CHITLINS IN MID-JULY
My finger slip off the trigger. The butt graze the closet door. Cool metal ride the inside of my leg. It feel good, make my nipples quiver.
I pull the muzzle from my mouf ‘n fan the wasp away. It buzz at me loud ‘n saucy. Then, it ping the light bulb over my head ‘n float out of a moth-eaten robe. Somebody knock on the door downstairs. I squeeze the barrel ‘n wait. Winter’s waiting weather. Everything wait in winter, if it ain’t dead first. All day, folks sit round, teef-clicking, waiting for stuff to happen. The hell if I know what everybody waiting on. All’s I know is waiting’s painful. Plain terrible. Ain’t nothing worse than waiting. My man. Thats something I can’t wait for. He my everything; he make me feel. I’m like a juicy pulp of nerves all tangled up in a closed jar. My man poked a hole in the lid, put his mouf over it ‘n sucked. My man ain’t just any kind of man. When he come along, I say there’s a God. He beautiful. Tall ‘n knock-kneed. Slanted eyes with skin like a Milk Dud. Natural, wavy hair. He got a clef chin under the best looking full lips I ever seen. Sometimes, I just wanna sit or stand or lay in the same position for days ‘n let my mind wander over all the movements his face can make.
My man got vision. He never had fancy schooling but the way he talk fool folks. Problem is, he get laid off a lot. I still can’t understand how he saved up enough scraps to get us in our own house. Not nearly enough money to be raising a growing family so I begged my mama to take my baby ‘til we get settled ‘n nice. Thank God she say yes.
Some heifer tear up my man’s car. She glue diapers on the seats ‘n put milk in the gas tank. She crush up the bottles ‘n put that in the tank, too. Ms. Myrtle, our neighbor next door, say she seen it all ‘n everybody know Ms. Myrtle don’t miss nothing. All she do is watch folks ‘n play in her garden. My man say the wench did it ‘cause she crazy, but let her tell it, he stop coming round to see her. Only reason I know’s ‘cause we shop at the same Goodwill. Oneday, I heard her chattering about what she did with a raisin-colored baby on her hip. He keep smiling at me with the plumpest lips I ever seen. I had to tear my eyes away from the dimple in his chin. There ain’t no money to get the car fixed yet. My man lost the last job he had ‘cause he ain’t had no car to get him there. I tell him to take the bus but he stick his chest out ‘n refuse.
I can watch a set of lips for hours. Thin moufs ‘n so-so moufs ‘n thick moufs. Cracked moufs in the terrible cold. Moufs spilling words ‘n moving in crazy circles while folks chew food. When I look at somebody, I see they mouf first. I travel up they face slowly ‘til I meet they eyes. I stay fixed on the space between they brows before I find my way back to they lips. I ask my man if I’m pretty all the time. He ask me why I ask silly questions. I got plenty of reason: my mouf too big for my face. I don’t open it a lot ‘cause I don’t like how it look. When I look in the mirror, the first thing I see’s my mouf. How it sag. How it sit on my face like the butt of a joke. I look harder ‘n pretend I got somebody else’s mouf. I can fantasize ‘til it swallow me whole. Must be why I love movies. Pictures get my mind going ‘til I can’t make it stop. When nobody round, I picture myself in the life of a good-looking fancy actress. I think about how she act, what she say ‘n how she move. I keep what I think serve a purpose. Sometimes, it’s stupid stuff that hit me deep without me knowing why. I found a broken pen on the street once ‘n I cried. I saw the torn back of a magazine cover so wrinkled, I couldn’t read the words on it ‘n I hung it over the bed ‘til my man make me throw it away. Blue my favorite color. I like any shade. Strange thing’s I never like how I look in it. I get lost in music. Don’t go to juke joints no more since the baby came; my man say it ain’t no place for women like me. So when he go, I put on Little Richard, bop myself round ‘n act like I’m the most wanted woman in town. At church, I let the choir wash over me. I don’t get fire under my feet or clap my hands or shout, but if the sound strike me, I might move my lips. I sleep with my mouf open all the time. When I open my eyes, I get a feeling I just woke from a long coma or death. A squeal come out my mouf before I close it ‘n everything normal again. I like odors. Folks’ smell say a lot about them. My man’s light my soul. It’s a thick spicy one, strongest in his lazy moments like when he in the car listening to music. Or nibbling a biscuit round the porch. Or sprawled on the bed in the morning before we love. It’s somewhere between his groin ‘n belly button ‘n travel up his nose through his mouf.
