Even as a little girl, Constantine knew she didn’t want a marriage like the dried up one her parents had. Instead, she wanted it to mimic the sweet, American love songs her father played from his phonograph. But after a devastating heartbreak, the introduction of a charismatic stranger, and an unplanned pregnancy, Constantine finds herself in a relationship that is far more disappointing and dire than anything her parents endured. In the midst of motherhood, dissatisfaction and a challenging husband, Constantine must find the strength to choose peace over peril and forgiveness over fury.
“There were few things worse than having someone smell you. Your man could step out at night, your daughter could bear a child from a no-count man, and your husband could bring his outside child to stay in your home every weekend. But having someone smell you was the greatest shame.
In a few short hours, it was Hilda and Constantine rolling their bellies and shuffling their shoes across the newly waxed dance floor at the Silver Slipper. Before they knew it, the DJ was announcing last call. And though Constantine knew she had stayed out too late, she decided that the consequences would be well worth it. Grace Ann would likely warn her about the uncouthness of a young woman being out at that time of night. She might even blame her partying for the reason she couldn’t seem to find time to make it to church. Constantine would simply listen, apologize, and then fling herself into bed.
But when Hilda’s boyfriend, who she was staying with that night, dropped her off at her parents’s doorstep, Grace Ann wasn’t the one up waiting for her. Instead when she turned the doorknob and stepped inside the house, it was the shadow of Theophilus’s figure that greeted her in the darkness of the living room.
“Constantine, yuh tink it acceptable tuh come strollin inna meh house dis time a night?”
“Meh home, Poppa. Meh safe.”
“Yuh know only whores an’ murderahs roam de street dis time a night.”
Drunk on the evening’s fun, Constantine responded before she had time to consider the weight of her words. “Den why yuh home?”
Of all the years Constantine had been talking back to her father she had never said anything so bold. She couldn’t see this in the darkness but Theophilus pursed his lips, his eyes bulging in fury.
He rose from the chair. “Wha yuh did say to me, gyal?” He walked slowly toward her, peering at Constantine through slanted eyes. The closer he got to her, the more Constantine was able to make out his face, contorted in anger.
She dare not risk her luck and repeat herself. Instead, she looked at him silently, bracing herself for the impact of his open hand or closed fist.
He got about an arm’s length away from her and asked her again, repeating each word slowly. “Wha yuh did say?”
Constantine stared past him.
Theophilus raised his hand slowly. He meant for this blow to be delivered in the right position across her face, to erase that unaffected look. But before he could follow through and bring his arm down, Constantine’s words caught him.
“Meh a big ’oman now, Poppa. De days ah yuh strikin’ meh down done now.”
Theophilus dropped his arm. Utterly shocked, he looked at Constantine, vacillating between confusion and intrigue.
She was right. If she no longer sought his approval or feared his hand, then he could no longer control her. The realization paralyzed him. Theophilus had thought that by denying Constantine her schooling that he would have tamed his youngest daughter just a bit.
He assumed that him asserting his authority over her life would warrant the respect she seemed to lack for him from the time she came from her mother’s womb. Instead, his decision had only made her bitter and emboldened. With nothing to lose, Theophilus no longer had any playing cards. The realization that his plan to stifle her had failed sunk him just a little bit that night. The girl child wouldn’t be tamed. There was no reason for her to render the respect he was due as her father. She’d usurped him. And even though he didn’t like the girl, he had to respect her.
The two stood there staring at each other for a few more seconds in silence before Constantine turned and went to her room. By the time she got there, she was shaking.
She couldn’t take the chance of challenging Theophilus like that again and living to tell about it.
Veronica Wells was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana with more than a splash of influences from the American south and Jamaica. Today, she is just Jamaican enough to love oxtail but too American to suck the meat from the marrow. She lives in Harlem and works in New York City as the Culture Editor for MadameNoire.com, a Black women’s lifestyle site.
A woman striving to be the most authentic version of herself, Veronica is a lot spiritual, overly emotional, and at her most comfortable, surprisingly ditzy. She enjoys ice cream, stepping on crunchy leaves, “Golden Girls, ” quoting lines from “Bebe’s Kids” and spending time with her loved ones.
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