Monday, November 11, 2013

2nd Excerpt of Sunday Best (by Lori D. Johnson)

Forgive me for taking SO LONG to post this 2nd excerpt of my short story "Sunday Best."  These days, I'm much more active on Facebook, which is where both excerpts have been posted for months now.  Anyway, I promise to do better here at the Old School Mix  :-)  If you enjoy the excerpts, please consider ordering a copy of the Spring 2013 issue of the literary journal Black Magnolias, where you will find the full version of "Sunday Best" and other work that might be of interest to you.

2nd excerpt of "SUNDAY BEST" by Lori D. Johnson

     Curtis groans and tosses what's left of the partially chewed piece of toast.  Leave it to Grandma Rose to shove him into the reluctant role of savior.  Little does she know how much he himself is in need of rescue.  Just last week he'd been fired from his first decent paying job.  Typically Rose, a woman with a rep for taking in and nurturing strays, is no slouch when it comes to sensing discontent, whether his or anyone else's. 
            Silent, sullen and sorely unappreciative, the boy reminds Curtis too much of himself, or at least the self he'd been when he'd first landed on Grandma Rose and Old Man Lamar's doorstep--an event precipitated by his own mother's untimely demise.
            Dead mamas--just another unfortunate thing he and the boy have in common.  And both willful departures at that--one suicide, the other overdose.  The more kind-hearted adults in his life had done their best to shield him.  But even at the tender age of ten, Curtis had been able to see through the deceptive nicety of a term like "home-going."  What kind of mother leaves for home without taking her kids with her?
            During his stiff-legged trek up the stairs, Curtis is nearly trampled by the six year old twins, Tosha and Tiara, on their giggle-filled race down.  A happy pair, they push past him, seemingly unfazed by the fact that their mother no longer occupies a space in the landing of the living.
            While an enviable innocence to some, Curtis knows all too well the truth of how the woman the two youngsters had routinely referred to as "Mama" had seldom been one in any real sense of the word.  Dope, like a thief in the night, who boldly returns by the light of day, had years ago snatched her away from them and everyone else who'd tried to love her.
            The girls make Curtis think of his own little sister, Amanda, who’d barely been a year old when their mother had passed.  Less than a week after the funeral, Amanda's daddy and some of his people had come and got her.  Hit hard by the back-to-back losses, Curtis had cried for weeks.  But even more devastating than either his baby sister's sudden whisking away or even his mother's willful departure had been the fact that no one had ever bothered to come for him.
            Curtis's old room is where Mark has been bunking.  On easing open the door and stepping inside, he finds the boy perched atop the cedar chest next to the window.  He is a tall, skinny kid with the awkwardness of thirteen scrawled all over him like spray-painted graffiti. 
            "What's up?" Curtis says when Mark finally pulls his frown from the window and turns his head in his direction. 
            The boy is anything, but ready for church--the bottom of his shoes are caked with dirt; an unknotted tie, like the chain of a busted playground swing, dangles from his neck; his face could use a good scrubbing and his hair is a black, matted field of uncombed naps.  But what strikes Curtis most are the boy's eyes, fixed, glazed and set back in hollow sockets, they are not unlike those of a blind man whose sight, at some point, had been forcibly removed.  Rather than extend a verbal greeting, the boy nods and turns back toward the window.
            Although it clings to the tip of his tongue, like the taste of freshly-cut lemon, "You all right?" strikes him as a stupid question.  Curtis already knows how the kid feels--the same way he had--like a dumped sack of garbage with something horribly rotten on the inside.
            He shoves his hands in his pockets and wonders what Grandma Rose could have been thinking in assigning him such a task.  After a moment of coin-jiggling, foot-shuffling and longing desperately to run back in the direction from which he'd come, Curtis invites himself to a seat on the opposite end of the cedar chest and joins the boy in his silent sulk out onto the world.  Not so long ago, he had spent many an hour in the very same spot, bottom buttressed to the worn wood and nose pressed against the pane.  The windowed nook had proven an ideal one for eavesdropping, daydreaming or just pondering the complexities of life.
            He tries to get a feel for the boy's take on the second story view--a view dominated in large part by the church next door.  A friend of the family once commented on how overwhelming it must be to wake up every morning and go to bed every night with a steeple staring down on you.
            Overwhelming for whom?  Certainly not Grandma Rose, who takes full advantage of her proximity to the Lord's house.  Be it for Sunday school, eleven o'clock service, Monday night prayer vigil, mid-week Bible study, choir rehearsal, or one of her various committee meetings, she makes a point of walking through the doors of the church at least once before the day is done.
            Had it not been for Old Man Lamar, Curtis knows chances are, he would have ended up a bonafide 'Dudley-Do-Right' type or else, thoroughly ambivalent about donning the cloak of discipleship.  The Old Man had provided him with the balance necessary to understand that doing the work of the church and living for the Lord weren't always the same thing.
            He couldn't help but feel that an "Old Man Lamar" was really what Mark needed; someone with shoulders big enough to lean on in hard times; someone who in twenty words or less could tell the boy all he'd ever need to know.  In spite of his intimacy with death, what Curtis knew exceeded his ability to articulate.  Silence and companionship were about all he felt capable of offering.
            Besides, the boy didn't appear in the mood for words, however profound, poetic or potentially life-altering.  The thought took Curtis back to that first conversation between him and his cousin Rodger.
            He'd been sitting alone in the very same room when his bowed head cousin had slunk in.  "I-I-I'm sorry 'bout yo-yo-yo your Mama," is what Rodger had finally sputtered after what must have been a full minute of standing and sniffling.
            "What the hell you got to be sorry for?" is what a ten-year old Curtis had snapped back.  "You didn't kill her, did you?"
            A candy apple red Lexus pulls into the church parking lot and Mark's dulled pupils suddenly flicker.  He bolts forward, as if adhering to a drill sergeant's "a-ten-hut," and bangs his forehead against the window pane in the process.
            "Look at him," Mark says as the driver, dressed in a yellow pinstriped, grape juice colored, three piece suit exits the car.  "Son-of-a-bitch really thinks he's somethin', don't he?"
            Though they lean toward concurrence, Curtis elects not to express his thoughts aloud.  After all, the purple-clad SOB in question just so happens to be Mark's father--Jared--or J.D. as he prefers to be called.
            J.D’s wife and their three young sons follow him out of the car.  Not only do the boys’ dark, shiny, moon-pie faces, mirror their dad’s, they’re dressed just like him, too.  In a leg-dragging strut across the parking lot and up the church steps, they fall in behind him, like soldiers, pledges or robots, one grinning, big bobbing head after the other.
            At the parade’s end, Mark turns to Curtis, and with his eyes ablaze says, “Ain’t you gon’ say nothin’?”
            Curtis has half a mind to tell the boy, “So, your Pop’s a jackass.  Truth be known, your Moms wasn’t a heck of a lot better.”  But rather than voice a truth the child might not be ready to handle, Curtis stares out the window and lets several seconds pass before he stands and says, “Let’s go for a ride.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sunday Best by Lori D. Johnson (Short Story Excerpt)

