This is a book of such vivid color and explosive feelings that I'm tempted to call it a "Sense-Surround" experience; I felt as if I were in a movie theater. This book IS cinema. From the opening scene, the reader is involved in you-are-there scenarios. The writing is fully engaging. You will identify with some characters, loathe others, and be intrigued by all. There is a lot happening in each and every chapter but the characters are all distinct, and they combine and entwine in fascinating ways. It was a very satisfying read . . . no need to speed through -- savor and let the story unravel. Rita Corchoran
Debra gives an overview of the book:
Late Morning Eastern Time, Thursday, August 10, 2000
Mortified and with shoes in hand, Oma Mae paddled flatfooted to her office door, her burning feet smacking heavily on the tiled hallway floor. “WOMEN DO NOT HAVE HOT FLASHES! THEY HAVE POWER SURGES,” flashed across her brain, the words throbbing in her head like a strobe light on the set of Saturday Night Fever. What in the hell would Gail Sheehy know about hot flashes! I’ll lay odds she was popping estrogen pills like they were M&M’s when she wrote that one, Oma Mae blustered hotly, her breath so hot she quickly sipped it back in to keep it from scorching the tender insides of her feverish lips.
Bumping through the door, she clutched the doorjamb in her free hand as the floor seemed to shift at a strange angle. She waited until the room righted itself again, then steered drunkenly, coaxing her jiggling-like-Jello-in-their-sockets-knees to just hang tight until they got her to her dressing room sink.
Dragging her white Coach purse that was big enough to stow an accordion in, she dropped it with a thump when she approached the dressing room door, watching with total detachment as its feminine contents decorated the floor. All she cared about at the moment was flowing splashing surging gurgling gushing cascading cold water, and if her legs wouldn’t get her there, her addled brain resolved, she would damn well crawl to the sink, if need be.
“Oma?” she heard, the sound too sharp against her pulsating inner ears, the sudden energy of his presence too strong for her fragile equilibrium to withstand. “Oma? Are you all right?” Lee Blakely, her manager and fiancé gently placed his cool palms on her cheeks, tilting her face upward. Her watery eyes and sheen-slicked skin were his tip-off that she was getting ill again from a severe hot flash. “Here, let me help you.” He leaned down, carefully hiked her left arm over his right shoulder, pulling her weight in to him, and walked her into her private dressing room located off one end of her large office. He held her arm as she sank into the barber chair facing an expansive mirror. “I’ll get your purse for you,” he said, almost in a whisper, patting her arm. He quickly filled a glass half full of water, and placed it in her hand before walking away.
Grateful that Andrè and Lily Tate, the husband and wife team who did her hair and make-up had gone for the day, she took a tentative sip of the tepid water, but both her hands and her stomach were too shaky to hold on to it. She waited, rocking on her pelvic bones like a pressure cooker dancing on a red hot flame, willing her body to keep the lid on her symptoms until she could be alone.
“Thanks, baby,” she mumbled when Lee returned with her purse, its contents neatly organized, and zipped safely into its various pockets. He placed the bag on the counter top beside the sink. She handed him the glass, and implored his eyes, silently communicating to him her desperate need to ride this out on her own.
Understanding, he lowered his eyes, and cupped her shoulder lightly with his hand as he turned to leave. “I’ll be right outside in your office if you need me.” He proceeded to the door, closing it softly behind him.
The door handle clicked, the valve on the lid of her symptoms tilted, and her roiling hormones blew, the surge of heat driving her to her feet. Careening to the sink, she steadied herself against the counter top. She jerked a wad of sheets from the paper towel dispenser. Turning on the cold water tap, she held her wrists under the faucet, letting the water flow onto the popping tangle of blue veins below her skin at their undersides. The cool wet towels would feel good against the back of her neck where the muscles cramped with quivering tension, and douse, she hoped, another “power surge,” the episodes seeming to be ordering nearly every aspect of her life lately.
Reluctant to succumb to the allure of an easy, yet controversial hormone replacement drug therapy, she had opted to tough it out the way her mother, and all her female African ancestors had done before her. Her only concession being the aid of herbal remedies that as yet were doing nothing for her, she huffed and puffed, and generally amused those within earshot with her laments about the hardships of menopause.
“Lordy!” she would wail in an imitation of her Grandma Omi Jean. “Da devil done set dis worle on fiyuh. Ain’ no place fo’ any Christian ta be.” Accompanied by the amused snickers of her companions, she would race to the nearest water source, and drench herself with cold water until the hot flash released its hold on her body. Recently however the hot flashes had increased in intensity and duration, her humor flagging with each episode.
