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Full-Length Mirrors: An Excerpt
By Nordette Adams
Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Excerpt from a novel that finds Chloe, a teenager in New Orleans, LA, and her girlfriends facing lives that can only get more complicated as time goes by. The novel deals with growing up in New Orleans black and female. Its characters are wealthy to poor, shoe black to high yella, Creole and non-Creole, live in housing projects, shot-guns, and regular brick ranches, attend schools similar to McDonogh #35 and the high-brow St. Augustine and Xavier Prep types, face molestation and rape, struggle through class divisions, racism, skin color distinctions among African-Americans, live through many of the issues that came to light and public view following the Katrina flood; however, Nordette Adams, a writer from New Orleans, started working on this novel in 2003. She has not changed one word of this first chapter since posting it to the web two years ago.

Created:     9:45pm on 02-04-2003

Full-Length Mirrors, Excerpt from a Novel in Progress



Beverly Rousseau's full lips nearly kissed the mirror. She parted them slightly and applied plum lipliner with the skill of a master cosmetician. Her three friends were impressed as fifteen-year olds should be by their one comrade who would reach sixteen first. Beverly and her three observers all posed in primp mode, monopolizing the second floor east girls' bathroom mirror, far side of NOPS No. 35 Senior High School. NOPS stood for New Orleans Public School of the Orleans Parish, Louisiana, School System.

“The important thing is to make sure you stay on the rim and not go outside your natural lip line,” she instructed. “You don't want to look like Bozo the Clown, you know, Mrs. Etienne in Biology.” She nodded to her fellows, who all nodded back. No one wanted to resemble Mrs. Etienne, mismatched, runny, wrong color pantyhose, make-up two shades too light for her mocha-tone skin, pearl-pink, white-girl lipstick, ghastly aqua eye shadow, and a matted, bronze-tinted wig that went out with the original Supremes. Beverly then painted her lips a deep plum frost.

“That's b-a-a-ad! You look good.” Chloe Charles smiled and dropped back with a hand on her round hip. Catching her own reflection, she adjusted her burgundy scrunch blouse over her plump bosom and leaned into the mirror to wipe a barely visible smudge off her white teeth, $1,500 worth of dazzle. “But I couldn't wear that color.”

“You sho' couldn't,” Geneva Williams piped up, popping gum after each breath. “You too damn yella.”

Chloe sucked her teeth, stood straight, flung her body halfway out from the mirror, and then let her right hip drop as she cocked her head toward her right shoulder and glared at Geneva in disapproval. After that, Chloe lost the groove as her own hair betrayed her, falling smoothly with the tilt of her head. So, back to the mirror she went.

She did have the lightest skin of the bunch. Beverly, always up on the latest fashions and make-up every 70s teen should have, was about the color of rich maple wood. Nicole Thibideaux, Nikki, who stood to Chloe's left was slightly darker than Chloe, about the color of a brown paper bag, and Geneva, who commented on everyone's skin color constantly, was a dark chocolate cream. The only things they had in common physically were pretty faces and thick long hair. Well, Geneva had had long hair, but she'd had it cut to an ear length bob over the summer. Unlike her friends, Chloe didn't need to have her hair chemically relaxed or hot-combed straight. It grew naturally into a silky loose wave. A copper brown, her mane fell four inches past her shoulders. But great manageable hair was the only place she trumped the others. Her friends beat her on body, she believed. She remained the chubby one.

Still, they managed to dress about the same, designer jeans, cute little sweaters, peasant blouses, or stretch tops. Nikki had on a teal scrunch blouse identical to Chloe's burgundy blouse. They'd been shopping together.

Beverly was wearing her favorite purple sweater with a short plaid skirt of complementary colors. October in New Orleans wasn't cold enough for a sweater, but Beverly tended to be sensitive to the school's air conditioning. Geneva had advised her that she wouldn't have that problem if she'd eat and put some meat on her bony behind. Beverly said that while she could use some weight in her arms, chest, and legs, her behind was the last place she needed pounds. On that point they all agreed. Even now her hips appeared poured into the little plaid skirt.

Geneva wore an embroidered, orange peasant top with tight, tailored hip huggers, and black, vinyl, one-inch platform boots. She always went for the sassier, too-hot-to-handle look. She never grasped that it scared high school boys.

