Poems and Novel Chapter © 2000 All Rights Reserved.
by C. Peete
I used to run to you,
I welcomed you,
anticipated the tranquil pulse,
of your soul.
In you I drowned myself,
sinking into your comfort,
becoming whole again.
I weathered many a harsh day,
knowing when it was over,
I'd find solace in your embrace.
Yet lately, you torment me,
taunt me with pictures of broken dreams,
shattered hopes, and loves lost.
I loved you; you became my better half.
Now I dread you.
Sometimes I wish,
that God created me nocturnal,
such that I'd never need to sleep,
or even dream.
Never need to face,
When you, the one they call Night
Descends upon me.
© 1999 Connie Peete
An Aspiring Writer's Prayer
by C. Peete
Lord, please give me the ability,
to tell compelling stories of life, love, and pain
Please take away the fear of failure,
and even moreso, of success.
Give me the courage,
to crush every block that arises.
To defy every rejection,
With an acceptance.
Grant me the patience and diplomacy,
to deal with the circus of agents, editors and publishers.
Give me the wisdom to know which shall become,
my literary partners in publishing.
Most of all, grant me the humility,
to appreciate and respect,
the power and magic of the written word,
and the blessing it is to possess such a gift,
As that of being a writer.
©1999 Connie Peete
by Connie PeeteCHAPTER 1Troy and Roberta Malone cuddled in the back seat of their 79 Cadillac as their favorite song played on the radio. The flux of visitors to Delaware Park had dwindled to a few night strollers who stuck around after the sunset to enjoy the evening break in the humidity. A comforting breeze blew in through the partially opened window of the Cadillac. Roberta laid her head on Troy's shoulder and closed her eyes. She felt his lips lightly touch her eyelids and the tip of her nose, then softly brush her lips. She loved the way his body felt against hers, how good it felt when he touched her. She opened her eyes.
The clear moonlit sky had disappeared into a dense black fog that shrouded the entire park. The breeze had ceased, and the air became cold. Roberta reached out for Troy. She frantically flung her arms about, desperately grasping. Troy wasn't beside her.
"Troy? Where are you?"
A silhouette began to form, its bright edges piercing the darkness. Slowly it evolved into a vivid image. Roberta couldn't believe her eyes. The image was of her oldest daughter, dressed in a lavender robe that bared her slim, tan arms.
"Sonnet?" she called out. Where did she come from? The image glowed, illuminating everything around it. Roberta took a cautious step toward it to get a closer look, to see if it was even real. Suddenly she stopped dead in her tracks.
Wait a minute! I don't remember getting out of the car! Where IS the car? Where the hell am I? She looked all around her. Like Troy, the car was nowhere to be found. The image extended its arms toward her, inviting her. Roberta had the strange sensation of being embraced. The scent of lilacs filled her nostrils, bringing to mind the many times she scolded Sonnet for littering up the house with them. Something brushed her cheek. It felt like a kiss, but not as tender. Roberta backed away. When she did, the image began to fade, until finally it disappeared, leaving Roberta alone in a black haze of confusion. She still felt Sonnet's presence near, but Troy seemed lost to her forever.
"Troy!" she yelled. "Where are you?"
Breathing became difficult. It felt like the fog was suffocating her. Roberta struggled to move, to run and look for Troy, but she couldn't. Her limbs felt so heavy. Out of nowhere, one of those annoyingly loud rap songs her daughters listened to all the time started playing...
She jolted awake. The morning sun shining through her bedroom window hurt her eyes and aggravated the hangover headache that already hurt too much. The left side of her face felt like it was on fire. She wanted to go back to the part of her dream where Troy held her and said he loved her. Where he was happy being with her and the girls. Long before she messed up. Squinting, she reached over to turn off the clock/radio on the nightstand from which blared the rap song in her dream. She reached for the bottle of ibuprofen next to it and clumsily knocked it over, sending it rolling off the other side. Cursing, she threw back the covers and slid onto the floor. She steadied herself against the bed for a moment. If I get through this and live, I'll never drink another drop, she promised herself. Slowly she inched forward, as the slightest movement made her temples throb painfully. Something jumped out at her from the corner of her eye.
What the hell...
A fresh bloodstain was on the mattress. It was then that she noticed the blood on her pillow.
