Final Memory

They say dandelions are weeds. So I guess I’m doing the environment a service by plucking one from the ground. But then I pucker my lips and blow the seeds into the wind.

A sudden gust shifts and pushes the fuzzy whites, imitating snow, into my face and dries the tears on my checks stiff.

I hate winter.

I hate what it makes me do. How the cold temperatures drive me to crave intimacy, warmth in my bed.

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Kindling the Fire

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

I knew he was gone when I awoke shivering. Silly me for thinking this time would be different, that a random man you bring home from the bar would have the decency to stay at least until sunrise.

The hardwood floor feels like ice on the bottoms of my feet. I need carpets, but with what money? I’m too cheap to turn the heat on before the first deep freeze. Bedroom slippers will have to do for another month. At least the alcohol lingering in my system keeps me warm from the waist up. What need do I have for a man?

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What You Do to Me…

He was only supposed to help me move my bed.

Move it.

We didn’t get that far. The bed frame parts are scattered across the floor, the box spring is propped up against the hallway wall outside the bedroom. The mattress—where I lie on my back, knees drawn to the ceiling—blocks the front door.

I squeeze the back of my thighs to still my legs from shaking, but it’s no use. I can feel his tongue down there, and the memory of it sends me over the edge. Philip’s tongue has the strength of an ox, the prehensility of that of a giraffe. His mouth reaches places Levon can’t even dream of, and Levon loves to boast about how big he is, how far he extends when he’s hard.

I hear the shower turn on down the hall. He must want me to join him. What other need would he have to wash? We haven’t gotten dirty . . . not yet . . . and we kind of have this thing with showers.

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Whodunit

She strikes the match. A spark of light ignites the end of the cigarette perched between her lips.

“I wish you wouldn’t smoke,” he says. “It’s not ladylike.”

“What do you know of being a lady?” She blows smoke in his face, laughs when he inhales and coughs for air.

She needs something to laugh at. After the week they’ve had. Police in and out. Guests confined to their rooms. Bodies in bags wheeled through the rotating doors.

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Bad Decisions

He texted me that he had a treat. Silly of me to think that it was anything that would give me pleasure.

I’m too old to be on the floor—joints still popping when I return to my house hours later. And was it so hard just to do it in the bed? I’d disappear under the covers, lay my face in his lap. But then, he likes to tower over me, watch me be submissive.

Dick.

I slam my keys on the kitchen counter, open the refrigerator, and stand there half expecting something to have changed since I last looked this morning. I stretch my neck. My jaw is still tight, my lips raw. When I burp, I taste him.

I shut the door and take two fiery red cinnamon-flavored gum sticks out of my purse and suck on them between my tongue and the roof of my mouth.

Suck. Poor choice of words. Too soon.

It’s hard to swallow—my throat still sore. He grabbed the back of my head and forced me down the length of him. The least he could’ve done was warn me before—

I dive for the sink, dry heave over the drain for a solid five minutes until my sides hurt. If only I can regurgitate the rest of him out of me before the seed takes root, leaves me planted here to rot forever.

© Nortina Simmons 


Originally published September 29, 2017

 

When He Calls

It’s just five in the morning—the sun’s made no plans to rise—but Sharon’s shift at the 24-hour McDonald’s two blocks away ended early, and all evidence of my presence has to disappear before she gets back… including me.

I shouldn’t have come. I’m not the one to console him while he cries about his unlovable wife. And I should have told him enough after his third shot. Better yet, I was supposed to be gone before his homeboy arrived with the weed. Instead we three hotboxed in his car parked on the street, and I got so high I couldn’t feel the ground beneath me. Or his lips when he kissed my neck once back inside the apartment. When he slipped his cool fingers under my shirt, looped his belt around my ankles.

“This isn’t right,” he said, but pressed inside me anyway, and I cried into his oversize shirt while still grappling for his hips, needing to feel him closer, telling myself again and again, This is wrong. You’ll never get over him if you keep fucking him… 

Photo by @IAMCONNORRM from nappy.co

He sits at the end of the bed, fully dressed, his back turned to me. He lights a cigarette, blows smoke toward the spinning ceiling fan overhead. I wish he’d just look at me, assure me that we’re still good, that we can at least remain friends.

