A Sophia Solstice



I was flying from San Francisco to Atlanta with a United Airlines Buddy Pass on December 20, 2016. A best friend sister, Carol, works for the airlines and afforded me passes. There was no seat on the ten a.m. or the Noon flight. All seats w

ere booked and cascading cancelations, and delays for various reasons caused people to pile up at gates, and customer service counters seeking alternative flights. Buddy passes are considered non–revenue producing, therefore, Buddy Pass holders were the last to be seated.

I ‘ve never flown stand by before. I have insisted on flying direct over the last two decades. I made this exception because a fixed social security income requires it. Carol texted me there was possibly a seat on a three p.m. flight. However, it would get into Houston too late for a connection to Atlanta. The next flight to Atlanta from Houston would leave shortly after seven the following morning at the dawn of the Winter Solstice. Carol, suggested by text, that I sleep over in the airport; that the amount of time and money it would take to leave the airport, take a taxi, get a hotel, check in and out of the hotel, and get back to the airport for an early flight would get me only a few hours of, so why not get anxious–bleary– not–worth– it sleep that didn’t cost an additional two–hundred dollars at minimum. Carol reassured me the airport was safe and, she had slept in the Houston airport many times after missing her reconnection to Atlanta. I felt if she could do it, I could too. I also didn’t have an additional two–hundred dollars minimum to spend.

I did get a seat on the 3 p.m. flight. I reached Houston at nine–thirty p.m. When I reached the concourse near the gate I had disembarked from, I spotted a Starbucks nearby. I decided to get coffee, maybe an eggnog latte, and hang out there until they closed. I went into my travel bag for my wallet to pay for my egg nog latte, I had decided. I could not find it. I searched every section and ever pocket of my computer travel bag. I tried not to panic. I managed not to look or sound panicked, even when I talked to my daughter, Leslie, on the phone. It was an act. I had no money. I had no identification. I was flying to New York, then Vermont, and then back home to San Francisco. How could I fly without may wallet, I thought panic stricken inside.

I saw a man who appeared to work for the airlines. I told him about my lost wallet and asked him to access the locked jet way and look for my wallet in the overhead bin my carry–on bag had been stowed in. Miraculously my memory was working. I told him the bin number. 33J. He unlocked the door, walked down the jest way, and returned. His face said no wallet. Then, I remembered, it could have been left in my seating area that was different from where my carry–on bag had been stowed. My memory was still working. I told him my seat number. 39J. The man was patient and kind. He walked back down the jet way and back again. His face still said no wallet again. I thanked him profusely for his kindness.

I searched the bag again and again. Still no wallet. By then the Starbucks and all of the of the restaurants and shopping places were closed or closing.  I tried to calm myself by finding a place to hang out for the night. As I was organizing my bags in the spot I had chosen and was about to begin to search them for my wallet again, a little girl came over and knelt in the chair in front of me. She seemed to check me out. She seemed to decide I was someone she wanted to talk to, and talk she did.

“I’m Sophia. My mom and dad met and held hands. Then my mom’s dad held her hand and walked with her. He gave her to my father. A man made them hold hands and then told them to kiss.”

Sophia paused dramatically, made a face as if smelling something bad and said, “Yee wee,” while waving her hand in front of her nose.

Sophia continued, “And then I was in my mommy’s stomach. And then I came out. And here I am, she said while holding her hands and arms out, as if she were shouting, “Ta Da!”

I smiled and clapped and said, “Congratulation,” matching her celebratory ending.

Sophia continued, “I’m on my way to Nicaragua to see my Grandpa. My Daddy’s is working. He’s gonna come before Christmas. I have grandparents who live in Nicaragua and grandparents who live in America.”

Sophia has the voluptuous body of a girl just turned four, still a little girl, not a big girl quite yet. She had rich chestnut colored eyes and hair, and she moved with a dancer’s flair. She was uninhibited, direct, hilarious, and adorable.

“Where are you going,” she asked me?”

“I’m going to Atlanta,” I answer.

“Who are you going to visit there, “she asks as soon as I answer.

“My daughter,” I answer.

“What her name,” she asks predictably.

I knew immediately after I said, my daughter,” she would ask her name. Sophia’ asked before I could include her name.

“Leslie,” I answered.

“Where is your husband,” she asked looking around as if to see if a man nearby matched her expectation of a husband for me.

Now here is the problem I have unfailingly always want to tell the truth, even to children. I understand that children do, in fact, want the truth, usually, but they the telling of it needs to be kept simple.