Shit! Now what did I go and do? Roberta examined her arms, legs and torso, looking for telltale bruises. It wouldn't be the first time she drunkenly stumbled into something in the middle of the night, usually on her way to the bathroom, and woke up in the morning having no recollection of it. Aside from her headache she seemed okay. She half-stumbled into the bathroom, bracing herself for the wretched reflection she'd grown accustomed to seeing every morning for the last eight years. Convincing herself that it didn't matter anyway, she looked in the mirror.
Terror froze what would have been a scream.
The events of the evening before flashed into her mind. Sonnet and Florenda were in the living room watching television when Roberta lit into Sonnet for something she now couldn't remember. She aimed a swift backhand at Sonnet that landed on Florenda when she got in the way. Florenda called her a drunk bitch and retaliated with a strong backhand right across Roberta's left check, which now had a crimson slash marring a face still attractive in spite of years of drinking.
No, they didn't..
Roberta remembered getting into a physical fight with Florenda. She retreated into the kitchen, swearing at the top of her lungs that she would kill Florenda before she let her beat her. When she came back into the living room, armed with a butcher knife, they were gone. They'll come back in after I'm asleep, she thought. She went on to bed, figuring that she might as well pass out in her own bed rather than God knows where.
Trembling, Roberta dabbed the wound with a tissue. Fear and anger numbed her to the pain. Her relationship with her daughters had been turbulent since Troy left. Then she started drinking too much and made things worse. At 19, Sonnet was legally an adult, with Florenda three years younger. Too late for Roberta to even hope she could make them understand that it was the liquor that hurt their family. When she drank, she resented Sonnet for being different and like other kids. She sometimes hated her for it. And she was jealous of Florenda's courage to defend Sonnet against anyone who threatened her, even her own mother.
Fighting a sudden dizzy spell, Roberta went to their bedroom. The door was open. Are they waiting behind the door? Waiting for me to come in so they can finish the job? She sucked in a breath and pushed the door open, lunging back as she did. The room looked vacant. Cautiously she went in. Their beds were made, unslept in. Roberta slowly approached the closet. She rested her hand on the knob, jarring it. She edged it open, staying behind the door in case the girls planned a surprise attack. She breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of clothes on the hangers. Florenda's and Sonnet's favorite lipsticks and colognes were on the dresser, their favorite CDs stacked next the CD player, none missing. Roberta sat down on Sonnet's bed.
"I should've known," she mumbled.
* * *
Warrine Baker lived on Sydney Street on Buffalo's East Side 30 of her 62 years. Mama Baker, as the kids affectionately called her, often stepped in as a surrogate parent to those neighborhood children whose parents for some reason or another fell short of their responsibility. Parents like Roberta, who leaned wearily against her front doorframe.
"My Lord! Bert, what happened?"
Roberta brushed past Warrine and went inside. "Are they here?"
"No," Warrine replied, knowing she meant Florenda and Sonnet.
Roberta collapsed on the couch. "Don't bullshit me, Warrine. Where are they?"
Warrine folded her arms. "You better change your tone," she warned. "This is my house. I don't hafta' put up with that nasty language in my house. Truth, is, I don't hafta' tell you diddly."
"Tell them it's time to go home," Roberta ordered. "Now."
"They ain't here," Warrine said.
"What do you mean they're not here? They didn't come here after..?"
"After what? What did you do now, Bert? And what happened to your face?"
"I..I..don't know," she stammered. Warrine stared at her like she had horns sprouting from her head. It annoyed her. "You think you can find it in your holy heart to get me something to keep from bleeding all over the place, Warrine?"
Warrine tightened her lips as if trying hard to bite her tongue, then rolled her eyes and hurried into the kitchen. She returned with a kitchen towel. "I ain't got no band-aids big enough for that one," she remarked, gesturing at Roberta's wound. "Who cut ya'? And don't give me none of that I don't know' baloney. I'm old, but I ain't stupid."
Roberta rolled her eyes. "Don't give me none of your sanctimonius babble."
Warrine ignored her remark. "You been drinking again?"
Roberta fumed. With Warrine it was always about her drinking. Either that or she'd go off on one of her sermons about how Roberta needed to do better by her kids, especially Sonnet.
"Yeah, I had a bit to drink," she replied, defiant. "And I got in another fight with Florenda."
