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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
In His Favor
by Olympia Vernon

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He said that my pussy was too tight. And the sky seemed so far away from the front seat of his Chevrolet. The clouds and who and what they were moved closer toward the house, shifting slowly over the hog pen in the backyard. He pulled me closer to him, so close that my ass hung over the edge of the vinyl. He had torn my dress. Momma had stayed up all night sowing and mending my things, so my clothes would be clean. And now my dress was torn. Just a complete mess that he had pushed around my neck, so he could fasten his penis down there. He tried again, with one hand on the gun, the other holding his penis, over the surface of my navel, getting it harder than it was the first time. I turned from him. I prayed that there was a monster inside, to take his shit off as soon as he put it in, to rip it clean to the gut and leave him there bleeding like the fool that he was. He said that my pussy was way too tight and that he would have to spit on me to get it inside there. The scent of the oil on his hands made me sick. I had smelled it a million times when he came to the room, the night after I had my first period. I remembered him walking through the darkness, taking one step at a time to feel his way, and sniffing the blood on his fingers, telling me that I was a woman now and that I needed a man to make me whole. That only a man could complete the circle. I had to have a man in my life because a man taught me to believe. He said that my lips were tough as whiskey and that I had better get wet before that gun put a hole in my head. That I had better pretend that I liked him fucking me and pushing me around on the front seat of his Chevrolet.
      He put an index finger over the tip of my meat. He said that was much better. His thing felt like rubber against my inner thigh. I felt it going deeper inside my hole, as I listened to him put the gun on the dashboard. He leaned over my body with the sweat dripping down the fat of my nipples. The pain had been worse than the paper cut I got in Home Economics, deeper than Christ. And I had become embarrassed. He was fucking me and I blamed myself for it. For the times I had walked around the house in ass-high shorts, bending over the clothes basket at the clothesline. I had outgrown myself. I had become a man's material to get dirty sometimes.
      "Lawd, Jesus," he said. His shoulders were thicker than sunrise and I felt them hovering over me, coming loser to me when he hit a good spot. The Vaseline on his scalp was getting stronger now. It had been mixed with Pine Sol to clean the ringworms out of his skin. And I smelled it rising above his Afro, into the air. Momma said that he had that lung disease and to be good to him for as long as we could afford to have a man around. She told me to wait on him hand and foot because a good man always comes in handy. Just as well, since she had spent most of her life loving him and lifting the piss pot in the middle of the night.
      "Lawd, there's a heaven above," he said, slobbering on my skin. "I done reached it. Lawd knows I done reached it."
      His voice sounded like a cartoon pirate. It was husky and ran deep down his throat. Like he had a bad kernel in there that never quite came out. The cigars were old but he kept smoking them. His clothes wreaked of them. He said that he knew that his lungs were giving way, but that he was a bastard, and bastards got to do whatever they damn well pleased.
      My skin was still soft. I had that old woman's skin before the earth grew tired of her and sucked her in. Soft and ass-like. He blamed me for it, for coming into the world wrapped in gold, my pussy straightening
out the edges of his hair.
      "Goddamn, Eve," he said to me. "This shit outta be a sin b'fore God. Shit, girl. Shit."
      At that moment, I knew why the other girls came to school with silence in their eyes. I knew why my best friend, Lucy Smith, sat through study hall not saying a word to Miss Asher, sitting in her desk, quiet as a mouse, until the bell rang for us to go home. She used to never be that way. She was the hippest thing in the schoolyard. We loved her, the way her eyebrows grew into a habit. We envied her, until she accidentally drowned in the Chattawa River. They say her father stood on the edge of the bank shivering, watching them drag her body from the water. I missed all of them. Not just Lucy, but the others who stopped talking at all, who wrote everything down on a slip of notebook paper.
      He pulled out. He stumbled away from the door and picked the gun up again. And I hoped it would accidentally go off and shatter every idea, thought in his head. Blow his ass to hell with a bigger hole in his mouth.
      "Now," he said. "Get up from there. Put your clothes on."
      The dress was wrinkled. It was white like a lily after a fresh rain. Momma would ask me what happened to it, why the fabric looked out-of-tact. And I would lie again. Like the time I lied when she thought I had had a boy in my room because Daddy's fingers had fucked up the air.
      "Come on, Eve," he said. "I aint got all day."
      I put my feet upon the earth. And the semen slid down my leg into a thick, white gel. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and passed it to me. He then walked and pulled down the tailgate, turning his back to me as if he wanted to give me some privacy, as if he hadn't just fucked me and now wanted to give me a moment to myself so I could get my shit together.
The tee shirt on his back was cool with sweat. His jawbone had a disease in it. He tried to cut down on smoking and starting dipping skoal. It had eaten his bottom lip and the left side of his jawbone up with disease. Still, he could never quit smoking. He said that it kept the devil off his back.
      "Leave this alone," he said, with his back still turned away from me. "Tell your Momma one 'o' them Brahma got off back here somewhere. You hear me?" His wide ears stuck out a little bit more from the side.
      "Yes, sir." I was sore. And when I put my hands down there the blood came from it. Not period blood, but the blood of a man's blood bringing me into the world.
      "The Brahma got away. I got it. We lost it back here somewhere. I got it."
      I cried when I saw the whole length of the dress. Signs of the struggle. A grown man throwing me on the grass and stretching his hands across my mouth. A hole that had been taken apart by a rapist who never cared that I wanted to marry someday and have my own kids. I knew that every man who came into my life would have to know that I had been raped. Because it would be hard now (for me to look at any man without thinking about the beast inside him).
      "Quit that nonsense, child," he said. "Hush up now."
      Momma had draped her shawl over the front seat before we left the house. I wrapped it around me and waited for him to add weight to the driver's side and start the truck. Through the trees, Momma was somewhere hanging clothes from her damp shoulders, the back of her head as fuzzy as a Georgia peach.

