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

Story Time: “Bound to Freedom (2014)”

“Sit here.” Hayden, at 29, did as he was told. His mentor, Noden, looked to the horizon, waiting patiently. Hayden waited, watching. His mentor never misses a sunrise. Noden wore middle-age as if it were youth, somehow hitting the senses as both old and young. He’s exactly as his brother, Ayir, described over twenty years ago before the earth took him. Hayden met Noden’s gaze as he joined him on the warming grass, the dew having departed as the sun ascended. The mentee wondered if his mentor was intentionally teaching him patience, or if he was just that fascinated with the sunrise. 

“Look around, Hayden. What do you see?” asked Noden, his voice resembling his appearance—ambiguously adultlike and childlike, at the same time. 

Again, Hayden followed instructions. He and Noden were on a small hill in a land man forgot, but woman remembered fondly. The gentle rumblings of the ocean, somewhere in the distance, causing a steady pulse in the air. The sky was the blue of clean unpolluted skies, inviting envy in robins’ eggs. Clouds stretched, like visible whispers, across the expanse. Hayden saw beauty. He felt nature; it’s resilience, it’s strength, and it’s fragility. He mentioned this to his mentor.

“Very good. Now…what do you feel?”

Hayden hated questions like that. They always seemed like a trick of some sort to him. He closed his eyes so he could actually feel instead of see. First he felt himself, his presence. An insect buzzed past him and he felt the disturbance of air. Hayden felt his mentor watching him intently and expectantly. The warmth of the sun beamed on his bare back. It was comforting. It’s the comfort the sun offers in the height of the Spring, before it becomes a violent ball of heat exhaustion. 

“I feel..I feel…small.” Hayden opened his eyes to see Noden’s nod of approval.

“Very good.” Said Noden as he reclined on his back which was also bare. The muscles in his stomach stretching as well. It was evident that Noden stayed in shape. He wasn’t what one would call ripped but he was toned, lean. Hayden was as well. It was a requirement for those who received training such as this. 

“Hayden, do you know why the angels can fly?” Again, Hayden thought this was another trick question but he answered anyway. “Ummm…because they have wings?” He tried to harness the sarcasm in his voice, but doubted that he succeeded. Noden could sense a flea a mile away if he desired to do so.

“Hmm. That’s the obvious answer. But it’s the false one as well. Angels can fly because they are free of earth. They are not bound to the laws that bind humanity.”

“What laws, sir?” Hayden was intrigued.

“Laws such as gravity, for one. But there are other laws; theories and revelations treated as truth by those in power and accepted by those without. Mythologies, religions, scientific studies, and philosophies perpetuate these laws, these ordinances, these pseudo-truths. Parents plant them in their offspring, encouraging their seed to avoid opening Pandora’s Box. All with good reason, mind you.” Noden turned toward Hayden, the sun seemed to reflect in his eyes. “But to simplify it for you, humans are bound to each other. Incarcerated by principals, expectations, doubts, worries, fears, thoughts, needs…and other countless burdens. But angels, angels are free from such concerns.”

Noden was sitting back down by the time he finished his little dissertation. Noden’s grey-green eyes blazing in the sunlight in his brown face; his peppered hair trimmed neatly by the barbers in the court. His legs were arranged in a manner many refer to as “Indian” style, though monks sit in the same manner, as well as other nations and cultures.  

              Hayden noted a ladybug on the sole of his mentor’s barefoot. He was barefoot as well. The only thing that covered them both was the ceremonial garb of those who sought to escape. The garb was merely a pair of pants the same color as the sky when it’s at it’s purest. They were sewn from a silken material yet they never stained or tore, though they were loose-fitting. Hayden mused they were inspired by angel wings. 

“So, their wings have nothing to do with it?” Hayden inquired, doubtfully.

“Well, who said that angels truly have wings?” Noden’s tone was teasing. “But, I wouldn’t say that the wings have nothing to do with it. I’m sure they assist in the aerodynamics. But, Hayden, what I want you to understand is their freedom. They are truly free. Angels are bound to freedom. And in order to master angelflight you must be as well.”

“But how? How do I become bound to freedom? I’m no angel. And I do have human concerns. Gravity has dominion over my feet.” Hayden sounded a bit panicked but it’s only because flight was his only desire. 

“Angels aren’t held down by human concerns, but they do feel.” There was a pause and Hayden knew Noden was waiting on him, so he took his cue.

“What do they feel?”

“Joy. Immeasurable joy! They were gifted with the innate ability to swim in the sky. To see more of God’s creation than the greatest fowl. Humans can tap into this joy as well, but it’s not not organic. It’s not of our own natural volition. Like laughing. My, when you laugh in love it’s…soaring through the free sky on your own wings. 

“But gravity affects every bird, insect, or flying fish.  What makes angels truly free?” The urgency in Hayden’s voice caused Noden to smile in remembrance. He was just as earnest when he came into the knowledge owed to every seed of God, no matter the fruit. 

 “Yes, yes it does. Birds, insects, flying fish, they are all of this earth, this realm that is ours. But angels were not a part of human creation. Not according to the creation stories of major religions. Angels were the seeds of another creation. A genesis before, or existing along with, that of the inhabitants of earth.” Noden closed his eyes, his words spoken in the key of butterfly wings. Hayden was quiet enough in his spirit to hear the sound. It was a meditation practice unique to their village. They’d become masters in their pursuit of angelflight. Noden defied gravity long enough to discover, what he christened, Third Twilight. He was among the elite wingless flyers celebrated in all the nations. And he was humble enough to train others, so that we might fly even higher together. As was his Calling, his students were not only taught how to fly, but also how to teach others. Bound to his thoughts, Hayden hadn’t realized that Noden paused, aware of his student’s inclination to wonder. 

“That’s due to gravity. And in addition to scientific proclamations, gravity is the tendency to give more weight to struggles than personal triumphs. Gravity is holding on when it’d be less taxing to release.” Noden stood, though float might be more appropriate, facing away from his student. “Gravity, dear Hayden, is a soul’s distraction. All this to say, to defy gravity we have to master the art of letting go so that we can hold on to joy, to freedom. And it’s that joy that gives you the peace that enables you to partake in the ultimate freedom, which manifests as flight.” With this said, Noden stood. He stood and there was an invisible force that surrounded him. Hayden couldn’t see it but he could sense it with that part of the human brain that is more than physical. In a breath, Noden was no longer standing atop the hill with Hayden. He was in the sky.

#faith, #fathers, #flight, #flying, #hope, #love, #prose, #short-story, #stories, #storytime

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

#black-stories, #copperhead, #fiction, #literature, #prose, #short-story, #stories