by Cris Burks


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Katie has reached the end of her rope. Her fourth marriage is falling apart, she’s drowning in debt but can’t find a job, and now she has to care for the sons of husband number four. To top it off, her mother won’t stop harping on Katie’s weight, as if the scale held the answer to all these troubles.

Like millions of women, Katie decides to tune out her real-life woes by tuning in to the Internet. There, she sheds her plus-size wardrobe and emerges as SilkyDreamGirl, an identity as luscious as the desserts she craves. Soon Katie's imaginary self, who is persuasive, in control, and very sexy, starts taking charge in Katie's off-line world. Inspired by her sultry chat-room dates, she turns the tables on her badgering ex and starts enjoying the sweet life. She even turns her affection for confections into a lucrative baking business. Clever, fast-paced, and good for the soul, SilkyDreamGirl is a terrific treat that’s low in calories and high in fun.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767912952
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/10/2002
Edition description: 1ST
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 7.95(h) x 0.82(d)

About the Author

CRIS BURKS earned an M.F.A. in creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago, where she taught fiction writing for several years. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in several literary publications, including Shooting Star Review and Short Fiction by Women. She lives in Sacramento, California.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Hubby announced he was leaving me at the Labor Day barbecue. Right before my brother LaDell took the last rib off the grill. Right before my sister-in-law Georgie poured another round of her weak-butt, non-alcoholic margarita. Right before Mama stumbled out of the house with the ice cream maker. Right before my son-brother Alex dragged his friend Tameka into the backyard. Right before my friend Donna and her husband, Mike, arrived. The children (my niece Shanna, my nephew Terrence, and my stepsons, CJ and Darius) ran around LaDell's perfectly landscaped backyard. Hubby and LaDell stood at the grill like buddies, pals. They both wore light khaki shorts and T-shirts that accentuated their muscles. Both were short and dusky brown as Idaho potatoes. LaDell's eyes, nose, and lips gushed generously across his face. On the other hand, Clarence, my hubby, had a tight, stingy face. His dot of a nose sat between his small mole eyes and thin lips. Only his bushy eyebrows added depth to his face.

Up and down the block, smoke drifted from backyards up to a perfect blue sky where downy clouds sailed under a blazing sun. The mouth-watering aroma of barbecue permeated the air. Laughter and music from the backyards meshed into a continuous holiday medley. It was a storybook perfect day, and for once, I didn't envy Georgie's new things. Even Rover, their ferocious rottweiler, lay passively in his house.

"I'm going to California Saturday," Clarence said above the crackling explosion of distant fireworks. He slapped barbecue sauce on the chicken and spareribs.

"Yeah," said LaDell who was never interested in anything outside carpentry or home improvements.

"Yeah," Clarence said.

I knew he was not going to California on business. The man had no business and no job. He didn't even have a damn hustle. But if he said he was going to California, he was going to California. We didn't have enough pocket cash to buy sandals for the boys, yet there he was, planning a trip.

"My sister is sending me a ticket."

I rolled my eyes to the sky. Bertie or Roberta as she preferred, was Clarence's sister. I placed the potato salad on the picnic table and busied myself by arranging the food. A feast of fruit salad, tabbouleh, roast vegetables, and barbecue chicken sat on the table.

It should have been a good day. For once, Mama and I were not at each other's throats. For once, I had managed to pay our bills on time. For once, the extra fifty pounds on my tiny frame was not causing me grief. Clarence destroyed my smidgen of joy with his announcement.

"For how long?" Georgie asked.

Georgie poured a drink and passed it to LaDell. She towered over me by a good six inches and over LaDell by two. Flat-chested and the color of peanut butter, she had a mop of chestnut brown hair that she wore in some sort of Afro centric style. A flight of freckles soared from one side of Georgie's face to the other. Georgie liked stars: Movie stars, stars in the heaven, and stars on her clothes. She wore sparkly crap like rhinestones, sequins, or anything else with flash. Her clothes came from catalogs specifically designed for women who wanted to look unique: Bold colors, animal prints, and designs that resembled Juan Miro's artwork. A jingle, jangle something--bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and rings-covered every part of Georgie's body from her head to her toes. She was a walking bell. Clarence said California and Georgie saw stars.

