It's the weekend.
You're quarantined and trying to remain COVID-free.
You've binge-streamed every show and movie that your heart desires, and you're looking for something new to pique your interest.
Well... Joi Miner to the rescue!
Welcome to Sneak Peek Saturday! Every Saturday, I'll share a snippet of one of my novels... either upcoming, or already available for you to enjoy.
This week's pick:
On my birthday, 6 years ago, this novel released as "Vices". This is a celebration of my breaking into the fiction world! Happy Birthday to me!
Six months earlier…
Imani put Zion into her car seat while Keith put the groceries in the trunk of their sky blue Geo Prizm. When he got into the driver’s seat and cranked up the car, Imani seat belted. She stared out the window all the way home. As they turned into Woodcrest, he couldn’t take the silence anymore.
“What the hell is your problem, Imani?” he asked, frustrated.
Imani continued to stare out of the window, not wanting to fight in front of Zion. She was going to wait until they got home, put the baby down for her nap and then discuss, as calmly as possible, his flirting with the Wal-Mart cashier right in front of her. She knew any mention of him doing wrong would lead to her getting her ass whooped, but today, she’d had enough.
She wasn’t going to be abused and embarrassed. If he was going to flirt like she wasn’t there, then maybe it was time that she wasn’t anymore.
Let him beat up on these bitches that thought he was such a catch, she thought.
Seeing that she was ignoring him, he floored the gas, whipping around the curves to their street. He knew she hated that, especially with Zion in the car. But he was going to make her talk to him.
Imani took deep breaths and said a prayer until he pulled the car, shooting sparks, into the driveway. She reached for the handle to get herself and her child the hell out of the car before the idiot did something else stupid and dangerous. Keith hit the button, locking the door before Imani could get free.
“Tell me what the hell your problem is,” he demanded.
“Keith, not here. Not now. Let me put Zion to bed and we can talk about this,” Imani was pleading with his rational side, as small as it was. She hoped he would keep the abuse out of the sight of their three-year-old daughter.
“If you want to get out of this fuckin' car, you’ll tell me what the hell your issue is.”
He was gritting his teeth. Imani knew this wasn’t a good sign.
“It’s nothing, Keith,” Imani tried to calm him.
“Now you’re gonna treat me like I’m stupid?” he said, gripping the steering wheel.
Imani could hear the leather squeak beneath his grasp. It made her flinch. She knew her throat was next.
“No,” Imani chose her words while trying to press the fear out of her voice, “I just think we should have this conversation when Zion is asleep.”
“Well, I think,” he mocked her “we should have this conversation, now.”
He wasn’t letting up. Imani knew the longer they stayed in the car, the higher the chance her face was gonna be knocked into the window. Imani looked over her shoulder to see if her daughter was picking up on the tension. Zion’s eyes were heavy with sleep, so she decided to go ahead and get this mess over with so she could get her child out of the car and safely into the house.
“Fine, Keith,” Imani started, mustering up all the fearlessness and strength she could find, “if you really must know, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t flirt in front of me like I’m not there.”
Keith laughed, more like snickered at her demand.
“And who the fuck are you?” he asked snidely, demeaning her as if her request was ridiculous.
“Last time I checked, I was your wife.”
The words soured in Imani’s mouth as she spoke them. She hated the fact that she was his wife. That she’d let herself stay in this situation for as long as she had.
“No,” he corrected her vehemently, “you’re just a bitch I knocked up and haven’t been able to get rid of.”
Imani didn’t react. She was used to the verbal abuse. She also knew he’d been fucking around on her. None of this mattered to her. She hadn’t slept with him in months. They’d been sleeping in separate beds for longer than that. There had been plenty of nights when she’d heard him sneak a woman into his room when he thought she and Zion were sleeping. Imani was numb to all of it now.
Her failure to react made him angry. He unlocked the door and popped the trunk. Imani knew trouble awaited her exiting the car, but she didn’t care. As long as Zion was safe. She grabbed her dozing child from her car seat and took her into her room. Laying Zion gently in her bed, Imani went into the kitchen to put up the groceries that Keith was bringing into the house.
