Read an Excerpt
GOD STILL DON'T LIKE UGLY
By MARY MONROE
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2003 Mary Monroe All right reserved. ISBN: 1-57566-912-9
Chapter OneI used to wonder what I would look like if I had been born white. Now I know.
The white woman standing on the steps of the wraparound porch of the shabby clapboard house could have been my twin. As far as I could tell, sandy blond hair and a narrow nose were the only things she had that I didn't have. I had to repress a gasp. I had to remind myself that this woman and I shared the same amount of blood from the same man. Black blood.
Throughout my plane ride from Richland, Ohio, to Miami, where I'd originally come from, with the help of several glasses of strong wine, I had composed and rehearsed several speeches. I had no idea what the appropriate things were to say to a father who had deserted me when I was a toddler, more than thirty years ago. What I wanted to say was not what I planned to say. It would have been too much, too soon. Good to see you again, Daddy. By the way, because of you, I had to spend ten years of my childhood living under the same roof with my rapist. But don't worry, my playmate killed him for me and we didn't get caught. I had promised myself that I would say something simple and painless. But now my head was spinning like a loose wheel and I felt like I was losing control of my senses. I didn't know what was going to slide out of my mouth.
Confronting my daddywas going to be painful enough. But having to deal with him and a white woman who looked like me at the same time was going to be another story. Especially since I'd hated my looks for so many years.
I sat in the cab parked in front of the house on Mooney Street that steamy afternoon in August, looking out the window at that ghostly woman standing on her front porch, looking at me. The makeup that had taken me half an hour to apply was now melting and slowly sliding, like thick mud, down the sides of my burning face. I had licked off most of my plum-colored lipstick during the cab ride from the airport. Warm sweat had almost saturated my new silk blouse, making it stick to my flesh like a second layer of skin.
When the impatient cabdriver cleared his throat to get my attention, I paid him, tipped him ten percent, and tumbled out of the cab, snagging the knee of my L'eggs pantyhose with the corner of my suitcase.
As soon as my feet hit the ground, I looked around with great caution, because this was Liberty City, the belly of one of Miami's roughest, predominately Black areas. I had hidden all of my cash in a cloth coin purse and pinned it to my girdle, but I still clutched my shoulder bag and looked around some more. I would have been just as cautious if I'd just landed in Beverly Hills. As far as I was concerned, the world was full of sharks; no place was safe for a female on her own. Especially one who attracted as much turmoil as I did.
It appeared to be a nice enough neighborhood, despite its reputation. The lawns were neat and the few Black people I saw seemed to be going on about their business like they didn't have a care in the world. In front of the house to my left, a man in overalls was watering his grass with a hose, while a gospel singer wailed from a radio on the ground next to his feet. The man smiled and greeted me with a casual wave. I smiled and waved back.
An elderly woman, looking bitterly sad and walking with a cane, shuffled pass me. "How you doin' this afternoon, sister?" she asked me in a raspy voice, hawking a gob of brown spit on the cracked sidewalk, missing my foot by a few inches.
"I'm fine, thank you," I replied, hopping out of the way as the old woman dropped another load of spit. "Sister," I added as an afterthought, even though the old woman didn't hear me. It was a word I had to get used to now. Especially because of the sister with the blond hair on the porch looking in my direction.
The glare from the blazing sun made the woman on the porch squint. Then she shaded her eyes with a thick hand that displayed rings on every finger, including her thumb. She stared at me with her mouth hanging open. She seemed just as stunned as I was by our matching features. I was glad that she was the one to break the awkward silence. "Honeychile, come on up here so I can hug you! I been waitin' a long time for this day."
For a few moments, I just stood in the same spot, looking toward the porch, blinking hard to hold back my tears. Words danced around in my head, but I still didn't know which ones to release.
A limp, plaid bathrobe that looked more like a patchwork quilt covered the woman from the neck on down to her wide, dusty bare feet. It pleased me to see that blood wasn't the only thing we shared. Judging from her size, she enjoyed food as much as I did. I couldn't tell where her waistline was, but the belt to her bathrobe had been tied into a neat knot below her massive chest. Her body looked as much like an oil drum as mine did. I had been wearing a size twenty-four for the past ten years. I couldn't lose a single pound no matter what I did. To me, diets were a rip-off and exercise was too dangerous for people in my shape. An obese woman from my church had had a heart attack and died while trying to do sit-ups. Therefore, I ate everything I wanted to. I figured that since we all had to die eventually anyway, I might as well enjoy myself along the way.
