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The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love
By Jill Conner Browne
Random HouseJill Conner Browne
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Chapter OneBE PREPARED
on Account of You Just Never Know
The first rule of being prepared is, of course, always shave your legs. In a perfect world, we would not even have to mention armpits, but, sadly, even in the rarefied atmosphere of the Sweet Potato Queens domain, the hairy armpit issue has materialized. We have one Queen-she's the youngest and she missed the whole hippie thing when it was original and she's being forced to live through it now, when it is so over, since she chose to move to Boulder, Colorado, where it is apparently the height of chic to be an ugly woman. At any rate, she has not grown up and out of it sufficiently yet to begin, or I guess resume would be more accurate, shaving her underarms and so we have to do a pit check on her when she comes back to Jackson every year at parade time. (It should be duly noted that she's so beautiful and queenly that, even with hairy armpits, she's a knockout and thus has become a tourist attraction in Boulder.)
Shave everything that needs it and by all means, always wear pretty underwear, on account of you just never know. A good case can be made for carrying around with you your toothbrush, a change of underwear, a large supply of your chosen method of protection, your favorite pillow, and perhaps even a canned ham. We feel that the last item moves beyond simply being Optimistically Prepared and into the realm of Predatory Anticipation, and thus we must take a stand against it. After a pretty bad streak of men, we even considered amending the list to include carrying some sort of weapon, also because you just never know. If there exists in this universe anything more infuriating and crazy-making than a man, I don't know what it is, thank you, and I don't want to know. Of course, on a good day, I would also have to say if there is anything in this universe better than a man, I don't know what it is; and I don't think it would even be healthful for me to know at this stage of my life.
But, if you've decided to go out on a limb and kill one, for goodness' sake, be prepared. We all read, with dismay, the sad story of a good woman wronged in south Mississippi who took that option and made a complete mess of the entire thing. See, first she shot him. Well, she saw right off the bat that that was a mistake because then she had this enormous dead body to deal with. He was every bit as much trouble to her dead as he ever had been alive, and was getting more so all the time. So then, she made another snap decision to cut him up in pieces and dispose of him a hunk at a time. More poor planning. First, she didn't have the proper carving utensils on hand and hacking him up proved to be just a major chore, plus it made just this colossal mess on her off-white shag living room carpet. It's getting to be like the Cat in the Hat now, only Thing Two ain't showing up to help with the clean-up. She finally gets him into portable-size portions, and wouldn't you know it? Cheap trash bags. Can anything else possible go wrong for this poor woman? So, the lesson here is obvious-for want of a small chain saw, a roll of Visqueen and some genuine Hefty bags, she is in Parchman Penitentiary today instead of New Orleans, where she'd planned to go with her new boyfriend. Preparation is everything. However, if you have been particular, you shouldn't need to be prepared to this extreme. Try to avoid getting involved with somebody who's gonna need killing before it's over. It may seem to you that that narrows the field somewhat, but be diligent.
So moved were the Sweet Potato Queens by this woman's plight that we swore a mighty oath that it would never happen to us, no, not to us nor to any of our people. Since that time, whenever one of us gets married, which seems to be a pretty regular occurrence for some unfathomable reason, we make sure that all the basics of preparedness are covered at the bridal shower. Chain saws and garbage bags are only the beginning. The centerpiece is traditional: an extremely large (I'd say about three feet tall, and a foot or so in diameter) inflatable penis. This lends a festive air to the occasion. Many Fat Mama's Knock You Naked Margaritas are prepared and cheerfully consumed.
The bride (and whoever else needs one) is presented with the "Good Vibrations" catalog. This is actually a very educational book and the Queens feel very strongly about education. We pass the catalogs around and everybody gets a chance to pick out the models she finds most intriguing. There is a lot of reading aloud. There are a few consistent crowd-pleasers: the Auto-arouser, which plugs into your car's cigarette lighter and promises to add a whole new dimension to road trips, and the Butterfly, which is apparently a little deal that you can actually wear under your clothes, say, to work, to keep you vibrant during those wretchedly boring staff meetings.
But anyway, we provide the bride with the means for obtaining whatever marital aids she personally feels will aid her the most and we do not force her to share with the group what exactly those might be. We restrict our gifts to things we know for certain she will need: the smallest, most beautiful lingerie ever created and high-heeled satin slippers with maribou trim.
