Being offended by social injustice is Meaningless if you don’t do something about it.
Earlier, I had been sitting at the piano, thinking of my deceitful yet productive visit with Mr. O’Connell, when Sadie shared her story in the kitchen. Horrifying as it was, curiosity forced me to stay. I heard every word. When she finished and said good-bye to Sheriff Tobin, I crept upstairs to our shared room. I opened my novel but the words blurred without meaning. (Meaningless)
I awoke to find the room I shared with her different, salty and sticky. No wonder Miss Fannie worked so hard to keep Sadie out of jail. It wasn’t just about her guilt or innocence but about Sadie’s demise if she were locked up again, secluded from the rest of the world. I wondered if the man who had raped her knew where she now lived.
I tried to imagine a girl of only fifteen placed in an asylum with no one to defend her, comfort her, or give her hope. Yes, she had been too young to have sex with Timothy, but that didn’t make her crazy enough to be thrown into a madhouse.
Excerpt from The Last Bordello
“Come out to the family room. Gladys wants a word,”Olvie yells from the front room.
Now I’m creeped out that a mannequin wants to speak to me. What will I say? Oh for Christ’s sake!
I take my time opening the bedroom door and peek out before exiting. Olvie’s hovering over the plastic body so if Gladys is saying something, I can’t tell. Yep, I’m going nutso.
“Good. There you are.” Olvie says turns toward me and stands erect. “What do you think?”
“Why, oh, did you take her shopping?” I say, trying not to think about myself in a straight jacket.
“No, silly-billy. Gladys doesn’t like to go out. I had it mail-ordered from Sears and Roebuck.
Gladys is no longer flapping in the 1920’s. Her fringed dress and headband are gone. She’s caught up with our decade and, although too big for the thin mannequin, I can’t help being impressed. The moo-moo is light green with white daisies attached to darker green vines that run diagonally down the dress. Orange stitching accents in between.
“Well, what do you think?” Olvie, or maybe Gladys says.
“It’s perfect. She looks like a new person.”
Olvie smiles. “She wanted a change so she got one.”
“Everyone wants a change, don’t they, Olvie?”
“Not everyone,” she says, and stares out the front window.
I’m so excited about the change in Gladys, I remind myself I need a real friend. Someone who’s not crazy or made of plastic.
I make myself a bowl of Trix cereal and try to remember I’m not a kid like the floppy-eared rabbit tell us on TV.
“All war is a Symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.” – John Steinbeck
For a week, the whole house feels pain of one kind or another. Delma’s in one bed crying, Dad’s moaning and cussing in his. But the only sickness Mother and I feel is a mean rumbling in our bellies from lack of food. Since Dad’s been bedridden, we don’t have any gambling money to spend on groceries.
Mother walks over to the kitchen cabinets and looks inside. No salt, no pepper, not even a lousy piece of stale bread is sitting in there. No sir, there isn’t a dang thing to eat. She goes to the last cabinet. There, all by itself, sits a medium-sized onion. She takes it out, holds it in both her hands and stares at it like she’s thinking a roast was fixing to pop out of it. At least that’s what I’m thinking, when my mouth gets all watery.
She peels that onion real slow, like it’s a prized Hereford being slaughtered for steak. She slices it up just as slowly as she’d peeled it. She puts it in a skillet and adds a little water, looks at it and adds more water.
The onion soup doesn’t taste like onion or even warm water. It tastes like cold hunger seasoned with poverty and sprinkled with fear. And the stuff that settled on the bottom of the cup? That’s anger. I drink it anyway. I feel like a Devil’s Claw, stacked up and falling back down on my own self. It’s like being slapped without even having a hand laid on me. Maybe it’s because the slap I feel is on the inside instead of the outside, a slap like a burning face just as uninvited.
Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, a story about my father.
“What is it, Meta? You seem quiet today,” Sadie <the prostitute> said.
“I’m thinking of Emil. He would love this place.”
“You want to marry this Emil fellow?”
“When the time is right. But I also want to go to college.”
Sadie turned away. “Well, marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It cements a woman’s future and her feet to a kitchen floor.”
I wanted to tell her that some men look at prostitutes as mere fodder for their tumescent phalluses. I held my tongue. “Did you not hear what Miss Fisher said at the meeting? How women need—”
“I do know one thing.” Sadie inhaled a deep, scrappy breath. “I don’t think men care for their wives after they’ve poked them a couple of times. That goal’s already been Conquered. Girls like me? We sleep with money the same way wives do, but we get paid without the bossing.”
Excerpt from The Last Bordello, historical novel set in 1901
Sitting on the leopard print living room couch next to Gladys, I know I’m living in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Not because Gladys sits in the exact same spot wearing the same flapper dress from when I got here three days ago. And not because Olvie hasn’t bothered to move her. I’m in The Twilight Zone because I have to spend the next few weeks living with a fruitcake.
I peek out the front window. Olvie’s at it again. Just a few minutes before, like she’s done every morning, she told me to “stay put” until she comes back inside with the newspaper. And like every morning, she won’t pick it up until she sees Elias Ford heading her way on his walk to work.
Olvie’s shuffling down her sidewalk towards the curb wearing her moo-moo and striped yellow and black socks. She bends down to pick up the newspaper. He must be getting close. Yep. I see him now. Mr. Ford has stepped into the danger zone, too close to The Property of Olvie P. Crazy.
Like always, Mr. Ford tips his shabby hat and attempts to hurry past.
Like always, Olvie steps in front of him with the familiar finger point and the poke, poke, poke to his chest.
I don’t get why she doesn’t like him. What’s the Controversy anyway?
Yesterday morning, Crazy Olvie had forgotten to close the front windows. I heard her ask Mr. Ford if she could spit on his shoes. “It won’t take long,” she’d said, almost politely.
I wonder what she’s quacking to him about this time. That his shoes need polishing? That his rusty lunch pail should be thrown off a cliff? That the only reason he still lives around the corner is because my daddy spent “too much time” repairing his house so the city wouldn’t tear it down? Mr. Ford lives in what some ignorant people call, The Black Pocket—a small thicketed area that folks like Dad fought to keep intact. Including the ten or so residents.
Mr. Ford shakes his head. I bet right now he’s wishing he’d moved after all. His expression reminds me of Tom Robinson in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird and the thought makes me sad.
I get in Gladys’ face. “Let me tell you. I’m not happy about being here either. So there.” She doesn’t respond, of course.
I must be catching her loony bug. Perhaps I won’t last a few weeks. Maybe not even day four. I ponder where to go and what to pack before I run away.
Excerpt from a work in progress.