Mr. Bradford and His Ox Collection

Flash Fiction

Photo by Samuel Sweet via Pexels

Mr. Bradford, the town farmer, has an ox collection. I mean . . . we call him the town farmer because it sounds a lot better than “The Town Lunatic.” He lives out near the Crescent Mountains on 200 acres of inherited land that he has kept maintained and ran like a tight ship for twenty years. He has a collection of oxen that increases every few months. There are no cows or bulls to be seen — none, only oxen.

Father Tony says he cannot part with any of them, not even as a source of sustenance or profit. He is attached — connected deeply to each of them and with time, this fascinating truth only gets weirder.

My name’s Toby Clemmons. I live five miles away from Mr. Bradford. My family’s his closest neighbors. Me and my best friend, Buddy Newsom, have walked his land in secret every other Saturday for the last three years. He’s got corn stalks, fields of wheat grain, collard greens, cucumbers, cabbage, and squash. Oh and his oxen. No chickens. No hogs or pigs. No horses.

My nana says he had his manhood stripped away from him when he was in his teens — something about being a sex-addicted fiend who couldn’t keep his third leg in his pants.

Me and Buddy were sitting on my porch one Thursday after school and she had been rocking back and forth in her rocker, smoking on that stinking pipe of hers when suddenly she struck up a conversation with us. “Old Man Bradford had his pecker tweaked and boys snipped when he was a young’un. He had a hard time learnin’ to be decent. He’d often run around town naked threatenin’ to stick that penciled thing in any of the town girls.”

I looked at Buddy. He looked at me. We looked at my nana. “Say what now, Nana?!” She patted the arm of the rocker, tapped the booty of the pipe, and stuck the tail back into her mouth. Mini smoke plumes circled around us as we sat with our mouths completely open. “The Griffith brothers got’im. They’d heard what he’d been doin’ — caught wind of it through Father Tony’s sister Cindy and her friend Maggie. They attacked Old Man Bradford one night when he’d been headin’ home. That ain’t a way to lose what God gave ya — no sleepin’ med’cin or anything like that. Castrated and left to bleed in the middle of Bennyhill Road, holdin’ what he ain’t even had no more.”

As you can probably imagine, me and Buddy probed her to go on for this was a story we hadn’t heard and I was almost positive my folks weren’t going to tell me anything like this. So, me and Buddy sat there hellbent on listening to Nana. “Sheriff Yates and his deputies went searchin’ for the Griffith boys that night, couldn’t find’em. Some say they took the next train to Norfolk. Others say some no-gooder named Tommy Stacks loaded’em all up in his Cadillac and drove four towns over. I don’t know which story to believe, but if you ask me, Bradford’s been a whole lot calmer since he lost his manhood.”

I know what you’re thinking. Maybe he collects oxen because they too have been stripped of what many believe makes a male, a male. I would agree with you. But my best pal Buddy put a bug in my ear that made me see things differently. “Them oxen ain’t judgin’ him, Toby. He can load’em all up, care for them the way he knows how — run on empty or be as off as the day is long, and guess what?! They ain’t gonna say a thing. They’re just gonna go about their days grazin’ on grass, shittin’ all over the fields, and being right there for Mr. Bradford when he needs them.”

The day Buddy told me this, I began seeing Mr. Bradford in a different light. To many in the town, he had been a man who had several screws loose — one who, if we had the courage to actually say the word “rapist,” would, in fact, be that word — an outcast, cast out, who would never be allowed back in. I opened my eyes and I see a man who never learned what respect is — how to give it or how to receive it. He never learned there is a time and a place for everything. He had no other way of expressing himself.


Me and Buddy were taking the back roads to get to Mr. Bradford’s fields when we spotted Father Tony. I decided to pick Father Tony’s brain. He was, after all, Mr. Bradford’s only friend.

“Father Tony! Hey! Father Tony! Can we ask you something?”

“Sure. What about?”

“My nana says Mr. Bradford lost his manhood when he was a boy to the Griffith brothers after he’d been trying to mess around with some girls in town. Is this true? Is this how he lost his mind?”

“Your nana said what, Toby?! Have mercy. Listen to me and listen to me good, boys. Daniel Bradford fought in ‘Nam and came home to his father’s death. Two years after that, his mother died too. No siblings. No cousins. No family. That farm you see him working on all the time was his father’s great-grandfather’s farm. His mind ain’t been the same since he came back from the war. As for his manhood — he attempted to court Lily Fleming one night at Vee’s Diner and she declined his invite loudly on a Friday night when the place was packed. He came home that very night, chopped off his frank and beans, and nearly bled to death.”

“Jesus Christ, Father Tony!”

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, boy. You heard me right. I’d been sitting up in my room feeling kind of down and something kept punching me in the gut. Something that said, “Get on over to Daniel’s place now.” So I hopped in my cruiser, sped through the back roads, and got to the farm just in time.”

Buddy looked over at me and shook his head. We didn’t know which story to believe now. Both stories could be movie thrillers, but this was Father Tony and my nana probably hadn’t taken her pills the day she fed me and Buddy that mess about Mr. Bradford.

