I was born an’ she died. I never knew him. He went away after she died. Then GrMa raised me.

I was always sorry Mama died. Not that I ever knew her or thought I kilt her or nothin’. No, it was jus’ that GrMa was so hard on me. She was always blamin’ me for Mama diein’’ Me! Like I had anythin’ t’ do wit’ it. She was always goin’ aroun’ poundin’ on me like I was Her good book Good Book!

All She ever talkt about was them three bitches; Eve, Delilah an’ Salomey. Always talkin’ an’ talkin’ ’bout how they was the root o’ all evil in the world an ’bout how I was the fourth … an’ I guess I was the worst. After all, I kilt Her dolly, Her baby — an’ I was just another bitch put here t’ tempt men an’ ruin they lives.

God!, how I hated Her! Guess I hated myself too, for hatin’ Her. After all, She was a woman too — “Bitch!” — I useta call Her. She couldn’t hear me — “Bitch!” But then it came to me that I was right t’ hate Her. After all, I was a bitch too. Jus one big family of Bitches!

She taught me good, though — men were good. She usta’ say to me:

“The Book tell us God made man in his own image. Remember that, chile. It say “man”, not “woman” . An’ remember how God took part of Adam and made Eve. Remember how he took his rib an’ made a companion for him. An’ what did she do ? She brought us all down. An’ remember, girl; she is you! She would be pointin’ that long, bony finger at me, an ’ then at the book, back and forth at me, then that damn book.

Men. She taught me. We had to fear ’em cause they could whup us any time they wanted, ’cause we jus’ naturally deserved it, had to entertain ’em by makin’ like they was so wonderful but we had to be careful “lest we lead ’em into lustful ways”. That’s what She useta’ say — “lustful ways”. It was our fault — my fault — if’n they wanted “relations” — you believe that word ? — wit’ us but it was us — me! — who was responsible for whatever might come of it. They was only tempted an’ duped. I was the sinner!

What kinda “relationship “ is that ?

But when I got old enough I showed Her. I sinned, then I sinned again and I made sure She knew I was sinnin’ — not in front o’ Her, min’ — She’da kilt me for sure, but She knew.

An’ I didn’t care. I was damned anyway, wasn’t I? I mean, after all, I kilt my own Mama. I wasn’t even barely started in this life yet an’ I kilt her. Wors’n that, wit’ Mama dyin’ an’ he lef’ like I said; he an’ Mama wasn’t married an’ wit’ her dead, she couldn’t get married. I kilt her an’ damned her t’ hell all before that doctor slapped my bottom.

But I didn’ care. The way I seen it I could make up for it by all that sinnin’. I knew GrMa was right. We tempt the man. It ain’t his fault, but he sure do love his ’relations.’ An’ all I got out of it was another sin. Weren’t nothin’ compared to my “Original Sin.”

I always think on it that way ’cause that’s how GrMa said it: Original Sin. Always sounded like She was startin’ t’ pray: OOOOhhhh! like, then makin’ a snake soun t’ make me think ’bout Eve:

“OOOOhhhhriginal SSSSSin.” Sometimes She’d say it like:

“WWWWHOOORRRiginal Sin” too!

Shoot, what She know ’bout Eve? Eve prob’ly put clothes on so She could tempt him wit’ something.” After all, she gots to tempt him — it was in her — Bitch!

Eve: jus’ the first great bitch!

Like I said, I was always careful though. Me an’ them neighbor boys were real good frien’s, real good, but I always made sure I wouldn’t get inta no real trouble. She’d’a kilt me.

But then there was that day She died. God, how I cried. I cried f’ me, bein’ alone again when I was still young. I cried f’ Mama, I cried ’cause I wanted t’ love my GrMa, but She never would let me. Always that damned book between us. She even had it in Her han’ when She was dyin’. All the neighbor folks was there, all huddled ’round Her bed, moanin’ an’ cryin’. Preacher Wilson was readin’ outa’ his book, an’ ole Doc Jones, mutterin’ at Her:

Emma, Emma, I can’t do no more. You dyin’. God is callin’ you an’ I guess it’s your time t’ go.”

