In Bed with the Exotic Enemy
Gioseffi is the Founding President of Skylands Writers & Artists
Association. She has published ten books from major presses and
won several litearary awards, among them The American Book Award
and The PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. Born in Orange, NJ, she
lived in New York City for nearly 30 years. Daniela is the editor
of WISE WOMEN'S WEB, an electroic literary magazine for mature
women of accomplishment. Her fiction has appeared in numerous
literary magazines and anthologies, among them Prairie Schooner,
The Paris Review, VIA and Kaliedescope: Stories of the American
Experience from Oxford University Press. She published a novel
with Doubleday/Dell and New English Library titled The Great
American Belly. She has read her poetry and fiction throughout
the USA and Europe and appeared on National Public Radio as an
internationally known and published author. The following story
is among those included in her latest book of fiction: Reviews of In Bed with the Exotic Enemy
© 1997. ISBN 1-888105-17-8. Avisson Press, Box 38816, Greensboro
North Carolina, 27348. USA. Copyright ©1997. All rights reserved.
design & illustration by Thea
for a review of this book by Dr. Fred Misurella, Prof. of American
Literature, East Stroudsberg University
Mimosa (A Story from this collection)
piece of white trash!" He spat an enraged whisper. "You
got lots of nerve commin' down here to follow upstart niggers
around my town!" My head hit the brick wall of the jail cell
as the Selma sheriff's deputy pushed me to the cot. The bruised
and beaten blacks from our Freedom Ride, huddled in pain in cells
along the moonlit corridor of bars, were the only others in the
jailhouse. The sheriff--squat, thick and muscular--stood over
me like a dark shadow in the dingy cell. Panic pounded in my skull
as he unzipped his pants. I understood that I wasn't to be a Rosa
Luxemburg or a Fanny Lou Hammer, but an unknown casualty. His
hands with their reddened knuckles unbuckled the belt tightened
under the girth of his big belly. I thought he was about to beat
me with his belt buckle as I'd seen a law man do exactly that
to a black demonstrator that very morning.
how my father at home in New Jersey would have another heart attack
when he received the news of my beating. His anguished face--a
ghost of memory--appeared begging me to stay at home in New Jersey.
He wanted me to give up my internship as a journalist at the Selma
T.V. station. The Klan had burned a cross on the lawn of the studio
after I'd appeared, a white spokesperson enlisting Freedom Riders,
on a black gospel show. Television was not integrated in the Deep
South in 1961--but I'd dared to integrate Selma T.V. My father
had called long distance that morning to beg me to come home,
but I dreamed of being the next Lucretia Mott, Jane Adams, and
Faye Emerson all rolled into one. At twenty one, I was too young
to realize mortality.
Rosa Parks' example, we'd ridden that morning on the wrong end
of a bus seething with summer heat and racial hatred. For many,
it wasn't the first ride, but it was for me. Then with other demonstrators,
I'd taken a drink at a water fountain marked with a sign: "Colored,"
in Tepper's Department store on Selma's Main Street. All the demonstrators
on our particular ride had been arrested, but me. Some thought
I was allowed to go home because I was blond, blue-eyed and young,
but my arrest came later in the evening--when I tried to climb
the front steps of the house where I rented a room from an ancient
Southern belle, Abigail Brennan.
Brennan was wrinkled like a albino prune and lived alone in her
rambling Victorian house in the oldest residential section of
Selma, not far from Main Street, but secluded by an acre of mimosas,
magnolias and assorted pines burdened with Spanish moss. Abigail
thought "coloreds", as African-Americans were called
then, deserved better treatment than they'd been given after the
Civil War. She sat in her porch rocker, stroking her old black
cat, and sighing. "People aren't freed from slavery, if they're
freed without a home or job then told to pull themselves up by
their own bootstraps! Not if they've been sold every which way
and have no families besides, plus had the pride beaten out of
them, too! That's what Granny used to say to me, but I couldn't
say that to my preacher down yonder at the church. He doesn't
want no Coloreds in his church--unless they sit in the back to
the side, keep quiet, and put money in the box. His Papa was worse!