“So, that’s what really happened?”

“That’s what happened, boys.”

“So, why doesn’t he talk? Can he talk? He always stares blankly with that boring smile on his face and waves flimsily at us.”

Father Tony shook his head and let out a loud sigh of disbelief. I don’t know if he couldn’t believe we asked this question or he couldn’t believe he was being asked to answer it, but all the same . . .

“I didn’t get there in time to stop that part. He’d managed to cut half of his tongue out too. Said it’d prevent him from ever asking another woman out. This, he had to write out during the police report and hospital intake.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. This man . . . This man really didn’t have anyone but those oxen of his. Well and Father Tony. I didn’t know it at the time, but Buddy slapped me on the back and said, “Toby! Man, you’re crying. You all right?!” I was all right, but I wasn’t.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and sweated through the sheets. I went downstairs for a drink of milk and Nana was sitting at the table in the dark, smoking on that stinking pipe. She looked up at me and smiled a sly smile. It was then I realized Nana’s maiden name was “Fleming”. I’d never called her “Lily,” only “Nana.”

“A damn shame, ain’t it?”

And that’s all she said.


Originally published in The Weekly Knob via Medium.

Muddy Girls

Muddy Girls

Sky’s Falling Girls Make Mud Pies

Photo by Daiga Ellaby via Unsplash

“Lacy! Gimme that mud bucket! Is Sky over there? Is it spitting out mud?! We need more mud for these pies!”

Lacy looks towards her bossy twin, tilts her head, and casually skips over to Missy with Sky in the muddy bucket. They have mud pies to make.

“Here! You ain’t gotta be all direct about things, Missy. I could’ve heard you all the way down the Chattahoochee River. You need to learn how to talk to people. Didn’t Mama tell you that? Didn’t Aunt May?”

Lacy, the quiet one, usually the one to smooth things over when things got out of control, has been frustrated with her twin sister for a few days. This one event lit an already fiery flame within her. She was tired of Missy and someone had to let her know. Totty follows close by. She wants to see what her two big sisters have brewing.

“All’s I said was to bring the bucket over and look after Sky too. That was a great big ole piece we pulled from behind Ms. Ruby’s shed. I don’t want us to lose it.”

“You oughta go’on and apologize, Missy. Don’t be so bossy all the time. It ain’t ladylike.”

Missy sucks her teeth, rolls her eyes, and blows out a raspy breath. Lacy stands her ground. Totty reaches for her sister’s hand and squeezes it. They both watch Missy struggle to make amends — to admit wrong.

“Okay, Lacy. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been so demandin’. I was excited. Can you forgive me?”

Lacy looks at Missy, searches her eyes for truth, and finds it. She accepts her sister’s apology. It is pie-making time.

“Okay, I accept it. Just — you mind your manners and don’t let it happen again or me and Totty’ll go right on home.”

The girls scoop mud up by the handful, plop it into three buckets, then spread the contents in three pans. Each lump is layered atop the other and within minutes, an ultimate mud pie is made. Totty jumps at the opportunity to stick her fingers in the gooey dirt, then slaps it across her face.

“TOTTY! Whatchudoin’?!” They both scream at their toddler sister, reprimanding her for being curious. “YOU ALMOST ATE SKY! That’s not for you to eat, Totty. It’s for us to build muddy sky pies with.”

Totty shrugs her shoulders. She shakes the mud at her fingers sending muddy bits flying into the air. The sky changes color. What was once a sinner’s yellow is now a saint’s orange. It is getting late.

“We better get movin’,” Missy exclaims.

“Right. Mama will have our hides if we don’t beat the crickets’ song and Ms. Ruby’s porch light.”

The three of them run as fast as they can, buckets of muddy sky piled upon each other, dirty clothes and pruned fingertips are signs of a good time.

The night is tailing them and Sky fades to black the moment their shoes meet the front door.


Originally published in The Weekly Knob via Medium.

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Black Is Bold

Black Is Bold

Living As A Bisexual Black Woman In The South

 

Jessica Felicio|Unsplash

had a friend, a long time ago, who read something of mine posted on another writing platform and ripped it to shreds. Another friend who saw the comment from that friend of ours sent me a text message that said, You are not writing for the minds of those who cannot understand, Tre. You are writing for the cosmos, girl. Since then, I have taken the last bit of her comment and applied it to my life. I am living for the cosmos.

What am I? Who am I? How do I fit into this world that oftentimes does not see me? Black can be offensive to those who are not used to being bold.

Let me break that down…

The very force in which we make ourselves known is too much for some to handle. When we get together and voice our opinions on things that matter, subjects that are for our personal gain (and rightfully so), the passion in which we express ourselves to some is too intense. We are intense. We are extreme. We have every right to stand tall, proud, and be forthcoming about who we are and what we give to a world that still benefits from seeing us ostracized.