Worried lest the pooling perspiration would ruin her new suit, she stripped her jacket and brassiere from her saturated upper body, and with a fresh supply of wet paper towels, carefully swabbed her underarms, breasts and face. Sinking back into her chair, she tilted her whining head into its high back, concentrating on her in-breath and out-breath. In less than ten minutes, that seemed an eternity, her palpitating heart found its regular cadence, and her temperature flattened to normal. Relief washed over her as thoroughly as the hot flash had done, a bottomless hollow fatigue following in its wake. She yawned, a gaping jaw-locking throat-cording yawn wringing slippery tears into her eyes. Too tired to reach for a tissue, she wiped them with the pads of her fingers. Awake since 4:00 a.m., hauled into consciousness too early with yet another disturbing dream, her head ached with a drilling pain just above her left eyebrow, a stabbing rallying pain, tipping her mind back to the dream that had startled her awake, the strangeness of it, the scope of it. Generally, she delighted in waking in the middle of the night, her rested brain spilling with ideas. It was her best time to write, to plan, to meditate. But it was aggravating to lose half a night’s sleep over a disquieting dream. In mid-life, she was discovering, contemplating her mortality, like chugging Metamucil was becoming almost daily fare.
Oma Mae rose to the mirror again to assess the damage her latest foray into menopause had done to her makeup. “Oh Lord,” she moaned. She dampened a tissue and dabbed at the black smudges beneath her eyes where her mascara had run. “I’m going to have to start from scratch” she lamented aloud to her haggard reflection, her body once again sagging with a bone-deep weariness. “Good God. This can’t be me. I’m still just a girl, aren’t I?” she quizzed the decidedly un-girl-like image. “Yeah, right,” she scoffed. “You stopped being a girl a century ago!”
Zooming in for a closer look, she placed her fingers and thumbs at her temples and jowls, tugging upward at the loosening skin, creating a mock face lift. Sneering at her distorted face, she released her flesh, and eyes narrowing, pressed her nose to the mirror. “Are you still in there, Oma Mae Adams?” she inquired ruefully, whispering through her clenched teeth.
Her image seemed to swim before her, and she saw herself in her many personas: the forlorn little girl, alone in the church crying for her mother; the redeemed young woman laughing in the sunshine with her best friend; the idealistic Peace Corp volunteer; the resigned young wife and determined mother; the successful entrepreneur and inspired minister. Oh Life, you fickle lover. A pox on you for building me up so grandly, only to let me down again so crushingly with this cruel disconnect. She felt as though her center were wearing away, cell by cell, context by context, yearning by yearning, even as her body exaggerated its boundaries. Is it only menopause as everyone says, or is it the inevitable pay off for someone with my appetites?
With a flourish of hand, she swiped the mirror as if erasing the alien face before her, and stepping back from it, assessed her figure. She smoothed the soft fabric of her jacket over the thickening about her waist in an attempt to camouflage the extra thirteen pounds, the extra weight a talisman of her life-greed, greedily attaching themselves there. As she turned to the side, she also despaired that the bulge had crept a little lower, molding an annoying tummy mound, the bulge staying stubbornly in place even when she sucked in, as she now did.
You can suck in all day, Oma Mae and it won’t help! her inner voice persisted. Enough, she bade, annoyed with her inability to bring herself out of her funk. What was this seemingly endless preoccupation with herself - thinking about herself, poking, pulling, querying her image in mirrors, for God’s sake? Preoccupation was too mild a term - compulsion, obsession were more exact. She was becoming foreign to herself, foreign as some self-conscious gauche provincial place charming her to it with a fool’s gold vow, and binding her to it with her own vain assurance of its rough unborn promise even while knowing it was a promise of that which could never be. She knew it for what it was: purely, only and wholly, lived life, lived soft and hard and every texture in between, and she recognized its signature showing plainly in her wrinkles and sags and bulges. She knew plump ardent giddy joy expectantly quivered in waiting for her but the melancholy gatekeeper of her attitude too often muscled it at bay these days.
Exhausted by it, weary of it, she ached to fall asleep as soon as she crawled in the cool leather interior of her brand new DaBryan Lincoln Town-car that would transport her home. She yearned for the thrumming of its tires against the asphalt roads that would croon her to sleep, croon her to sleep, croon her to sleep. Her head, suddenly too heavy to hold upright, seesawed on her neck. She had to lie down now, if only for a moment. Still topless, she pulled herself to the sofa, snuggled on its down cushions, an antique silk throw drawn across her torso. In seconds, she dropped into a deep sleep.