My daddy got a smell. It’s sweet ‘n soggy. Remind me of moldy strawberries. It lay in his armpits ‘n hands.
My mama, she a different story. A tart, starchy odor like burnt rice. It sit round her neckline.
I smelled kids who go round with something eggish on them ‘n old folks giving off stewed cabbage. The best is smoky, watered-down scents. I’d want it to be my odor, if I had a choice. I got a habit of reaching for my face ‘n touching it a lot when I speak. I wanna know what I look like to others when my face in motion. I can’t stand my voice so I rush my words. My man spoil me. He never want me to work. He say long’s we together, I ain’t gotta worry about stepping outside the house for nobody’s pennies. He say the only thing that should bring me to the door is opening it for him when he get home. I never understood that; he ring the bell even though he got a key ‘n when I open the door, the key always in his hand. I don’t pay it no mind. It don’t do me no good to fuss like the angry heifers at church ‘n round our old neighborhood. My man hate that. He call them a bunch of Ritas. Rita the wife of my man’s cousin, Beans. We stayed with them awhile before we got our own place across town. Rita look like a walking pecan ‘n she ain’t really what I call a friend; we just happen to know each other through our ol’ men. She been a hairdresser longer than anybody been breathing ‘n she always say she gonna open her own shop. She touch up my hair for free ‘n do a good job, but I get tired of hearing her mouf sometimes. Between keeping house ‘n tending to Beans, she busy nose-blowing ‘n shit-wiping her kids. Beans doing fine at the factory, so what she need a shop for? My man tell Beans not to let Rita get no shop of her own. He never liked her. He say all them reefers she smoke make her nutty. He say she think she a man ‘n Beans ain’t got no control in his own house. I never say nothing, but I think Beans like Rita the way she is. Hell, he put up with her this long. Frances my only friend. She used to be my ol’ man’s other woman but she ain’t no more. She tangy ‘n speak French when she bothered. The way she cluck her tongue sometimes make me sick. I used to think Frances was uppity but she ain’t. Women hate her ‘cause she get all they men. Men hate her ‘cause she take all they jobs. She been a sales clerk, elevator operator, soft drink worker ‘n some of everything else. She always make good money, but she say nothing fulfill her enough to stick round. I say to myself, who give a damn about being fulfilled? Folks tryna live. I taught myself how to keep my mouf still when I laugh. Unless something really tickle. Then, I open it a little. Frances call me Doodle. She the only one know I like to draw. She say I’m good at it, but I think she lying. I put it down after I had my baby ‘n she say I’m a fool to let that go. But let her pop outta kid, clean house, fetch groceries, cook ‘n see about a man everyday. My man think drawing’s a waste of time. He say I do enough daydreaming in my head; ain’t no need of putting it down on paper, too. He say Frances come from well-to-do folks on the East Side. He say he don’t see why she chose to come round here ‘n get mixed up in trying to make a way for herself when she already had one made. He say she can afford to throw her life away on petty things but we can’t. So I put away the drawing. Maybe he right. It don’t make us better folks, don’t bring my baby back sooner ‘n don’t make us no money. Summer my favorite season. I like being sticky. Something nasty good about it make me wanna jiggle ‘n hug myself all over. Winter’s thinking weather, but summer just make you wanna feel. Folks too hot to think. Frances say I ain’t got no identity. I say she full of shit. Hell, I think everybody got identity. But Frances tell me I’m wrong. She tell me I need self-freedom. I don’t remember saying nothing else about it but later, I think to myself, nobody really all the way free. Frances kill me sometimes. She get testy. She like to push too much. My man say she a lot of work. He say she