Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Promised Land

Jeanne Damoff pushed the writing bar this morning when she posted her submission to the Relief Journal Daily Sacrament Contest. So I am stepping out on my faith and am posting mine. In retrospect I am beginning to believe that I am not great with writing fiction based on theme.Tell me what you think. How could I make this story better? Don't worry, I have can take any comments you throw at me. :)

And if you entered the contest, link your story here or The Master's Artist Blog.

Filename: j0409751.jpg Keywords: buildings, crosses, photographs ... File Size: 84 KB
The Promised Land
By D.Dee Stewart

The best thing Jessica Fontenot’s mother ever did was catch the Holy Ghost while Pastor Shirley Caesar sang Hold my Mule in the Gospel Tent at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. The woman jumped so high and fast she forgot she was eight months pregnant. Jessica was born in Tulane University Hospital. Sherman Washington, the Gospel Tent coordinator bought her a white christening gown her mother used the moment she got back to her home church, St. Phillip AME in Atlanta, Georgia.

Jessica hadn’t stepped foot in that church since her mom died, but when she passed by it on her way to the Salvation Army Center in Lawrenceville she scooted down in her seat and cringed.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of, hon…”

A Salvation Army volunteer, named Mary Margaret Oliver patted her shoulders. As hot as it was outside the woman wore a black polyester skirt suit that made Jessica’s skin itch.

“You’re safe now. We’re going to help you and your baby start a new life here. Nothing to fear now. You’ve made it through the storm.”

Jessica sighed. As far as she was concerned she was riding right into it.

Unlike cramped and trashed Atlanta, Lawrenceville looked like a prototype for Heaven. Clean roads. No trash. No homeless people camped under overpasses. A Publix or Kroger grocers on every other corner. People walking small dogs with smiles on their faces. New homes forted with green picket fences, and a church parking lot filled with goodies and good people waving them in. And pretty flowers planted all over the place.

The bus turned around in the parking lot and stopped. She rolled her window down just to smell the sweet air. How could one side of Atlanta be so incredibly different and better?

She pulled her baby closer to her and snuggled her nose with hers. We’re going to have a good life, Calla. Mama made a good decision this time.

Just as she was about to leave the bus with the others Mary Margaret caught her shirtsleeve, then whispered in her ear. “I need to speak with you for a minute.”

M&M, Jessica decided to dub her after learning way too much about the twenty-five year old missionary mom who lost her way as a sixteen-years-old when she dropped out of high school for an education in meth and oxy from a boyfriend who strangled her and left her for dead in some town called Grayson. But M &M didn’t have to spill her guts for Jessica to know that the girl had experienced a lot of crap in her life. Pain knows pain. Game recognizes game.

So of course Jessica longed for the new look in M & M’s eyes, a look of security, peace and a joy she could only relate when she smelled her daughter’s hair. But as she stood there waiting for M& M to speak, she shuddered. Could M& M recognize her game?

Mary Margaret walked her around the bus. When she turned around her face seemed overcome with that joy look again. Jessica felt a twinge of jealousy. M&M lifted her eyes toward the sky, as if she was waiting for Gabriel to come down from Heaven and tell her what to say.

Jessica sighed relief.

“From the moment we met, Jessica, I clearly felt that God has something special in store for you…”

Jessica gulped. Up to this point she didn’t think God really gave a damn about her, except to make her life Hell. She had been at the Georgia Dome since forever. Then she had to scratch and claw her way on that bus.

She looked around and saw her bus buddies picking up supplies and moving toward a new freedom.

“Can you tell me what that something special is before it’s stale? I mean. It’s getting late and I need pampers for Calla and I need my housing voucher so we can settle in somewhere. I met a girl who said she could be roommates with me.”

She shook her head. “You’re not getting a voucher.” She squealed. “Something much better.”

Jessica’s face fell. “What?”

M & M clapped her hands, but no noise came out. “You are going to live with the Stimelings. Isn’t that great?”

“The who?”

M & M pointed toward the left side of the parking lot at a group of white people standing by a blue van with a huge University of Tennessee logo on its back. Jessica felt her eyes roll to the back of her head. This is what I get for trusting an ex-drug-feen.

She moved Calla on her left hip and turned to M&M. “This ain’t gon’ work. I can’t live with those people. I’ve been through too much the last few days to be living under somebody else’s rules. This ain’t cool, and I didn’t ask you to do that.”

M&M’s face turned sallow. Tears began to well in her eyes. “Why the Heaven’s not? You would be living in the same neighborhood I live in. We could see each other every day.”

