News Travels Fast Down Here, or The Gospel According to Queen James*

by M. Ayodele Heath

CHILE, IT SEEMS MY NASTY LITTLE HABIT of arriving fashionably late finally caught up with me.

I calculated my cross-town drive to make an entrance exactly thirty minutes after the start of this month’s Positively Living! HIV support group meeting, but who knew there’d be this kinda traffic on a Saturday? And at 2:30 in the afternoon!

Granted, it probably ain’t help that I traveled three country miles behind an elephantine Ford Expedition. As I turtled along–cursing down Cascade Road–at some point I shoulda realized that I wz traveling, not in random traffic, but at the tail end of an anacondal funeral processional. Nevertheless, after surviving the latest episode of the Automotive Wildlife Kingdom, I finally pulled up to the September HIV support group meeting a full hour and thirty minutes late.

By the time I walked in, I wholly expected the henhouse to be in full cackle–peckin & scratchin this month’s spotlight topic: When Two Grooms Jump the Broom; before that: What’s Lacking in Barebacking? But the hens wzn’t hardly in full cackle. Matter of fact, they wz making nary a peep.

Every eye wz closed. Every head, bowed. As I made my not-quite-what-I-planned grand entrance, Sekou, the erykahbadulike group moderator, looking all deep in his dashiki, wz leading the disciples in some sorta prayer or meditation. And as my luck would have it, the only empty seat–that is, the only seat left in “The Circle”–wz between Miss Chardonnay Devereaux-Alize and–

  1. Hold up. Before I go any further, did I tell you what that heifer did?
  2. One Saturday I wz at the drag show–you know how crowded it be on Saturdaynites, right?
  3. I wz leaned against the bar, biceps bulging, lookin cute as usual.
  4. Anyway, I wz standin there in my Prada tank top at last call, waitin on Omar to mix my drink, when Miss Schlitz Maltliquor glides by in her evening gown, bumps into me, & spills her colorful cocktail all ovah Mother’s $300 white Prada shirt!
  5. Yes, the Prada, chile.
  6. Then, in a voice about four octaves too deep for her own body, the glittering bitch has the nerve to smile–smile, mind you–& say, “Pardon me”;
  7. That’s when Spirit told me:
  8. She did that sh*t on purpose.
  9. & that’s when she reaches down in her fake sweaty titties, pulls out a moist wad of tissue paper, and mimes like she’s tryin to sop it up.
  10. It wz ovah!  Ovah!
  11. I grabbed me a handful of her hair, fully intending to send that fairy flying ovah the bar,
  12. But it wz not to be.
  13. Apparently her weave wzn’t glued in too tight;
  14. Cz, verily, verily I say unto you, I wz left standin alone–me & that handful of horse; & grrrl, my shirt wz ruined. Ruined!
  15. I’m still fumin;  everytime I look at it.
  16. White Prada shirt.  Big brown stain.  Hanging in my closet with
  17. the $300 Neiman price tag still on it.
  18. I wz plannin on takin it back, chile!
  19. It wz ovah!  Ovah!

Anyway, every eye wz closed. Every head, bowed.  As I made my oh-so-ungrand entrance, Sekou, in his dashiki, wz leading Bible study.  And as my luck would have it, the only empty seat–that is, the only seat left in “The Circle”–wz between that drag queen, Miss Schlitz Maltliquor Bull, and my ex-lover, John.

This posed a problem.

(Yes, yes, he’s now my ex. I know it ain’t even last a month. Close yr mouth.)

