Episode One: Black and Blue
I have always been partial to men. When I was a little girl sitting on my daddy’s knee, I would flutter my pretty lashes and watch him eat out the palm of my hand. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I have this entire city under my spell. I always leave a trail of helpless fools with every step I take. I loved Hard Once. I promised to never let myself become so vulnerable again. I would never be weak for another man. Ever.
On the other hand, women never liked me. My Mama was jealous of the way I could get my father to do anything I wanted. Whatever I wanted, I had. He called me his princess, and that is the way I expect to be treated by everyone, like pure royalty. Mama resented me so much for that. My power is in my beauty. I assert my dominance at every opportunity. I will raise my daughter in kind. Trust no one. Do what you must to survive is my motto.
I am sitting in this rocking chair and remembering how I got to where I am now. The tests and trials of life tried to break me. My doctor said my daughter can hear me while she is still in my belly. I rub the beach ball-sized belly, sigh deeply, and settle in to tell my daughter the story of my life.
Sixteen seemed like a good age, as any other, to become a woman. It was something I thought about for quite some time. My daddy was only getting older, and once he passed on, I knew my Mama was going to make my life a living hell. I could sew, cook, and clean better than a woman twice my age. I was also very good at math and science, but Daddy said I would never use those things once some man made me his wife. I also had my virtue. Something I knew made me even more special than any of these dusty broads running up and down Mack Ave.
I had my eye on Samson Williams. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He wore his hair low cut and tapered. It’s not all processed and stiff like every other man in Detroit. Everyone wanted to look like Otis Williams from “The Temptations” with konk in their hair. Samson was different. He was my first love. Samson had the biggest muscles I had ever seen. His muscles were much bigger than most boys in my school. He was tall and lean with great style. He was twenty-two and had been working down at the Ford Plant at the river’s edge since he was seventeen years old. His being six years older than me didn’t matter. Once I twirled my curls, I could make any man lose his mind. All the girls in my grade were giving up their virtue to any man who paid them any kind of mind. I told my best friend, Niecy Wells, that a good woman only gives herself to one man, her husband. She didn’t listen to me, though, and now she is about to have a baby, and we haven’t even finished high school. She won’t tell me or anyone who the father of her baby is. I loved Niecy. We have been friends our entire lives. I will be there for her without a doubt, but I can’t say I’m not disappointed in her. We were supposed to college together down south. Those plans were no more.
It was wintertime, and I didn’t have much to do after school. Me and Niecy went over to Chalmers and Jefferson and had a soda at Etta’s Diner. It was our after-school tradition.
“Girl, you are crazy to be trying to iron your hair,” Niecy said. We were looking at the latest JET Magazine weekly.
“It’s European. You don’t have any culture. “, I scoffed.
“You read too many magazines,” Denise said in between sips of her soda.
On the radio, we heard a report about these four white boys from England going on The Ed Sullivan Show, making everybody swoon. We sat at the counter, watching the people walk up and down Jefferson as if it was a 90-degree day. That was the pulse of Detroit. The hustle and bustle was in our blood. Bills have to be paid no matter the temperature. -6 degrees or 106 degrees. The world keeps spinning.
Samson worked the night shift and always stopped into Etta’s and got catfish and grits, heavy on the butter, for dinner every night. He would come in with his nicely pressed pants. I wondered who pressed his pants. He wasn’t married, and he didn’t live with his Mama. Sometimes, he would nod at me. On a good day, he would add a smile. I was hoping today was going to be a good one. He had perfect, straight white teeth, which showed that he took care of himself. He didn’t stink of cigarettes or tobacco. His fingernails were always clean and trimmed.
“I hope you aren’t going to just sit here and look dumb like you always do when he comes in,” Niecy said as she nudged me out of my daydream.
“These things take time, and my daddy says that a lady waits for a man to approach her. No man wants a desperate woman, Niecy.”, I replied.
“I guess.” She said as she rolled her eyes.
