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Daniela Gioseffi

In Bed with the Exotic Enemy

In Bed with the Exotic EnemyDaniela 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.

[Cover design & illustration by Thea Kearney.

Click for a review of this book by Dr. Fred Misurella, Prof. of American Literature, East Stroudsberg University

Bleeding Mimosa (A Story from this collection)

"You 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.

I thought 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.

Following 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.

Abigail 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 her lap.

Walking 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.

Abigail 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.

"No 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 with satisfaction.

Seeing 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.

We were 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?"

"My 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."

"Niggers 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 stop, neither!'

That's 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?"

"We're 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.

"Well, 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?"

I was 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.

No one 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.

"Maybe 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.

My skin 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."

"Now, 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.

Dusk gave 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.

"How 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.

"Lights 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.

I heard a black man's voice through the petitions of bars yell, "Coward! God will punish you for your hate. Leave that child alone."

"Hush 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."

But the 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.

I bled 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.

I've never 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...

Copyright © 1997 , Daniela Gioseffi from In Bed with the Exotic Enemy, Order: Avisson: Greensboro NC.27348. Or for $10 autographed, direct from the author at: daniela@garden.net

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