|Book Excerpt courtesy of
Fj o r d P r e s s
Excerpt from Love Like Gumbo by Nancy
Grace had a lover. Her name was Elena. She was not a Creole boy. Grace couldnt decide which was worse, the fact of her not being a boy or the fact of her not being a Creole. She was Mexican, which Grace considered to be close enough. Both groups were walk-on-your-knees-to-the-basilica people with shrines in their back yards. Elenas family had kicked her out when they discovered she was marimacha, a discovery made with Grace in attendance. Now she lived in a large four-bedroom house on Normandie Avenue with three other fallen-away Catholicsa Lebanese-American who had converted to the Bahai faith, a Korean Quaker, and a Caucasian atheist from Michigan who was very active in the John Brown Anti-Klan Society. Elena was planning to move out in February when the lease came up, and she had asked Grace to move in with her.
At first, Grace had hesitated. Even though theyd been going together for more than four years (theyd met in their junior year at Our Lady of Fatima Girls High School), Grace doubted their love could withstand such intimacy. After all, neither one of them could cook. But life at home had become most stifling with the rising expectations of age. Where were the boys, the pristine young Creole men who came calling after other girls Graces age? She wasnt unattractive. Why didnt she go to parties? Why didnt she fix her hair?
Camille chose to ignore her daughters dalliance with that little Mexican girl, and Graces unbridled affection for Elena was never mentioned by any member of her family. Grace didnt mention it either. She told no one, though they all must have known. They imagined she was having an extended pubescent flirtation, especially given the fact that shed achieved puberty at the age of ten. When she moved out of her mothers house and in with Elena, they would all be forced to know. Grace had no intention of being a Broussard all her life. Between her and freedom lay the Ten Point Plan. Though the implications of the Plan stretched into every area of her lifeshed already had to quit her part-time job at the Louisiana Fish Market to work full-time in a department storeshe meant to see it through.
The first thing she would do was refuse to attend Mass. That was Point One. Her siblings would try to convince her to fulfill her duties, but she wouldnt hear of it. Go without me and pray for my soul, she would mock them. They wouldnt know what to make of her.
While her family was still reeling from the shock of this sin, Grace would hit them with Point Two. She would ruin her hair by picking it out into a large umbrella. The effect would be as great as if she were to rend her garments and put on sackcloth. They would know then that she wasnt playing.
Grace would take advantage of the chaos caused by her ruin and invite Elena to a family dinnerPoint Three. Elena had been to the house on Compton Avenue many times, and once, when Camille and Yvette were at the cemetery, Grace had taken her to the service porch and kissed her everywhere. But she had never invited Elena to a family dinner. That would never do. After all, Elena was not family, no matter how much Grace tried to imagine her thus.
Well, that would change with Point Fourthe red dress. Elena could wear the red dress Grace was planning to buy her. This would make the Broussard brothers swoon and their wives appear dowdy by comparison. Yes, that red dress would give them all pause. And with Grace outfitted in the mens sports jacket she had bought at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop, they would topple right out of their chairs.
Any doubt left about her intentions to vacate the premises would vanish when she introduced Point Five. She would stay out all night. Depending on how awkward the family dinner had been, Points Three, Four, and Five might be executed on the same day. Maybe she and Elena would go dancing. (They hadnt been dancing since T-Papa died.) After working up a holy sweat, they would end up in Elenas bed, cavorting quietly so as not to attract unwanted attention. Elena and Grace had ended this way many times, but Grace had never stayed the night. She would always rush off like Cinderella. Grace and Elena were lovers who had never fallen asleep in each others arms, never woken that way the next morning. The change would be delicious and unforgivable.
After that, there would be nothing to do but announce the movePoint Six. The family would doubtless heave a sigh of relief, for the tension created by the first five points would have brought them to the edge. They could conclude but one thing: Grace would have to go. And she would. Before they suggested it.
She would pack her things (Point Seven)everything but the statues given her by interfering relatives, the holy cards shed collected for years in Catholic schools and never been able to bring herself to throw away, her First Communion dress, and her rosary beads blessed by the Pope.