There will be those days, however, when none of these items of preparedness are sufficient. Not pretty panties or married panties or no panties. Shaved legs won't matter and even butterfly vibrators will do you no good. And even if you have a chainsaw, you won't be able to get to it. Sometimes the only thing that will work is your own ingenuity. And this brings us to the last, and most important rule: Be creative.
Before Xena, There Was Curtisene
The very essence of creative preparedness is contained in the person of Curtisene Lloyd, and for this reason she is the unchallenged winner of the Sweet Potato Queens' highest award: The Most Prepared Woman the World Has Ever Known. (Every word of the story I am about to tell you is true. It is authenticated in court documents.) Curtisene Lloyd is a mild-mannered, sweet-voiced little Sunday School teacher of a lady, middle-aged, a nurse. She lives, with her very old, deaf aunt, in a nice house in a little town not far from Jackson, where she works at a large hospital.
February, 1990. Late one night, Curtisene awoke to discover a man in her bedroom. And he was definitely not there at her invitation. This intruder advised her of the various and sundry obscene things he planned to do to her before he made up his mind whether or not he would kill her. "I might kill you," he said, "but I'm gone git me summa dis fust." And with that, he removed all of his clothing and climbed up on the bed. He situated himself on the headboard somehow and began giving Curtisene some rather detailed instructions concerning the performance he expected from her.
Now our Curtisene, she was paying real close attention. She had taken note right off that this guy did not have any sort of weapon with him. And then she did something that never in his worst nightmares had he dreamed she would do. She just reached out and took aholt. She did. Our Curtisene grabbed a hold and then she commenced to twisting. She got both hands on his merchandise and she twisted-in opposite directions at the same time with as much force as she could muster.
Apparently it was sufficient. Her attacker beat her about the head and shoulders and struggled frantically to get free of this death grip, but Curtisene was on him like all those time-honored phrases you've heard all your life-white on rice, duck on a June bug, etc.
So, still holding fast, she drags him, now sniveling and crying, through the house, where her little old deaf aunt was sleeping in peaceful oblivion. He's begging her to let go:
"Let go and call the po-leece! Just let go!" He's swearing he's dying.
"No, you ain't dying," she says back to him. "I'm trying to kill you, but you won't die."
He promises he'll leave if only she will, please God, let him go.
"Fine," she says, "Go on then. Leave."
He's crying and saying he cain't and how can he when she won't let him go?
To which our Curtisene casually replies, "You broke in, didn't you, sumbitch? Break out!"
He is wailing to beat the band, and she is dragging him to the front door. She tells him there are three locks on that door that he'll have to open in order to make good his escape. He is pretty much a lifeless heap by now, except for the bawling. She hoists him up to open the first lock. He gets it open and falls back to the floor. "He was starting to wheeze a little by this time," Curtisene reported. At this point, she later confessed to the jury-in the shyest little voice you ever heard, like she was letting you in on a little secret, "I kinda worked on him a little bit." Meaning, if it had been possible to twist his genitalia completely off his body, she would have accomplished that feat at the end of her front porch.
And then she repeated to those assembled her final words to the man: "I'm takin' you to the end of the porch and then I'm gon' go back in the house and get my gun, and I'm gon' blow your m_____f_____g head off, you slimey, stanking, low-down piece of shit, you!" As she repeated those words, clear as a bell, in open court, you could feel, in every living soul in that courtroom, an almost overwhelming desire to stand up and cheer.
What happened to the rapist wannabee? Well, he limped off through the bushes, but he wasn't hard for the police to find. Especially since he departed buck nekkid and left all his clothes in her bedroom-with his full name written on the labels inside.
He was also pretty easy to spot in the line up: he was the one who didn't stand up straight. He may never stand up straight again, actually. And don't you just know he was a big man in jail, after the truth came out.
Curtisene Lloyd did not get the standing ovation that her testimony so richly deserved, courtroom decorum and all that, but every single person in the courtroom that day went up to her afterwards and said, "Miss Lloyd, I just want to shake your hand."
Curtisene Lloyd, my hero. I love this woman, the Most Prepared Woman the World Has Ever Known.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love by Jill Conner Browne Excerpted by permission.
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