“I know, Doc, I know.” She croaked an’ She put Her han’ out, gropin’ like … like She couldn’t see.

“Where’s my Roxanne ? Where is she ? Roxie, come t’ GrMa.”

But I wante d t’ run, I wanted t’ hide, but they all lookin’ at me. They starin’ made me cold as a stone and stuck still like one too!

“Chile, come here. Hurry! GrMa’s gonna leave y’ the good lord is callin’ an’ I got t’ go, but … but first, I got t’ tell y’ somethin’. I didn’t want t’ move, but they kep’pushin’ from behind. Pushin! Pushin!

“Damnit! Stop!” I wante t’ yell. Don’t y’ see She wants t’ take me wit’ Her. I din’t wanta die, but they kep’ pushin’. I kep gettin’ closer n’ closer and then She touched me. That froze me more, ’cause I don’t think She ever touched me before that She wasn’t hittin’ me an’ then I only remembered the pain — no, not pain; a kinda’ numbness. Now Her skin was dry an’ cracked an’ Her bones felt like they was comin’ right through Her skin … an’ cold — it was July an’ it was hot, everybody was sweatin’, I was soaked — but She was so cold!

Roxie, I got t’ tell y’, chile. Your GrMa loved you alla these years. Y’ gotta believe me. I loved you, but I had t’ tell y’ all the things I did — did the things I did — cause I — we — I got t’ save y’r soul. Do you hear me, Rozie?

I didn’t say nothin’, but them neighbor folks was all mutterin like: “She hear you Emma, she hear y’.”

She kep on: “Roxie, y’ gotta believe the things I tol’ ya’ Gotta believe ’bout the book an Men and women’ cause, ’cause, if you’re careful, girl, y’ can save y’r own soul. Lord knows y’r GrMa tried, buy now it’s goin’ t’ be up t’ you.”

“But GrMa,” I screamed, it jus popped out like that. I screamed: “GrMa, tell me that those things ain’t true. Tell me I didn’t kill Mama, tell me that those things ain’t true. Tell me I didn’t kill Mama and drive Daddy away. An’ that I been bad all my life. Tell me that, GrMa.”

But She didn’t; din’t say nothin’. Jus grabbed Her chest wit’ Her han’ an’ rolled Her eyes an’ went t’ sleep. We thought She died right there. They was yellin’ at me ’bout how I kilt’ Her, but She died a few hours later. She never woke up; never spoke ’nother word; an’ She never let go ’a that Book!

The scariest thing was when they put me on a bus a few days later. The Doc an’ Preacher Wilson an’ some o’ Her ole biddy — Bitchy! — frien’s. They gave me Her book an’ a picture of me an’ Her. “This for so you’ll remember your GrMa, girl,” they said, an’ pushin’ them inta my han’s while’s they pushin’ me on the bus. The book was cold an’ it reminded me of the night She died. Its skin was all dry an’ cracked and it kinda choked me up, y’know an’ I dropped it. I wanted them to leave it there, to leave it beind, but one a’ them picked it up an’ brushed at it an’ shoved it in the crook o’ my arm. I didn’t even look at the picture ’til I sat down an’ then I just stared at it as the bus called out.

They’d foun’ GrMa’s sister an’ they was sendin’ me off t’ live wit’ her. An’ I was scared. I was so scared because all they tole me was she was married to some preacher over in Charlotte an’ was real proper. Aunt Daisy her name was. Here I was goin’ off t’ live wit’ her an’ I ain’t never laid eyes on her.

I jus’ stared at that picture ’til we were halfway to Charlotte.

The bus stopped so we could get somethin’ t’ eat. I didn’t have no money, so I jus’ went t’ the bat’room. Out back of this road house, I was wanderin aroun’ while other folks was eatin’. I foun’ an ole well. Jus’ an ole hole in the goun’ The walls was crumbled, no timbers, jus’ an ole hole. I dropped a stone in an’ didn’t hear a thing.