A crowd of girls flocked into the restroom. Some raced to the peach-colored stalls. Others threw their book sacks against the beige tiled walls on the floor and began dumping toiletries from their purses onto the steel shelves by the wide side mirrors. Out came the lanolin afro sprays, the Pink Lotions, the gels, wide tine combs, picks, and tiny jars of Vaseline to hide ashy legs. Stuff you'd never see girls whipping out on the lakefront, but then 35 wasn't a barrel of Donnies and Maries.

“Ooooo Weee! Yeah 'ya right!” Somebody howled, clicking on a transistor radio and hearing the Commodores whining “Brick House.” Wasn't long before a few girls started dancing and someone lit a cigarette.

“Oh, lawd. Here you go now,” hissed Nikki at Beverly and Geneva.

“What!” said Beverly, bobbing her head, swerving her hips to the music and feigning ignorance as she dug through her small, green vinyl purse. Producing a pack of Kools, she offered them each a cigarette, but only she and Geneva smoked.

Chloe shook her head, “Y'all gonna get us in trouble.”

“Girl, those teachers ain't even thinking about us. Lunch almost over, ” said Geneva.

“Yeah, they're probably half passed out in the teacher's lounge trying to catch some zzz's before the bell,” added Beverly, “Anyway, Miss Angel, if any of 'em come in here, they're not gonna do anything to you! They all know you're goody two shoes.”

“That's right 'lil bit,” said Geneva blowing smoke up at the vents and winking at Chloe, “Anyway, we got'cha back. We not gon' let nothin’ happen to our baby girl. Are we ladies?”

Beverly, and Nikki joined her saying, “Uh-uh.” And started to laugh.

“All right. Pick on the short girl,” said Chloe, who was not only the shortest at five-foot-two, but also the youngest by six months.

“And,” said Beverly, flicking ashes from her cigarette with one hand and snapping her fingers to the beat with the other, “if we get called to the office, you sho' not gonna be in trouble. You know your mama's gonna blame everything on Nikki.”

Nikki rolled her eyes and snickered.

“That's right girl!” Geneva leaned over, put a hand on Beverly's shoulder, and reached out, grabbed Nikki's, pulling her over to the two of them. “It's gon' be all Nikki's fault! Cause,” she paused waiting for Nikki and Beverly to join in, and they all announced to Chloe, “she is from the projects.”

Chloe shook her head. She couldn't defend her mother. Everyone knew what a snob her mother was. Nikki broke away from Geneva and slipped an arm around Chloe.

“Don't worry, baby girl. I know you love me.”

“Awww,” said Beverly.

“Awwww,” added Geneva.

“But I can never be a bad influence, Chloe, because my daddy was a doctor,” Beverly said and gave an exaggerated wink.

“And my parents own a restaurant,” said Geneva, nodding knowingly, and then did her sexy, customized version of the “worm” dance.

“Uh-huh. Right,” said Chloe. “My mom's kinda gotten over her blame- Nikki phase since Nikki got all those honors last year.”

“Really?” asked Nikki.

The first bell rang, and the room's nonsmokers started heading out.

“You two hurry it up!” Nikki spun her right hand around punctuating her command.

“Don't rush me,” said Beverly, watching the flock of girls start to pack and walk out, leaving them alone. “Cigarettes aren't cheap, you know.”

The music left.

“I'm done,” announced Geneva. “You're always slow, Bev.”

“I'm not slow. I'm cool. I do things right,” said Beverly. She turned toward the mirror and watched herself blow smoke slowly from her mouth as she struck a Diana-Ross- Lady-Sings-The-Blues-glamour pose, holding her cigarette, arching one eyebrow.

The bathroom door swung open. A flash of navy and white stormed the rest room.

“Oh-oh,” whispered Chloe. “It's Mrs. Gandy's substitute.” They drew closer together, nearer the sinks, and joined Beverly in facing the mirror.

“Are you people smoking in here?” she shrieked. One of the few white teachers on school grounds, she stood out even more because she chose to wear heels and an oversized navy business suit that contrasted drastically with her vampire pale complexion and straw blonde hair.

Beverly appeared frozen, smoke seeping from her mouth and nostrils, curling up to the vents. But with the scent of so many of its brethren still lingering, its pitiful puffs up a vent disguised nothing. Chloe, Geneva, and Nikki focused on the reflection of Beverly's right hand stuck highly visible in the glamour pose she'd struck just before the substitute entered. The cigarette then fell from her fingers toward the sink. Its journey toward the dingy bowl seemed unending. Too late.