selfish; all this talk about freeness. He say she almost sound like another Rita ‘n he hate Rita all the way down to her pinky toe. He say only difference between them’s that Rita already made a fool outta Beans ‘n Frances ain’t found one crazy enough to put up with her foolishness. He say she wasting her beauty trying to learn how to be a man instead of learning how to keep one. Identity. I never been too crazy about the word. Sound gritty, like it hurt. My man love chitlins. Most folks, if they eat them at all, only have them once or twice round the winter holidays. But my man can eat them year-round if he feel like it. I don’t like chitlins one bit. They stink. I never had them ‘cause I can’t get something smell that bad past my nose. That never stop me from cooking them for my man, though. It take a lotta work to cook chitlins. You gotta pick them, wash them ‘n re-wash them before you get them on the stove. But waiting on them to tender is the real hell ‘n if it’s hot outside, you can forget about it. It get so hot one day, we sit outside from mid-morning to sunset. The piece of roof sagging over a corner on the porch bless us with shade. All day long, we listen to Little Richard, blow on ice cubes, ‘n swat at wasps coming out the ground while we chat with neighbors crawling up our steps. My man tell me he want chitlins in all that heat. No fried chicken or collard greens. Just chitlins. I stare at him like he lost his damn mind. He look me in the eye, lick the sweat off his top lip ‘n I know ain’t nothing I can say to get his mind off the crave. He go to the store ‘n grab me what I need after the sun go down. Next day, I’m up at six in the morning. I take the chitlins out the icebox ‘n thaw them. Then I clean them ‘n cut them into little pieces. Half past seven, I place them in a large pot ‘n cover them with water ‘n vinegar. I season them ‘n go to add potatoes to help ward off the stink when I realize my man forgot them. I put the chitlins on the stove ‘til they boil, turn down the heat ‘n let them simmer. I drain the chitlins round noon, place them in a big bowl ‘n take them out on the porch. I watch my man eat. He don’t ever chew decent. His mouf don’t close all the way ‘n I watch the juices whoosh over his teef. Then, I just get tired. I get so tired. Feel like somebody pop me with a pin ‘n let me go all over the place. When he done, he get up, lean over ‘n kiss me hard. His hand slide down the back of my dress ‘n the heels of his feet come off the ground. He flick his tongue in my ear while the middle of him grow. It’s mushy between my legs but it’s too damn hot to do anything about it so he sit back down ‘n read the paper.
I kick at a dying wasp on the porch. My man ask me why my hands balled up like that. I gotta pee so I don’t say nothing, just go inside ‘n use the toilet.
Nighttime sweat more than we do. Even the fireflies ‘n crickets say the hell with it; I don’t see or hear a peep from them. Just a whole lotta silence ‘n hot. Feel like I’m up in somebody’s closed mouf, waiting for them to speak again so I can get the hell outta there. We can’t get that chitlin smell out the house. The heat make it worse. We take off all the sheets on the mattress ‘n I lay facing the open window. I try to breathe out my mouf instead of my nose but it don’t help. The chitlin funk wake me back up. I go sit outside ‘n watch the sky while my man plug wasp tunnels with ammonia. Weeks pass. We get tired of looking at each other. I dunno when the chitlin smell leave but it did. Only thing that stay the same’s my man still ain’t got no job. It mess with his mood. Some days, he all lovey ‘n I can’t get him off me or make him shut up. Other times, he mopey-acting ‘n he sleep a lot ‘n make me send folks away when they come see about us. He mean to me. Call me stupid ‘n make fun of my mouf. Pinch at my thighs ‘n say they run like bad jelly. I can never move fast enough for him. Breakfast late. Lunch late. Dinner late. My cleaning the house late. Laundry late. I’m late opening the door for folks. Just late, late, late. I