                        # # #

The magnolias were dying. They drooped from the limbs of the trees, onto the windshield of the truck. Our neighbors, the Harolds, were sitting in their front yard eating the insides of a watermelon. They grew all kinds of things in their garden: peas, butterbeans, collards, mustards, turnips, tomatoes, squash, etc. She said she would leave him every year. They had been married thirty years and her memory was going bad. Her hair had turned gray and her skin was beginning to sag badly. She used to be one of the first black painters in Pike County. They say the mayor was sweet on her, some white man who never came around, but she kept to Mister Harold. His parents were sharecroppers and believed in the "forty acres and a mule" theory. They were one of the few couples who actually got exactly that.
      "Looks like the Harolds are out this evening," said Daddy. He blew the horn and they nodded their heads.
      "Wonder if that watermelon is fresh this season. It aint no good if the heart is pink. If it's red, we can work with it."
      The sky was butterscotch orange. A breeze came through the trees that caused me to close my eyes and enjoy it, a pure, natural thing that seemed unpoisoned by him. Momma stood out in the front yard fanning herself with a program from church. The heat came down upon her thin shoulders, as she lifted her legs and rested them on a tree stomp in the yard. I loved her, though I felt she knew what was going on. I loved her for being brave enough to comb that long, pretty hair of hers and love herself, despite the birthmark that covered the right side of her face. A wide birthmark that darkened the yellow skin underneath. It may be different soon. I may hate her.
      He pulled up next to the fig tree and shut the truck down. "One word," he said, with his hand on the gun.
      "One word."
      My heart beat faster and faster, as I looked him in the eyes. "Yes, sir."
      Momma walked up to the driver's side and held the door open for him. "Where have ya'll been?" She smiled at him through the birthmark, grabbing him around the waist and turning to me.
      "A Brahma got loose back there," said Daddy. "We went to go hunt it down. You know how bad Black is 'bout stealing."
      Mister Black was a man who owned the land on the other side of the field. He gambled a lot and had a reputation for stealing cattle. He and Daddy had fussed a couple of times but nothing ever happened. Just a threat here or there.
      "You keep following your Daddy around on these calls," said Momma, "you gone know everything there is to know about dairying. Be the next David Attleboro 'round here."
      We had gone on calls before. But that was when he was touching me down there with only his fingers.
      He timidly pushed her away from him. "Let me go wash up now, Addy," he said. "Then you can have all the loving you want."
      There was worry in her eyes. But she gave him a smile. She looked at me, then him, and he kissed her lightly on the cheek. She watched him walk away and went back to her fold- out chair, pressing the fan between her fingers, fanning herself again.
      I stepped out of the truck and thought of a way to talk to her. Something to say to her that wouldn't sound strange or harming to her character. "Are the clothes dry?"
      "No," she said in a matter-of-fact manner, "I just put them out on the line. What you wanna know for?"
      "I wanted to wear that set with the sunflowers on it today."
      "Hmmm . . . "
      Daddy stood in the screen door, looking out as I faced her. "Is the lemonade ready?"
      "Been ready," she said, unfolding the church program and ignoring the rips in my dress. "Got some hot biscuits and sour cream in there too."
      I turned to go in the house and I heard her voice again. "I'd kill for you, Eve," she said. "I'd kill."
      I stopped, with my back to her. "I know, Ma."