“You there! In the purple sweater. Turn around.”

“Shit,” Beverly whispered as she turned cautiously about. The substitute strode toward her, drawing a clipboard and pen from behind her back like a secret weapon. Reaching her, she glanced over Beverly's shoulder into the sink.

“So, you have been smoking.” She raked her eyes over each of them. Landing on Chloe, whose forehead glistened with perspiration, she said, “You look like a respectable girl. What are you doing here with this lot?”

Chloe narrowed her deep hazel eyes for an instant, and then smiled and asked in her sweetest voice, “Pardon moi, Madame?”

The substitute said nothing for a few moments. Her gaze crawled up and down Chloe, apparently assessing the wear on her Top-siders, or that she wore Top-siders, and calculating the costs of her attire. Her narrow lips quivered a smidgen. Finally she turned away. “I'm not going to report the rest of you girls. By rights I should, but I'm not!” She said, sounding like a Gestapo Fräulein. “But you,” she glowered at Beverly, “What is your name?”

Beverly leaned back, grasping the sink for support. Looking the substitute straight in her gray eyes, she said calmly, “Marsha.”

“I see,” she said and carefully wrote the name down on her clipboard pad. “And tell me Marsha, what is your last name.”

Not so much as a blink, Beverly answered, “Brady.”

Chloe cleared her throat as Nikki and Geneva started reaching for their book bags.

“Well, Marsha Brady, I'm going to have to report this to the office. I'm sure you'll be hearing from the vice principal before the day is over. What class are you missing now?”

“Yes, mam. Band.” Beverly, hung her head down, ashamed at her misdeed. Her eyes, partially visible, darted from friend to friend, daring them to laugh.

“Now, get your things and get to class. All of you!”

The four began gathering their things.

“Get now!”


They skittered across the rest room floor, out the door, all heading to band class. Not saying a word until they were well down the hall lined with red and gray lockers and around a corner. Nikki broke first.

“Ah Hah!” Guffaw after guffaw escaped her.

“Stupid bitch!” Geneva gasped, grabbing Beverly. The two slid down against a group of blazing red lockers, holding hands, laughing. Tears rolled down Geneva's face. “Jesus, I can't believe she didn’t know. I can’t believe you did that!” she told Beverly.

Chloe clutched her stomach. “Oh, I think I'm going to be sick.”

“Oh, you're not going to be sick, Chloe. Stop it!” said Beverly between chuckles. “And if you are, stop hanging around with this lot. Oh, pardon moi.” More chuckling.

“Marsha. Brady,” said Nikki, and she launched into another fit of laughter.

Finally breathless, able to stand, they arose relieved that no one had stepped from a class to censure them for making noise in the hall. They straightened their clothes and adjusted each other's hair. Band class was a few doors away. Beverly and Geneva played saxophone. Nikki played flute and Chloe, the clarinet in band. Chloe also played the violin and piano.

When they entered, students sat staggered throughout the stadium seating of the double-size classroom, talking or jamming in little groups. Mr. Brooks wasn't there. No one knew why. They looked at each other and shrugged. At least they could sit together for a few minutes and didn't have to drag their instruments from back for a while. Beverly pointed to a cluster of empty seats a few rows up on the far left of the room.

“Yeah! Chlo-eee!” yelled a boy.

Chloe sat down and looked around to match a face to the deep voice calling her. “Oh, hey, Robert.” She answered a tall, lanky, dark skinned boy, actually handsome, but he had two gold-rimmed teeth wrecking his smile.

“What's going on, b-a-a-a-by?” He eased over down several rows toward her and her friends, winking, grinning, proving he could be cool with a medium-sized afro, wearing a black Puma T-shirt and faded, starched and creased blue jeans.

“Not much,” she said, wondering why the senior was suddenly speaking to her.

“Well, that's not what I heard. I heard your cousin Jerome, that bad boy from Cali, was transferring down here to play for Xavier.”

She nodded. He'd heard right. Jerome was already in town, enrolled, and training for basketball.

“Is that true?” asked Nikki.

“Yep.”

“Why didn't you tell us?” Nikki demanded.

“It's no big deal.”

“It’s a big deal at Xavier,” said Robert.

“Like hell!” said Beverly to Chloe.

“What?” asked Robert.

