The Baptist Junkie
Copyright © by Telishia R. Berry
Strive Publishing, Inc. A division of Courageous Woman Enterprises
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Copyright © 2013 by Telishia Berry. All rights reserved. No parts of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photo copying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, Strive Publishing, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to person’s living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental. Unauthorized or restricted acts in relation to this publication may result in civil proceedings and/or criminal prosecution.
Edited by Shonell Bacon
Proofread/formatted by Teresa D. Patterson
Proofread by Etta Brown
Cover designed by Keith Saunders, Marion Designs
It was the end of summer, 1968. Blacks were still mourning the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Motown artists were topping the charts, US soldiers were being drafted to the Vietnam War, and Deacon John Wilson and his wife, Kadie, were trying to raise four, good, God-fearing children.
Of the four siblings, Johnny was the oldest at 22, and Al was just a year and a half younger than him. Their sister Maureen was eighteen and just two years older than Brenda.
The brothers spent most of their time away from the house, but when the four siblings were all together, an occasional board game was the perfect family entertainment.
“It’s my turn,” Brenda yelled.
“Well, then roll the dice, girl,” Johnny said.
Brenda leaned across the board game, shaking the dice in her hand. She inhaled and blew on the dice for good luck.
“Papa’s got a brand new bag!” she exclaimed and dropped the dice down onto the Monopoly board. “I got seven!”
“Naw, baby sis, you got craps,” Johnny teased.
“Shut up. We ain’t playin’ no craps.” Brenda chuckled.
Deacon Wilson stormed into the room. “I know y’all ain’t up in my house shootin’ craps,” he bellowed.
“Nah, Daddy, it’s just Monopoly,” Johnny said, raising his hands in defense.
Deacon Wilson had already taken away a set of dice and two decks of playing cards he’d found in their rooms and threw them away.
“I done told y’all, I don’t want no card playin’ and dice rollin’ in this house.”
“But Daddy, it’s just Monopoly. The dice came with the game,” Brenda insisted.
“Y’all heard what I said. If you got to play this game with dice, then you just can’t play it.”
He believed playing any games using dice or playing cards was sinful and that good, saved church folk and their kids shouldn’t do it.
Deacon walked right up to the table, and swooped the dice up into his hands. Johnny rocked on the back legs of his chair, chewing his gum on his front teeth. Al pulled the dark glasses he had resting on his forehead down over his eyes. Brenda sighed, smacked her lips, and folded her arms across her chest. Maureen, quiet as usual, never let her face reveal her thoughts.
“These are the devil’s tools,” Deacon said, raising his fist in the air, the dice gripped in his hand. “You play cards and shoot dice now, next, you’ll be gamblin’, drinkin’, and smokin’.”
Al smirked and held in his laugh that was about to blow.
“Then Jesus was led by the spirit unto the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, Matthew … four and one,” Deacon recited from his memory bank of scriptures then walked over to the girls’ record player and turned off Martha and the Vandellas’ song, exited the room, and shut the door behind him.
“Now what does that Bible verse have to do with us playing a simple Monopoly game?” Al blurted, finally releasing the laughter he held in.
“That’s exactly why I stay at Uncle Pap’s most of the time,” Johnny said. “Shoot, I win big money at his house playing poker.”
“Johnny!” Maureen rushed toward the door to make sure it was closed tightly. “Shhh, you better keep your voice down before Daddy comes storming back in here and slaps you upside your head one good time, talking about playing poker!”
Brenda stood and began dancing. “Jimmy,” she sang, “Oh Jimmy Mack, when are you coming back?”
“You better hush, too. You’ll be dancing all right, while Daddy is Jimmy Smackin’ his belt to your behind. Now cut it out, Brenda, before he comes back in here.”
Brenda kept it up, singing, dancing, and laughing all up on Maureen until she saw that Maureen was cutting her eyes at her.
“Hump, Daddy kills me with all that holy stuff,” Johnny said. He stood and pushed his chair up to the table. “He acts like he ain’t never played cards before, like he ain’t never committed no sins.”
Johnny and Al exited the room. Maureen busied herself cleaning up the bedroom while Brenda continued sitting at the table playing with the Monopoly money.
“If this money was real, I’d hop me a train to Chicago,” Brenda said. She brandished a handful of the play money.
“Yeah, Brenda, I’m sure you would, but it ain’t, and you can’t, so get to cleaning this room.”
Brenda curled her lips and shot Maureen a look as if she couldn’t stand her Goody Two-Shoes ways.
For Deacon and Kadie, raising four kids who were now all teenagers hadn’t been an easy task, but Deacon referred to his Bible as his manual for everything. He even quoted scriptures at random from memory and had one for every situation.
“Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” was the one he recited most often when it came to issues with the kids.
Deacon prided himself in being a model Christian. He knew the Bible from Genesis to Revelations. When he wasn’t working first shift at the Chevrolet automotive plant, he studyed the Bible, or taught it somewhere, either in Sunday school, mid-week Bible study, or at some annual Baptist convention, locally or out of state. Being the most upright and righteous man was his main objective. Most of the family, including the in-laws, respected him, but many thought he was overbearing and at times a bit of a fanatic.
Kadie, as much a Christian as he, but she was often annoyed by the way he used the Bible so much to dictate their lives.
“We were young once, too,” she’d often say to Deacon.
Deacon and Kadie both played cards, smoked cigarettes, and even dipped snuff a few times when they were young, but they didn’t want their kids to do it as Deacon was always on sin patrol, making sure his kids all looked and acted like they had some good Christian home-training.
Brenda—she was the youngest, and the one Deacon thought he’d better keep a closer eye on. It wasn’t that she was a bad girl; she just had a tendency to cross the boundaries that Deacon placed before her.
He constantly reiterated his beliefs to anyone that would listen. Usually, Kadie became his captive audience.
“Times are different now,” he’d say to Kadie. “You got to keep a grip on your children, or you’ll end up pickin’ ‘em up off the wayside.”
She believed just the opposite.
“No, the tighter you try to hold ‘em, the more they want to break free. And then they start actin’ up, and that’s when you will be pickin’ ‘em up off the street corners, haulin’ ‘em out of the whorehouses, and everywhere else you tried to keep ‘em from.”
Kadie fussed at him real good for interrupting the kids’ game like that and reminded him of when they were young before he became so saved and sanctified. After he thought about it, Deacon didn’t feel bad for his reasons for doing it; he just felt a little sorry for being so harsh about it. He went to his small workspace in the basement and handcrafted a cardboard number spinner similar to the one the girls had for their Twister game. The four siblings all sat in the living room when he returned an hour later with it.
“You can use this in the place of the dice,” he said as he tested it in front of them, flicking the spinner twice before placing it down in the center of the marble-top coffee table and walking out of the room.
Maureen picked it up, flicked it a few times, and sat it back on the table. The idea of a spinner in place of the dice for the Monopoly game just didn’t sit well with them. Talking trash while shaking and blowing on the dice was the fun part of the game and helped keep the momentum. The other siblings were so tuned in to The Supremes who were guest performers on The Ed Sullivan Show that they didn’t pay much attention to the spinner or the fact that Deacon had tried to make amends. It didn’t bother Deacon that the kids didn’t understand his logic about things.
“I just want them to do right,” Deacon muttered as he entered the kitchen.
“Yes, John,” Kadie said, “and as you can see, with the liquor stores and bars open now, our children are all right here … watching TV.”
“Let’s play that song again,” Brenda said as she scurried across the bedroom floor to the record player. The sisters enjoyed themselves, laughing, dancing, and acting like typical teenage girls, playing records and performing as if on stage, one using a hairbrush, the other, a comb for microphones.
Deacon couldn’t stand it. The way he’d seen kids dancing on television, he just knew that was the prelude to becoming loose women.
. “I ought to just rush right in there and snatch the cord right out of the wall socket,” he said as he lay in bed next to Kadie with his arms folded across his chest.
“Let ‘em alone, John, they’re just being teenagers,” Kadie insisted. “Don’t you remember when we were young? We used to dance, jitter buggin’ all over Miss Callie’s juke joint.”
Deacon sighed and quieted his emotions as his mind traveled back to the days when he and Kadie were just courting, when he could twirl and swing her from one hip to the other as they twisted, tapped, and danced the jitterbug as teenagers.
“It wasn’t no juke joint. It was her living room,” Deacon added just as he rolled over and went to sleep.
“Whatever you say, John, whatever you say,” Kadie said, smiling as she sat up in the bed next to him and finished the hem she was hand stitching in her skirt.