Someone asked me recently who I am — how would I describe myself using only three words? I said, “Black, woman, and bisexual.” She then looked at me as if I had two heads, one viciously snapping at the other. I asked, “Should I expound?” And of course, I needed to. In the American South, I have three strikes against me before I open my mouth. I am Black. I am a woman. I am bisexual. To be just one of these three descriptions in 2019 is a struggle, but to be all three? That is a welcome mat for homicide.

Some say, we are living in a forward-thinking age, but we are nowhere near a time that will lend us peace wherever we may roam. I am being reminded daily that I am beautiful. That I am designed just right. That every layer of skin and its tone is what I was meant to carry. This is my cross to bear — I have to search for these reminders. I have to dig. I have to create the space I need for comfort, it is not readily prepared or given to me. I have to take it.

I Am Black’s Beauty…

i am always burning and no one knows my name
i am a nameless fury, i am a blues scratched from
the throat of ms. nina—i am always angry.” — Mahogany L. Browne


dated a guy while in my twenties who said to me, “There’s nothing left for a man to give you, Tre.” I thought it to be the oddest, most ignorant thing for someone to say. The comment led to our first major argument. Do I not need love? Do I not need comfort? Am I not worthy of someone who can step in and just be what I need him or her to be when I need it? He tried to explain to me that his comment was solely to point out that I was independent, in constant survival-mode, stable, and did not need “help” from him. This was before my coming out days, but he knew of my sexuality — he knew who I truly was.

To say that we were “young and dumb,” would probably be apt, but we both knew what and who we wanted and it was not each other. He needed a woman who needed him and often showed it, made him “feel like a man.” I wanted a man who acknowledged my independence, stood by it, and still loved me without measuring what I could and could not do. It was best that we parted ways. That experience taught me that all that I am will not be accepted by everyone. All that I am will not be applauded by everyone.

Black is sweet. Black is love. Black is light. Black is struggling to make ends not only meet but stick together forever. Black is golden. Black is the blues and soul-saving poetry. Black is picking up the pieces, putting them in their rightful place, and moving on.

I am Black. I am a woman. I am bisexual. And in the American South, I am still trying to push my voice out to a world that does not hear me, sometimes does not want to see me, and worst of all, will not understand me. “You listen to me and you listen to me well, the next time someone asks you if you are bisexual, you better damn well tell them who you are.” ©My Mom.

Black is the high road, the road less traveled, the road to all of your yellow brick roads. Black is new. Black is old. Black is learning to step aside and honor the ancestors’ calling upon us. Black is sincerity. Black is bold.

Every single day, I am paving a way for myself where in the past, I felt as though I could not. And in the South, I still feel that I cannot. I may not be what someone wants or expects of me. I may not have what someone needs or expects from me. I may be the very last thing you think about and can only provide a tiny space for in the corner of your weeping mind. But I know this —

I am bold.


This is a more in-depth breakdown of the following piece:

Bold
8 Wordsmedium.com
Originally published via Atomic Babes on Medium.

Nectar

Aging and Loneliness

Maria Mekht|Unsplash

In the South, if you are somewhat of a loner and you do not surround yourself with what is new and improved or… what is, who is, and how things are trending, it is easy to fall deeper into the grips of loneliness. Ten years ago, I had a knack for busying myself with things that did not matter much, with things that seemed to fill a pressing void, but as I age, there is no nectar sweet enough to ease the ailments that I have grown prone to feeling.

I cannot lean back into the memories of what got me through the horny nights and draining days. Let me be frank, the other side of the bed is colder than a polar bear’s shoulder and I have forgotten how to right that. Every once in a while, I will poke my head out, look up, down, and all around to see if anyone meets my gaze. I cannot find my half. There is no Adam, no Eve, I am no one’s rib.

I am no one’s end-of-the-day highlight.

The older that I become, the easier it is to see that I have settled into a place where rejection often sends the damned for taking chances in trying to find love but have given up. The cause remains a cause but fighting for it weakens me. I want to feel sweet all over, taken… pressed into like a perfect pitch. I want to be a home run. I want to be sizzling bacon, the welcome smell of soul food in a packed restaurant. Is my tea no longer sweet?

Am I lacking sugar?

I want to be and I don’t want to be all at once. That is a conundrum that renders no solution. I have my own shoes to fill and they seem bottomless. Human beings want to love. We want to be loved. We want to share our lovely love with others who love. This shit should not be hard, but it is. And I digress. I want the taste of pineapple dripping from my lips, the delicate corners of apple slices sticking to my fingers, and buttermilk pancakes loaded with maple syrup. I want the ickiness of it all to drown me then pull me up and out of the water, and guide me safely to shore.

Black women are not attracted to me. Black men are intimidated by me. I am too this or too that to be loved by my own and I have no home anywhere else. I am trapped within the ins and outs of aging with no my place of sweetness to call mine.

I am nectar in waiting.

Someone whole enough will come around to take a bite out of me. I know this. I also know that when the heart is dead-set on shifting gears and loving, it wants what it wants.

In the South, I do not stand out. And what’s worse than any of this…

I don’t know how to.


Originally published on Medium