It was a little after four, and I thought that Samson would never show. As I began to put on my coat, I dropped my glove. As I bent down to pick it up, I felt another hand cover mine, and it was Samson.
“Here you go, Miss,” he said as he handed me my glove.
“Thank you.” was all I could say through my strained smile. I felt so foolish.
He smiled at me with those straight white teeth, and I thought I would pass out.
“Her name is Mary, by the way,” Niecy said. I was going to kill her for embarrassing me.
“Nice to meet your acquaintance, Mary.” He smiled.
“And I’m Denise if anyone cares.” Why won’t she shut up?
“Nice to meet you as well, Denise.”, Samson said with a chuckle.
“I see you all in here every day just about.”, he continued.
“Yeah, we love Etta’s.” I sang in unison with Niecy.
“Me too. I get my breakfast and dinner here every day. The best grits in the city.”
“Mary loves to eat dinner.”, said Niecy. I’m going to kill her.
“Is that so?” he asked.
“Yes, yes I do.”, I stammered.
“Well, maybe we can do it together sometime.”, he suggested.
Is he asking me on a date? My very first date. “I would like that.” I was able to reply long enough to stop my inner dialogue.
I wrote my phone number and address on a slip of notebook paper and vowed not to breathe until he called me.
He smiled that beautiful smile, placed his hat back on his head, and with a tip of the brim, he was gone.
I was completely breathless. He was going to call me. He was going to call me. I hope he calls me.
“Miss Sophisticated couldn’t talk to the man.”, Niecy teased.
“Shut up, Niecy, if you ruined this for me. I swear.” I threatened.
“Girl, hush, you got your man.” she laughed.
We giggled and skipped all the way home. We imagined Samson and I were going to have this big, gorgeous house. A house so big that Niecy and the baby could come and live with us, too. Cars and furs. Our daydreams carried us home.
I thanked my best friend for possibly changing our lives, even though I felt embarrassed at the time. Who knows how long I would have waited to say one word to Samson?
I hugged my best friend and rubbed her small belly before we went our separate ways.
As I approached home, I noticed my daddy’s truck wasn’t in the driveway. I could have easily kept walking, but it was so cold, and I needed to work on my English paper.
Before I could get my key in the lock, Mama swung the door open and yelled. She sounded like a banshee with all her hooting and hollering. I was embarrassed for her. Screaming like this for the world to hear.
“Girl, where the hell have you been? It’s almost five o’clock.”, she asked.
“Me and Niecy went to Etta’s for a soda,” I responded. I kept my head down. Maybe she would think I was being remorseful and cut me some slack. Mama would rather cut me.
“Me and your daddy don’t want you hanging out with that hot-in-the-tail girl,” she said.
I didn’t respond. I just hung up my coat and went upstairs to my room. I climbed the stairs two at a time. I didn’t even hear Mama follow me. The second my butt hit the bed, she burst through my bedroom door. She almost took it off the hinges. She did just enough to keep Daddy from being suspicious of her abuse.
Her apron was dingy. Her hair was matted. She smelled like old meat, coffee, and stale tobacco. I wanted to hurl because she smelled so awful. She smelled like she hadn’t bathed in weeks. I choked back all of my emotions and my urge to vomit. I knew what was about to happen.
“So, you’re going to act like you don’t hear me talking to you. I said I don’t want you hanging out with that fast-tail girl. She is no good. Just like her Mama.” She continued.
I still didn’t respond. There was no need. I was going to hang out with Niecy forever if God allows it and God trumps Mama. I knew this was going to end badly. I just knew it. As I turned to face her, Mama’s fist connected straight with my jaw. My teeth cut the inside of my cheek, and I began to bleed.
“You got some nerve thinking you can ignore me when I am talking to you. Think you are so cute. We’ll see how cute you are with a bruised face. I hope I knocked your teeth out.”