You know that will never work, that nagging voice of reason tells me.

I shake into my too-tight skinny jeans, denim scratching against dry skin. I try to ignore the images that arise when my breasts slap against my chest as I bounce to pull the jeans over my hips. His teeth, his tongue, the urgent ins and outs of his strokes. Last night never happened, I tell myself, if we want it to remain a secret.

Only, I can’t find my bra. I pat my hair for loose ties, hanging Bobbi pins. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I look like a fucking slut with no shame, and it’s how he treats me.

“Will you walk me out?” I cross my arms over my chest, tuck my hands under my armpit, try to conceal my sagging breasts, scrapping at my last bit of dignity.

He takes another drag, blows, nods, still avoids eye contact. I follow him down the hall to the front room, where he checks the window before twisting the deadbolt.

“I’ll call you,” he says with a shrug. He leans against the open door and drapes his arm over the top.

Don’t answer. All he has to offer is drunk, lonely sex, that voices says again, but in my heart, I want to stand on my tiptoes and stretch for his lips.

He dips his head, pecks me like birdseed, so quick it’s easily swallowed and forgotten. He scans the parking lot for his wife’s car, then pushes me along. The door is slammed shut and locked before I can take the first step off the stoop.

Part of me wants to stay here. Part of me wants to be caught, so I can stop living this lie. I’m drained of dreaming a fantasy that my love whom I’ve loved since high school will finally love me back.

© Nortina Simmons 


Originally published September 22, 2017

Stockholm

Detective Maye has seen it dozens of times before. Stockholm syndrome. When the victim develops an affection for her captor.

He holds his hand out for the feral child hiding under the kitchen sink. If not for her wide marble eyes, glowing like orbs in the darkness, he would think no one is there.

He shines his flashlight inside. Compared to the photo he keeps in his chest pocket, she is unrecognizable. Gone is the fair-skinned angel with the free-flowing blond hair. Her skin is caked in dirt, hair a dingy orange collected in one unkempt knot atop her head. The t-shirt she wears barely covers her. She folds herself like an accordion amongst the kitchen chemicals, no bigger than a bottle of bleach.

Maye curls his fingers into his palm to draw her out. “Come on. He can’t hurt you anymore.” But then he wonders how many times this man has promised not to hurt her.

He stuffs his hands in his pockets, and child psychologist, Dr. Pridget, steps in front of him, opens her arms like a doting mother.

“You’re safe now.”

Maye thinks it’s working. The child emerges. All skin and bones, falling hair and ripped fabric. She shields her eyes to the flashing of CSI cameras. Pridget moves to hug her, but the girl drops her shoulder. On hands and knees, she crawls across the floor, between Maye and Pridget’s feet, exposing everything the shirt doesn’t conceal to everyone in the room.

A sickness in Maye’s gut tells him she’s used to being naked around men, she’s used to the heaviness of their hands, the tightness of their beer guts pressed hard against her fragile body.

They watch as she does what she’s had to do to survive for the last six months—curl herself underneath the sinking chest of the now dead man who killed her childhood, t-shirt soaked in both of their bloods.

© Nortina Simmons


This flash piece was originally published September 15, 2017, and features Detective Frank Maye, a character from my Lost Boy work in progress.

Foundling

Today she would find out if her entire life was a lie…

Maya took a deep breath, opened the door, and with a giant, dramatic first step, entered the bookstore as the bell chimed overhead.

She saw no one at first but was greeted by the smell of freshly brewed coffee drifting from the back of the store and wafting among the bookcases. The woman she’d come to meet was likely back there. But, suddenly feeling weighed down at the ankles by cement blocks, she stayed up front and browsed the books in the window display instead.

This was harder than she thought. It was easier when she was screaming at her mom and calling her a liar. It was easier when she spent the two-hour flight from Houston to Tampa, the five-hour layover, and then the additional two hours to her final destination believing that she would finally get the answer to the question she’d been asking since she was old enough to recognize her reflection in the mirror, that the missing pieces of her life’s story would finally be found, and her puzzle made whole. But then she stood in front of that door and reality set in. What if this wasn’t the life she was meant to have?

You didn’t come all this way just to turn back now, she tried to encourage herself, but as her heart fluttered in her chest, she thought about the last words her mom texted her as she boarded the plane.

