Karla M. Diggs
My name is Cora Hairston, and I just arrived from Richmond, Virginia to Spivey’s Grove, South Carolina to marry a man I’ve never laid eyes on. My father decided since I’m 16 years old it shouldn’t be his responsibility to feed me anymore. I sit here on the train platform waiting for my aunt, Minnie Mae, who chose the young man I am to marry, to come get me. She says his name is Junius Whitman, and that he is 25 years old. She thinks he’ll make me a good husband.
I grew up on a farm with five brothers and three sisters. I’m the oldest of the girls, and since I was little I’ve always had the impression Daddy made Mama have all of us so he wouldn’t need hirelings! Whatever my siblings or I do is always in relation to the farm, which is not the life I would’ve chosen for myself. I hoped after 8th grade Daddy would let me go to a normal school to become a teacher in a schoolhouse, or a governess for a white family. Unfortunately my life has never been about what I wanted.
For all I know my intended may be a farmer like Daddy, expecting me to do all the things Mama has to do, including having enough chaps so he won’t have to hire hands! I feel a tear slide down my cheek at the thought, so I get my handkerchief out of my purse to dab my eyes and nose to keep from messing up my new white gloves. I also take my hair down to re- braid my long wavy, tresses. My skin is the color of a copper penny. I guess I’m pretty. Daddy allowed Mama to buy me two new dresses: a light blue one with a matching jacket for the trip, and a white one with a veil for the nuptials. She also bought me some T- strapped shoes with a slight heel on the bottom. They’re hurting my feet, but Mama said they make my ankles look well- turned.
Apparently I’m not to meet my intended or his family until the wedding day. It seems unfair to me! What if we don’t like each other, or he’s ugly, or smells bad? What if he beats on me, cheats on me, or talks to me like I’m a bit of nothing if he talks to me at all? I can’t stop thinking I’m going toward my death! It amazes me how some folks are given life without the opportunity of actually living. What is it like to be trusted to live your life how you want to live it?
When I put my handkerchief back inside my purse I see the little box and envelope my mother gave me which I’m not allowed to open until my wedding day. It’s the prettiest pink box with a white lace ribbon wrapped around it. Since we didn’t get a chance to talk before I left, it cheers me that she found a way to give me some words of wisdom.
I sit remembering the beautiful colored family that got on the train when it stopped in Raleigh, North Carolina. The father was dark- skinned, wearing a proper dark suit with a straw hat. The mother was my complexion, wearing a beige traveling suit with a wide- brimmed hat. The children, two sons and two daughters ranging from ages 4 to 12, looked clean and healthy. They were teachers at the St. Augustine School, a teaching college for colored students in Raleigh! What is it like to be educated? I’ll bet she chose to marry him, too.
I wonder why couldn’t my life be like that, staying up late to study, instead of getting up early to farm, or pavement underneath my high- button boots as I walk between classes at an institution of higher learning, instead of red mud staining my shoes while I pour slop in the pig sty. Why not a father who valued education higher than 8th grade, and a mother who had an opinion and the eloquence to voice it? When I think of my circumstances I get so resentful!
I see Aunt Minnie Mae looking for me on the platform, wearing the same black dress she always wears since her husband died. She’s the only one I know who seemed happily married and pleased with her match. Unfortunately, it didn’t last all the days of her life as expected.
When she sees me she walks over, taking my satchel as if I couldn’t carry it myself. We step outside lifting our skirts to avoid our petticoats grazing the red dusty street as we walk toward her beautiful quarter horse and wagon. A brown- skinned gentleman tips his hat, offering to place my satchel in the back of the buggy. He then offers his hand to lift each of us up onto the front seats of the carriage. Is my intended half as handsome? Minnie Mae thanks him for his assistance as she gathers the reigns, otherwise paying him no attention. She gives me a side eye ordering me to do the same. “So how was the journey,” she asks.
“Fine. I slept most of the way,” I say.
“Good,” she says before she continues, “Your wedding is to take place tomorrow morning at 8:00 at the First AME Church. Afterward there will be a gathering in honor of you and your new husband. Do you have any questions so far?”
“Yes. May I know something about him?”
Auntie smiles, “Junius Whitman is the nephew of my late husband, David. He reminds me so much of him I think he will make you very happy. Oftentimes marriage is the only opportunity a woman has in life. If she is given to the wrong man, the chance at happiness is ruined.” In hearing her words the weight lifted off my heart!
The next morning Auntie wakes me at 5:00 so I can bathe, fix my hair, and put on my dress. I ignore my corset digging into my ribcage. The t- strap shoes are no more comfortable this morning than they were yesterday. Despite the good report Auntie gave me about my soon- to- be husband I am still apprehensive. It’s her opinion! It’s not a fact this Junius Whitman will be a good husband to me! She likes the way he looks, but will I? Furthermore, this is Spivey’s Grove, South Carolina! What else can he be but a farmer? These are my thoughts as we get into the buggy, riding to the First AME Church in silence.
