Dog Parks, Writing, and Kavanaugh

I met a dog named Dog today. I took Son Number Two to the dog park. Dog was a sweet old dog. His owner said she’d gotten to the age where she just names her dogs “Dog” and her cats “Cat.” I liked it. It reminded me of Because of Winn Dixie for some reason.

Son Number Two always gets hurt when we go to Shakespeare. Shakespeare is a park that has a Fine Arts Museum and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, a outdoor amphitheater, a dog park, and lots of green space.

But for Son Number Two the following things have happened at Shakespeare:

  • Fell and broke his wrist
  • Fell and his head hit a hard stone, causing a small bullet-sized wound on his head. The wound went all the way to his skull
  • And today–got bitten by a dog at the dog park. I didn’t lose my shit. My dog, Jazz, has nipped a kid before. She can be a bad dog. This dog had just bit another kid though, and then went after Son Number Two. And he did the grab and started to try to shake. I don’t know what set him off. Son Number Two and I were on the way out of the park.

He is okay. He is currently at movies with his dad and brother. They’re seeing something I don’t want to see so I’m having alone time.

My writing is non-existent. My sister wants me to write about my alopecia for The Moth. I also need to be writing and submitting, but I’ve been so busy. Plus, I have thank you letters for work to write, and PTA minutes to write. So much to do.

I wanted to comment on the Kavanaugh proceedings when they were going on, but didn’t have the heart to, especially with the way things went. I am worried for women. I am worried for America. I am watching The Handmaid’s Tale and it suddenly doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibilities that women’s rights could be erased. I believe women when they say they’ve been assaulted. False accusations are rare. But in the U.S. we still have this blame the victim mentality. And then Kavanaugh played the victim. I don’t want to get political, BUT I don’t think respecting women and listening to them is a political issues. I think we need to learn how to teach our young boys to be gentlemen and that sexual assault is bad. We need to change the narrative.

Signing out–hope to write more. I plan on posting some stories soon, you know, once I start writing them again.

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Comfortably Numb

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to meet with our interim rector. We had coffee at Prevail Union in downtown Montgomery. If you live in Montgomery, go there now. Best coffee house around!

I met with him to discuss Valiant Cross Academy, church, and also to plan. He shared with me some of his life. I shared my life with him. I told him how I moved from banking (where I comfortably sat for 15 years) to a development job at a non-profit school who serves young men, providing the necessary skills for them to become leaders through love and structure.

We talked about callings. We talked about being called away from one vocation and called to another vocation. Tom’s words spoke to me, because this happened recently in my life, and I think MOST people thought I was crazy or having a mid-life crisis. I know when I wake up and go to work every day I feel fulfilled and like I’m making a difference. I didn’t feel that way in the banking world (despite all the people I met, developed relationships with, and continue to love).

We also talked about social justice and racism.

Tom shared with me an article he wrote after he visited the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. If you haven’t been there, then go. It’s more important than coffee. In Tom’s article, he referenced the song Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. I hadn’t listened to that song in years. Here it is for those of you who haven’t heard it.

Reflecting on Tom’s words, I thought about how I had walked through life for years comfortably numb. I lived in my middle class world, surrounded by more middle class people, and I closed my eyes to the social injustices going on. About a year ago, I started reading about social injustice, about the education to prison pipeline, and about systemic racism which continues to plague the United States. And I believe reading about these issues was the catalyst for my job change.

We all need to ask ourselves what we can do to make the world a better place for ourselves and our children. And we need to stop being comfortably numb.

Whats your catalyst? How are you going to change the world?

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I Held Your Heart Once

Here’s a short story (748 words) I wrote for Chuck Wendig’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. Let me know what you think about it in the comments below:

I Held Your Heart Once

“I told you this was a bad idea!” he shouted.

Yeah, as if the entire idea had been mine. We sat in the house on the gray floor, my fingers almost completely numb. I wanted to shove a knife under his ribs. I plastered a faux smile on my face.

“You start the fire then.”

“Fine,” he said, grabbing the stick and the stone from me.

