Full-Length Mirrors: An
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.
Full-Length Mirrors, Excerpt from a Novel
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
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
“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
“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.”
'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
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
“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.”
rolled her eyes and snickered.
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.”
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.
baby girl. I know you love me.”
“Awwww,” added Geneva.
can never be a bad influence, Chloe, because my daddy
was a doctor,” Beverly said and gave an
“And my parents own a
restaurant,” said Geneva, nodding knowingly, and
then did her sexy, customized version of the “worm”
“Uh-huh. Right,” said Chloe. “My mom's
kinda gotten over her blame- Nikki phase since Nikki got
all those honors last year.”
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
“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.”
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.
door swung open. A flash of navy and white stormed the
“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
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.”
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
Chloe narrowed her deep hazel eyes for an
instant, and then smiled and asked in her sweetest
voice, “Pardon moi, Madame?”
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
Beverly leaned back, grasping the
sink for support. Looking the substitute straight in her
gray eyes, she said calmly, “Marsha.”
she said and carefully wrote the name down on her
clipboard pad. “And tell me Marsha, what is your last
Not so much as a blink, Beverly answered,
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
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.
Guffaw after guffaw escaped her.
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.
said Nikki, and she launched into another fit of
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
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
“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
“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.
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.”
nodded. He'd heard right. Jerome was already in town,
enrolled, and training for basketball.
true?” asked Nikki.
you tell us?” Nikki demanded.
“It's no big
“It’s a big deal at Xavier,” said
“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
Geneva then asked, “Where's he gon'
stay?” Her voice pitched unusually high at the end of
“At my grandmother's.”
“Nah-uh!”said Geneva. “You gotta squash that,
Chloe looked down at the desktop and
“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
“Gurrrl, you better tell yo' mama 'bout
“Shhh,” said Nikki. “Spread it all
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
“You know, Chloe, we're always here when
you want to talk,” said Nikki.
“They'll believe you, Chloe,”
said Beverly. “He's probably sent you something else you
can use to prove it.”
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
“I've got this,” said Coach
Givens. He cleared his throat, inhaled, and prepared to
project his baritone voice.
yelled, football-field strength.
and the entire class jumped. “What!” She snapped and
looked around toward the door.
Marsha, Marsha!” He grinned at Beverly. “Marsha
Brady! Come with me, ma chere!”
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.”
© Copyright 2003 Nordette
|Web Site: The
Site and The Sightless
Reader Reviews for "Full Length Mirrors: An Excerpt"
|Reviewed by Tami
|You have a wonderful way of
setting the scene and the tone. Well written,
|Reviewed by karen
vidra the texas tornado
|good story, nordette! well
(((HUGS))) and love, your friend in tx., karen