As she bent down to pick up the bags that had been thrown on the floor, she was met with a blow to the back of her head. She stumbled to the floor, cowering as close to the cabinets as she could. He stood over her, foaming at the mouth. His big eyes bulged out of his head in anger.
“Now, talk all that shit you were talkin’ in the car!” he screamed at her.
Imani rubbed the back of her head that was throbbing from the impact. She didn’t say a word. Nothing she said would make any difference. Not saying anything wasn’t going to make a difference. He was gonna beat her 'til she was bloody and keep beating her 'til he was tired. She prepared herself mentally for the pain.
“You really think you mean something to me?” He poured on the insults with each lick. “A bitch who don’t have a job. Won’t fuck me! Can’t cook worth a shit!”
Imani took the blows. Balling up in the fetal position to minimize the impact. Something made her open her eyes. She looked around his leering figure to see her daughter standing at the top of the hallway. This made Imani sit up.
“Keith, the baby,” she tried to plead as he drew his foot back to kick her wherever his foot would land.
“Fuck the baby. You don’t care about her. She was just your way of trapping me into being with your triflin’ ass!”
His foot landed squarely in her stomach.
“Aaah!” Imani screamed, the wind being knocked out of her.
Through blurred vision, Imani saw her child running in her direction. Tapping into her maternal instincts, she found the strength to pick herself up off the floor in time to see Zion grab her father by his pants and try to pull him away from her mother.
“Zi!” Imani screeched as Keith picked their daughter up by her arm and carried her out of the room. She followed him down the hallway hollering.
“Stoooopppp!” Zion screamed in pain, punching at her father with her free arm.
“Keith! Put her down! What the fuck is wrong with you?” Imani yelled, grabbing for her child. Keith pushed her back with enough force to knock her into the wall, making her hit her head again. She felt dizzy and couldn’t get up.
I gotta get up. For my baby, Imani told herself, pushing against the wall to get back to her feet.
Keith placed Zion roughly on her bed and closed the door. He turned to continue his assault on Imani and was met with a stiff right jab to the face. While he was in shock, Imani kneed him in the groin and watched him collapse to the floor. Seeing her chance, she kicked him in the face and began wailing on him with every bit of strength she had left. She grabbed a painting from the wall above his head and hit him until it broke.
It was then that she heard her child screaming at the top of her lungs from behind the closed door of her bedroom. This made Imani flip into Mommy mode. She stepped over her husband and opened the door to get her child. Zion flinched against the wall, still holding her arm. When she saw her mother was the one opening the door, she wiped the tears from her face, and ran and jumped into her mother’s arms.
Imani, ignoring her own pain, hugged her child as tightly as she could. Carrying her daughter in her arms, she walked past Keith, fighting the urge to kick him one last time. She grabbed her keys from the holder by the door and walked out the front door towards the car. She placed Zion in the front seat, secured her with the seat belt, and got in, pulling out the driveway.
Looking over to her child at the red light, she noticed Zion was still grabbing her arm and grimacing. Ignoring her appearance, she rushed her daughter to Baptist Medical Center East. Luckily, she’d left her purse in the car in the midst of all the chaos, so she had all of the insurance and identification documents needed to get her child looked at.
The nurses seemed equally as concerned with looking at Imani. By their faces and actions, she knew she must have looked a mess. While they x-rayed Zion’s arm, Imani went into the bathroom to take a look at herself. She was a bit sore, but no amount of sore muscles could have prepared her for her reflection.
Her hair was disheveled. Right cheek bruised and swollen. There was a cut above her right eye that had dried blood crusted over it. Her top lip was swollen and she could taste the blood from it in her mouth. These scars were like none she’d had before. He’d gotten careless and that was a bad sign. The next step would have been her life’s story in the Obituary section of the Montgomery Advertiser.
Imani ran water onto a paper towel and cleaned herself up as best she could. She rummaged through her purse, pulled out her phone, and called Nia. Asking her friend to meet her at the hospital, she went back into Room 3, where they were seeing Zion. The nurse brought Zion back into the room from her x-ray with a brace on her little arm. Imani fought back tears. The nurse’s face showed there was more.
