Here’s another part of a chapter from my novel. The first one is here if you want to read it. I will be finished with this in the next 90 days. ( I hope and my agent insists!) It’s set in East Texas. It’s about women finding themselves through their daughters, through their regrets, through sex. I hope to capture the ambiance, the hypocrisy, the love and the jealousy….I want your emotions as you read to feel as if they’ve eaten at a Fusion restaurant and tingled all their taste buds. Constructive criticism invited. Hatefulness denied 🙂
Chloe stared out the window of her rural home wondering how her life had come to this point. The garden that had once made her so happy was viral with skunkweed. She had not even taken cuttings of her prize winning black iris and their withered stalks reminded her of shrunken voodoo heads; the once lush, velvet petals were now prunish and dank. She caught a glimpse of herself staring out the window and her face morphed with the view of the forgotten flowers….her now noticeable spider veins mimicked the spider webs around her roses. Her one-time firm Audrey Hepburn-like neck looked more like the folds that jiggled each time the former Texas Governor, Anne Richards spoke or moved her head and at once, Chloe realized she shouldn’t be talking badly about the dead, especially the sacred Anne Richards. It was Texas blasphemy to speak ill of the dead, especially the hallowed second woman governor of Texas, Anne Richards. Anne Richards has posed on the cover of Texas Monthly with a Harley. Anne Richards gave the opening speech for that sexy president Bill Clinton. Chloe’s mother, the one-time Democratic Party chair for East Texas would roll over in her grave if she had heard Chloe’s thoughts, even though she too knew Anne Richards’ neck jiggled like a turkey wattle.
“Oh what the hell,” she murmured out loud, “if Vernard finds out about the phone bank in the utility room, it’ll be my soul that should be prayed for, and Mama could just get in line behind him.”
Her husband Vernard never darkened the doorway of the utility room, as that was “the wifely domain” as he told his fishing buddies. He had no idea that she was paying for their daughter Lilly’s pageant career with her “side” business: 1-866-HOT MAMA. He thought she was working in the computer/utility room every night on the “at home business” she had found on one of those late night TV programs that promised you could work at home and make big money. She was making big money alright, but Vernard didn’t know she was making it by talking about things with strange men that she would NEVER say to Vernard for $3.99 a minute, much less do. God, how had her life come to this?
She had never asked herself that question before now. All she knew is that she wanted more for her daughter, more than her parents had ever afforded her. More than Vernard could give her. Hell, her Democratic, Baptist Mother wouldn’t even let her try out for high school cheerleader because “the skirts were too short” and it “wasn’t becoming to an upstanding young lady.”
“What would the neighbors say Chloe?” her mother said to her. “They would talk every Sunday morning at church about how those Friday night cheerleaders do nothing but stir a boy’s filthy thoughts and I won’t have you being the swizzle stick in a boy’s poisonous mind.”
Chloe knew that arguing with her Mama was a moot point and since she had no brothers or sisters, not even a Dad, there was no one to take her side. Lilly wouldn’t grow up that way. Never. Chloe would always be there to take Lilly’s side, even if Vernard disagreed, like he had with the pageants.
“We can not afford those damned pageants Chloe and besides, I don’t need a table of 5 old women and gay men telling me my daughter is beautiful, she don’t need some damned crown for me to know that” Vernard had ranted.
“Besides, them pageants costs more than a month’s worth of fishing bait and tackle, think of all the fish fry’s we won’t be having because you’re putting Lilly in them pageants… foolishness I tell ya”. His thin lips pursed into a straight line and Chloe knew that was the sign he was not going to listen to more.
Chloe had decided right then that she would pay for Lilly’s pageant career come hell or high water. Nine year old Lilly wanted to be the queen of Texas. By God, Chloe would find her a way to do it. “So it’s the money you’re worried about Vernard? Then fine, I’ll get a job, and I’ll pay for her lessons and clothes and entry fees. It won’t cost you one stupid cent of your minnow bait.” And that was that.
Before Lilly was born, Chloe had been happy to be living in a doublewide mobile home on the outskirts of Elysian Fields. She tended her garden and was even awarded garden of the month by the Cowboy Creek Church of Christ. She and Vernard fished, drank beer with their friends at the lake on the weekends and went about life like she had always known it in Elysian Fields. But times were changing. Lilly needed more, and Chloe wanted Lilly to have more. More than Chloe was ever given. Chloe knew that she couldn’t afford one of those houses in the “new folk” development of Elysian Fields, but she COULD afford for Lilly to participate in the pageants that all her friends were entering. Lilly’s dance teacher, that strange Pansy Moss, had grabbed Chloe on a Tuesday night after Lilly’s dance lesson and gone on and on about how well Lilly was doing in ballet.
“Mizz Walker, Lilly has a God-given talent for grace,” Pansy had gushed to Chloe. There is a preliminary pageant coming up next month in Elysian Fields and I think you should enter Lilly. She is beautiful and she could do her new ballet for talent. Here’s the entry information, and be sure to write that she takes lessons at Elysian Fields Elite Studio, okay?”
Chloe was stunned. She never knew there were pageants in East Texas. She had only seen Miss America on television. “I guess this is how they start,” she mumbled to herself on the drive home.