“Remember, I am your mother, and nothing you learn from this trip will change that.”

In a way, she was right. Sheila Adams, life-long resident of Houston, Texas, would always be her mom, as she had been for the last seventeen and a half years. But Maya couldn’t ignore the betrayal she felt at not being told the truth. To take the DNA test, along with everyone else at the family reunion, and discover that her roots are not grounded in Texas—like her mom’s, cousins’, uncles’, and aunts’—but were transplanted over 1,000 miles away from North Carolina.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

She picked up one of the books in the display and immediately recognized the name on the cover. It was the same name on the Ancestry DNA match, the same name on the Facebook page she found, where she was able to get the address to this store. The page did say she was an author. It made sense that she would sell her books in her own store—make all the profits and avoid having to rely only on royalties.

“Can I help you with something?” someone said from behind.

Maya froze momentarily, but the voice sounded considerably younger than she expected. She turned around and met the smiling face of a young employee who looked to be the same age as her.

“No, I’m just browsing.”

“Are you a fan?” She pointed to the book in Maya’s hand.

“Well, actually, um—” Maya quickly dropped the book back onto the table. “Is she here?”

The girl shook her head. “Maternity leave.”

“Oh.” Her voice cracked. She swallowed back the twinge of jealousy rising up in her chest. Seventeen and a half years ago, Maya had to remind herself, and she would’ve been the same age—a senior in high school, looking at colleges, trying to leave behind bad decisions and even worse boyfriends in the rearview as she plowed ahead on this dirt road called life.

This little one would undoubtedly come up under different circumstances, a healthier environment, one could only hope. She—Maya decided for herself that it was a girl too—wouldn’t grow up abandoned. She wouldn’t be denied the opportunity to know her real mom.

“You know, you could be her daughter.”

“I’m not.” Maya said quickly.

“No, seriously. You look exactly like her.”

All her life, Maya had been told she resembled her mom. It was just something people said to be nice, to make small talk, but anyone with eyes that could see knew it was a bald-faced lie. Her tan skin, her kinky hair, her broad nose and full lips didn’t favor a single feature on Sheila’s paler-than-a-paper-plate white skin.

But Sheila would always say, “That’s because your father is Black.”

Maya guessed that could still be true. Ancestry wasn’t as clear on paternity. He apparently hadn’t taken the test, wasn’t in the database. He could’ve been Black, but there was also that 25% of her DNA that lit up the small nation of Taiwan on the map.

It left her with more questions than answers.

One thing was for sure, though—even Maya had to admit—when she found that Facebook page, it was like looking into a mirror.

Lost in her own thoughts, Maya didn’t realize she was once again alone until the employee reemerged from behind a bookcase holding a small pamphlet that looked more like a brochure than a book.

“Here, I think you would like this.”

“What is it?”

“It’s chapbook of poems. It’s not really her bestseller. She says it’s because only one person was ever meant to read it.”

“Who?”

“See for yourself.” She flipped the book open to the first page: a poem titled “To the one I had to give up.”

In a season of graduation caps,
Mother's Day flowers,
I kissed your tiny little feet,
nibbled on your toes,
prayed the doctor would
find you a happy home.
From a distance, I yearned for you—
It was my deepest regret—
but take comfort in knowing that 
I have always loved you,
and I will never forget.

Tears filled Maya’s eyes as she read the lines of verse. “How did you know?” she said.

The girl shrugged. “Like I said. You could be her daughter.”

“I am,” Maya announced proudly.

And she couldn’t wait to meet her.

© Nortina Simmons


A late entry for Fandango’s Story Starter. Click the link to read more stories inspired by the teaser “Today she would find out if her entire life was a lie…”

Ghost tide

They’d only been married days when he confessed the sea was calling.

“I’ll go with you,” she insisted.

But he put a finger to her lips. “I’ll be back,” he whispered.

That was over a century ago. He never returned, lost at sea, and her ghost still waits…

“She died here?” Amanda scans the landscape of the tiny island.

“Sounds like the guy had another family,” Felisha says.

“Or buyer’s remorse,” Roger adds.

They laugh as the mist from the pounding waves builds.

“Tide’s coming.” The tour guide shivers, turns them away from the translucent figure curled among the rocks.

