Down Home Blues by Phyllis Dixon
Down Home Blues is a story that asks the question am I my brother’s, (or sister’s) keeper? Is it always best to mind your own business?
Divorce, foreclosure, domestic violence, and an all-expense paid trip (also called prison) disrupt the Washington siblings’ perfectly planned lives, and they end up back down home in Arkansas.
Instead of serenity, sibling rivalries, divided loyalties and money squabbles resurface. Even the good news, that there may be natural gas on their father’s land, causes conflict. When their father, C.W. Washington, one of the largest landowners in the county, announces his engagement, barely six months after his wife’s death, his daughters fear Viagra is clouding his judgement (his sons say – go for it).
Homemade preserves and family dinners are welcome by-products of the move down home. Unfortunately, family members aren’t always singing in the same key. But just a few notes can switch a gloomy blues tune to the soundtrack for a good time. What song will the Washingtons play?
Is it always best to mind your own business and keep family secrets? In the African American family in particular, there is a tradition of “what goes on in the house stays in the house”. Some say this practice contributes to closely knit families, others say this perpetuates dysfunction. Down Home Blues continues this conversation.
Advance Praise for Down Home Blues by Phyllis Dixon
“Ms. Dixon has penned another riveting Southern family drama.”
- Evelyn Palfrey, Essence Magazine best-selling author
“Down Home Blues does a fantastic job of exploring how individuals and families interrelate…”
- D. Donovan, Midwest Book Review
“Great work! Characters true to life. Ending great.”
- Motherwit, Radio Personality
“…Phyllis R. Dixon carefully portrays real life's issues in this well-written story. Not everyone has a happy ending or the perfect life... A journey unlike any other…“
- D.Urban Reviewer/African Americans on the Move Book Club
EXCERPT: Down Home Blues by Phyllis Dixon
“…the winter'll soon be over, children.
And when we get on Canaan's shore,
We'll shout, and sing forever more.
Oh, the winter'll soon be over, children.” - Negro Spiritual
WINTER SOON BE OVER
Just five more hours left in this year and I say good riddance. I lost my mother nine months ago. I never imagined my world without Lois Washington in it, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. I miss hearing her call me by my full name, Beverly Ann. Of course, that name is as country as a gravel road, and I always wanted something sexier like my sisters Carolyn and Cecelia. Now I’d give anything to hear her say it again. They say it gets easier with time. I’m still waiting. That’s how my year started, and the bad news kept coming.
My sisters and I didn’t speak for three months due to a silly dispute over my mother’s jewelry. I was in a car accident and couldn’t work for six weeks (although that could have been a blessing in disguise since that’s when my sisters and I started speaking again). My son enlisted in the military and is fighting some ridiculous war on the other side of the world. In July, my dog, Money, got loose. He usually finds his way home, but this is the longest he’s ever been gone. And my husband, Anthony, moved out after breaking his promise to be faithful – again. Not that I really believed him. After more than twenty years of marriage, I had gotten used to his roaming eye and other body parts.
We’ve been together since high school, and even though we’re separated, and I’ve been dating, he’s still the measuring stick — in more ways than one. But when his latest hussy posted pictures of the two of them online, I couldn’t keep looking the other way. My sisters said it’s about time, although Cecelia controlled her husband, and I didn’t want a docile man. Apparently, my brother-in-law didn’t want to be controlled anymore, since they just got divorced. And my little sister Carolyn is a newlywed. She beat the odds and actually found a keeper. It took her twenty years to find him, but he looks like he was worth the wait.
Anthony and I have been separated more than a year — although I still see him every week. We own The Oasis, a beauty salon and barber shop. A few years ago, we bought the house next door to our house and transformed the corner lot into The Oasis. Anthony still comes by to check on the barbers and keep up with handyman projects. Aunt Belle says he keeps sniffing around just enough to keep a claim on me, like a dog guarding a bone. He’s not going to gnaw on it, but doesn’t want anyone else to either. I know she’s right, and my New Year’s resolution was going to be to see a lawyer and start divorce proceedings. Then, our son Tony came home for Thanksgiving. That was the good news. The bad news was that he was being deployed to Afghanistan. Why should my baby put his life on the line trying to settle a dispute that’s been going on since Bible days? He was leaving the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and he wanted to spend the holiday with both of us, so his father came home and the three of us spent the holiday weekend together. It was like old times, maybe even better. Anthony didn’t have to lie and I didn’t have to question everything he said and did.
Other than him not being able to keep his thing in his pants, he was a great husband. We rarely argued. He didn’t drink or do drugs. He was generous with his money and kept up with the house and salon repairs. We both enjoyed bowling, dancing, and the blues. He remembered all holidays and anniversaries. He wasn’t abusive and there were no complaints about our sex life. Even with all those positives, I know they don’t outweigh the scales of his messing around. When I decide I’ve finally had enough, he’ll do something to rekindle the flame I keep trying to stamp out.
I don’t know how I would have made it through Christmas without him. I hadn’t heard from Anthony since we took Tony to the airport. Then, he showed up the day before Christmas Eve and said he knew the holidays would be hard for me. He took me down home to see my father early on Christmas Eve. We came back that evening, and he hasn’t left since. My sisters will berate me for taking him back again, but this was the longest we’d ever been apart, and I really thought he had changed.
