Margaret Sexton: A Kind of Freedom

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Margaret Sexton A Kind of Freedom
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    A Kind of Freedom
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    Counterpoint Press
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    Проза / на английском языке
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    Berkeley, CA
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A Kind of Freedom: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Evelyn is a Creole woman who comes of age in New Orleans at the height of World War II. Her family inhabits the upper echelon of Black society and when she falls for Renard, she is forced to choose between her life of privilege and the man she loves. In 1982, Evelyn’s daughter, Jackie, is a frazzled single mother grappling with her absent husband’s drug addiction. Just as she comes to terms with his abandoning the family, he returns, ready to resume their old life. Jackie must decide if the promise of her husband is worth the near certainty he’ll leave again. Jackie’s son, T.C., loves the creative process of growing marijuana more than the weed itself. He finds something hypnotic about training the seedlings, testing the levels, trimming the leaves, drying the buds. He was a square before Hurricane Katrina, but the New Orleans he knew didn’t survive the storm. But fresh out of a four-month stint for drug charges, T.C. decides to start over—until an old friend convinces him to stake his new beginning on one last deal. For Evelyn, Jim Crow is an ongoing reality, and in its wake new threats spring up to haunt her descendants. is an urgent novel that explores the legacy of racial disparity in the South through a poignant and redemptive family history.

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A Kind Of Freedom: а Novel

Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

For my mother, who also cheered

Still running with bare feet, I ain’t got nothing but my soul. Freedom is the ultimate goal. Life and death is small on the whole, in many ways. I’m awfully bitter these days ’cause the only parents God gave me, they were slaves, and it crippled me.

— talib kweli, “Four Women”

They were the children of once-upon-a-time slaves, born into a kind of freedom, but they had traveled down through the wombs with what all their kind had been born with — the knowledge that God had promised next week to everyone but themselves.

— edward p. jones, All Aunt Hagar’s Children


Winter 1944

Later, Evelyn would look back and remember that she wasn’t the one who noticed Renard first. No, it was her sister, Ruby, who caught the too-short right hem of his suit pants in her side view. Ruby was thicker than Evelyn, not fat by a long shot, but thick in a way that prevented her from ever feeling comfortable eating. Her favorite food was red beans and rice, and Monday was hard on her. Their mother would boil a big pot and feel relieved, two pounds plenty to feed the family for at least three days, but Ruby felt taunted by the surplus. She’d cut in and out of the kitchen the beginning of the week, sneaking deep bowls of rice and applying as little gravy as she could to maintain the flavor but not alert her family to her excess. Then on Thursday, she’d examine the consequences. It would start in the morning on the way in to school. Ruby attended vocational school and Evelyn attended Dillard University, but their campuses were only a few blocks apart, and they walked the majority of the way together.

“My thighs are touching,” Ruby would say, as if they just started touching the minute before.

“You can’t see it though,” Evelyn would assure her, her own legs so far apart another leg could fit between them.

“Who are you fooling with ‘you can’t see it’? Anybody with eyes could see it. You don’t even need to have eyes; you just need ears, and you could hear my thighs swishing together.”

“You can’t hear anything so soft,” Evelyn would go on, and she’d spend the rest of the day wading through that topic. Just when she’d think she got to flat land, Ruby would pull her back into the murk with a question about her behind. Matters would improve a little on Friday, but Ruby would maintain an edge around her even then, and everyone near her felt the prick. Today was a Friday.

“His pants legs are uneven,” Ruby said about the new boy standing on North Claiborne and Esplanade wearing a brown wool suit, a grey V-neck sweater beneath the jacket. He stood next to Andrew, whom all the girls fawned over at the debutante ball last season. Evelyn’s own escort had been second in charm; he had even silenced her nerves by pointing out his friends’ waltzing mishaps, but despite her mother’s urgings, she hadn’t accepted his visit, and a week later when his interest subsided, she couldn’t help but sigh.

She looked up now, exhaled the smoke of the cigarette dangling from her fingers. It was still early February, and the winter air hadn’t lost its chill. Still all the Seventh Ward girls congregated after school outside Dufon’s Oyster Shop, the best Negro-owned restaurant in the city, and smoked. Evelyn had come to relish the anticipation of the first, slight inhale — she was a lady — and the long release afterward. She would never have referred to herself as an anxious person — Ruby had claimed that role in the family — but any nerves that jingled inside her settled at just the thought of a drag. She blew the smoke out of the side of her mouth so as not to hit her sister and smiled at the thought of the uneven hem. “Maybe he was in a rush.”

“Even still,” Ruby said, breathing in so sharply she almost made herself choke. “He might have found time to even out his pants’ hems,” she laughed. “Cute though. Too brown for most people, but it is a nice shade of brown.”

Evelyn nodded. Cute he was.

Men and women rushed past them, bustling in and out of offices and stores, the Boot Seed and Feed, Queen of the South Coffee, Miller Funeral Home, Meriwether’s Photography, Bejoie Cut-Rate Pharmacy, the Sweet Tooth Ice Cream Parlor, and Fine Time Billiard Hall. The outdoor market where Evelyn’s mother made groceries was just a block away at St. Bernard Avenue, and Evelyn could smell the Cajun spices simmering. The butcher let out a high-pitched call. “Veal to roast, and cabbage and green beans.”

Ruby raised her voice to combat the new noise, “And his hair lays so flat, and that’s not a conk either.”

The uneven man looked over at the girls then, and Evelyn held his gaze for less than a second, so quick if he doubted it had happened, he could convince himself it hadn’t.

She shook her head back at her sister. “No, much more natural looking than a conk.”

“All that, but he couldn’t hem the pants evenly.”

“I wouldn’t have ever noticed those pants if you hadn’t hit me over the head with it, Ruby,” Evelyn said, though it wasn’t true. It was clear that despite his pressed suit and neat tie, the uneven man didn’t belong among the passé blancs he stood with, no, not with their damn near-white skin, straight black hair and even straighter nose, their moustaches like silk against their lips, and she didn’t know what possessed her to declare otherwise. She liked what she’d said though, not only that, but the fact that she said it, and for the rest of the day whenever she thought of the uneven man, she thought of the weight of her voice when it came out firm.

Since that day was a Friday, she had to go the whole weekend without seeing him again. That was fine because she had memorized him. Evelyn was in her second year of nursing school at Dillard University, and for a Negro woman to even consider such a rigorous field, she had to be up on her memorization. Because of it, she didn’t need to see a face more than once to imagine it fully, and she spent the weekend doing just that. She remembered details she hadn’t even known she’d seen in the first place: that the shorter hem of his pants revealed a faded grey sock. That he was the color of ginger cookies her mother might bake then sprinkle sugar over, that that similarity made his skin seem like something she might taste, that he was tall, taller than her daddy even who was six three, that he was skinny, but not breakable, that he had small slivered eyes that when she caught them seemed to be breaking through their lids with something vital to say. When she thought on him longer, she realized he had been holding a biochemistry textbook, probably studying to be a doctor. Just like Daddy. Maybe he could help her with amino acids. In all her memorization, she couldn’t get the codes straight.

The following Monday, Evelyn led the way from her house on Miro Street to St. Bernard Avenue then North Claiborne, her sister swishing behind her, and looked for a cigarette, feeling steadied by it even as she reached through her pocketbook. Sure enough, the uneven man walked up halfway through her smoke. He was with Andrew again, a boy with an even hem, but something lacking, and maybe it was an uneven hem, which she’d grown used to associating with comfort.

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