"Did you hit her?"
Roberta didn't answer, wishing she had known the girls wouldn't be here. She was in no mood for Miss Happy-Holy this morning.
"I asked you a question," Warrine snapped. "Did you hit Florenda?"
"Damn right I hit her!" Roberta spat. "She got outta' line. She hit me! Can you believe that? Her own mother."
"Lemme' guess. You got on Sonnet again, didn't you? And knowing Florenda like I do, my guess is she wasn't havin' any of your foolishness. That's why you came here instead of calling the police. Didn't want'em to find out one of your own kids cut ya'."
"Florenda didn't do this!" Roberta yelled, suddenly defensive. "I know her better than you do. She wouldn't wait until I went to sleep to pull something like this." She might, Roberta thought uneasily, but not as likely as...
Sonnet? Roberta hardly ever remembered her dreams, but bits and pieces of her nightmare now came to haunt her. Troy as handsome as ever. Sonnet, so beautiful and mysterious. "No," she whispered.
Warrine eyed her suspiciously. "You might as well as face it, Bert. You pushed your children too far this time. Children'll only take so much before they snap, you know."
"Sonnet didn't do this!" Roberta blurted. Instantly she wished she could take it back, but it was too late. Warrine's mouth dropped open. She clasped the gold cross pendant hanging from a delicate chain around her check as if clinging for dear life.
"Bert, are you saying..?" The wailing of sirens broke in before Warrine could finish. Roberta firmly grabbed her arm.
"I'm not saying anything. And neither are you. You go mouthing off about me and my kids, and I'll paint you as being so wicked a liar they'll haul you and your Holy Ghost to the psycho ward. Keep my children out of this, you hear me?"
"I ain't lying to save your sorry behind," Warrine retorted, indignant.
"Then keep your big mouth shut and let me do the talking," Roberta said.
* * *
Sonnet Malone didn't want to cry. She wanted to be strong and brave like her sister, but the tears were too heavy to hold back. Florenda was sitting next to her, keeping an eye out for anyone who could've followed them. They fled hand-in-hand into the early morning darkness and bolted down the street, innocent fugitives of circumstance. They went to the phone booth on the corner, where Sonnet shivered under the cool breeze while Florenda called the cab that brought them here at the Greyhound Bus Terminal in downtown Buffalo, where they waited to board the bus to Columbia, South Carolina.
A man came and sat two seats away from Sonnet. She studied him, finding him nice to look at. On his face was the shadow of a beard, and he was what Florenda called "dressed casual". He smiled at her. She started to smile back, but something made her avert her eyes. She inched closer to Florenda. She could feel the man staring at her. His perversion invaded her, both sickening and frightening her. She nudged Florenda so roughly she almost fell over.
"Rendi, I wanna' get away from here." She called her Rendi ever since they were little.
"We will," Florenda said. "The bus'll be leaving in a minute...Sonnet! What are you doing?"
Sonnet was on her feet and had Florenda by the arm, practically pulling her out of her chair. "We gotta' go now, Rendi! Let's just go!
Florenda jerked her arm free. "Sit down and stop playing around, Sonnet!"
"I ain't gonna' sit there!" Sonnet yelled. Her eyes filled with tears. "You ain't gonna' make me!"
"Bet you I will," Florenda challenged.
"No you won't!" Sonnet glanced nervously at the man, who now watched the both of them intently. "We gotta' go somewhere real far away from here, Rendi!"
Suddenly, as if some internal switch went off inside her, she grew silent and started fidgeting. Her shoulders began twitching. It was a nervous reaction that Florenda had seen many times, one that quickly changed her expression from anger to concern. She rushed to Sonnnet 's side.
"Sonnet, what's wrong?"
"I gotta' go to the bathroom," she whispered.
"Are you getting your period?" Florenda asked, keeping her voice low.
Sonnet shook her head. "I don't think so. My stomach ain't hurtin'. I just gotta' pee."
Florenda sighed. "Why didn't you go before we left?"
"Cuz you didn't let me," Sonnet replied. "I didn't see you use the bathroom."
Florenda checked her watch. She grabbed Sonnet by the hand. "Come on. We got time before our bus leaves."
"Can we get something to eat, too? I'm hungry."
"Okay. Now shut up and come on."
