Author’s note: I had no idea where this was going but I wanted to overcome some procrastination. I couldn’t decide if this should be a poem or a short story so I went with both. Scattered throughout are the random words listed on Jenny Grace’s post. Be sure to check out her excellent blog!
She’d fry the okra the second it was ready.
Couldn’t wait. More likely we wouldn’t wait.
The days were long enough.
The blues would play softly on the radio
but we’d all shuffle ’round in silence,
waitin’ on the oil.
A flick of water told her it was ready
to drop into the grease.
Guitar slides on the radio. Static. More guitar.
Any moment we could do the same,
slide in frenzy, meltdown from the humidity
or the tension in that house.
Boss had half a mind and a half a heart
to disown me
when they heard the news–
they knew I knew their secret.
I was just surprised that they had a half
of either one to spare.
The okra made a loud sizzlin’ noise
from the kitchen, no doubt splatterin’ grease
all over the dirty countertops.
She forgot to pat ’em dry.
It was like a burstin’ dam. Slow. Small. At first, anyway.
She took solace in an old music box
her mama gave her, some song
about the northern lights of someplace
She wanted to see them, the aurora borealis
they’re called. The place didn’t matter.
Yes, sweet solace waited elsewhere.
No solace here.
The gruff voice on the radio
might have felt similar.
Boss took solace in belittlin’ her.
Said he didn’t give a damn
that she missed her home.
I took uneasy solace in steady work, room and board.
We all took some solace
as the sizzlin’ sound slowed in the kitchen
and she pulled that fresh fried okra
from the stove.
Why any of us would want that heavy meal
when we were all drenched in sweat,
tired from a long day, and set to sleep soon
for yet another long day
was beyond me.
Boy, did it always taste good though,
never stalky, never bitter. Perfection.
She could cook.
She called us to the table,
warm beers all ’round. She had a dirty glass
of water, chipped near the edge.
She spoke grace while he groaned,
waiting impatiently for the amen
to most assuredly eat that okra.
We ate in silence spare for the radio,
Memphis Minnie serenading us.
It didn’t take much to eat our fill.
It didn’t take much to enjoy the taste
that would have to tide us over
until the next batch was ready to pick.
A longer silence followed. The radio cut out
for the evening.
It wasn’t quite dark but it was time to head out.
I bid them a good night.
She smiled half-heartedly. He just grunted about the work
for tomorrow and the mess
in the kitchen.
I stepped out into the muggy evenin’ air,
cigarette rolled and ready
unawares that my last night
under the magnolia flag
was that very night.
Acoustic guitar echoed in my mind.
“Now look here mama what am I to do?
Now look here mama what am I, I to do?
I ain’t got nobody to tell my troubles to . . .”
That was the night the fire broke out,
no survivors, only one body.
Trail of burnt grease
’round the ruins.
The others stuck around,
to investigate, to figure out
how the fire done burnt the
house there on the delta.
I just remembered a half-hearted smile
and the taste of perfectly cooked okra.
I’d have to head south.
I had no mind to know what happened
but a lesser desire still
to see the lights up north.