I studied El’s face as the light in the windows began to recede and the bitter wind howled. His cheeks were gaunt. When we’d left they’d been full of meat. Now, we both looked like shadow people; skinnier than we ever should have been. The lines of dirt on his cheekbones would have made him look like a football player if he were bigger. But now they accentuated the emaciated look of his face.

I tried to blow the blue out of my fingers.

El shouted at the stick as if it had ears.

I went to the door.

“What the fuck are you going to do, Mare?”

“Going somewhere else. I mean we’ll freeze to death in here.”

“It’s safe and it’s warm.”

“It’s not warm.”

“It’s warmer than out there.”

I looked out the window. The ferocious snow fell barricading us into this desolate place. We were stuck, and it was my bad idea that had brought us up here. I thought there’d be food, maybe canned goods. But when we opened the door a vacuous wasteland of dust greeted us. The back window had a crack letting in a constant stream of cold air and snow. No wood, except for wet, snow-bound logs sitting on the crumbling front porch. I could feel El’s hostility aimed at me like an arrow.

“I mean who the fuck goes up the mountain. We should have been going down.”

My heart felt like a worn stone in my chest. I stood by the door, not opening it, with my back to him. He struck the rock against the stick. Heat remained aloof. There was friction in the air but not enough to start a fire.

“My hands are numb,” I said. I turned toward him.

He put the rock and stick down and looked at me. I could see his old face hidden in his new one. The old face I’d fallen in love with. His eyes which had looked cold softened and his face crinkled into a smile. His smile warmed me up, and I felt the once familiar spark. The one that had been missing for awhile now, the one that reminded me that I’d held his heart once.

“Come here.”

I stood still.

He stood up and walked toward me, measured steps through the dust of the room. He pulled my shirt off before I could say no. His hands on my breast warmed me up. Body heat, the natural generator. He took off his shirt and grabbed my hands. He warmed them with his, rubbing them together like the stick and the stone. He placed my hands on his chest.

He slid down my pants then pulled down his. I shivered, and he wrapped his arms around me. We were like two unlit pieces of coal trying to catch an elusive spark. I felt him enter me and shivered again. We had not made love in ages.

“I don’t have a condom.”

“It’s okay.” It wasn’t.

Our bodies moved together filling the cabin with warmth. I imagined soft lights. I imagined a rope bed with a soft mattress, blankets covering us. I imagined the smell of chicken cooking in the oven. I imagined our children.

When I blinked, I felt his hip bone against my inner thigh. I’d never felt his hip bone before. The barrenness of the cabin stole my fantasy. He moaned and I squeezed my arms around him trying to find the heat in what should have been passion. I didn’t want the fantasy of what we once had to end. But he pushed hard, climaxed, and rolled off of me. The frigid air pierced my sweat-smothered skin. El sat with his back to me and took up the stone and stick again.

I had been wrong to come here. He’d held my heart once but it has since shattered like an icicle.

A sudden spark rose from the stick. El lit the wood then turned to look at me with fire in his eyes.

The smoke was blue and grey and smelled like a promise.

Snow Mountain

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Rejection

 

I received my rejection from the Master’s Review yesterday. SIGH. 

Curses, rejected again!

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Here it is in all its glory:

Dear Lauren, 

Thank you for sending us “I Held Your Heart Once” for consideration in our Flash Fiction Contest. We really enjoyed reading your writing, and are flattered you chose to submit to us. This is one of our most popular contests, and we thank you for your patience while we read through all of the submissions. 

I am sorry to say that your submission was not selected for publication. It is clear that you are a very talented writer, and your piece stood out from the pack. Unfortunately, we had to decline some excellent stories, but we are grateful for the chance to read such high quality work. 

We wish you the best of luck with your writing and look forward to bringing you more wonderful stories. Part of our aim is to support great work from new writers and we consider every story we read an effort toward that goal. We couldn’t do this without you. We hope to read more of your fiction in the future. 