Sonnet looked back over her shoulder. The man was gone. He decided to be a good person after all and leave them alone. Sonnet was glad for that, glad she knew his secret and got her and Florenda away from that creep. She kept quiet as she and Florenda went to the ladies' room. She watched as she inspected the stalls before picking one near the door.
"Go in here," Florenda ordered. "And don't fool around."
Sonnet obeyed, remembering her sister's rule of squatting over the stool rather than sitting on it. She heard Florenda in the stall next to hers.
"You okay in there, Sonnet?"
"Yeah, I'm finished." She straightened her clothes and came out. "I got some pee on the seat, but I wiped it up good." Florenda emerged from her stall. They washed their hands and went out to the fast-food restaurant inside the terminal.
"Let's sit over there," Florenda said, pointing at a spot near the entrance from where she could be a lookout.
"Are you mad at me, Rendi?" Sonnet asked as Florenda handed her a large french fries and medium soda.
"No," Florenda replied. "Why would I be mad at you?"
"Because you think I hurt Mama."
Florenda stopped chewing her fries. "No I don't."
"Yes you do," Sonnet said. "But I didn't do it, Rendi."
"I know that. Some man broke in the house and attacked her, like you said."
"But you don't believe me." Sonnet's eyes watered. "You say you do, but you lyin'."
"You'll see I'm tellin' the truth when we go back to help Mama."
Florenda almost choked. "S..s..say what?"
"We gotta', Rendi. Mama's in danger."
"So what?" Florenda spat. "Let Miss Badass take of herself."
"She's in trouble, Rendi. We hafta' do the right thing," Sonnet insisted. "Mama needs us."
"No she doesn't," Florenda said. "She didn't even want us. The only reason Daddy married her was because she got pregnant with you. Don't you remember all those times she went on about how different her life would be been if we weren't born?"
"Yeah, I remember," Sonnet sadly replied. "But she wasn't really Mama."
"Well, whoever she was can kiss my ass," Florenda remarked.
Sonnet frowned. "That ain't nice, Rendi. You cuss real bad just like her."
"That's why we got to get away from here, or we'll end up like Mama," Florenda said. "I don't want to be like Mama. Do you?"
Sonnet shook her head.
"Then that settles it. When the bus for Columbia leaves, we're going to be on it. End of discussion."
Sonnet let the tears fall, not caring if anyone saw her. Not caring if Florenda got mad at her for being a cry. Luckily Florenda was too absorbed in her french fries to notice.
"It's time to go," she said. "Our bus is here."
Florenda took notice. "How do you know?"
Sonnet pointed to the line of passengers at the Ellicott Street entrance. Florenda's face lit up.
"This is it, Sonnet. Columbia, here we come." Florenda took Sonnet's hand in hers and held it tightly. When they got in line, Sonnet suddenly resisted, trying to break away.
"We can't go, Rendi! We can't!"
Florenda firmly grabbed her by the shoulders. "You listen to me. I promised I would get us away from Mama, didn't I? That's what I'm doing. Now let's go."
"Mama's gonna die!" Sonnet sobbed, "We can't let her die alone!"
"Stop talking like that!" Florenda snapped, nervously looking around. "What did I tell you about telling stories?"
"I'm not tellin' stories!" Sonnet shot back. "There's something inside Mama. Something real bad!"
"Hah!" Florenda snorted. "I figured that out a long time ago."
"I'm not jokin' Rendi! I see blood! On Mama! She can't stop...it won't stop..Rendi, the blood...it won't stop coming outta' Mama!"
A woman standing in front of them gasped. Another woman clutched her two young children close to her. Others stared in shock. Stunned passersby slowed in their tracks, their eyes glued on the hysterical young woman.
"You want to get us in trouble? That's what'll happen if you keep talking like that," Florenda said, ignoring the curious stares. "Is that what you want?"
Sonnet shook her head. "No, but I'm telling the truth, Rendi. Mama's gonna' die. You'll see."
Florenda gently wiped Sonnet's tears with her fingertips. "Even if she does," she said calmly. "We can't stay here."
Sonnet sniffed. "I'm scared, Rendi. And you're scared, too. I can tell."