“Mrs. Jones,” she cleared her throat, “your daughter’s wrist is broken.” Imani held her composure as the nurse continued. “She needs to keep this brace on her arm and we’ve made an appointment for her with a pediatric orthopedic specialist in about an hour to get a cast put on it.” She paused, handing Imani the appointment card. “It’s a hairline fracture so it will heal well and rather quickly as long as there’s no more damage done.”
“No,” Imani assured, “there won’t be any further damage done.”
“Mrs. Jones, may I speak with you outside for a moment?”
With the sense of urgency that littered her voice, Imani knew that she had no choice in the matter. She looked at Zion who was laughing at an episode of Doc McStuffins.
“Zi, baby, Mommy will be right back, okay?” Imani rubbed her daughter endearingly on the back.
“Okay, Mommy,” Zion responded blankly, never removing her eyes from the TV screen.
Imani followed the nurse out of the room like a child being called into the principal’s office. The nurse turned to her with caring eyes. She looked Imani over one good time before speaking.
“Ma’am, in instances like these, it’s protocol to contact the Police Department and the Department of Human Resources to report child abuse,” she paused to let the information sink in. “But from your appearance, I’m pretty certain it wasn’t you who did this to your daughter.”
She reached out to wipe the tears from Imani’s face. Imani flinched at her touch, more out of instinct than anything else. She hung her head from the embarrassment of it all.
“Zion told me what happened,” she leaned in and whispered.
Imani’s head sank lower, her chin nearly touching her chest. She began sobbing. The nurse rubbed her back soothingly.
“Imani!” Nia hollered down the hall at her friend. When Imani looked up, Nia stopped in her tracks. She now knew why she was being followed by two Montgomery Police Officers. “What the fuck!” Nia’s anger was apparent in her face and her speech. “Where’s Zi?”
Imani pointed to the door of Room 3 and Nia rushed in to see after her goddaughter while Imani informed the police officers what had happened. They took pictures of her and Zion’s injuries and got her husband’s address and description. Imani was told to go downtown to file a complaint as soon as she could but told she had three hundred and sixty-six days to do so.
After taking Zi to get her cast put on, they dropped her off at Nia’s house. Nia went with Imani downtown to press charges. After she was sure Keith had been arrested, they got a U-Haul, went to the house, and moved as many of Imani and Zion’s things as they could into storage. Being a housewife and having no income, Imani had started a Rainy Day account for the day she left Keith. Nia promised to help her get on at her job the next week and Imani and Zion stayed at her house until things calmed down. It took Imani a week to tell her family what had gone down. She knew that, although they would help, she would have to hear ‘I told you so’ and other criticism.
When they went to court, Keith barely got a slap on the wrist. With being a Firefighter, he was sentenced to anger management and community service. The Montgomery Fire Department gave him two weeks’ suspension without pay.
Imani tried not to think of the injustice she was served with Keith’s light punishment. She dove back into the workforce after being out of it for five years. This meant she had to put Zion in daycare, which she hated to do. And she used what money she’d had left in her Rainy Day account to file for divorce. But Keith had taken her to a low place, a place where she would rather sleep on her family’s floor, before she spent another day living under the pretense that they had a happy home.
The whole crowd goes so loud
She opens her mouth, but the words won’t come out
She’s choking now, everybody’s joking now
The clock’s run out, time’s up, over, blaow!
The shower turned off. Nia could hear water running down the drain and then shuffling. She sat back on the chaise lounge, eyes fixed on the floor model television watching an episode of Law & Order. She heard something clatter to the floor and then a stream of muffled curses from behind the closed bathroom door. Nia laughed to herself. She knew her best friend, Imani, was letting her nervousness get the best of her. She would offer to help, but she knew better. She was not going to be her friend’s verbal punching bag tonight.
There was more water running down the drain, followed by the sound of spit, and Nia knew Imani was just starting to brush her teeth.
