Barbies of Jackson, Mississippi

North Jackson Barbie
This princess Barbie is sold only at the Towne Center. She comes with an assortment of Kate Spade Handbags, a Lexus SUV, and a cookie-cutter house. Available with or without tummy tuck and face lift. Workaholic Ken sold only in conjunction with the augmented version.

Ridgeland Barbie
The modern-day homemaker Barbie is available with Ford Windstar Minivan and matching gym outfit. She gets lost in parking lots and is the alumna of an off-campus sorority. Traffic-jamming cell phone sold separately.

South Jackson Barbie
This recently paroled Barbie comes with a 9mm handgun, a Ray Lewis knife, a Chevy with dark tinted windows and a meth lab Kit. This model is only available after dark and must be paid for in cash (preferably small, untraceable bills) unless you are a cop…then we don’t know what you are talking about.

West Madison Barbie
This yuppie Barbie comes with your choice of BMW convertible or Hummer H2. Included are her own Starbucks cup, credit card, and country club membership.  As optional items, BIG sunglasses and white tennis hat to wear while driving the SUV at unsafe speeds. Also available for this set are Shallow Ken and Private School Skipper. You won’t be able to afford any of them.

West Pearl Barbie
This pale model comes dressed in her own Wrangler jeans two sizes too small, a NASCAR t-shirt and tweety bird tattoo on her shoulder. She has a six-pack of Bud Lite and a Hank Williams Jr. CD set. She can spit over 5 feet and kick mullet-haired Ken’s ass when she is drunk. Purchase her pickup truck separately and get a Confederate flag bumper sticker absolutely free.

East Pearl Barbie
This tobacco-chewing, brassy-haired Barbie has a pair of her own high-heeled sandals with one broken heel from the time she chased beer-gutted Ken out of Millington Barbie’s house. Her ensemble includes low-rise acid-washed jeans, fake fingernails and a see-through halter-top. Also available with a mobile home.

Fondren Barbie
This doll is made of tofu. She has long straight brown hair, arch-less feet, and Birkenstocks with white socks. She prefers that you call her Willow. She does not want or need a Ken doll, but if you purchase two Fondren Barbies with the optional Subaru wagon, you get a rainbow flag bumper sticker for free.

Belhaven Barbie
This mature Barbie is the only doll that comes with support hose, hair toppers, and a membership in the neighborhood improvement association. Package also includes a vintage SUV, a variety of “fur babies,” and Pompous Ken. Options include a golf cart and the Martha Stewart kitchen collection.

West Jackson Barbie
This Barbie now comes with a stroller and infant doll. Optional accessories include a GED and bus pass. Gangsta Ken and his 1979 Caddy were available, but are now very difficult to find since the addition of the infant

Flowood/Rez Barbie
This doll includes a Chevy Tahoe with multiple private school stickers, Closeted Ken, 2 Whining Wendy, and an incontinent shih-tzu named Rags. She has highlights from Ms. Ann’s, a mega-church membership, and an I-phone with matching earbuds. Kroger buggy with pineapple optional.

McDowell Road Barbie/Ken
This versatile doll can be easily converted from Barbie to Ken by simply adding or subtracting the multiple snap-on parts.

Dahomey

He was wealthy, born to wealth, with a wife and children in a mansion on St. Charles, land from Natchez to Memphis, a man of taste and discretion, well-schooled in the ways of the world. She was born to poverty, with a man who beat her and a red leather trunk containing everything she owned, a woman-child of the sort you find with a stage for a cradle, knowing nothing of the world beyond footlights. But before those, oh, how she shined.

One night she plucked out his heart and held it in her hand. For an ethereal week, he kept her with style and passion in an apartment on Ursuline. Then the revue—a musical comedy, ‘In Dahomey’—swept her to Chicago, Manhattan, London, Paris, and into the arms of others.

When he bought 24,000 acres in Boliver County the next year, he smiled as he signed the deed, remembering her face, radiant in the limeights, and her body warm beside him.

A Visit to the Honky-Tonk

“Jack,” I said, “I’ve been reading this article about honky-tonks . . . “
“You shouldn’t read things like that,” he said, turning his head from a football game to growl at me. “It always gets me in trouble.”
Jack is my first cousin, a really great guy and the only friend I have in the family. We’ve seen one another through thick and thin. I helped him back up on his feet out of a really bad marriage, and he rescued me from a crack house in Atlanta. We take care of each other, Jack and I do, but lately he’s been feeling like he’s doing all the work, which isn’t fair of him at all. For one thing, I’m always the designated driver, and if it weren’t for me, his jeans would look like denim accordions.
“What’s that place you always go to? ‘Hippy Dick’s’?
I could hear Jack groan all the way in the kitchen. “No!” he said.
“You said it had a juke box?”
“It doesn’t have any ABBA on it!”
“Pool tables?”
“You can’t play mahjong on a pool table!”
“Pickled eggs, pigs’ feet and jerky?”
“No! Sushi!”
“Jack,” I said, “Be fair.
I heard a long sigh. “What are you wearing?” he asked.
“I thought khakis and a button-up Oxford, hushpuppies . . .”
Jack held his hand up. “If you go in there looking like a reject from Rush Week at Ole Miss, you’re going to end up in the Yalobusha River with a trot line tied around your feet.”
So I left the house wearing jeans, flannel, a pair of Jack’s old boots and a cap that said “Embry’s Bait Shop” with a Marine insignia. At least he let me pick out which of his flannel shirts to wear.
“Lucky for you pink don’t look good on me,” he said. Jack’s got a weird sense of humor.

Hippy Dick’s was on the side of a long winding road that twisted through the backwaters of a nearby reservoir. It had big a gravel parking lot that Jack said the county kept up because Dick was the supervisor’s second cousin. It had a neon sign on top that said DICKS and a bait shop on the side. The bar had a big mirror behind it, and two television screens; a large one near the back wall, which seemed continually tuned to ESPN, the other, smaller one, set up near one end of the bar tuned to “E!” with a bucket of iced beer on a towel in front of it. The jukebox was blaring out Faith Hill. It was crowded, about forty people. You had the sports guys crowded around a big screen television, about a dozen guys playing pool and a little more than that bellied up to the bar.
Jack ordered our drinks: a Miller Lite for him, an O’Doul’s for me. “He’s driving,” Jack explained to the bartender, a drop-dead gorgeous ginger with a gambler’s spade beard.
“Is this your date?” he asked Jack with a wink.
“Rick, this is my cousin Andy,” Jack said. Rick reached a muscular arm over the bar, smiled and shook my hand. I couldn’t help but giggle. Jack punched me in the arm and dragged me over to a table.
“You’re going to get my ass kicked if you don’t straighten up. Why don’t you sit here and try not to fluff your hair while I play a game of pool?”
“Now I’m going to have to go to the men’s room to look at my hair.”
“Make sure that’s all you look at,” he said.

