I’ve been a bit dizzy lately, unable to settle down and dig into a story. Eventually I just kept two docs open and switched back and forth as the mood took me – Oi! To be one of those uber organized writers who outline things! – but last week I started writing a story about a girl named Coffy. As sweet as her cinematic namesake was a badass, in this snippet we learn that everyone has their breaking point. You can take a stand without compromising who you are, and sometimes the next best thing is just around the corner…or in another dimension, blonde, big, and dressed in black leather. 🙂 As yet untitled and unedited, enjoy!
This did it. She was officially done. No more. She couldn’t take another – anything! What was she, a doormat?
Yes, her subconscious whispered. That’s exactly what you are.
“Not anymore,” she muttered, stuffing her things into her backpack.
The suitcase she’d arrived with had been borrowed long ago and never returned, along with half, heck, most of her clothes. She supposed it was just as well all she had was this backpack. It would have been tough to split on a bike otherwise.
Coffy looked around at the room where she’d spent the last 18 months of her life. She snorted. “See you later, jerks,” she whispered, peeking into the drawers and under the bed one last time to make sure she wasn’t leaving anything behind. The doormat, also known as Coffy Cartwright, has left the building. “I’m done letting everyone wipe their feet all over me.”
It was tough to take the high road when the people around you didn’t know what that was, and if they did, didn’t care. She’d been raised to take pride in her calm ability to not overreact, to behave decorously. Her mother, her lively, laughing mother had often praised young Coffy for being just like her daddy, “cool under pressure.
“You’re not like me, that’s for sure,” she’d sometimes laughed. “If I were a tea kettle, I’d be on perpetual boil! But that can be a tiresome way to live, baby girl. Better to take things in stride like you and your daddy. Half the time, anything you can get upset over isn’t worth the energy once you get to the bottom of it anyway.”
She took pride in the fact that she didn’t swear and did not act out in public because her mother had appreciated those qualities in her. Even now when anger was rapidly moving toward a belly-curdling rage so potent she had to close her eyes and breathe deep to keep from exploding, she managed to pull herself back from the edge.
Momma, momma, momma, she thought, reciting her beloved mother’s name like a mantra to ward off evil. Slowly she began to calm.
“Where are you going?” Monica sneered.
Coffy stopped and turned back to look at the girl who’d eaten the last of the birthday supper Mrs. Turner, the owner of their women’s hostel had made for her. A supper she’d barely gotten to taste once everyone’s greedy grubby grabbing hands had snatched everything up. No one cared that the birthday girl had worked all day and was hungry. It was first come, first take or steal, just like always.
“As far away from you as humanly possible,” she answered, and walked out.
She’d already said goodbye to Mrs. Turner. The other girls could fall into a hole for all she cared. She just had to retrieve her bike, and she could split.
When she got to the garage, one of the other roomers Angela had a leg cocked to throw over her bike.
“Stop,” Coffy commanded.
The girl paused uncertainly, but smiled when she saw who it was. “Oh, Coffy. I was just borrowing your bike to go to the store. You don’t mind do you?”
Coffy didn’t even bother to answer – why was it most women named Angela were really demons in disguise? – She just took her bike from the girls hands and walked off.
“Can’t I just –”
“No!” Coffy said, and flipped her the bird as she pedaled off. She figured enough was enough. Even the quiet ones had their breaking point. Besides, the silly, thieving cow had left her with a slow leak the last time she borrowed the bike, without asking, and hadn’t offered a dime to help her get it fixed.
She laughed as she rode away, the wind tugged cheerfully at her hair. Man, it felt good to be going somewhere. Suddenly, the fact that she only had a small bag to take into her new life seemed like a blessing rather than an unfortunate circumstance.
“With any luck,” she told herself, “my next landing place will be better than the last.”
She hadn’t planned to leave so abruptly. She’d arranged to keep her room another week, but somehow, coming home from work to find that bloated cow Monica sitting at the kitchen table eating her food, food she’d wrapped and marked, “do not eat unless your name is Coffy” had done something to her.
She had to get out. She had to see something other than the selfish, lazy whiners she was surrounded by at the hostel. Another minute in that environment and she thought she might crack open like an over boiled egg. At first the other girls had seemed nice. They’d welcomed her, told her all the ins and outs of the neighborhood, and which stores were good for different bargains.
They’d asked her about herself, and seemed interested when she told them her dad had died three years before, and that she’d been pushed out when his brother, a man she barely knew showed up with his three children and wife and moved in. They’d seemed sympathetic when she told them how she’d eventually left when the wife decided she was to be a live in babysitter and maid, and that it was okay to help herself to Coffy’s dead mother’s jewelry.
They’d listened attentively when she explained how she’d eventually run out of money and had to sell her car, eventually finding herself in the hostel because the jobs she was qualified for, with her uber impressive high school diploma and two years of city college, weren’t enough to pay rent on even a studio apartment. But slowly, each revealed herself to be corrupt in some way.
Angela had “borrowed” her clothes piece by piece until she’d been left with practically nothing. When she went to the girls room to get her things back, the girl insisted she hadn’t taken them, even going so far as to invite her to come in and search for them.
Monica had scoffed in the doorway, having overheard their conversation on her way past. “Good luck,” she sneered. “That bitch been sold your shit for little of nothing at the resale shop so she could buy weed.”
The guilty look the girl was too slow to mask confirmed that it was true.
“It never occurred to you to tell me what she was doing with my things?”
Monica had turned her stubby nose up in the air and walked away without a word. Apparently that was a no. All Coffy could do was be glad she’d had the foresight to put her mother’s jewelry, her father’s watch and her few valuables in a bank safe deposit box that no one knew about.