Anthony and I had planned to bring in the New Year on Beale Street with twenty thousand other partyers, then come home for private festivities. I’ve lived in Memphis twenty years, but had never been to Beale Street for the midnight guitar drop. As part of our vow to rekindle our marriage, we said we’d start doing new things together, and the guitar drop was one of them. We usually spent the days around the New Year down home in Eden, Arkansas. It’s just sixty miles from Memphis, though it seems like a world away.
Eden is a refuge and my daddy still farms and lives in the house he and Mama built fifty years ago. Every New Year’s Eve, I attended Watch Night service with Mama, while Anthony played cards and dominoes with his relatives. Daddy loved to play cards, so when Mama and I got home, we would all go to Anthony’s folk’s house for all night rise and fly bid whist. At dawn, we’d go home, sleep a few hours, then eat black-eyed peas for good luck, cabbage for money, and fried chicken because Mama’s was the best and it was everyone’s favorite. This is the first New Year since Mama’s death. I feel like I’m abandoning Daddy, but I couldn’t face that ride knowing she wouldn’t be there. My brothers said they would stay with Daddy so he wouldn’t be alone.
Anthony was making a daytrip to Eden to see his relatives from Chicago. His truck needed an oil change, so he took my car. I wasn’t going anywhere and he was coming right back to Memphis in time for us to go to Beale Street. That was the plan – until he called and said his brother from Chicago had just gotten there and would I be terribly upset if he stayed longer. I told him to stay put, since the roads were supposed to turn icy. I asked Anthony to check on Daddy for me, and to promise not to try to surprise me by coming back to Memphis. He promised, and said he would leave first thing the following morning.
With the change in plans, I decided to bring in the New Year with a pampering session. I lit jasmine candles, found my Etta James playlist, and opened the Moscato wine I had been saving. I texted all my siblings to wish them a Happy New Year, then called Daddy.
“Hey, Big Sis,” Carl said, answering on the first ring.
“I know I’m early, I just called to wish you guys a Happy New Year.”
“Same to you, but you’ll have to wait until next year to talk to Daddy.”
“Is he sleep?”
“He isn’t here.”
“Oh. Did he go with Aunt Belle to the rehabilitation center?” Aunt Belle volunteers at the Dwight County Rehabilitation Center. She says too many times people her age are just thrown away, and she wants them to know someone still cares. She planned a full itinerary that would culminate with Jell-O and line dancing at midnight. She made sure she had tapes for the electric slide, cupid shuffle, and the wobble, and invited Daddy to the party.
“He said that was for old people. He’s visiting his lady friend.”
“Which one?” I asked. Daddy is in his eighties, and other than a skin cancer scare a few years ago, he’s in pretty good health. He still drives and we had to make him promise not to go hunting alone anymore (we also hid his shotguns just to make sure). He’s got hair, most of his teeth, and his right mind. At that age, men with those traits are in short supply. My brothers think Daddy’s eligible bachelor status is cool and hope his stamina is hereditary. My sisters and I have been amazed at the women who swarmed around Daddy like flies on you-know-what before Mama was even cold in the ground. Even more amazing, Daddy seemed to enjoy the attention.
“Miss Emma. She looks like the front-runner.”
“Are you serious? Miss Emma Davis, our high school English teacher?”
“That’s her,” Carl replied.
“She doesn’t seem like Daddy’s type. She’s nothing like Mama. He shouldn’t be out driving on New Year’s Eve anyway. There are too many drunk drivers out and the roads are supposed to turn bad. Plus, folks will be shooting guns all night. It’s not safe.”
“I guess he forgot to ask your permission,” Carl said.
“Here I was thinking Daddy would be missing Mama but instead he’s hanging out. I asked Anthony to check on him, but looks like there’s no need for that.”
“He did come over this morning. He said we were his last stop, and he was heading back to Memphis. It was good seeing you guys together for Christmas. Maybe the New Year will bring you two back together. It just doesn’t make sense to break up after all these years.”
“Now you sound like Mama.”
“You should listen to her. I wish I had,” Carl said.
“Well, tell Daddy I called and you take care,” I said. I called Anthony’s phone and it went straight to voicemail. In days past, I would have immediately called his folks and asked to speak to one of his relatives. I enjoyed talking with them and they treated me like a daughter. While I was interested in their welfare, my real motive for calling was usually to make sure Anthony was where he said he would be. I thought we had moved beyond those days. I should have known better, I thought, as I scrolled through my cell phone apps.
I traded in my Navigator and got a new Lexus last summer after my car accident. I even dated my salesman a few weeks. He showed me how to use all the bells and whistles, including syncing the GPS system to my phone. It was supposed to help if the car was stolen or if you wanted to monitor a teen driver. Tracking down lying husbands wasn’t listed as one of the uses, but over the years I’ve had enough experience that I should patent an app for it. Although I have mellowed over the years, especially since the shooting incident a few years ago. I missed on purpose and wasn’t really trying to shoot that skank, but Carolyn said I’m lucky she didn’t press charges. Even Daddy, who usually stays out of his children’s marriage drama, said I went too far. Women are always flirting with Anthony, but to have a so-called friend betray me was too much.
( Continued... )
© 2016 All rights reserved. Book excerpt reprinted by permission of the author, Phyllis Dixon. Do not reproduce, copy or use without the author's written permission. This excerpt is used for promotional purposes only.
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Genre – Contemporary Fiction
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