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.
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.
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.