They next morning the sound of Sunday morning spirituals blared from the small radio on the bookshelf in the basement. The soul-stirring voices of gospel singers like Reverend James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson, and the Clara Ward singers echoed through all the heat vents in the house. Warm homemade biscuits waiting in the oven, the smell of bacon and eggs frying, and grits simmering filled the air, all reminding everyone in the house that it was Sunday, a day for the Wilson family to do nothing but worship and afterwards eat a good soul food meal.
As always, Deacon was up early studying his Bible at his rickety cherry wood desk in the basement. It had been a few weeks since Johnny and Al had gone into the Army. Johnny got drafted, and Al volunteered just to get away from home; everyone seemed to know that but Deacon. They both went to Vietnam. It bothered Deacon that both his sons were away fighting the war, but he stayed in constant prayer over them.
Deacon kept track of the time, shifting his eyes from the words on the pages of his King James Bible to the small clock on his desk. He knew Maureen and Brenda would be tired since he’d heard them up late laughing and singing that worldly music, as he called it.
At five minutes to seven, he made his way from the basement to the girls’ room.
“Rise and shine,” he said like an energetic drill sergeant as he banged on the bedroom door. “It’s seven o’clock, now get on up. I don’t care if you stayed up all night listening to that rock-and-roll mess, you’re still getting up and going to church. Get on up.”
“We up, Daddy,” Maureen yelled as she rose, yawned, stretched her arms toward the ceiling, and then pulled herself out of bed.
“I don’t want to go to church. I don’t feel like it,” Brenda said. She pulled her quilt over her head, exposing her bare feet. “I don’t want to go,” she whined then tossed, turned, and pouted.
“You might as well get on up ‘cause all that acting and throwing fits ain’t gone change nothin’.”
“Hump,” Brenda responded, kicking the covers to the floor. She growled as she rose and sat on the edge of the bed with her feet dangling.
Maureen smirked and shook her head. Brenda stammered across the room toward the door, stopping short to compose herself and her thoughts before she slowly opened the door.
“Daddy, I don’t feel good,” she said in a sorrowful tone as she gripped her stomach with one hand and held her forehead with the other. “I think I should stay home today.”
Deacon paused for a moment to take in what Brenda said. “Well, you thought wrong. In this house, we will serve the Lord and make our way to his house every Sunday, sick or not.”
Brenda sighed, pursed her lips, and rolled her eyes.
“I’m sure your mama’s got something for a stomach ache.”
Brenda mocked him, silently framing his words on her lips, twisting her neck, and bobbing her head from side to side as Deacon trampled back down the narrow staircase.
“Sunday is the Lord’s day,” Deacon ranted. “When I was a boy, my daddy woke us up at four a.m. to milk the cows, feed the hens, cook breakfast, then walk five miles to church wearing shoes so raggedy that my feet got sun burned through all the holes in ‘em.”
Everyone in the family had heard Deacon’s childhood stories a million times at least, but he told them over and over as if it was the first time. He mumbled and fussed through the house, preaching and babbling about obedience until he made it back to the basement.
“Sunday is the Lord’s day,” Brenda mocked in Deacon’s voice.
“Uumph,” Maureen said, shaking her head. She stood at the mirror over the dresser, pulling out the pink sponge rollers she had clamped in her hair.
“Brenda, don’t you know as long as you live in this house, you got to abide by his rules? Seems like you woulda done figured that out by now.”
Brenda ignored her and continued sifting through her drawer of pantyhose.
Maureen was wise to the facts. She had learned long ago what to do and say and what not to do and say when it came to Deacon.
“At least you don’t have to sing in the choir anymore,” Maureen said.
Compromising with Kadie, Deacon told the girls that once they turned sixteen, they didn’t have to sing in the youth choir or be forced to join the adult choir, but they had to continue going to Sunday school, Sunday service, and youth meetings. The youth choir age limit was 16 anyway. And most kids joined the adult choir after that, but Kadie felt that by age sixteen their kids were nearly adults and shouldn’t be forced into working in the church. She believed that she and Deacon had instilled enough morals and principles in them that they’d be able to make some of their own decisions, good ones. But as long as you lived in Deacon’s house, going to church was non-negotiable. Making sure his kids were raised in church was part of training them up right.
After Sunday school, Brenda and Pastor Pearson’s daughters, Terri and Darlene walked to the corner store across from the church to get some soda and chips before service started. They laughed on the walk back as they mocked Mr. Johnson, their Sunday school teacher that stuttered.
“Turn to s…s. St. John th…three…si…si…Sixteen. Fo…for God s…so lo…loved th…the world,” Brenda joked. They all laughed.
“Come on, Terri. We have to hurry up and go put on our choir robes,” Darlene said.
They both sang in the choir and had to be ready to do the two-step march in from the back of the sanctuary.
“Why don’t you sing with us anymore, Brenda?”
“‘Cause I don’t want to.”
“Oh,” Terri replied.
Brenda wanted them to believe that her decision was her own declaration of independence. Truth was, she had recently turned sixteen and was glad she was no longer required to make it to Saturday morning choir rehearsals. She’d taken a babysitting job instead.
“Come on, Darlene, we have to be ready to march,” Terri said.
“Instead of marching down the aisle, you think they’ll let me dance? Do the mashed potato or maybe the shotgun,” Brenda said, giggling and dancing.
“Naah, maybe the twist,” Darlene replied, twisting her plump hips from side to side and joining in Brenda’s laughter.
“We’ll see you after church,” Terri said, shaking her head at them and tugging at Darlene’s shoulder.
Terri and Darlene walked toward the choir room. Brenda trotted down the steps to the ladies’ lounge in the church basement.
“Jesus is on the main line. Tell him what you want, you just call Him up and tell Him what you want,” Mother Jesse sang with feeling and inspiration, but clapped her hands a little offbeat.
It was already eleven thirty-five, but members still trickled in even though church supposedly started at eleven. Many of the members came late purposely, hoping they’d miss Mother Jesse’s twenty-minute devotional song that she led with the deacons every Sunday.
After she sat in the ladies’ lounge chucking down her snacks and drinking Dr. Pepper, Brenda peeked in the side sanctuary door first, then tipped in, peering up front to see if her father was there with Mother Jesse leading devotion. The deacons rotated Sunday duties, and she never could remember which Sunday was his to lead in prayer or any other business the deacons were in charge of. She saw Deacon Flynn, who some of the church ladies had secretly nicknamed “Flirting Flynn” standing up front, wearing the best one of his three shark skin suits that were all two sizes too small. The church ladies called him “Flirting Flynn” because he always grinned in their faces, showing off his gold plated teeth as if the teeth gave him some financial status. His flirtatious manners were charming yet humorous since he stood only about four-foot-five and he wore a size five shoe. He had no idea that he was one of the most entertaining topics the women chuckled about whenever they got together to cook for a church function or occasion.
Mother Jesse stood up between the two deacons. By now, she was on her sixth chorus of the song and making up her own lyrics.
“If you’re broke and all ya money’s spent, tell Him what you want,” she sang. The congregation repeated, hesitantly dragging their voices. Although Mother Jesse was often hoarse and her voice cracked when she sang, nobody had the nerve to say anything to her about it. One of the founding members of the church, she made sure that every new generation of members knew it. She’d been leading the devotional songs for forty years, and was not about to be relieved from her self-appointed position. Even in her eighties, she could get around and strut like the best of them with the exception of an occasional use of a wooden cane. Most times, she’d walk around with the cane dangling across her wrist.
“This just old folks’ decoration,” she’d say.
Folks marveled over her amazing strength when the spirit would hit her. She’d jump and run up and down the sanctuary aisles like an Olympic track star for a good fifteen minutes.
“Hallelujah” and “Thank you, Jeeesus,” she’d shout over and over until Pastor Pearson would get up, clear his throat, and say “Amen” at least a half dozen times.
All in all, Mother Jesse was a well-respected member and mother of the church. She didn’t hesitate to get any youngster straight, that is, to her, anyone under sixty years of age.
It was obvious that the congregation grew tired of singing along with Mother Jesse. Most continued standing out of respect, but the noisome expressions on some of their faces indicated they wanted Pastor Pearson to hurry up and intervene.
“Let the church say amen,” Pastor Pearson firmly interjected.
The congregation responded with an array of more “Amen.”
“Thank you, Lord,” Sister Abernathy said, flickering her eyelids as she sighed.
The members who sat in the pew in front of her snickered. They knew she couldn’t stand Mother Jesse. She, too, was a feisty old lady who had her share of disagreements with Mother Jesse. For years, the two squabbled over trivial issues like decoration colors for the church anniversary and the dinner menu for the pastor’s birthday celebration. Pastor Pearson once had to counsel the ladies and had insisted that they not be part of the same committees because they just couldn’t seem to get along.