Mingled odors of plowed earth, animal droppings, corn whiskey, ashcakes, buttermilk and sweet potatoes blanketed the air. Currents of powdered debris and lung-scorching heat waves slithered across the screen of Oma Mae’s vision, weaving into the coffers of her lungs. She inhaled them full and smooth as if they were her familiars, as if her body were accustomed to receiving them. She observed, captured and curiously euphoric because like an amnesiac regaining memories, she recalled every detail of the environment where towering and shawled with Spanish Moss, an alley of Live Oak trees, their laced branches arching aloft, hosted within their shade-chinked canopy, an old diminutive bent black figure. Her hair covered with a kerchief or tignon, the woman lingered there, silent, attentive, posturing like Buddha at the base of one of the largest tree. She saw the dusty yard where runny-nosed barefooted black children played a noisy game of Hide and Switch; the rows of tilting rough-hewn sun-bleached pine log cabins where old crooked black men sat whittling sticks while lolling in the thresholds of their dark gaping doorways; where ancient shriveled black women knit and also mended threadbare clothes as they sagged under gnarled and wind-whipped shade trees, their tortured shapes mimicking the women’s distorted bodies. She heard a chorus of field hand’s lamentations, their singsong words bemoaning the backbreaking work, their cries composed of mournful supplications to their creator for deliverance to a better world. She loitered there, the niche in her mind where it all was stored, opening, revealing, speaking: “I carried you into existence, child,” the ancient black woman said, “on the name of Oma, the Grandmother Spirit, whose legacy you bear. We both suckled children at our breasts and grew them to a time of leaving. Let go, Oma Mae. Let go.”
“Let Go? Let go of what, Great Grandmother?” Oma Mae implored, the woman’s identity starting in her mind. “What do you mean, let go?”
“Let’s go, Oma. Oma, come on, honey. Wake up,” Lee’s voice filtered through her thick fog of slumber. His hand, gentling her shoulder with a slight nudge, guided her awake again. “Let’s go, girl,” he said, smiling at her broadly as she opened her eyes.
“Yes. Let’s go,” Oma Mae muttered, her tongue thick with the residue of her nap, her sticky eyelids fluttering. “But give me a minute, okay?”
“Sure, baby. I’ll just make one more quick call then,” he said as he shut the door after himself.
She stepped to the large mirror, quickly slathered on deodorant, and slipped back into her garments. Combing her fingers through her spiky hair only the day before having been cut short and thinned, she admired the cooler updated style. She adjusted her necklace, and running her hands across the waistline of the jacket, she sucked in again, but to her dismay, her belly still rose in a heap under the fine fabric. Neither could she do anything about the dark haloes under her eyes, or the hallows in her cheeks, but she rubbed the skin under her puffy eyes with her index finger, trying again to erase the smudged mascara stubbornly clinging there.
Gently blotting the outer corners of her eyes where, at a maddening pace, crosshatch designs were tooling into the skin, then smoothing her upper lip where a swelling rank of teensy tributaries seemed hell-bent on reshaping it, she freshened her lipstick. “Oh, well. Who needs strong bones, wrinkle-free skin, and sex appeal when YOU can have POWER instead!” she avowed to her reflection. She dropped her lipstick into her purse, and turned to go. Entering her office, she formed her eyebrows into a question when Lee turned her way. He was standing looking out a window as he talked on the telephone. Nodding his head to acknowledge her query, he faced the window again, continuing his conversation.
Oma Mae eased into her desk chair, and riding the drone of Lee’s voice, her mind slipped back to the old woman in the dream, her great grandmother who had reminded her that their mutual name, Oma meant grandmother. New to her however was that it referenced the Grandmother Spirit, the Nurturer, Teacher, avowed Protector of all children. She wondered if it were true, she wondered also if perhaps she were realizing her destiny after all. But, ‘Let go!’ What does that mean? she pondered, her musing interrupted by Lee’s closing remarks across the room.
“Okay then, so you’ll set up that interview for us, buddy? All right, but don’t call me today. I’ll be out of reach. Talk to you soon.” Lee finished, then motioned to Oma Mae to come to him as he hung up the telephone.
Thankful to be pulled into the present, Oma Mae asked, “Can we get out of here now, Lee?” Reaching for her purse laying on the desktop, she got up from her desk and hooked the purse over her right shoulder. She walked into his arms.