I stared inta that well a long time. I began to think maybe I should jus’ jump in an’ disappear. I was think’n all crazy, like how maybe I did kill Her after all an’ maybe I did kill Mama an’ all — crazy stuff like that. Then I felt this burnin’ in my han’, but it was funny; it was cold too. I looked down and there was that picture.

I looked over at the well an’ I looked at the picture. I started to feel sick an’ I walked over an’ held that picture up over the well. I started to curse, to spit out those years of poison: “bitch — whore — harlot” — all of ’em names She used t’ call me. My arms felt so heavy, my heart was tuggin’ at me t’ stop, to put the picture down, but, but, y’know how once you start to throw up y’ can’t stop; well. It was like that. All that foulness, bitter an’ burnin’, jus’ came outa my mouth an’ spread all over that picture. I covered Her wit’ it!

Pretty soon I couldn’t see Her face anymore. I don’t know if it was tears or hate or just plain tiredness; I jus’ couldn’t hold it anymore an’ I let the picture go. It was kinda a still day an’ it jus’ floated into that hole. I jus’wanted it to drop out of sight, but it jus’ kep’ spinnin’ an turnin’, fallen ever so gentle, like a chicken feather, inta that hole. I stepped back so as not to see it but in the quiet I could hear it scrape the walls once or twice, then nothin’.

I was wasted, really tired, worn out, y’know, but I walked up to the edge again — and there it was! — wedged into a crack in the brick, right where the shadow met the light. There was our faces, both of us, kinda flappin’ up an’ down, into an’ outa the dark, but all I could see was Her.

I was fit to be tied. Couldn’t nothin’ I did get rid a’ that Bitch?! I got real hot now, y’know, an’ started all to’ shiverin’. I picked up stones and rocks, throwing them at that face, but I never hit it. I threw words, mean, cruel words, tryin’ t’ budge it with hate itself, but nothin’ worked. Then the bus blew the horn. I coulda’ jus’ turned my shoulder an’lef’, but I wanted shut of it. I leaned over the edge and got as close to that picture s I could. I screamed inta that hole: “Goodbye, Bitch! Damn you to hell, but that smile stayed there even as my words came back outa’ that well, reached up t’ sting me wit’ my own venom. I kinda’ rocked an’ almost fell in. It might have been worth that price, but I grabbed for the side an’ a brick came loose an’ slid right down an’ hit the picture. I stared as it slowly waved back and’ forth one more time, then it slipped into the dark. I didn’t see it no more.

On that hot July day, I all of a sudden got chilled again. I turned an’ ran for the bus. I didn’t wanta be near that hole no more. I knew that I would always know where She was well an’ truly buried. Not in that grave back home, wit’ Her frien’s sayin’ prayers over Her and puttin’ flowers by Her head, but there!, in that dark, useless pit, wit’ curses echoin’ roun’ the stones an’ vomit, hatred an’ spit coverin’ Her for all eternity.

I got back on that bus an’ there was the book on the seat. I had half a min’ t’ throw it in wit’ the picture, but Aunt Daisy had asked after it an’ would be wantin’ it. I borrowed a jacket from a man an’ used it like a glove to shove it as far inta that cardboard case as I could. I put the jacket aroun’ me — I was so cold! — an’ tried t’ sleep, But all the way inta Charlotte, I could see Her face smilin’ at me, dead, like She hardly ever smiled at me live. An’ I could see my face next t’ Hers.

Hugh Adams is a writer of a wide range of fiction encompassing many genres and has been published by us in the past. He is now retired from a position of directing a social service program in Mercer County and is returning to work on a novel based on his professional experiences. This includes the possible dramatization of a particular story line from that work. He lives in Trenton with his spouse who is looking forward to crossing items off their “Honey: Do” list.

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