It took a few more “amens” from the deacons before the musical director, Brother Derrick, completely ended the song.
“Thank you, Deacons Mays and Flynn, and Mother Jesse, who is one of our beloved founding members here at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church,” Pastor Pearson expressed respectfully, his short stocky frame barely visible behind the podium without the step stool one of the deacons made especially for him. He looked back at the associate ministers with a concerned eye, wondering why someone didn’t have the step stool from his car since he had used it at another church he’d been invited to preach at. He noticed Deacon Simmons rushed in holding it in his hands.
Mother Jesse smiled up at him as Deacon Mays gripped her arm and escorted her to the second center pew, which was designated as the honorary Mothers’ seats.
Everyone except the Mothers and those cradling small babies remained standing until assistant Pastor Pearson had led the responsive reading and a prayer that was so long and emotional he had to gasp between sentences to catch his breath.
Sighs of relief permeated throughout the sanctuary as Pastor Pearson finally waved his hands, gesturing everyone to sit down. Behind the deacons, the deaconesses sat flapping their paper fans and turning up their noses as the stench of flatulence that loomed into the air. The odor came from some of the lactose intolerant deacons who refused to admit it and deny themselves any of the buttermilk pancakes the women served at the General Assembly breakfast every fifth Sunday.
Brenda sat up straight, stretching her neck to see if her mother sat where she usually sat when it was her Sunday to serve on the nurse’s guild. She noticed Deacon sitting on the first pew on the right side of the sanctuary, where all the deacons sat, slept, and sometimes snored loud enough for one of the deaconesses to give him a nice nudge. Sister Sherman would just outright smack her husband, Deacon Sherman, right in the back of his head. He’d wake up coughing and clearing his throat like he had a cold.
Maureen always sat on the end of the fourth pew so she could be close enough to get to the podium quickly to do the announcements. She enjoyed the announcement clerk position and thrived on the compliments members gave her.
Deacon Wilson got up and exited the side door while the choir sang. Brenda assumed the frustration on his face was due to the choir. He’d always complain, saying they sang too loud and the songs were just too long. He’d wait until he heard the pastor speak before he came back in to start the choir right up again. He didn’t want to step in when the choir director was directing some fancy sing-and-pause. Deacon couldn’t stand that. “Why don’t they just end the song?” he’d ask.
After the third selection from the choir, the second offering, and the atmosphere being calm and settled, Pastor Pearson began his sermon.
“I’m not gonna hold ya long today since our young people are expecting you all to come back for the Youth Day program and dinner this afternoon,” Pastor Pearson affirmed.
“Amen,” said Deacon Mays as he nodded off to sleep.
“Today, I’m gonna talk about raising Godly children,” Pastor Pearson said, opening his sermon. “There are rewards to raising God-like children.”
Those words were like a slogan Brenda had heard over and over most of her life. She smirked as her mind recalled the mild dispute she had with Deacon that started the morning.
“Must I hear this again?” she said under her breath, twisting her lips. All she could think about was Deacon and his strict ways, counting the days to when she could get married and move out of the house.
Another Saturday evening approached, and Kadie was tired. She’d spent most of the day in the hot kitchen getting a head start on Sunday’s meal. She cooked fresh turnip greens that she’d picked from her garden the day before, fluffy hot water cornbread, that good sticky macaroni and cheese, and of course Deacon’s favorite candied yams.
“I’m going over to Cheryl’s house,” Brenda announced as she slipped her feet into her freshly polished white pointed-toe sneakers.
“First, I want you to walk this food over to your uncle, Pap’s, house.”
Kadie placed two aluminum foil covered plates down into a brown paper bag.
“Ah Mama, can’t Daddy just drive it over there?”
“Look girl, your daddy is teaching at the Great Lakes Baptist Convention all this week, and he won’t get home ‘til late.”
Brenda huffed and sighed as Kadie turned her back.
“Hurry up now. Your aunt Bessy is sick, and you know Pap ain’t hardly gonna cook for her. He’s liable to let her sip on some Jack Daniels first.” Kadie chuckled.
Brenda paused, wondering what her mother knew about liquor since she never saw anything remotely resembling liquor in that house.
Pap was Deacon’s oldest brother by seven years. He lived only a few blocks away with his wife Bessy. He and Bessy didn’t have kids, so Pap took to his nieces and nephews like they were his own.
Deacon and Pap were as different as night and day. While Deacon spent most of his time in church teaching the Gospel, Pap spent most of his time raising hell at pool halls, all-night poker games, and an occasional evening with a loose woman that hung around the pool hall.
Brenda was tired by the time she made it to Hamilton Street. Beads of sweat flowed down her hairline. Continuously, she wiped it away with her fingers. As she strolled up the driveway carrying the paper bag that smelled of southern soul food, she could hear loud talking and cursing through the open front windows. Creeping up the back stairs toward the back door, she glanced over at Aunt Bessy’s vegetable garden that looked like it hadn’t been tended to in a while. She pushed the unlocked door open since no one heard the knocking over all the commotion. The stench of cigar smoke drifted up her nostrils, drawing wrinkles in her forehead. Billie Holiday played in the background on a small record player in a corner of the living room while a room full of middle-aged men sat around the dining room waiting to get into the poker game that was the center of the commotion.
“Hey, Uncle Pap,” Brenda yelled, trying to be heard over the noise.
He looked up and spoke quickly, keeping his attention on the game.
“Hey there, baby girl. Whatcha know good?”
“Oh nothin’ much. Mama sent this food over here for you and Aunt Bessy.”
“Bessy’s back there in…” He stopped mid-sentence. “Hot damn, there it is. Put the money on the table!”
Charged with excitement, he slammed his spread of winning cards down in the center of the table, then reached out to rake the pile of money he’d won toward him. His body jiggled as he exerted a hefty laugh and a toothy grin while the other players sighed with frustration. Two disappointed players got up from the table and switched places with two others waiting to play.
“Dammit,” the shortest player exclaimed.
Pap was known for being a hardball card shark who didn’t play about his money when he won a card game. Like Deacon Wilson, Pap had many amusing life stories to tell, only Uncle Pap’s were mostly about the Korean War that he fought in or some street thug he had to strong arm.
“I’ll put a cap in a nigga,” he said. That had to be one of his most used phrases.
Everyone loved to listen to his stories like children listened to nursery rhymes. They’d laugh, but they knew they had some truth to them. He often told the story about Donald Stacks. He made sure he told it whenever he played poker with those he hadn’t played with before. Donald once tried to cheat Pap out of some money in a poker game. Being new in town, he didn’t know Pap that well. He’d heard that while Pap served in the Korean War he’d lost his left leg and two toes on his right foot. He figured since Pap had a wooden leg that he could outrun him. What he didn’t know was Pap kept a pistol on his lap at every poker game he played, and he could hop as fast as he could run.
“I shot that nigga in his a…a…butt,” Pap said, catching his tongue, respectfully glancing at Brenda standing against the wall.
Pap shot Donald once in the butt and took his money back while Donald lay in the middle of Dakota Street bleeding, begging, and pleading for his life. Pap was no killer though. Being in the armed services, he learned just where to shoot.
“I know how to break ‘em down without killin’ ‘em,” he said.
He did, however, have a sensitive side. Only Deacon knew that Pap had lost his leg when he’d hesitated to shoot a Korean woman in the field during the war. He would never kill anybody. He just took drastic measures to make anybody who cheated him remember never to do it again.
“I didn’t want to make his mama cry,” Pap bragged and laughed. “He wasn’t the last fool I shot.” He bit the tip off his cigar and spat it into an ashtray as he glared into the eyes of a new player sitting at the table.
Brenda loved her uncle Pap. She adored his brave spirit and magnetic personality. She was intrigued by all the action that took place at his house and at the barbershop where he set up poker games.
“Pull up a chair, baby girl. Let me teach you how to whip a nigga and take all his money.”
Brenda grinned, gleaming with enthusiasm. She put the bag that dripped juice from the turnip greens on the kitchen counter. Pap nodded to a man who stood in the room and he quickly pulled a chair up to the table for Brenda.
Jake was the youngest player at the table at 28. His father Jacob Sr. and his uncle Blu were both Paps good friends and army buddies. After they both passed away, Pap looked after Jake like he did most of his old friends’ kinfolk.
