The two sisters spied the brightly colored page lying in the grass as they walked home from where the school bus had dropped them off. Maura saw it first, pointed, and ran to pick it up. Myesha, being the oldest and always needing to be first, snatched it from Maura’s reach. She shook off the dried mud and they stared at the nude woman on the front cover of the magazine. The woman stood wide legged over a manger licking a candy cane. Small Christmas ornaments covered her nipples and a Christmas tree cookie hid her vagina. A plastic doll standing in for the Baby Jesus stared bug-eyed between the woman’s legs. Holiday Hustler was emblazoned in red and gold letters across the top.
“That’s nasty,” Maura said. “She’s standing naked over Jesus.”
“Nah this is what’s nasty,” Myesha said pointing to a woman on all fours sucking a black man’s cock while a white man entered her from the rear. “That’s you and them two four-eyed nerds in your Biology Club,” Myesha teased.
“Naw, it’s not,” Maura said. “That’s you and Billy Johnson and that other fool on the football team,” she teased back.
A stranger walked toward the girls and Myesha stuffed the magazine inside her backpack. Later that night, after supper, and after their Grandmother had gone to bed, Myesha pulled the magazine from her bag. Maura crawled into bed with her sister and held a pen-sized flashlight as Myesha turned the pages. They murmured, laughed, shrieked, and shushed each other as they gazed at page after page of gapped legs and vaginas as pink as salmon. Sausage shaped penises pointing at them like missiles.
“Look at that white guy’s dick…Look how red it is…That’s you taking that cock...Naw that’s you…Ooh, she got two in her pussy ‘Double your pleasure, double your fun,’” Myesha sang the Double Mint Chewing Gum song.
The hall floorboards creaked. The girls put out the flashlight and listened as their grandmother shuffled past their room on her way to the bathroom. By the time the old lady was on her way back from the toilet, Maura had scooted to her twin bed. Big Mama Mamie opened the door and ducked her head in. Satisfied that all was quiet, she continued on to her room. Maura and Myesha listened as her door closed with a thump.
“I’m tired of looking at this filth,” Myesha said tossing the magazine and flashlight onto Maura’s bed. “It’s making me think about a man.”
“Keep your filthy business to yourself,” Maura said.
“You keep your nasty business to yourself. I hear you moaning over there late at night. You dyke,” Myesha huffed. She covered her head, and soon fell asleep.
Maura found the penlight and pulled the bedspread over her shoulders. She placed the magazine inside her Algebra book and started her journey from page one, stopping to examine each of the pictures as if she was an archaeologist studying ancient bones. Page after page, she observed the women and men depicted in carnal pleasure, paying close attention to the women on their knees sucking cock. Maura noted how their pleading eyes to the Virgin Mary’s looking up at Joseph who stared at disbelief at the child lying in a bed of straw. On the next page, a woman in a red negligee and Christmas lights squatted on all fours. A white cock split her vagina like a peach while she gorged on the black dick in front of her. Her gown wrapped around her neck like a wreath. Two pages over, two women faced each other as a man drilled into each of them from the rear. In the next photo, the women tongued one another. The endless acts of female supplication confused Maura. Her grandmother had warned her and Myesha that such vulgarity was evil. A woman was not supposed to even touch herself unless bathing. Her female teachers nourished Maura with images and ideas of strong women looking past the glass ceiling into the wide-open corporate universe. Yet in this Hustler universe the man’s cock ruled and women were to worship and give pleasure to men. Maura wondered if her teacher had sold her a bill of goods, and perhaps Oprah Winfrey or Mary Clark-Bethune or Eleanor Roosevelt weren’t the standard bearer of women at all. Were these women with their legs and mouths opened the real women of the world, Maura asked herself
Maura knew Myesha had a different world-view and liked boys. Her sister paid scant attention to their grandmother on the subject of touching oneself. While pretending to be asleep, she listened to Myesha moan and pull the sheet or a pillow between her thighs. Big Mama Mamie accused Myesha of “smelling herself.” Whatever it was that Myesha smelled, boys must have smelled it too, Maura thought. At school, they swarmed around her like mosquitoes. Maura kept her nose in in her schoolbooks and the Bible. That pleased their grandmother who thought women needed more bible learning than school learning. She reluctantly allowed her employers to use their influence to get the gifted Maura and Myesha enrolled into Vanguard High. She constantly reminded the two girls, “The white folk’s not responsible for your soul. I am. Smart or not, y’all will not be hussies.” And it had been Maura who faithfully tried to live by her grandmother’s word until this magazine entered her world.