cry a lot ‘n send for my baby. The plan to get settled backfired but I’m lonely ‘n my man don’t make it right. My mama tell me my daddy sick again ‘n they ain’t got no way to get over here. I tell her my man’s car ain’t fixed yet ‘n we ain’t got no money for the bus or streetcar. Then, she tell me I shouldna moved my ass to the other side of town. I get ready to act a plum fool ‘n hear my baby in the background. It hurt so I hang up. Don’t nobody wanna be handed a list of things that’s wrong with them. That’s all my man get. When he ain’t got no job, he being told he ain’t good enough to find one. When he got one, he being told he ain’t got what it take to keep it. I try to tell him he my king. I try to show him he worth more to me than a paycheck. But when I love on him, seem like he just hand me the list they give him with his name crossed out ‘n mine take its place. A job offer come for my man oneday. Just like that, outta the blue. We think it’s the milkman come for the money we owe him. Or Mr. Jennie who put our groceries on credit for us. Or Mrs. Elmer, the landlord. Thank God it cool down so we don’t have to sit on the porch for folks to bother us. Somebody knock on the door again. My man gimme that look. I dunno what the hell for ‘cause I ain’t trying to answer it. Our phone got cut off. We rack up everything from coal to soap on credit at the store ‘n we almost 3 months behind in rent. Shit, I’m just as scared as he is. We hear tapping on the window. My man growl ‘n sit up like he gonna grab the shotgun upstairs. Then, I see a funny shaped head with big ol’ nose ‘n Beans show his custard grin. My man hooping ‘n hollering. He almost fall over me, trying to open the door. Beans so beefy, he gotta walk in sideways. He hand over a gift he say Rita want me to have. Look like groceries. I take the bag in the kitchen ‘n rake through potatoes, flour, baking soda, ‘n toilet paper. I hear a bunch of whispering, some whistling ‘n hands clapping. Beans wink at me soon’s I bring him iced water ‘n my man smiling like he gonna piss hisself. I ask about Rita ‘n Beans say she mad about losing another customer who can’t afford to pay her. I tsk-tsk at that, but he say it ain’t a problem since he been working extra hours at the factory. Then, he say he put in a good word for my man ‘n he might have a job if he come by in the morning. Beans offer to give him a lift if my man promise to pay him gas money out his checks ‘til the car get fixed.
On the way back to the kitchen, I smile to myself ‘n think about who need to be paid first. We’ll be up a shitty creek if Mrs. Elmer don’t get her rent money. Next, it’s Mr. Jennie. Then, the phone company ‘n the milkman.
We go to bed early that night so my man can rest up for the next day. I think maybe we can celebrate before he go to sleep. I throw my leg over his thigh ‘n push my chest in his back so he know I’m in the mood. He say not now ‘n go to snoring. I dream my baby born with no mouf. She pretty as a doll. Fine hair, milky brown skin, big ol’ soft eyes, but no mouf. She wanna say something but everything come out as Mmph. She fidget ‘n wave her lil’ fists. She wet herself. She try again. Mmph. My man come out for breakfast with his clothes hanging off him. I go to fix his collar ‘n he push me away. He say he ain’t got no appetite.
Beans honk his horn outside. My man kiss me on the side of my head ‘n hold up his key before he head out. He know I can’t stand nobody slamming the front door like that. I go to holler at him out the window but I can’t keep the smile out my voice.
I decide to do something nice for my man while he gone. I take three dollars out our mattress ‘n walk down to Mr. Jennie’s. On the way there, I think about us paying off our debts ‘n getting my baby back so I can buy her dolls ‘n pink dresses.
Mr. Jennie a stale popcorn of a man. He cut his eyes at me soon’s I make it in the door. I hold up the three dollars ‘n he ask me where the rest of it. I say my man just got a gig ‘n we can pay him back every cent soon’s he get his first check.