Then would come moving dayPoint Eight. This would be accomplished with the help of Elenas brother Felipe and his rusty Ford pickup. When Elena was kicked out it meant that she couldnt go home to her family; it didnt mean they couldnt visit her. Both of her parents and each of her four siblings visited her separately and regularly, phoning ahead to make sure she didnt already have company, reassuring her that she would have been invited home ahorita if it were up to the individual speaking. While the Hurtados might help Grace move, the Broussards would not be permitted to lift a box in her behalf. If they participated in her liberation in any way, the victory would not be a true one.
No, the separation had to be convincing and complete. Grace would use Point Nine to signal the permanence of her departure. She would refuse her mothers gumbo. That would be the end. Nothing to do but leave. She had been preparing for a good three months in her head and even longer in her heart, but she worried that she would falter on the judgment day.
All such worries were laid to rest when she contemplated Point Ten. She would change her name. She would exchange it for an ordinary Black name like Washington, Jefferson, or Jackson. If she was really feeling bold, she would drop the slaveowners legacy altogether and put an X where the Broussard had been. (She doubted she would be feeling that bold any time soon.)
If pressed for time, Grace felt she could enact all Ten Points on the same day so long as she was flexible about the order. She could destroy her hair instead of going to Mass, bring a red-dressed Elena to the traditional Sunday gathering of extended family, pack her bags while her brothers swooned over her lover, refuse her mothers gumbo in a loud voice and add, By the way, Im moving, load her things into Felipes truck, and drive off in a state of unadorned bliss that would culminate with an all-night dance of celebration on Elenas bed. In the morning she would wake up with a new name. This scenario exhilarated her.
Having recovered her strength, Grace started back up to where Yvette was kneeling and beseeching the saints. She carried the can of water like a knight hoisting a lance. Her mind was making monstrous plans. She would become a Unitarian. She would never kneel again. No candles or incense allowed within ten feet of her house. No more trips to the cemetery. No more pilgrimages to Louisiana. She would give her statues to the Goodwill. She would not baptize her children. She would not send them to Catholic school. She would raise them as pagan babies. And when they were grown, she would kick them outor better yet, she would never have them in the first place. She would die alone. There would be no angels, no seraphim and cherubim, no heavenly hosts, no sniveling priests, no penitent loved ones at her bedside. She would be cremated. She would go to hell.
Grace was walking along this way, feverish with bad intentions, when she heard someone calling to her.
Where you going, tite fille?
She spun around. T-Papa. She searched the ground to see where the voice was coming from. Behind her, the ground was stirring. The shadow she was casting did not belong to her. It was her fathers shadow, following on her heels. She knew it had to be him because he was the last person she wanted to see. The voice was as real as her own. And the shadow was wearing a hat.
Where you going, little girl?
Stop following me.
If youd slow down a bit, I wouldnt have to follow you. Old man cant walk like he used to.
What are you doing here?
I live here. You came to visit me, didnt you?
I came to visit your grave.
So, why aint you visiting it?
Why arent you in it?
Person gets tired of lying down all day.
What about heaven?
St. Peter didnt want me. Sent me back to look after you.
I dont want you looking after me.
You need somebody looking out for you. Before you go off and do something crazy.
Oh, go to hell, old man.
I never thought Id live to hear my own daughter curse me. Thank God, I didnt.
Theres a lot of things you didnt hear your own daughter doing, even when you were living. And I was doing them right under your nose.
I didnt know you so good. You was so far behind the rest of them.
I was your mistake.
Hush, little girl! You dont know nothing about no mistake. We Catholic. We dont make mistakes. Not that way. You a child of God.
What god? What god am I a child of?
If you dont know, then I cant tell you. Acting like you dont know God! Whats wrong with you, girl? Who you think you talking to?
Theres nothing wrong with me. Nothing you can fix.
Dont be so sure. I know about your little plans. They not gonna work.
Cause you cant leave the family.
Oh, I cant? Watch me!
Im gonna watch you try.
Dont stand in my way, Daddy. Im not your little girl.
Copyright ' 1997 by Nancy Rawles. All rights reserved.