“I’m not married,” I said.

Sophia leaned away from me and gasped dramatically, as if truly scandalized.

I paused a moment to think quickly what to say honestly and simply.

“Leslie’s father and I decided we would always love and take care of our child together, but we would not marry,” I said.

Sophia was still dubious, but she appeared less scandalized, and she relaxed her leaning body, still leaning away from me, just a bit.

Worried she thought me a fully fallen woman, I added,” Both our parents were very upset with us.”

Sophia leaned back towards me her belly resting on the back of the airport seat again.

“Did they fuss at you,” she asked seeming to marvel at grownups being fussed at.

I answer honestly, “Yes.”

Sophia relaxed completely for the first time again since I told her, I had a daughter, and I had not gotten married. She slipped out of her chair and came directly to my chair. Meanwhile, Sophia’s mother had moved into a chair behind Sophia and facing me. She had listened Sophia’s story of her birth and her questions about my unmarried state. At times her eyes rolled in exasperation, tiredness, and apology. I smiled and nodded affirmatively that it was completely all right for Sophia to talk to me a mile a minute and tell her birth story and ask me my husband’s where abouts. Sophia’s mother and I communicated non–verbally this way, while Sophia continued to talk a mile a minute.

Suddenly, a small boy came over trailed by his brother, who I assumed, was about nine or ten. The brother was trailing behind him while reading or playing a game on an electronic tablet of some sort. The little boy, it turned out, was Brice. Brice was small, thin, but strong, with light brown eyes and a winning confident smile. His brother had light brown hair and eyes, and he had a strong, thin, athletic body with a studious good–boy face. Sophia and Brice, and their families, and about thirty other families had spent two nights in Houston hotels not able to leave because of trouble with their airline passage to Nicaragua. They were hoping to leave in two hours. Nearly seventy –five people were sitting on chairs, the floor, and standing in line waiting to board the plane while their children slept, read, listened with head phone on, stared at tablets and phones, and whined, and cried while they waited.

When Brice arrived, Sophia and Brice told dueling stories about who was oldest, smartest, and fastest. Brice finally topped Sophia by saying, directly to me, “When I get to be four, I’m gonna be bigger than you!”

Since, I top 275 pounds, Brice was really making a huge statement.

Sophia had no comeback for Brice’s announcement. Instead, Sophia changed the subject.

“I just had my birthday, Sophia said with a flair.  I’m four!”

I sing both the regular version of Happy Birthday and Stevie Wonder’s version wile clapping at a brisk tempo. Sophia danced and basked in the birthday attention. When I ended my songs, Brice said, puffing his tiny chest out, “Well today is my birthday and I three!”

His brother’s eye brows shot up in total surprise.

I sang both songs again and both Sophia, and Brice pranced and danced in the glow of birthday attention. When the songs ended, they were off chasing each other and using the airport seats like a jungle gym. Sophia’s mother attended to their excesses.

“Sophia, no running!” “Sophia stay where I can see you!” Sophia, inside voice!” “Sophia, that’s enough.” “Come and sit down, now!”

Brice’s brother continued to trail behind them.

Sophia’s flight was finally called. Sophia, Brice zoomed across to the opposite gate. Brice’s brother walked without hurrying. Sophia’s mother picked up Sophia’s scarf, shoes, and a toy dog on a leash they had been playing with. She said a silent thank you and good by. As the line of borders inched forward, I could see Brice’s bother, his head still bowed into his tablet, but Brice was swallowed up in the legs surrounding him. When Sophia’s mother reached Sophia, she looked over to me with a dazzling smile and waved goodbye frantically. I waved back matching her frantic delight until she disappeared.

When the gate was empty and all were on board, I relaxed in the airport chair. It was just after midnight, the Winter Solstice. I was still in lingering delight and calm. I was no longer acting calm to cover up nearing lost mindedness. I restarted the search for my wallet again and found it deep in a packet of my travel bag. As I settled into a seven hour wait for my flight, I lingered in gratefulness and delight.




I asked specifically for Denise. We arrived at the appointed time. I sat in a large rectangular room, four hair dresser chairs, black, boxy, modern, and new since the last time I was there. A wall of lighted mirrors covered one side wall. A counter attached to the mirrored wall was neatly organized with straightening combs, curling irons, curler paper, curlers, hair clips, and pins. Dyes, conditioners, and locking agents, of various sized boxes, tubes, jars, and bottles, were stored in a cabinet at the end of the counter. Only one hairdresser today, Chris, the owner. On the opposite side of the shop were two shampoo bowls and another wall of lighted mirrors. Only one shampoo person today, Denise. Non–stop Christmas music played on an Atlanta black radio station. The station also played non–stop commercials directed toward poor black people. The announcer hawked, “Forget your FICO score. Those scores are just a number. Come on down and we can work something out.”