I had been stout every day of my life. My mother said I'd been such a butterball of a baby, she had to diaper me with pillowcases. I was finally comfortable with being large, but it was more important that I was now comfortable with just being myself. With me, comfort and strength were one and the same. It had enabled me to do a lot of things that I had been afraid to do for years. Like tracking down the daddy I hadn't seen since I was three years old. Unlike some of the other abandoned children I knew, I had refused to write my daddy off until I got some answers. I wanted to see him again and I wanted him to see me.
At least one more time.
Chapter TwoThe cloudless sky looked like a blue blanket. I welcomed the cool breeze that suddenly caressed my face. From the corners of my eyes, I could see streams of hazy, black smoke floating from several different directions. It smelled like everybody on the block was barbecuing. I couldn't have picked a better day to return to Florida.
"Hurry up and come on up here on this porch right now. I been waitin' long enough." The woman stomped her foot and anxiously opened her arms. The sun made the rings on her fingers glisten as she beckoned me to join her.
"So have I," I managed, my voice cracking. My suitcase and feet felt like they weighed a ton as I dragged myself toward the house. The narrow walkway was lined with bright yellow dandelion flowers and neatly trimmed grass. I almost tripped over a discarded bicycle wheel.
I made my way up the porch steps and set my suitcase down, not taking my eyes off the woman's round, sweaty face. Now that I was closer, I could see that her eyes were blue. But they seemed cold and empty. I didn't feel good about having such a morbid thought about a woman I didn't even know. "You have beautiful eyes," I said. I swallowed hard and slid my tongue across my lips.
"And so do you," she replied with a wide smile, blinking her eyes like she was showing them off. Now those same eyes seemed full of warmth and life. Her plump cheeks were smeared with chocolate and bread crumbs. She started fanning herself with a newspaper and balancing her weight from one foot to the other. Out of nowhere, a huge, dusty-gray cat, its belly almost dragging the ground, waddled up the porch steps and started rubbing its side against the woman's leg. "Go on back home, Clyde," she hollered, gently kicking the cat away. The woman sniffed, folded her arms, and leaned her head back to look at my face some more. She had a deep, down-home drawl, but the tone of her voice was the same as mine. "Girl, I am so happy to finally meet you! You are just as pretty as Daddy said you were," she squealed, fanning my face with her newspaper, too.
Pretty was one of many words that I had never associated with myself and when other people did, it made me even more nervous and self-conscious. My moon face, three chins, small black eyes, and dark brown skin were features I had always avoided looking at. Even though I stood in front of my mirror every day applying makeup, I only focused on my features one at a time, closing my eyes when I could.
"You ... you must be Lillimae," I stammered, as I rushed into my half-sister's arms. The bear hugs we gave one another must have made us look like two huge grizzlies to the man next door, still watering his grass. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him staring at us, scratching the top of his head.
"Come on in this house, girl." Lillimae draped her heavy arm around my shoulder, rubbing it so hard it started throbbing.
I picked up my suitcase and followed Lillimae into a living room congested with too many chairs, two well-worn, brown vinyl couches facing one another, and a large TV with a wire coat hanger for antennae. An air conditioner whirred from a side window, forcing the leaves on a nearby rubber plant to flap.
I could smell the familiar aroma of turnip greens and other favorites that I could only describe as exotic. Smothered pork chops, cornbread, and macaroni and cheese were just part of a feast already decorating a table I couldn't see.
"Lordy, Annette, you don't know how long I've wanted to meet you! All my life I wanted a big sister to look up to." Lillimae wiped a tear from her eye and sniffed.
"And I've always wanted a sister, too," I replied dryly. "When I was little, the only reason I wanted a sibling was so I could have somebody to boss around." I laughed but I wished I hadn't. It made my throat hurt.
"Well, I bossed around my baby sister and brother when we was kids. Now I wish I could take all that back." Lillimae paused and dabbed sweat off my chin with her thumb. She patted my arm and gave me a thoughtful look. "Because ain't nobody supposed to torment the ones they love. There's enough others goin' to do that."