                              # # #

Dinner was quiet, at first. Nothing but the sound of our hands sopping the syrup into the biscuit. A wind blew through the kitchen window. It was hot this time, but I could tell that the earth was cooling down. And the force of his penis would take longer to leave my body. It would throb for about a week and the soreness would take a good two weeks to go away. The
counselors educated us about it at school, before I knew that they were talking to me.
      "Is that liver too tough for you, David?" Momma sat next to him, rubbing his shoulders.
      "Naw, baby," he said. "It's just right."
I thought about my dear friend Lucy Smith. And when she used to sit on the back of the bus with me drawing wide circles on a sheet of construction paper, laughing about Ollie Dupont and how he was going to be the first boy she ever kissed. At three 'o' clock, the bus route took us from the school grounds, past the feed and seed store, the post office, the bank, and down the road to her grandparent's house across the road. It was hard for the Harold's to talk about it. I would go over to borrow sugar and she would turn her head away from me. She would give me the sugar, but she never looked me in the face (only from afar). And that's when she starting hating men. I would hear her screaming to the top of her lungs, pulling out every seed in the garden "because," she'd say for the longest time, "Lucy was my baby."
      "Aint it time for your pill?" She got up from the table and looked at the large clock hanging over the kitchen table. "It sho'll 'nough is."
      He took his medicine around four-thirty every evening. It was for the pain in his liver. The doctors said there was nothing else they could do. That his liver had lasted as long as it could and all they could give him was pain medicine to ease him through death. They gave him six months; a month of which had passed already.
      "I keep telling you to give me warm water baby," he said, putting the glass of water back into her hand. "It'll break it down for me."
      "Stop that complaining now, David."
      She always said that she would kill for me. Bullshit. She wouldn't kill for me as much as a nigger would kill his master. Always the lectures about the men, about a woman needing a man for the course of her survival. Yeah, a woman needed a man to give her a peter big enough to fuck her insides up for the rest of her life, enough to make her a barren whore. "Why aren't you eating your food, Eve?" he asked, staring at me through the eye of the glass. "We can't afford to waste no food around here."
      I prayed to God that the disease would kill him sooner than six months. I saw him buried under a heap of dirt with a tag on his big toe that said: "I forgot to admit that bastards die too."
      "It won't go bad," I said, burning between my legs, cringing at the feeling of the blood still flowing into the earth.
      "Listen to your Daddy now." Momma pulled her hair to one side the way she did when the birthmark became an embarrassment for her. They had been married sixteen years and she still hid herself from him. Every time she did that he pulled it back behind her ears, and she smiled into her self-esteem.
      "Yes, Ma'am." There were no more tears. Only anger and the smell of the oil on his fingers. No matter how many baths he took I would never forget the strong, thick odor from the work on his hands.
      Daddy rubbed his lower jaw and scratched the wires that had grown there. "I need a good shave." The dirt under his nails had hardened now. And I watched the way he was with Momma, how they played around sometimes like two children just falling in love.
      "Let me freshen up a bit," she said to him, "and I'll get it clean."
      I left the table and closed the door to my bedroom. Things were different now. I had left there a thing untouched and returned with the feeling of a fresh rabbit, before the skinning.