Having checked in the rear view mirror before I got out of the car, I knew my hair looked fine, so I wandered over to the jukebox. Sure enough, there wasn’t any ABBA, but a couple of tunes did stand out: “YMCA”, “Don’t You Want Me, Baby?” and two tunes by Madonna. I saw Jack looking at me from the corner of my eye, played it safe and picked out Reba. I was just straightening up when this woman at the bar said,  “Yeah, he gave me a little rock and a little cock!”
Naturally, I froze, but nobody else seemed to notice. I turned to look at her. She was in her mid-30s, brunette, big tits, freckled cleavage. I turned to Jack, who shrugged and sank the three ball in a side pocket.
“Hey, you at the jukebox!” she said. “Come here!”
Jack miscued and stood up, glaring at me. I just shrugged at him, turned to the lady at the bar, smiled and walked up to her.
“Are you Jack’s cousin?”
“Yes, I am,” I said. “His momma is my daddy’s big sister.”
“Well, y’all sure do look alike,” she said. “Just handsome as you can be!” She laid her hand on my arm. “I just want you to know that song you played is my favorite one in the whole, wide world.”
“’Little Rock’”?
“Yes, honey. And do you know why?”
“No, why?”
“Because my husband had a little cock, and he gave me a little rock.”
“That would piss anybody off,” I said.

I heard someone behind me choke on a beer, but I paid no attention, went to the other end of the bar and asked for a refill. Rick obliged with a stunning smile, but before I could thank him, a guy on a stool next to me poked me in the ribs.
I turned and found myself facing a rakish  blond wearing a Saints jersey. “I like them jeans you got on,” he said. “What size you wear?”
“Uh, on a good day, a 32,” I said.
“I used to be fat, too,” he said, and before I could protest, he said, “But I got on that Atkins diet. You know, the one that Ozzie’s wife is always doin’ ads for.”
“I’m not fat!”
“Oh, I didn’t think I was either, but you got this here,” and he patted my stomach and started rubbing on it. “Nice little beer belly …”
He let his hand linger a little too long. “Yeah, well, that’s mostly pizza,” I said, shifting away.
“Hey, I like pizza, too, but I really like them bratwursts,” he said, with what can only be interpreted as a leer.
“ANDEE!” Jack’s voice thundered across the bar. “You’re UP!”
I certainly was. “Be right there!” I said over my shoulder. “I’ve got to go,” I said to the dirt road d’Artagnan.
“Maybe you can come over for a brat sometime,” he said.
“Sure!” I caught Rick smiling at me in the mirror.

Jack soon decided it was time to go. He’d lost forty bucks at pool and Lady Little Rock had her hand glued to his arm. I was ready to go myself. As we were driving off, Jack asked me if I had a good time.
“I sure did,” I said. “Rick gave me his phone number.”

Come Home, Little Bob

You asked me about the statue in the cemetery, the one of the dog. The statue is on the Guinn family plot. The Guinns are gone now, but they were well-known. Robert Guinn was an attorney who handled mostly small claims, but made a good enough living to buy a house on President Street. He had a lovely wife named Rose and a little girl, Doris.

All little girls should be pretty, but Doris wasn’t; her face fused improperly in the womb. There’s a name for the condition that I can’t remember, but it’s a cruel assessment of the divine to say that was God’s will, if you ask me. She was never photographed, but there was a portrait painted, and the artist aligned her features. I saw it long ago; she had dark hair and a shy smile.

Doris in all other respects was a normal little girl; she had dolls and dresses and went to school with all the other little girls on the street. She also had a small dog, a spaniel of some kind that she adored. Her father had given her the puppy when she was five years old, so she named it after him. She called it Little Bob. The dog would follow her to school, wait afternoons on the corner for her to come home, and was with her when she died at twelve.

After that, Little Bob would go to the corner every afternoon and wait; at dark he’d go home until one day he couldn’t, and Bob Guinn went and got him. Oh, there was a big stink about putting the statue of a dog in a Christian cemetery, much less physical remains, but Robert Guinn took it to court and won the right, his finest hour before the bench.

So that’s Little Bob, resting at the feet of his mistress. He was a good dog.

The Sartoris Thanksgiving

In a his article “Cooked Books” (The New Yorker, April 9, 2007), Adam Gopnik points out that there are four kinds of food in books: “Food that is served by an author to characters who are not expected to taste it; food that is served by an author to characters in order to show who they are; food that an author cooks for characters in order to eat it with them; and, last (and most recent), food that an author cooks for characters but actually serves to the reader.”

Faulkner falls solidly into the second category, a writer who uses food to show who his characters are, as does (unsurprisingly) a French writer who influenced the Mississippian very much, Marcel Proust.  “Proust seems so full of food—crushed strawberries and madeleines, tisanes and champagne—that entire recipe books have been extracted from his texts,” Gopnik says. “Proust will say that someone is eating a meal of gigot with sauce béarnaise, but he seldom says that the character had a delicious meal of gigot with sauce béarnaise—although he will extend his adjectives to the weather, or the view. He uses food as a sign of something else.”