When we arrive at the little country dwelling I see so many horses and buggies! People are heading toward the inside of the church dressed in their best attire. This gathering, young, old, men, women, girls and boys of all ages, are all his friends, his family. I’ve no one except Auntie!
“Whoa, Nelly!” says Auntie, tugging on the horse’s reigns. She tells me to put my veil down over my face. Everyone goes inside as Auntie gets down from the buggy to help me onto the ground. I thank God it’s a grassy knoll so I don’t have to worry about dust or mud ruining the hem of my dress.
Auntie walks with me to the front door of the church’s vestibule. She’ll be giving me away in my father’s stead. We walk inside, meeting a dark- skinned gentleman wearing a preacher’s collar. He greets my aunt, then says, “…and I assume this is the young lady?” I don’t speak, figuring since I couldn’t be seen I shouldn’t be heard. “Yes, sir! This is my niece, Cora Hairston.”
“And you’ll be giving her away,” he asks. “Yes, sir,” Aunt Minnie confirms. And just like that my future is sealed like a vault containing a precious secret the world outside will never lay witness to. Out of respect for my elders I squelch my anger, promising my children won’t experience the degradation of having a life they can’t control!
The Reverend… ‘Whatever his name is,’ because I was too outraged to pay attention, steps into the sanctuary. The bridal music begins. As Auntie takes me by the crook of my arm, we step into the sanctuary, looking straight ahead as folks on either side of the aisle rise at our entrance. I can only see the back of his head through the veil. He’s tall with broad shoulders. Though I feel a flutter in my stomach, I force myself to remember I still have a face to look at, the sound of a voice to hear, thoughts and ideas to weigh against my own, in order to know if I’m truly pleased. Once we are at the bottom of the aisle I still look straight ahead at the preacher.
“Dearly Beloved…” I stop listening to the ceremony. As much as it has everything to do with me, it has nothing to do with me! A wedding cannot happen without a bride, so in that regard my presence is imperative. Yet none of these choices are mine! I vow that my children will be educated beyond 8th grade, and will choose how they live their lives.... “Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband…” asks The Reverend. “I do.” I say, but little does he know I’m acknowledging the promise I’ve made to whatever children I’ll have. “….By the power vested in me you may kiss your bride!” concludes The Reverend.
I turn toward my new husband. He fumbles with the veil, raising it to reveal my countenance. He’s the same complexion, with blue- green eyes, and hair just as black and shiny as shoe polish! We look at each other! Does he like what he sees too, or is he disappointed? He answers my question by grabbing my face in his hands, kissing me deeply!
That night I sit on the bed in the bedroom of our new farmhouse waiting for Junius to come home for our first evening together. I undo the ribbon of the little pink box Mama gave me, lifting the lid, finding a small vial of dark liquid. Is it perfume or vanilla flavoring? Whatever it is I’m certain the missive will tell me. I open the letter carefully so I don’t rip the entire envelope. The note reads as follows:
April 15, 1905
My Dearest Cora!
How are you? I want to apologize for not taking the time to speak with you before you left Richmond, but I needed to find this so I may give it to you like my mother did me when I married your father. It’s been passed down to Ma from grandma, and to grandma from the missy of the plantation where our ancestors were slaves. I don’t quite know what it is, but the missy called it An Unaccustomed Dram, with strict instructions NOT to use it unless you are unhappy with the man chosen as your husband. Use it wisely! Make sure you have means and access to funds before using it. If you feel you need it, all it takes is one drop of this liquid into anything you cook for him. Then he will no longer be a problem. You will be free to live as you choose. I stress this Unaccustomed Dram is ONLY to be used if you are unhappy with the man chosen to be your husband! The reason I never used it on your father is because he wasn’t a sharecropper, therefore I saw a future for whatever children he gave me. Not seeing a productive future with a man is an example of a practical reason to use it.
Be careful and be happy,
I take the top off of it to smell it: almonds. Where I have heard that phrase before: an unaccustomed dram? Then it hit me like a bad husband! My last year of school we studied Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare! Juliet’s mother was going to have Romeo poisoned for killing her cousin, Tybalt! This is poison!
Hearing Junius coming up the hallway, I put the cap back on the vial, place it back in the box, and refold the letter. I put everything in the drawer of my nightstand hoping I will never need it!
He knocks before he enters. I tell him to come in. He sits beside me on the bed, looking like he’s never seen me before. His kiss is warm and sweet. Drawing closer to each other as our lips feel warmer, our kiss gets more passionate. He stops! “Is tonight okay, or did you want to wait?” He just asked me what I wanted!?! “Tonight is fine,” I say. Taking me in his arms, we continue our kiss!