"Yeah, I'm scared," Florenda admitted. "But don't you worry. I won't let nothing happen to you." Avoiding the stares from the other passengers, they got on the bus. Sonnet sat by the window, watching everyone who got on. She wished she didn't know things about people, especially strangers. She wondered why she knew things about people and no one else. She wanted to tell Florenda about the bad man in the terminal, but she would think she was just being mean, or she'd tell her to stop saying such things before someone put her in what Florenda called "the loony farm". It was a real bad place, Florenda had told her. Sonnet wished she was real smart and not retarded, as some mean people sometimes called her. She loved Florenda for never calling her that. She found herself scrutinizing the other passengers. The only white folks she had ever seen were on television, or in that special school she went to when she was little. And there were those two white women who used to come over sometimes to see if Mama was being good to her and Florenda. Here there was whole bunch of white folks, with different colors of hair and eyes. There were blacks folks too, and some who were mixed, like her and Florenda. And there were fat people. Skinny people. Old folks. Children. Even a little baby.
"Are these people goin' to Klumbia?" she asked.
Florenda nodded. "Yep. And it's Co-lum-bee-uh."
Sonnet grew real sad, sadder than she'd ever felt, even worse than the time Mama slapped her into the wall. Her tears fell too fast for her to wipe them away before Florenda noticed.
"Everything will be all right, Sonnet. I promise."
Sonnet laid her head on Florenda's shoulder, letting the tears fall. Florenda gently rocked her back and forth, whispering words of reassurance.
"We're going to be fine. Mama will never hurt us again."
"I know that," Sonnet said, "But we'll never see Mama Baker again, will we?" That bothered her the most. Of all that she knew and could feel about people, Sonnet didn't know whether she'd see that beautiful old woman again. And she tried awfully hard to, but she couldn't do it. She saw Florenda's eyes water. Sonnet buried her face in her shoulder, choking back the sobs she couldn't stop.
* * *
"I'll tell you what I know, Officer," Warrine said. She looked over at Roberta, who was watching her like a hawk as paramedics strapped her onto a stretcher. "But I don't know if it'll help."
"I don't know where they are!" Roberta wailed as the paramedics wheeled her away. One of the officers immediately rushed over.
"How is she?" he asked one of the medics.
"She's got a facial laceration," the medic replied. "B.P. slightly elevated. Other vital signs are normal. We have to get her to the hospital so we can stop the bleeding."
"The cut's that severe?" he asked. The medic nodded.
Roberta reached out to the officer. "Officer, you have to find my children before he does!"
Warrine cocked her eyebrow. "He? You told me you didn't know who cut you!"
"I just remembered," Roberta lied. She couldn't let Warrine talk. She couldn't tell anyone what she really was afraid of. Not until she was certain Florenda and Sonnet were safe. "This guy. I..I...Officer.." The midmorning sunlight began to dim. The chirping of the birds grew soft, until it became silent. The trees with freshly bloomed white blossoms faded into a blur. Roberta felt like she was slipping away.
"Please..you gotta help me, Officer..my children...please..." Roberta's last thoughts were of her nightmare.
* * *
She opened her eyes. She was in the hospital, that much was obvious. The left side of her face was bandanged. Her vision was blurry, her mouth dry. Roberta badly wanted a drink. She heard people talking from a distance, as if in passing.
"Bert? It's me."
She saw Warrine standing at her bedside. She looks like she actually gives a shit, Roberta thought.
"What'd you say to the cops?"
"Don't worry bout that," Warrine replied. "You have to concentrate on yourself right now."
"I have to get out of here and find my kids," Roberta said. "Before someone else does."
The doctor came in. Even under his hospital coat Roberta noticed the attractive physique, especially for man his age. Thick dark brows accentuated his dark eyes, and a neatly trimmed mustache enhanced nice lips. He had beautiful olive skin. He reminded her of Troy. He smiled cordially at the two women before checking over Roberta's chart.
"We'll talk later," Warrine whispered before turning to leave.
"Warrine!" Roberta tried to raise up, only to be restrained by the doctor.
"You have to take it easy," he said.
"Listen to him," Warrine said. "You'll do those girls no good if you ain't 100 percent." She gave Roberta a nod of assurance, then she left.
"I'm Dr. Campanella," the doctor said, smiling. "How are you feeling?"
"I feel like going home," Roberta replied. "When do you think that'll happen, Doctor?"
The doctor's courteousness dissolved into a serious demeanor that made her wish she hadn't asked.