As Maura flipped the pages, her eyes fell upon a man squirting a woman between the legs with a water hose. She thought about the time while taking a shower, a blast of water shot between her legs, and she had to grasp the towel rack to keep from falling. After a moment, the tingling and quivering spell passed. Her mind told her to lie down with her legs opened and let the water cast its spell on her again, but she assumed it was the devil speaking and hurried out of the tub. She feared taking showers even after gym class, and would only let a trickle of water hit her body. When she managed to talk to Myesha about her experience, her sister laughed. “Don’t let granny find out you’re making love with God’s water. She’ll get ya!” Maura prayed for weeks asking God to take away her desire for carnal quenching water.
God must have gone to bed tonight as Maura turned the pages of Hustler. Her “carnal” thoughts returned, and her hand slipped down to stroke the soft hairs between her legs. Her fingers found her clitoris and lingered a while before taking off in circles that made her head swim. Her mouth opened and her legs parted to allow more of her hand to enter. The sensation she had felt in the shower returned and spread like warm water across her belly. She stifled her moans and clamped her jaws tight. If Big Mama Mamie had been passing the room at that moment, she might have thought Maura was ill and stuck her head in the door. Maura lay in the dark as her tremors eased. She sniffed her hands. They smelled of mud pies made with piss. Myesha began to snore, and Maura wondered if her older sister had heard her “smelling herself?”
Morning came, and Maura thought she was still dreaming when she woke up to the smell of percolating coffee. In her dream, dozens of naked women paraded through the coffee shop on Vanguard’s campus followed by a trail of boys. She had tried to stop the women, but they marched through her as if she was air.
She saw the sky’s reddish tint and knew Big Mama Mamie was up and would soon be barging into their room to wake them. Unthinking, and obeying one of their Grandmother’s commandments to put things back where you found them, Maura jammed the magazine in Myesha’s backpack. As usual, Myesha was sullen in the mornings and didn’t care for conversation as she and Maura walked to their bus stop. Maura busied herself memorizing an algebraic equation that was going to be on a test and forgot about the magazine. She planned to get it from Myesha later that night.
Before the bell rang to signal the end of the school day, Maura was summoned to the Principal’s office. She hoped as she trotted down the hall, he had approved her idea for a field trip to see an Accounting Firm in action. All of the kids in her math class thought that would be the most boring trip on the planet and had been pushing for NASA. When Maura got to the office, she saw her Grandmother sitting in a chair directly in front of Mr. Dobbins. Myesha sat in a side chair next to the wall with her head down. Her Grandmother looked at her, but before she could say anything, Mr. Dobbins asked Maura to sit down. He pulled the magazine from his desk drawer. A flake of mud fell onto his desk. Maura swallowed. She prayed her Grandmother hadn’t seen any dirt on her sheets when she made up her bed. The old lady wasn’t educated, but she was good at putting two and two together.
“Do you know anything about this Maura?” Mr. Dobbins asked.
Maura glanced at the magazine, frowned, and looked away. She shook her head.
“Speak up, girl!” Her Grandmother’s voice was sharp and cut Maura like a whip.
“No Ma'am, I mean no Sir.”
“Are you sure, Maura,” Her Grandmother asked sternly.
Maura shook her head and mumbled.
“Talk, girl! The devil mumbles.”
Mr. Dobbins opened his mouth to say something. Her Grandmother’s sharp voice cut him off. “She said y’all found it yesterday on the way from school.” Big Mama Mamie nodded toward Myesha. The magazine had fallen out of Myesha’s backpack when she opened it to give her Religious Studies teacher a paper that was due.
“I never seen it before,” Maura lied.
She looked at her Grandmother earnestly to convince the old woman and to avoid Myesha’s piercing eyes. Mr. Dobbins sighed and gave a lecture expressing his disappointment in Myesha and announced she would be suspended from school for three days.
It was a long commute from Vanguard High in South Park to Lockwood Street in Fifth Ward. Deacon Citizen drove his old Cadillac as if he was leading a funeral. He avoided the freeways, saying they wore on his nerves. Maura stared at Deacon Citizen’s withered neck or at Myesha’s backpack on the floorboard. She ignored the deacon’s eyes glancing at her in the rearview mirror. When she thought it was safe, she flashed her eyes at Myesha who looked out the window as if she was seeing the world for the last time. Maura wished the ride would last the rest of their lives. Their Grandmother said nothing during the trip except to acknowledge the occasional utterance from Deacon Citizen as he pointed out some landmark familiar to him. Usually, it was a spot where someone had “Got killt.” Big Mama Mamie grimaced and clutched her large purse that held the “filthy” magazine as though it might fly out and fill the car with a putrid smell.