This is precisely what Faulkner does with the Thanksgiving meal at the Sartoris home in Flags in the Dust, his first novel to be set in Yoknapatawpha County (called “Yocona”). Written in 1927, the novel was rejected by his publisher, but it was released in a drastically edited version as Sartoris in 1929. The full manuscript was finally restored and published under the editorial direction of Douglas Day in 1973. The novel is set just after World War I and focuses on the once-powerful, aristocratic Sartoris in decline, clinging to the vestiges of affluence. Here Faulkner describes their Thanksgiving table:

. . . Simon appeared again, with Isom in procession now, and for the next five minutes they moved steadily between kitchen and dining room with a roast turkey and a cured ham and a dish of quail and another of squirrel, and a baked ‘possum in a bed of sweet potatoes; and Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes, and squash and pickled beets and rice and hominy, and hot biscuits and beaten biscuits and long thin sticks of cornbread and strawberry and pear preserves, and quince and apple jelly, and blackberry jam and stewed cranberries. Then they ceased talking for a while and really ate, glancing now and then across the table at one another in a rosy glow of amicability and steamy odors. From time to time Isom entered with hot bread . . . and then Simon brought in pies of three kinds, and a small, deadly plum pudding, and a cake baked cunningly with whiskey and nuts and fruit and treacherous and fatal as sin; and at last, with an air sibylline and gravely profound, a bottle of port.” (Flags in the Dust, Random House, 1973, p. 281)

The meal is lorded over by the family patriarch, Bayard Sartoris II, who is soon to die as well as his son, Bayard III, leaving the few remaining members of the once proud and powerful Sartoris family destitute. Old Bayard’s attempts to maintain the family’s traditional high standards are exemplified by this meal, which is indeed a groaning board with plentiful meats and game, vegetables and breads, sweets and condiments. The inclusion of stewed cranberries, somewhat of a luxury item at the time, stands out. Towards the end, adjectives begin to cluster as they tend to do in Faulkner, and the final, “sibylline and gravely profound” presentation of port lends a dark, ceremonial  coda.

Another Rejection

Dear Mr. Yancy,

Thank you for submitting your work, The Existential Tomato, to the University Press of Missitucky.

Your book received a great deal of consideration. Our assistant senior editors, Mr. Pastel and Ms. Brawn, engaged in a lively debate on whether a vegetable can be considered “existential” with Mr. Pastel contending that it’s not the vegetable itself that is existential but rather the perception of the vegetable that is of an existential nature whereupon Ms. Brawn threatened to tear the rug off his head and shove it up his ass. Ms. Ergot, who manages most of our culinary titles, said that while The Existential Tomato does have many farm-to-table aspects, the recipes for the most part seem to be more in the grandmère à petit enfant vein, which while certainly a valid culinary movement, is very little known and even less understood in this country.

Our graphics editor, Mr. Waters, was quite enthusiastic, and prepared no less than nine prospective covers, none of which depicted anything even remotely resembling a tomato. The copy editor, Mr. Yawn, said that your writing, while crisp, clean, and incisive, not only had too many semi-colons and long dashes, but was also peppered with such unfamiliar words as “macerate”. Shortly afterwards, our senior editor, Mr. Morris, had to be wheeled out by our receptionist, Ms. Pritchard, for hygienic reasons.

While lucid, amusing, and informative of the state of mankind in the early 21st century, The Existential Tomato does not meet our criteria.

Fuck off.

Sincerely,

Rupta Ganesh
Graduate Editorial Assistant

 

Five Tales from Mother Midnight

The Bottle Tree

Joyce Sexton was proud of her garden. It occupied the edges of her back yard along the fences; broad beds of perennials punctuated by flowering shrubs whose Latin names she had memorized;  they sounded like an incantation as she recited them in her mind.

In the southwest corner was a short dead spruce stripped of twigs and leaves whose trimmed branches were adorned with brightly-colored glass bottles. Joyce enjoyed the way the glass caught the morning sun and reflected in the lights from the porch during the evenings. It had taken her months to find just the right bottles for the tree, and this morning she finally found the last one, a bright red bottle on top that seemed to glow from inside. She was admiring its light when she heard the front doorbell. She had invited her friend Sandra over for a drink.

“Well, it is pretty,” Sandra said later as they sat under the porch fans.

“At least you’ve got different bottles. I don’t like those with just one kind, especially those milk of magnesia models. They just send out the wrong signal, if you ask me.”

“I think it’s the best bottle tree in town,” Joyce said. “I know it sounds silly, but a bottle had to really say something to me before I put it on.” Sandra just stared at it with her arms crossed.

“You don’t like it?” Joyce said.

“Oh, like I said, it’s pretty, Joyce. And it looks good right next to the Lady Banks. But do you realize what those things are?’

Joyce laughed and said, “You mean that nonsense about trapping evil spirits? Cassandra June, your fanny hits a pew every time First Prez is open. And besides, you’re over-educated to boot. Surely you don’t believe that voodoo junk. ”

Sandra sipped her gin and tonic and smiled at her old friend. “Oh, you wouldn’t care if I were sacrificing stray cats in my basement, you’d still never get along without me.”

“If you were sacrificing stray cats, I’d bring you a few,” Joyce said.

“They kill the little birds, they yowl all night long and they beat up on poor Lucky.” A little terrier of dubious parentage under the table between them raised his head and thumped a raggedy tail.

“Okay, if you think its all stuff and nonsense, let me break one,” Sandra said. “Oh, don’t look so shocked. Admit you had fun looking for these bottles, and one of them’s bound to break sooner or later.”

Joyce thought about it. “Okay, you old witch,” she said. “But break one of the bottom ones. Use Glen’s putter. It’s over there on the corner.”

Sandra retrieved the putter, walked into the back yard and shattered a small green bottle on a lower branch. At the sound, Lucky jumped up and scrambled under the gate towards the street outside. Before Joyce could gather the breath to summon her dog, she heard the screech of brakes and a choked, mournful howl.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Mother, it was just an accident,” Rachel said. “Sandra shouldn’t blame herself. That’s just silly.”

Joyce looked at her daughter. She and Glen had been surprised when her infant golden hair had not only remained gold, but had also matured into a mane that Rachel merely pretended to complain about. Today she had wrestled it back into a tawny mass that spilled in a shower over the back of her bright blue scrubs.

“I know,” she said. “But you know how Sandra loved Lucky. She brought him liver snaps every time she came over. I think she did it on purpose; they always gave him gas.”

Rachel brought her coffee to the table and sat next to her mother. “Mom, just ride it out. I know you loved Lucky, too. Hell, we all did; except Richard, of course.” They both made a face at each other and laughed. “Cliff Stevens told me he was still wearing an ankle bracelet in Chattanooga,” Rachel said.

Joyce sipped from her cup and wished Richard were much further away. She still ran into his parents at parties, his father formal, his mother always managing to snag Joyce away from the crowd and update his doleful story. (“He didn’t mean anything, Joyce. You know that.”)

Rachel glanced at her watch. “I’ve got to go, Mom. Joe Wright told me I could scrub in on a valve replacement this morning.”
Joyce kissed her daughter and took her coffee to the patio. She called Glen at his office, forgot he was in court that day and ended up talking to his secretary Cathy about the upcoming office party.

“Glen’s just a mess about it,” Cathy said. “And I do mean a mess. He can’t decide on a damn thing, and that puts me in charge of everything from food to felonies. Would you please try to sit him down for five minutes and nail something down for me?”