Mr. Jennie suck his teef but he allow me to get what I want. I pick out powdered milk, black eyed peas, macaroni ‘n cheese ‘n 5 lbs of chitlins. Mr. Jennie ring me up ‘n I give him the money. He look at me ‘n the chitlins and then back at me. He say it’s s’posed to get real hot again today. I ignore him ‘n take my groceries. On the way back, I stop twice to rearrange my bags. The chitlins soak through the bottom of the paper. I smell the grease I put on my scalp the night before. It ain’t even noon yet ‘n the sun about to kiss me dead. I get to the house ‘n think about freezing the chitlins for another time. Then I see the grin on my man’s face when he return. I feel him mash hisself into me. My forehead fit inside the dimple in his chin while he mumble silly talk in my hair. It tickle so I lean in ‘n kiss his Adam’s Apple, feel it vibrate on my lips ‘n smell the thick-spicy in his skin. I try to remember how long it take that chitlin funk to leave the house last time. I say to myself, it couldna took that long. I put on “Keep A-Knockin” ‘n get to work. After I set the chitlins on the stove to cook, I start on the peas ‘n macaroni. The music got me singing ‘n swaying ‘n flinging my hips. I can’t sing worth a lick but it’s just me ‘n God in the house ‘n I don’t think He mind too much. By five o’clock, everything ready ‘n my whole body dripping. I cover the pots on the stove, take a bath, pin up my hair, do up my face ‘n put on a sleeveless yellow dress. I feel mighty giddy. The muscles in my chest tight ‘n blood rush to my face like ‘boomp-boomp-boomp’. I set the table ‘n sip gin to calm my nerves. Lord, the house stink. I cuss myself for not adding Rita’s potatoes to the chitlins ‘n prop open the back door for fresh air. Nothing come through but heat. I fiddle with the kitchen blinds ‘n wonder how somebody put something smell so bad in they mouf. It turn seven. My man ain’t back yet. I think they let him pick up extra hours. The gin make me feel fuzzy so I put it away ‘n go sit outside on the porch. Ms. Myrtle come by to keep me company. She tell me about how she caught her grandson humping some hussie in the back alley. I heard the story a hundred times, but I grin ‘n hope she don’t notice how my belly growl. Ten o’clock roll round. Ms. Myrtle gone. I nod off ‘n wake up slapping mosquitoes. I go inside to rub alcohol on my arms ‘n legs. My man like most men. He love to run his mouf. He can’t never come straight home ‘cause he like to stop ‘n talk. I figure he ‘n Beans out yapping they gums about his new job. I put the peas ‘n macaroni in the icebox so they don’t spoil. Then, I get down to the chitlins ‘n decide to stir them first. The smell almost knock me down when I take off the lid. I peek inside the pot ‘n think how do my man eat this shit? All my life, I seen folks scoop them up between they thumb ‘n a fork or with a piece of bread ‘n suck them down without blinking. ‘Til then, I never thought twice about what they taste like. My mouf all juicy. I say the hell with it ‘n grab me a fork. Then, I sprinkle some pepper on what I scoop up, hold my nose ‘n bite. I gag before I can chew ‘n spit the chitlins in my hand. My eyes watering ‘n my throat raw from coughing. Before I catch my breath, I take in the smell again. It feel like I’m gonna throw something up from the pit of my belly but the only thing come out’s air ‘n spit. I wipe my hand with a towel near the stove ‘n wash my mouf out with water from the faucet. I don’t remember falling asleep. All I know’s the next time I look round, the sun peeking out ‘n I’m slumped over the kitchen table with a fork in my hand. My head hurt. Some cat crying outside between my house n’ Ms. Myrtle’s. I mix powdered milk with water ‘n throw it out the window to shut it up. A nasty taste sit in my mouf. I brush my teef ‘n go sit by the window in the front room. Ms. Myrtle outside planting mums in her garden. She wave to me ‘n I wave back. Then she open her mouf like she gonna say something so I look off somewhere else. I don’t wanna be bothered; too much going on in my mind. . He out with that heifer. I know it. I can feel it. Last time, I was pregnant when he stayed away for a week. When he get home, he got new shoes ‘n scratches on hisself. Smell like cheap wine that give me diarrhea most of the night. We fought ‘til I almost lost a tooth. The day go by slow. I watch folks out the front window. Pace round. Eat something. Wash, dry, fold clothes ‘n listen to Little Richard. Then I watch folks, pace round ‘n eat again. Chitlins still on the stove ‘n I don’t go near them. I take me a few gulps of gin before bed to keep my mind from wandering. I fall asleep ‘n next thing I know, I’m back up in the middle of the night ‘cause I’m hungry. I wolf down more peas ‘n macaroni, take me another swig ‘n go lay back down. I don’t get back up ‘til late the next day. My mind wander ‘n I think maybe something bad happen to my man. Ain’t got no phone to call nobody ‘n don’t wanna tell Ms. Myrtle ‘cause she talk too much. I eat more peas ‘n macaroni, find the Bible, open it ‘n close it. Turn on Little Richard before I scrub down the bathroom. Somebody knock on the door in the evening. I hear Mrs. Elmer ‘n my belly flip-flop. She hollering ‘n acting silly, saying she been by too many times ‘n she know we in the house ‘cause she hear music. I tip-toe to the kitchen, lock the back door ‘n wait for her to go away. Flies hover round the pot of chitlins. Ain’t but a spoonful of peas ‘n macaroni left in the icebox. I take it upstairs with me ‘n gulp it down with the last couple drops of gin. Then I get a broom ‘n sweep. I don’t put on no records; I just listen to the floor groan. The sunrise cast a puny glow through the bedroom window. There ain’t nothing left to sweep ‘n my arms feel like they ready to drop off my body. I scoop up the piles of waste with my ol’ notepad ‘n go to dump it in the trash but I find myself at the mirror hanging over the bedroom closet. I don’t see nothing but my mouf. The knocks get harder. My heart go weak. I loosen my grip on the gun ‘n set it down. The wasp float out of a shoe soon’s I creak open the closet.
