About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Three heifers and Mary lived in a beautiful garden.
Collard greens, string beans, okra, squash, watermelons and tomatoes grew up together like quiet siblings. Peach trees birthed small sweet offspring. While the crab-apple squeezed out tiny tart apples that the four girls devoured with a little salt to taste. The gate made it safe, doubling as a freeway for all kinds of unrelated vines. Blackberries and honeysuckles betrothed without a grudge.
A fig tree stood majestically within its own territory. Her leaves, bigger than the hands of men, cast creepy shadows along the pathway of concrete leading to the steps of the back porch. They were also leafy enough to shade against what some folks referred to as the eye of God. Mya, Chestnut and Rachel called it their oven in the sky baking skin golden brown and hardening mud into delicacies the girls were forbidden to test inside tender mouths.
Mandy, on a hand of her own, could have cared less. "Don't take that gum. He had it in his pocket. It's probably soft."
"What's soft?" Mya asked.
Though indirectly, Mandy warned them.
Juicy when chewed and terribly sweet, it came wrapped inside a sunshine wrapper.
"I'm chewing heaven," Mya smiled. Soft aluminum foil folded, thrown into the trash gum. Sweet on the tongue, quieting busy lips. (Shhhhh, the gum told her not to tell, he never threatened). The three little girls chewed the sweetest gum while shaping mud into pies. Mandy was given permission to talk to boys on the telephone.
Stories from a book in red hardback, the Devil danced on the cover, naked with a long arrow tipped tail curving around hoofed feet. People swam in a lake of fire desired to die. A lamb lay in the arms of a lion. Hands old from having held parts of the world in it turned the pages.
A man's hands.
Figs from a tree served as an after breakfast dessert. Mya and her sisters climbed the tree with the agility and gracefulness of monkeys not from the sea. Bellies still filled with eggs and bacon, or fried green tomatoes, grits or oatmeal, they ate despite the fullness. Learned to be greedy, despite their Grandparent's lessons and took advantage of abundance. Chestnut and Rachel consumed eggs sunny side up, sopping up the yellow embryo with toast. Like grown folks, they drank coffee black in various forms. The Reverend taught them how.
Bicycle races started at the top of the hill, above the clothesline and vegetable garden, where they thought the Devil sometimes danced too in real life.
Once upon a time, they spied Donovan dancing there, in front of Mother while she tried reading the Scriptures. "Ahhh Baby, come on now," he grooved, begging her to come back.
Underneath the green grass mud waited to be dug up. With silver spoons and knives picked from an unguarded kitchen drawer, the three obeyed the call. Dug deeply, added water then molded delicacies they were forbidden to eat.
Mudpies and mudpie cookies baked by the Sun. They sprinkled in spider legs for "flavor." Crushed red ants because Rachel needed to know the color of things. The blood wasn't red, the three named it liquid sugar, adding the remains to mud meals. Growing hungry from exotic meals unable to be devoured, they plucked the berries off vines. Rinsed them in cold water from a green thing coiled in the front yard like a snake. Ate them. Or sucked on dirty figs while hunting more insect prey. Played in mud, pulled up Granddaddy's pretty green grass and sprinkled it on top of cakes as dark as the berries that stained their fingertips and virgin pink tongues.
Green grass-coconut mud pies.
Cakes made of mud, the three younger sisters did not eat. Sometimes they fought, used them for bombs. Hurled them at each other. All in fun.
Rinsed off bathing suit clad bodies with the same hose used to cleanse black berries. By late afternoon, the water from the green hose was lukewarm.
By evening the water was hot, inside the house and coated with Ivory soap and childhood mud scum.
Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take God bless Momma God bless Daddy God bless my Sisters God bless Bigmomma and Granddaddy and Eeeeeverybody in the whole wide world. Amen!
...but does HE?
This old man, this old man told me a story.
The paper was his mind, crinkled with depravity, creased twofold with the knowledge of knowing. His mind expanded like a rubberband, incapable of breaking, bouncing back with new revelations and stories. Black ink smooth as onyx spilled from his lips. Licorice to a child's comprehension. The words stained. Permanently.
The sandman would come without a broom, magic carpet or riding a billowing cloud of fluffy white cotton. Quietly like the sleep he would impose, the sandman would step into my room.
Play with me until I fell into Sleep's peaceful arms.
Eyes heavy, mouth burning from mint toothpaste.
But the sandman did not bring a pleasant Dream or peaceful Sleep. In his bag he smuggled burdens.
Tickling fingers and a wet tongue that danced on a little pink jewel like a sprite tip toeing across dew bathed fig leaves.
Transported nightmares with promises of love and protection. He pulled wishes of his own freely from a heart of old scars heaped upon him by somebody else.
To burden me. Pleasure himself.
(She was small and his pleasure.)
What more can one expect from a God who forces the gazelle to share land with hyenas who laugh wildly when lions tear babies from a mother's belly? From someone with many names, many faces, countless religions. How could I ever learn to trust? With so much multiplicity to learn.