“Oh, just do what you did last year, Cathy. It’s not like he’s going to notice.”

“I know,” Cathy said. “He’s such an airhead.”

Joyce laughed and said goodbye, went and poured another cup and settled back on the porch to admire her garden. The azaleas had exhausted themselves long ago, and the Shastas were now coming into their own, as were the hostas she’d planted last October. Lucky’s grave by the holly was marked with a shaggy little stone dog and a weathered scattering of liver snaps.

The bottle tree glistened in the morning sun. One bottle caught the light extremely well, a beer bottle Joyce found behind the back fence that had a white and blue label. The light it caught dazzled. Joyce laughed, picked a hand spade from her garden shelf, walked up to the tree and shattered the bottle into hundreds of pieces. She was still smiling when she heard the phone ring.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Joyce?”

Glen knocked gently at the barely open door. Joyce lay on the bed, the golden afternoon light pouring onto the floor and casting shadows upon morning windows.

“Joyce?”

He moved into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. “Honey?”

“How did he get out?”

Glen turned, bowed and rubbed his hands together. “He’s been out.”

Joyce rolled over and looked at her husband’s back.

“It’s been eight years, Joyce. He was convicted as a juvenile. It was not a capital offense. He served five years, and then they put him in a rehabilitation unit. He was clean and sober; he had a job at a Walgreens. He was evaluated twice a month.”

“He just killed our daughter,” Joyce said.

Glen’s shoulders heaved and he began to sob. Joyce reached up and brought him to her and they lay there, crying, while the shadows grew on the wall.

. . . . . . . . . .

The summer office party was never conducted, but as the holidays approached, Glen suggested that the traditional year’s end celebration be held, and to his relief Joyce agreed. The firm had had a very good year, and Glen, as senior partner, always enjoyed giving out bonuses and promotions.

Predictably, it began on a muted note, but as the night progressed, the mood lifted and Joyce found herself enjoying being around friends. As they were driving home, she and Glen found themselves laughing about Cathy’s QVC jewelry and Jerry Wineman’s new toupee.
It was warm for a winter’s evening; wisps of fog were settling into the low places along the road, and the lights from the house glowed as they pulled into their drive.

Glen grabbed Joyce’s hand and said, “Let’s sit out on the back porch and have another drink.”

“No, Glen,” Joyce said, caressing his hand, “I’d rather not. Let’s just sit in the living room.”

Glen looked at her and said, “You used to love the porch. You used to love looking at the garden. What’s the matter?”

Then Joyce told him about the bottle tree, about Lucky, about Rachel. Glen sighed and said, “Oh, honey, you know that’s just ridiculous. What did they call it in college, synchronicity? Come on, let’s build a little fire in the fireplace and huddle up next to it on a blanket with a couple of beers.”

“I’d rather have a martini,” Joyce said.

After they’d changed, Glen settled Joyce in front of the fire with her drink. “Glen, I know it’s just a bunch of nonsense, coincidences, like you said.”

“Of course they were, and I know it, but I don’t believe you believe it.”

“I do,” Joyce said, “And I’ll prove it to you. Is your 12-gage in the hall closet?”

“Sure.”

Joyce retrieved the gun from the closet, along with a box of shells. “Show me how to load it again.” Once the gun was loaded, Joyce slung it over her shoulder and headed out the back door.

“If you stand back about ten yards, you ought to be able to get all of ‘em,” Glen shouted. He smiled, took off his shirt and sipped his beer. Then, with a smile, he slicked back his hair and lay down on the couch. A shot echoed from the backyard.

When Joyce came running back in, she said, “Glen, I got them all! And the trunk is in splinters. I’ll have a hell of a time cleaning up all the glass. Glen? GLEN!”

 

The Ibbur

Sylvia’s annual acquiescence to the local ladies’ committee’s request that she show her historic house during the city’s pilgrimage (actually more of a command, since her house was easily regarded as one of the most iconic examples of the city’s 19th century architecture) was an ordeal for her, but she knew it had to be done, carried off with grace and style.

So every spring she hired a crew to clean the house from top to bottom, another to groom the grounds and provide colorful containers of thriving plants for conspicuous settings, another to fill the home’s pots and vases with fresh flowers and yet another to provide sweets and sandwiches as well as a punch to serve the afternoon her home was on tour. She also attended the beauty parlor that morning, and this year she even bought a new pair of persimmon pants, a matching pastel-patterned top and a silver necklace of pearl and crystal that she’d been admiring at that little boutique near her supermarket, but she wore her best pair of house shoes, since she knew she’d be on her feet for hours.

The tour extended from 2 until 5 on a sunny spring afternoon. The azaleas were in their full glory, blazing in every shade of red punctuated by brilliant whites. Tourists came in three groups of twelve or so, who followed Sylvia through the house while she recited a story (not hers) of the family who built it and lived in it during days when they were one of the wealthiest in the state. The house was of an Italianate design, which was unusual for the decade in this region, and by far its most spectacular features were two towers with abbreviated belvederes and a magnificent set of double stairs that swept upwards from the parquet floor like the wings of an earthbound angel aspiring to heaven.

“Daniel Bauer was a cotton broker,” she’d say. “His family immigrated to Charleston early in the 19th century, and his grandfather owned a grocery on Short Street, just north of Broad. This became the base of the family fortune. Daniel moved here after his marriage to a house on South Street, where their first children were born. He built this house in 1853.” Over time, Sylvia had learned that the question most people asked was why the house wasn’t burned when the federal army took the city. She always hesitated a bit before answering, because she knew the bit of drama would be appreciated.

“Yellow fever,” she said. “When the army came here three members of the family were sick, all but the youngest daughter, Rebecca. The house was quarantined, the family isolated. After her father, mother and older brother died, Rebecca was left alone in the house with the housekeeper Dotty, who was a free woman. The Bauer family never owned slaves. But she stayed with Rebecca, who died the year after the war was over. The house was sold then and turned into a boarding house, where Dotty worked as a cook until she died in 1900.”

The last group included Adelle Smith, the chairman of the pilgrimage committee, as well as her best friend, Mary Beth Langston, who trailed the rest, lingering in the foyer while the other ladies (and one gentleman in a seersucker suit) followed Sylvia into the parlor.

