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Divas of Damascus Road
By Michelle Stimpson
WARNER BOOKSCopyright © 2006 Michelle Stimpson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJoyce Ann cursed the sunlight as it streamed through the slats in the blinds. Once again, God had ignored her prayer. He had kept her alive through the night. She pulled a pillow over her head and trapped the air in her lungs for a moment, wondering how long it would take to suffocate. Sometimes she felt like killing herself; other times she did not.
It wasn't all her fault. Some of it was, but not all of it. Pondering blame ushered thoughts of her sister, Gloria, and the money order-or rather, the absence of the money order. Joyce Ann tossed the pillow to the floor and sat up slowly. Her brain needed time to catch up with her body. She jumped, startled by movement on the mattress. She tried to replay the night before, but it was either too early or too late in the morning for her to think; her mind had pressed "rewind" without pushing "stop" first. Whoever the man next to her was, he sure slept soundly. Probably Greg, but it didn't matter. Men were like interchangeable paper dolls to Joyce Ann.
Joyce Ann scooted her behind to the edge of the mattress and then heaved herself up to a standing position. Maybe, if Gloria sent that money order, she could afford a decent box spring. That would be a couple of hundred dollars. Then the thought occurred to JoyceAnn: do you know how much vodka you could buy with a couple of hundred dollars? No, she wasn't going to spend good money on a box spring.
The room could have used a lot of things: a rug, sheets for the mattress, a lamp, clothes to decorate the closet. So far she'd done nothing more to add life to this dank, stuffy room than to bring in a bed on which to sleep (or repay debts), a table for divvying up drugs, and a trash can for straightening up when she had a mind to.
Joyce Ann shuffled across the stained carpet, grabbed her mailbox key, and walked barefoot past two buildings to the apartment complex's mail cage. It was early. The air was still light and promising, as if anything could happen today. Birds whistling, dew bathing the grass, and four little girls in a huddle, slapping hands and clapping to the tune of "Rockin' Robin" while they waited for the school bus. For as much mess as she had in her life, Joyce Ann did still appreciate the morning in all its blazing, annoying glory. She pulled her sweatshirt tighter around her torso and shivered as a breeze cut through the thinning fleece. Her hair flopped down against her cheeks with every step, reminding her of better days, when her hair was her best asset. Everyone always said she had "good" hair. With split ends, matted clumps, and graying roots, her hair was anything but good now. It was chaos, but that was fitting. A metaphor for her entire life.
Joyce Ann approached the red mail cage cautiously. She didn't want to walk up on something she shouldn't see or couldn't get out of. All manner of evil went on in that cage: drug deals, sex (consensual and nonconsensual), robbery. When she saw that the coast was clear, she unlocked the gate and made sure it clicked behind her. The concrete floor was littered with junk mail and newspaper. Quickly she put her key into the box, turned the lock, and pulled her mail from the slot. After getting a glimpse of the envelope from Gloria, Joyce Ann happily skipped back to her apartment, making mental plans for the money her sister sent monthly.
Every once in a while Gloria would send a little less money, with a note explaining that she had an unexpected expense and that she'd double up the next month. She'd add, "I'll make some calls and see about getting you some sewing work on the side." Joyce Ann would smile inside to read those words, glad to know that she wasn't the only one struggling. Glad to know that Gloria wasn't really getting ahead. "Got a college degree and can't even afford to send money regular," Joyce Ann would laugh to herself. "Now, who's the stupid one? Who's the useless one?" Satisfied that Gloria wasn't too much better off than she, Joyce Ann would wait patiently, take a quick sewing job, and imagine that Gloria had taken a part-time job to catch up.
The only other time Gloria didn't send money was when she'd paid for Joyce Ann's care in one rehab or another. Joyce Ann had been in more step programs than a toddler learning to walk. Two steps forward, three steps back, then flat on your behind. But she humored Gloria every now and then for the chance to stay in the nicer rehabs. It might have cost Gloria an arm and a leg, but so far as Joyce Ann was concerned, Gloria owed every penny of it.
Greg met her at the doorway. "I'm out."
All the more money for Joyce Ann. After paying the all-inclusive rent and buying a few groceries, she could do what she wanted with the rest. Better yet, she might look through the paper and see if there was another all-bills-paid, first-month-free complex she could move to and skip out on her current lease. That would free up even more money. But to do that, she'd need to work for at least a few weeks to show income.
Joyce Ann tore through the envelope and found the money order. It was wrapped in a piece of paper, as usual. And, though Joyce Ann hated to admit it, she was happy to see that her sister had written a note:
This may be the last money order I'll be able to send you for a while. I'm getting married next month, and my husband and I will be joining our accounts. I'll send you money when I can. In the meanwhile, I'll see if I can get you some work.
In disbelief, Joyce Ann read the note over again and again. "What you mean, you'll send money when you can? Get me some work?" Joyce Ann screamed. "Who does she think she is? She doesn't deserve to be happy, Miss Goody Two-shoes teacher!" The bare walls screamed back at her.
Suddenly, Joyce Ann wasn't so grateful anymore. How dare Gloria leave her out to dry! Again! Furious, Joyce Ann stuffed everything she owned into the wooden chest with wheels on the end. Gloria May Rucker-Jordan might have tried to dance around Dentonville like she was the belle of the ball, but she would never be rid of the bricks sewn into the hem of her gown. Joyce Ann would see to that.
Excerpted from Divas of Damascus Road by Michelle Stimpson Copyright © 2006 by Michelle Stimpson. Excerpted by permission.
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