  1. I had given John three of the best weeks of my life.
  2. That’s three whole weeks I saw him & nobody else.
  3. But I had this burnin feelin that nigga wz cheatin.
  4. So one day at work, I went on a lunch break & never went back; & plotted my own nighttime detective drama to get to the bottom of it.
  5. First, I caught the number 32, two trains & a shuttle to Jackson International Airport to select a surveillance car:  a sedan–
  6. White & American–so I wdn’t stand out.
  7. Next, to complete my counterfeit, I pulled into Angie’s Beauty Supply; picked out a righteous wig of baby doll curls, some Press-On nails & plastic cat-eye shades;
  8. Then beheld myself in the mirror & snapped:
  9. She shall be called Woman.  Fabulous!
  10. & there wz much murmuring among the Chinese concerning me as they rang me up;
  11. I know what you said, bitches!, I yelled, feeling all-the-more all-knowing on my way out.
  12. & for my next-to-last stop, I picked up a small bottle of Absolut, in case I needed an extra kick of nerve.
  13. (As if I needed it).
  14. So finally I pulls into John’s apartment complex, hours before he wz scheduled to get off from work; found a spot with a good view of his apartment, & sat & drank, & drank & sat,
  15. Until I drowned in my sorrow, honey; but what I didn’t take into account wz between that wig & July, it got just a little too hot;
  16. You know I can usually hold my liquor, but grrrl I passed out;
  17. When I woke up, there wz lights on in John’s apartment; & two silhouettes!
  18. Aha, I knew it! I heard myself say; but then I went blank.
  19. I don’t quite recall the next sequence of events, but what’s important is this: John & his baby brother–
  20. His baby brother, chile–
  21. Found me drunk, crouched beside the wheels of his gold Lexus coupe.
  22. Me & my beard & my lopsided curls,
  23. With a gleaming knife, grrrl!
  24. Caught red-handed in Act Three of the four-act drama, Slashing John’s Tires.

Now I know this face-cracking incident woulda likely destroyed any lesser diva.  Shoulda humbled my happyass into hiding.  And it did.

But that wz short-lived, as ours are short lives. And this brings me to why, even in the face of intergalactic embarrassment, I broke my neck to get to Positively Living! and give it one last shot.

  1. That night after the Tragedy of the White Prada Shirt, I dragged myself home for a coupla hours to recoup;
  2. (Cz I had to fill in on organ at 7 a.m. service in church;
  3. & a diva must be regal when she is perched up on the bench!)
  4. So meanwhile I get these strange visions, when I mix my liquors–dark & light;
  5. Which my HIV meds, Doc says, can also cause that.
  6. So I dream a throbbing thong, I mean throng, of big burly men; no, it’s not that kinda dream.
  7. No, not this time.
  8. So I’m pressed like an iron amongst this multitude of men,
  9. & I’m carried by their powerful throbbing into the Village’s public square, where there stand three wooden crosses;
  10. On each is a beefy brown Adonis in a loincloth, but I couldn’t discern their faces.
  11. Which is when, like a shining star lowering on a velvet rope from Heaven,
  12. Comes the angel of Diana Ross, honey!
  13. (I know she ain’t dead yet, but this is what I’m dreamin.)
  14. & Diana beamed a great spotlight on the figure in the center.
  15. Who had hair like a lamb’s wool & skin like burnt copper.
  16. On a cross in a crown of thorns, honey, it wz my savior!
  17. I knew that body, if I knew anybody’s.
  18. John, sweet Jesus, it wz John!

So this is why I starved myself on a bananas & sushi diet for the last two weeks.  Why I hired the high-priced Brazilian personal trainer.  (Well, actually that wz cz he wz cute.)  Why the aerobics abuse.  Why the billions of ab crunches till I couldn’t even lie down flat in the bed at night.

Because [Start playing my instrumental house theme music here]  this wz the last time the weather would be warm enough for me to wear John’s favorite Boy-I’m-gonna-pluck-you-like-a-cherry red Lycra shirt.  The last time I could make him lust for me like a tasty, taboo dessert.  The last time I could give John–One. Last. Goodlook. (Doublesnap)–at what he would be missing.

And, chile, you know me. I wouldn’t be James if I missed that!

But even in my calculated boldness, I wzn’t going to sit right next to my ex.  Not after all of this.  Even if it wz the only remaining seat. And even if it did violate Sekou’s “fundamental principle of the Sanctified Circle.”