“She’s gonna make us so late,” Nia said under her breath.
She looked at her watch and then shook her head at the TV screen. Jerry Orbach was making a slick quip about prostitutes, John’s, blow jobs and blown out brains, when the bathroom door creaked open and Imani came into the living room in a powder blue laced bra and thong set.
“I’m not going, Nia,” Imani said.
“Okay, Imani,” Nia smirked at her friend, “I’m going with or without you. Hell, at the rate you’re moving, we wouldn’t have gotten there before the end of the show anyway. At least, if I leave now, I can get there on time."
Imani wrinkled her nose at Nia and pursed her lips.
“Well bye!” she said as she turned around and stomped off, mumbling under her breath.
Imani paced up and down the hallway of her aunt’s house, from the living room to the guest bedroom and back. Every time she reached the opening into the living room, she glared at her friend, who had not moved from her place on the sofa.
Nia was thoroughly amused by Imani’s antics and knew Imani was only acting out of fear. She sat, patiently, on the sofa, waiting for her friend to compose herself.
Imani paced the length of the hallway several times. Back and forth. Back and forth. She was trying to shake the case of nervousness that had taken over her body. She wasn’t ready for this. But knew she had to do it. She was moving into her own place in the morning. Performing at Montini’s and taking back her one true love, poetry, was the final step in rebuilding her life after Keith.
Imani walked back into the bathroom and took full inventory of her reflection in the vanity mirror. Fear stared back at her. She picked up her compact and sponge and began applying her foundation. She was not giving into her fear. She’d made some very big steps, so this one was child’s play in comparison. She made up her face with soft, natural eye shadow. She painted her lips a mocha brown that gave her dark brown, almond-shaped eyes a mysterious appeal.
Then, she went back to her bedroom and put on her outfit, a red maxi skirt and a white T-shirt with a large barcode printed across the front. It was an inside joke of hers that she, now a single mother, was part of the “system.” She even had a barcode with hers and Zion’s dates of birth tattooed on the back of her neck to prove it. Imani slid into her black wedges and picked up her purse. She took one more look at herself in her full-length mirror and made her way back down the hallway.
As she walked out into the living room, she glared again at her friend who’d already turned off the TV and was standing readily by the door. Nia got on her nerves so bad sometimes with the smug way she handled their friendship. But, after all they had been through together, nothing Imani pulled made Nia blink. Nia had been to the puppet show and seen the strings and she still thought Imani was a keeper.
Imani smiled at her friend, pressed the away button on the alarm and they were out the door. When they climbed into Nia’s silver Toyota Camry, she pulled out her MP3 player and plugged it into the stereo system. She turned up the volume as they pulled off, leaving Carriage Hills towards the Southern Boulevard. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” filled the car and Imani bobbed her head, rapping along with the song.
“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted. In one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip? His palms are sweaty. Knees weak, arms are heavy. There’s vomit on his sweater already. Mom’s spaghetti. He’s nervous but on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs… ayyyyeeeee” Imani sang, getting into her zone. She danced in her seat, feeling every word Eminem was saying. She was preparing her mind to perform on stage in front of a room full of people.
“Ayyyyyeeee,” Nia said, smiling with her friend. Nia caught Imani’s vibe and rocked to the beat of the music.
This was the norm. It scared Imani to death to be on stage bearing her soul to groups of strangers. She was great at hiding it from everyone else, but Nia knew that she went through this ritual whether she was speaking to children at the public library or to adults in a lounge setting like the one they were headed to tonight.
When the song went off, Imani turned off the radio and sat silently, staring out of the window.
“I know you’re not that interested in the cars going by,” Nia said, knowing her friend wasn’t watching the passing scenery. “What’s on your mind?”
“Do you really want to know?” Imani asked.
“I have an idea, but try not to worry about anything, at least for tonight.”
Imani was something Nia never wanted to be. Divorced. She’d her sister in bed with her husband while she was going through the divorce, as if the other affairs and physical abuse hadn’t been enough. She had to start from Ground Zero, because Keith took her name off their bank account before she could get what belonged to her.