The following is the first of two excerpts from my short story "Sunday Best."  If you'd like to read the full story, please consider ordering the Spring 2013 issue of Black Magnolias: A Literary Journal. 

Sunday Best
by Lori D. Johnson

         Curtis jiggles the loose change in his pockets as he struts up the tulip-lined path.  His suit is a blue Armani; his shirt, white, wrinkle-free and French cuff bold and his tie, a crimson, Italian silk foulard, bearing a blue diamond motif.  Something akin to glitter dances in the space between his Rolex-strapped wrist and his brand new wingtips with the twenty dollar shine. He marches up the porch steps, pushes open the front door and glides over the threshold, chest puffed and grin wide.  But rather than extend her usual fawn, Grandma Rose whirls past him, as if he'd been idling there all morning long, like a young barnyard rooster who can’t wait to impress the sleeping hens with his ability to crow.

            "Hey!" he says, grabbing her on her re-entry.  He plants a peck on her cheek.  "And a lovely morning to you, too."

            "Oh, I'm sorry, sugar."  She scrunches her lips and returns his affection in double.

            He nods toward the spread on the dining room table. "I see I'm just in time for breakfast.”

            Grandma Rose frowns and extends her hand. "Help yourself.  The twins done already messed over all they could before running out of here, like somethin' done bit 'em on the backside."

