No Choice

PROLOGUE

Harriet Spilman was a dozen years old when she had her first piphany.

Y’all know what a piphany is, don’t you? It’s like when Jesus appears in a dream and tells you something, except when a piphany happens, you’re awake, and it’s real.

The Lord’s message was crystal clear to young Harriet Spilman. It was delivered to her by the pages of a beautifully bound space-age reference: the H-through-I volume of the 1967 World Book Encyclopedia.

Ordinarily, white people’s books were kryptonite to the pudgy black girl. But this one was a dead-solid hardback, with impressive slick pages and fancy graphics. It was coated with a smart looking, two-tone, leatherlike plastic, and had inlaid gold lettering. She tried hugging it against her breast, and found that it felt nearly as important as the Bible.

She had idly picked the book up off the side table in the office as a distraction, while awaiting her turn to be emotionally battered by the school principal. Harriet had just kicked Billy Perkins in the nuts, and now she was seething because Billy, who had perpetrated the crime, didn’t get sent to the principal’s office like she did. She knew it was a race thing, because Harriet was the color of dark chocolate, and Billy Perkins was two shades lighter.

Harriet looked around at the administrative staff. A couple of secretaries living tragic lives as stonewalling bureaucrats. The weasel of an assistant principal with his skinny jaw and greasy combover. The white lady bitching about how bad they’re treating her gifted child at this school. Something was going to have to change about this bullshit.

Because nobody never fucks with Harriet Spilman.

She had been idly fiddling with the book when she discovered that the encyclopedia had developed a habit, from decades of molestation, of naturally splaying itself open to the eight cellophane panes it contained near the back.

These pages were unlike any other pages in any other book that Harriet had ever seen. They were crinkly and clear, silkscreened with colorful images of anatomical details that she could peel back layer by layer, from front to back and back to front. Muscles, nerves, bones, organs, intestines — all were laid bare. It was serious guts porn.

Harriet buried her head in the book, flipping the pages back and forth, finally discovering that the transparent plastic section was an elaborate centerfold for the article entitled The Human Body.

The name of the article caused her to do a doubletake on the book’s spine to check which volume it was. It seemed like it would have been more better for them to list The Human Body under T, for The, but…white people.

The human character drawn on the pages had originally been depicted as an androgynous figure, neither male nor female, but of course, it was Caucasian. The publishers omitted the external sex organs, and made the titties androgynous, so their salesmen could sell the encyclopedia in Texas.

The generic human was drawn as if were standing. Its eyes were staring dead ahead, vacant. Both its arms hung at its sides, palms facing forward, as if Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man had gotten tired of flailing and flapping, and had decided to stand up straight and take a nap at the same time.

Harriet was enthralled, flipping backward and forward through the pages to examine this poor honky, who had the misfortune of being sliced up like Kraft singles.

Someone had drawn a stick-figure depiction of a dagger, it’s blade half buried in the figure’s chest. It was drawn in black ink, like it had been stabbed into the figure from the bottom up. It had red ink smeared from it, like it was blood dripping from the wound, all the way down the figure’s stomach.

She turned the page, which lifted the figure’s skin to reveal the rib cage, the bones white and naked against the red muscles. The graffiti artist had continued the dagger underneath the lowest rib. She turned the page again, revealing the guts. On that page, the dagger was shoved into the figure’s heart.

She turned the page again. The dagger continued out the back of the heart and through the chest cavity, until it was stuck between the ribs in the figure’s back.

She turned to the last page and saw the tip of the dagger exiting out the figure’s back, with more dripping red ink.

Now you may think, this is when Harriet got her piphany. But you would be wrong.

Curiously — and this is where Jesus came into play — some middle school Michaelangelo had hand-inked an impressive, but quite crooked, penis, onto the front page of the figure. It was as primitive as a cave drawing, with a dogleg kink, like its creator must have been partway through drawing it when he realized the teacher was standing right over his shoulder, and then he had to finish it fast, without looking, before it was snatched out of his hands.

Harriet focused her attention on the crooked cock, studying it to make sure her intuitions were correct. And then her brain made the connection.

She recognized that dick.

It was the sex organ of the preacher man who had done that nasty shit to her in the sacristy of his goddamn church.

“Thank you, Jesus,” Harriet whispered, her eyes fluttering as she gazed up inside her skull.

Now you may think this is when Harriet Spilman had her first piphany. And you would still be wrong.

The principal’s door opened. “Harriet Spilman,” he said with his white voice even though he was black.

Harriet turned around and locked eyes with him. They knew each other well. He was a skinny dude who always wore a suit and always stunk of sweat. She saw him inhale and then exhale an exasperated sigh, before disappearing back into his office.

Harriet looked around at the school secretaries, parents and teachers who were all doing their mindless tasks, filing, filing their nails, talking on the phone.

She closed her fist around the cellophane pages and pulled hard, a herculean yank, intending to rip the special pages right out of the book.

But to her surprise, they refused to budge.

She examined the book to see why.

The pages were strong. They had been stitched into the spine with hemp twine.

And at that moment, Harriet Spilman had her first piphany. Jesus appeared right before her, translucent and shimmering, floating in the middle of the principal’s office.

“Harriet,” Jesus said. “Steal the whole goddamn book.”

“But Jesus…” Harriet started.

“Shut the fuck up,” Jesus said. “You ain’t got no choice in the matter.”

(more to come)

 

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