During her senior year in high school, renowned sculptor Tonya Mimms discovered that she is different from all the other girls, except for that one girl, who winked her left eye at Tonya and made her feel as though she had been kissed on the nape of her neck. Since that horrifying, precious day, Tonya has been using her artwork to forget how painfully sweet that wink felt.
Ten years later, Tonya meets Malcolm Holland, a charming accountant with a dazzling gap between his teeth that lures her in the way a man’s secrets seduces a woman’s ear. Suddenly, that girl from high school fades from her memory as Tonya finds herself genuinely in love with a man for the first time in her life. But Tonya’s happiness turns to fearful bliss when she happens upon Satin Pierce, an alluring, fascinating bookstore owner, who has one of Tonya’s sculptures prominently displayed on a shelf in her bedroom, as if in anticipation for the fateful day that she will make Tonya remember the thrilling sweetness of that first kiss on her nape.
She’d come in the middle of the year, right after the Christmas holidays. Some said that she transferred from Walbrook, others claimed that she came from Forest Park. But neither of these schools gave us the ammunition we needed to turn gossip into fact. Then one day while we were showering after gym and talking about her—it seemed that we were always talking about her—my best friend Nikki came up with the evidence we’d been looking for to explain the difference we all felt about her.
Nikki transformed talking about people into an art, but she didn’t do it because she was insecure or cruel. She did it because she had a knack for it, and it was fun. Nothing interested or entertained her more than analyzing people, using their facial expressions, walks, laughs and words to unmask them and then give us just the right tidbit that would make a rumor travel like gospel through the grapevine.
While Nikki lathered her body, she dropped on us the speculated truth that would send the girl up the river. “Na-uh,” Nikki said to the list of schools. “I heard that that girl came from Western.”
This explained everything and explained nothing at the same time. So it was followed by a loud chorus of long “Oooooh’s!” that said, I see! and hard sucks of teeth that said, No wonder! because Western was an all girl school.
Who knows how or why rumors like these get started? But by the first week in February, the buzz at Northwestern was that the new girl, Meyoki Outlaw, was . . . funny.
I never said much about Meyoki. I just listened to what was whispered about her in the hallways, cafeteria and girls’ shower. I also watched her, trying to see if any of it was true. A few times I caught myself sketching her in the pages of my loose-leaf notebook when I should have been copying something off the blackboard or taking lecture notes. She was tall (at least six feet), dark brown, and thin with two small handfuls of perky breasts. She had wide-open eyes the color of brown sugar. She wore her hair braided in rows of tight, silky plaits, and had three gold earrings in each ear and a wide gold band on her left thumb. But the thing that drew me to her the most was the wonderful tapping sound she made behind her full, saucy lips. I used to listen for it everywhere, trying to figure out how she did it.
Meyoki took gym with us, and I’d often find an excuse to look in her direction or walk pass her aisle in the locker room while she was dressing or undressing. But if she looked at me, I’d turn my head and walk away as fast as anything on two legs.
Around the end of April the rumors about Meyoki started getting vicious. We had her sleeping with female teachers, cheerleaders, girls on the basketball, softball, tennis, track, and badminton teams. She couldn’t walk to class without people pointing, staring, whispering, and giggling at her. Couldn’t eat lunch without hearing a table of students bursting out in laughter from a joke told about her. Finally, I guess it all became too much and Meyoki lashed out.
It happened one Friday after gym. We were in the shower, talking about Meyoki, when she stepped in the doorway. Everybody shut up and gawked at her. She stood there for a minute and stared back at us, looking from one side of the steamy, white tiled room to the other. The shower room had never been so quiet and was never meant to be. It was supposed to be filled with girlish giggles and jokes about who liked what boy, or what hairstyles, shoes and clothes were in or out of fashion. There was none of that kind of talk going on. The only thing you heard was water gushing out of the showerheads and running down the drains in thick gurgles.
Meyoki shook her head as if we were the most pitiful souls she’d seen that day. After what seemed like hours of us staring at her and her shaking her head in pity at us, Meyoki curved her lips into a devilish smile then took off her towel right there in the doorway. The shower exploded in gasps. How could she do that? I wondered. I could have never done anything like that. I didn’t like taking showers at school. The only thing I hated more than taking showers at school was being constantly teased for the one time that I was too shy to shower way back in ninth grade. So I suffered through it, wrapping my body in a long beach towel like a cocoon, and praying, always in vain, that by the time I reached the shower, my small breasts would blossom, my straight hips would become curvy and my thin legs would grow long and shapely.
But Meyoki’s body was just like that. I guess that’s how she could walk slowly through the shower wearing nothing except the shiny, gold ring in her naval. Goodness, how that must have hurt, I thought.
Meyoki passed unoccupied showerheads and headed toward the very last one so that we all could get a good, long look at her. Girls were whispering and elbowing each other, but not one took their eyes off her. I know I didn’t. I watched every inch of her body swaying and jiggling, and I listened to her perfect feet slapping on the wet tile, although they sounded more like hands clapping. That was the second time in my life that I’d heard a woman make her own music with her footsteps. I liked her sound. It was brave and catchy, just like her.
When she got near the shower that I was using, Meyoki paused then quickly closed her left eye and smiled. The blink of her long eyelashes felt like they’d kissed me on the nape of my neck, and I’d never been kissed there before.
There were no fervent, glowing, orange flames to be seen, nor was there the stench of thick black smoke stifling the air, nor was there the crackling sound of burning flesh. But my body was on fire! There I was engulfed in this invisible, odorless blaze that was threatening to reduce me to a smoky pile of black ashes, even as I stood in the shower with water running on my back. All because some girl winked her left eye at me!
Excerpt from Water In A Broken Glass by Odessa Rose. Copyright© 1999 by Odessa Rose. Excerpted by permission of La Caille Nous Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.
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