"I'm going to stay," Clarence announced.

Unlike the shoebox backyards of the city, LaDell and Georgie's suburban backyard wallowed in spaciousness. Any backyard that was big enough to hold a patio set, a picnic bench, a kid's play set, a custom-made brick grill, and a vegetable garden was capacious. In Chicago, developers would have built an apartment building in that space. When Clarence made his foul announcement, the space between the patio furniture by the sliding glass doors and the picnic table near the barbecue grill shrunk from eighteen feet to six inches, shrunk until I saw the sweat seeping out of Mama's nose. Mama crossed that space in two steps. She dropped the ice cream maker on the corner of the bench and glared at me.

"Katie," Mama accused, "you didn't tell me you were moving to California."

"Kay-Jay isn't going," Clarence continued.

His stingy, tight lips spread into a wide slit of a smile. In my head, I heard my daddy telling a fable about a woman and a snake. The woman found a half-frozen snake in the forest. She took it home, nourished it, and loved it, until the snake was well. In gratitude the snake bit her. Why? Why? The foolish woman asked. The snake grinned, like Clarence did that day, and hissed, you knew I was a snake.

Everyone paused, turned, and looked at me as if I had committed a sin. I wanted to say this is all new to me. I wanted to shrug it off, but I was too busy burning. My ears, face, neck, and body burned like the embers in the grill. Perspiration oozed from every pore in my body. My sack of a dress shrunk like wool in hot water, until it kissed the thick folds of my porcine body. My heart raced. A hole spread in my guts. I poured a glass of honey lemonade, took a sip, and ignored Mama who stared at me across the table. I ignored Georgie's intake of breath behind me. That glass of lemonade was an oasis. I closed my eyes and sipped. I imagined myself, in the middle of the Sahara, waited on by half-naked and succulent men. One massaged my foot, and one gave me a delectable belly rub.

"Katie?" Mama asked.

I opened my eyes and smiled at Mama. She was a good-looking woman with a flawless cinnamon complexion. She had small features, dark hair, and fudge brown eyes. Mama's only gifts to me were my dark eyes. I loved my daddy but I have often looked in the mirror and wondered what genie decided I should get his bulbous nose. I was as fat and shapely as a walrus with crooked teeth. Mama's teeth were so white and straight that most people swore they were fake. They were real. The only thing fake in Mama's life was her only daughter.

"It's okay, Mama," I said. I stretched my lips into the biggest, brightest smile of my life. When you don't know what else to do, smile.

"Me and Kay-Jay always gonna be close," my jerk-faced hubby said. "I'll miss all of you."

"Have mercy!" Mama exclaimed and flopped on the bench next to the ice cream maker. "I'm gonna miss those boys."

She looked over at the new swing set where the children played. Everything about LaDell and Georgie was new. Their cars, their house, and even their marriage of fifteen years sparkled with newness. Clarence and I were old married folks in a rickety canoe, paddling against the strongest current a marriage could face, financial devastation. Obviously, Clarence had decided to jump overboard and swim for a brighter shore.

"The boys will stay here and finish the next school year. I don't want to uproot them," Clarence informed us.

"Katie," Mama said, taking a non-alcoholic margarita from Georgie, "you ain't said a word about any of this."

"Mama, some things I can't discuss intelligently," I said. Especially, I thought, if I don't know what is going on. Besides, Mama, why would I give you another reason to condemn me to hell?

"Well," LaDell said, looking at me with one raised eyebrow. "I'm glad y'all friendly about this. Many couples breaking up would be at each other's throats."

Why did I take that mess? Why didn't I cuss him out and rip him to Kingdom Come? I floated around that backyard playing catch with the children, playing tag with the children, playing Captain May I with the children, and avoiding inquisitions from Mama and Georgie. I didn't look at Clarence who had hurt me again.