After 21 years of marriage I am proud to say I did turn into a farm wife, but I’m happy! We have 20 acres, most of which is a horse ranch, two dairy cows, a pig sty, a chicken coop, corn, rice, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and apples.
Not long after that first night together he asked me how many children I wanted. I told him no more than four. He has hirelings to help him on the farm. Other than chores on the weekends and during the summer months, our children, a boy and three girls, go to school! Junius, Jr., our oldest, is about to finish high school, and he is interested in going to The South Carolina Agricultural & Mechanical Institute, a school for colored men in Orangeburg. It makes perfect sense! He can learn the science of farming and come back here to work for his father! I am so excited that our son wants to further his education! I can’t wait to tell Junius, Sr.
Junius, Sr. and I are in the habit of having our mid- morning breakfast together after our children have gone to school. He has been on the ranch since before the rooster has crowed. We value this time together otherwise we don’t get a chance to talk because we’re so tired in the evening.
He sits at the head of the table as I set a plate of eggs, bacon, and biscuits with apple preserves in front of him. While I pour his coffee I say, “There’s something JJ wants me to tell you.” Junius blows on his eggs before starting to eat, “Well what is it?”
“Your son wants to continue his education at SC Agricultural and Mechanical Institute,” I say.
“That’s out of the question.” Did I hear him right?
“What did you say?” I ask.
“You heard me. I promised you that the children would go to school past 8th grade. I never said anything about them going to college,” he says, chomping on a strip of bacon.
“But he has worked so hard to maintain his grades! He really wants to go!”
“Well I need him on the farm,” Junius reasoned.
“But it’s an agricultural school. He’ll be studying farming science. Whatever he learns there he’ll bring it back here to help you!”
“Woman, don’t you raise your voice at me! I got some farming science he can learn! He’ll stay right here and learn everything he needs to know from me. My father taught me, so I can teach my son. I didn’t go to school past 8th grade, and we’re doing just fine,” Junius had never shouted at me before!
I state calmly, “That’s your life, Junius. It’s his time now. What about what he wants?”
“What are you saying? What I got ain’t good enough,” beads of angry sweat begin to appear on Junius’ brow!
“That is not what I’m saying at all! What if he wants something different?”
“Different? How is what a college teaches him going to be different than what I can teach him? All these years you have never complained…”
“I’m not complaining…”
“Then what are you doing? I gave you everything you wanted, but this is where it stops! I’m not wasting money on any of them going to college! After high school they are done with school! Jr. is working right here on this farm, and the girls are getting married. Our marriage vows instructed you to obey me, your husband! I better not hear another word about anybody going to college! This is the end of this discussion!” he shouts at me.
“But I…” but before I can finish he is out of his seat so quickly his chair falls backward, and his hand is around my throat? I can’t speak, or breathe! The look on his face frightens me! His blue- green eyes are smoldering like a beast! “I said this is the end of this discussion,” like a jackal he growls low, while his grip around my neck is inescapable. Mercifully he throws me down on the floor! I couldn’t stop coughing, crying, gasping for air. He stalks out the door without looking back at me.
Getting up from the floor I run upstairs to our bedroom, and lay across the bed holding myself. I wait for him to come back in to apologize for the way he treated me. I wait for thirty minutes. Soon an hour goes by. Two hours later I conclude he isn’t coming back to see about me!
Raising myself up, I open the drawer of my nightstand. After 21 years the pink box, vial, and letter are just as I left them. Nothing has changed aside from the yellowing of the paper and lace ribbon.
I recall standing at our wedding, but I didn’t hear the word obey, because I was making a vow to my children that they would have the final say in their destinies. I calmly read the letter, deciding a slice of apple pie is an efficient means of concealing an unaccustomed dram!
Karla M. Diggs
Zuzu Charles knew her life would change once she aced the audition to become a Radio City Rockette. She just didn't know how much! The money was great, and she would always have a steady performing gig, but she forgot that it would mean never getting home for the holidays again.
She got the job in January, right after Christmas and just in time to learn all the routines to perform in the Valentine’s Day Extravaganza! Practices were six days a week for eight hours a day until the new girls knew the entire repertoire. After that rehearsals were 2 to 4 hours a day depending on the performance schedule, with weekly time off after the Sunday matinee until Tuesday evening to begin the new week’s schedule.
Too busy and excited to be tired, she fell into step with the cast as if she had been doing it in her sleep all her life, waiting for someone to relieve her of the talent lying dormant in her soul! She danced in four inch heels in a way that reminded older performers of the legendary Juliette Prowse! Her 5'6, 125 pound frame poured into every costume like melted Godiva Chocolate, thus making her a wardrobe mistress’s dream! With skin as tan and smooth as an African lioness hunting her prey, and black hair in spiraling ringlets caressing her shoulders, the make- up artists had no complaints either. But for this weekend, Zuzu’s perfect combination of talent, poise, and beauty also served as a temple for a mountain of homesickness!
