt from “Copperhead”)

We called her Copperhead, mainly because she didn’t have a speck of hair on her head. Everybody says she was born just that way. Although, those same folks say that Copperhead is her given name, so we take what they say with a grain of salt. Looking back, it was almost impossible not to speculate about that girl. Especially when she’d saunter silently by crowds of people as if they were tall blades of grass. Always in her own little world, distant. The quieter she was, the odder she was, and the more we speculated.

You’d hear tales, from familial hoodoo curses to divine retribution. Oh, we’d all have a go at theorizing. Especially because her old mean mama had hair to the small of her back. No natural force we’d ever heard of could shine a woman’s crown into a magic 8-ball from birth. I’m telling you, not one follicle chose to live on her scalp! Quite peculiar if you ask me.

Here I go getting sidetracked. No wonder the youth drift off every now and again when old folk talking to y’all; us old folk drift off first I bet. That’s how we get sidetracked in the first place. Now where was I—Ah. Copperhead, that’s right.

If her head was something to startle the potholes in a pool table, her body was the pool stick; straight up and down. But for some reason, you always knew she was a woman, even from behind. Androgyny loomed over her shoulder with hot breath, but womanhood took hold of her slim frame and adamantly refused to let go. Woo wee, she was skinny! And black. Just like soot. Growing up, some of the unlearned boys used to say to her, “Keep on laying out in that sun. God gonna spit and turn ya into mud.” They wished they’d never parted their lips once Copperhead struck back.

I remember my friend Smoke theorized that she got the name Copperhead due to the venom in her speech. Once you had her gaze on you, you’d swear you were tip-toeing in the woods on a quiet summer night. You’d swear you a slithering rattle sent you into fight or flight. The moment you had her attention, you knew you’d stepped off the path at the wrong time.

One concentrated sentence could bring a professional football team’s ego to the turf, and she’d never miss a step. You would think, with her being so quiet and alone all the time, that she was afraid to speak up. Those unlearned boys discovered that snakes could talk on that day. And they also discovered that no man is going to like what a snake has to say to him.

Truly, no one could say she was mean and convince a jury to confirm the allegation. No, Copperhead tended more towards honeycombs than swarming stings. But the swarms were there to protect the sweetness of their hard labor, and their queen. So, who can really blame them if you poke their hive with a stick? Imagine having worked all week, and come pay day, some fiend steals your wages—anybody would become a swarm worthy of Exodus.

Though, by now, even the strangest passersby are familiar with the local dangers. The commoners find enough kindness to warn strangers about the vipers lurking around town.

Last I heard, Copperhead rarely has to ready her infamous fangs nowadays. The people leave her to do whatever she pleases, still wary of her venom.


-Rahk.

This was originally the first chapter of the novel in the works. How does it read? Is your interest piqued? Your feedback is not only welcomed, but encouraged! Thank you. 

#copperhead, #excerpt, #prose, #short-story, #water

Stained Glass (Excerpt from “Copperhead”)

After a frustrating, yet moving service, Minister Bully returns to her small office to open the note she found in the church hymnal. It was folded, yet slightly exposed as the hymnal rested on the shelf of the pew in front of her.

Bully’s breath catches in her throat at the sight of her daughter’s name.

 

To: Min. Bully

From: Copperhead

Those men you share the pulpit with, they don’t intend to give you that freedom you crave. They don’t mean to give any of us freedom. And you know it. I know you know it.

You are the same woman who, with utmost certainty, declared: “Men, they mean you no harm because they don’t mean to see you as equal. Their own kindness, because that’s what they’d call it, will never let you speak as clear as the dainty glass they think you are.”

You are the mural those kind men try to cover when they recognize their true stature.

Don’t allow their kindness (because that’s what you’d call it) to leave you as melted sand. Let their so-called kindness temper you, mama. On the day stained glass speaks, it will speak with your voice.

#bully, #copperhead, #letter, #water

Excerpt from “Copperhead”

Dear Min. Bully Montgomery,

We come from generations of women, infatuated with misnaming our wounds. Our wounds are not signs of valor, as well you know. Our wounds are survival’s happenstance.

Certainly, you agree that ‘daughter’ has been a recurring wound for the women in our family. Daughter was indeed an unexpected wound for you, Bully. That’s why you named me Copperhead.

 

What would you say to me at odd moments, such as prayers before sleep? Oh, yes. “From the moment you were conceived, I knew because I cried out to God. I asked him why had I been forsaken,” you would say as I nestled in my thin covers. “It was sharp and immediate, your conception. As if a pit viper had struck in the dark. I bled and bled, I hurt and hurt, but didn’t know why.”

And you are afraid, I know, because you still bleed.

(Excerpt from “Copperhead” by R. Person)

 

You are no woman with an issue of blood. You know that, don’t you? You are merely a woman. Undeniably a woman. You still bleed, though your breasts are lower than the sadness in your eyes. When bearing a child should be a distant memory, you still flow like a teenage girl. You have a habit of seeing curses where blessings bloom.

You know, it’s ironic mama. I understand what you meant long ago. Remember, when I was 4 and you said, “Copperhead, even when you smile, the things you say knick the bone.” And mama, do you remember what you asked me back then? You said, eyes averted, “Since you know so much little girl, what is your father’s name?”

The burning sting of your slap still echoes on my cheek. Good thing I am still “as dark as sin,” right?

I never understood, until now, why my cheek burned so. You asked, mama, and I only answered honestly. But, I get it now. It wasn’t my face you slapped, it was my father’s. He always did tell you the truth.

Copperhead

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