I didn’t give her the satisfaction of a response. I wouldn’t drop one tear in her presence. This wasn’t the first time her jealousy reared its ugly head, and I’m sure it would not be the last time. She has hated me from the time she first laid her eyes on me. She was too evil to die, so I am sure she will hate me until I am six feet in the dirt.
I don’t see how my daddy can even lie in the same bed with a woman so surly. She treated him like a King. Anybody with a dang-a-Lang got whatever they wanted from Mama. She was estranged from her entire family because they were all women. My three aunties and grandma never met me. I only knew they existed because I was eavesdropping one night when someone called and said one of my aunties had died. I overheard Daddy telling Mama she should go to the funeral, and Mama’s response to Daddy was, “Mind your own damn business.” That was the only time I had heard Mama disrespect Daddy, and she sure paid for it with a slap to the face.
I am curious about my grandma and aunties. I wonder if they mean like Mama. Mama wasn’t always so evil. Pictures from when she was happy and smiling are covering our walls. Mama was pretty enough to be a model. She is tall and has beautiful skin. She had this long and thick sandy brown hair that hung way down her back. Mama looked carefree and innocent. Like her, love for Daddy was the only thing that mattered in the world.
Now, Mama only wears house dresses and keeps her hair braided under a bandana. The only time she puts on any real clothes is to go to church on first Sundays and whenever Daddy takes her out on the town. She has a closet full of pretty clothes and shoes. Armoire is full of jewelry. The real stuff, too, not that plastic crap from the Five and Dime. Daddy took me and Mama to Hudson’s Downtown once a month and let us pick out whatever we wanted. It didn’t matter the cost.
I cleaned up my face and started reading “The Catcher in the Rye” for my English class. I loved reading more than anything, and with all this craziness with Mama Mama, I could use the escape. Before I knew it, it was after eight o’clock, and I heard a knock on the door. It had to be Daddy because Mama wouldn’t knock.
“Come in.”, I said.
“Hey baby girl. Your mama said you got into a fight at school. I wanted to see if you were okay.”. Daddy was concerned.
I knew if I told the truth, it would only get worse for me later, so I just went with Mama’s lie.
“Yes, some girl is jealous because her little boyfriend likes me. I told her I didn’t want the little boy, but she hauled off and hit me anyway.”, I said with a pained smile.
“Maybe I need to go to that principle of yours and see what all the commotion is about.”
“No, need Daddy. I got her good right in the eye.”
What I wish I would have done to Mama.
“Okay, baby girl, but this has been happening too much. If it happens again, I’m going up there.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied. Daddy always made me feel safe. I wanted, no, I needed to tell him the truth. Daddy would protect me from anyone, including his wife.
Me and Mama had these fights twice a month now. She would only hit me in the face when she was pissed because she knew she would have to answer to Daddy. I want to fight back, but I don’t. I just count the days until I’m out of here forever. I was hoping Samson would call me soon. That would speed up the timetable.
“Come on down the stairs. It’s time to eat. Your Mama made chicken and dumplings.”
“Yes, daddy. I will be down in a minute.”, I responded.
He closed the door and noticed that he was a little wobbly. He muttered to himself that he needed to fix it. The look on his face was one of confusion. He knew the door could only become loose if it was forced open. Mama is slipping up.
I couldn’t deny that dinner smelled amazing. One thing I couldn’t take from Mama was her cooking. She was the best cook on the east side, no doubt. When daddy would have card games or his buddies from work would come over and watch a game, they would always brag about how good a cook Mama was and how she should come and show their wives a thing or two. She took pride in that. Relished in any compliment she would get from a man. Men were the only people that mattered to Mama.
Dinner was very awkward that night. Mama made small talk with Daddy and me like nothing was wrong. Like a few hours before, she didn’t try to knock my teeth out. I just smiled and nodded at the appropriate times. I didn’t want to seem off, but I would be lying if I said my face didn’t hurt.