“Bye, Robert!” said Geneva. She glared at him, and Beverly's glance sliced. Despite being older, male, and a senior, Robert left immediately.

Geneva then asked, “Where's he gon' stay?” Her voice pitched unusually high at the end of her question.

“At my grandmother's.”

“Nah-uh!”said Geneva. “You gotta squash that, Chlo.”

Chloe looked down at the desktop and shrugged.

“Well, what is she supposed to do, Geneva?” asked Nikki, “It's not like she's grown. She can't go and order them to make him live someplace else.”

“Gurrrl, you better tell yo' mama 'bout that nigger.”

“Shhh,” said Nikki. “Spread it all over, Geneva”

“Sorry.”

Beverly tapped her fingers on her desk, brooding, shaking her head.

“You can't keep letting yo' family think he's Boy Wonder,” Geneva said softly. “He's five years older than you Chloe. He's been after you since we were kids. He tried to force you to, you know! Four years ago." She paused and scouted the room. "You should've told then,” she finished.

“He's older now. And he didn't--!" Chloe halted, looked from girl to girl. They knew the story. "I mean he stopped," she whispered. "I don't think he would try anything like that now.”

“Damn." Beverly's sigh draped the word. "Chloe, I was at your house last year,” she said, tone soft but as somber as a doctor's with news of malignancy. “He sent you roses on your birthday. I ditched 'em for you. I helped you burn those letters this summer. It's creepy. He's your cousin. Won’t he be 21 next month?”

“They wouldn't believe me,” Chloe said. She didn't want to talk about it anymore. Tears swelled behind her eyelids. She hadn't been sleeping nights trying to work through Jerome's presence in her mind. She couldn't eat. Her grandmother's house had always been a haven to her, except during Christmas and the summer when Jerome came. Now he lived there. She ached to see Ma'Dear, but... And then what about Sunday School? She should forgive. The more they talked about her cousin, the dizzier and warmer she felt. The tears behind her eyelids didn’t fall but dried to something that felt like sawdust pasted against them. Her right hand caressed her stomach, which gurgled and churned. Nikki put a hand over Chloe's.

None of the four saw Coach Givens, a hulking mass of man, standing outside the door in his standard baby blue golf shirt and white shorts. Whenever the coach moved down the hall, the sea of students always parted. He and the substitute peeped at the girls from the hall through the glass pane of the classroom door. The four didn't notice the coach and substitute opening the classroom door.

“You know, Chloe, we're always here when you want to talk,” said Nikki.

“Marsha!” the substitute called.

“They'll believe you, Chloe,” said Beverly. “He's probably sent you something else you can use to prove it.”

“Marsha?”

“I don't know, Bev,” said Chloe, eyes on the desk again.

The class quieting down also went unnoticed.

“I guess she doesn't hear me.” The substitute said, turning to the coach and then back toward the girls. “Marsha!” she called in a tone less intimidating than the one used in the girls’ rest room.

“We'll stand by you,” Geneva said, stroking Chloe's back.

“I've got this,” said Coach Givens. He cleared his throat, inhaled, and prepared to project his baritone voice.

Bev!” He yelled, football-field strength.

Startled, she and the entire class jumped. “What!” She snapped and looked around toward the door.

“Well! Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” He grinned at Beverly. “Marsha Brady! Come with me, ma chere!”

“Oooh, girl!” murmured Geneva. “You better be glad he's chasing yo' mama. You might be able to get outta this one.”

“Tell me,” added the coach, casting a stone-face stare upon the other three. “Would the rest of the Brady Bunch care to join her? Ladies.” He motioned for them to rise and come. Chloe wiped sweat from her brow with her forefinger and squinted. They gathered their belongings.

As they left the classroom and began their journey toward the office, Coach Givens barked at them to move faster. The substitute looked back and smiled, batting her eyelashes. The last thing they heard Chloe say was, “Okay, y'all. I'm really going to be sick.”






Reviews/Comments?

© Copyright 2003 Nordette










Web Site: The Site and The Sightless



Reader Reviews for "Full Length Mirrors: An Excerpt"


Reviewed by Tami Ryan 7/27/2004
You have a wonderful way of setting the scene and the tone. Well written, thanks.
Reviewed by karen vidra the texas tornado 6/7/2004
good story, nordette! well done!

(((HUGS))) and love, your friend in tx., karen lynn. :D

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