“I’m going to make her burn this filth,” Big Mama Mamie had given a reluctant Mr. Dobbins as her reason for wanting the magazine.
Deacon Citizen’s memories rattled loose when he passed a familiar spot. “Boston killt that man right over there. Remember that Mamie? Over there is where they found that girl dead. Her husband killt her. The police killt that boy who robbed that filling station over yonder.”
Maura watched her Grandmother nod her head, but she knew the old lady wasn’t paying any attention to Deacon Citizen. She knew Myesha was in for hard punishment when she heard her Grandmother mutter under her breath, “Her religious teacher, Lord, have mercy.” Before Deacon Citizen pulled out of their gravel driveway, Big Mama Mamie was pulling switches from the chinaberry tree.
The beating and screaming seemed to go on all night. Maura was made to stay in her room and study her “lessons.” The bedroom door was shut, but Myesha pushed it open in an attempt to escape the old woman wielding the switches that bit into her flesh. Myesha was naked and her thighs and belly covered with welts.
“Filth! Filth! Filth!” Their Grandmother shouted as she dragged Myesha out of the room. “Shut your lying screaming mouth! Trying to drag your sister into that filth. I bet you got that magazine from that boy on the football team. He trying to fill your head with ideas. But I’m going to beat every last one of them filthy ideas out of you. You’re as black and black-hearted as your mama was. But you gonna be red from head to toe when I get through with you.”
More licks and screams followed until the only sounds heard were Myesha’s whimpering, and the switches striking a table or chair. Maura peeped out the door to see Myesha struggling to crawl across the living room toward the lopsided Christmas tree. Spots of blood on the white linoleum followed her. Their Grandmother continued her brutality, calling upon the Lord to help her. Myesha had lost the ability to scream. All she could do was shake and crawl.
“Please, Granny, please stop!” Maura ran and grabbed her grandmother’s arm. Big Mama Mamie jerked away and raised the switches toward Maura. But when she saw the tears in Maura’s eyes, she dropped her hand and the switches fell to the floor. She looked at Myesha for a moment before going to her room and slamming the door. Maura tried to help her sister up, but she pushed her away and crawled to their room. Big Mama Mamie came and threw a bottle of Mercurochrome on Myesha’s bed along with a wad of cotton.
“Clean yourself up, gal!”
She tossed the Hustler on Maura’s bed. “Go outside and burn this filth in the barbecue pit and scatter the ashes where the dog goes and shits. Maybe them ashes keep him out of my garden.” Big Mama Mamie commanded. Myesha sat quivering on her bed with a yellow spread pulled around her shoulders. “You’ll burn in hell one day,” the old lady admonished.
Maura threw the magazine on top of the pit and lit the charcoal. Her guilt rose with the flames. She knew her “I ain’t never seen it before” lie had caused Myesha to receive the full force of Big Mama Mamie’s wrath. Maura wondered if Myesha would ever speak to her again. Big Mama Mamie wouldn’t allow any pouting. But Myesha was the kind of sister who marked her time and let revenge ferment until she was ready to serve her poisonous wine. She had seen her put a garter snake in a cousin’s book bag months after the girl had made her mad and everyone thought all had been forgiven. Plus, Myesha had stolen one of their Aunt Trulla’s hoodoo books and practiced casting spells on anyone she disliked. Maura knew she was in danger, but didn’t know from which direction revenge would come flying after her.
The charcoal sputtered as if dying and Maura dashed more fluid into the pit. The flames came to life and licked the pages. The paper curled and the breasts, vaginas, cocks, all turned to ash. Maura wondered if this was how one “burned in hell?” Was she carrying out and act of God or the devil’s work? She cocked her head to hear if anyone screamed for mercy. However, the night was quiet, except for the crackling fire. Red-tipped embers floated in the darkness and a plume of black smoke veiled the moon.
When the blaze died, Maura dumped the ashes and noticed a picture had been left untouched by the flames. In the photo a woman squatted between a man’s legs with her mouth wrapped around his cock. The fact that the picture had survived the fire intrigued her. Instead of using the barbecue fork to place the photo atop the remaining glowing charcoal, she watched Big Mama Mamie reading her bible. Her room bathed in yellowish light blinded her to what was going on outside. Maura picked up the picture and stuck it deep in her bra. She scattered the rest of the ashes where her Grandmother had commanded, making sure she avoided piles of dog shit.
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