“Every year, she says she won’t do the tour unless she gets to tell what she calls ‘the whole story’ or ‘a better story’,” Adelle said to Mary Beth. “I don’t know how she makes this stuff up. The only documentation we have about the family, besides from the usual public records and old Daniel’s financial ledgers was a diary Rebecca kept starting when she was ten. She died six years later, so it’s mostly just the sorts of things you’d expect a girl her age to write about: birthday parties, visits from family and friends, new clothes, sewing and cooking lessons and schoolgirl crushes. She wrote little during the war years, most of that about everyone leaving and the food running out. She wrote nothing about the sickness and deaths; probably too painful for her, poor thing.”

“And Sylvia claims to know more?”

“Oh, Mary Beth,” Adelle said. “You know as well as I do that Sylvia never leaves this house; well, no more than she has to, anyway. Remember that fire she had three years ago? She burned her hands so badly she was in the hospital for two days. The firemen said it was started by a heater in a little room off the kitchen, and that room was the only room in the house that looked lived-in at all, and the cleaning people she has in before the pilgrimage say it takes them two days to get the dust and spider webs. Then she comes up with these crazy stories.”

“Like what?” Mary Beth asked. Adelle hesitated. “Mary Beth, how long have we known one another?”

“Since your cousin Randy married my sister Ruth,” Mary Beth said. “That was 1977. If you’ll remember, we met at the wedding at St. John’s. You were quite drunk.”

“And you looked like a fire hydrant in that red dress you were wearing,” Adelle replied. “It was also bad form for you to be flirting with the minister.”

“He married me, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” Adelle admitted. “The reason was quite obvious at the time. Mary Beth, Sylvia has always been what our grandmother Ross called ‘queer’, though that meant quite a different thing then than it does these days. Ever since she was a little girl, Sylvia’s always heard things and seen things that nobody else did, and she would have these spells, days at a time, when she’d stay in her room and play with her dolls, and barely speak to anyone else. Their maid used to say Sylvia had a hole in her head, but Granny Ross told us that what she meant by that was that Sylvia had an open mind when it came to spiritual things. She was the only one of us who actually liked going to church. She’d even take her Bible to school and read it in study hall.”

“A real little Goody Two-Shoes, huh?” Mary Beth sniffed.

Adelle looked at her sharply. “No,” she said firmly. “It was more than that. She wasn’t trying to impress anyone.”

Then Sylvia led the group back towards the door, said hello to Adelle and Mary Beth, gathered them all before her and thanked them for coming. “We’re all in our city so very proud to still have this beautiful house for you all to visit,” she said, nodding at Adelle, who nodded back. “I want you all to go to the big reception they’re having over at the old Union Street Lyceum. You’re going to meet some wonderful people, and eat the best Southern food you’ve ever had in your life.”

After a scattering of applause, the group filed out the door. Adelle lingered, waving Mary Beth on with the others.  “Thank you, Sylvia,” she said. “The house is beautiful, and we so very much appreciate you opening it up for the public.”

“Adelle, you know I’m proud to do it, and I so hope that after I’m gone, you’ll take of it for me.”

“Me? Why Sylvia, I thought you were leaving the property to your nephew.”

“I’ve changed my mind. Adelle,” Sylvia grasped her hand. “Don’t let them tear it down. Don’t.”

Adelle stepped back at the look in her old friend’s eyes. Then she softened. “I won’t, Sylvia.” She hugged her and walked to the car where Mary Beth was waiting.

Once inside and the door closed, Sylvia heard a tiny, shaken voice from the top of the stairs. “Are they gone?”

“Yes, they’re gone, Rebecca,” Sylvia said. “Until next year. We have to do it again next year.”

Clara Curtis

“Clara has bought another freezer.”

These words passed among the neighbors each time it happened, and they all nodded knowingly, having long ago concluded that Clara Curtis had indeed slipped over the edge into that comfortable sort of crazy that was perfectly harmless and acceptable.

It was simple enough, after all; they had all known people who had grown up in the Depression, when every penny, every scrap of cloth, every button or buckle was precious, and the food, well people would have shelves upon shelves of home-canned vegetables, pickles, even meats, and smokehouses were filled with hams and salted sides of beef. So it was only natural that Clara, who was born in Mississippi the very year Calvin Coolidge was elected president, would harbor the bitter memories of her early years and retain the habits of her childhood for a lifetime. Why, those freezers were just full of frozen food—chops and steaks, bags of blanched limas, green peas and corn, stocks and soups—most of which, they said, were fed to the occasional homeless men who having heard of her soft touch would end up first at her front door, then on her back porch eating a hearty meal, usually with plenty of her homemade yeast refrigerator rolls, which were a highly-regarded addition to the pot luck suppers at St. John’s Methodist Church, where she was a devout attendee and tither. Her neighbors would see them stretched out in a post-prandial snooze on the white wicker settee on her back porch in the warm afternoons, but they were always gone by the morning.

Then there were the dogs. She couldn’t abide cats, Ms. Clara, but she loved dogs, all kinds of dogs, and if she found a stray she would take it home for caring. Those she fed from the heavy sacks of dry dog food she had Kenny the check-out man at the local grocery deliver to her house. Though home deliveries were long a thing of the past for most Clara Curtis, being of such an advanced age and of considerable means was an exception to this rule, and nobody begrudged her the privilege. She was, after all, Mrs. Harvey Curtis, that same Harvey Curtis who was one of the founding fathers of a local oil exploration group that happened upon a rich field in a nearby rural county, resulting in a considerable fortune which the childless Widow Curtis held with formidable tenacity in the palms of her tiny immaculately-groomed hands.

And the flowers, let’s not forget the flowers. Clara’s house, an unpretentious two-storied brick affair with three awkward gables, stood in a space surrounded by a ring of trees that provided shade by degrees according to their nature, but around the building itself circled a ring of light that in the spring brought daffodils of every shape, size and color as well as what one local horticulturalist called “the most magnificent collection of heirloom azaleas in the state”. In the summer her marigolds and zinnias blazed golden and scarlet beneath a sweltering sun and in the fall castor beans towered in burgundy clumps over the thickening, multi-colored cockscomb. The coda of every year was a pirouette of the beautiful old delicate mums that shared her name.