I blinked and nodded in agreement. The people that I had loved had been the ones who had hurt me the most. I had come to Florida, hoping to heal my heart. Daddy had helped break it in two.
I set my suitcase on the freshly waxed linoleum floor and followed Lillimae to one of the couches. When we sat down, the couch squished and squeaked and almost flattened to the floor from the strain of our combined weight. And that had to be at least five hundred pounds.
"It's so nice to finally get you down here!" Lillimae grinned, squeezing my hand. I flinched as the rings on her fingers dug into my flesh. "All that prayin' I done has finally paid off. Praise the Lord."
"Is ... is Daddy here?" I asked, looking around the room. Daddy's blood was all over the place. Two of the peach-colored walls in the living room were practically covered with pictures of other young faces that also resembled mine, down to the same flat, sad eyes and bloated cheeks.
Before Lillimae could respond, my daddy, also wearing a long, drab bathrobe, shuffled into the room, sliding a limp, wet towel across his face. I gasped and covered my mouth with my hand to keep from screaming. The once-handsome man who had fathered me looked like he had just stumbled out of a mummy's tomb. The healthy head of thick, black hair I remembered had been replaced with a receding halo of thin white cotton. The proud, inky-black eyes I had admired so much as a child now looked gray and tortured. Deep lines crisscrossed his face like a road map. Lips that looked like raw liver couldn't hide his snaggle-toothed grin. The few teeth he had left would have looked better on a serpent. His broad shoulders had shrunk and now drooped like the shoulders of a man who had yoked a heavy load far longer than he should have. He had never had much of a butt. But now his backside was as flat as a board, making it look like he had a very long back supported by a pair of frail, slightly bowed legs. His belly resembled a huge cummerbund.
"It took you long enough to get here," Daddy snapped, weaving toward me, his bathrobe dragging the floor. The booming voice I remembered had been replaced by a weak, scratchy growl. "I sent you your airplane fare five years ago!" His eyes watered as he stared at me like he was seeing me for the first time.
"I'm sorry, Daddy. I had a lot of things to take care of first," I explained, rising. "Muh'Dear ... she didn't want me to come back down here."
At the mention of my mother, Daddy stopped and turned away, tossing the towel on top of a goosenecked lamp in a corner behind him.
"I figured that," he mumbled, shaking his head. His exasperation was obvious, but that didn't faze me one bit. I was just as exasperated as he was. Maybe even more so. "Ain't you around forty-somethin' now, girl?" Daddy asked, facing me with one eyebrow raised.
"Me? Oh-well, I'm thirty-five. My birthday was last week," I stammered. My words hung in midair while I groped for more. I pressed my lips together and blinked stupidly.
Daddy grunted and made a sweeping gesture with a hand so gnarled, it looked like it had never been straight. "Oh yeah, that's right. You was born durin' dog days. Well, that's old enough for you to be doin' what you want to do. I was beginnin' to think that I wouldn't get to see you again 'til the Rapture. Ain't that right, Lillimae?"
Lillimae chuckled. "Daddy got a notion in his head that the world's goin' to end any day now. He won't even buy nothin' on credit no more."
I was too nervous and confused to go to my daddy. I wanted to hug him and slap him at the same time. More than thirty years was a long time to be separated from somebody you loved. He had a reason to be angry with me for taking so long to come see him, but I had even more of a reason to be angry with him. He was the one who had run out on my mother and me at a time when we needed him the most. It was time for him to answer for what he had done.
Chapter ThreeI was devastated that long-ago morning when Daddy deserted my mother and me, leaving us in a run-down shack with just ten dollars and some change to our names. A tornado had swept through Miami the night before, destroying most of our few possessions. That had been enough of a trauma. For many years I had blamed that storm for helping destroy my family, but Daddy had put his plan in place even before that.
His cruel departure was unexpected and thorough. I knew he wasn't coming back, because he took everything he cared about with him.
Everything but my mother and me.
I never got over losing my daddy. He had been the most honorable, gentle, dependable man I knew back then. He'd loved us with a passion and I had adored him.
Excerpted from GOD STILL DON'T LIKE UGLY by MARY MONROE
Copyright © 2003 by Mary Monroe
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.