I hate okra.
not the taste or smell. not the dissolving grain in the cup of my tongue or the silt left after too long a fry-battered sit on old newspaper. I hate it for what it reminds me of. it’s a bringback to childhood, a memoried one filtered through ongoing yesterdays. my childhood is a parrot squawk. okra is just a preliminary squeak before the birdcackle. there’s more than just okra for the rest of the song. there’s apple juice and Buicks, there’s one-eyed dogs and boys named Justin. harder to come by those buried memories than okra, but even Buicks can sneak up on me sometimes.
more important that we get somewhere. Edie and I have a date. I’ll have to forgive-and-forget my mother’s gumbo. eat it and say good bye and dive back into the ground. resurface at Grand Central with Edie. to move on to the something important.
we’ll be married in a few hours. I’ll be burping my mother’s gumbo and my childhood saying “i do.” Edie is not yet a citizen, but burp okra moments away she will be. that and my wife.
my mother’s name is Annabelle. Edie’s father is dead. Edie and I sit by the night window in our apartment and discuss half of that often. my mother is southern but lives and cooks up north near us now. Annabelle is in New Haven. Edie and I New York. 29th street. west side. all while Annabelle cooks okra in the same fatback she brought from Norlins ten years before I was born.
Edie was spilt in Harlow. Harlow is a shit stain on the otherwise beautifully white blond county of Essex. UK. that was my experience anyway. Edie tells me it’s a modern myth, that Essex is just as dark and gravelly as the rest of the island. they don’t have okra in the UK, just grease for the fish and chips. old but without the character of mountains of lard in a coffee can.
Annabelle doesn’t know about the rest of our day. doesn’t know we aren’t exactly in love, never have been, never plan to be. she and I are just friends with a mutual interest in sex and dual citizenship. Annabelle is tradition. not with the tacked al, but the noun alive. my mother just wouldn’t know what to make of our big important.
my mom has big rolling arms that she can either balloon out of a large floral print blouse or slap herself unconscious with.
I swear she brought that fifty year old pork fat up here in those arms, squeezed it into that rusty Maxwell House can like those buried bi and triceps were a tube of toothpaste. I love my mother.
I hate okra today because I’m getting married to the future daughter-in-law of a woman who cooks in grease older than I am. because with all that weight she runs hot and it’s crazy cold in her little house and the steam rose off my lunch like hot breath coming out of my lung’s freezer.
Edie doesn’t worry enough about my mother’s health. I think she wants Annabelle to die. all 260 pounds of her. she loves her mother, my mother, mothers all, but is unmotivated. she can’t be happy until big things happen. nothing yet on her side of the pond so today we’re getting married so she can try this one. all her answers are somewhere else. I guess I’ve taken all the answers out of her first marriage. so an obese mother’s coffee can heart explosion would prompt something deeper than she can alone, deeper even than toes that curl up in fists nightly. but she gets a green card out of it and can mail a big important to all the blokes in Essex:
“I’m not coming home again. I’m not just English anymore, but American, married to a redneck, living in a city with so much personality it has no identity. Connecticut on some of the weekends. everyone in Harlow can take it up with Annabelle.”
but we really have to get back, flee and resurface. take the metro north going south. a quick skip after that on the two train and back to our apartment with its one tiny night window facing the places that face things.
we don’t see much more than other people looking beyond to the Hudson and places in Jersey that sound like diseases only native Americans get from European settlers. Pocahontas died from a bad case of Weehawken. even before modern medicine it was not usually fatal, but her immune system was still weak from a recent case of Newark.
later in the day we’ll head down to City Hall. for the not-wedding-marriage. we’ll be we soon enough. half-brit and half-hick living in the new Casablanca. sorry to talk about the city that way. I heart it sometimes too. at least it’s not my girl’s Harlow, but it is Rick’s Place to me. a stop on the way somewhere from some elsewhere. you just sorta get stuck here waiting for years for your papers.
we have to get this marriage out of the way so I can get back to our place and ride out the okra. I hate okra most, pushing the last of it with my spoon, waiting for it to spill through my small intestine with the ferocity of a sneeze. gumbo. who thought up that idea bright? fat my mother probably.
“Come on Lewis, we have to get back to work,” says Edie.
“You working today? It’s Saturday you know.”
“We work all the time ma. No rest for us.”
“You’re still young you two. How long have you been dating?”
“Ma, we’re friends okay.”
“Uh-huh. You never bring friends to see me.”
“Don’t start ma.”
“I was just hoping you might get married someday. You know, grow up?”
“Don’t start again with that. You’re making her uncomfortable.”
“She looks perfectly comfortable.”
“You’re making me uncomfortable.”
“No fights today. We really do need to be going Annabelle. And you’re right. I’m not uncomfortable. Come on Louie.”
I hate when Edie calls me that. worse than okra. there’s no childhood in Louie. just ear-pulling and kindergarten role call. laughs at Louie. Louie Louie lives in a zoo-ee, likes to roll around in his pooey! kids are animals. I hate okra. my name ain’t Louie anymore anyway. it’s longgone. it’s unmemory. it’s Redish Britneck.