Chris quipped after the tenth such commercial. ” You know what they say about those people who give out those loans and sell those cars, don’t you?”

Even though the customers had heard Chris ask this question before and heard the answer, one asked, “What they say Chris?”

“You go get one of those cars with one of those loans in November and the Repo Po-Po comes to get it in May.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” anther customers commented.

Chris continued.

“And the people who give out the loans and sell those cars will all make a bunch more loans and sell a bunch more cars just like those the next November.”

On the same side of the room as the shampoo bowls, four chairs with hair dryers, that looked like space helmets sat behind the new boxy chairs. Together they gave the illusion of cubed alien bodies. Plastic aprons and towels were neatly folded, stacked, and waiting for use along the opposite mirrored wall and counter. Bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and neutralizer sat in good order on the counter behind the two shampoo bowls. The two sides reflected each other, allowed conversation with just a look when Chris or Denise was turned away completing a task. The front of the shop was all glass, and looked out on a mostly empty parking lot of a mostly empty strip mall.

Denise’s is dark brown, petite, and plump with a round sweet good natured face. She wore maroon glasses that stretch around her eyes like goggles, only very fashionable ones.

“Denise, those glasses look very good on you. Where did you get them?” I asked, as her hands guided me to lean back to place my neck into the curved bottom of the shampoo bowl.

“Oh, thank you,” Denise giggled in shyness and pleasure. I got them at the eye glass shop over at Kroger Plaza on Columbia.”

“What kind are they?”

“Oh, they’re by Joan Collins.”

I sank into the chair, my head cradled in the neck of the shampoo bowl, thinking about Joan Collins eye glasses being sold in strip mall south of Atlanta catering to poor black people, while Denise began her shampoo waltz. Warm–warm water. Shampoo that smelled of sunshine and dew laden morning air. Denise applied it tenderly, thoroughly, then gently scrubbed my twenty–four–inch long dreadlocks from my scalp to tip end. She then rinsed, rinsed, and rinsed some more. I felt the strong flow of the very water on every inch of scalp, and the slight tugging on my hair as she lifted and showered the water close to my scalp. Denise gently rocked my head this way and that, while her other hand cupped and covered my ears. She toweled my hair to damp dry and then applied hair conditioning that smelled like the warm evening air moving through night blooming jasmine. I relaxed and sighed in the scents dancing and swinging around my head.

Christmas music had been playing relentlessly on the radio and Chris turned to another station only to find more Christmas music. When my hair was rinsed and damp dried again, I got up and walked across the room to Chris’ chair. She sprayed and then separated, twisted, and clipped each section of my hair with a pin close to my scalp. I was looking forward to the magic Chris would do styling my dreads. The last time she had given me a complete up do, twisted and curved upward all eighteen inches on the top of my head. When the pins would not hold my thick hair, Chris decided to sew the style in place. I loved it! Showed it off to everyone, even people in museums, restaurants, and dog parks when my daughter and I walked my grand–dog. I wondered how she would top that style.

A black performer, I didn’t know, sang soulfully on the radio suddenly at twice the volume it had been before. Denise began to bop and sway in place to the music. An announcer interrupted the music and began to hawk a concert that would happen in February at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta. Another performer followed closely behind the announcer. The beat was heavy. The female voice was strong and suggestively romantic. The announcer hawked that performer and then others. He admonished listeners to, “Buy tickets right away before they are all sold out!”

Denise spoke quickly and excitedly in a high pitched adult-baby-doll voice, with a soft Florida twang, and an urban Atlanta drawl.

“Oh this show is gonna be good. I gotta get my tickets. I know,” she said like she had just had a great idea,” “It’s my husband’s birthday right then and it’s at the Fox. I can get us tickets and get really–really dressed up. He’ll like that”

Denise sang along with the various performers, in a quite sweet melodic soprano voice, as she continued to shampoo another customer’s hair.

One of the customer’s in the shop said, “Ya husband will be so happy. That’ll be a great birthday present, Denise ”

Denise did not look up from her work, but her tone implied the customer was out of her mind when she replied.

“My husband?”

Denise reared back a little with her eyes wide and incredulous.