Thank you again, 
The Masters Review Team


In case you’re interested in reading my rejected piece, I’ve republished to this blog: https://laurengreenewrites.com/2018/09/06/i-held-your-heart-once/

What a nice rejection. I mean, honestly. I’m a very talented writer. I know this. I just can’t seem to get actually published. The thing about writing is that there’s constant rejection. A rejection letter can send you for a loop. I knew that story was good. It just wasn’t what the Master’s Review was looking for. That’s their loss.

So how do you deal with the rejection of not getting published? Maybe you take a drink. Or go for a run. Then you start writing again. Or you send out that piece that maybe didn’t work for the Master’s Review to someone else and wait for the next rejection letter to roll in…or if you’re really lucky, an acceptance.

I like to think about how J.K. Rowling was rejected a billion times before she became a published writer. I also like to think about how much I enjoy writing and sharing it with others. And about how sometimes my writing is just for me. That I need to write to be fulfilled, and if I’m never officially published then I’m never officially published.

Roll with it, baby.

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Hello Again

It’s been awhile. I have had a lot going on in my life. All good things, really.

Here’s an itemized list of my month of August

  • Kids started school. On August 6th. I mean, why? Super early. But, honestly, the routine has been good for them.
  • Hubby went out of town and came back on August 6th. Then he went out of town on August 15th for a week. This meant I had to go it all alone (with some help from my awesome mom and my awesome niece).
  • I started a new job on August 15th. Did you notice how that coincided with Hubby going out of town? Yeah, perfect timing! HA
  • My sister came into town to visit. I spent almost every night hanging out with her, except when she went to see Phish with my husband.
  • My sister and I drove up to see my other sister one weekend.
  • We went to the beach.
  • There were about 12,000 back-to-school nights, PTA meetings, and one conference.

I love my new job. I’m no longer in banking. I’m in education. And I’m working for a non-profit, which is seriously awesome and I feel more fulfilled in my life. That’s super important for me, I think. It took me a long time to make a leap out of the safety of my banking job, but I think I did it at the right time. I ultimately feel happier and more satisfied.

I promise to start writing a weekly blog. I will be continuing my race series, and adding some short stories. Maybe one of these days I’ll have time to work on my novel again.

But for now, I just wanted to say hi and that I’m around even though I’ve been quiet. August is just an insanely busy month.

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The Nixon Years Are Still Haunting U.S.

In June of 1971, Richard Nixon started a war on drugs. In July 1973, the DEA was formed.  Also, 1973, the New York governor instituted mandatory minimum sentences for being caught with small amounts of marijuana and cocaine of fifteen years to life, and almost immediately other states adopted the same policy.

The state and the federal prison population grew from 218,466 in 1974 to 1,508,636 in 2014 according to the Sentencing Project.  This is a 600% increase, and the US population has only grown 51% during that time. Out of that number, in 2013 about 58% was black even though black people only make up 30 percent of the total U.S. population.

The U.S. has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest number of its own citizens incarcerated, and having the most minorities imprisoned.

So why and how did this happen?

In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement occurred. Integration came. Black people started to have a more equitable existence in the United States. Conservatives were not happy about this. They needed a policy that would target black people so they could put them back in their place.

Nixon started the War on Drugs at a time when crime was unprecedentedly low. There is a conspiracy that the CIA even began planting drugs in Harlem, to then start cracking down on drug use in the black neighborhoods and imprison them.

War on Drugs–sounds great to the American people. Let’s teach our kids drugs are bad, and let’s sell to the public that drug users are perpetrators of violent crimes, and then let’s lock them all up. However, Nixon’s campaign wanted to target specific people: anti-war protestors and blacks. In a 1994 interview, John Ehrlichman, who served as Nixon’s chief domestic advisor, said the administration launched the war on drugs to go after the “antiwar left and black people.”

It’s been forty-seven years since the War on Drugs began. Perhaps, the War on Drugs real name should be The War on Black People. Nixon’s policy designed to make America more safe, helped set in to motion The New Jim Crow. Nixon’s anti-drug policy began a new way to incorporate a new system of racism in our country that most people have not been consciously aware.

