Always on Sunday
story by Brenda C. Wilson
Long before the cars arrived, a cloud of
brown dust would rise in the distance from the dry gravel road
to announce the ball players. Later cars with whole families,
teenagers, and people from the church down the road would park
along the edges of the field, straddling the narrow road.
Latecomers would block the driveway of the store and have to be
asked to move their cars in order to provide turn around space.
But that was Walter's job.
The ball field was a pasture cleared years
ago for Sunday games. A few cows lazed in the adjoining pasture,
chewing at the straggly grass dried out by the June heat. Mrs.
Poole looked out the screen door up into the open sky. Across
the road, old Mr. John had already taken a seat on the porch and
propped his feet up on the rail. He'd been quite a ball player
in his day she'd heard.
"Looks like rain," she said to
herself. She checked the metal floor cooler's ice and shifted
the orange and grape sodas around in the bottom. Already the
room was hot, although the fans turned in the overhead windows
on both sides of the door. The backdoor slammed twice. Walter
was bringing in supplies from the car. It was time to check the
beer in the coolers behind the counter and start the fish
frying. She plugged in the only sign in the store, the red and
blue beer sign on the back counter wall, flipped on the overhead
lights and headed for the kitchen.
"Damn Walter," she swore under her
breath. "Already let in every damn fly in Mississippi
before I get one customer." The sound of the slamming door
set the flies off again in a steady swarm across the kitchen.
Through the door, she saw Walter unloading the last of the beer
with his round body moving slowly in the heat. Looks like next
summer we're going to need to hire some help, she thought.
Folks who didn't even like baseball came to
Pooles' to buy fish, fresh fried whiting, caught in the
Luxapalila River. She battered it in cornmeal, the yellow kind
with just a little flour and deep fried it in plain old
shortening. There was no secret to her cooking except for the
little Cajun seasoning she added. She'd learned that years ago
down in New Orleans. All kind of folks doing anything. She
closed her eyes and could almost smell the crawfish cooking, the
jazz playing in the street and feel the steamy, sticky heat on
"Oh, to be young agin' in New
Orleans," she said as she opened her eyes.
"What 'cha say there dear?" asked
Walter as he brought in a tray full of bread.
"I said not to let in every fly you
From the store front, the juke box clicked
and music penetrated the quiet. Without seeing it she knew that
the electric blue, fiery orange and explosive purple lines would
be running furiously around the edges of that box, racing
against the limited time while the record played. Walter had
talked her into installing that box and adding a dance floor. It
didn't seem that people spent anymore money than before on food
and drinks because of that box. Now, they just played the same
songs over and over again until she unplugged it and gave them
back their money.
Slowly, they would drift in, the stream of
brightly dressed teenage girls who had no interest in the game
outside, the boozers who would sit mournfully in the dark
corners watching their beers and then the kids sent by a Mama or
Daddy to get a cool drink. Sometimes a few of the customers
danced to the loud music she no longer understood, empty words
being yelled and screamed out to the listeners. The words no
longer were sweet and sentimental like she had once loved.
She watched the teenagers closely, careful
not to sell them beer. Walter needed to be constantly reminded
about checking their age. They didn't actually have a liquor
license. The business was just a little sideline for their
retirement. And maybe they could even set aside a little money
for Alice. Alice was their only child. It seemed a blessing now,
based on how she acted, Mrs. Poole had said more than once to
her husband. Mostly children didn't turn out right anymore she
thought, looking at the group of girls that had just entered.
The girls stood with their backs to Mrs.
Poole and stared into the juke box window at the list of
selections. They giggled and laughed. Mrs. Poole shook her head
at the kind of dresses they wore—backs
out, sleeveless and to beat everything else they were above the
knee, way above the knee. The tallest girl pushed some coins
into the money slot. Five coins thumped against the hollow metal
selections. What in the world had she been thinking, letting
Walter talk her into that loud thing. The same girl who pushed
the money in the machine, walked over to the counter. She walked
with grown-up assurance, head held high with a superior air. She
looked down on Mrs. Poole's thin, bony frame.
"Two beers," she said with her eyes
narrowed in her honeymelon colored face. Her hair was pulled all
back and showed a long forehead. She had on false eyelashes like
the ones Mrs. Poole had seen in magazines and blue eye shadow
that exactly matched her eyelet dress.
"How old are you?"
"I said two beers."
"I ain't hard of hearing but maybe you
"Two beers," she said again in the
same steady tone.
The girls at the juke box had all
straightened up and stood silently waiting, poised like colorful
birds on a wire.