The rehearsal and performance schedules left no room for even a quick getaway to her home town of Spivey’s Grove, South Carolina, let alone an extensive trip. Her first Easter away from her family wrenched tears and memories out of her that she had not expected to encounter, with no time to nurse them. New York City moved like a run on sentence, with no time to think, breathe, or punctuate a purpose! Folks just lived from moment to moment then recalled it all at once while lying in bed at night, waiting for a slumber to beckon their eyelids closer to their cheeks. Mornings blended into days, as days ruminated into nights, while comeuppances were dealt with as they arrived. No one shed tears over little things like homesickness, lest they miss that once in a lifetime chance to make an indelible impression on the right casting director, the perfect literary agent, the hungry client, or the irreplaceable soul mate.
Residents of New York never spoke of that feeling of desperation to become memorable among the hoard. Eventually the feeling would creep away into a numbness, until one could finally get away to some quiet place where they could be no one but themselves. In Zuzu's case that creep away moment might not show itself for years! She just got the Radio City gig! There was no way she could ask for time off, or allow an understudy to take her place! She might come back to no job at all otherwise.
She stepped out into the street from the backstage door of Radio City Music Hall, facing the lights of Lincoln Center. The colorful tail from the NBC peacock always seemed to greet her warmly after a stellar performance or a grueling rehearsal. Tonight it somehow reassured her that Easter would be as memorable this year, as it would be different. “Hey, Zuzu, we’re going up to Fennigan’s for a while. You wanna join us?” A few of the girls and stage hands were following her out of the building. She smiled back, shaking her head, “No thanks. I’m about to fall asleep. Some other time definitely, though!”
“Okay! Be careful getting home!” She watched the small crowd as they piled into a mini- van yellow cab, blowing her kisses and wishing her good night. An Irish dive bar on St. Patrick’s Day was one thing, but on the Saturday night before Easter? It made not a bit of sense to her!
If she were in Spivey’s Grove she’d be helping her sister get Easter baskets ready for her nieces and cousins, or helping her mom prepare the devilled eggs for the big afternoon feast at her aunt’s house. Everyone would be up late despite the pressure to get up early for Sunrise service, and the breakfast would truly be for just that…breaking a fast that had lasted since the previous Thursday evening in observance of the night the Lord was betrayed by Judas Iscariot! Speaking of Judas Iscariot, she felt like the biggest betrayer in the world for not fully acknowledging all that she knew about the true meaning of Easter.
Her phone buzzed, alerting her that she had a text coming in. It was Mossimo, her boyfriend. “Are you on your way here or to your flat?” Mossimo lived in a penthouse in Battery Park City. Of course she would rather be in his sprawling three- bedroom, two and half bath penthouse then go all the way back to her studio in Brooklyn. She had packed her overnight bag before she left Brooklyn for the matinee performance that morning. She wanted to be ready for she knew he would be waiting for her that night. “I’m on my way. Should I bring you anything while I’m out?”
“Yeah. You, in one piece!” She could see the smile on his wide sensuous mouth, and hear the flirtation lacing his Greek accent when he sent her texts like this.
Mossimo Papanopolous was a partner in a brokerage firm in the financial district. They met after she had received her first paycheck from performing in a national tour turned Broadway show that was under contract for 100 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre. That was a steady gig for 4 months, and oftentimes if the show was successful as a national tour, then it was sure to be a hit on The Great White Way! In expectation of renewing her contract with the show that would be her big break, Zuzu set up an appointment with a financial planner so that she could be responsible with her money. Unfortunately, the show went belly up after those first 100 performances, thus ending any hope of a new contract. Luckily Mossimo had set up a plan for her to have enough to afford her apartment and her lifestyle for the two months between the closing of the failed Broadway show, and the beginning of her stint at Radio City. That was the nature of show business: you never knew how long you would be without a paycheck if a gig ended sooner than expected. By the time the show folded, her relationship with her broker was more than just business to Zuzu’s pleasant surprise.
And a pleasant surprise was what she needed from him tonight and tomorrow to fill the void of not being with her family. She knew she seemed needy and was probably even wrong to think of him as an escape, but she couldn’t help it. In the five years she had been living in the city she had managed to never miss Christmas or Easter! Furthermore she realized the Radio City Christmas Show was their biggest show of the year. There was no way she was going home for any holiday as long as she remained a Rockette. She wiped tears from her eyes at the thought of no longer being able to see her family those two times out of the year at least. Even her agent knew it was important to her, managing to book jobs around her little quirk for years. However, the opportunity to attempt to be a Rockette was so rare that Zuzu couldn’t blame Beverly, her agency rep, for going against her wishes. “Grow up, Zulaeka Charles! You’re in the big leagues now,” she said to herself as she gave money to the cabby before stepping out into the blistery Hudson River air surrounding the street in front of Mossimo’s building.