            A round of bumping and squealing lures her eyes and his toward the ceiling.  Her scowl deepens as she stomps over to the stairs and hollers up, "All right ladies.  Enough with the nonsense.  I'm leaving outta here in exactly ten minutes.  And I 'spect you both to be ready.  You hear me?"

            A giggle-filled, "Yes Ma'am," drifts down the staircase.

            Curtis walks over to the table and butters a piece of toast.  “They're not giving you problems are they?"

            “The twins?  Oh, they’re a handful, all right," Grandma Rose says upon her hurried approach to the dining room table.  "But no more than would be expected given the circumstances.”

            He nods and chews as the old woman scurries around him, scraping plates, fastening tops on opened containers and shoving dirty utensils into the deep pockets of her apron. 

            “But that brother of theirs, Mark, I ‘clare if he ain’t ‘bout to work my last nerve.  Take this morning, child’s stomach growling so loud I can hear it from way across the hall.  But will he come down and eat?  No-ooo!  He claim he ain’t hungry.”

            Upon surveying the hearty breakfast of oatmeal, toast, cranberry juice, banana slices, raisins and the required dose of castor oil, Curtis can hardly blame the boy for passing on the morning offering.
            "And all day yesterday," Rose continues.  "He was 'round here carrying on 'bout some ole tie.  'I need me a  tie.  I ain't going to church tomorrow lessen I get me a tie.'  So what do I do?  I takes the boy shopping.  'Course he ain't satisfied with just your ordinary clip-on.  No sir, he got to go and get his heart set on one of these here fancy, one hundred percent silk, wrap around numbers."
            Ties?  Thanks to his line of work, as well as the generosity of both his late cousin Rodger and Grandma Rose, Curtis owns tons of ties in every style, pattern and hue imaginable.  How could she have possibly forgotten?  "Why didn’t you just--" he starts.
            "So silly me," she says.  "I go 'head and buy the fool thing.  But do you think he appreciates it?  No sir, he's sitting up in his room this very minute talking 'bout he can't go 'cause the tie ain't right.  I 'clare if his Mama wasn't gone and I wasn't a Christian, Lord knows I'd be up there now strangling the holy spit out that child."

            Curtis is still stuck on the ties.  He'd only taken them at her insistence.  "I can't do nothing with them," is what she'd told him.  "Besides Rodger would have wanted you to have them."

            Again, he opens his mouth, only to have the silver-haired woman wag a finger in his face.  "Uh-uh," she says.  "He ain't 'bout to make me lose my religion.  Hear me?"  Instead waiting for Curtis’s response, she smiles and lowers her finger to his lapel.  "Curtis baby," she says in a softer tone.  "Why don't you go see if you can't talk some sense to the boy?  Being that you a man, he'll probably listen to you."

            "Aww Grandma!" Curtis says, throwing up his hands.  "Come on, I don't even--"

            She plants a kiss between his eyes, pats him on the chest and says, "My, don't you look right smart today . . . handsome too."  In a wink, she's off to the kitchen, where she sheds her apron before trotting back out and over to the stairs again where she hollers up, "All right ladies.  Grandma Rose is 'bout to grab her hat and get up outta here.  Unless you looking to get left, you'd best be right behind me."

Monday, April 22, 2013

New Work!!! (A Short Story In Black Magnolias: A Literary Journal)

I’m pleased and proud to announce that my short story “Sunday Best” appears in the spring 2013 issue of Black Magnolias: A LiteraryJournal.

In addition to my short story, “Sunday Best,” the scholarly and creative offerings of professors, playwrights, filmmakers and talented poets, like my friend Margie Shaheed, also grace the pages of  the spring 2013 issue of Black Magnolias.

If you’re interested in reading my story, Margie’s poems, checking out some of the other work in the journal or simply showing support for a worthy literary endeavor, please consider purchasing the spring 2013 issue of Black Magnolias: A Literary Journal.  

Also, at some point, I will post an excerpt from my story, “Sunday Best.”  So, check back in later if you’re interested . . .

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Latest Q & A (Lori Johnson & The Sista Girl Book Club)

The SiSta Girl Book Club

Michelle and the ladies of the SiSta Girl Book Club always ask such great questions.  Check out our most recent conversation in their Author's Spotlight . . .

                                         SiSta Girl Book Club Q & A with Author Lori Johnson