Lee noticed the muddy pools forming crescents below her eyes and in the sunken planes of flesh below her large boney cheekbones. Like a gathering storm graying the sky, the charcoal spots on her face were her customary marks of agitation, telling him what her carefully constructed cheerfulness omitted from her behavior. He knew she had been brooding about her depleting store of hormones and fretfully examining herself in the mirror while in the dressing room waiting out the hot flash, but he could see that something more was distressing her. Was it the dreams besetting her lately, or was it the concern she had been voicing about the difference in their ages, exhibiting insecurity about being six years his senior? Sensing the futility of easing her concerns, he stayed away from the clichéd response that if the age difference were reversed, it would be considered normal. Irrational fears had their own masters with their own agendas that were too tenacious, too truculent to take on, especially when they belonged to someone else. Sometimes he didn’t know how to comfort her, and now was one of those times. He tightened his hug and kissed her on the forehead, inadequate to the situation, he knew. “Let’s go home,” he said softly, smiling his inadequacy. He released his embrace. They left her office, walking hand-in-hand through the busy television station where she worked.
“Hey, girlfriend, you finally got your Chanel suit!” Oma Mae’s friend and co-worker, Elizabeth Stewart gushed as she approached the couple in the hallway. “Here, turn around. Let me see whacha’ got.” She winked at Oma Mae conspiratorially as she grabbed the large purse. She hung it on Lee’s shoulder. Playfully pushing him aside, she reached out for Oma Mae’s hands. She swung their arms up high between them, then out to their sides, dropping her left hand and pulling the disoriented Oma Mae around in a circle as if she were leading her into a minuet. Finally releasing her completely, Elizabeth stood back for a better look.
The suit, custom fabricated in medium weight white Irish linen and lined in luxurious Egyptian cotton, featured a jewel neckline cut a little lower than normal. Encircling her neck was an elegant three strand choker of lustrous pearls, a large green jade pendant residing at its center. A fitted jacket, having the effect of slimming her thickening waistline, draped into graceful points below mid-hip. It was accented at its lower edge and at the hems of its short sleeves with a flat braid trim, the color of the trim twinning the pendant. The jacket topped a form-fitting skirt tapering in at the knees and flaring slightly at mid-calf. A deep slit at the skirt’s back exposed shapely legs.
“It’s stunning Oma Mae. The style is perfect for your figure, and it looks great with your coloring. Good job, girlfriend,” Elizabeth decreed, a declaration Oma Mae took to heart, her young friend always looking as though she had just stepped out of the pages of Vogue. “And I like your new do. All short and sassy. You look like Alfre Woodard.” Elizabeth reached up and ran her perfect manicure through the spiky peaks of hair crowning Oma Mae’s majestic head.
Lee’s groin quickened at Oma Mae’s queenly beauty, and his heart ached when he noticed the dark circles under her exotic eyes again, but he kept his face inscrutable.
“Den I knows I be lookin’ goooooot,” Oma Mae responded in Ebonics, gratefully latching onto the distraction Elizabeth’s ebullience provided. “I just be needin’ ta give Alfre-Girl a call ta tell her ta watch out ‘cause dis home girl be takin’ ovuh!”
“You go, girl,” Elizabeth replied with a high-five. “Where did you get that necklace, Oma Mae? I’ve never seen anything so lovely.”
Cutting a sultry hooded-eye glance at Lee, Oma Mae said, “My brilliant man here gave it to me last night.”
“Lee, have I ever asked you if you have a brother?” Elizabeth laughed at the rising color in Lee’s face.
“Only every other day for the last several years,” he returned, running his finger under his collar. He loosened his tie and tugged at the waistband of his pants, a shift he hoped would disguise the bulge appearing below his belt.
“What are you doin’ here in the hallway? Shouldn’t you be tapin’ right now?” Elizabeth asked as she raked her fingers through her straight chestnut hair in an attempt to fluff it. She despaired of its extreme coarseness, a coarseness refusing to curl. She had finally settled on its current style: blunt cut to the shoulders with bangs pulled to the side just above her left eyebrow, the sweeping bangs revealing vulnerability in a soft wedge of fair skin on her broad forehead.
“The person filling our guest slot today had to tape early this morning because he has to be in New York this afternoon. When we found out about it a couple of days ago, Lee decided to take advantage of it, so he cleared our schedule for all the rest of the day,” Oma Mae explained, reaching up to adjust the heavy necklace that had shifted out of place during the modeling exercise. “We finished about an hour ago. We’re headed home now where I suppose we’ll have to find something to do.” A sultry smile slipped across her face, her eyes slanting to Lee’s as she designed in her imagination the day they would spend together. She had noticed the bulge in his pants. While she was at it, she also sent packing for the remains of the day, the heavy-hearted gatekeeper of her joy.
