This is an unedited excerpt from a work in progress.
Down by the jook joint is where the sweatin’ and grindin’ began. But it by no means ended there. It was a Sunday evening, just after church and before the end of the Sabbath for some. I was always there, bumpin’ and grindin’ with the best of ‘em. The cat calls that floated just above the smoke gave me a real high. It was like listening to a symphony. They were singin’ my song. They always did. Most’a the men were sweet on me. But they was afraid’a my daddy. He was the town pastor. My mama was the first lady and respected by everyone in our little town. Sonny would say, “Sissy, what you doin’ down here? Yo’ daddy gon’ whip you good if he find out.”
“I’ll whip you good if you tell ‘im,” I holler’d back. I grinned on the inside, so he wouldn’t see. But sometimes he could see right through me.
Sonny was something. He was always in my business. But he was my best friend; always tryin’ to look out for me. Couldn’t nobody do me nothin’ with Sonny around. Some ‘a the men, no matter how stinkin’ drunk they were, when they saw Sonny, they sobered up quick if they were near me. He’d bloodied enough noses and broken enough ribs for them to know not to touch me, Ms. Sissy Crawford, pastor’s daughter and the best dancer in town.
I wasn’t always as sassy as some say. But I was always alive and filled with fire. Mama said when I was born, it was like Christmas in heaven, minus the snow. I came out dancing…stompin’ on her back she’d say. It wasn’t so much the pain as the constant kickin’. I kicked as though there was a song playin’ in her womb. And when I popped out, I was smilin’. She said I smiled like there was nothin’ but joy in the world. Like love danced with me on the other side where I came from.
“Lord! That girl was somethin’ else, wasn’t she, Joseph?”
“Yes she was. She sure was full a somethin’ hot. Like coals were under her feet.”
Those in listening distance would laugh.
By the time I was twelve I started to laugh. Didn’t get it before then. Seemed like a bunch of grown folks actin’ silly and laughin’ at stuff that made no sense. It all started to make sense after a while. Plenty of grown folk stuff started to make sense. Curiosity about why mom and pop kissin’ and chucklin’ all the time soon disappeared. After Larry touched me between my legs, I understood. His hands were big, and they were hot. Felt like he held ‘em over a fire and then real fast like, put ‘em on me. He put it on me for sure. Larry was my first, but by no means my last. He usher’d me into womanhood on a starry night. He moved slow, drinking in every moment of our unity. I thought of how daddy loved mama. I wondered if he drank her in the way Larry did with me.
Larry was gone after a few weeks of bumpin ‘ and grindin’. Said he had to serve his country. Said wasn’t nothin’ gonna stop him from going to ‘Nam. I loved him for his bravery. But hated him for his stupidity. That war was not one he shoulda been fightin’ in. Black men was always fightin’ for folks who didn’t care about them. Larry wanted to fight. He needed to fight. He said he’d be back for me though. Said he’d marry me and give me a bunch ‘a babies. Wasn’t no babies gonna be had with Larry though. He stopped writin’ after a while. No good-bye, nothin’. Just silence. Weeks turned into months. Months turned into tears that flowed like a waterfall during the rainy season. Larry faded away like a billow of smoke faded as it rose into the sky.
I moved on. Decided that if I started seeing a bunch ‘a men, it would help take my mind off Larry. The men didn’t mind. They were more than happy to soothe my achin’ heart with their achin’ rod. And did they soothe? Yes, they did. For the moment at least. They took me away from my borin’ little town. They couldn’t erase memories of Larry though. I saw him in each one of they faces. His brown skin was like the trunk of a tall strong tree, a deep dark color filled with life. His soul was green like the leaves of those grand trees. Green an’ lush and filled with a vibrancy that creates new life an’ possibilities. No, they couldn’t erase him. But they filled in the spaces at times. They were the pockets o’ air inside a sinkin’ ship. I knew the time would come when the air would run out and I would drown, but I didn’t care. I had to feel good. I needed to feel good.
© zaji, 2014