How many freezers did she have? Oh, at least three, some argued four and one or two knowledgeable observers just nodded sagely and whispered “five”. There really was no telling, since the house was old and after all did have a huge basement that was sure to be cluttered with God-knows-what else. But this was bound to be her last one, they nodded. After all, she was what? Eighty? And sure, she got around just fine, called a cab when she needed to go anywhere, and she’d had a string of regular drivers from the company over the years, the current one a wiry, sullen young man with a shaved head and tattoos who watched over her like a hawk and helped her in and out of the cab. “I’m sure she tips him very well”, they’d say with more knowing nods. Her alone in that house without a soul in the world, but all the money! That church itself would have folded a long time ago if it hadn’t been for her. Mr. Curtis had that (much younger) half-brother, of course (a drunk, a wastrel, but handsome as Satan they said) who would probably lay claim to some money, but they knowing Clara and her tight fist knew he wouldn’t get a penny.

Still she was getting on, and in the lingering heat of a long summer she died. Her driver was the one who alerted the authorities, who had to break through a window to enter the house. They found Clara downstairs in the basement with a dead puppy in her lap surrounded by not three, but five freezers.; written on the first were Cleatra, Rose, Milo and a dozen others; on the second Ophelia, Casper and Rue in the same number; on the third was Mr. Callahan, the fourth Mr. Jones, and in a far corner, Mr. Curtis.

 

The Yampus

One morning Trudy Morgan found her bird feeder on the ground surrounded by the mutilated remains of two cardinals, three starlings and a squirrel. She was prepared to blame her elderly tomcat Horace for this slaughter until she found his eviscerated body under her gardenia.

“Dogs,” she thought, saying it aloud. It must be stray dogs. She had seen them wandering the streets in packs, scavenging in the alleys. How they got into her fenced back yard was a puzzle, but they must have gotten in, somehow.

Trudy lived in an old neighborhood of the city, in the house her husband George had built after he returned from Vietnam. They’d spent many happy years together there, had watched the neighbors’ children grow up and move away. They had none of their own. Now George was gone and most of the neighbors they knew had moved away, leaving Trudy among strangers. She didn’t mind; she had her garden, her job at the library, her parakeets Bess and Harry, and poor Horace.

She heard the doorbell ring, a sound she’d not heard in many years. When she opened the door she saw nothing other than a shivering ripple beneath the shrubs. Trudy closed and locked the door quickly, thinking somehow a dog had thrown itself against the ringer. She buried the birds, the squirrel and poor Horace against the back fence and went to the library. When she returned, the front door was open. She found the bird cage in a corner, and the only trace of Bess or Harry was a single speckled green feather on the sofa. Nothing else seemed disturbed, even the gold coins she’d had framed and foolishly kept on the wall in the hall. Trudy called the police. “It’s probably a raccoon,” they said, and gave her the number of an animal remover.

Before dawn, Trudy awakened and felt a weight upon her. She tried to shove it off and roll over on her side, but it was heavy. She opened her eyes and saw a bearded face with amber eyes looking back at her. Trudy was too scared to breathe, much less scream. She could feel his hardness against her gown. It licked its lips and began rubbing against her, kneading her breasts and twisting her nipples. Its movements and breath quickened; it grunted, and she felt wetness. It jumped off the bed and ran out into the hall before she could even think. She waited, frozen, until the sun came into the room; once washed and dressed, she ran to her car and drove to the café near the supermarket. She ordered coffee. The waitress, a plump young blonde named Sylvia, said, “Miz Morgan, you look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

“I don’t know what it was,” Trudy whispered, still dazed. Sylvia had ornate knotted tattoos on her arms and many rings in her ears. She looked at Trudy with lowered brows. “What do you mean?” Trudy told her about everything; the birds, poor Horace, Bess and Harry, the ripple in the hedges and, in a whispered rush, about the thing on her chest. She was still shaking, and held her coffee with both hands. Sylvia bit her lip. “Miz Morgan, you just sit for a minute. My shift will be over in a little bit. I can help you.”

“How?” Trudy asked.

Sylvia said nothing, but refilled her cup. When she returned, she had changed into a loose green blouse. She put her hand on Trudy’s and said, “You’ve got a yampus. They’re not really evil like a demon, just mean. It won’t hurt you, but it will kill everything you care for, more out of spite than anything. It will keep you and use you. I know these things. My granny was a voodoo lady. I follow a different tradition,” she said, glancing at the worsted tattoos on her arms, ”but a yampus is a yampus no matter how you look at it.”

Trudy just stared at her. She could still feel it kneading her breasts and smell its warm breath on her neck. “I can’t go home,” she said.

“Of course not,” Sylvia said. “You’re coming with me to my house, and we’ll deal with that yampus tonight. Now get your purse and follow me.”

Sylvia lived in a cottage near the divinity college not far from the library where Trudy worked. The house had a stone fireplace, a crowded library and handful of cats that took their time doing anything at all. Trudy bathed and changed into a housecoat while Sylvia made a light lunch and washed her clothes.

“You need to sleep, Miz Morgan,” Sylvia said, “So go to bed and don’t worry about anything while you’re here.” Despite the assurances, Trudy slept uneasily, but she did sleep, awakening when the sun was sinking. “Get dressed and let’s go,” Sylvia said.

Trudy looked at her, wide-eyed and questioning. Sylvia smiled. “I’ve done this before. Don’t worry.”

When they got to Trudy’s house, the door was still locked. Sylvia followed her in, carrying a brown valise. “I don’t have a stake and a hammer in here,” Sylvia said with a short smile. “Now show me to your kitchen, I’m going to make us some tea, and then I want you to get to bed.”

“I can’t!” Trudy said.

Sylvia took her hands. “Yes, you can. Listen to me. I know he scared you, but he won’t hurt you. He just wants to use you, and you know how he wants to use you. A yampus just wants one thing, and as a woman you ought to know what.”

“Oh, yes,” Trudy said, smiling thinly, remembering and growing warm with the memory. Sylvia looked at her, cocking a brow. “Well,” she said. “Let’s get ready. Dress for bed. I’m going to turn out the lights and sit in the spare bedroom. I’ll be able to hear him when he comes into the house. He’ll take no notice of me. I’m not the one he wants.”

Trudy went to her bedroom, undressed and went to her closet where she selected a silk nightgown and a satin negligee. She turned out the overhead light, folded back the bed and turned on the lamp atop her dresser. She sat, applied lipstick and blush, brushed her neck with perfume, and then climbed into bed. He came through the window, and the warm night air followed. She could hear him as he moved to the end of the bed. Suddenly he was upon her, holding her, moving his head against her, his hands on her body, touching and probing. He parted her clothing and she felt his lips upon her nipples and his penis pressing upon her stomach. She caught her breath as he entered her and began to move as he moved, as if she were telling him something. Suddenly he squeezed her with his arms, she gasped, and then she felt him finish and heard him whine as if he wanted more. Then he was gone, as suddenly as he had come, leaving nothing. As she lay there, she heard Sylvia’s voice. “I’ll be going now, Miz Morgan.”

