the cry of dragonflies.

Therese sat on the wide porch of Madam Louselle’s joyhouse
and sipped at a tumbler of Southern Comfort and lime juice. the
air was so oppressively hot it felt as if you were breathing in steel
wool. and it was only 10 in the morning. most of the other girls
were either still in bed or just feeling the aches in their bones that
told them another day was here. she picked up the battered fan
with a faux ivory handle and waved it back and forth furiously to
get some relief from the heat. her pale green robe clung to her
body in spots, and she felt sweat make a patch of beads where
her legs were crossed. Therese’s eyes scanned the lane that led
up to the road. all of the trees stood silently. the green blades of
the grass still shone underneath the sun. another sip of her drink
and her mind went back to where it always felt too dangerous. and
much too safe at the same time. with Carver. it had been four
months since she saw him. four months since she watched him
walk out, off to make another score. she knew he was a hustler.
she knew that many felt she had no business being a Louisiana
whore – a white one at that – and falling in love with a Black john.

Madam Louselle said nothing about it. Therese had gotten shit
from a couple of the girls. she even came to blows with Eloise, a
haughty harpie who could never hold her liquor…or her gas long
enough to not scare away clients. ‘in love…with a neeegar!!’ she
spat at Therese in an accent that spoke too much to her roots
outside of Lynchburg. a few hair pulls and sharp slaps ended that
rhubarb. Therese smiled to herself and sipped again. at that instant,
she saw the mailman stride up the walkway. in a minute, he stepped
lightly on the porch. ‘Mail, ma’am.’ he said quickly. he left as fast
as he came, head fixed forward. Therese thumbed through the
envelopes. the next to last one bore her name. and a stamp from
Angola. “oh goodness..who…” she uttered, opening the envelope
to read the letter inside.

“hey honeysuckle,

by now, you know where i am. bad ol’ Angola, the farm. been here
about close to three months now. the night i last saw you, i was out
to hustle this pool shark. and i had him good. had him beat so bad.
and he was real sore that a colored man beat him. i got 5 large out
of him, five grand. i got out of that pool hall once i got paid and was
fixin’ to run over to you. but they took off after me. had me trapped
out on the road. what they didn’t know is that i had a .38. i got the
drop on them. shot two of them. one died. turned out her was a state
senator’s cousin. now i’m here. for life, Therese. my death sentence
is staring at these fields, staring through barbed wire and a fence
knowing that the world is moving on without me. and here i thought
i was going to be big time. a Negro with a shot. instead i’m just another
darkie in slow motion. Therese, i know you love me. knew it ever
since i first came to Madam Louselle’s. and for a while there, i had
an idea that i was going to get some long bread and get you out of
there. move to California. make our own way. all i’ve got now is this
long fence and a barbed wire around my heart. i’m dead Therese.
good as buried in prison whites. but i want you to know…i love you
too. i don’t know how often i can write…i had to bribe this other guy
to mail this letter out for me. if they knew i was writing to a white
woman…it would be bad. and i don’t want you to try to write me.
i’m sorry. take good care of yourself honeysuckle.

love,

Carver”

Therese felt her eyes fill with water. she rose abruptly and felt her
heart slapping the side of her chest frantically. she screamed, so
loudly and with so much pain in her voice that everyone in the house
became alarmed. and they ran outside to see Therese prostrate on
the planks of the porch, the letter still in her hand. the dragonflies
seemed to scream in her place.

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whiskey and water.

“How long you plan to stay for?”, Therese asked.

“Until the odds tell me otherwise.”, Carver replied.

he got up from the bed, scratched his lower back and

walked the few feet to the beat up dresser drawer. on

the top rested a pack of Merits. he took one out, put

it in his mouth and lit it with all the casual motions

of someone waiting at a bus stop. Therese looked at him,

eyed the sinews in his back. she gazed at his skin that

shone even in the dim light of the room. she lay there,

naked with the covers at her feet. Carver turned around

and despite herself, she couldn’t say a word. he had

that control over her. she knew it. it was the same

thing every time. he had been by this same joyhouse

for a good two years runnin’. it was the only one

that serviced Black men in this part of Louisiana.

at least, the only one with mostly white women. ever

since he walked in the door that one Thursday evening,

he had his hooks into her. and he knew it.

“When are you gonna give up the sportin’ life, sugar?

It wears everyone down.” she said, slowly leaning into

the headboard behind her. Carver looked at Therese. her

hair was a chestnut brown beehive. it framed a face

that was full and soft. her eyes were eggshell blue

and still held a trace of innocence. her body was

plump im the right places, mainly her breasts and her

thighs. Carver came back to the bed and laid beside

her. “It won’t get me. I got a way out. You plan on

being a social worker?” he asked, his sharp grin in

effect. “I…I just worry. The last time, when you

told me about the game and how they tried to ambush

you after you won – well, I just don’t want you hurt.”

Therese said, turning her body towards him but not her

eyes.” Carver ran a hand over his low cut. “I got away.

That’s part of it all…I’m a hustler. Been that way

ever since I learned the best adding and multiplying

wasn’t in school. What else I got?”

“You’ve got a mind…you’re smart.” Therese replied,

finding herself back in that same taut spot again.

Carver wasn’t a usual customer. she entertained him

his first time to Madam Louselle’s. even fixed him a

drink. whiskey and water. that first night lit a fire

in her, one she hadn’t had since being a young girl

in St.Louis. she had been a hooker for ten years, ten

years of sex, martinis and muggy nights all running

together. and here she was, with a Black man in her

bed. and her feeling as if she’d die if she never

saw him again. “C’mon Therese…I’m a Black man. I’m

still looked at as a second class citizen. Yeah, you

got college kids brighter than me sitting at lunch

counters. Getting their heads beat in. Not me baby.

I’m gonna overcome all right, but I’m gonna get a

whole lot of bread doin’ it.” Therese laid her hand

on his lower abdomen. “Honey…please. Don’t go to

that pool hall. I’ve got money…you can have some.

We’ll stay here, right here in this room-”

Carver jumped up. “I gotta split.” he grabbed his

navy blue shirt and yellow slacks and began to get

dressed. Therese felt her lips quiver. he snubbed

out his cigarette in the dull green ashtray on the

nightstand and sat to put on his shoes. she moved

and laid her bosom on his back. a tear left her eye

and seeped into his shirt. Carver stopped briefly;

he turned his head slightly to see Therese’s hair

on his shoulder. “I’ll…be by ‘fore I leave town.

Gotta head over to Natchez.” he rose and walked to

the door quickly. before opening it, he turned to

look at Therese. “Make sure my drink’s waiting for

me.” he said, flashing the same grin. “Of course.

See you later sugar.” she said, grinning as she

knelt on the bed. Carver glanced at her for another

few seconds, then swiftly opened the door and left.

the door swung back but didn’t close. Therese could

hear the blues being belted out on the piano down

in the great room. “I…love you.” she said gently.

raucous laughter danced up from below.