After being a housewife for five years, Imani had slept on her aunt’s floor and found a job. She’d had to buy a new car and clothes, too. Keith had burned everything, including her poetry journals and laptop, things she could never get back. Yet, she’d still picked up the pieces, pulled herself out of a hole of depression most people would never have recovered from, and took her child and herself away from a terribly unhealthy situation. In six months’ time, she had rebuilt her life.
Nia admired Imani. She didn’t know many women, including herself, that would’ve come out of that painful situation and regrouped like Imani had. Then again, her friend had always been strong. Always been a survivor. Nia had seen her endure some terrible things, some self-inflicted, but others totally not her fault.
This time, though, Nia was a bit concerned. Imani had a certain darkness and exhaustion about her that only showed when she thought no one was looking. Any other time, she turned on the charm everyone loved and only those closest to her could really see through. As they pulled into the parking lot at Montini’s, Nia could see traces of that darkness, but before she turned the car off, it was gone. Imani had turned on her alter ego and was ready to hit the stage.
Nia sighed, knowing it wasn’t the time to have the heart to heart that her friend had been so methodically avoiding. She was there to be supportive. And that’s exactly what she planned to be. She would make Imani face the music soon enough.
They got out of the car and walked up the sidewalk to a place they hadn’t been to in over six months. Nia had only been there once or twice, but Imani had frequented the lounge with her ex-husband, Keith. Imani and Keith were a pretty well-known pair and that was what had Imani frightened to death. Showing up without Keith was sure to raise questions. And both Imani and Nia could pretty much guarantee he’d made it his business to poison the well as much as possible, by both showing up with random women and reciting demeaning poetry about Imani on stage. That’s part of what had taken Imani so long to return. Well, that and the fact that he destroyed all of her works, aside from what she’d already published, and her fear of running into him at the venue. She had to be emotionally ready for anything that could possibly happen with that man.
But tonight, Imani decided to bury that history of fear. She was starting over and refused to take remnants of her painful marriage with her. She and Nia entered the building filled with new faces. She signed the list that sat on a clipboard just past the door.
As they made their way to what seemed to be one of the few remaining seats in the entire building, Nia felt Imani tense up as she took in the crowd. She knew her friend was second-guessing her decision to perform. When they sat on the soft, white, backless seat against the wall, Nia placed her hand reassuringly on her friend’s thigh.
She caught Imani looking in the direction of the list several times before the show started. The more people filed into the building, the more frequently her eyes traveled to the table with the clipboard. She was at war with herself, but no one else could tell. When people she knew spoke, Imani turned her personality on a thousand and chatted them up, introducing them to Nia and assuring them she would be performing tonight. When they walked away, however, Imani would retreat into herself and her thoughts.
“You got this, girl. Chill out,” Nia leaned in and whispered in her friend’s ear.
The DJ lowered the music and a bubbly, shapely woman welcomed the crowd to Montini’s.
"Good evening lovely people. I’m Phoenix. We’re going to have a great time tonight. Is everyone ready for a great time?" she asked. She was captivating. Everyone hung on her every word.
“Hey Mike,” Phoenix directed her attention to the bartender.
“Apple Martini?” he asked, smiling.
“You already know,” Phoenix replied, smiling flirtatiously, as she took a long, thorough look at the list.
“We’ve got an awesome show for y’all tonight,” she continued in her proper, very un-Southern dialect. “It looks like we got the fresh meat, some of your favorites, and a few veterans gracing the mic tonight.”
She paused dramatically, took her drink from Mike, took a sip, went back to the podium and looked at the list once more. She smiled broadly, scanning the room. Her eyes landed on Imani and she laughed out loud.
“Ah man, is that Ms. Jones over there against the wall?” she asked excitedly.
Every head in the room turned, following her gaze. Imani hid her face playfully with both hands. She nodded, her face remaining behind her hands.
“Man,” Phoenix said, her smile getting even bigger, “y’all are in for a real treat tonight!”
Nia laughed as Imani finally lowered her hands, a nervous smile her face.