“Yes,” Trudy said. “I’ll be in for coffee in the morning.”

 

Mr. Lilyfoot

Ruth Parker owned over two dozen dolls, and she knew every one of them by name. “This is Snagglepants,” she’d say, holding up a Raggedy Andy with a torn pocket. She called her big Raggedy Ann doll Phyllis and the little one she took everywhere Roo-roo. Ruth and Roo-roo were best friends. They had three tea sets between them, and if the other dolls were nice, Ruth and Roo-roo would have them for milk and cookies. “But you can’t have any peanuts because Roo’s allergic,” Ruth would remind them. Ruth lived with her parents in a big house on a wooded street. Aside from Roo-roo, her best friend was the housekeeper, Lena. Lena was tall and her cheeks were very full. As she cooked and cleaned, she sang songs and made cookies for Ruth and Roo-roo’s tea parties, but she always told them she wasn’t supposed to. It was Lena who told her about Mr. Lilyfoot.

Mr. Lilyfoot lived under a tree at the end of the path in the garden behind Ruth’s home. He had a green cap, red overalls and a long white beard. He always smiled.  On nice spring days, Lena would sit in the swing with something to occupy her hands while she watched Ruth play in the yard. When she had to go inside to answer the phone or change a load of laundry, she’d tell Ruth Mr. Lilyfoot would watch after her. At first Ruth didn’t like Mr. Lilyfoot; he was stiff, not soft like her dolls. She’d hold her little Raggedy Ann up to Mr. Lilyfoot’s smiling face and say, “Roo-roo doesn’t like you!” But Ruth was a sweet child, and when she saw that Mr. Lilyfoot’s face was dirty, she asked Lena for a napkin so she could wipe it off because Mr. Lilyfoot’s arms were always behind him. Lena laughed at her one windy afternoon when Ruth tied one of her father’s socks around Ms. Lilyfoot’s neck and took care to hide the other one.

***

“Mommie, it’s cold outside. Can Mr. Lilyfoot come sleep in my room?”
Janet Parker brushed her daughter’s dark hair. “Sweetie, who is Mr. Lilyfoot?’
“He’s in the garden,” Ruth said. “He’s wearing a hat, but I know he’s cold”
“Oh, honey, I don’t want that nasty thing in your room,” Janet said.
“He’s not nasty.”
“Ruth, he lives outside. He’s an outdoor doll.”
“He’s not a doll.”
“Well, not like your other dolls, but he’s still a doll.”
“Roo-roo says he isn’t. Roo-roo knows everything.”
Janet cocked an eyebrow at her petulant daughter. “And what does Mommie know?”
“I love you, Mommie!” Ruth launched herself into her mother’s arms and looked into the back yard through the window.

***

When Ruth awakened that afternoon, Mr. Lilyfoot, scrubbed by the ever-patient Lena and bright as a new penny, was smiling at her from the corner of her room. She and Roo-roo immediately arranged a high tea with hot chocolate and frosted cookies. When Janet looked in on her later she found that Ruth had arranged her favorite dolls around the little table, with Mr. Lilyfoot at its head.
“Mr. Lilyfoot’s warmer now, Mommie. But Roo-roo’s tired,” she said, holding up the little rag doll.
“Well, let’s put her to sleep,” Janet said. She gathered her daughter in her arms, made sure her doll was with her, and put her to bed. She glanced at Mr. Lilyfoot smiling from the corner, lowered the shutters and closed the door.
When Janet brought Ruth’s tray upstairs that night, she heard her daughter laughing from the hallway. She found Ruth sitting up in her bed, clutching Roo-roo, and smiling.
“What’s so funny?” Janet asked.
“Mommie, me and Mr. Lilyfoot took Roo-roo to Magicland, and she had tea with the King!”
Janet tucked a bib under her daughter’s so very thin neck and began feeding her with a spoon. “Did Roo have a good time?”
“She was scared at first because the king was so high up and her legs are really short. But then the king asked her to dance, so she didn’t have to go so far up.”
“Did you dance?” Janet asked.
“No, Mommie,” Ruth said. “I had to help Mr. Lilyfoot make the band play. I’m tired.”
Janet tucked her daughter under the covers, kissed her, climbed onto the sagging cot next to Ruth’s bed and closed her sad eyes.

***

Ruth and Mr. Lilyfoot, with Roo-roo in tow, went everywhere. The tea parties became a thing of the past. Instead, they took buckets to the beach where they collected shells. Another time they sailed the seas on a boat made of glass and rigged with silver, and once they found a mountain made of chocolate and topped with ice cream. The following morning they went to the moon and found big gold rocks that glittered under the smiling sun. That afternoon Mr. Lilyfoot rearranged the stars, and later they all skated on swirls of light through a sparkling tunnel into a warm, black night. “Don’t be scared, Roo-roo,” Ruth said. “Mr. Lilyfoot will get us home.”

***

It wasn’t long before Ruth’s dreams ended. Lena boxed up the lonely dolls for other little girls, and she returned Mr. Lilyfoot to the garden under the tree at the end of the path.

 

A Rose So Blue

My grandmother Emma would sit me on a kitchen stool and tell me stories while she cooked. I can hear her voice, low and level, moving with her work, smell the cornbread in the oven, and see the softly plopping pot of beans on the back of the stove. She told me how she jumped rope with her sisters, about the tomatoes her grandfather grew, and she’d rap her spoon on the side of the sink to make a sound like sudden rains on a tin roof: “Rat-a-tat at first,” she’d say, “Then so loud you had to shout to talk.”

She told me about roses so blue they made the sky look like it had no color at all.

“Gramaw,” I’d say in my most grown-up way, “roses are red! Or white. Miz Stevens has some white ones. And I saw some yellow ones in the store. But roses aren’t blue!”

Emma would smile and tend to the stove. “Oh, you are such a smart girl!” she’d say. “But you’re not as smart as your old granny. Some roses are blue, but you ain’t gonna to see ‘em in Loris Stevens’ yard, and you ain’t gonna see ‘em in the store. The only place blue roses grow is Africa, on the Mountains of the Moon.”