Marshall, the door man, smiled politely while opening the big glass doors leading to the cozy foyer. The second set of double French doors opened automatically to welcome residents and their guests into a first floor complete with a concierge desk made of Mahogany, plush green carpeted floors, and four glass encased elevators that offered a luscious view of the new World Trade Center, making the ride to the penthouse a vacation in and of itself!
The last destination on the elevator was a direct stop in front of Mossimo’s door, which was open in wait of her visit. She stepped over the threshold, looking around at the decadence of collectibles on glass shelves, the state of the art entertainment center complete with a big screen TV mounted to the wall, an L- shaped leather couch with matching love seat and easy chair, and matching glass coffee table and end tables to round out the set.
She smelled nothing coming from the kitchen, which was odd considering Mossimo’s penchant for cooking Greek cuisine. The lights were bright, but the curtains were closed, which was odd as well because he loved to look at the Hudson River while a single candle burned in the room. There wasn’t even a bottle of Opus One with two glasses on the coffee table!
“Mossimo, where are you?” she called. Silence…until he popped up from hiding between the liquor cabinet and service bar clad in only white bunny ears, a plastic, whiskered bunny nose with buck teeth, and a white speedo with a cotton tail attached to his bum! His dark hair, naturally olive complexion, and perfect V- shaped physique made the whiteness of the costume, or lack thereof, show up even more. For the first time that evening she forgot about what she would be doing if she were in Spivey’s Grove!
“Mossimo, what is this?” she said through uncontrollable giggles.
“Mossimo? I’m the Easter Bunny, and…” he said as he revealed a huge lavender and yellow basket with green plastic grass from behind his back, as if he could surprise her anymore. “…you, my dear, are going on an egg hunt!” Her heart raced as she took the basket from him!
She didn’t know exactly where to start so she went to the obvious- between the cushions of all the chairs, but he was smart, for all she found there was a Cadbury Crème Egg! However she was far from discouraged.
She went into the kitchen to check the refrigerator. On the inside of the door where the egg holder was she found a traditional hard- boiled egg that had been perfectly soaked in purple dye with Paas Egg Kit designs of a yellow baby chick and a white rabbit.
From there she ventured onto the balcony where she found something she hadn’t seen in years, and never thought she’d lay eyes upon again! Nestled in the pot with the Bamboo tree was a large, blue, plastic egg with the Legg’s Pantyhose symbol on it! Where did he find that?
“Okay, that’s three! You’re not even half done,” he said. Zuzu couldn’t help but get more excited so she stepped lively back into the main room, moving throughout with eyes dancing, searching from one corner to the next!
She found three more, smaller plastic eggs, colored pink, stuffed into a pair of Mossimo’s athletic shoes that to an unwitting eye would seem to be randomly strewn by the couch, but she knew better! He was too organized for that not to be a ploy! So that was six, now how many more were there?
He urged her on to look around the apartment. In one of the bathrooms she found yet another plastic egg, this time green, innocently sitting in the soap dish on the side of the sunken tub. “Why don’t you take a look around the bedroom,” Mossimo suggested. Zuzu looked from one end of the room to the other, finding two more plastic eggs, colored yellow, with one laying in the middle of her pillow, while the other lay on his! She noticed they were somewhat heavier than the others, but she decided to think about that later because the ‘Easter Bunny’ asked if she’d like to take a rest. “Yes I would,” she said between short gasps of excitement!
When she came back out into the front room the coffee table was graced with a bottle of Opus One and two wine glasses, a plate of assorted cheeses with various kinds of apples cut into slices, and whole wheat crackers waiting for her. She remembered that she hadn’t eaten since before the evening performance. This light repast after a physically grueling, if not emotional evening, would be just right!
“Well why are you just sitting there? Open them,” said Mossimo, pouring the wine. She picked up the Legg’s Egg, thinking it would be a pair of pantyhose like it would have been back in the 70’s. Instead it was a sheer black body stocking! “How did you…” she began.
“…As if I would tell you! Open another,” he said, gesturing toward the basket. This time she picked up one of the pink eggs. She twisted it open to find a diamond stud! She got so excited she picked up another pink one to reveal a matching diamond stud, while the final pink egg held a diamond pendant to complete the set! Zuzu could barely contain herself as she grabbed him and kissed him. He shook his head, smiling, to remind her that she was by no means finished.