Jake eyed Brenda from head to toe, admiring her youthful, butterscotch complexion, and her wavy black hair. He could tell she was young, but how young, he wondered. He kept his inquisition discreet since he’d just listened to Pap’s story about Donald Stacks. He definitely didn’t want to get into any disputes about him fancying his young niece.
“Turn on some Retha,” another player yelled from the table.
“What?” a voice yelled back.
“I said turn on some Aretha Franklin!” A rough voice repeated.
Brenda had totally forgotten she was supposed to meet her friend, Cheryl. She became so focused on the intensity of the poker game.
“See that,” Pap whispered, showing Brenda the cards he had displayed in his hand.
He nodded and winked at her. She nodded and smiled back. The cards enthralled her. She envisioned herself laughing hysterically, winning and raking a pile of money into her bosom. She was elated by the acknowledgment Pap gave her and loved the nickname Baby girl he’d called her since she was the youngest of Deacon’s two girls. It made her feel loved and protected. Not the kind of love and attention her parents gave her. It was different.
Pap was noted for pinning infamous nicknames on his peers. Sitting across from him was his childhood friend P. Willie. Most people thought the “P” was his first initial and Willie was his last name. His real name was actually Willie Banks. Pap gave him the name Pee Willie when they were kids growing up in Dyersburg, Tennessee. Willie had a weak bladder and would stop to urinate all the time when they ran around playing. He’d do it whenever and wherever he felt the need. They joked about all the “White only” signs on most of the public rest rooms around town so Willie felt defiant. He’d pee in parking lots on white folks’ clean white washed tires and in flower and vegetable gardens white folks had planted in their yards. Pap started calling him Pee Willie. The name just stuck with him. P. Willie never complained about it either. He liked the name.
Folks often asked Pap how he got his nickname since his first name was George. Since he was the oldest of four siblings, he looked after his brother and two sisters.
The white, general storeowner where they lived once said, “Boy, you act mo’ like the pappy than the brother.” Since the storeowner didn’t care to know his name, he called him “Pappy” when he wasn’t calling him “boy.” People around town thought that was his name and some called him “Pap” for short.
Carefully, Brenda continued observing the game and the other players, too. She caught a glimpse of Jake staring at her. They both looked away quickly.
Earleen and Velma, Pap’s sisters-in-law, came through the back door. They were both big husky women known for being tough and rough highly-skilled poker players. Earleen was the biggest and the loudest. She stood about six feet tall, stout, with big hands and feet, broad shoulders. Her big breasts perked straight out like a bookshelf. Her gold tooth sparkled when she smiled, and she talked more trash than the city dump could hold. She wouldn’t hesitate to tell any man how far in hell he could go or which one of her private parts he could kiss if he pissed her off.
“Hey everybody,” Earleen announced, entering the room breasts first. “I need to get in this game and win me some money, honey.”
- Willie got up and Earleen sat in his chair. P. Willie was Earleen’s ex-husband, and they couldn’t be around each other too long before she would curse him out and belittle him. She was known to curse Willie so bad some said the house would shake and paint would peel off the walls.
“Don’t leave on my account, Willie.” Earleen smirked. “You owe me some money anyway. As a matter of fact, you owe me for twenty years of misery.”
“All right, all right, you want in this game?” Pap said, intervening. He flipped and turned the cards, shuffling them creatively like an artist at work. Earleen continued her rude remarks at Willie. She enjoyed grandstanding in front of people, especially when he wouldn’t respond.
Willie had already spent some days in jail for whipping on Earleen and some other days on bed rest from getting whipped by her. Willie hastily backed out of the game, slamming his hand of cards down on the table. He knew from their twenty-year marriage that he had no wins when it came to anything involving her. He divorced her because she’d made him feel like an abused child. Agitated, he flipped his wrist at her and bolted out the back door.
“Ah, Willie, you ain’t gots to leave,” Earleen said, grinning with satisfaction.
Brenda chuckled. She loved Earleen’s spunk. She studied Earleen meticulously, from the way she mixed the cards in her hand to the way she tilted her head to one side surveying each player’s moves. The sounds that came from her mouth when she licked her teeth, to the way she curled her lips and blew rings of smoke into the air when she puffed her Lucky Stripes cigarettes all fascinated Brenda.
“Pap, you know your sanctified brother would kill you if he knew you was over here teaching that girl how to gamble,” Earleen said, tapping her cigarette ashes into the small glass ashtray. Pap eyed her scornfully and ignored her comment. They were known to argue as much as she and P. Willie did, but Pap wasn’t in the mood, and he didn’t want Brenda to witness them arguing. He was teaching her to play the game with people like Earleen, whose number one strategy was distraction, and Pap knew it. He kept playing, his lips fixed with a half-smile, and one eye focused on Earleen while still making eye contact with Brenda.
Although Deacon had some idea of Pap’s gambling activities, he didn’t know the extent of it, and surprisingly, he never banned his kids from being around him or visiting his home. Deacon knew all of his kids loved their uncle Pap. He and Pap had a brotherly respect for each other, and Deacon knew Pap would never allow any harm to come to his children.
Pap didn’t have to ask Brenda not to mention the poker game to Deacon. He wasn’t worried about it either. He knew how Deacon was trying to raise his kids, but he thought all people should learn something about life outside the church even if they never intended to live it.
“Learning to play poker ain’t never hurt anybody. It’s when you don’t play fair that it gets dangerous,” Pap said, projecting a cunning smile.
His opponents all winced, believing his words.
“Gone in the kitchen and get you a soda pop, Baby girl,” he added.
Brenda returned to the table with her Dr. Pepper, feeling exuberant and fulfilled as if she had just been given a prize. She was proud of the card tips she’d learned and was anxious to replay the game with Maureen, but the thought quickly vanished when another thought of Deacon’s no card, no dice rules entered her mind. She knew her daddy would have convulsions if he found his girls playing poker. I’ll have to play cards at Cheryl’s house, she thought.
“I’m gonna get on home,” Brenda said, pulling away from the poker table.
“You got any money in your pockets?” Pap asked, pulling a wad of money he had rubber banded together from his pocket.
“Unh unh,” she replied, shaking her head and smiling bashfully.
“Here you go, Baby girl. I want you to always keep some money in your pocket, and when you get old enough to get a man, a real man, make sure he got plenty of money to keep your pockets full, too.”
“Thank you, Uncle Pap,” she said, accepting the twenty-dollar bill and sliding it down into her pants pocket.
Jake smiled, examining her once again. She noticed his dark wide eyes slowly cruise her body from her small breasts to below her tiny waist. Naively, she paused, returning the stare. Her slight grin and bright eyes revealed her innocence. She was not ready for the advances of a man, especially one nearly twice her age. She quickly turned and made her way out the back door. Jake’s eyes followed, trailing her petite frame and developing curves.
Jake’s short silky black hair was combed back, the kind they called “Good hair” that black women loved to run their fingers through. He’d been blessed with smooth, blemish free, cocoa brown skin that glowed with one deep dimple on his left cheek. His hypnotic smile and perfectly shaped lips drew women to him. He wore a neat, expensive-looking black and white double-knit sweater. It coordinated with his black, professionally pressed, tailored slacks, and his freshly polished Stacy Adams. He was well put together.
Pap caught Jake’s eyes and sharpened his own. For two seconds, their eyes met. Pap squinted, sneering at him with concern. Jake looked down. His eyes leveled only with the top rim of the cards he had spread in his hand. Pap focused on him, pinching his bottom lip between teeth. Pap was a good judge of character. Silently, with a stern eye, he assessed Jake carefully. He knew Jake was much older than Brenda, and Jake’s noticeable admiration didn’t alarm him too much; it just drew up some caution. He hoped Jake didn’t have ill thoughts or intentions regarding his niece, for his own sake. Still, Pap, being the protective uncle he was, felt he needed to keep a close watch on Jake. He kept his mind on Jake, but returned his focus on the card game, puffed his cigar, and exhaled calmly.
Brenda sat with her best friend, Cheryl, on Cheryl’s front porch, chatting and giggling like they had done since they were in fifth grade.They’d met when both their families moved from St. John Street to a predominately white, middle-class neighborhood on the North Side, Brenda’s family lived in the poor black area across the railroad tracks. Cheryl’s family, already on the Northside, had just moved to a bigger house located a few blocks from their last one. As fast as the Colored families moved in, the White residents moved out.
Cheryl and Brenda noticed the big moving truck pull in front of the house across the street.
“Look at them. My daddy said they lived there for twenty years. As soon as we moved in, they put up a for sale sign in their yard. I don’t know what they’re scared of,” Cheryl said.
“I should run over there and say BOO!” Brenda said.
They both laughed.