“Mister ain’t goin,” as if her husband’s going to the concert was never ever in her thinking.

Denise continued, “I’m gonna ask….,” naming women who I thought might be her daughters or sisters or friends or a mix of both.

Another waiting customer said what I was thinking.

“But you said it was ya husband’s birthday present,” she said in a questioning tone.

Denise responded, “Yeah. But he ain’t no people person. He don’t go to

thingslike that. He talk too rough when he be around company. But, he’ll like seeing me all dressed up. He’ll drop us off and pick us up. I’ll tell him all about it. I’ll buy him a CD. He’ll like that.”

Everyone in the shop laughed and hooted, while Denise’s look said,

‘What? What are you laughing about? Ya’ll just don’t know Mister. He’ll be very happy. Really,” Denise reassured.

Chris finished twisting my hair and I went under a dryer that muffled the voices of the women and one man in the shop who were having rolling conversations about football, school board scandals, O.J. and Cosby’s innocence, which ball player was cheating on his wife or beating her or their child. They caught each other up on Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, the latest movies, the soaps, who had appeared on late night TV dressed how, and the ongoing rivalry between the Hawks and the Saints.

Chris maintained a strict policy of no gossiping about the people they all actually knew, or barely knew. So, there was no talk of what preacher was acting badly or which wife or husband was cheating with whom, or whose child had been arrested for what or whose house the police had showed up to or who had a drinking or gambling addiction or anything people could judge another about in their absence.

When my hair was mostly dry, I switched to Chris’ chair again. She cut my hair about six inches, just below my shoulders blades, and styled it with a round bun behind my right ear, almost sitting my shoulder.

I wanted to like it and so I tried to.

I paid Chris gladly and gave both Chris and Denise a generous tip. Later that day, as I sat in reserved stadium movie seats, the faux leather kind that have high backs and you can recline in I realized, I could not fully turn my head because my hair doo wouldn’t let me. Irritated by my hair doo, I reluctantly picked out the pins holding my style together. I chuckled to myself and leaned to whisper to my daughter, who eyes were questioning the pile of pins being dropped into my purse

Oh well. Not this hair do. But, absolutely, yes to Str-8-N Natural. Oh, and Mister.



From: A Thousand Crowning Sorrows: A novel not yet published



As they carried Perry between them into the house, June stared at the girl walking ahead of them. She held the shotgun in one hand and a lamp in the other. Something in June’s chest did a funny skip and stutter that felt odd, and good at the same time.

The girl turned into the third room they came to.

“Papa. Help get his clothes off. I’m going to get the things I need.”

June noticed her voice. While she was nearly as tall as he was, she was strong-bodied, and her voice was a rich contralto rather than the soprano he expected. Her skin was the color of burnt sugar, dark brown–gold. June and Mr. Bartholomew undressed Perry and placed him on a mat lying face down.

“Violet.” Mr. Bartholomew said.

” Tell me what else you need.”

“Just the basin and hot water by the stove.”

Violet, Perry thought. Her names is Violet.

Violet put on a long apron and tied a wrap around her head made of unbleached muslin.  She washed her hands thoroughly, dried them, and began to work on Perry.

Her father helped her as she bathed, then scrubbed his wounds, and then poured a good dose of whisky over them. Perry groaned and writhed. The three of them helped turn him over to repeat the process. When his wounds were tended to and Violet had dosed him with some sort of medicine, they changed the bed and left him to sleep.

Violet picked up pieces of his clothes that could be salvaged and placed them in a tub to soak for washing later. Mr. Bartholomew showed Perry into the kitchen, just next to the room Perry was sleeping in.

“Tell me what happened.” Mr. Bartholomew said.

Perry told him just the facts. The men shooting Perry and leaving him for dead in order to steal his horse.

“This your first shepherding?”

“Yes sir.”

“How old are you boy?”

“Sixteen. I’ll be seventeen in December.”

“I’m glad you were with Perry for your sake and his.  Yon did good by yourself and all of us.”

Mr. Bartholomew stepped to June with his hand held out.

“I just realized. You must be Emile’s eldest. You look like your father and your grandfather.”

June shook his hand back and said, “Yes sir.”

“This here is my daughter, Violet.”

“Violet, this here is Emile Verrett from over Red Bayou.

“Please to meet you Emile.” Violet said.

June felt strange being called Emile. But he liked the way she said his name. He felt her clear brown eyes and her oddly low voice rake him. He felt a little light headed and foolish looking at her so intensely. But, she was looking at him with curiosity and a small smile twinkling in her eyes.

