If you’re on Twitter, you probably know Mikki Kendall as Karnythia, one of those people who can manage incisive social commentary in 140-character chunks. You may not have read her fiction, though. You should do that.
I killed a man when I was 13. Not on purpose or nothing. But he still died. Mama went over to see about Mrs. Johnson’s new baby after church, and I stayed home because I had a cold coming on. Mama is real particular about sick people and babies, so I didn’t even ask if I could go visiting. Daddy went out fishing with my brothers, and after I got out of my church clothes I stretched out on the porch swing with a book. It was good too, all about pirates and buried treasure. It was a hot day, sunny, but not too bad if you were sitting in the shade. The breeze was blowing just right over Mama’s little flower garden, and it felt so good to sit there with the screen keeping the bugs out and the cool in, while I nibbled on a slice of cake.
Our house wasn’t fancy exactly, but Daddy was always good with his hands and my uncles all knew a fair bit about building because that was how they earned their money instead of farming like Daddy. So when Mama wanted something added onto the house they come over and do it for her. Folks said she was spoiled and I would be too since we were both the only girls in a family full of men. I don’t know about spoiled, but I was almost always happy. Daddy could grow anything he wanted no matter how bad it might be doing for somebody else, and Mama knew about taking care of sick folks and delivering babies. Folks always needed something and always had something to trade if they didn’t have cash money.
I don’t know how long I was out there, but I was just getting to the end of my book when I heard somebody’s Model T rattling away. The road up to the house was longer than most, but it sounded like the car was coming on fast so I got up real quick and slipped in the house. Mama says that people shouldn’t be able to just walk up on us, at least not without us looking like we came from somebody, and we’re going somewhere. So I took off the raggedy overalls I had on, and put on a dress and a pair of shoes.
Mama made most of my clothes in those days, sometimes dyeing them for me so I wouldn’t be wearing the same thing as all the other girls who got their goods at the mercantile in town. My dress that day was dark blue, with a little black flower pattern worked into it. It didn’t fit like it used to. Mama kept threatening to pass it on to someone else, but I loved it so that she said I could keep it until she had time to make me a new one.
Some white man knocked on the door a few minutes later. He was bigger than my mama’s biggest brother, Uncle John, but not as big as my Daddy and wearing a shiny gray Sunday suit and a funny looking white hat. He even had on shiny shoes, like a woman would wear to church if she wanted to get talked about for a month of Sundays. He had a face like a skinned hog, all wet and red looking, but meaty. And he had too many teeth in his mouth. Looked like he was one of them bad salesmen that I heard people complaining about whenever we stayed late after church and the adults would forget that us kids were listening. He was grinning and yammering away before I even got to the door good.
“How are you today young lady? You looking mighty prosperous on this Sunday afternoon aren’t you?” Up close he smelled like he bathed in cologne, but not in a good way. More like perfume over funk.
He had his hand on the door knob like he was about to pull on it, and I stared at his hand until it dropped. I can’t rightly fight, but my eyes make people think they don’t want to fight me. My brothers are the only exception and even they don’t fight me to hurt me, just to teach me how to defend myself. Daddy says my eyes are just a darker brown than most people have ever seen, and Mama says I have eyes like her great-grandmother who was a conjure doctor down in New Orleans. I don’t know which one of them is right, but most people don’t like my eyes because they’re so black they look like two holes punched in my face. At least that’s how Ms. Viola at the church describes them, and she’s been all the way to London and back so I figure she knows best.
“Can I help you?” It’s my best grown up voice, and I can see him looking me up and down when I use it. I can’t help but cross my arms across my chest when his eyes linger on it. I can see what Mama meant about my dress being too snug to wear out in the street.