ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The girls at the juke box had all straightened up and stood . . . poised like colorful birds on a wire.
Always on Sunday
Short story by Brenda C. Wilson
Long before the cars arrived, a cloud of brown dust would rise in the distance from the dry gravel road to announce the ball players. Later cars with whole families, teenagers, and people from the church down the road would park along the edges of the field, straddling the narrow road. Latecomers would block the driveway of the store and have to be asked to move their cars in order to provide turn around space. But that was Walter’s job.
The ball field was a pasture cleared years ago for Sunday games. A few cows lazed in the adjoining pasture, chewing at the straggly grass dried out by the June heat. Mrs. Poole looked out the screen door up into the open sky. Across the road, old Mr. John had already taken a seat on the porch and propped his feet up on the rail. He’d been quite a ball player in his day she’d heard.
“Looks like rain,” she said to herself. She checked the metal floor cooler’s ice and shifted the orange and grape sodas around in the bottom. Already the room was hot, although the fans turned in the overhead windows on both sides of the door. The backdoor slammed twice. Walter was bringing in supplies from the car. It was time to check the beer in the coolers behind the counter and start the fish frying. She plugged in the only sign in the store, the red and blue beer sign on the back counter wall, flipped on the overhead lights and headed for the kitchen.
“Damn Walter,” she swore under her breath. “Already let in every damn fly in Mississippi before I get one customer.” The sound of the slamming door set the flies off again in a steady swarm across the kitchen. Through the door, she saw Walter unloading the last of the beer with his round body moving slowly in the heat. Looks like next summer we’re going to need to hire some help, she thought.
Folks who didn’t even like baseball came to Pooles’ to buy fish, fresh fried whiting, caught in the Luxapalila River. She battered it in cornmeal, the yellow kind with just a little flour and deep fried it in plain old shortening. There was no secret to her cooking except for the little Cajun seasoning she added. She’d learned that years ago down in New Orleans. All kind of folks doing anything. She closed her eyes and could almost smell the crawfish cooking, the jazz playing in the street and feel the steamy, sticky heat on the waterfront.
“Oh, to be young agin’ in New Orleans,” she said as she opened her eyes.
“What ‘cha say there dear?” asked Walter as he brought in a tray full of bread.
“I said not to let in every fly you meet.”
From the store front, the juke box clicked and music penetrated the quiet. Without seeing it she knew that the electric blue, fiery orange and explosive purple lines would be running furiously around the edges of that box, racing against the limited time while the record played. Walter had talked her into installing that box and adding a dance floor. It didn’t seem that people spent anymore money than before on food and drinks because of that box. Now, they just played the same songs over and over again until she unplugged it and gave them back their money.
Slowly, they would drift in, the stream of brightly dressed teenage girls who had no interest in the game outside, the boozers who would sit mournfully in the dark corners watching their beers and then the kids sent by a Mama or Daddy to get a cool drink. Sometimes a few of the customers danced to the loud music she no longer understood, empty words being yelled and screamed out to the listeners. The words no longer were sweet and sentimental like she had once loved.
She watched the teenagers closely, careful not to sell them beer. Walter needed to be constantly reminded about checking their age. They didn’t actually have a liquor license. The business was just a little sideline for their retirement. And maybe they could even set aside a little money for Alice. Alice was their only child. It seemed a blessing now, based on how she acted, Mrs. Poole had said more than once to her husband. Mostly children didn’t turn out right anymore she thought, looking at the group of girls that had just entered.
The girls stood with their backs to Mrs. Poole and stared into the juke box window at the list of selections. They giggled and laughed. Mrs. Poole shook her head at the kind of dresses they worebacks out, sleeveless and to beat everything else they were above the knee, way above the knee. The tallest girl pushed some coins into the money slot. Five coins thumped against the hollow metal containersix selections. What in the world had she been thinking, letting Walter talk her into that loud thing. The same girl who pushed the money in the machine, walked over to the counter. She walked with grown-up assurance, head held high with a superior air. She looked down on Mrs. Poole’s thin, bony frame.
“Two beers,” she said with her eyes narrowed in her honeymelon colored face. Her hair was pulled all back and showed a long forehead. She had on false eyelashes like the ones Mrs. Poole had seen in magazines and blue eye shadow that exactly matched her eyelet dress.
“How old are you?”
“I said two beers.”
“I ain’t hard of hearing but maybe you are, honey.”
“Two beers,” she said again in the same steady tone.
The girls at the juke box had all straightened up and stood silently waiting, poised like colorful birds on a wire.