Elizabeth reached out again to hold Oma Mae’s hands, and to emphasize her point, she pumped them up and down. “That’s great! I can’t remember the last time you took a full day off. But I know how you are, Oma Mae. Before you know it, you’ll get yourself embroiled in some project at home. You and Lee just have yourselves a really fun day without any work. You deserve it and you need it, Oma Mae. Okay? You promise me?” Elizabeth dropped Oma Mae’s hands, but continued to beg her eyes.
“I promise,” Oma Mae complied although her focus had already shifted away from her friend and back to the day before her.
Walking away and while waving goodbye, Elizabeth yelled back, “And if ya’ need anything, call me. You have my cellular phone number, don’t you?”
“Yes, Liz. I have it but we won’t be needing it.” Oma Mae and Lee both raised their hands and waved goodbye as they proceeded down the hallway.
Resembling a Leviathan replica of Jesse Ventura, their bodyguard, Tommy Walters overflowed the contours of the lounge chair in the reception area where he sat waiting for them. He greeted them in his usual relaxed and soft-spoken manner as they approached his chair. “Good morning again, Miss Adams, Mr. Blakely.” Closing his newspaper and placing it on a side table, the enormous man unfolded himself, and favoring a strained muscle in his back, gingerly telescoped to his full height.
“Hello there, big fella. Tommy, as soon as we get in the car, I want you to tell Eddie to drive straight home,” Oma Mae instructed. “We don’t even want to stop for traffic lights if we can get away with it.”
Getting on his two-way, Tommy chuckled as he told Eddie to pull the limousine to the curb at the foot of the long portico stretching over the deep-set entry to the building.
“You just too purty ta be totin’ a pocketbook on yo’ shoulder, sugah,” Oma Mae teased Lee, speaking in the patois of her ancestors again. “Don’ wan’ no papparazzi sneakin’ no pictures o’ you like dat.” They laughed while Oma Mae took the bag from Lee. She hitched its long strap over her right shoulder, adjusting it to rest on her back just below her right scapula.
Tommy opened the double doors of the building for them, taking up his position on Oma Mae’s left side. Lee flanked her on her right, drooping his left arm around her shoulders, his opposite hand holding the collar of his suit jacket he had removed. The jacket draped his right shoulder. They kibitzed and laughed at her quips as they leisurely walked the fifty feet between the building and the curb, where Eddie, sitting behind the steering wheel, waited in their limousine. Having approached to within four or five feet of the car, Tommy stepped ahead of them to open the back passenger door of the vehicle.
“Speak of the Devil! There’s a paparazzi now,” Oma Mae remarked, as suddenly and without warning, a frenzied wild-eyed man tore out of the bushes, screaming, “Black bitch! Black bitch! Black bitch!”
Pop! Pop! He fired a gun directly at Oma Mae and then Pop! Pop! two more times in the same direction as he rushed passed them.
“What the hell...Tommy, Tommy...help...help! Jesus Christ! Shoot the mother fucker...kill him...kill him!”
Pop pop pop! Three more gunshots rang out in rapid succession.
“Eddie get out of the car!”
Pop pop pop pop! Gunfire repeated rapidly as Tommy scurried sideways like a crab, and upon reaching her, crouched over the felled body of Oma Mae Adams. Lee Blakely, who had fallen on top of her, rolled over to his side as Tommy approached, and sat hunched on the sidewalk beside her.
“Call 911!!” Tommy screamed, commanding Eddie who huddled alertly behind the opened driver’s door of the car, his hot gun still pointed in the assailant’s direction. Eddie reached inside the limousine, grabbing the cellular telephone with his free hand.
She stood on the edge of something, sharper than a razor, a laser without beginning, without end - eternity! It whipped up, forming an arc above her head, a huge reflective glowing ribbon of something like neon, beating like a heart, contracting and expanding like the pupil of an eye, vanishing to nothing, vanishing into a vast void, reappearing, and snaking into each of her palms, like a jumping rope in the hands of a ten year old.
“Jump!” something told her. “Eternity is in your hands!”
“Hold on!” appetite, lust, greed for life demanded.
Her choice? She had never bargained on that. Free will went on? It was too much! Too hard! Too brilliant!
Trust. That’s what her entire life had been about, what she’d taught, preached, tried to live.
“Trust! Jump! Jump!”
A fly buzzed her eyes, nostrils, ears, an enormous fly gorged with the spilling blood from her body. She slipped beyond seeing; smelling no longer informed her of the surroundings. But still able to hear, she followed the fly’s buzzing sound, that damn fly, her nemesis since childhood, as it led her into utter unconsciousness. “Let go!” its buzz seemed to say. “Let go!” her brain echoed.
“Let go!” Little Father said.