With this system came the idea, again, of the Black man as a savage. According to statistics, more white men sell drugs, but more black men go to prison for selling drugs or being caught with drugs. The mass incarceration has caused huge issues in the achievement gap for black children. Black children are often looked at as “problems” before being given a chance in school, since the idea of the black criminal as been perpetuated in our culture. With so many black men being incarcerated, single mothers are having to raise boys (and girls) without fathers. This also means their ability to earn income is often reduced.

With such an increase in the number of people in prison, overcrowding has become a huge issue, and what’s the resolution? Conservatives say it’s to build private prisons. But I think we all know that’s just a way to continue the status quo of incarceration as we know it today as a way to perpetuate systemic racism.

Will change to this system take another fifty years to come down the line? We need to support policies that make the mass incarceration of black people a thing of the past. Every single person can make a difference in changing this New Jim Crow mentality if they vote, vow to make changes, and do the hard work to change the future for the better for all African Americans.

See my other posts on race in the United States:

No One Wants to Be On The Bottom

Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race

Family Values and Principles

You’ve Got Class

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No One Wants To Be On The Bottom

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I am reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. As a white person, in the South, I feel it’s my duty to understand race relations and become an agent and ally for change. I’ve read: Waking Up White, Just Mercy, and The Hate U Give this year, in an effort to understand where and how I perpetuate racism as a system of control over African Americans. No one wants to think of themselves as racist. No one. But, in a system contrived to keep an entire race down, we are all complicit in perpetuating the cycle of racism that exist in the U.S. today.

In the New Jim Crow, Alexander explains the system of mass incarceration and how it became a system directly following slavery. I’m still within the first 50 pages of the book, and already I’ve learned that the systemic racism established in the South was methodical. Directly following the Civil War and the freedom of the slaves, during the Reconstruction period, a lot of strides were made in granting freedom and liberty to African Americans. In 1866, the Civil Rights Act gave African Americans full citizenship. The 14th Amendment prohibited states from denying citizens due process. The 15th Amendment state the right to vote could not be denied based on race. And the Ku Klux Klan Acts declared interfering with voting a federal offense and violent infringement of civil rights a crime (Alexander, page 29).

After this happened, there was a great increase in the number of African Americans who voted and who sought legislative offices. And this scared the white elite of the South, because they felt like they were losing their power, their livelihood.

So there was a backlash. And the Southerners found ways to keep African Americans in their place, an earlier precursor to the Jim Crow Laws. When incarcerated, African Americans were sent to farms and literally worked to death. Incarceration of African Americans soared (just like it is today), as a way to control African Americans. Eventually, work farms like Parchman Farm in Mississippi sprang up.

Around the turn of the century, a “Populist” group of poor whites joined together with poor African Americans to fight against the power of the White Elite. The Populist group, at first, strove for equality with African Americans touting liberalism as paternalism, which the African American population did not like. The Conservatives played off of this and even convinced some African American voters that the political and economic equality touted by the liberals could cause the blacks to lose everything they had gained since the end of slavery.

For a brief period of time, the Populists made strides in integration, and then Conservative lawmakers introduced segregation and the Jim Crow laws in order to drive a wedge between poor whites and African Americans. Populist leaders realigned themselves with conservatives, and the Jim Crow laws were put into effect (Alexander, 34). Conservatives had found a way to prove African Americans were different and played on the psychology of poor whites that somehow poor African Americans were holding them down. No one wants to be on the bottom.

All of this or most of this was economically driven. After the Civil War, white elites were put into a precarious position, because they no longer had free labor. When African Americans were given more rights, white elites saw this as an attack on their power, and they suppressed that power. Jim Crow ended mostly because of public (global) perception during World War II, and due to the Civil Rights Movement. But as it ended, new systems were being put into place to check the power (economic, intellectual, and otherwise) of African Americans.