                        # # #

The next morning, I awoke to the noise of Daddy on the lawn mower, going around in circles on the front lawn. The grass seemed less green to me, because I cared little about the existence of it. All I knew was that it had always been there and changed overnight into a dull, rye-looking tone.
      I touched myself down there and got up to look at my skin in the mirror. The high-yellow hue of it had darkened. I had been out in the sun so long the day before that I hardly recognized it the night prior. I had that white folk's hair. That what my grandma used to say before she died of a stroke. She said that she didn't know where I had come from because everybody else was course-headed. I hated my white folk's hair. He wouldn't have wanted me if I hadn't been high-yellow and had white folk's hair. He wouldn't have raped me if I were black as a jellybean and nappy-headed.
      I opened the drawer and took the scissors out, pulling my hair between my fingers. The tears fell. The anger still lasted. But the pain of what he had done to me wouldn't go away. I blew the dust from the scissors and cut my hair. I cut it. I cut some more. It fell. I cut some more. It was at my shoulders now. I cut it higher. I cut. I cut. It was just below my ears. I cut. I cut, until the base of my scalp shone in the mirror.
      "We got the same Lord, Daddy."
      He pushed the lawn mower over an anthill. And I saw him running away from it and trying to get the ants off the edge of his pant legs. Momma ran out there and helped him take off his shoes. He cursed and hopped around on one leg, still trying to get his socks off. And I laughed. I laughed at the amount of poison that entered his body at one time. I laughed because it was funny.
      "Bring some alcohol, Eve," said Momma, calling out to me from the front yard. "Your Daddy's done stepped in ants."
      I simply did not hear her. She yelled again and again.
      I put the palms of my hands over my ears. I did not hear a word.
      I saw her running toward the house, slamming the front door. "Eve, didn't you . . . "
      She stood in my bedroom door, looking at me and my pile of hair on the floor. "What in God's name have you done to yourself?" She took my shoulders and shook them. "What in God's name have you done to yourself, Eve? Have you lost your mind child? Lawd, my God!"
      She threw me on the bed and stood there crying, with her face inside her hands. The anger rose from her. She knew that if she really touched me, she would break a bone. Daddy called for her. She looked up at me, angrier this time. "David is gonna kill you, Eve."
      She left the room, running back out into the front yard to tell Daddy what I had done. He grew furious and took to his feet, raising and lowering his hands to his hips. Momma followed him through the front door.
      "My Lawd," he said, standing in front of her, realizing for himself that I had really done it. He walked up to me and slapped me with every bit of strength that God gave him. The blood dripped onto my nightgown and I vowed not to cry in front of him. He could have hit me, until my head fell off, I would never let him see me cry again. Never.
      "I outta . . . " He raised his hand to me again but realized that Mrs. Harold was outside tending to her garden. She saw him there, raising his hand to me a second time. He closed the curtain and walked out of the room.
      "Look at what you've done, Eve." My mother sat beside me on the bed. "Your father is all upset now. Why now? You know he's sick."
      I sat there quietly, letting the blood drip into thick lumps onto my nightgown. I felt I had owed her nothing. She was my disease, an illness more deadly than his that spread throughout my bones and handicapped me.
      "I need me, Momma."
      "What are you saying baby?"
      "Nothing, Momma."
      She grew impatient with me, turning to me before she stepped out of the room. "You won't be leaving this house after school and none on the weekends, unless it's on an errand. You hear me?"
      "Yes, Ma'am."
      She was upset because I would not talk to her. She had always wanted that, but I just couldn't do it. I wanted to, at times. It just never came to that. My room had been my haven for so many years. It was nothing for me to stay inside on a Saturday. I didn't have any cousins, no aunts, nieces, nephews. Only one uncle locked up in some Angola prison and a diary that I wrote in from time to time.
      I heard them in the kitchen talking about me, saying that I was crazy and needed to talk to the Reverend; so he could help me get my shit together. The conversation went back and forth between the bites on his ankles to my cutting my hair. I reopened the curtain and saw Mrs. Harold in the garden staring at me with a tomato in her hand. She stood there a long time, and for some reason I was not embarrassed. I heard Lucy Smith laughing between the two houses because she knew that I had done something right in my life. That I had been shy all the way through kindergarten, but I had finally done something outside myself. I picked up a pen and turned to page fifteen, a blank breast of paper:


      the cows heard me out there yesterday they didn't say
      anything home economics is a motherfucker but miss
      dudley says things are getting better for me this
      morning, I saw a capital "I" for the first time when I
      cut my hair a big smile now
      Eve Attleboro

      "Miss Harold is calling for you, child," said Momma.
      "Go over 'n see what she wants and bring your 'lil ass back to this house for cleaning soon after. And put something over your head. Don't want everybody in our business."
      I changed my clothes and tied a pink scarf around my head. The towels were a little damp, because of the morning dew. I used one to wipe the blood from my nose.
      Daddy looked up from the lawn mower. He put one hand on his gut, watching me, shaking his head as I passed by. The breeze had spread the ant pile farther across the yard. His pants were pulled up to his knees into two thick cuffs. He had put on a pair of tube socks to cover his ankles.
      I crossed the road and checked the Harolds' mailbox for anything new. It was common courtesy around Pike County to check the mailbox of the person inviting you to the house, to save them a trip.
      Mrs. Harold had been barefoot all morning, digging up roots from the garden and throwing them to the side.
      It had been a long time, since she looked me in the eye. "What time does that Pappy 'o' yours take his pill?"
      My hands shook, because I thought he could see that I was talking about him by the way my mouth moved. I dropped the mail, watching her calmly pull the eyeglasses from a pouch around her neck.
      "What we got there?" she said, picking the mail up and reading the letters aloud.
      "I tell you the truth. If it aint for debt, the world'll be in a mess, wouldn't it child?"
      "Yes, Ma'am."
      Daddy watched me.
      "It's okay, child," said Miss Harold. "Just give me a time, reeeaaal slow-like."
      "Ffffour-thirty every evening, Ma'am."
      "Come inside for a glass of lemonade," she said.
      We walked into the house. It smelled like old bananas left that had been left out of the refrigerator and rotted over time. Everything had Jesus in it or on it. The Bible cover had been embroidered into a cream-colored fabric. A naked Christ was stitched into it. There were Jesuses with halos, nativity scenes that hung over the kitchen sink, magnets fashioned like Him, etc.
      It had changed a lot since Lucy died. She never talked about God but how the earth had a hole in it where Lucifer had sucked so many children in. And later, after Lucy, how men were the cause of failure. They were the reasons for all things unanswered (those things involving any and all evil). Mister Harold just let her have her way. She had tamed him.
      "This heat makes people do some strange things don't it," she said, pouring me a tall glass of lemonade from a glass pitcher. "I aint gone keep you long. Don't fret."
      "I guess."
      She poured herself a glass and sat next to me. I could hear Mister Harold in the back of the house, repeating the 23rd Psalm over and over again.
      "Don't pay him no mind, child," she said. "All men need Jesus."
      She cleaned her lungs with laughter, before getting serious again. "You say four-thirty every evening huh?"
      She reached into her satchel again and took out a small, clear bag with white powder in it. "I'm gonna give you this," she said. "You figure out what to do with it. But whatever you do don't let your Momma lay one hand on that glass come four-thirty."
      She walked away, humming something beneath her breath.
      "I told you I wasn't gone keep you long didn't I?" She said, pausing and opening the front door again. "Now, get on back home b'fore he start looking for you."
      "Yes, Ma'am."
      I crossed the road and he looked at me like he hated me. Those pants still rolled up to his knees, looking more ridiculous now than before I had left the house.
      "What did Miss Harold want with you?" Momma was in the kitchen washing dishes. She despised me for what I had done to my hair.
      "She said she's getting old and needed some help reading her mail."
      "That woman's a trip and a half."
      I went to my room and waited for the time to wind down, wondering if I hated him enough to go through with it. My scalp sweated underneath the scarf. I took it off and pulled the white powder from my pocket, sniffing the clear bag in my fingers. It was odorless. It couldn't have amounted to more than the tip of my index finger--just enough to dissolve into a glass of
hot water unnoticed.