“Everybody calls me June. For junior. “

“Oh,” was all she said, but it felt to June like she understood something about him. He was not sure what, but he was glad of it.

After Violet showed June where he could wash up, she cleaned up the sick room, placed food on the table in front of June, and sat down to finish the meal they had started before June and Perry had arrived. June watched her move from stove to table, her movements sure and fluid, her hands strong, yet delicate. Every time she passed in front of him, he stared at her mass of tangled hair. He had never seen anything like it. Her hair was curly at the edges of her scalp, like baby hair, but otherwise was an enormous jumble of uncombed wild nappy hair. He wondered if she had ever combed or brushed it. June was entranced and found it hard to not stare at Violet. He did remember his manners that his father, and grandfather had  drummed into him on how to treat women, especially girls he liked. June felt for the first time that Violet was a girl he liked. He really-really liked her.

“Well. What do you think, Vi?” Mr. Bartholomew asked when Violet was done and Perry was as comfortable as she could make him.

“The bullet went straight through, but he left a lot of blood on the road. He’s feverish and the edges of both wounds didn’t clean up good. He really needs a healer.”

In answer to the thought of going out to fetch a healer, the wind punched the front door open so hard it sounded like the shotgun had gone off. Mr. Bartholomew and June went to the front of the house to secure the outside shutter and the inside door. When both were closed, the whipping and whistling of the wind, and the slapping and tapping of the rain hushed to a whisper, but the wind constantly shoved and pushed against the house, making it tremble with each gust.

“The storm is coming and there isn’t a way to fetch a healer. June, you can go straight to Mum Del’s when the storm passes to get some help. Until then, we’ll stay hunkered down here.”

As Violet removed her apron and head wrap, she said, “I’ll be staying with Perry. There’s a pallet for you over there.”

Violet pointed to a corner space in their roomy kitchen.

June was still entranced with Violet’s mass of nappy wild curls. He longed to see her hair untangled, unfurled, and tame, although he liked her hair wild almost as much as he wanted to tame it. Violet looked up from untying her hair and apron and saw him looking at her in a way that made her smile shyly and flushed her cheeks.

“Here, let me help you with the cleaning up,” June said and began to clear the table.

Mr. Bartholomew took the only chair with arms. He lit his pipe and after a while took up a battered banjo and picked out songs in the glow of a lamp on the kitchen table.

“Vi, I’d like some coffee since there won’t be much sleeping with this storm beginning to rage.”

“Yes, Papa. What about you June, coffee? We have milk syrup.”

“No thanks, I’ll just have some of that tea we had with supper.”

“All right.”

June and Violet cleaned the kitchen and talked while Mr. Bartholomew plucked and sang..

“This your first shepherding,” Violet said in a matter of fact way.

“Yes,” June answered.

“Mighty hard first,” Violet finished her thought.

“Harder for Perry than me. He saved my life you know. Two white men came up on him and wanted his horse. He told me to get away and bolted away to draw them away from me.”

June felt how quickly it all happened. He felt the worse thinking first, that Perry might be dead, and once he got to him and he was alive, that he could still die.

“But you didn’t go away, and you saved him,” Violet stopped oiling the cast iron pan and looked directly at June.

“Sounds like you saved each other,” Mr. Bartholomew said, “so tell us about it.”

June told them the whole story. He felt the shame of his forgetting his pack, his

not obeying Perry to run, and his desperation to get to the Bartholomew away house.

“I was never so glad to see you on your porch with that gun, Mr. Bartholomew and you with that lantern, Violet. I thank you.”

“You earned your welcome here, son,” Mr. Bartholomew said.

As they finished up cleaning the kitchen, Violet caught him staring at her hair.

“Why you staring at me so hard,” Violet asked.

“Your hair is so… wild and beautiful. Do you ever comb it?”

“No. Haven’t been combed since my Mam died four years ago.”

June looked astonished and entranced.

Violet’s eyes twinkled at the way June looked at her.

After Violet was finished getting ready for sleep, she kissed her father saying, “Good night Papa. I’ll come and get you if I need you.”

“Good night Vi. I’ll be right here.”

“Good night Emile,” she said as she passed into the room where Perry lay sleeping.

“Good night Violet,” June responded.

June settled down on the pallet provided. Exhaustion fell on him like a sack of grain from a height. Even though he felt the aftermath of threat, gunfire, Perry laying in the road, faith struggling with despair that he was not remembering the way to the Bartholomew’s, he was happy he would wake up and see Violet in the morning.