This time she chose the green egg, squealing when she found two $100 bills folded into two intricately shaped ducks! The last two to open, besides the crème egg and the boiled egg, were the two yellow heavy ones. She looked at him coyly because she couldn’t imagine how else he could surprise her. She twisted the first one, sucking in a breath when she recognized the key to the penthouse. Waiting to regain control of her breathing she took her time opening the last egg. “What is it?”
“You’ll have to open it to find out,” said Mossimo as he took a bite of cheese and winked at her. She twisted the final egg to reveal another key! This one had a Cadillac symbol! Zuzu looked at him in happy disbelief. “You can drive the CTS anytime, just let me know in advance! Agreed?” All she could do was bob her head up and down in answer to his request.
“But…” he continued, “…there is one more egg!”
“Mossimo, I can’t take any more of this…” she said in protest.
“Just go over to the novelty cabinet and see what you see. You don’t have to open it, just look at it.”
Zuzu looked at him with her lips pursed together in a sly smirk, “Promise me this is the last one!”
“I promise, now go look,” he insisted.
She eased her way across the room to the cabinet. Peering inside she carefully examined each shelf until she saw a replica of a purple and green Fabragee Egg with gold trim! She promised herself she would not faint, but instead ran over to Mossimo, ripped off the bunny ears and the nose, before planting a firm kiss squarely on his thick lips!
“Why so many gifts?” she asked.
“Well I knew that this would be your first Easter without your family. I also thought this would celebrate the two of us starting a new tradition for Easter.”
“What kind of new tradition?”
“I know you’re going to be sad again about not being able to go to church tomorrow, so I figured we’d go to sunrise mass next Sunday morning, and have breakfast before your matinee performance at the music hall.”
“That’s nice, but we’ll still miss Easter.”
“Ahh, my love, we will have missed Westernized Easter. However, Greek Orthodox Easter is always the following Sunday. So, Zulaeka Charles, will you accompany me for Greek Orthodox Easter Mass next Sunday morning at sunrise?”
Zuzu, taken aback by his proposal, answered through tears of joy, “Mossimo Papanopolous, I would be honored!” They raised their glasses of the sweet red wine, remembering old Easter traditions, toasting new ones, and kissing each other fervently.
Karla M. Diggs
The cheerleading squad at LB Johnson High School always managed to wreak havoc upon the life of Cindi Ellers, squad manager. On top of having to clean up after them in the locker room and on the bleachers after games and practices, as well as on the bus after away games, she was also in charge of their study hall. Without her tutelage most of the squad could not keep the 2.5 GPA requirement! She had no idea when she took the position she would be obligated to tutor those noodle- headed numb skulls!
The more she thought about it, the more she was convinced Coach Edwards, the cheerleading advisor, had planned all along to take advantage of her tutoring services for free. Coach Edwards sought her out early in the school year, roughly two days after the first day classes began, and just in time for football season. She convinced Cindi that being cheerleading manager would look good on her credits when she applied for colleges. Otherwise everything on her list of extra- curricular activities was academic.
“Having something in the way of a sports background would make you look well- rounded,” Coach Edwards suggested. It made sense so Cindi jumped at the chance. In hindsight it looked like she’d jumped alright, from the jelly into the jam! Nowadays she was spending so much time running behind the purple and yellow skirts of the squad she had to cut back her tutoring sessions for paying students to one day a week!
She had planned for her tutoring business all summer, to the extent of reserving a study room at the community college four days a week, for four hours, charging $25 per hour, per student. The first 10% of whatever she made would go to her church, the next 25% would go to her personal expenses such as her iPhone, iTunes, gas, etc. The final 65% would go to her savings account for college. As a result of taking the cheerleading manager position she’d saved virtually nothing. She got really frustrated about the situation at times like now, when she was cleaning up after them and had plenty of time to think!
Tonight was the Costume Ball and she’d planned to go, but the girls left the locker room extra messy! The mirrors were all bathed in shaving cream, while unsuppressed toilet paper rolls covered both the locker room and bathroom floors. They’d smeared baby oil all over the shower stalls, plus they ‘forgot,’ once again, to separate the towels from the cheerleading uniforms, thus leaving Cindi to sort the laundry in addition to washing and folding it!
Cindi didn’t see how she would ever finish cleaning this confounded discombobulation in time to go home, shower, change, and be back by 8:00 for the dance. She walked between the locker room, the bathroom, and the showers, shaking her head, tripping over toilet paper, wondering where to start. Finally, she took a seat on one of the benches between the lockers, dropped her head between her palms, crying.
“Hey, Little Lady, what are the tears about?” It was Coach Bennett. She hadn’t even heard him walk in.
“Look at what those awful cheerleaders left for me to clean up,” Cindi said through choking sobs. “How am I supposed to do this in time to go home and get changed so I can come back in time for the dance myself? James is supposed to be there. I thought for once he’d see me in something other than jeans and a T-shirt. I guess that’ll never happen,” she couldn’t stop feeling sorry for herself.