My seventeen-year-old son Alex arrived with his skinny friend Tameka. One look at Tameka and two ancient words popped into my head, chaste and modest. The girl was a throw back to another era. I've never seen her belly button. I've never seen her thighs. If a skirt didn't drag the ground, it didn't grace Tameka's lithe frame. She was a yes ma'am, no ma'am kind of girl. Mama, who was ever disappointed in me, grabbed the bony thing and embraced her in a bear hug. Tameka's droopy eyes popped as she looked over Mama's shoulder at me. I smirked and shook my head.

"You're a sweetheart. A real sweetheart," Mama said. She held Tameka at arms' length. "I know your grandmother is proud of you."

"Are you and Mama at it again?" Alex asked me. Beads of perspiration glistened on his chocolate skin. Immediately after his birth, my best friend Regina took one look at him and nicknamed him Cocoa Bug. Only she called him that.

I shrugged. He draped his arm across my shoulder and pulled me against him. He smelled of mountain fresh deodorant, mint mouthwash, Gray Flannel aftershave, and yes, tobacco. The top of my head barely made it to his armpit. Alex was six feet five inches and lanky. When he was fourteen and six feet, I dreamed of him playing professional basketball. Oh, yeah. I wanted to be a courtside mom, to sit behind the players' bench, and shout that's my baby! But Alex played basketball like Strawberry Smurf. He was terrible. The boy dribbled the ball as if his hands were coated with Elmer's glue. He couldn't make a lay-up, couldn't block a pass, and most definitely couldn't make a basket from the free throw line. On the other hand, the boy was a walking brain. He had scholarship offers from every big-ten school east of the Mississippi.

"What?" He laughed. "Did she find out that you're a bigamist or something?"

And the sense of humor of a jerk.

"Something like that," I said.

Alex didn't stay around to find out what disgusting thing had pickled Mama's nerves. He and Tameka gobbled down two huge plates of food, then said their goodbyes. Tameka had a humongous family with thirty or forty uncles and aunts and a gazillion cousins. I think she had ten thousand cousins between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. Alex had no cousins in his own age group, so he spent more time with her family than with ours.

Donna and Mike arrived with two large watermelons. I latched onto Donna like a clasp. While the other adults played spades at the patio table, Donna and I sliced the watermelons at the picnic table. The children snatched the melon as quickly as we sliced it. I stood under the shadow of Donna's arm like a lost child. Donna was as tall as Georgie but, unlike Georgie, she had a provocative roundness that, at times, she desperately attempted to hide beneath flowing outfits. At other times, she buttoned or laced up her voluptuousness beneath blocky jackets and coats. On Labor Day, she wore a cream haute-couture pants set that was more appropriate for a cocktail party than a backyard barbecue. The top flowed down to wide-leg pants, which ended in gold sandals.

"Georgie told me that Clarence is leaving," she whispered.

I shrugged. She looked at me from the canyon of her eyes. Her long sloping nose lay between deep-set and almond-shaped eyes.

"You can talk to me about anything," she said.

"Donna, you know we don't agree about love and marriage and stuff," I said.

"Well, I'm not a dreamer like . . ."

She broke off the sentence before the name slipped out. Regina was a sore subject between us. Donna, Regina, and I had been inseparable since birth. Donna was born in the spring, I was born in the summer, and finally Regina was born in December of that same year. We crawled across each other's floors, walked around each other's backyards, and ran with the same crowd of people. We thought we would grow old together, but Regina opted out.


On the ride home, my stepsons, CJ and Darius, chatted nonstop about the day. I drove. Bitterness crawled up my swollen ankles, my legs, and my thighs. Finally, it curled and nestled in the bowl of my belly. Clarence should have sensed that a dangerous, stab-you-in-your-sleep rage was growing in me.

"You okay, Kay-Jay?" he asked.

I bit my tongue. I focused on the bumper-to-bumper traffic of the Dan Ryan Expressway. I didn't glance his way lest I ram us all into an eighteen-wheeler. In the backseat, CJ and Darius's laughter tugged at my heart. Tomorrow was soon enough for them to discover the destruction of their family.