“Hell, let’s get the show started!” Phoenix announced before calling a newbie to the stage.
A white woman named Kat got up wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt and tie-dye skirt with no shoes. Performing in front of the crowd she was a minority in, her poem, entitled “White Privilege” was thoughtful, powerfully poignant, and well-received.
Phoenix had a great stage presence. She kept things light without taking any of the meaningfulness from the poets’ words. She flowed from new to seasoned performers as if she knew everyone personally. Following a female guitarist named Amber, Phoenix looked at Imani, giving her a slight head nod to let her know she was next to the mic. Imani had loosened up, enjoying the show, but Nia felt her friend tense slightly as Phoenix began to introduce her.
“This young woman is our prodigal daughter. She left us for a while, but now she’s back and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Help me in welcoming home Miss Imani Jones!”
The crowd clapped as Imani made her way to the stage. Nia cheered loudly for her friend. The DJ played “Me & Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul. Imani climbed onto the stage and looked into the crowd with her most confident smile.
“How y’all doing?” Imani asked the crowd.
“Alright,” they responded, mostly in unison.
“I’ve got one piece for y’all tonight,” Imani announced. “As Phoenix said, I’ve been off the scene for minute, but I’m back,” she paused again, “and this piece is entitled ‘Shrinkage,’ I’m hoping some of y’all feel it.”
She paused and smiled before quoting Erykah Badu, “Now, keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my...”
“Shit,” the crowd finished her statement for her.
Imani laughed again before delving into the piece.
I shrank so many nights back against the fridge or the wall
drawing the fear from his eyes.
He was a knight who saw his dragon leering at him
for she knew that he knew not her weakness though she was his.
Some nights, in anger, he flung his shield and sword into the breeze
choosing to inhale the dragon’s fiery blows.
I tended his wounds,
following each bout.
I did not see my charred teeth.
Nor the scales that took a few more days to retract than to appear.
Valiantly, he fought me
to rescue me
But I devoured his spirit, especially on the nights he came unprepared,
Subconsciously, I hid his armor from him, then wished he’d worn it on his journeys.
Why must I keep patching wounds of his irresponsibility?
He would not tell me from whence they came but every night, he left on a pilgrimage I labeled manhood in my ignorance.
So many nights U shrank back against the wall or fridge eating him alive and he sat, like Jonah,
Each morning he’d be set free and still made sure arms were wrapped around me when I woke.
He has begun to destroy the dragon with love from the inside out
filling the void she is not hungry to devour him anymore
Still remain a beast and the battle continues beginning to end as he makes way for the war.
There was silence before a burst of applause. Clap… Clap… Clap… Clap clap… Clap clap… Clap…
Loud raptures of understanding and empathy filled the room. It vibrated through Imani. Made her feel the camaraderie that came with knowing that someone understood.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Imani Jones! Give it up for her one more time,” Imani heard Phoenix announce enthusiastically behind her. Another eruption of handclaps. Still more understanding.
Eyes followed her as she made her way to her seat. Bodies turned, a path parting for her like what she envisioned the Red Sea’s separation must’ve been like. Some extended hands. Heartfelt compliments. Some smiles. Imani didn’t blink or let her steps falter. She kept stepping her high-legged model walk, politely patting hands, nodding to comments, returning looks.
Nervous for the first time in six years, more nervous than she could ever remember being in her life, Imani had gotten back into what she loved. She hadn’t known what to expect coming back to the scene, after five years of being attached at the hip to her now ex-husband. And she was glad Nia was there by her side. She’d been her support system through all of this. Without her, Imani probably would’ve found herself trying to dig through the concrete with a plastic spoon at the end of this night.
Sitting back in her seat, she was greeted by Nia, smiling from ear to ear, and a straight shot of Patron accompanied by a Hypnotiq martini.
“You did that, hun!” Nia said, smiling from ear to ear.
Imani nodded, taking the shot to the head and leaning back to enjoy the rest of the show.
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See you next time, loves! 'Til then, be kind to yourselves and each other!