I creep downstairs ‘n hear French talk. It’s Frances! She look me over ‘n cluck her tongue soon’s I open the door. Like always, she all made up ‘n hanging out a tight dress. Her skin favor fresh cut cantaloupe in the sun.
Frances walk past me ‘n go use the toilet. I hurry ‘n lock the closet while she tell me she been trying to call but couldn’t get through. She say it’s hotter than a cathouse on the East Side ‘n ask me why I let the place smell like shit. I don’t even notice the smell no more. I ask her if she want something to eat ‘n hope she say no. She come out the bathroom ‘n tell me she already ate. I know she lying ‘cause she don’t never eat this early. Say it mess with her weight.
Frances strut to the kitchen anyway since that’s where we do our talking. She tell me about where she been last night while she walk round in a circle like she looking for something. She scrunch up her nose ‘n go to the pot on the stove.
I stand in the doorway, watch her wave flies away ‘n take off the lid. She ask me what the hell I go ‘n cook some chitlins for in the middle of July. She put the top back on the pot ‘n point to the towel next to it, the one with the chewed up chitlin. Then she look at me ‘n laugh in that deep manly way of hers. I can’t stop my lip from trembling. My face break. Frances cluck her tongue ‘n light a cigarette. We pour the pot of chitlins in the dumpster near the back alley. Then, Frances talk me into getting out the house. She say ain’t no way in hell I’m going nowhere with her looking like I do so she make me take a bath ‘n put on something fresh. I put on the closest thing I can find to something sexy like what she got on. It got a slit come up the side ‘n I only wore it once a couple years before I had my baby.
Frances tell me to take it off. She snap her finger ‘n say it’s too tight. I look at her big titties busting out the seams ‘n she say at least she can walk in her gown, that I look like I’m gonna fall on my face.