James Motley was the captain of the football team, and she’d had a crush on him since they were in pre- school. James was also one of the few jocks who was actually smart! He never needed her tutoring services. All the cheerleaders were enthralled with him, too.
Coach Bennett thought for a moment, then said, “Go on ahead and start cleaning this place. The best way to start from what I can see is to get the laundry out of the way first. I’ll help you clean the mirrors and get the toilet paper off the floor. Just give me a minute to call my wife.” He stepped back out into the gym. When he came back he had a mop bucket full of cleaning supplies, “Alright, Little Lady, let’s knock this thing out!”
Hours later the laundry was folded, the toilet paper was in the trash, the mirrors shined, and the shower stalls were devoid of baby oil. However, it was 7:00! “Thanks, Coach, but there is no way I’ll be able to get home and get back here in time,” Cindi began to cry all over again. Coach Bennett stepped out again to take the cleaning agents back to the janitorial room. When he came back he had a plastic bag from the CVS Drugstore.
“Here,” he said, handing the bag to Cindi. Inside she found hair color wash, make- up, soap, lotion, body spray, toothpaste, and a toothbrush.
“What is all this?” she asked.
Bennett smiled, “I figured we wouldn’t get finished in time for you to go back home, so I thought you could just shower here. My wife went out and bought the stuff.”
“That’s really nice, but I still need clothes.”
“Put on one of the cheerleading uniforms. They’re clean, and it is a costume of sorts. It’s a costume dance, not a formal. No one is coming dressed to the nine’s,” Bennett continued, “Just have the uniform back inside the locker room closet by 12:00 midnight, because Edwards is coming in the morning to do inventory, and she will have a small angus cow if anything comes up missing.”
“You don’t think I’ll look silly,” Cindi asked.
“Of course not!” Coach Bennett insisted, “The point of this dance is to come wearing something people don’t normally see you wearing, and you don’t normally wear skirts, let alone a cheerleading uniform! It’ll be fine, just have it back by 12:00 on the dot at the latest. Otherwise the gate for the locker room closet will lock automatically!”
Cindi wasted no time showering, coloring her hair, primping, and choosing a size 4 cheerleading uniform, all the while imagining how she would approach James at the dance. The more she looked in the mirror the more she liked what she saw! Mrs. Bennett, Coach’s wife, had chosen Strawberry Blonde to cover her prosaic brown locks. Her skin glowed, too! Earlier in the month she sent Cindi a Proactive Solution starter kit after Bennett heard the cheerleaders disparaging her about her acne. If it hadn’t been for Coach Bennett and his wife, Cindi would have taken a tip from the managers of the football team, and put itchy powder in all of their briefs!
Cindi glanced at the time on her iPhone- 7:50. Ten minutes was just enough time to head across campus to the cafeteria! When she stepped outside, she looked up at the sky, noticing the stars, feeling the balmy evening air. This would probably be one of the last warm nights before it got really cold. Cindi hoped the weather was indicative of the good time she claimed she would have tonight.
At 11:45 Cindi heard her iPhone alarm go off. Oh, no, she thought, it’s already time to go? She and the captain of the football team, James, were dancing to Happy by Pharrell Williams, and she did not want to leave. Reluctantly, though, she pushed him away.
“Whoa, where you going?” he protested, holding her in a solid embrace. She had no choice but to step on his foot. ”Ouch!” He yelped, dropping one hand as she struggled free of the other. She didn’t mean to hurt him, but she didn’t want to get Bennett in trouble with Coach Edwards either after he’d gone out of his way to see to it she made it to the soiree.
Edwards and her crew of Mean Girls made her life, and that of every other cheerleading manager before her, hellacious. That was okay, though. Cindi Ellers didn’t see James Motley ask any of them to dance, in fact he danced with her all night! He was probably bored with the entire in- crowd. It was always the same people, it seemed, talking about the same featherbrained situations, putting down other teenagers who were not as privileged. Teachers never seemed to notice, or if they did, then they too had their favorites. Most of the time Cindi was not one of them, however, she was James’ favorite tonight!
Earlier in the evening, she’d walked into the cafeteria looking for him, but he found her before she had a chance to get to the refreshment table. Cindi had planned to eat a bite while standing next to the wall as she watched out for him. She couldn’t believe she didn’t play the wallflower once this evening, thanks to James finding and approaching her first.
When she’d broken completely away from him and the crowd in the cafeteria, Cindi made her way down the hall and out of the front door. She raced down the stone steps near the entrance when the lace of her left Nike got caught somehow on the base of the railing, and she couldn’t shake it lose.