Wouldn't even let em in the door--even after their church burnt
down." Old Abigail sighed and petted her cat sleeping in
along the small town streets in the evening, plush with trees
dripping Spanish moss; front porches squeaking with slow rhythms
of rockers; hearing local residents, as you pass, drawl out a
friendly: "Nice evenin'! Ain't it?" --you'd never know
the unrest the town was in. The "Sit-ins" at lunch counters
and "The Freedom Riders," riding on the wrong ends of
segregated busses. Non-violent actions for Civil Rights were often
followed by raids and riots then.
was no help when I yelled for help. She was hard of hearing and
didn't respond from her bedroom at the back of the house as the
sheriff, with his pistol drawn, whisked me away in his squad car,
warning me to shut up or he'd shoot me for resisting arrest.
one'll be the wiser if I do. Ain't none of your big shot niggers
around now to protect you!" he said. "Ain't no newspaper
guys from the North, and no managers from that damned rebel T.V.
station of yours to hold your hand, now, girl!" He laughed
no one but the mimosa trees in the dusky shadows of Abigail's
veranda, I obeyed as he cuffed my wrists behind my back. The sheriff
was the only law around for miles. There were no police to call.
alone in his unmarked police car on the way to the jail. He reached
over and squeezed my left breast hard. "You're real pretty
for such a piece of nervy Northern trash. How come you don't wear
lipstick and powder like nice Southern girls? You'd be prettier!
Doesn't your Papa know enough to keep you at home? He must be
the dumbest guinea going to let you come down here all alone to
work. Maybe he's really an upstart Jew with an Italian name. I
heared they's lots of Jews in Italy. I bet you ain't no virgin.
Your folks is probably a couple of Commies like them Northern
Jew lawyers who come down here tellin' us what to do. You big
city Northern broads think you know what the world's made of better
than we small town hicks down here? Think we're just a bunch of
Alabama cotton pickers down here? You think you got the right
to come down here and break our laws? Think you're gonna teach
us how to live and who to live with, who to eat and drink and
ride the busses with?"
father didn't want me to come down here. It's my own idea."
I spoke, softly, remembering the non-violent tactics I'd learned.
Don't anger your adversary with your defense. "I know Alabama's
more your home then mine, but people are people. We all have the
same feelings inside."
ain't people, our preacher said The Holy Bible says so! I got
no reason to think they is. We don't need your Yankee gov'ment
down here. Your Yankee Dog, General Sherman, burnt my great Grandaddy's
Georgia plantation down to nothin', or I'd be a rich man today!
You understand? Not a hard workin' 12 hour a day lawman. A bunch
of your lousy nigger freed slaves grabbed Great Grandaddy's land
from him--a wild pack of niggers led by a Northern carpetbagger
took squatters' rights, after they chopped off his ole grey head
and left it hangin' in the barn for the flies to eat. Be glad
I ain't doin' that to you, 'stead of just taken a little pleasure
in you. Far as we're concerned, we won The War Between the States.
My ole Grandaddy who told me that story many times as I was growin'
up don't even consider us as livin' under the same gov'ment as
you damned Yankees. He keeps that Confederate flag wavin' every
holiday. 'We ain't stopped fightin' yet,' he says; 'we won't never
what I want you to tell your pals when you go home. We don't give
a turd what your gov'ment in Washington says about integratin'
nothin'. If shovin' mustard and ketchup up your noses at lunch
counters don't scare you all home--if burnin' crosses and flying
watermelons don't send you packin'--then maybe you need a stronger
lesson to get it straight. 'Cause um gonna get it real hard and
straight for you tonight, little nigger lovin' guinea. We've lynched
a few Jews and guineas down here, too. We got a whole big bunch
of them guineas all in one swoop in Lou'siana once not too many
years ago! Ain't your daddy ever heard of that bit of history?"
only doing what's human. Please try to understand, Sir."
I attempted to disarm him, by using a respectful tone, but he
burst out with a long laugh.
ain't you polite for a dumb gal? Let me tell you something. If
a nigger comes into my court to be indicted and calls himself
'Mr.' and wears a nice suit and tie, I throw the book at him.
But, if he calls himself, 'Boy' and comes from the cotton fields
covered in sweat and wearing dirty overalls and don't hardly know
how to talk, I give him two bucks and send him home to work? If
you ain't got my meaning, yet, this night in jail is gonna be
your last chance to learn your lesson! Hear?"
comforted by the words "night in jail" which implied
I'd be let go in the morning and decided to continue answering
mildly. "Yes, Sir, I hear you." I said, gulping down
terror as we rounded the corner that led to the jailhouse.
else in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee would know
where I was, or that I'd been arrested. Everyone would think I
was home asleep.
you ain't heard how the Klan got your pal Viola Liuzzo in the
head? Didn't you hear what happened to that guinea broad drivin'
her load of Northern nigger friends home from a nigger march?
