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1-900-A-N-Y-T-I-M-E: A Novel Paperback – September 22, 2009
About the Author
Tracy Price-Thompson is a retired army engineer and Desert Storm veteran. The author of five novels and coeditor of two anthologies, she lives in Hawaii with her husband and children.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
SANG, BABY. SANG.
HERE she comes!” Bessie Morgan squealed over her shoulder, excitement ringing in her voice. “It’s Little Bertha!”
Bessie held her breath along with the rest of Ebenezer Southern Baptist’s congregation as a white-smocked usher pushed a wheelchair slowly down the center aisle between several uneven rows of rickety folding chairs. It was hot and crowded under the small revival tent, and some of the younger members had been forced to drag their chairs out onto the perimeter grass and expose themselves to the blazing Alabama sun.
Bessie sat with her knees pressed together in a makeshift second-row pew. She and her sixty-eight-year-old sister Nett had been organizing the church’s annual visiting choir event for the past thirty years, and after an entire weekend spent in fellowship with nearly a hundred saints who had traveled from the surrounding bottom communities, her spirit and faith were nourished and restored.
Sweat trickled down Bessie’s back and between her large breasts as she worked to stir up a breeze with a funeral parlor fan. For the past two days Ebenezer’s congregation had been entertained by several organists and countless visiting preachers and singers, many of whom had garnered a small bit of fame for their foot-stomping, down-home gospel performances.
But according to the strange woman who had telephoned Bessie requesting wired money to bring her singer all the way from New York City, there was a singing saint making her way around the church circuit who could knock grown men to their knees and flood churchgoing eyes with righteous tears. The woman had insisted that her singer be scheduled to appear last on their program and had promised she would give them a gospel show that was worth paying and waiting for.
“I gotta pee,” Bessie leaned over and whispered to her younger sister. The air was abuzz with anticipation and the congregation was unusually chatty. The influx of outsiders in these low country bottomlands was always a cause for excitement.
Nett frowned and angled her head. “What in the heck you reckon they got under that blanket?” She pointed toward the aisle, her eyes never leaving the strange entourage that had just made its way down to the pulpit. “What in God’s world is that?”
Bessie craned her neck and stared at the wheelchair. A small form had been shrouded in the most beautiful hand-spun yellow blanket she’d ever seen. It looked like just a lump of something fleshy was underneath. Nothing was visible except a small pair of sock-covered feet, and in the blistering heat of the tent Bessie could have sworn those jokers were turned around backward.
Ignoring her bladder, Bessie watched closely as Pastor and Mother Williamson welcomed the group to the pulpit with broad smiles and open arms. Hank Brown took his fingers off the organ keys, and that high-yella Mabel Dinkins had the nerve to pirouette in her green whorehouse skirt as she handed the woman from New York a staticky microphone and grinned.
“Little Bertha thanks you,” was all the handsome woman said before passing the microphone right back to Mabel. She stood behind the wheelchair calmly for a few moments, her eyes raking over the expectant congregation. She was cream colored with a mass of silver hair that had been hard pressed and hung around her shoulders. She had the air of a woman who had once been very beautiful and had grown accustomed to eager, appreciative eyes.
“Well,” she finally said, “I s’pose y’all been waitin’ long enough.” She gave them a small smile, and then without another word she reached down and snatched the yellow blanket off the wheelchair and exposed a sight so horrific that all hell broke loose in the house of the Lord.
A woman screamed down front and Bessie Morgan started peeing right where she sat.
“Goddamn!” Pastor Williamson jumped back hollering, and Mother Williamson passed plum out.
“It’s a demon!” Nett yelled, finger-pointing. “Them New York fools done dragged a goddamn demon up in here!”
Mabel Dinkins was on the move. Her fat arms flailed in the air in front of her as her thighs jiggled and her green skirt rose. She reached across Mother Williamson and grabbed a jug of holy water and started slinging it in every direction.
Hank Brown had never been what you would call a strong man, and it wasn’t surprising when he leaned over his organ bench and threw up his dinner.
Chaos had come down on Ebenezer Baptist. A few bold boys ran outside to find sticks, while many of the younger children who had been sitting out on folding chairs were now crying and fleeing across the field, further down into the valley.
Bessie sat paralyzed as the woman from New York stood calmly behind the abomination, drenched in holy water as she held one hand high in the air. Folks were knocking over chairs as they rushed toward the back of the tent, and then the most incredible sound pierced the air, freezing every one of them in their tracks.
“A-a-a-mazing grace … how sweet the sound. Th-a-aat saved a wretch like meeee …”
It was a siren so sweet, so pure, that Bessie, like the others, was stricken deep in the pit of her soul. Nett gasped and went stiff beside her, and Bessie wanted to fling herself to the ground and weep at the beauty that was falling from the mouth of what she could now clearly see was a very young girl, just past a toddler really, of no more than three or four.