She told me that ocean air keeps the mountains cloaked from the sun, but at night, when the north wind comes down from desert sands, the skies clear, the moon shines on the grey-green slopes, and roses with blossoms as blue as a gas flame climb toward the pale stars.

When Emma died my heart broke into a million pieces, but in remembering, my heart becomes whole. If I find blue roses in a catalog, I smile because I know blue roses only grow in Africa, on the misty slopes of the Mountains of the Moon.

So You’ve Moved to the Rural South

Congratulations! However, depending on where you’re from, there are probably a few things here that will come as a nasty shock to you. Here are a few of those things. Consider this as a guide. It is by no means exhaustive.

1. When you’re driving past your neighbors, you wave at them. This sends a signal that says “I am one of you, I belong here, I see you”. It also sends another, arguably more important signal that says “I promise not to scrape the left side of your F150 with the left side of my F150”.

2. Yes, everybody here drives an F150. Yes, every single one of those F150s is absolutely necessary (according to the owner).

3. The sweet tea is going to be sweeter than you expect. No matter how sweet you expect it to be, it’s going to be sweeter.

4. “Corn from a jar” means moonshine.

5. “Y’all” is a contraction of “You all” that means “You guys” or “all of you”. “Ya’ll” doesn’t mean anything, as far as I’m aware.

6. Mississippians WILL fight you if you say anything bad about Elvis.

7. Please stop making Deliverance jokes. We’ve heard them all. They’re not funny anymore.

8. It’s hot. It’s so, so hot. If you’re from a dry place, you don’t even understand what I mean when I say it’s hot. Every part of you will sweat and you won’t feel any cooler because the air is so full of water that no sweat will evaporate. You’ll just be hot AND sweaty. It’s basically a jungle. The windows fog up from the outside.

9. If you have a house with a screened-in porch, that screen is a blessing from God. Do not remove the screen to “let the air circulate through”. There is no air to circulate. There are a lot of mosquitoes, however, who are more than happy to check out your circulation. Which brings me to my next point…

10. How fast does the air move around in the summer? It doesn’t; that’s why it’s 92 degrees and 80% humidity at midnight…

11. … and it’s also 92 degrees and 100% humidity in the middle of the day! So if you’re from a place that maybe is a little less humid and you’re thinking of going for a jog outside, don’t bother. All the sweat-wicking microfiber in the world won’t save you when there is nowhere to wick the sweat to. Just go to Planet Fitness.

12. You can’t defeat the kudzu. It’ll come back next year. Save yourself the trouble and the Roundup exposure.

13. You also can’t defeat the insect life. A wasp or a beetle will get into your house eventually. Your best bet is peaceful coexistence, because paper wasps (the type you’re most likely to see) are not aggressive and keep other, nastier insects at bay.

14. There will probably be a pack of free-range dogs in your neighborhood, probably without collars. They’re friendly. Give ‘em a pat.

15. Seriously, wave at your neighbors. It’s rude not to.

16. A firework echoes, a gunshot doesn’t. This comes up more than you’d think. Except on the 4th of July, when you’ll hear both.

17. Opossums eat ticks and are nearly immune to rabies, so if you see one making its dumb little way across the road, please do your best not to hit it.

18. Deer hunting is actually vitally important to maintain the ecosystem. We killed off all the whitetail deer’s natural predators, and now there’s just too god damn many of them. Hunting permits are strictly controlled by the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department, and they give out enough necessary to maintain the deer population. If the deer population isn’t maintained, they outgrow their food supply and begin to starve. You may find it distasteful but trust me, it is way better than watching deer slowly starve to death.

19. The cooler you just bought has a ruler on top for measuring fish. See #18.

20. Sometimes our local politicians say terrible things. If this bothers you, you are welcome to:
a. Vote for a candidate that opposes the terrible politician
b. Volunteer for a candidate that opposes the terrible politician
c. Write letters to the terrible politician telling him he’s terrible and should stop that
d. Run for office yourself

You are not welcome to:
e. Talk about how everybody who lives here is an inbred racist hick

21. Most importantly, please do not come here and think you’re going to magically change everything that’s wrong. Give the people here some credit. If there were easy solutions to the problems they face, they would have solved their problems themselves already. Life has its own pace here, and the problems in Appalachia and the South generally are deep-seated and far-reaching. You don’t have the magic solution to the opioid crisis, racism, wage stagnation, brain drain, economic inequality, generational poverty, chronic disease, environmental contamination, resource exploitation, or any other of the issues that are endemic to this area. It is at best insulting and at worst actively harmful to have a person who has zero understanding of this region and the people who live in it come in and insist that big changes need to happen and by golly gosh, he’s the one to make them. If you want to help, listen to the people here. Support them in their fight for justice.

22. WAVE AT YOUR FUCKING NEIGHBORS.

Letter to Jackson

Dear Reuben,

Now that I’m safely in Virginia, I’ll give you the impressions of Jackson you wanted. I should say first that when I moved to the city eight months ago my life and experiences provided my only perspective, but nothing prepared me for Jackson, Mississippi. I’m still not sure if it’s because that is as far South as I’ve ever been (or want to be again, to be honest) or because Jackson itself is so sullen and isolated.

The city is frozen; those capable of formulating effective fixes for the neighborhoods of row upon row of abandoned/half-demolished houses simply ignore the problem. The economic riptide washing away businesses from the city are bound and gagged by their racial, familial, and petty political connections. Even compared to the rest of Mississippi, Jackson seems narrow-minded, racially divided, and culturally backwards. Jackson reminds me a once-thriving outpost of a decaying empire that has eroded, leaving an indifferent government, an inefficient bureaucracy, and castellated churches blind to suffering and deaf to prayers.

I found that there is literally a black side of the street and a white side of the street, and folks of both complexions will gawp at you if you are on the wrong sidewalk. A city councilman who patronizes three-star eateries demands that his constituency throw bricks at police cars from neighboring towns and counties when they pursue thieves and drug dealers into his ward. The waitress filling your cup at a coffee shop will complain about the racist environment permeating Jackson and in the next breath whisper some platitude concerning the unfitness of black people for civilized society.

Jackson is a nest  of grasping, insular people huddled together for safety on the banks of a dirty river, and nothing is safe. Children are shot in their homes while sleeping, and thugs roam affluent neighborhoods. What should be a shining stage for vision and concord is instead a fetid wallow of greed and dissent. When change comes to Jackson, it will not come from within but from without, and from far away.

Yours,

Timothy