I am only at the beginning of this book, and I can already see how the system collaborated to make it hard for African Americans to flourish. The U.S. perpetuated the idea that African Americans were somehow different from us (after all, at one point the U.S. Constitution considered them 3/5ths of a person). After the Civil War, the idea of the black savage was painted with a heavy coat. African Americans were disproportionately incarcerated and given long sentences. Some children were even incarcerated for minor infractions. If one thinks the black savage is an idea of yesterday, they need to think again.

In the U.S., today, there is a we vs. them mentality. African American males are locked up more than any other population. The U.S. is the only country in the world that has such a high majority of minorities incarcerated. African Americans are still denied counsel. African Americans receive disproportionately long prison sentences. African Americans are more often executed for the crimes they commit.  It’s time to change that.

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Summer Break

Everyone needs a break, including, apparently, this author. I’ve been quite busy.

First, I went here:

Disney 1

The famous author and her husband.

I’m sure you can figure out where that picture is from. My husband and I spent our 15th Anniversary chasing kids around Disney. We also were able to enjoy it with my sister-in-law, her two kids, and my mother-in-law. Fun times! I’m a big goof, and I LOVE Disney. It is one of my most favorite places. Kids and adults have fun there. I also did it right, and we didn’t start going to Disney until my youngest daughter turned five. The food. The rides. I think it’s all great. If you haven’t been on the new Pandora ride, you need to drop everything, book a trip and go down. It was hands down my favorite. And walking through the line, the gardens were absolutely beautiful:

Disney 2

Then I came home, and I started concentrating on my short story. Okay, I’ve written about two sentences on it. I really started concentrating on eating better, running, and avoiding writing again. But, I decided I needed to start writing again today. I’d like to enter my short story into the Masters Review contest, but that’s due July 31st, and I’m not sure if I will have it finished and edited by then. I entered their flash contest, but winners will not be announced until September. The waiting game–it’s real, y’all.

I keep thinking there will be a time in life in which I will be able to just write. Or, you know, fit it into my schedule. I do a lot of procrastinating. I tend to have to set mini-goals or sprint to write. Once I start sprinting, I usually get on a roll and can keep going. So my goal this week is to sprint once a day and finish my short story by next Wednesday. If I can do that, I may possibly have enough time to edit and submit it.

I hope to continue sharing some of my short pieces with you all, and I plan on getting back to posting about once a week.

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Journey of Words

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Yes, I’m a writer. I know, I know–I haven’t been writing as much. For awhile, I wasn’t writing at all. I’ve been thinking about ancient history a lot this week. You know, memories down the lane. I’ve been doing some soul-searching, but not in a nostalgic sad kind of way. More in a way that’s helping me come to terms with some of my decisions about the past. And of course, some of this is ending up in my writing, because you know that’s what writers do. For some reason, these thoughts and the books I’ve been reading: The Last Time We Met, Less, The Princess Diarist, heck even Born a Crime, made me think I needed to set my book in Buenos Aires.

And it’s strange. I feel like I’m traveling there again in my mind. I went to Buenos Aires in 1999. I had just turned 20. This was almost 20 years ago (I’m getting old, peeps). Their currency was still tied to the dollar. Everything was super expensive. I had a astrophysicist cabbie who couldn’t get a job because unemployment was through the roof. I walked by a Jewish synagogue frequently that had armed guards, because there’s so much antisemitism in Buenos Aires they were afraid the synagogue would be bombed. I saw a guy on a bike get hit by a car, and then the driver get out and yell at him in Spanish for being in the way, while the pedestrian writhed in pain on the sidewalk by my feet. My friend P’s host family called their Doberman Pincher gay, because he was such a nice dog (I wasn’t appalled by their use of this word as derogatory then, as I surely would be now). He would sit on your lap whenever you came into the apartment, because he thought he was a lap dog. I would watch game shows and Spanish soap operas with English subtitles to learn more Spanish with my “sisters” Sol and Paz (the daughters of my host mother).