“Better yet, I’m just going to exercise my civil rights,” Cheryl said sarcastically.
“What?” Brenda asked.
Cheryl began punching her closed fist into the air.
“Black power. Power to the people. Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud,” Cheryl said as she pranced around the porch and yard until she collapsed on the grass in laughter.
“Girl, you better stop.” Brenda laughed.
“Well, what they gone do, beat us?” She giggled.
“No, but your daddy will.”
“Daddy’s at work and Mama’s at church. I can’t wait until Friday. They’re gonna be gone to Toledo for the whole weekend to visit my aunt Tilley in the hospital. Me and my brother are staying home. I already told William he could come over.”
“Girl, your mama’s gonna kill you. You know you can’t have boy-company when your mama’s not home,” Brenda said sarcastically.
“Who’s gonna tell her? Not Joseph, ‘cause he’s always sneaking girls in his room when they’re not home.” Cheryl shot Brenda a look.
“You know I’m not gone tell.” Brenda smiled.
“I know because I told William to bring Karl, too.”
“What?” Brenda exclaimed.
“But nothin’. You know you like him, and he likes you, too.”
“I do like him, but he has too many girlfriends,” Brenda said.
“Those are not girlfriends. They’re just girls that like him.”
“What about Deniece Nickson?” Brenda asked.
“Humph, them boys just like to look at them big jugs she got bouncing on her chest. I saw her all in his face, walking around, jiggling that big, nasty booty of hers.”
Cheryl walked around on the sidewalk in front of her house, imitating Deniece’s walk.
Brenda joined in, poking her chest and butt out. “Left, left, right, left.”
They both burst into laughter. At the same moment, they noticed Deacon driving past in his Cadillac on his way home from the church a few blocks away. Deacon smiled and waved at them. They waved back at him, holding in their laughter. As soon as he passed them, they burst into laughter again.
“I wonder if your daddy saw us acting a fool.” Cheryl giggled.
“Look Cheryl.” Brenda tapped Cheryl on her shoulder as she noticed another car coming up the street. It was her friend and classmate, William, driving his dad’s Chevrolet. Karl was on the passenger’s side. The car slowed down in front of the girls. Karl leaned against the passenger door with his arms dangling outside the car.
“How y’all doing?” Karl smiled as he eyed Brenda from head to toe. The sunlight beamed on Karl’s hair, a fresh Caesar cut with natural waves in the crown.
“What y’all doing out here?” William asked.
“Minding our business,” Cheryl said.
Brenda smiled bashfully at Karl, looking around at the shrubbery, the street, everything to avoid his eyes. Cheryl stepped off the curb and walked around to the driver’s side to talk to William.
“I have to get the car back to my dad,” William said.
“I will see you this Saturday?” Cheryl said, smiling at William as she made her way back to the sidewalk. William smiled.
“You gone be here, too?” Karl asked Brenda.
Hesitant to speak and answer his question, Cheryl quickly answered for her, “Yeah, she will be here.”
Brenda got up earlier than usual so she could get her Saturday chores done. She didn’t want anything to stop her from hanging out with Cheryl or Karl. As soon as she finished mopping the floors and completing her long list of assigned chores, Brenda got dressed, slapped a coat of white shoe polish onto her white sneakers, and rushed out the house to meet up with Cheryl. She was anxious to get together with Karl. They’d laughed and talked all week in the math class they shared. Karl had a sensual smile and a magnetic personality that made Brenda blush and grin from ear-to-ear each time she was in his presence. She couldn’t forget the soft kiss he’d planted on her cheek after school.
As soon as Cheryl saw Brenda, she sensed her best friend’s excitement and chuckled. “You know,” Cheryl said, “other than buck-tooth, Henry, from the fifth grade, Karl is about the only other boy you’ve liked.”
“I didn’t like buck-tooth, Henry!” They both laughed.
“I kind of like Victor Simmons. He is handsome, but he is just so wild. He flirted with me, but since he’s graduating this year, I don’t think he’s paying me much attention,” Brenda said.
Cheryl heard William and Karl laughing and talking as they walked up the block.
“Here they come,” Cheryl announced as she looked outside the screened-in porch. Quickly, they both primped and patted their hair. Cheryl brushed the loose hairs from her shirt. Brenda licked and sucked her teeth, hoping she had rid any evidence of the chocolate cake she had just eaten.
William walked up the steps first. He stood a tall, slender six-foot-three with extremely long arms and big feet; one curl of his chemically straightened, shiny hair flipped down on the right side of his forehead. Karl, much shorter with a stocky physique, carried his hair brush in his hand and brushed his hair every few minutes.
“Can I have one of those?” Cheryl asked William, shifting her eyes toward the Winston-Salem cigarettes protruding from his shirt pocket.
“Girl, you know you don’t smoke,” William said.
“How you know what I do?” She grinned. “I’m grown and old enough to do what I want to do. Now, give me one.”
“All right, grown lady.” He chuckled, tapping the tip of the box twice, tilting it forward, and allowing a few cigarettes to stick out.
Cheryl pulled out two cigarettes then handed one to Brenda.
Brenda glanced over at Karl then accepted it willfully. Karl pulled out his own cigarettes then offered everyone his matchbook.
“Come on, y’all,” Cheryl said. She glanced to her left then to her right before waving her hands and gesturing them to come inside the house to smoke.
When they finished smoking, Cheryl dashed through the house, squirting her mother’s Pearls and Lace perfume into the air, hoping to mask the smell of smoke even though her parents were away for the weekend. Brenda and Karl took a seat on the brown chenille sofa that Cheryl’s mother stated she didn’t want any kids sitting on while Cheryl and William disappeared into the small den located off the dining room. A small porcelain lamp lit one side of the living room as The Supremes’ song “Baby Love” played softly on the large television/stereo that took up the entire left side of the room.
“Why are you smiling so hard?” Karl asked.
“I’m not,” Brenda replied, giggling. “Oh yeah, thanks for helping me with my math in class, although I got them ALL wrong!” She smiled, pursing her lips. Karl looked baffled since he considered himself a math whiz.
“Really?” Karl asked, concerned.
“No, I’m just kidding.”
Karl sighed with relief.
“You played a good game,” Brenda said, praising him on his scores and his skillful moves in the big high school football game between Northern High and Central High that he’d played in the day before.
Karl grabbed her hand and clutched it inside of his, tickling her palm.
“Your hands are so soft,” he said, rubbing both her hands between his. Brenda blushed. “And you’re so pretty.”
“Thank you,” Brenda replied in a soft bashful tone.
He leaned in closer to her. She inched back, smiling nervously.
“I know you’re not gonna play shy.”
“No,” she stuttered, nervous. “I’m not.”
Playfully, he pulled out a small section of her naturally wavy hair near her temple and twirled it in on his finger, making a ringlet.
“You’re messing up my hair,” she said, swiping her hair back into place.
He smirked, then inched closer, fidgeting with her ear, gliding his finger along her cheekbone as she blushed. He moved closer, cornering her on the end of the sofa, pressing his chest against hers. He planted his lips firmly against hers, sending a shot of heat through them both.
“Stop,” she said, snickering. She pushed him away, but he went for her again, attempting to slide his tongue into her mouth. She had never kissed him or any other boy like that, so she wasn’t sure if she was doing it right.
Karl’s sixteen-year-old hormones raged, and he didn’t waste time talking. His hands led the conversation as they wandered, touching and fondling Brenda. With time, she gained confidence in the kissing process, and they flowed with it pleasurably. Karl’s hands found their way inside her white cotton blouse, and then found their way up Brenda’s skirt. Brenda panicked and pushed his hands away.
“I don’t want to do this,” she said nervously, shifting her eyes toward the doorway of the den where Cheryl and William were.
Karl ignored her and continued kissing and pecking her neck hungrily as she squirmed.
“Stop,” she said faintly.
Karl persisted with lustful intentions. His hands swarmed her body swiftly. As she closed her eyes and passionately kissed Karl, flashes of her father’s lectures engulfed her mind, interfering with the heated moment. Tense, she pushed Karl away and pulled herself up off the sofa.
“Let’s play some records,” she said, trying to sway Karl’s heated mood and calm down.
His faced was smeared with disappointment. She ignored him and put on The Temptation’s “Get Ready,” and they both got up and sang and danced.
“I love that song,” he exclaimed as the music faded off.
Heated and anxious, he grabbed her left hand and twirled her into his arms, embracing her firmly up against his pounding chest and bulging pants.
“Why don’t we walk down the street to my house?” he whispered in her ear.
“I don’t know.” Brenda smiled.