“I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I seeeeee …”
The child’s head was huge and misshapen and positioned at the wrong angle on her narrow shoulders. Her right eye was missing and most of her facial skin looked raw and painful. She sang from a mouth whose upper jaw lay exposed in part, and her nose was a mere two slits that sat flat on her face.
Bessie was riveted, under a spell. The deformed little girl was like a pied piper. She spread her horrible lips and rang out with a voice that was holy and undeniable. She seduced them with her painful, enchanting song, and the congregation was held captive by her charms, forced to return to their seats as she baptized them in a spellbinding rendition of an old gospel tune that on this day had been reborn.
“Sang, baby!” Someone called out from the back of the tent. “Sang!”
Bessie could only stare. Little Bertha’s twisted body had been clothed in all yellow. Her upper torso leaned left as her hips seemed to shift way right. Her feet were not turned backward as Bessie had first thought, but neither were they oriented for forward movement. Not that the child could have dragged her monstrous form anywhere without that wheelchair, Bessie knew. Her stumpy legs looked like they’d stopped developing early in the embryo stage and her neck seemed too frail to support the weight of her oversized head as it lolled toward her left shoulder, her chin touching her chest.
“That poor baby is beautiful,” Nett whispered, her loving words coming in direct opposition to the disgust and repulsion that clearly showed on her face. Bessie turned to her sister and nodded. The entire congregation was similarly stricken. Their eyes may have been bulging with disgust and revulsion, but their hearts … their hearts and souls had surely been won.
Copyright © 2009 by Tracy Price-Thompson
Top customer reviews
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I sat down with this book yesterday evening and finished it yesterday night. The pages kept turning themselves and my eyes just couldn't stop reading. That is, until the very last page, by which time I was thoroughly entertained and very optimistic that Bertha had found her niche and, possibly, a happily ever after.
Now, how long do I have to wait for the next TPT bomb to drop? LOL
Author of "Where There's Smoke"
Sadness envelops you as you learn of the pain and humiliation Bertha had to endure growing up with this congenital disease. When I think of people like Bertha, I get the impression that they live a cloistered, lonely life. They don't go out, they don't meet people, and they surely don't get "normal" jobs. I honestly thought her reason for this phone sex gig was purely to make ends meet. But, instead, it was to fulfill her own aching sexual urges, which, surely, are also left forgotten for a "beast" like Bertha. Perhaps the monetary reason may have made Bertha more sympathetic, but the fact that it was purely sexual definitely made her human--a horny human, but human nonetheless.
In the story, we learn about Bliss' clients--their history, their family, but, most importantly, their reason for wanting to call Bliss. Jim Burgess is an honest, hard-working man who wanted nothing more than to make a decent living and, eventually, fall in love with the right girl. But then a fraternity prank left him with an ailment that destroyed his hope of having the All-American package. His calls to Bliss were so earnest and genuine that they seemed to have a special connection.
By the end, all hell breaks loose when her clients discover that their fantasy girl was not what they had imagined. I gotta say that I was surprised to find out who actually wanted Bertha dead--always the last person you expect.
The writing was so raw and powerful that you could feel the characters come alive with crippling anger, sadness, and passion. However, the energy of the words wilted towards the end as some editing issues floated to the surface. Many of the sex scenes may have been too graphic--too disgusting, really--for my usual taste. Did they really have to be that descriptive? And then I thought, yes! Isn't that what a sex operator does?
But, seriously, those scenes were still too nasty. I only kept on reading to explore the danger Bertha finds herself in, and I have to say the whole thing was pretty anticlimactic. The book started off well, but then it kind of tapped out in the end.
In conclusion, I think I'll keep skimming the job ads.
Unfortunately, Bertha, chooses to cut herself off from the outside world. Spending her days and nights holed up in her two-bedroom apartment. One bedroom she refers to as the "sick room", the other being converted into the "purple room." The "purple room" is strictly for her alter ego, Bliss. The sensual, erotic part that lays hidden inside Bertha.
Bliss is Bertha's persona behind the telephone of her private hotline...1-900-ANYTIME. A place that men or women can call to fulfill some of their most erotic, sexual fantasies over the phone. There is: the married woman that has a sexual fetish that her husband is unable to fulfill, the man that has never had a girlfriend because of a deep secret that he has been carrying, the rapper that has a secret that could ruin his career, the married man who's wife is knocking on death's door and to the Asian man that has anger issues towards whites and blacks alike. Each person has their own individual reasons why they call Bliss' hotline. One person wants to harm her...another, to love her. What happens when her real identity is revealed?
1-900-ANYTIME by Tracy Price-Thompson is a novel about love, hate, jealousy and finding one's self. One thing I want to share with you all...I don't eat Chinese food for a reason (laughing), although I realize that things like this happen anywhere. You got to read the book to find out what I am talking about. I read this book in a day and a half...so if you are looking for a quick and original story...this is your read!
Reviewed by Leona
Final Rating: 5 stars