I saw a country in love with Evita Peron still. A country suffering but beautiful. The colors of La Boca. The market square. The pigeons. Luna Park and Jamiroquai. The mothers of the disaparecidos protesting in the street, still looking for their loved ones. A country where you could sit in the park and have yerba mate then risk your life at the hands of a cab driver (why do they make lanes anyway)? I saw how much family meant to Argentineans. Young women stayed home until they married. Even my crazy host family had their extended family over once a week. They laughed, drank, ate, and loved. A city that awoke no earlier than 10 and when to bed no earlier than midnight!

I think, now, experiences like these are wasted on the young. How I love to travel. How I wish to go back to Buenos Aires and see how it’s changed. Is there still a little cafe/bar on the corner of Manual Ugarte and Cabildo where I sat and talked to a boy I’d later fall hopelessly (emphasis on the hopeless) in love with until 2 AM? Where I sat with friends and tipped the waiters so big they looked forward to our arrival every evening? Is that place still there? What about the laundromat that would pick up and wash my clothes, fold them, and return them to me? I swore they were shrinking my clothes, but I was really just gaining about 30 pounds on empanadas, alfajores, and full fat milk.

Someone asked me over the weekend what type of books I wrote, and I didn’t know what to say. None. Half-finished books? Books about love and loss and unrequited love and abuse and family and women’s fiction and southern literature and maybe literary fiction. We love to categorize everything, but I feel like I get into my writing the most when I just do it without thinking about what it actually is. When is springs forth from some burning internal question I’m trying to answer.

Writing is a lot like traveling to me. I can go back to Buenos Aires. I can picture myself there. Transporting my characters to worlds I’ve been but also to places I’ve never been. An exercise in empathy. A way to answer unanswerable questions or at least get closer to explaining them to myself. But mostly just cathartic. A journey to a better understanding of the human existence, this universe we call home.

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Home is Where the Pie Is

This week, Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge involved writing about food. He did this as a way to honor Anthony Bourdain. I don’t really know much about Bourdain, but I do know about depression, and I feel like Wendig doing this challenge in his honor can get the word out to more people. If you’re depressed and feel like hurting yourself, please call the Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

So for this week, I wrote about Mila, and food, and the South, and traveling home. And it’s a little longer at 1997 words.

Home Is Where the Pie Is — 1997 words

Mila bit into a juicy piece of fried chicken. She licked her lips, tasting the grease and the salt. The chicken brought her back to humid nights, fireflies in the backyard, and red and white checkered picnic tables.

“Snap out of it.”

“Huh?”

“You were in another world.”

“Literally, I traveled back to my childhood,” Mila said. She set the half-eaten chicken breast down on the avocado cafeteria tray.

She and Clem had been on the road for days. They took the back road winding their way toward their final destination. In Oxford, they stopped at a little café called Bright’s. Mila ordered fried chicken with fried green tomatoes and pineapple cheese casserole with a glass of sweet tea. She ordered this as naturally as if she ate this food every day, and Clem stared at her.

“You ain’t from around here, are you?” the waitress said, stuffing the order pad into the pocket of her apron.

“I grew up down the road a piece,” Mila said.

“Always good to go home,” the waitress said, wandering back toward the kitchen.

Mila had two cups of sweet tea. Clem thought it too sweet and almost spit it out on first sip. He ordered water instead. Mila could feel the indulgence slipping into her bladder and filling it to the brim.

“I’m gonna run to the bathroom.”

“Want me to ask for the check?”

The waitress popped up beside the table, “What about dessert?”

Mila reluctantly sat down and crossed her legs to keep her bladder from exploding.

“What do you have?”

“The usuals: banana puddin’, blackberry cobbler, punkin pie, oh, and we have homemade peach ice cream.”

Homemade peach ice cream. Mila remembered lazy days on the front porch, escaping the 12 o’clock sun and scorching heat of the summer. She remembered her dad’s old brown bucket ice cream machine, the blue box of Morton’s salt, complete with little girl holding an umbrella, and the fresh peaches and cream.

“Can I pour in the salt, Daddy?”

She could all but taste her childhood.

“Homemade peach ice cream,” Mila said, and she rushed to the bathroom.