"I don't sell no liquor to minors."
"We'll just get somebody else to buy it.
You can sell it to me directly or indirectly old lady."
"Who's child are you—talking
like that? I bet I know your mama. I bet she thinks she brought
you up better than that."
Two of the other girls shifted closer to the doorway.
"I know the rest of you are from around
here. I see you every Sunday." Mrs. Poole pointed her
stubby finger at the others. "I reckon your folks wouldn't
want me selling you beer."
The two girls closest to the exit quickly
moved to the doorway, careful not to look at Mrs. Poole as they
passed the counter. The other two were more defiant. They
waited. The girl in the tight blue dress turned her back to the
counter and Mrs. Poole.
"That's what I hate about hick towns,
everybody wants to be you mama. Let's go." she said and
pulled a pair of dark blue sunglasses from her canvas shoulder
bag. "I'll get somebody else to buy the you know what from
you know who." She had put the glasses on for emphasis as
she spoke and then she took them off again. The girls laughed.
"Who is your mama, girl?" asked
Mrs. Poole as she leaned her wiry body across the counter to
peer harder at the girl. The girl walked casually over to the
"You ashamed to tell?" The girl
stood still beside her two friends in tow, ready to leave, her
hand on the screen door. She turned around to face Mrs. Poole.
"Maybe you know her but it doesn't make
any difference. She lives in Chicago. You know, the windy city—Chicago.
In case you don't know it, that's a long way from this one horse
town," she stretched her arms out as if to encircle the
room and maybe the whole town.
Mrs. Poole followed the direction of her arms—the
broken down mix-matched table and chairs had been bought at an
auction with the coolers and the store had been put up by Walter
and his brother. The walls and floor were just plain unpainted
boards, thrown hastily together. It was a place to come to on
Sunday afternoon, the corner of a pasture on a dirt road. She
and Walter had been born here, lived here their entire lives
practically and knew most folks and their children. She loved
the flatness of the land, stretching out full of corn fields and
pastures. At the edge of the horizon, the land seemed to kiss
the sky behind Mr. John's house. The one time they left, she had
missed the feel of open space.
"So Miss Chicago, what are you doing
away from home? You been sent here to learn some manners?"
She laughed against the backdrop of a new record dropping on and
the crowd yelling outside. The colored lights started to race
around inside the juke box.
"Close the door, Miss Chicago, I've got
enough flies in here already." The door slammed shut as the
three girls left, led by the one in the tight blue dress.
"Walter? You in the kitchen?"
"Hey!" yelled Mrs. Poole at the
couple in the corner. They were regulars who drank until the
store was ready to close or until one of them passed out and had
to be removed. That was part of Walter's job, too.
"Yeah," said a thick female voice
from the dark corner.
"Who was that girl in the tight blue
dress?" They mumbled something to each other.
"Maddie's oldest girl."
"Maddie?" said Mrs. Poole with her
eyes narrowed tight as she stared into the dark corner.
"Maddie Laurel from Columbus, had a baby
by Lonnie," said the woman huskily.
Mrs. Poole looked in the direction of the
playing field, the cars lined up on the roadside and the sliver
of overcast sky through the screen door.
Maddie had played with Alice when they were
girls a long time ago. They had waited for boys after the game
just like those girls were doing now. Many times she'd gone
outside the store and made Alice come in and sent Maddie home
before it got late. They both had been boy crazy. It was the
same kind of summer, nothing much changed. Kids would have kids,
girls would wait for boys to end their games and come inside for
something cool to drink.
Now and then, they got rained out completely
but summer showers didn't usually last too long.
"It surely does feel like rain,"
she said mostly to herself. Business was always good when a game
got a little rain and people ran for easy shelter. She smiled.
Next year, maybe they'd buy some new chairs.
C. Wilson. I’m a Southern girl born and raised in
Alabama, only a couple of miles to the Mississippi state line.
I’ve lived in Louisiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina, where
I currently reside. Professionally, I’ve always worked
in the banking industry but my first love is the printed word.
My writing credits include finalist in the
Reynolds Price Short Fiction Award; Honorable Mention in the
Gertrude Johnson Literary Contest; published in The Maryland
Review; winner of the NC Writers' Network- Black Writers'
Competition; and winner of the Community Pride Magazine literary
competition. I completed the Queens University MFA
program May 2004. I have one unpublished novel and a
collection of short stories. This winter, I will begin a
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On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
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points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
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own bodies during slavery given that they were being
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posted 15 October 2005