The demon Angela was a miserable pothead, but Monica was the most devious of them all, seemingly proper and helpful, she was always full of advice. But she was a manipulative, jealous woman. She only gave advice or anything else when she wanted something in return. And if she didn’t get it she would turn on the screws, throwing any and everything she could out to cajole, convince or gaslight whoever she was working on until they either gave in or got pissed and cussed her out. Then she’d passive aggressively complain to all and sundry how “uncouth” the girl in question was, making snide, underhand comments about their upbringing and everything else.
When a new girl moved in, Coffy watched as the residents again presented themselves as helpful and interested. But to her enlightened eyes it was now obvious they weren’t listening attentively but avidly, storing up everything for later use, hoping for an opportunity to wound or find use later. No good heffas.
Only Mrs. Turner had been decent. But even her Coffy wondered about. Either the woman was senile, since she didn’t seem to see the backbiting going on around her, or she was the worst passive aggressive ever. Either way, Coffy had enough of all of them to last her nine lifetimes.
“I know there are good people out there somewhere,” she muttered, puffing a bit as she went uphill on the bike path that wound around their subdivision on the outskirts of Dunhill. “And I’m gonna find them if it’s the last thing I do.”
She had a long pedal ahead of her. The rooming house she’d found near her new job was at least eight miles away, but she could make it. She’d traveled longer distances on this bike.
There was a rustling in the bushes and Coffy turned her head to look in case there was a small animal preparing to throw its crazy self under her wheels. Once as a child she’d been knocked off her bike by a death wish-having gray cat with a crooked tail, but there was nothing. She kept pedaling.
It had rained that morning, and everything was damp and fresh smelling. Fluffy white clouds had parted majestically to allow beams of light to shine through. It looked like a movie backdrop. She sighed deeply, chuckling a little at life and feeling grateful that she was young and healthy and had prospects.
She only had a few months more hard saving and she’d have enough for her beauty school tuition. Six months after that she’d graduate, get licensed, and start doing hair and nails professionally. She’d rent a booth somewhere, and work like a dog until she had enough to buy her own shop. Then she’d be okay.
She laughed. It felt good to have a plan.
She heard the rustling again, and when the undergrowth to her right seemed to move she instinctively veered left, memories of the painful scrapes she’d gotten after her last run in with the gray cat causing her to jerk her handlebars too sharply.
“Oh, nuts!” she screamed as her bike slid sideways on the mushy wet undergrowth. She braced herself, eyes squeezing shut as she felt herself tilting, her tires spinning pointlessly. But she never hit the ground. Coffy blinked, wondering what was happening. But when she opened her eyes she found that everything had turned black.
She groaned softly, reaching for her arm. She’d landed hard. But before she had a chance to pick herself up, the ground seemed to fall away.
She heard wind rushing, felt it tugging hard at her clothes and hair. She tried to look around, blinking rapidly to clear her vision and get her bearings, but she couldn’t see anything. She reached out with arms and legs, but there was no ground.
Then there was a bright light, and it grew brighter and brighter, but she still couldn’t see. There was only the light, and suddenly she could see again. But vision didn’t help comprehension. In fact, her eyes almost bugged out of her head because when the light faded to something manageable for her overtaxed retinas, she found herself falling through clouds!
Coffy began to hyperventilate in fear. Then she couldn’t even do that. Something was pushing the air from her lungs, hard. It felt like something heavy was sitting on top of her chest. She struggled to breathe, to cry out as she turned head over heels through the air, but she was helpless. Her head got light; she was strangling and falling, and her last thought before everything went black again was, crap. Looks like I’m the one who fell into the hole…
She woke to the feeling of rocking. Coffy opened her eyes and stared at the sky. She blinked, wondering what was wrong with what she was seeing. Then she realized the clouds above her were rolling faster than she’d thought possible for clouds to move, and the sky around them was not blue or even stormy gray but a pale, unmistakable pink.
Pink? Had she fallen asleep outside? Been knocked unconscious when she fell off her bike? Was she still asleep, dreaming that she was awake? But that wouldn’t explain the rocking, or the warmth at her back or the big, hard arms that … Her eyes got big as she realized she was being carried by a large man she didn’t know.
He must have realized she was awake because he looked down at her and smiled.
She gasped, began to breathe faster as that sensation of falling came over her again. The man was big, blonde, handsome, and he had eyes like a cat’s! His pupils were oblong and vertical and a brilliant jade green mixed with gold.
“I’m a little black woman,” she whispered. “In a big silver box.”
“Nothing,” she whispered. She didn’t think it would do her any good to explain she’d been quoting Whoopi Goldberg in the movie Telephone. But at least she had her breath back. She used it to say, “Please put me down.”
The big man – man was he handsome, and he smelled amazing – just grinned and kept walking. He seemed to say something in a deep, lovely burr, but he didn’t sound as though he was speaking English. Actually, it didn’t sound like any language she’d ever heard. It sounded like a pleasant kind of noise, a serious of clicks and rolling consonants that sounded like balls bouncing around inside his wide chest.
“I’m fine,” she tried again. “Thanks, but I can walk.”
She gasped when another man she hadn’t noticed stepped forward and began to speak to the man carrying her in the same clicking language. It was obvious he was talking about her, and it seemed to Coffy that there was some problem. He was looking at her like she’d done something wrong.
Her protector responded in a soft, nonconfrontational tone, and Coffy thought it was a good time to ask, “What’s going on? Where are we? Can’t you put me down?”
He seemed to understand what she wanted because Coffy quickly found herself standing rather shakily on her own two feet.
“Thank you,” she said, looking up into those strange, cat green eyes as he steadied her, one big hand retaining a firm grip on her arm. “Won’t you tell me where we are? I must have taken a serious spill off my bike to have gotten so far off the path,” her voice trailed off when it became obvious the two men were ignoring her…