"Katie?" Clarence called again.

"Don't say a word," I hissed, hoping the boys were too enthralled with their conversation to feel the rage pulsating in the front seat.

When we arrived home, CJ and Darius rushed up the steps. Clarence followed. I trailed behind. Seven years before, when I weighed a hundred and thirty pounds, I had run up and down the three flights of stairs with ease. Back then the weight of a bad marriage didn't drag me down. On the second floor I was out of breath. I leaned against the banister and rested.

"You okay, Kay-Jay," Clarence called down from the third floor.

I didn't answer. I knew once I was inside the apartment, he would try to reason with me, to placate my ruffled feelings. By the time I reached the third floor, the boys were in their rooms, and Clarence was waiting for me by the door.

"I don't want to discuss this," I said. I got right in his face and stood toe-to-toe with him. Although he was two inches taller than I was, my large frame smothered his smaller body.

"I don't want to discuss this tonight, tomorrow night, or ever," I said. "I want you gone, Clarence, and when you leave this time, don't even think about coming back. This door will be closed to you." I closed the door and locked it.

That week, Clarence was as nice as ice cream on apple pie. I ignored him and went about my life as if nothing was wrong. The boys took his leaving as they had in the past, nonchalantly. In seven years, Clarence had left me twice. That Saturday, we escorted Clarence to Midway Airport. The boys hugged him good-bye. I looked at him with contempt. When your husband leaves you, you can crumple into tears or get on with living. It took a year for me to crumple into tears.


Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide

Katie Coomers has everyday problems, but she certainly doesn’t handle them in an everyday way. Whether she’s longing for love or battling her bills, Silkydreamgirl always finds a creative solution. We hope that your reading group finds inspiration in her story. The questions that follow are designed to keep the conversation lively, just the way Katie would want it. While you’re at it, why not include a little bit of her favorite wine and music, and maybe some of that lemon meringue pie she likes so much? May your meeting be a delicious one.

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SilkyDreamGirl 2.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read the preview in a Blank Ink newsletter and I HAD to have this book. The preview chapter I read was so entertaining. But the rest of this book was pathetic. I'm sorry, but I really tried to like this book. There are 289 pages in this book and I got to 252 pages TRYING to like this book. I figured, 'I bought it, might as well read it'. I just can't take it anymore. #1 The book reads like a map of Chicago. I am from Chicago so I really didn't need to hear all these unnecessary directions to suburbs, neighborhoods, expressways, etc. And if I was a tourist, I would STILL be annoyed because it's like 'Get to the point and stop bragging about the city, woman!' #2 There's fiction and then there's junk. This book was so extremely unrealistic to the point where I was just shaking my head. #3 The main character was just too pathetic to feel sorry for her. I don't believe anybody screws up their life THIS bad. This book was just stupid and I am so disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
SilkyDreamGirl is the story of Katie Coomers: an overweight woman with low-self esteem whose fourth shaky marriage causes her to start doing things she'd never dreamt she'd do. There's plenty of overeating going on, surfing chat rooms in a quest to find a satisfactory relationship, and drama-filled encounters with unforgettable characters who challenge Katie to define who she is and who she wants to be. This wonderful debut novel is well-written, endearing, has twists and turns, and is thick with hearty chuckles. Furthermore, novelist Cris Burks is adept at writing descriptions and creating laugh-out-loud metaphors which should provide readers with an enjoyable experience as opposed to having them plow through a story filled with overused clichés and adverbs. One aspect that could have made this great novel even greater is increased dialogue between the characters so that we can get to know them through showing versus telling. In summary, SilkyDreamGirl is a reader's delight, and a welcome new voice to the world of African-American fiction.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Honestly, for easy reading, it was ok. But it didn't have a lot of meat on it. Seemed a bit superficial. Not the kind of subject a lot of folks can openly say they can 'relate' to. Seriously, online dating has a stigma that says 'I'm so desperate, but I can't even physically meet people in a regular setting.'