“No Jail!”

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Madam Fannie Porter

Sadie threw her hands over her ears and rocked back and forth. “Just no jail, no jail, no jail …”

When  tears tumbled down Sadie’s cheeks, I caught Louis’s look of compassion—the same as Meta’s, the same as Reba’s. The same as mine.

“I won’t let you go to jail, Sadie. That’s what this is all about,” John said, his voice softer. “But you need to do what we suggest. I have a plan. But we have to find you a hide-away, some place safe other than here.”

Silence slithered around the frank, yet well-meaning posse while the irony struck me as funny. Over the years, the surrounding walls had safely protected politicians, successful businessmen, and Notorious train robbers. Now, they weren’t strong enough to protect my hard working and best girl who felt more like kin.

Reba thumped the settee’s armrest gathering our attention. “Fannie, what  we ain’t gonna do is snap a fine branch off this family tree and throw it to the fire. If she gotta leave, it better be a damn good place so’s she can come home when time’s right.”

A moment passed and I felt the soft squeeze of Meta’s hand.

“I might know a place,” she said.

 

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Daily Word Prompt: Notorious

Fighting for rights

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A man, close to the front, pumped his fist. “My wife don’t have time for more learning. We got six kids needing supper on the table.”

A melee of querulous male voices erupted from the crowd.

“Why do women prostitute themselves to the abnormal passion of man?” Miss Fisher continued. “Because they are poverty-stricken, destitute above temptation and driven by necessity. They sell themselves, in marriage or out, for bread and shelter, for the necessities of life. How can we blame them? They have no other recourse but to live in a society that dictates what they, we, can and cannot do. To solve this problem, we demand that women be allowed to exercise their inherent, personal, citizen’s right to be a voice in the government, municipal, state, and national. Then, women will have the power to protect themselves.”

“We men protect our women just fine,” a voice shouted. Other men shouted their agreement.

Mayor Hicks stepped to the podium, his lips pursed. “Enough of your heckling. Save your disagreements for editorials in the newspapers. She has a right to free speech.”

“So do we,” someone boomed back.

The mayor banged a fist on the podium. “These women are invited guests. By God, we will show them our southern Hospitality.”

The raw egg came from nowhere. It narrowly missed the Mayor’s head before landing on the bandstand floor. He squinted, searching the crowd.

Poor Mrs. Fenwick held a shaky hand over her mouth.

Miss Fisher reached below the dais and pulled out a speaking trumpet. “The true relation of the sexes can never be attained until women are free and equal with man,” she continued, her determination thundering above the chaos.

The second egg hit the podium dead center.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

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Separate but (not treated) Equal

After Isaac puts the Pontiac in neutral and maneuvers it out on the driveway, he asks me to hand him a screwdriver. He tightens some do-ma-hickey then replaces the battery with the one he picked up at the local auto part’s store.

“You sure know a lot about a lot of things, Isaac Ford,” I tell him. “And don’t dare say anything stupid like, ‘so you think I’m smarter than the average colored boy.’”

“I read a lot. And my mama teaches at my school. The Academy for Black Youth in case you’re wondering.”

“We don’t have any Negros in my school. Not because they can’t come but because most of them live across town.”

“Separate but Equal,” he says, shaking his head.

I think of my summer reading assignment — A Separate Peace.

“Thing is, Chicken Coop. I want to make something of myself. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out how. I can’t play music, I don’t want to be a preacher—”

“Then do something else. Be a mechanic. Be a teacher. Be whatever you want.”

“Okay. I’ll be a surgeon. After they let me in a university because of my a-Maze-ing chemistry and biology grades, I graduate. Then, I look for a job that will hire a colored surgeon. And, if I’m lucky enough to land that job, white folks will say, ‘I don’t want some colored boy operating on me.’ Then, I’m back where I started. Without a job.”

“You’re so cynical, Isaac.”

“Cynical?” He points a finger at my chest. “You know nothing. Nothing! What do I have to be cheery-faced about? Huh? That I can fix a goddam car? Tell Olvie it’s ready. She can drive it in the garage her own damn self. I’m going home.”

From my WIP about forging friendships during the Civil Rights Movement (1963)

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A bullet past an ear

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Cono and his grandfather, Ike

Further up on the right is another house. It looks kinda like an old Wayne Dennis house, falling down on one side. Car parts litter the front yard.

“Who lives there?” I say.

“Oh, some damn white man,” says Ike.

“Still like that Cherokee part ’a ye, huh Ike?”

“Damn straight.”

We get to the bar and meet Andres, Ike’s friend. “This here’s my grandson, Cono,” Ike says.

“Pleasure,” I say, shaking his hand.