I take it off ‘n throw on a black body slip. It’s looser but it keep scrunching up in the front when I move. Frances laugh ‘n ask me what I put on when I go out any other time. I say my blue dress but it ain’t got no shape ‘n it ain’t all silky. She say it must feel good to me if I still keep it round. Then she pull it off the back of my bedroom door ‘n throw it at me like she Miss Somebody. We walk to Mr. Jennie’s. On the way there, Frances half kill me with her cigarettes n’ stories about her new ol’ man. I fake like I’m listening, but all I hear’s his name Henry ‘n he don’t like to work. Frances tell me she slaving at some new gig ‘n she ain’t used to taking care of no man. I just look at her ‘cause me ‘n her both know she lying. Far as I know, she took care of every man she had. She tell me about it all the time; same story, different man. Mr. Jennie cuss at me soon’s we get in the door. Before I can open my mouf, Frances yell at him in French while she pull bills out her bosom to throw at him. Mr. Jennie get fire in his eyes but it die down when he pick up the money. Frances tell me to get whatever I want. She even get me a new notepad. We giggle up ‘n down the aisles, waving stuff round ‘n making up dances. Some men whistle at Frances ‘n lick they lips at her booty while they women roll they necks. But most folks just stare at us like they watching a mule speak in tongues. Mrs. Elmer standing on my porch when we get back. Her skin look like boiled bologna in the heat. I stop in my tracks but Frances keep walking up the front steps. Then, Mrs. Elmer’s face get soft. She hold her hand out to Frances but Frances go right round her. I try to follow ‘n fumble for my key ‘n Mrs. Elmer cut me off. She tell me she stopped by to give a friendly reminder that we past due. She say she didn’t know I was a maid now. Frances say she didn’t know I was one neither ‘n take my bags so I can get my key. Soon’s we make it in the house, Frances laugh her head off ‘n cluck her tongue at the way Mrs. Elmer turn five shades of red. I don’t think it’s funny ‘cause I dunno how long she plan on letting us stay, knowing we ain’t got a dime to pay her. Frances tell me don’t worry about it ‘n before I can argue, she off to the kitchen. Frances know she can cook. I never tell her, but I think she cook better than me. She make us oxtail soup with big chunks of potatoes ‘n some cornbread on the side. Then, she take some gin out her purse, pile food on the table ‘n we munch in silence. I never seen Frances eat before. I watch her out the corner of my eye; she chew real slow ‘n dainty, just like I expect her to. Then she stop n’ cluck her tongue. My appetite fade. I tell Frances my ol’ man ain’t been home in days. All she do is ask me why I don’t draw no more. She say for all the mess she hear me talk about Rita, that heifer seem like she doing a whole lot better than the both of us; she ain’t got a whole lotta money, but she got Beans, the kids ‘n even if she didn’t have them, she always got what she love to do. I don’t answer her. Frances roll her eyes ‘n tell me she quitting her job again. She say she wanna cook for a living, maybe in a hotel or restaurant. I shake my head ‘n before I can say what I’m thinking, she roll her neck ‘n tell me she ain’t gonna work as nobody’s damn maid. Frances tell me to take up drawing again. I say, for who? She say, for me. I say I ain’t no good at it. She tell me to get good at it. I bang my spoon down ‘n tell her to go to hell. Frances shrug, take her front teef out ‘n set them on the table. Then she slurp down the rest of her soup right from the bowl. She sit back in her chair ‘n I look at the way her mouf cave in. She yawn ‘n her pink gums, all naked ‘n waxy, make me think of my baby girl. Her eyes latch on to mine ‘n she bust out laughing. I dunno why but I laugh with her. Frances snore in her sleep. Not some loud monkey snore like my man’s. It’s a pretty one, all light ‘n fluffy. I fall asleep myself ‘n when I wake back up, my mouth wide open ‘n she gone. I look out the front window ‘n turn on my porch light. Something about the ‘click’ sound it make when it come on make me feel different. The different I feel get so thick, I don’t wanna breathe. I finish the soup I left on the kitchen table. My face burn ‘n my hands shake. Something brush my elbow. I look through my tears at the notepad. Couple more days go by. All I eat is oxtail soup. I sit in the front window ‘n draw in my notepad ‘cause it get too cool to do it outside. Cool as I remember it ever getting in July. So cool, it almost get rid of the chitlin smell. Ms. Myrtle run outside to water her mums. Before she trot back in the house, she look at me ‘n rub herself all dramatic like a lush onion. I laugh ‘n nod at her. .I go back to my doodling. Dunno how long it’s gonna take to get any of the mess I draw right. All I know’s what I know: I’m so full, I like to bust wide open. From the window, I see him hop out an unknown car before it can pull up to the curb. He walk round a nest he missed ‘n take the steps two at a time. A folded newspaper stashed under his arm ‘n new shoes dangle from one of his hands. The other hand deep in his pocket. I hold my belly to keep it from flying away. Wait for him to reach the door, knock on it ‘n rattle the knob. I doodle some more ‘n open my mouf. “You got the key!”
Lyndsey Ellis received an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts in 2007, with works appearing in an online anthology, Know the Names of Things, and Synchronized Chaos literary webzine. She is currently a contributing writer for AND Magazine, Examiner.com and the Western Edition in San Francisco, CA.