Death nearly crippled my father slipping beneath the soles of his feet and taking away his ability to walk at will. Death made him wail like a god awful banshee. (Godfrey wails like a god awful banshee.) Like the 12:01 steam boat mooring. (Godfrey continues to wail.) Death made strangers take hold of our hands and recount endless stories of mommy. In church, at work, strolling, laughing, eating […]. Death made us nauseous with regret. It clipped daddy’s tongue and put his temper to rest. Made folks shuffle and bow their heads. But it wouldn’t leave us be, tugging at our stomachs and our throats. And then one day it stopped and we took the train north to New York City.
Father Divine…. Ever since Mommy passed on, he stands between us and our enjoyment. Daddy discovered Father Divine when he was searching to cure “the ailments of the heart,” those terrible fits of mourning that set in. (Godfrey begins to weep, loudly.) Father Divine, the great provider, sent his blessing via mail. And shortly there after Daddy was cured.
ERNESTINE. […] Divine was God, and God was liable do as he pleased, but you see Daddy was just a poor colored man — (Godfrey looks up from his newspaper.)
GODFREY. (With Ernestine.) from Pensacola, and I gone out my way to keep trouble a few arms lengths ’way. I don’ want to wind up like them Scottsboro boys, but you wouldn’t remember. (Godfrey speaks, Ernestine mouths the words:) Terrible mess, terrible mess.
GODFREY. You graduating? (Ernestine nods. Godfrey breaks into a smile.) Nah…. A first. You really gonna graduate? You’re gonna be a high school graduate like Percy Duncan, Roberta Miles, Sarah Dickerson, Elmore Sinclair, Chappy Phillips and Ernestine Clump. (Ernestine bashful covers her face.)
ERNESTINE. Not quite yet!
GODFREY. Why didn’t you say something?
ERNESTINE. Didn’t I? (A moment. Godfrey embarrassed takes out his note pad.)
GODFREY. … The New Day come?
GODFREY. (Flabbergasted.) We’re now part of his flock, we’re capable of entering the Kingdom. (Godfrey, still in the heavenly daze, reaches into his wallet and counts out his money.) This is just about the best news I’ve heard.
Ya like my suit? (Ernestine nods.) I bought it on Fifth Avenue, sure did, to spite those white gals. You know how they hate to see a Negro woman look better than they do. It’s my own little subversive mission to out dress them whenever possible. Envy is my secret weapon, babies. If ya learn anything from your Auntie let it be that.
Go on say it, tongue won’t fall out. The communist party, amongst other things. (Ermina giggles.) Oh you find that funny? (Earnestly.) I ain’t laughing. I suppose ya happy with what you got, a bit of nothing. Sure I was happy at your age “a little pickaninny” selling hot cakes to the fishermen. Taking pennies from poor people ain’t a job it’s a chore. This may be New York, but this still the basement. Don’t none of those crackers want to share any bit of power with us. That’s what it’s about. Red scare, should be called black scare.
ERMINA. Why’d you lose your job?
LILY. Well babies, a Negro woman with my gumption don’t keep work so easily. It’s one of the hazards of being an independent thinker.
Nobody ask me…. Besides I never plan to marry. How you like that? I’m exerting my own will, and since the only thing ever willed for me was marriage, I choose not to do it. And why take just one man, when you can have a lifetime full of so many. Listen up, that may be the best advice I give you babies. And you needn’t share that little pearl of wisdom with your daddy.
[…] I wondered had her revolution already begun? So I went down to the Public library round my way, “Revolution, American, Revolutionary War, Revolution, French.” But no Negro Revolution. I did find twenty entries on communism in the card catalogue, but no books on the shelves. The teacher said, “select a topic that’s close to you.” My essay was entitled “The Colored Worker in the United States,” the mistake was using the word “worker” too liberally. The principal called in Daddy Goodness and told him to stop mingling with the Jews at his job and everything would be all right. Daddy didn’t bother to tell him that his co-workers were all colored. And the Jews on our block won’t speak to us.
Well hell Godfrey I ain’t said nothing about nothing. I can’t help it if that child got eyes and ears, and a mind that ain’t limited to a few pages in the bible.
I left Florida for a reason, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t do nothing but go to work, make my dime and drink it down on Friday night. Then I found something that gave me inspiration, gave me strength to make a change. May not be like your change, revolution! Oh but it do feel that big to me. It soothed my pain and that’s all I want right now. It took all the strength I had to take these gals on a train out their wooden doors and place ’em here in brick and concrete.
And I think I deserve some respect and you’re trying me, you’re trying me. (Sniffs the air. Lily smiles seductively.) I smell the liquor and the sweat. I see the juke box swirling and the cats laughing. (He begins to laugh, lost in the memory.) I can hear the big sister on stage hollering out her song. Go on sing! (He stomps his feet.) But I ain’t going there. Taste my lips puffing on a Cuba, talking out my ass. (He pulls Lily close to him and does a few quick dance steps, then releases her.) Feel my hands ’round a woman’s hips, swaying to the beat. But I ain’t there! (He storms out the door.)
Wait! I…I still got all of these questions I wanted to ask Sweet Father. My pockets are stuffed full of paper. (The banquet table is removed leaving Godfrey sitting alone. Godfrey pulls handfuls of paper from his pocket. Ermina exits.) But, he promised and now I got to wait another year before I get the answers. Oh No! If he is the God he proclaims to be I need his answers now, I need him to help me move on.
LILY. [..] What? I don’t generally do this, but I’ve been nervous as of late.
GERTE. (Sarcastically.) Just how is your … “revolution?” Working hard? You’re spending a lot of time up at the headquarters in Harlem. Where is it exactly?
LILY. Lenox Avenue.
GERTE. That’s right, Lenox Avenue. I haven’t heard you mention it in quite some time. (Lily stands.)
ERNESTINE. Yeah, you ain’t said much.
LILY. ’Cause it’s liable to end up in one of your essays. You got too much imagination to keep a simple secret.
GERTE. Can’t you forget our differences behind this closed door. When I see you I see no color. I see Lily. (She lights a cigarette.)
LILY. Well when I see ya I see a white woman, and when I look in the mirror I see a Negro woman. All that in the confines in this here room. How about that? What do you see Ernie? You see any differences between us?
LILY. There you go.
GERTE. May I say to you both, I have seen what happens when we permit our differences—
LILY. (Enraged.) Don’t lecture me about race. You are the last person on earth I’d look to for guidance.
LILY. […] You expecting too much from that blanched mess of fabric. What’s it gonna get you?
ERNESTINE. I’m gonna graduate in it. I’ll be grown.
LILY. Grown. You think ’cause you got a diploma you grown. You’ll be ready to step out that door in your white dress and get a job or a husband.
GERTE. So where are the warriors in your revolution now? Why don’t they help us? How are we to lead our lives if we can’t go out for a … a picture show on a Saturday night.
LILY. Welcome to our world, […]. You ain’t supposed to period! Stop! Thought you knew about all these things being from Germany and all.
You see Ernestine that’s your America. Negro sitting on his couch with blood dripping down his face. White woman unscathed and the enemy not more than five years back. You can’t bring order to this world. You can’t put up curtains and pot plants and have things change. You really thought you could marry a white woman and enter the kingdom of heaven, didn’t ya?
GODFREY. I’ll make a note to speak to her later.
GERTE. STOP! You’ve assembled lists that run miles and miles. There’s an entire closet crowded with paper and scribbles of things you need to know, things you want to do, questions that must be answered. It would make three lifetimes to get through all of it.
GERTE. If you’d pay attention to the world around you, you wouldn’t have so many questions to ask.