“I got all the jam records at my house.”
She smiled as he began naming some of the Motown records he owned.
Suddenly, Cheryl and William erupted from the room.
“Come on, man, it’s almost time to go to my little brother’s basketball game,” William said.
“Ah man, I forgot. Why don’t we just hang out here,” Karl said, thinking about how far he could get with Brenda.
“Naw, man, I told him we’d be there, and my dad is waiting for us.”
Karl sighed with more disappointment as his plans to get Brenda to his house were sorely interrupted. And she was relieved. Kissing Karl and letting him feel her up was one thing, but going all the way with sex was another. She was not ready for that.
“I’ll see ya later,” Karl said and kissed Brenda on her cheek.
William kissed and hugged Cheryl before he and Karl left.
“Girl, why you look so pale? What did you do?” Cheryl gasped. “What did you and Karl do?”
“Nothin’, we didn’t do nothin’.”
“So you just talked? Yeah right.” Cheryl laughed.
“And that’s all?” Cheryl asked suspiciously.
“He was feeling all over me. Then we danced and then…”
“And then what?”
“His…” Brenda said, trying to get the words out.
“His thing was poking me,” Brenda whispered.
“You know what I mean! His…his penis was pressing against his pants. Girl, I thought it was gonna pop out.”
They both laughed.
“Girl, if your daddy heard you say that word, he’d beat you ‘til Jesus came and tied him up. Say it again, girl.” Cheryl chuckled.
They both said the word together.“P…P…Penis.”
They fell all over each other, laughing hysterically.
“Well, what did you and William do?” Brenda asked. “I didn’t hear no talking in that den. All I heard was breathing.”
“Did you …”
“No,” Cheryl replied, cutting into her words.
“Why not? You’ve already lost your virginity to him.”
“‘Cause I’m on the rag,” Cheryl said sarcastically in that old lady voice she often used.
“Me too.” They both buckled over with laughter. “That’s funny how we have our periods at the same time.”
“I told William to come over next weekend.”
“Hmmm,” Brenda responded.
“And Karl’s coming, too,” Cheryl continued.
Brenda didn’t say anything; she just looked a little bewildered.
“Why are you looking like that?”
“You know what Karl wants to do.”
“Well, why don’t you just do it?”
“‘Cause I don’t want to.”
“Yeah, plus… it might hurt.” Brenda folded her arms across her chest.
“You chicken,” Cheryl said,
“Well. I ain’t fast like you.” Brenda shot Cheryl a look.
“Right,” Cheryl said. “You like Karl, don’t you? Well, don’t forget Barbara Collins that’s always in his face or Deniece with her big stanky booty. They throw themselves at him, but he likes you.”
Brenda thought about the way Karl made her smile when they were in class and the nice words that twirled off his lips and the stars that she saw when she kissed him. Mostly, Brenda thought about the tingling feelings she got when his hands wandered about her body and how much more she liked him.
Brenda sat with Cheryl on her front porch as they often did. Just as they were giggling Karl walked up to the house bouncing his basketball.
“Why y’all giggling?” Karl chuckled, still bouncing the ball. “Y’all laughing at me?” The girls tried to contain the snickering. “I’m on my way to the park. Why don’t you walk with me, Brenda? It’s right down the street.”
“I know where the park is, Karl.”
“Well, c’mon walk with me.”
“No, you go ahead,” Brenda said.
Karl kept asking and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“Girl, just go,” Cheryl said, giving Brenda a nudge. After a few minutes of hesitation, Brenda agreed to go.
Karl and Brenda stood together in the center of the basketball court since there were no other players around.
“Let me show you some moves,” Karl said before showing off his best moves intending to impress Brenda. He laughed as she tried to mimic him.
“This is hard work,” Brenda said, wiping the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand. Karl grabbed her by the hand and escorted her over to a tree where they sat, talked, and laughed. Brenda showed her shyness as Karl kissed her on the cheek. Before long, she gave in to his sensual kisses.
“C’mon, let’s walk to my house,” Karl said, taking Brenda by the hand. “My mom’s cleaning some white folks’ house out in Grand Blanc, and my daddy’s workin’ second shift at Buick.”
“I don’t know if I should be going to your house,” Brenda said as they continued strolling down the sidewalk, approaching his house. She ignored the little voice in her head that told her not to go and kept right on walking. With her hand clutched in his, she walked a step behind him as he cut through a path in his neighbor’s yard that led right to the side door of his house. Suddenly, Brenda stopped and let go of his hand.
“I-I don’t think I should go in,” she stammered. “Your parents are not home.”
“C’mon.” He grabbed her hand again, grinning mischievously as he pushed open the door, nodding to her to walk in first. She waited in the kitchen while Karl tipped around the house, double-checking to make sure no one was home.
“I’ll wait right here,” she confirmed.
“Wait for what?” Karl smiled and looked at her for a moment then he kissed her passionately. After that, she no longer hesitated.
Leading Brenda by the hand, Karl headed straight for his upstairs bedroom. They passed through the living room and dining room. The neatly kept home reminded her of her own house. A host of family portraits lined the living room walls above the floral printed sofa. She took special notice to the big portrait of a man in a decorated Army uniform in the middle of the others.
“Is he your brother?” she asked.
“Yeah, that’s my big brother, Wallace.”
He reminded her of her brothers, Al and Johnny. “Your sister’s in my English class,” she said, noticing a photo of Karl’s younger sister, Victoria.
Karl pushed the door open to his room and flicked the light switch. Brenda looked around the room, admiring his sports trophies before she plopped down in the middle of his twin bed that was covered with a worn handmade quilt. She worried about what Karl’s parents would say if one of them came home and caught her in their house, especially in Karl’s bedroom.
Brenda sat quietly, trying to convince herself that all they would do was listen to records.
He took a few minutes sifting through his stack of forty-five records before he played Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Tracks of My Tears” on the small record player. Brenda chuckled as he danced comically across the room, attempting to ease her tenseness. Without warning, he shut his bedroom door and turned the skeleton key that clicked and locked loudly. Brenda’s expression shifted, and her smile faded. She wanted to get up and run, but at the same time, she wanted to play big girl although she was terrified.
Next to Brenda, Karl laid sideways across the bed with his feet dangling off the edge. His hands initiated their true intentions. Brenda’s sense of fear enticed him. Her conscience wanted to deny him, but her heart didn’t want to disappoint the popular high school star athlete. She knew many foolish girls wouldn’t hesitate to give him what he wanted. Plus, he was cute, funny, and he’d told her he liked her a lot.
“Just relax,” he said.
Nervously, she gave a half smile as Karl’s hands crept slowly up her skirt, frisking her between her legs. She lay stiffly, afraid, but enjoyed the tingle she’d begun to feel between her legs. She tried to relax, taking deep, short breaths, but her anxiety persisted. Instead of sugarplums, visions of her daddy danced through her head. The stuttering words of her Sunday school teacher Mr. Johnson and his lessons on fornication buzzed in her mind. That infamous phrase her mother repeated constantly, “Keep your legs closed,” haunted her. She tried hard to erase them all, but the images continued to invade her thoughts. A few scriptures that Deacon recited even bounced in her head.
Oh Lord, what am I doing here? she thought.
She gripped Karl’s hands firmly, forcefully pushing him away, but he was stronger and overpowered her.
“Stop pushing me,” he whispered.
“But, I’m scared,” she admitted, whispering back. The big girl persona was silenced as the sweet church girl was revealed.
“I’m not gonna hurt you. You do want to be my girl, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” she responded, hunching her shoulders.
“Well, be still and let me have you,” he demanded.
Frozen, she glared into his hungry eyes as he worked her pink cotton panties down her legs. They stopped at her knees as she locked them tightly, shivering. Karl yanked them hard one good time and maneuvered them from around her ankles, slinging them to the floor on the side of the bed.
Stressed, she settled her body underneath his. Wet with perspiration, Karl’s manhood throbbed against her unopened gift. Her eyes watered. She closed them tightly, grinding her back teeth together in fear. Cautiously, she gave in to his urges, inhaling and exhaling rapidly, embracing him tightly, sinking the tips of all of her fingers into the arch of his back. Within minutes, that to her seemed like hours, those invasive thoughts of her daddy, mama, and Mr. Johnson slowly vanished. She breathed easier, caressing him, massaging his back, but lying still like a frightened little girl. A single tear flowed from the corner of her eye into her soft sideburns. She knew she would never be the same again. Her innocence melted away as her virginity disappeared.