“Hey wait!” there was James at the top of the stairs watching her struggle. She managed to pull her foot out and kept running across the campus in the direction of the gym. Cindi took a moment to glance at the face of her iPhone, less than five minutes to get to the supply room before the door locked! In the background she could still hear James shouting at her. Oh what she would give to be able to stop, tell him who she was, that she’d had a crush on him since before they went to kindergarten. Gosh, she had to give it to Bennett! The cheerleading uniform was such a clever guise!
11:59! She made it! Cindi quickly found the box of cheerleading uniforms and undressed. She forgot about being neat, that uniform had to be in the box pronto! After putting the stash in its proper place and leaving the supply room in only her underwear, she found her t- shirt and jeans hidden under a sink the girl’s bathroom. Pulling her arms through her t- shirt seemed to signal a kind of paradigm shift in the universe. She was no longer the mysterious cheerleader. Cindi was back to being the over worked, under- appreciated, invisible cheerleading manager. However, she looked in the bathroom mirror, noticing her clear skin was complimented by her newly color washed golden strawberry locks. Coach Bennett’s wife could not have chosen a better hue! She looked down at her feet, remembering she needed to go back and see if she could find her shoe, otherwise she’d be limping home.
When Cindi got back to cafeteria she stood from a distance in the shadows of the trees, watching James wait for her, holding the shoe in his hand. After 15 minutes he took it with him. Oh, great, she thought, I just got these sneakers! As she began her lop- sided journey home, Bennett pulled up beside her in his Ford F- 150, ever the hero. “So how was your night? Did I see you dancing with James all evening?”
“Yes! It was magical. I just wish I could have stayed until the end.”
“I saw him standing by the stairs in front of the cafeteria holding a shoe. Was that yours?”
“Yeah, I lost it running away. You don’t think he’s going to try to find me, do you?”
“Stranger stuff has happened. Why wouldn’t he? Would it be a bad thing if he did?”
“When he sees it’s me and gets disappointed, it would be!”
“You don’t know that! James is a nice guy.” Bennett pulled into her driveway.
“I don’t know why I’m worried about this. I mean is he really smart enough to find me based on half a pair of new shoes? It’s not like he’s going to get DNA evidence! Well, I’ll see you Monday, Coach.”
“Okay, see ya!” When she got out of the truck, Bennett thought about how James hunted deer on the weekends, “Yeah, he’ll find you soon enough,” he chuckled.
The next day Cindi woke to her mother knocking on her bedroom door. Had the lady forgotten it was Saturday? “Come in.”
“Dear, there are some people here to see you.” Cindi couldn’t place the look on her mother’s face. It was a cross between surprise and delight.
“People? To see me? Okay, just give me a moment and I’ll be down.”
“Yes dear, and hurry,” her mother insisted as she slammed the door in her hast to get back down stairs. That was a mousy exit, even for my mother, thought Cindi. What could this be about? She tumbled out of bed and into the shower to let the cold water shrink some of the puffiness from her eyes and the dreams from her head. The previous night was still on her mind as if it could one day be a reality.
She put on a fresh pair of jeans and a t-shirt with a bulldog, the school’s mascot, because she couldn’t find anything else. She took her time going down the stairs. When she entered the living room she found, along with her mother, Coach Bennett, James, and two members of the press club.
“Hi, everyone,” she didn’t know why they were there, or what they wanted, but she felt ill prepared for an interview, let alone a photo shoot.
“Cindi, is this your sneaker?” asked James, holding up the Nike. Bennett was smiling, as was her mother. Apparently, he'd told James that Cindi "might" be missing a sneaker.
“Yeah,” she confessed.
James smiled, “Okay let’s take the picture. We were named King and Queen of the dance last night, but you left before the official announcement.” He said as he gave her back her shoe.
“But I’m not dressed to take any pictures…”
“No worries,” said Hank, the photographer, and class historian. “I’ll take them of your faces, and use some graphics to photo shop them for the yearbook.”
“And I’m writing the story of how he danced with you all night, didn’t recognize who you were, then found you because you lost a shoe! Just like the real Cinderella by Hans Christian Anderson! OMG, this will be the coolest thing EVER!” Brittany, editor of the yearbook and the school newspaper, deemed everything ‘the coolest thing ever!’
James got behind Cindi, putting his arms around her waist while his chin rested on her right shoulder. They both smiled as Hank took several pictures, while Bennett, Mrs. Ellers, and Brittany watched.
When the photo shoot and interview were over, everyone left. As they stood alone in the living room, James suggested, “It’s not quite lunch time. What about IHOP for a late breakfast. We could discuss plans for the Senior Prom in the spring!” Cindi gave him a coy grin, “I’d like that!” Realizing spring was months away, Cindi declared she would make time to get to know James better. But first some things needed to be cut from her agenda, like her position as cheerleading manager. It was about time Coach Edwards tutored her squad of Mean Girls, and did their laundry!