“Mama, can I be a beauty queen too?” Lilly had asked her. “Millay and Echo and Violet are all going to do it, and I want to too,” she had exclaimed on the way home. Millay and Echo had moved here from Dallas and were well-liked by Lilly and her friends, though they were younger than the Dallas girls. Millay’s mother and father lived in the home the people of Elysian Fields had nicknamed “the castle” and those that didn’t know how kind the Costas’s were, called Millay, “that little Dallas princess”. Chloe had become friends with Iris Costas and adored the family. Echo, on the other hand, was the daughter of the hoity-toity Cassandra Cushing, a woman Chloe did not like at all. Echo was nothing like her mother and Chloe believed the Salon gossip that it was because there was a rumor that Echo was adopted. She didn’t word her thoughts to Lilly, as Lilly wanted to be just like Millay and Echo. There were worse people she could idolize, Chloe thought to herself.
“Can I Mama, can I be a beauty queen?” Lilly begged.
“Well Lilly honey, we’ll ask your Daddy and see what he says,” Chloe soothed her daughter’s pleas. “I’m sure he will be fine with it.” Chloe sheltered Lilly from the truth about Vernard. If this was something Lilly wanted, then Lilly would have it. Besides, Chloe had once wanted to be Miss America….if she couldn’t, maybe Lilly could.
The day she bought 1-866-HOT MAMA she got 10 phone calls. One even lasted 10 minutes. The first few calls she felt badly about, because the guys hung up after a minute, even though they contractually paid for three. She had stuttered and answered the phone on the first ring with, “Th-this is your h-hot mama, what can I do for you h-honey?” When the heavy breathing teen with the crackling pubescent voice said, “I don’t want to fuck my Mama” and hung up, she realized she needed to think of a better way to answer the phone. It wasn’t as if she had ever looked for DIY books or websites on phone sex, so Chloe set about educating herself.
She was shocked to realize she had not categorized her phone sex business as a non-taboo business. When a smarmy sounding man called asking if she got off on dead bodies, she immediately hung up. A few days later, another heavily accented man called asking her to sound like she was twelve. A picture of Lilly immediately entered her head, and again she pushed the “off” button on her phone. She couldn’t imagine letting Vernard seeing her naked before she got in bed, much less talking about sex with dead bodies and little kids. Damn! She immediately changed her website information to say “non-taboo” and started reading articles on the Internet on marketing her business. She learned she needed to start frequenting rooms and forums on AOL and Yahoo. She joined Twitter and discreetly tweeted about her website the start-up company had made for her. There was so much to learn: how men liked blow jobs, what words really turned them on, fantasies about their school or college teachers. In learning about her business, Chloe realized that it was much like raising prize Iris…the more stately and plush the flower, the better specimen you had.
She began reading Cosmopolitan every other week at the Beauty Salon to get tips on how to make a man happy because she knew she couldn’t talk about fishing for $3.99 a minute. She listened to the women talk and began to imitate their cadences and voice inflections that sounded sexy to her. No man had ever talked to her about her voice, especially Vernard, so when one of her clients had commented that her voice wasn’t that sexy, Chloe realized that she could make it better. Cassandra Cushing had been at the Salon a few times when she was there, and her voice was the one Chloe tried the hardest to imitate. Cassandra’s voice reminded Chloe of Kathleen Turner’s voice in Body Heat; in fact, Cassandra even looked like the movie star except she had Marilyn Monroe blonde hair. Still, Chloe wasn’t fond of Cassandra Cushing, though she knew she was the best pageant consultant to hit Elysian Fields in many years she had heard. Chloe’s friend Iris Costas introduced them and it was hard to believe that Iris could be such good friends with Cassandra—they were so different! Iris was different from most women of Elysian Fields. She had only lived there for a few years, but in that time, she had become one of the town’s leading women: always willing to help, never said a rude thing about anyone and each time her daughter Millay won a pageant title, no one ever complained, because Iris and Millay were so sweet. Cassandra, on the other hand, never looked at you in the eye when she spoke and paid more attention to the men of the town than the women. Chloe wished she could be more like Iris, and reveled in their friendship. She had thought about telling Iris about her business, as she knew Iris would not be judgmental, but decided against it. She was embarrassed of her newfound endeavor, but at the same time loved the way it made her feel—so liberated! She didn’t have to rely on Vernard financially anymore and even though it was phone sex, there was something secretly stimulating about it all.
Things were changing in Chloe’s life. She began having sex with Vernard on days other than Friday, convincing herself that it was good for the business. Vernard was happily pleased and told her she should have started her own business long ago.
“This home business thing is good for ya honey,” he murmured after one surprisingly sexual Tuesday night. Chloe smiled secretly as she rolled over to pretend sleep. Late night was her busiest time and she was beginning to enjoy her late night phone calls.
The first few times she said the ‘F-word’ in telephonic hushed tones she blushed, but after the third day, it began peppering each of her sentences like a repressed prude with a can of mace. She was even getting repeat callers. One, a man who would never give his name, was especially enticing to Chloe. He only wanted to talk about her and what made her feel sexy. It was easy talking to him, and she had even begun to use “naughty” words when describing what she liked. She told him after their last conversation that she felt badly for charging him but he convinced her that he didn’t mind at all. He also told her that one day she could return the favor. She began to look forward to his nightly calls.
After the first month, Chloe had enough money to hire a designer seamstress to make Lilly’s pageant dress. She was going to go all glitz and glamour. She pored over the Swarovski Crystal catalogues daily to choose just the right stones for Lilly’s dress. Chloe had always wanted a crystal chandelier for her mobile home, but she would settle for one on Lilly’s dress. Her next step would be to schedule an appointment with Cassandra Cushing. Only the best for Lilly.
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
– Bible, Matthew (ch. VII, v. 28-29)
©Gayle N. Jackson all rights reserved.