“I don’t sell no liquor to minors.”
“We’ll just get somebody else to buy it. You can sell it to me directly or indirectly old lady.”
“Who’s child are youtalking like that? I bet I know your mama. I bet she thinks she brought you up better than that.” Two of the other girls shifted closer to the doorway.
“I know the rest of you are from around here. I see you every Sunday.” Mrs. Poole pointed her stubby finger at the others. “I reckon your folks wouldn’t want me selling you beer.”
The two girls closest to the exit quickly moved to the doorway, careful not to look at Mrs. Poole as they passed the counter. The other two were more defiant. They waited. The girl in the tight blue dress turned her back to the counter and Mrs. Poole.
“That’s what I hate about hick towns, everybody wants to be you mama. Let’s go.” she said and pulled a pair of dark blue sunglasses from her canvas shoulder bag. “I’ll get somebody else to buy the you know what from you know who.” She had put the glasses on for emphasis as she spoke and then she took them off again. The girls laughed.
“Who is your mama, girl?” asked Mrs. Poole as she leaned her wiry body across the counter to peer harder at the girl. The girl walked casually over to the door.
“You ashamed to tell?” The girl stood still beside her two friends in tow, ready to leave, her hand on the screen door. She turned around to face Mrs. Poole.
“Maybe you know her but it doesn’t make any difference. She lives in Chicago. You know, the windy cityChicago. In case you don’t know it, that’s a long way from this one horse town,” she stretched her arms out as if to encircle the room and maybe the whole town.
Mrs. Poole followed the direction of her armsthe broken down mix-matched table and chairs had been bought at an auction with the coolers and the store had been put up by Walter and his brother. The walls and floor were just plain unpainted boards, thrown hastily together. It was a place to come to on Sunday afternoon, the corner of a pasture on a dirt road. She and Walter had been born here, lived here their entire lives practically and knew most folks and their children. She loved the flatness of the land, stretching out full of corn fields and pastures. At the edge of the horizon, the land seemed to kiss the sky behind Mr. John’s house. The one time they left, she had missed the feel of open space.
“So Miss Chicago, what are you doing away from home? You been sent here to learn some manners?” She laughed against the backdrop of a new record dropping on and the crowd yelling outside. The colored lights started to race around inside the juke box.
“Close the door, Miss Chicago, I’ve got enough flies in here already.” The door slammed shut as the three girls left, led by the one in the tight blue dress.
“Walter? You in the kitchen?”
“Hey!” yelled Mrs. Poole at the couple in the corner. They were regulars who drank until the store was ready to close or until one of them passed out and had to be removed. That was part of Walter’s job, too.
“Yeah,” said a thick female voice from the dark corner.
“Who was that girl in the tight blue dress?” They mumbled something to each other.
“Maddie’s oldest girl.”
“Maddie?” said Mrs. Poole with her eyes narrowed tight as she stared into the dark corner.
“Maddie Laurel from Columbus, had a baby by Lonnie,” said the woman huskily.
Mrs. Poole looked in the direction of the playing field, the cars lined up on the roadside and the sliver of overcast sky through the screen door.
Maddie had played with Alice when they were girls a long time ago. They had waited for boys after the game just like those girls were doing now. Many times she’d gone outside the store and made Alice come in and sent Maddie home before it got late. They both had been boy crazy. It was the same kind of summer, nothing much changed. Kids would have kids, girls would wait for boys to end their games and come inside for something cool to drink.
Now and then, they got rained out completely but summer showers didn’t usually last too long.
“It surely does feel like rain,” she said mostly to herself. Business was always good when a game got a little rain and people ran for easy shelter. She smiled. Next year, maybe they’d buy some new chairs.
Brenda C. Wilson. Im a Southern girl born and raised in Alabama, only a couple of miles to the Mississippi state line. Ive lived in Louisiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina, where I currently reside. Professionally, Ive always worked in the banking industry but my first love is the printed word.
My writing credits include finalist in the Reynolds Price Short Fiction Award; Honorable Mention in the Gertrude Johnson Literary Contest; published in The Maryland Review; winner of the NC Writers’ Network- Black Writers’ Competition; and winner of the Community Pride Magazine literary competition. I completed the Queens University MFA program May 2004. I have one unpublished novel and a collection of short stories. This winter, I will begin a second novel.
* * * * *
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
* * * * *
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake. She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
* * * * *
By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
* * * * *
From The World and Africa, 1965
* * * * *
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
online through PayPal
* * * * *
Browse all issues
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
posted 15 October 2005