For the past few months, Brenda enjoyed being the live-in babysitter for her aunt Lois, especially during summer vacation. It gave her a chance to be away from all the rules at home. While Lois and her husband, Marshall, worked nights at the Fisher Body Plant, Brenda stayed with their daughters, Sophia and Dawn, after they got out of school since Brenda got home earlier than they did. Her only gripe was that she had to go home on the weekends because Deacon demanded she return to attend church with the family on Sunday.
Lois sat quietly at the kitchen table, peeling potatoes and listened to the irritating sound of Brenda gagging and vomiting in the bathroom located just off the kitchen near the back door. She could hear Brenda sighing heavily each time she flushed the toilet.
With her eyes watery and red and her light complexion pale pink, Brenda walked back into the kitchen.
Lois paused and stared up at her. “Are you pregnant?” she asked bluntly.
“No, noooo,” Brenda replied assuredly.
“You don’t look well at all.” Lois stopped her potato cutting, planted her right elbow on to the table, and rested her hand under her chin.
“Maybe I have the flu or something,” Brenda said.
“Hmm,” Lois replied suspiciously. She eyed Brenda with concern, doubting that she had the flu.
Uncomfortable with her staring, Brenda turned away. She could tell Lois was thinking something. Lois had been pregnant twice, so she was familiar of all the telltale signs and symptoms.
Lois and Marshall were much younger than Deacon and Kadie and definitely not as strict. Still, Brenda didn’t want Lois to know that she’d relinquished her virginity, and the thought of ever getting pregnant had not crossed her mind until that moment. Having an irregular menstrual cycle, being weeks late or even a month late for her period was not unusual, so she hadn’t been concerned.
Now fear set in. She thought back on the one intimate experience she had with Karl weeks earlier.
I only did it one time, she thought. I couldn’t be.
She stood gazing out the kitchen window, her hands fidgeting, twisting the side seams of her plaid, pleated skirt. She tried hard to appear confident that her vomiting could only be from a stomach virus, but she could barely look at Lois.
Brenda occupied herself, removing the dishes from the counter and placing them into the sink. She could feel Lois gawking at her from behind. She cringed.
“I’m going to take you to get a pregnancy test tomorrow,” Lois said..
“For what? I’m not pregnant. I couldn’t be,” Brenda lied.
“Humph.” Lois rolled her eyes and resumed peeling the potatoes.
With no further response, Brenda continued washing the dishes.
The next morning, Lois drove Brenda to a medical clinic across town. After an hour wait, the nurse called for Brenda.
Brenda anxiously sat in a chair in the patient room, waiting for the results of the urine test the nurse gave her when she first walked in. She took a deep breath when the door opened and the doctor walked in.
“Congratulations,” the tall, slender doctor spoke. “You can go home and tell your husband that you are expecting.” Although Brenda looked like a teenager, the doctor didn’t question whether she was old enough to have a husband. In the sixties, it wasn’t uncommon for teens to wed, especially during the war.
Expecting? Husband? Brenda thought. She sat expressionless as the doctor’s words faded, and her face blurred as she imagined herself with a big belly, wearing an old pink bathrobe and run-over slippers. She quivered as images of her daddy with smoke blowing from his ears and fire from his mouth skipped around in her mind.
Without words, Brenda walked back into the waiting room in a daze. Brenda’s face said it all, confirming Lois’ fears. Together, they walked down the long hallway out the door in silence. To Brenda, the short distance from the building to the car seemed like miles. She had barely enough strength to open the car door. Her face crumbled into a whimpering cry as Lois helped her in the car and made her way back around to the driver’s seat. Lois drove home pondering on the situation, shaking her head in disbelief.
“Lawd have mercy,” Lois whispered to herself.
“What am I gonna do?” Brenda asked. “Mama and Daddy are gonna kill me. I’m only sixteen, and I’m pr … na … I can’t even say it.”
Back at Lois’ house, Brenda plopped down on the sofa, folded her arms, and rested her face on her lap. Lois walked around, looking just as worried as Brenda. She knew how disappointed her sister would be, but more so how angry her brother-in-law would be about his baby daughter being pregnant, out of wedlock. Lois thought about an abortion, but knew that was not an option. She knew the only abortion procedures around there were illegal ones done by somebody’s uneducated mama performing unsafe, medical procedures in a back bedroom on the low end of town. Lois had a friend who died during one of those procedures, so that was definitely out of the question.
“For now, I’m going over to Charlotte’s house,” Lois said. “She has those Quinine pills, and I have some Humphrey Elevens.”
“Humphrey what and Qui what?” Brenda questioned.
“They are pills that help you miscarry.”
Brenda’s eyes bulged with curiosity. “They have pills for that?”
“Well, a…a…just stay here, and I will be right back,” Lois replied.
She knew the pills were not medically designed for that purpose, but it was rumored women had success when they used these prescription drugs in efforts of aborting a fetus.
Lois grabbed her keys and rushed out the front door. Solemnly, Brenda sat on the sofa in front of the window. She noticed a young woman walk by pushing a baby carriage.
“Oh God, what have I done?” she yelled.
She felt anxious and jittery. She stood and paced the floor, weeping and mumbling to herself. All the things her mother said and her father preached over the years swam around in her head. The thought of her father finding out weakened her stomach. She rushed to the bathroom, barely reaching the toilet before she vomited. She gagged and cried all at the same time. Drained, she tried to revive herself, splashing cold water from the faucet onto her face. She grabbed a towel from the rack behind the bathroom door and patted her face. Exhausted, she sat down on the rim of the bathtub.
“Lord, I am so sorry.” She sobbed and sank her face deep into the towel and cried harder.
She pulled herself together enough to answer the telephone after the fourth ring.
“Hi Mama,” she said nervously, hearing Kadie’s voice. Her heart dropped and a piercing sensation flushed through her body, anchoring at the tips of her toes.
Oh no, does she know? Did Lois go tell her? Brenda thought.
The tension soared giving her an instant headache.
“I was just calling to remind you about the youth meeting at church this evening.”
“OK, Mama.” She exhaled slowly with some relief as she hung up the phone. Church was definitely the last thing on Brenda’s mind.
By now, her headache was so intense that she desperately needed to find some relief. She scrambled through the house searching for aspirin, looking in the medicine cabinet and the kitchen cabinets to no avail.
Brenda searched Lois’ bedroom, her dresser, neatly decorated with perfume bottles, fragrant powders, tubes of lipstick, and a large white jewelry box in the center of the dresser. Brenda pulled open the first dresser drawer. She noticed a brown prescription bottle with the inscription Humphrey Eleven typed on it. With the bottle in one hand, she paused, thinking. She remembered this was one of the pills Lois told her about. She was desperate enough to make her problem go away immediately. She figured since Lois had already told her she was going to give her the pills that she would go ahead and just take some without any instructions. Quickly, Brenda opened the bottle and poured two pills and then one more into her other hand.
“I have to do this,” she whispered.
She rushed into the living room and looked out the window to make sure Lois had not pulled back into the driveway. She dashed back into the kitchen, turned on the faucet, grabbed a cup, and filled it with water. Without hesitation, she popped the pills into her mouth and gulped down the full cup of water. She gagged a few times, but swallowed them all.
“God, please forgive me,” she sobbed.
Fatigued by the events of the day, she lay back on the sofa and pondered the situation before dozing off to sleep. She tossed and turned for nearly an hour as the pills began to take effect, elevating her body temperature. She felt light as if she was floating. To her, the sounds of kids playing outside, the traffic, and the neighbor’s dog barking seemed to be right in the living room. She felt the room spinning and turning, slowly then fast. Suddenly, she sprang up in a cold sweat. Wired, she rocked back and forth, biting her thumbnail. She wiped the sweat from her forehead then wiped her hand on her skirt.
Lois sped into the driveway and rushed in the front door. She stopped and observed Brenda’s condition. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Brenda answered, still biting her nails.
“You look dazed.”
Brenda continued rocking. “I have the Quinine pills. You’re gonna have to take this with gin.”
“Gin, you mean like alcohol?” Brenda asked.
Brenda’s eyebrows drew together with three creases on her forehead. The pills plus the gin were supposed to be part of the potion for a miscarriage. Lois went into the kitchen to pour Brenda a glass of Gorton’s Gin and came back.
“Here. I’m only going to give you two pills for now. Let’s just see how you take to them,” Lois said as she handed her the glass. Brenda still didn’t mention that she had just taken the pills she thought were Humphrey Eleven. She was willing to do whatever it took to get rid of the fetus. She took the pills, gobbled the gin fast, and let out a long sigh.
“I will give you the Humphrey Eleven’s a little later,” Lois said.