“I told Mary that I would talk to the principal about this bully. This can’t be right, some ghetto girl hitting on her whenever she feels like it.”, he said. Mama had a look of concern on her face. Mama was an excellent actress.
“Baby girl, I think that is a good idea. Let Daddy sort it out. Don’t want me to go up there with my temper and all.” She said in a sing-song voice.
“Sure, mama,” I replied. I wanted to pound on the table and tell Daddy that his most cherished wife was the one who left my face black and blue.
“Good, that’s settled. Can’t let nobody mess up this gorgeous face.” Daddy smiled as he touched my now swollen and bruised face.
“May I be excused?” I asked no one in particular.
“Sure thing, baby girl. I will be up to check on you in a few with a few aspirin and a glass of water.”, daddy said.
“Good night, Mary,” Mama replied. She sat there at the table, smiling. A stranger would think that she was smiling out of love for me. She was smiling because she saw the pain in my eyes. She admired the bruise on my face like an artist does his canvas.
I tried my best to cover up my bruise with makeup the next morning, but Niecy knew before I could say anything.
“Girl, your Mama is crazy. If your daddy knew she was doing this to you, that would be her ass.”, Niecy expressed.
“I’m out of there this summer. I am going to summer school to graduate early, and maybe I will go down South to college. My grades are good enough. Either I leave now, or it’s only going to get worse.”
“Or maybe you will marry your dream man, Samson.”, Niecy said in a teasing tone.
The thought of Samson made my heart flutter.
“We can’t rush this Niecy. Timing has to be perfect.”
I was in a daze for the rest of the day. All I could think about was getting the hell out of Detroit and away from Mama. Niecy couldn’t go to Etta’s with me because she had an appointment to see about her baby. It conflicted with me on whether I should go alone. I decided to go alone, and I was glad I did. As soon as I walked in, I noticed Samson sitting at the counter nursing a soda. I was surely glad that I touched up my makeup before I left school.
I took a deep breath. “Is this seat taken?” I asked in a low, seductive voice.
“No, at all.” He got down off of his stool to help me onto mine.
“Thank you.” I smiled.
“No problem. One thing my daddy taught me before he left this earth was to always be a gentleman to a lady. Especially a pretty one like you.”, Samson said. He was very charming.
His attention made my cheeks hot. I’m sure I was blushing.
“So, how was your day, Mary?” he asked.
“Oh, it was just fine. Another day, listening to teachers ramble about things we won’t remember in a few years. “
“Ah, I see nothing has changed since I was last there.” He chuckled.
“You go to Southeastern, right?” he continued.
Yes, I do.
Ms. Etta had come and placed an orange soda in front of me.
“That is where I graduated from. What is your major?”
I wanted to be careful how I answered that question, but I was honest. “My major is math and college prep.”
“Oh, so you are a smart girl. I like that. Most girls shy away from that stuff. I am so glad you didn’t say textiles or home economics. So, are you going to college? I heard the ones down South are the best.” He wasn’t turned off about me being smart.
“I’m not sure yet. “, I responded.
“Well, take your time. This is the rest of your life we are talking about here.”, he joked.
We both laughed.
We sat at Etta’s for a few hours. Samson seemed very intelligent. He talked about his goals and dreams that took him far away from Detroit. I loved that he wanted to explore the world and learn new things. I hoped that one day we could escape this city forever. I knew I was taking a huge risk staying out this late after school, but it was worth it. Mama would just have to deal with it. Rather, I would just have to deal with Mama.
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Jessica Annice is a novice author whose love for writing is only second to her love of reading. Raised in Detroit, MI., Jessica uses her love for the city and advocacy for mental health as a foundation for her writing. She believes that words heal. Her stories and experiences strive to make people feel seen and heard in spaces where they would otherwise be ignored. When she is not reading or penning a story, she is a couch internet sleuth watching true crime shows. Currently, Jessica Annice has three stories on Amazon’s episodic stories Kindle Vella platform. Connect with Jessica Annice on Instagram @futurebstseller.