***

Mila met Clem on a blind date. They went to Meskerem, a favorite of Mila’s, but Clem had not been a huge fan. Mila had started her second job since college, was trying to write a book, and had just finished nursing a broken heart when her friend Ted said, “Hey, I think you should meet this guy Clem I work with. You two would hit it off.”

When she met Clem, she had been surprised, but she rolled with it not letting on. She hadn’t laughed so hard in years, maybe since the first time she’d smoked pot with her high school friends behind the gym. Clem made her cheeks red, her heart flutter, and he provided something she needed direly in her own life: humor. She watched him as he pretended to like the injera with shiro de kibbe. He made faces when he thought she wasn’t looking.

“Maybe Ethiopian food isn’t my cup of tea,” Clem finally admitted, “Next time, want to go to Dave and Buster’s?”

That night, securely outfitted in her grey lounge pants and striped shirt she confided to Ted who had stopped by for a night cap and some gossip.

“I really like him. I just don’t know whether I can date him.”

“Not a good kisser? I dated a guy like that once; let me tell you, it took all I could for me not to toss my cookies right into his mouth whenever he’d pucker up. Girl, you need to drop him like a fly if that’s what’s up.”

“No, I mean, he’s a great kisser.”

Mila thought back to the few hours before, when Clem had been such a gentleman. He opened the door for her. She started to walk in, then turned around, skipped down the step, and she, Mila, had made the first move, planting her lips on his. He tasted vaguely like Ethiopian food, gin and tonic which they had enjoyed at the bar afterwards, and cinnamon gum. When his tongue slid into her mouth, her heart beat fast, and she felt the spark—that elusive spark she had never felt before—and she knew this man who made her laugh so hard was the one for her.

“So what’s the problem?” Ted asked, sighing.

Mila hesitated a moment and then said, “He’s black.”

“And that’s a problem, why?”

“My parents would never approve.”

“Mila, dear, sometimes you just have to let go of your past. Things change”

Oh, how Mila hoped things had changed.

Six months later, Clem had proposed and Mila had accepted. And because of this, she felt they should go meet her family, the prospect scarier than anything Mila had ever faced before.

***

Mila and Clem both had the peach ice cream with real chunks of peach. A little taste of childhood. After they licked their bowls clean, they paid, stood up, and Clem took Mila’s hand as they walked toward the door. Old men in overalls and blue haired ladies stared at them. Mila and Clem walked through the spotlight pretending not to notice.

“We stick out here,” Clem said when they were out the door.

“Clem, we’re not in D.C. anymore,” Mila said, with a laugh, as she gripped his hand a little tighter and gave it a squeeze.

The road trip had been a successful one. They stopped in Memphis on the way down and had barbeque at Central. Clem declared it the best piece of meat he’d ever eaten in his life. They stayed at a hotel called The Royal, which sounded nice, but consisted of a sagging bag, carpet that felt covered in lotion, and mice or some other rodent skittering in the walls all night long. Mila said it was the same old adage: can’t trust a book by its cover. Clem nodded in agreement. Mila hoped her parents felt the same way about Clem. She wasn’t so sure. She’d never mentioned to them Clem’s cover.

Mila’s childhood home sat in a bed of green. Cows chewed up the lawn. Her father had acquired them recently. “You father thinks he’s a farmer in his old age,” her mother had said over the phone.

“A real farm,” Clem said.

“Not really. A hobby,” Mila said.

Mila’s heart raced. She did not know what her mother and father would do or say when she saw Clem. She felt like she had prepared Clem, but she knew she had not prepared her parents. She was just glad her brother, Bobby, had left town. She didn’t need his racist ass making any comments that might hurt Clem’s feelings.

Clem turned down the circular drive. The front porch greeted them warmly and the rockers gently rocked in the wind as if waving hello to old friends. The second step creaked as they walked up it. As a little girl she always tried to make it creak, and as a teenager she always feared the creak as she snuck in from late drunken nights out with friends.

Clem took her hand in his, giving her courage, as their black and white fingers intertwined, and Mila rang the doorbell.