                              # # #

Before long, it was time for dinner. Black-eyed peas and cornbread with fried, green tomatoes on the side. The sun gradually moved behind the magnolias and the heat had come to a standstill. The minutes were long on the clock, ticking away at the seconds like the sound of a dripping faucet after midnight.
      He had come in from cleaning up the lawnmower and went to the bathroom to wash up.
      Pieces of my hair were still falling out. The ends were jagged and seemed more curly at the base of my neck. Momma set the table, never saying a word to me or even noticing that I had been sitting right in front of her.
      "Good eating this evening, I see." Daddy sat in his chair and said his grace. The table shook when he coughed and I put my hand on that bad wooden leg that he had never properly fixed, because it had a curve on the bottom.
      The clock struck on the hour. Thirty minutes until the pill was to go down. And I grew more nervous, listening to the sound of his fork come down on that cracked porcelain plate he loved so much. He and Momma sat there talking about the new gospel choir that the church had formed. "Reverend Owsley said they wanted maroon and white, because the other colors just didn't look right," said Momma, hinting to me that I would be going to church more often.
      "Don't forget about your medicine now, David." Momma unscrewed the cap on the hot sauce and poured some over her black-eyed peas.
      They kept on talking about the church and how the Reverend collected a hundred dollars from the members' tithes. "We can get some new curtains to match those robes now."
      Lucy Smith always smelled like the dust after a fresh rain. It came through strong now. And I pictured her taking up the fourth seat of the table, standing on the edge of it with her Mary Janes hanging off the edge in a dare.
      "Well," said Daddy, "you know that last Reverend ran off with everything."
      "I know," she said, "best we could do was pray for him."
      The magnolias hovered over the house in a dark shadow, collecting the wind in their branches and uniting it with the earth. And I witnessed the rape, him inside me, the leaving of my spirit far away from my body, barefoot in the woods.
      That thing hanging from him and the semen hanging loosely from my ovaries. No magnolias then. No scent at all, just the sound of his pelvis against mine.
      Momma got up from the kitchen table and opened the refrigerator. "Eve," she said, picking up the empty pitcher, "how many times have I told you to put some more lemonade in here when it runs out?"
      She took out a cutting board and starting chopping the lemons into fine pieces. The knife cut her. "Shit," she said, looking up at the clock. "The least you can do is give your Daddy his pill while I tend to this."
      She left the kitchen with a dishtowel around her index finger.
      "You all right there, Addy?" he watched her go down the hall to the bathroom.
      "I'll be fine," she said.
      I opened the cabinet and picked up the glass. The water was warm, just as he liked it. He faced the wall, the empty kitchen walls that had nothing on them but lavender wallpaper and a picture of Jerusalem on them. Nothing but the signs of two hypocrites who couldn't see the forest for the trees.
      "Hurry up now, Eve," he said.
      The white powder melted clean through the water. My hands trembled when I gave it to him. "About time," he said, putting the pill in his mouth and raising the glass to the ceiling. I waited for him to swallow it, so I could remember what it felt like to watch him die there in that chair, pot-bellied and full of black-eyes peas and cornbread and powder--white powder that I hoped would kill him dead as the night was dark.
      He put it on the edge of his lips and pulled it back again to view it in the light. He knew that I was trying to kill him. He knew. That old lady was crazy for thinking my Daddy would fall for this. He knew. He took so long because he knew. "Are you sure this glass is clean, Eve?"
      "Yes, sir."
      He leaned his head back again and poured the powder down upon his liver. And I closed my eyes to envision Lucy Smith circling the table with my spirit in her hands.

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