“Well, I… I… I took some of those already,” she hesitantly admitted.
“What?” Lois sounded furious.
“I was looking for something for my headache and found them in your dresser drawer.”
“Oh my God,” Lois screamed.
The thought of slapping and choking Brenda raced through her mind. She squinted her eyes, tightened her lips, and gritted her teeth, standing with both hands resting on her forehead.
“You said you were gonna give them to me,” Brenda said, “So I took them since I couldn’t find any aspirin.”
Lois exhaled in frustration. A truckload of profanity swarmed inside her as she inflated her jaws with air and then released it like a deflating balloon. She controlled herself, realizing that the expletive expressions would be useless.
“First of all,” Lois chastised, “you had no business rambling through my drawers. Those pills are not Humphrey Eleven’s. They are pain pills I just put in that bottle. I wouldn’t have given you both at the same time!”
“I’m sorry,” Brenda replied.
“How many did you take?”
“I … took three.”
“Three? Oh my God. How are you feeling?”
“Well, I did feel kind of funny, and I was sweating.”
“That’s it,” Lois yelled. “I’m not giving you nothin’ else. The last thing I need for you to do is die on me. Your mama and daddy are gonna kill me, and you! I can’t believe I am even doing this for you. I’m gonna call Aunt Margie, and ask her what to do about this situation ‘cause you gonna give me a nervous breakdown. I’m gonna have to keep an eye on you. I don’t know whether I should get you to the hospital or let you sleep it off. Dammit, girl!”
Lois was real mad at Brenda, but she could understand what she was going through and how badly she didn’t want Deacon and Kadie to find out. Lois hated to lie to her sister, but she knew she had to come up with something to get Brenda out of having to go to a special youth meeting at church that evening. Lois told Kadie she and Marshall had to go check on his mother who was very ill and that they really needed Brenda to babysit for them. Deacon reluctantly agreed and took Maureen to church as usual.
Lois propped herself up in the corner chair in the living room with three pillows and a blanket as Brenda lay on the sofa. She sat there all night monitoring Brenda. She wondered if all the pills would have an ill effect on her. She prayed about it. She knew that if Brenda gave any indication that she was ill from the pills, she would immediately rush her to the emergency room.
“My back hurts, and I can hardly move my neck, sleeping on that sofa all night,” Brenda said, stretching and rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
“How are you feeling, any spotting?” Lois asked.
“Spotting?” Brenda questioned.
“No,” Brenda answered, disappointed.
“I talked to Aunt Margie this morning. She told me not to give you any more pills if they didn’t work. She told me to take you to the doctor and have you tell him that your husband is coming home from Vietnam, and you messed around with another man and got pregnant.” Baffled, Brenda’s eyes widened and her mouth drew open. She couldn’t believe how fast her life had turned so badly.
Doctor Southgate was known among the black women in the community as a doctor that gave injections or prescriptions to women that wanted to end an early pregnancy.
On the way to Dr. Southgate, Lois prepped Brenda on what to say.
“Fix yourself up, girl.” Lois pulled her pressed powder and lipstick from her purse and handed it to Brenda. “And here. Put this on.” Lois took off her wedding band and tossed it to her.
Brenda paused, staring at the ring before putting it on her finger. She was still baffled about the whole thing and all the trouble Lois was going through to help her through it.
“Here goes,” Lois said as they entered the door of the small brick building.
Brenda was too nervous to look at the doctor. She fidgeted with the wedding band on her finger as she spoke in a quivering voice, telling Dr. Southgate word-for-word what Lois told her to say. He assured her the injection he would give her would deliver the result she wanted.
After the injection, he told her, “Now go home and sit in a tub of hot water.”
As soon as she got back to Lois’ house, Brenda rushed into the bathroom to fill the tub with water.
Later that night, Brenda got excited, and felt relief when she saw the small blood stains in her panties. She rushed into the living room where Lois was watching TV since she had called in sick that night.
“I’m spotting, I’m spotting,” Brenda shouted. She realized she’d been shouting and whispered,”I’m spotting.”
Lois didn’t really know how to respond. She felt guilty knowing her suggestions were not the most positive, but she wanted the whole thing to be over as much as Brenda did.
“Just go lie down and we’ll see what happens,” Lois said. She felt exhausted from working long hours and from the sleepless nights dealing with Brenda. Brenda went to bed in one of the girls’ twin beds and Lois waited on the sofa for Marshall to come home.
Brenda barely slept that night as she constantly went back and forth to the bathroom, checking her underwear for more bloody evidence. She rubbed her stomach, anticipating the painful menstrual-like cramps that Lois told her to expect, and waited and waited.
At six a.m. the rain came down hard. The broken rain gutter continuously slapped the aluminum siding at the rear of the house. To Brenda, each whack felt like it was beating her own the back. She was stressed and worried. Since Dr. Southgate told her to give it at least twenty-four hours to see some results, she waited well into the next afternoon. She had made at least fifteen trips to the bathroom, but there was no more blood, not even a drop, and no abdominal cramps. All she had was a “no sleep” headache and tattered nerves that made her fidgety.
Lois’ bedroom was right next to the bathroom. Once she went to bed, she heard Brenda going back and forth, opening and closing the bathroom door all night, but she was so tired she didn’t bother to get up. She knew Brenda would get her up if anything significant happened.
Lois pulled herself out of bed late to get her morning coffee. She met Brenda in the hallway. She noticed that Brenda’s eyes and nose were puffy and red.
“Well?” Lois asked. Brenda shrugged and hung her head as she rested her back against the wall. She didn’t have to say anything. Lois knew.
Gently, Lois took Brenda by the arm and escorted her to the kitchen.
“What are we gonna do now?” Brenda asked as she sat down at the table.
Lois turned on the water faucet and filled the kettle.
“We ain’t gonna do nothin’,” Lois said as she placed the kettle down on the left front burner. Lois knew there wasn’t anything else she could do, or wanted to do, especially if it was going to jeopardize Brenda’s health.
Brenda’s eyes watered, as she sniffled and wiped her wrist across her nose. Lois reached for the matchbox on the wall shelf and lit the pilot on the gas stove and swayed back as the flame blew up fast.
“Looks like you’re gonna be a mother,” Lois said.
Brenda squeezed her eyes shut and allowed the tears to roll down her cheeks. Her heart pounded to the same beat of her father’s footsteps whenever he rushed down the basement staircase. Her stomach fluttered like an ocean at high tide. She felt the need to cry out loud, but she held it deep in her gut, afraid she would wake Uncle Marshall and the girls.
“Ain’t no sense in crying now. Sometimes life takes us on a train ride that we don’t ask to go on, but we have to ride it to get to the next stop.”
“But why did this have to happen to me? I should have never …” Brenda stopped mid-sentence thinking back to the intimate session with Karl.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I do know things happen for a reason, especially if you do all you know how to change them and they still don’t change. Then that’s just how God meant it to be.”
“This can’t be what God wants for me. It just can’t be,” Brenda said firmly as she stood in front of the table.
“Well what else you thinking about doing?”
“I don’t know, but I got to do something.”
The hail of tears that she fought to hold back finally gave way. Simultaneously, the kettle whistled and Brenda let out a howl, waking the sleeping girls and her uncle. She covered her face and tried to muffle the sounds of her tearful frustration.
“Is everything all right in there?” Marshall yelled out from the bedroom.
“Everything is fine,” Lois yelled back. “Sit down,” Lois said to Brenda, pulling the chair out to the center of the kitchen. “You better pull yourself together. Your daddy will be here to pick you up so that you can get ready for church tomorrow.”
Brenda dreaded the thought of going home. “I’m not going to church tomorrow, and I’m not going home either. Please, tell him I’m sick or something.”
“Huh?” Lois frowned.
Sophia and Dawn ran into the kitchen happy and energetic like they did every morning. “Ring-a-round the rosy, ring-a-round the rosy,” they chanted as they circled Brenda sitting in the chair.
“Go play, girls, go play,” Lois said, shushing the girls out of the kitchen. When the girls ran off, she added, “I am not gonna lie to your daddy. He’s so holy he’s liable to see right through me. And I’ll get struck down right in the middle of the lie. No missy, you gone have to face your mama and daddy.”
Brenda sunk her face into her hands and cried more. “I can’t go through with this.”
“It’s nothing you can do, but deal with it. You gone have to tell Kadie.”
A few hours later, Brenda pulled herself together and got dressed. Deacon pulled up and honked his horn. Brenda took a deep breath and exhaled. She looked over at Lois sitting in the kitchen chair and Lois shot her back a look.
“You’re going to be OK, Brenda.”
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