The three of us sit down at a table for four and a short little old lady in a Pink uniform comes over to take our order.

“Bring us three Pearl beers,” says Ike.

“No beer fer me,” I say.

“Still not a drinker, Cono?”

“Still not,” I say.

“Sody Pop then?”

I turn to the waitress and say, “Ye got Nehi Grape?”

She nods and says, “Be right back.”

For eleven o’clock in the morning the place is busy. The early lunch crowd has come in. Andres starts to talk while Ike listens. And I’ll be damned, Ike’s twirling his index finger around his thumb. They say an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This is one habit Dad’s pulled down from his father, but as far as I can see, and unfortunately, the only one.

Ike starts to talk but Andres keeps saying, “What are you saying? I can’t hear.”

Finally, after gulping down his beer, Andres says, “Hell, let’s go someplace quiet where we can talk.” I pull out my wallet to pay but Ike says, “Put that away, Cono. You need ta save yer money.” I do as I’m told, grateful of the man beside me who appreciates my hard work.

Ike and me gulp down our drinks and head down the street to a little dive of a bar, a place that doesn’t sell food.

“This is better,” says Andres. We all sit down at a table and order another round from the bartender, the only person working here.

In the middle of cow talk, a man with a black mustache that matches the color of his eyes opens the door, pulls out a pistol, and shoots a bullet right past Ike’s ears and into the mirror behind the bar. The bartender pulls out his shotgun, aims it at the shooter and says, “Jose, you drop that gun right now. This ain’t no way to settle a bar tab.” The man backs down and yells something I don’t understand, and then he leaves.

As cool as a cucumber, Ike clicks the left side of his cheek, turns to Andres and says, “Ye got another quiet place ye wanna go?”

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

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Pursing God

Moved to a room full of cots, women lay moaning, talking to themselves, soiling their sheets. Some chained to their beds, others forced into straight jackets before bedtime. Most stared up at the flaking, gray ceiling.

Everything existed in a different time and place. I had one thing in common with those women. We all stunk of fear and hatred, the odor I couldn’t place when I first arrived.

I wondered, if they ever let me out, what I would do when I next faced my mother. No, I wouldn’t slap her again. But that evening amidst the mournful sorrows of the women around me, I squeezed the fingers of my right hand into a tight fist—opening, closing, opening, closing. I felt my feet revving up to charge the witch into hell to await her appointment with the Devil.

Finally allowed to go outside, attendants surrounded the crazies. Me, now one of them. For the most part, the sky remained clear. The few scattered clouds resembled claw marks as if God—if there was one—was trying to scratch his way in to find me. I knew better. The claw marks were mine, attempting to slash my way out.

From The Last Bordello, a historical novel set in 1901.

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Daily Prompt: Pursue

The guest of a Fruitcake

I had eaten my Swanson’s TV dinner on top of the TV tray and watched and listened to what I could on TV. Even Dr. Kildare, who usually makes me foolishly swoon, looked more like Barney Fife. I’m going bonkers. I know it.

But bedtime was bliss.

The “TSR”, the Temporary stay room,” as Olvie calls it, could be a lot worse than it is. Although the dresser and the headboard on the twin bed are stained puke green, the room itself is at the front of the house. I have one window that looks out to the street. The window on the side gives me a view of the neighbor’s trashcans lined up against their pink brick house.

I had discovered that the window locks are easy peezy. One twist and I could be home free. I know where our spare house key is hidden. How hard would it be to go home, at least for a few hours? Crank up my record player. Listen to Booker T. or the Isley Brothers on Mom and Dad’s new Magnavox player. Or, with the money Mom gave me for “emergencies,” I could go someplace else. Like, for days.

 

Current Work in Progress, a novel set in 1963 during segregation.

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Trying to keep a straight spine

In the glow of the kitchen lantern, I spotted the lone tear in Reba’s eye. “So, what’s now?” she asked.

“It’s only Temporary, Rebie. She’ll be back before we know it. I just hope the plan works. We’ll find out in the morning.”

“Fannie, notice how this catawampus started when the Wild Bunch come here?”

“How do you see that?”

Reba folded her hand. “Etta leaving with Sundance. That’s when Sadie’s trigger got pulled. Pushed her over that ledge.”

I shook my head. “It was before that.”

She glanced up at the ceiling. “Yes’m, suppose so. Plopped out in a cabbage patch with nobody around to comfort her ’cept for devil mother.”

“Rebie, we’ve all had our sorrows. Some just can’t seem to recover from them.”

“You dids, though. Came outta that orphanage with a straight spine.”

“It didn’t feel so straight at the time.”

“Mmm. Never does.”

Excerpt from:

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