A little back-story on “The Circle.” Sekou, our resident hoodooed (or spiritually-renewed, whatever you wanna call it) moderator, had this brilliant theory that only in the geometric form of an unbroken circle could we achieve “a maximum flow of positive vibrations.”

Apparently some doubletalkin theory he picked up in the State Penitentiary. Apparently hot air, or what the meteorologists call a warm front, because no amount of mathematical or metaphysical theory on this day wz going to sit me next to my ex.

So against the laws of the Sekouniverse, as the room ruminated on higher thoughts, I, like a gay Ninja, stealthily (yet stylishly, honey) swooped up an orange plastic chair and–in one flawless motion–seated myself just behind Lamont and Nate–outside of The Circle!  (You should have seen me, grrrl. I wz priceless!)

I figured, with only twenty minutes left in the meeting, who would notice?

And as the disciples meditated, I pondered on that black empty chair–there, next to John, where I once sat. & I saw one great jungle of weeds, which I had planted, growing in a big ol heap of dirt which I had spread all around.

As it all sunk in, I began to have this nauseous feeling in my gut.  No, not like the diarrhea from my meds, honey, but this other queasiness, which I never dreamed I could ever feel.?

Remorse, chile. Remorse.

And in that moment, I realized I had to fill in the circle for my own redemption. I had to make John take me back.

“Ashe,” Brother Sekou said.

“Ashe,” the group replied.

Then came the big moment.  John opened his eyes. My mind wz a flipping coin.

He’s gonna hate me. Look away.  He’s gonna love me. No, no, look back. But you’ll look like a stalker. Maybe look cross-eyed? The Scripture saith: Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed. Imagine me, ashamed! So I decided to stare him down.

That’s when he looked over my way. Coooooool as a mocha shake. Eyes like chocolate liquor, honey. &he wzn’t frownin neither.  Ooh, grrrrl, this wz my chance!

That’s when I saw the corners of his mouth go . . . up! He wz smiling, chile. Smilin!

I started tingling and feelin woozy. My heart wz pumpin a bassline that had my rear speakers about to pop!

That’s when I realized that my wires were crossed.

The song I wz hearin wzn’t even on the playlist.

John wzn’t looking at me. He wz lookin through me.   No, no–now just to the right of me.  No, no, no–now not even in my direction at all.

In my periphery, a six-foot-something, cornrowed Allen Iverson-type pimp-strolls by and makes my knees buckle. Even as I’m sitting in my seat.

His eyes and John’s eyes are locked until . . . Yes, honey, he takes the empty chair.

He filled it like a grave.

* * *

Though it felt like eternity, the meeting adjourned shortly after. And no one asked me to join The Circle. No one even made space.

And John gave me one ol’ arctic shoulder once The Circle wz broken.

I wish you could come back and guide me in these things.

As I think back on my dream, maybe it wzn’t John up on that cross after all. And night after night, as I’m lying in someone else’s bed, I keep trying to redream that dream.  In the meantime, I try to keep together by telling myself:

When He comes back into my life, this will all be over.

* * *

*This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to any person or characters, living or dead, mortal or deity, is purely coincidental.  And if this weren’t a work of fiction–which it most certainly is–the names of the characters would have most certainly been changed to protect them.  But, there’s no need for that, since this is all made up anyway.

M. AYODELE HEATH is a graduate of the MFA program at New England College. Recipient of fellowships to Cave Canem, Summer Poetry at Idyllwild, and the Caversham Center for Writers & Artists in South Africa, his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as Crab Orchard Review, The New York Quarterly, Callaloo, Mississippi Review, Mythium, Chattahoochee Review, and the anthology Poetry Slam: the Competitive Art of Performance Poetry. His awards include: a 2009 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize in Poetry and an Atlanta Bureau for Cultural Affairs Emerging Artist grant. He lives and writes in Atlanta.