Mila’s mom answered. She wore a rooster-covered apron splattered in some sort of food. She had her reading glasses perched on her nose. She beamed when she saw Mila, averted her eyes to Clem, and then looked back at Mila.

“Mila,” she said wrapping her in her arms. Mila’s mother smelled like her youth: warm baked biscuits, bacon and eggs, and homemade chocolate chip cookies.

“And you must be Clem. I’m Rhonda,” her mother said, putting out a hand to him. Clem shook it and beamed back. Then Mila’s mother pulled him into a hug. “No handshakes here, just warm hugs.”

The house smelled like collards and bacon grease.

“I’m making a meat and three tonight,” Rhonda said.

“What’s that?” Clem whispered to Mila.

“A meat and three veggies. It’s a Southern staple. Is Daddy home?” Mila asked.

“He went up to Garrett’s. I plum ran out of flour, and I’m making a cherry pie.”

“I wish you hadn’t cooked so much. We stopped at Bright’s and had a big lunch.”

“I hope you said hi to Howie.”

“I asked the waitress, and he wasn’t there.”

Howie was one of Mila’s numerous cousins. Mila couldn’t go anywhere in the Oxford area without running into someone she was related to. In high school it had been a joke for her to ask boys what their family lineage was, and then ask her mom, “Is third cousin distant enough?” People always said folks in Mississippi like to marry their cousins, but that was just because everyone was related.

Clem and Mila set their stuff down in Mila’s childhood room. Clem pressed his lips to Mila’s, and they hugged and kissed.

“That went well,” he said, still embracing Mila.

“Daddy might be different. I want to nap, you?”

“Sure.”

They lay in the queen size bed staring up at the ceiling. Mila could hear her heart beating in her ears, the way it did sometimes in the eerie silence of a quiet room. She looked over at Clem, and saw he was sound asleep. After awhile, she got up and walked down the stairs in her stocking feet.

The house smelled of pie. When she and Bobby had been little, their mother had taught them how to make the dough. Mila loved to take the fork and make little indents into the flour. She thought of it as artwork. She loved the way the house smelled with a pie baking in the oven, and even loved her momma when she would smack her hand when Mila tried to get into it before dessert.

Mila’s mother and father stood in the kitchen. Her father’s face had brand new wrinkles above the brow and Mila could barely believe how much older he looked.

“Baby,” he said.

“Daddy.”

“Maybe you ought to wake up Clem. Dinner will be ready in about five minutes,” Mila’s mother said.

Mila walked back up the stairs and woke Clem with a kiss.

“Dinner time. My dad’s here.”

Clem rubbed the sleep out of his eyes then followed Mila down the stairs.

Mila’s mother sat facing them and smiled warmly as they walked into the formal dining room. Steam arose from the rosebud platters that held enough veggies and meat to feed the world. Mila slid into her seat, and Clem sat across from her. Her father walked into the room, after washing his hands, and stopped suddenly.

“He’s black.”

The words hung in the air. Mila tensed. She looked at Clem. He burst out laughing, and soon everyone at the table was laughing.

“I’m sorry,” Mila’s dad said. “I just—”

“It’s quite alright,” Clem said, waving him off.

“I’m Paul,” Mila’s dad introduced himself, awkwardly patting Clem on the shoulder before taking his seat at the head of the table.

They passed around the chicken fried steak, collards, green beans with bit of bacon fat, and homemade macaroni and cheese, and everyone began to eat. When dinner was over, they sat with hands on their stomachs. Clem let a notch out of his belt.

“I’m always telling Rhonda that if she keeps cooking like this I won’t have a notch left to let out,” Paul said, winking at Mila’s mother.

“Well, it’s time for pie, so I hope you still have a little room left, Clem,” Rhonda said, walking out of the room.

She returned with plates of homemade cherry pie and one scoop of ice cream on the side for everyone. When Clem bit into his pie his eyes shone in ecstasy. He gobbled it all up in no time flat.

“This is the best pie I’ve ever had in my life,” Clem announced to the table.

Rhonda flushed with pride.

“Welcome to the family, son,” Mila’s mom and dad said in unison.

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