You got no sense, girl? Didn't you know that was a warnin' to
folks like you to gohome and stay there? I thought you T.V. broadcasters
git your news hot off the wires! That burnin' cross left on at
your station was final warnin'. Since you ain't packed up and
headed North, you need another lesson, girl," He laughed
put his hand on my knees.
grew goose bumps of fear. "I've had my eye on you, but I
gave you one more chance. Then you went around drinkin' from nigger
water fountains, too. You should've gone home after that flyin'
watermelon hit your ankle on ole Abigail's porch last week. Weren't
you scared for that ole lady, if not for yourself? You could git
her kilt, too, you know. You don't seem to know how to take a
friendly warnin', so you got what's comin' to you now. Trouble
is you seem a glutton for punishment. You might enjoy every minute
of it. I bet you will, too," he said pulling my skirt up
over my thigh, running his rough hand up my leg. Laughing as I
shrank away closer to the door, trying to open it with my shoulder."
girl, you don't wanna fall out while the cars goin' so fast, and
break them pretty legs, do ya? If an upstart girl like you wants
to throw herself out my vehicle as I'm bookin' her for disorderly
conduct, there's nothin' the sheriff can do about it, is there?"
I went numb with panic at his words. He sped up and I watched
the asphalt pavement fly by in the headlights of the car. My hands
behind my back ached as the metal cuffs dug into my wrists. To
stay upright in the front seat without falling into the windshield,
as he sped along a bumpy back road toward the jailhouse, was all
I could manage.
way to night as we arrived. "All my deputies have gone home
for dinner. I'm the only lawman workin' overtime tonight."
The jailhouse stood at the edge of town in a clump of willows
laden with Spanish moss.
come you ain't greasy like them Dagos who run Dino's pizza joint
in Birmingham?" He smiled. "That I-talian foods bloody
stuff. Ends up more on your shirt than in your mouth. You got
a pretty saucy mouth? Like that Sinatra. He's got blue eyes like
you, but 'least he minds his own business when it comes to niggers,
'cept for that Sammy Davis monkey I seen him with singin' on T.V.
like a dancin' chimpanzee. That's where all of your kind belong,
singin' on T.V. up North, mindin' your own business. Not down
here messin' in what don't concern you. We don't want you Commie
pigs down here in our country! Remember my words, girl; go home
and stay there!" He whispered his last sentences in my ear,
as if he were a lover in the moonlight.
out, you niggers! No free show!" He'd yelled before he'd
shut out the lights and knocked me to the cot. He fell over me
crushing me against the springs of the metal cot. I heard it shriek
out louder than my shivering breath. Then fear froze in my throat.
I was petrified of being beaten to death. I remembered what Fanny
Lou Hammer had suffered in jail. Anything I tried to do or say
might make him angrier and rougher.
a black man's voice through the petitions of bars yell, "Coward!
God will punish you for your hate. Leave that child alone."
up your mouth, before you get us all beat again or dead."
I heard a woman's voice answer. "You can't save nothin' with
your breath. Hush before you make him mad enough to kill us all',
'cludin' that child."
sheriff of Montgomery County wasn't listening to their words.
He was indifferent to everything but his own hands grabbing at
me and tearing my clothes away, his heavy body crushing and pounding
me into the cot, opening me like a knife. I bled from my mouth
where he pressed his hard tongue and bit down into me.
from my torn center and have never stopped bleeding like I did
yesterday when a woman said to me, at a women's rights march:
"You white feminists have got to learn to let us African-Americans
lead you." I think of how I followed Rosa Parks, twenty years
ago, into an endless struggle. I think of when I was twenty-one
and wanted to be a T.V. journalist for justice, and my mother
said: "You're a stubborn girl who got what was coming to
you. Stay with your own kind. You're just rebelling against your
father and me--like a fool. You should've stayed home where you
belonged." Now at nearly fifty, when I think of how I have
no close black friends because the white hand I extend in friendship
is suspect--of a lack of self-worth, or because "guineas"
are stereotyped as racists or Mafiosi. When I think of these things,
I still feel that sheriff's hate invading my body. I feel him
coming into the center of me where I bleed, because I never did
go back to Selma except in my nightmares.
told anyone about that night in Selma. Not even my husband. I'm
ashamed of what happened to me. When I have a squabble with him,
the nightmares come again. I don't really trust him or anyone--except
my daughter now twenty-one. She wants to go El Salvador to help
the struggle there. My husband thinks I should tell our daughter
that he adopted her, that she should be grateful and stay home
and go to graduate school, instead of going to Central America.
She doesn't want to listen. She says she's going no matter what
we say. Just like I said years ago...no matter what...
© 1997 , Daniela Gioseffi from In Bed with the Exotic
Enemy, Order: Avisson: Greensboro NC.27348. Or
for $10 autographed, direct from the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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