© Nortina Simmons

Hurricane Season

All I see for miles are fishing lines. End of the season, most of the vacationers have gone back to school and work. The only people left on the beach are fishers, those who live here, and those who are drawn.

Me being the latter.

I grab a sandwich in plastic wrap from my tote bag just as a sudden gust of wind blows the sand around me in a swirl. When I bite into the sandwich, just underneath the crunch of the lettuce, the sand grains roll across the grooves of my teeth.

Hurricane season. Just over 100 miles off shore, a storm is churning the waters. The clouds from the outer bands have started to roll in, and the stifling humidity is a warning that the storm is getting closer, growing stronger.

Wherever the path turns in the next 24 hours will determine whether this area will be under a mandatory evacuation. By this time tomorrow, the beach may be complete deserted, save for one body.

Mine.

I honestly don’t know how I got here—willing and ready to be swept away by the storm—only that I needed to get away from Brian and the kids.

Brian and the kids.

I know what you’re thinking. And honestly, I don’t think I’m a bad mom or wife. But I’ve made mistakes. The latest was leaving Cam alone at Wal-Mart for two hours.

It wasn’t intentional, I just . . . forgot. One minute, I was sending her back to the store to return the shopping cart, and the next, I was driving back home, as if she were never with me in the first place.

And even as I was unloading the trunk, I still didn’t realize that I was alone, that the child I had taken with me was now missing. I only noticed that the house was empty, quiet. I savored that, immediately made myself comfortable on the couch in front of a good Netflix rom-com to snooze to, and began to dream about the violent calm of the waves crashing onto shore repeatedly, one after the other, until a rapped knocking startled me out of my sleep.

When I opened the door, I found the cop and my daughter, her face red and swollen from crying, and Brian, pulling up with the boys behind the police cruiser, getting out of the car, furious.

“How could you leave her! How could you be so stupid! Goddammit! Do you know what could have happened to her! Do you have any idea how dangerous that was!”

And the officer saying, “Ma’am, are you suffering from any type of stress or depression?”

“You can’t use postpartum anymore, Susan. Jared is four!” He spat it out with pure disgust, as if he couldn’t stomach the taste of my name on his tongue.

I could tell the cop was becoming uncomfortable, he rested his hand on the baton in his belt and looked anywhere but at me and my husband, finally settling on the top of Cam’s head. “This could have been a lot worse. I could be here for different reasons.”

“Thank you, officer, for bringing her home. I promise you this will never happen again. Susan’s not leaving this house ever, with any of our children.” He cut me a glare that could have pierced the thickest of rhinoceros skin.

“Let’s hope not.” The chagrin in his face. Did he even know what he was saying? I saw his wedding ring. Did he treat his wife like this? How could he turn a blind eye? But that’s exactly what he did. He said, “Y’all have a nice rest of the day,” and left without looking back. Part of me wanted to call his department later that night to complain about him willfully ignoring an ensuing domestic dispute. The moment he left, I was on the floor, barely able to see out of my left eye, the blurry images of my husband and children hovering over me. The word “stupid” heard over and over.

If my kids ever had sympathy for me through the years of Brian’s hatred and abuse, that ended the day I left Cam.

And now I’ve left them all.

I dig my feet deeper into the sand, plant myself to bear the brunt of the storm soon to come. Can I do this? Give up so easily? Is this my only option?

A man with a cooler approaches. “Best time of the year to catch the good ones, amiright? ” he says excitedly and tosses me a Ziploc bag containing a trout as big as my forearm that slaps against my thighs.

“Uh, sure, thanks.” I can’t remember the last time I’ve had fish. Brian hates seafood, won’t even let me cook it for the children. So many times I’ve caved for him, his preferences, his wants and demands.

The man waves and continues on, donating the morning’s catch to anyone by themselves on the beach.

I stuff the Ziploc bag into my tote. Scaling and gutting it will be messy, but I’ll rent an Extended Stay for the night, cook it with maybe some grits and gravy, or cheese, or stop by the local fish market and add some shrimp or scallops to go with it. Make it my last supper meal before taking the three-hour drive back to face the reality of the hell I live in. I will have three hours to decide how I will tell Brian I’m leaving him, finally, for good.

© Nortina Simmons