“Then why can’t I live with you?”

“Because it’s not the best thing in your case.”

“My case? What does that mean? I don’t need anyone to take care of me. What I need is a little help to get on my feet. What I needed was my housing voucher, so I could get a place, then get a job to afford that place, then get off government assistance, show my daughter a better life and not look back at the Hell I just come from.”

“But that’s what the Stimelings could do for you. You would live in their in-law suite and have your own private entrance. They wouldn’t disturb you. You would be safe.”


Jessica looked at the people standing by the van. The man of the house wore a gray beard and glasses, but he looked kind of hip with his tight t-shirt and jeans look. Quite fit for his age. He was ready for a new adventure. The lady was blonde. She had a slight twitch in her right knee and her smile was more like a squint. She was nervous. They had two teenagers, a boy with bangs too long for his bright blue eyes. She could see them from where she stood. And the girl was plump, and had rosy cheeks. Her smile took up her face. Jessica could tell she deserved a friend.

“Look, Jessica. If you want, you can stay with me. I just thought that with the baby and all the other things you didn’t need to be on your own…” Her voice trailed off. She looked toward the Salvation Army church steeple.

Jessica looked with her, wondering if there was something M&M saw that kept her from completing her thought. But all she saw were more people coming in and out of the building, driving off with food, pampers, and big Cabbage Patch Dolls. This church was the Promised Land. She prayed she could get inside in time.

Then she noticed the Stimelings walking toward them. Mrs. Stimeling trailing behind, but Mr. Stimeling walking tall. Jessica leaned forward to make out what his t-shirt said. Gwinnett County Sheriff. Her chest tightened. Shoot. He’s a cop.

Her feet suddenly felt stuck in the parking lot. She had come this far for nothing. She looked at M &M, who now had a sour, more Skittles look about her. Game recognizes game. She thought. Somehow M &M knew that she wasn’t a Katrina evacuee, but running away from her gangsta baby daddy last night. Her heart sank.

She kissed the top of Calla’s head and smelled it. There’s a sweet perfection about that smell that spoke to her soul, calmed it down, and made her believe that God wasn’t so bad. That same smell gave her courage to slip away in the middle of the night, and walk her and Calla through Vine City to the Georgia Dome. It gave her mother’s wit when she scooted herself in line with the Katrina evacuees. It gave her nerves of still when she told the United Way Volunteers and M&M a lie. It gave her comfort right now when she knew she was probably going to jail for fraud and would never smell or see her daughter again.

Maybe she wouldn’t get to experience this slice of Heaven here, but Calla would. Some family would smell her hair, then adopt her and give her the life she deserved. She began to quiver and cry as they approached her. She did came what she came to do.

M&M turned to her. “Here’s your chance to get out of this storm. Are you going to take it?”

Jessica looked at her. She was puzzled by her question.

M&M smirked. “Game recognizes game, hon. And a mother recognizes a mother. The devil you’re hiding from won’t dare look for you there.”

“How did you know about me?”

“You’ve been hiding that bruise on your cheek by holding Calla up to your head. Kim Stimeling is a nurse. She’ll take good care of you.”

Jessica felt her body quake and looked toward the steeple. People probably pass this place every day without a thought, drop off canned goods and toys and feel a twinge of good deed in them when they do. But as Jessica looked at it she believed she could see her mother dancing at the top of it with the other angels, flying up to Heaven and giving M&M more words to say, more grace, and more second chances.

The best thing Jessica’s mother ever did was catch the Holy Ghost while Pastor Shirley Caesar sang Hold my Mule in the Gospel Tent at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, then have her in Tulane University Hospital, so she could have a Louisiana birth certificate when a huge storm rushed through in her life and floated her to a slice of Heaven on the other side of her world.


Michelle Pendergrass said...

"Game recognizes game."

You got it girl. I love this story, it is raw and real and gorgeous.

Are these the same characters from your other story (was it the conversion story?) I loved that one, too, even if I don't remember specifics, I remember it being really emotional and just as raw and beautiful.

Dee said...

No, but the theme of Hurricane Katrina is the same.


Jeanne Damoff said...

Dee, I don't know why you dislike your story. I enjoyed it very much. You capture the little details that make people real--like the way the scent of a baby's hair can bring joy and hope. And it's true that we tend to recognize "game" in a person who has walked the same paths we have.

I like the way you reiterated your opening at the end. Very effective here.

Thanks for sharing this.


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